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Adoption

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To Place or Not To Place

I expect to receive backlash from this post, but as I contemplated writing it, I found that the pros outweigh the cons. The ability for parents and guardians to be able to have an open dialogue about placement of their child in a hospital or residential facility is a need that oftentimes goes unmet. Whether it’s due to stigma, guilt, or the feeling of having failed a child – we speak less about the emotional turmoil leading up to placement than we do the everyday battles themselves.

And quite frankly, it is that very place of being in the unknown, the questioning and the decision-making, the wondering if you’re making the right or the wrong choice – that is the time that your emotions are the most raw. Wondering if you were meant to parent this child, handle this situation, manage this mental illness / behavioral problem, etc. It’s in those moments of questioning that we can become muddled and dizzy with what is right in front of us.

When do we contemplate placement? When have we done all that we can do and hand the reigns over to a team of others?

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For me, I sit with these very questions in this moment. After months of making apparent progress, my daughter with Reactive Attachment Disorder put my 3-year-old son in a very unsafe situation. This is not the first, second, nor third time we have faced this dilemma with her. However, this time she reported that she did not feel badly about this and that she doesn’t believe she was wrong. Upon further investigation into the situation, other evidence around her room suggested that this was not a singular relapse.

I feel the betrayal and heartbreak of knowing that my son has been compromised because I allowed myself to let my guard down – because I believed that things were getting better, that she was learning emotions and empathy and how to control her impulses. I let us feel “normal” together… and now I must pay the price for that. I also know that I will be scoffed at for sharing too much personal information about my family and our situation. And yet how else are we to support one another and create a community of help for one another if we limit ourselves to speaking of only what is comfortable – what is “permissible”?

So many parents have emailed me over the past several years, struggling with this same dilemma. They ask for input on agencies and when they should finally let themselves take a break while the professionals give it a try with their child. And I have always said the same thing – this is a personal choice, but when you know you have loved and persevered and done all that you can, and you or your family are still being endangered, then you never have to feel like you’ve let anyone down, including yourself and your child.

The regular world of parents and families doesn’t understand the daily lying and theft – the number of calls from the school you get and the emails from angry parents. They don’t lay awake with anxiety over their child’s behaviors every night or feel physically ill on a regular basis because with every 2 steps forward, you’re forced to take 10 steps back. The regular world sees your child as charming and amiable, while you experience something far different behind closed doors. The inability to connect with your child – to feel honest emotions with them – to cuddle them and to look forward to the future together – these are things that the RAD parent faces.

And sadly, children with this disorder come by it quite often from serious neglect and abuse, cycles that continue to play out as they grow older, forever compromising their relationships with the world. As the parents, we feel guilty for even thinking of handing them over to the state, an agency, or even to a hospital – we know our children didn’t create their diagnosis. They didn’t abuse themselves. They were not in charge of anything that lead them to where they are today…

But neither did my 3-year-old son. And whereas I cannot put my daughter’s abusers on trial because this judicial and child welfare system failed her and my older son in such horrific and atrocious ways, all I can do is promise safety to each of them from this day forward. So, to the best of my ability, that is how I will make my decisions. Whether we place or we don’t, I choose to keep my promise to all 4 of my children. I will continue to fight for change to be made in child welfare and I will continue to advocate for the least of these… starting right here in my own home.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, know that you’re not alone. You’re not a failure and you’re not weak. Do all that you can and then trust that God will utilize whatever else is available to do the rest, even if that means it is no longer in your hands.

We’ve got this and we’ve got each other. Many prayers and much love to you all.

 

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It's a Book Launch!

     So, this week has FINALLY arrived! And I want to cordially invite all of you to the launch and first signing of my new book, The Children Who Raised Me. (Insert all manner of joyous sounds here!) Come and join me for some light refreshments, a brief reading, and time to chat with the author! I will be signing books as well and will have a limited number for purchase if you haven't already bought yours (books are $20). This is a family friendly event, so feel free to bring your friends, family, and random people from the street (as long as they agree - no abductions, please).

WHEN:  Saturday, April 8th, 2017 from 6:00 - 8:00 pm

WHERE: The 1st Baptist Church of Ellwood City (220 Fountain Ave. Ellwood City, PA 16117)

     Additionally, if you're interested in having me come speak at your church, agency, school, or group - contact me HERE to schedule! I love to share information on Adoption, Foster Care, Mental Health, Reactive Attachment Disorder, and ways to improve our Child Welfare Systems.

     See you all Saturday!!!

     XOXO,

     Shivonne

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"The Children Who Raised Me" ~ Now Available!

In case you missed the memo (which, how could you because I've basically been blowing up my social media feeds with the news because I'm SOOOO excited), my first book is now available online at tatepublishing.com!  If you've followed my family's story, you may already know some of what falls in the pages of this particular memoir. However, have no fear, there is plenty of NEW content that helps put our lives into some perspective. 

From foster care to adoption, mental health behaviors to Reactive Attachment Disorder, grief and loss to new life, Christian parenting to just plain survival - this book has a little bit of something for everyone and I'm so blessed that God gave me the words that needed to be said... words that are hard to say. Although I floundered my way through much of it, my deepest aim was to shed light on the hard parts of raising someone else's children... to say the things that we're told not to say, and to take away the facade that all things related to adoption, fostering, and just plain parenting is nothing but happiness and love.

Because let's be honest. It's oftentimes not. In fact, sometimes it sucks so badly that you can't find breath and you make parenting mistakes and you cry ugly tears that no one should ever feel they need to hide out of shame. We are ALL together in this parenting thing. Whether it's messed or blessed, we are together. Even when you've felt you couldn't go on another moment; Even when you gave up and came back and gave up again and came back again all within the same 10 minutes; Even if you feel like you're failing...

There is always Hope.

And you are never alone.

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What To Do When There's Nothing Left To Give

In life, we get many choices. One of those choices is if we want to be “all in” or not. We decide how much effort we are willing to exert based on the priority of needs we are presented with. Some people may choose to give 50% of themselves in any given circumstance. And I don’t judge those people. Not anymore. It is the Halfers that are capable of self-preservation – protecting those vulnerable, deep down parts by not giving their all.

Halfers know that by risking all they have, they could also lose everything. They weigh the pros and cons, list the checks and balances, and move on accordingly. This particular group knows how to hold back when necessary. They’re capable of watching as things that don’t work out roll somewhat easily off their shoulders. They’re able to rebound with speed and at least half of their reserved strength.

These people are survivors.

And then in life, there’s a second group – the group that makes the choice to go 200% in. The Doublers. These people are the ones that aim for the stars instead of the clouds. They give all of themselves in all of their exhibitions. When things go well, they double their strength and fly high until the next time they lose. And when they lose, they are left with nothing. They are broken and exhausted. There is no hidden reserve of care or energy, no speedy bounce back. Recovery is long and it is dreary and it is awful.

Doublers fight to the death, give away their last slice of bread despite their own hunger, and sweat blood. There is no self-preservation – no bodily armor to protect them as they live each day.

Doublers are not survivors.

I have no idea which category you fall into. You’re probably like most people… individual circumstances allow you to choose which team you will play for.

Grocery-shopping? Halfer. Math homework? Doubler. Making time with friends? Budgeting money? Resolving spousal conflicts? Your own personal health?

You see, there are no rights or wrongs. You pick your battles and choose to accept the consequences. Most of us tend to go halfsies on the smaller matters in our lives and double up on the main events, am I right?

Except here’s the problem. Sometimes, everything in life seems to be a main event. Sometimes, everything requires 200% of us. There are some of you reading this right now who feel that you are gambling so much of yourself that the consequences may even prove fatal. The risks are too great and you have no idea if you will survive.

Let me explain what a Doubler’s lifestyle may look like when everything requires them to be all in:

You are raising a special needs child. You are caring for aging parents. You are a work at home AND work out of the home parent. You have more bills than you have paycheck. You or someone in your immediate family has a life-altering health concern and doctor’s appointments are a full-time job. Your career is in a field that requires you to care for the physical/mental/emotional/spiritual health of other(s). You are married. You are single. You have a hormonal or mental health imbalance. Your children outnumber the adults in your home. You have therapies, sports, early intervention, Bible study, something that needs to be baked for charity, laundry that hasn’t been done in weeks, lab work, vet appointments, meetings, and grocery shopping all in the same day because you CANNOT serve ketchup and crackers with canned fruit 2 meals in a row.

Have I described you yet? Are you sitting there saying to yourself, Oh my gosh, I’m Doubling on EVERYTHING because there is simply no other choice! If you are, then you know you are playing Russian Roulette with your own sanity. You’re driving full-speed at a brick wall, believing that it can and hopefully will move. You’re holding onto a breaking heart so tightly, fearful of losing even just one small piece.

I know this because I, too, am a Doubler. Sure, I’ll go halfway when I can. When the house is only somewhat deplorable and I’m sorta sure we’ve got enough money in the account to put gas in the car… and even then, maybe I’ll only put in a few bucks, just to be safe.

But everything in life… it all feels so important. There’s so little that I can lay aside or put on the back burner. My kids with their mental illnesses, I can’t half that. My son with his kidney disorder and all the things that trigger it, that has to get my all. My advocacy for a foster child that was taken from me and placed into an abusive situation – how could I ever do only 50%? My husband, my church, my clients, the finances, my health, our family… who gets cut?

And what do we do when there’s nothing left to give?

I have faced this same dilemma so very many times. Because all the things in my life deserve more than all that I can give. And that is how I know that Doublers are not survivors.

They are world changers.

For every person that finds themselves so close to the fire that they can feel the heat burning their skin…

For every person who battles to the death for a cause that is noble or to save the ones they love…

For every person willing to lay themselves on the line in order to keep another life going…

You may be too exhausted to see it, but you’re changing someone’s world.

If you fought to keep your wits about you when your child was screaming in your face, when you hold the hand of someone as they lay dying in a hospital bed, if you never stop loving even when you’re being thrown through the wringer – then you are changing the world.

I know you’re tired, friend. So am I. I’m so tired it hurts. But take comfort in this:

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this world’s darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore take up the full armor of God, so that when the day comes, you will be able to stand your ground – and having done everything, to stand.”  Ephesians 6:12-13

Picture from Central Christian Church

Picture from Central Christian Church

This is not just another spiritual cliché. I’m not here to boost anyone up with feel good words and fluffy analogies. But when your child is in your face, remember that it’s not him that you’re battling. And when you’re holding your loved ones hand as they near death, it is not their spirit that is dying. And when you’ve loved with your whole heart and feel that it’s been given back to you time and again, wounded and shattered… then you know you have done everything. You have doubled up, given all that you could, and fought against all that is wrong until you’ve taken your last step.

And when you can go no further, just stand.

Because the key to changing the world is doing all that you can, then stepping aside and allowing God to finish the fight.

Be a Halfer when you can, be a Doubler when you must, and rest in God always.

If any of this hits home with you and you're looking for some extra support, click here to read about joining the Mommyhood: Striving for Sanity Membership Program.

 

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When Bio Parents Die

           In the world of adoption, there are so many issues that parents and children face. Whether the parent is adoptive, foster, or biological, there are numerous decisions and issue to consider. Open versus closed adoption, visitation schedules, when or if to tell a child they were adopted, what information to share about biological parents and health histories are only a few in a sea of vast choices that families need to make, depending on their particular circumstances.

            My older two children were adopted out of the foster care system when they were 4- and 6-years-old. There was never any question they were adopted, as they had and still have vivid memories of their pasts. They are half-siblings, both sharing the same mother but having different fathers. My daughter knows nothing of her birth father – he was incarcerated at the time of her birth and signed rights over immediately. My son, Cameron, however, knew very much about his birth father.

            He knew the feel of the man’s belt on his back, legs, and bottom.  He knew the signs of drug use and saw first-hand the relentless torment that an addict can inflict on young children. He knew the fear of seeing his pets killed, having his house set on fire, and being abandoned in a hospital – left wondering if anyone would ever be back to pick him up. And he knew the terror of nightmares. Ones that still haunt him to this day, reminding him that he may never, in fact, be safe enough to dream like a regular boy.

            And now, my son knows the feeling of confusion. While perusing the online local newspaper, I came across the obituary of Cameron’s birth father. In a state of shock, I jumped up from my chair, my body unsure of where it was going exactly, only knowing that it could no longer stay in its previously seated position. My husband had taken the kids to a local fair and would be returning shortly. I called him instantly, making him aware of the situation. Together, we decided to tell Cameron and his sister the news when they arrived home.

            Although some may question our decision to inform our 10-year-old of such traumatic news, it was a choice we came to easily. Cameron may not mentally be up to speed with other children his age, due to all that stunted him in his earlier years, but he knows more about this sad world than most children ever should. In fact, just a few days prior to learning the news of his bio father’s passing, Cameron was in tears at the psychiatrist’s office, reporting continued nightmares and fears that his first dad will return in the night and try to kill him – revenge for reporting the abuse those 4 years ago.

            Because of Cameron’s Reactive Attachment Disorder, he often doesn’t process his feelings well. They get lost somewhere inside, convoluted by all the grief, all the loss, and all the unreliable adults he has known. Why should he feel safe expressing feelings, or even feeling them at all, for that matter, knowing that he did for 6 whole years before anyone cared to notice that he was hungry, that he was sick, and that he was being grossly mistreated.

            My husband and I sat both kids down at the kitchen table upon their arrival home. It was then that we told them the news we'd learned only an hour before. Wanting this to be a teachable moment for both of my children (as they both struggle with RAD), we talked about how it’s OK to feel more than one emotion at the same time. We talked about how it’s OK to feel sad, even though this man was associated with so many bad memories. We also talked about how it’s OK to feel relieved – happy, even – knowing that this man will never hurt another child again, and knowing that Cameron could now sleep easy.

            My son sat there, taking it all in. He went through a few of the grief stages right away, starting with denial. He hit on anger a bit, too. There was also sadness. Confused about this strange amount of biological loyalty suddenly appearing within him, he tried to brush it away before I reminded him that his first dad, although incredibly flawed, was also loved and created by God – the same God that loves and creates each of us. And to feel saddened by his death is very normal. And in the same breath, I told him that he could feel happy, as well. He was allowed to feel safe. Free. He was able to put the past to rest and find new dreams to occupy his sleep.

            Cameron and Taylor both peppered me with questions and a wide variety of emotions that evening. Cameron even went as far as to make me promise to read the obituaries religiously, just to make sure we don't miss it if his baby brother dies, the little boy that has been missing from out lives for nearly a year.  But what I wanted Cameron to see the most was the obituary itself. In the list of this man’s children was Cameron’s name.

            What you have to understand is that my son’s first family was very bitter that he caused them the inconvenience of all the court hearings that followed. Not only had they refused to attend the CYS-scheduled visits with him, but they refused to acknowledge his very presence at each hearing that followed. They would glare at him from across the courthouse lounge or lavish his sister with attention, ignoring my son completely when he would sheepishly try to say hello. They even went as far as to refuse to give CYS the family’s medical history, which has been a significant stumbling block as we’ve faced all the health scares with Cameron’s kidneys.

            And as he sat there, slowly reading through the many words he didn’t understand in his bio father’s obituary, he finally came to a name he knew. Seeing his own name in front of him, his head popped up suddenly.

            “They remember me? That means they don’t hate me anymore!” he said as tears slipped from beneath long eyelashes. He showed more emotion from the relief of simply being acknowledged than he did at the news of a close relative’s death. Because from the start, that’s what all children want. They want acknowledgement, assurance, care, and love. And from his first family, he didn’t get any of that. So, in one small gesture, a family that could have left his name out of the newspaper, chose to include my son and heal a small part of his heart – a part that I would never have been able to heal.

            I don’t know where this man stood with his Maker when he passed. Quite honestly, we had stopped praying for him a couple years back when Cameron made it quite clear that he didn’t want to do anything that would make him remember the man. And as time went on, he was only mentioned in therapeutic moments when being listed as a source of so much early childhood trauma.

           Also relieved at his passing, I am grateful to the writer of the obituary. I am overjoyed that Cameron was not passed by once again. And I do pray that this man, Cameron’s biological father, was able to find peace in God at the end.

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