Review of the Multimedia Guide “Surviving the Holidays Without a Child”


The scent of cinnamon spiced eggnog and sugar cookies. The sight of Christmas lights twinkling brightly on a tree. The sound of relatives or friends asking invasive personal questions about family planning. “When are you two going to have children?” You guessed it. Christmas.

To be honest, this isn’t a problem my husband and I faced. We have always done things a bit differently, so it’s quite possible that friends and family just learned to roll with the punches. We decided to get married within 2 months of dating. We got married on a Tuesday, a year to the day after our first date.  I wore a black dress to our wedding and there were only 6 people in attendance, including the Justice of the Peace. The list goes on from there.

We had always planned on adopting from foster care, so it was a shock to no one when we started down that path. We were often asked why we didn’t “decide to have our own” children first. I was never quite sure what to say about it. Sometimes I said, “Why did you decide to give birth?” For the most part, our family didn’t ask too many questions and let us do our thing, our own way. This isn’t always so for couples who are experiencing infertility and/or awaiting the long process of adoption. In order to help with this, Dawn Davenport, and Creating a, have created a guide to help manage the holidays. The complete guide is entitled, “Surviving the Holidays Without a Child.” It is completely free and you can download your copy at this link:

Overall the guide was informative and interesting. I plan on using some of the suggestions to explain the absence of our teen-aged boys. This may be my hardest Christmas yet, so I am glad I have my guide. These are my favorite things about the survival guide:

It is Universal- No matter what your situation is with starting a family, the holidays are always a tough time. Everyone generally expects you to be merry and happy with family all around you. It simply isn’t the case for everyone. This guide gives practical advice, that can be applied to any situation during the holidays that causes you distress. For example, my personal guide would be entitled, “Surviving the Holidays Without My Two Disrupted Sons” or “Surviving the Holidays After Adoption Disruption.”

It Offers Practical Advice- The guide gives tips and tricks for handling emotional distress around this time. This includes exercise and rest as well as physical signs of stress. It tells you what to do in order to avoid triggers and stay sane. It also includes multimedia sources such as audio, blog posts, and articles.

It Acknowledges The Truth of Our Feelings- I am so happy that instead of telling women to hide their feelings, or act differently, it acknowledges the truth of our feelings. We all have triggers, we all get sad, we all feel the way we feel. Period. Thankfully this guide embraces that fact.

It Gives You a Practical Script of What to Say- Ever been in a situation where you don’t know how to respond to a very personal question? This guide offers phrases to use when answering sensitive questions.

It Gives You a Snarky Script of What to Say- This guide also adds some humor and levity to a heavy subject. Let’s face it, we don’t always want to be nice about this stuff! I may even use some of the one-liners myself when answering an inappropriate adoption question!

Whatever your family situation, I would highly recommend grabbing your own copy. After all, it’s free!

*Image courtesy of

If you’ve ever considered foster care and/or adoption, I encourage you to get started on your adventure today!

adoption, adoption disruption, Attachment, Attachment Disorders, family, parenting

The War Against RAD: An Open Letter to Rosie O’Donnell

Behind closed doors: Rosie O'Donnell's adopted daughter says her mom is a ' phony' in public who would put on a happy face, but then ignore her kids at home

Dear Rosie,

I am sorry for your loss. You have lost the most precious thing to any mother. You have lost a child. My hope for you is that Chelsea will eventually realize what her actions have done. In the meantime, be strong, Mama. From one adoptive mother to another, I feel for you. In the midst of everything I am sure that your biggest concern is for your child. Isn’t that always the way? We put them first. We are mothers.

I am sure I’m not the only Trauma Mama out there with a strong suspicion that your daughter may suffer from an attachment disorder of some sort. Of course it’s not my business, nor is it the public’s business. However, when it’s out in the media, I just hope people consider all sides. We never talk about RAD in public, do we? Mental illness is considered to be private, a family secret to be concealed. I wonder why? Adoption is wonderful, but adoption is also hard.

It’s curious to me that at 17, she had a 25-year-old boyfriend with a history of drug involvement. I can see where any parent would try to circumvent this kind of unhealthy relationship. I can also see where a mother might distance the family from a birth parent making public accusations. I believe that in this case the mother even admitted to being on heroin at the time of pregnancy and the birth of Chelsea. I am sorry for your daughter that the start of her life was so traumatic.

I have seen Reactive Attachment Disorder up close and it does terrible things to a child. An attachment challenged child will push away the very people they love the most. They will view love, affection, and nurturing as the enemy. Reactive Attachment Disorder is the driving force that causes our children to seek relationship after relationship with friends, family, and romantic partners, only to sabotage them purposefully. Reactive Attachment Disorder whispers in the ear of our children that they will never be safe, never be loved. It tells them to make claims to the rest of the world that they are happy and well-adjusted. Then it traps them in permanent loneliness, causing them to lash out against all who try to love them. it is a war we fight against the disorder.

There has been a lot of media around the “different side” of you that Chelsea saw at home. She has “exposed” the fact that you liked arts and crafts and that you presented a happier face to the world. Don’t all of us present a happy face to the general public? Especially in times of strife or turmoil at home? I know I do. I love all of my children and I wouldn’t change a thing. That is the truth and it is what I tell others who ask me about adoption. The truth that I don’t tell, that I hide from the public, is that sometimes it is really, really hard. I may blog about it, but I can’t share within my immediate circle. At home, we battle against RAD.

Sometimes, Reactive Attachment Disorder wins. Our children leave us either physically or emotionally. Then we are left wondering if they will be alright. I have to believe they will be. The hardest part is letting go and seeing where they land. Chelsea went to her birth mother and then back to her boyfriend. She is probably in the windstorm of Reactive Attachment DIsorder. I’m sure she will be tossed around from place to place, never finding enough to fill the void inside. Eventually, I believe she will come home. To you and to your family. I believe this because I want to believe I will see my boys again. I must believe that they can heal.  I wish only safety and healing for you and your family. Sometimes, Reactive Attachment Disorder wins. I hope it loses this time.


Another RAD Soldier

adoption, family, parenting, PTSD

Furniture in the First Degree: Adventures in the Rage of a Traumatized Child 

He is standing in the closet doorway, screaming in a wordless rage at his dresser. I eye the dresser suspiciously. What was its offense against my son?

“Carl, honey, did you want me to help you pick out some shorts?” It’s 6:00AM. A full hour before he needs to be up. My bleary-eyed-9-yr-old is standing in long sleeves and pants, screaming at his dresser. It is going to be over 90 degrees outside today.

It isn’t entirely unusual for Carl to become enraged with inanimate objects. I very much prefer this to becoming enraged at mom! Often times I will “count” the offending object a la “1-2-3 Magic.” I will sternly scold the table-door-cleats-refrigerator with a, “Hey! You can’t do that to Carl. That’s 3, take 5!” Then said object will remain in “time out” until the timer rings. I figure laughter is the best policy, right?

Wrong. At least, not this morning. This is one of those mornings that Carl woke up yelling. He blocks me from the dresser in a defensive stance and insists that he has no shorts. He dares me to “cross him.” Why on earth would I want to do that? I suggest getting myself some coffee and coming back when he is ready to choose his clothes.

As I walk away I can hear him kicking the closet door. Maybe the closet is an accomplice? I shrug it off and wake my husband. He will need to be up early if Carl is already raging. Just in case. Because I have to go to work. Thank god for Luke. He is the glue that holds our family. He has the power to soothe a raging child, calm a stressed out Mama, and properly discipline a wayward dresser.

This marks a solid week of Carl being in his rage cycle. Waking up is difficult and the time before bed is difficult, too. He has been physically aggressive with both Luke and I. He has punched his walls and thrown his things. Luke caught him smashing his bed with a hammer he must have gotten out of the toolbox in the basement.

Things are changing. Marcus is gone. Sean is gone. I’ve gone back to work. The chickens have gone back to school. It’s a lot to take in. And let’s not forget that the furniture is misbehaving.

The problem is, when Carl starts in this cycle, he gets stuck. He rages one day, then the next and the next and the next. He hurts us and hurts himself. He feels tremendous guilt about his own actions. He starts to make claims about how he “hates Carl.” Who could hate little Carl? Seriously, his dimples are to-die-for-cute. He judges himself too harshly.

Luke and I have concerns that he may go back in-patient if we can’t break his cycle. What we want most of all is to keep him home and keep bonding with him. A sense of permanence and belonging is so important to our kids.

We are working on a sensory plan to help with his mornings. After work I got a “thunder vest” for him. It’s actually a strong Velcro vest that is used to soothe dogs during thunder storms. The vest has little doggie paw prints on the front. A weighted vest didn’t help very much but Carl seems to love the Velcro. I can strap him in really to provide deep pressure that should help to soothe his senses.

We tried it on and then Mary wanted to try it. Don’t worry, I had one for her, too! They paraded around in their vests and pretended to be police. I told them that they were ASPCA officers responsible for brushing our cats in the mornings. I added it into “Officer Carl’s” morning schedule.

I am hoping that tomorrow he wakes up, gets dressed, and then suits up to fight against cruelty to animals. I hope he has a morning adventure rather than a morning altercation with the closet.

The bottom line is, I am hoping. Perhaps with practice, modeling, and a little sensory feedback, maybe we can break this cycle. Just don’t tell my children that the vests are made for dogs.

I am hoping we can maintain Carl in the home without another hospitalization. No matter what, we will keep trying new approaches. Therapy, sensory, behavioral, visual interventions, whatever it takes. We haven’t had much luck modifying the behaviors of our furniture. I am hoping we have luck in riding out this cycle with Carl. After all, we were lucky enough to find him, weren’t we?


**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

If you’ve ever considered fostering or adopting, I encourage you to start your adventure today.

adoption, family, fostercare, parenting

We Like Big Butts!: Adventures in Healing for Our Family


Does it get better? Will there be mornings when I stop calling for Sean not to miss his bus? Maybe a morning where I remember he is gone before I start checking that he is ready for school?

This weekend Luke and I took our Littles to the “Big E” along with Seth and Catlyn. We went on rides and played games and ate impossibly unhealthy foods. We laughed and the children caught bead necklaces when the parade went by. We stuffed ourselves full of Kettle corn and zoomed down a slide twice as tall as our house!

Luke grinned and belly laughed with me and kissed me with abandon. Our kids squealed, “Ewww! Gross!” as children are supposed to do.

In short, we had fun.

We did pass by certain rides or food booths that brought up memories from last year. That is when I thought of Sean and I missed him. We saw things Marcus would love and I missed him, too. I wonder of they look back and think about all of the fun we’ve had as a family? Do they miss us as well?

At the same time, we saw our Littles relax and bond. Carl held Mary’s hand to make sure she wouldn’t be afraid. When they went on the little roller coaster together, she got so scared that she screamed for me the  entire ride. The whole time Carl held her hand and told her she wouldn’t die and that he was there and he loves her. That story is beautiful to me. It reinforces that siblings belong together. It lets me know that they are healing.


The next day was their football game. Luke and I were sure to change our Little’s names on the roster so they would be announced with our family last name over the loudspeakers. After the game Carl was so proud that they announced his name during his many, many tackles. Mary said, “Yeah, they knew who I was, too!” She also commented that while she was cheer leading, she saw me jumping up and down shouting, “That’s my son!” to strangers.

Despite all of the turmoil, I think they are beginning to feel secure. I suspect they are attaching. During in-home therapy the littles were asked if they had any questions as to why Sean and Marcus aren’t living with us. Carl asked, “Why were they so mean?” I did my best to explain that Sean and Marcus were scared to get close to a mom and dad because they had been hurt so much before by a mom and dad. I said they were trying to do things that would push us away so we wouldn’t love them anymore. Carl looked incredulous. “Well it didn’t work!” he exclaimed.

As for Mary? She had a question about the family, too. She asked, “Mommy? Why does Daddy like big butts so much? ‘Cause he Really likes yours!!!” And if THAT is the most pressing question about our family? Well then, I guess we are doing alright! Although maybe Luke should lay off singing Sir Mix-A-Lot to me….but this Mommy’s got back and she cannot lie!!


**Names have been hanged to protect the privacy of those involved.
If you’ve ever thought about fostering or adopting, I encourage you to start your adventure!

adoption, family, fostercare, parenting

Why I Wish We Hadn’t Adopted Our Children


I wish we hadn’t adopted them. There, I’ve finally said it. I wish they’d never been adopted. It’s something adoptive parents think about often, but never say. The outside world expects us to be the happy smiling picture of family perfection. The outside world cannot understand that our greatest joy was their greatest grief. I wish we had never adopted our children because I wish they had never experienced that first loss. That primal wound. I wish they never had to experience the trauma that they carry to this day.

Creating our family has been the biggest joy in my life. It’s the most fulfilling and wonderful endeavor I’ve ever undertaken. It’s also the hardest. It’s hard to watch them suffer through their grief. Our greatest joy comes from their greatest pain.

No matter the level of abuse or neglect a child experiences, they are hard-wired to love and depend on their birth parents. Losing that relationship, regardless of how toxic it was, is the most painful loss a child can experience. I believe that all children love their birth parents. I believe that all birth parents love their children to the best of their abilities. Don’t we all love our children and do for them whatever we are able?

Unfortunately, for my kids, their birth parents truly were not able. It wasn’t a question of love it was a question of substance abuse and mental health concerns. It was physical abuse and neglect. It’s easy to look at all of the missed birthdays and visits and think their birth mother didn’t try. I think often she couldn’t try because she had too many problems of her own.

If I could wave a magic wand I would give them everything they have ever wanted. They would have never come into the foster care system. They would never have had to split up and move from place to place. They wouldn’t have experienced trauma and loss. They would have remained in a home that was stable with a stable birth mom that met their needs. Even if it meant I would never get to be “mom” to the best kids on earth, I would do it if I could.

Why? Because it isn’t about me. I’m a mom. It’s about my kids.

I would do it if I could, but I can’t. That is not something that I can give to them. I can give them a loving home. I can give them safety, permanancy, and love. Maybe it will never make up for what should have been or could have been in their lives.

However, it will make me whole and happy and fulfilled. They are everything I could have ever wanted. Therefore, I’m the lucky one. My husband and I got the best part of this deal.

We are the “lucky” ones.


adoption, family, fostercare, parenting

Am I the “Right” Parent to Adopt This Child?


Am I the right mother for this child? Is this the right family for this child? Is this the right child for us? These are the questions I often hear in the adoption community. These are questions adoptive parents ask themselves when the children begin to exhibit emotional problems and difficult behaviors. These are questions that haunt adoptive placements. And I have the answer.

In a word, “no.”

I am not the right mother for anyone. I am not a saint or a savior to my children. I’m a curly-haired, highly caffeinated, slightly befuddled woman on my best days. On my worst days? I’m grumpy and discombobulated and I serve cereal for breakfast instead of pancakes and bacon. I spend all day herding chickens only to realize at 2:00 AM that one of the 6 had a psychiatrist appointment I completely missed that day. I am not perfect.

My kids are not “lucky” to have me. I read to them and snuggle them and kiss their boo-boos. I help with homework. Sometimes I bake cookies. Sometimes I burn the cookies and show up late to football practice.

I soothe intense tantrums. I am used to my children flying into a rage at me the moment they realize how much they love me. I sing crazy off-key songs to soothe their fears over showering, going to school, or unexpected spiders. I have been hit, kicked, bitten and scratched. My love and super-parenting skills do not cure disorganized attachment or reactive attachment disorder. I can’t wipe away my childrens’ past traumas or banish their nightmares. I can, however, make hot cocoa at 3 AM when my 14-yr-old son wakes up sobbing that he is afraid of his closet.

When they came into our home they started to fall apart. their past wounds and hurts all came out. They disclosed information about their pasts that they’d never spoken about with their social worker.They admitted how hard it was to sleep at night and sought our help, whereas in foster care they simply dealt with these fears amongst themselves. Yes, they fell apart when they began to trust us. They trusted us enough to let us see their hurts and their distress. They trusted us to help them to find healing.

No, I am not the “right” parent for my children. They have PTSD, Reactive Attachment Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder. They are traumatized beyond anything I’ve ever seen before.  How could I possibly ever be enough? How could we meet all of their needs? Isn’t there someone out there better qualified to raise this sibling group?

In a word, “NO!”

The right parent for any child doesn’t exist. It’s a myth, a lie we tell ourselves, the Santa Claus of adult culture in America.

I am not a hero adopting these kids. My husband and I are not saints as so many have told us. On my best day, I’m just a normal parent.

No, I’m not the “right” mom, but I am their mom. And that is all I have to be. No one could ever love them this much. No one would ever try as hard. I  am not perfect. I am not a super hero. I am something more. I am “mom.”

adoption, family, fostercare, infertility

Why THESE kids?: Adventures in Finding Our Children


“What drew you to THESE kids? Did you originally plan to adopt so many?” A friend of mine asked me recently. I had to stop and think. We certainly didn’t plan on having this many. Does anyone aside from maybe the Duggers plan to have a family this huge? Perhaps, but I haven’t met them yet.

But why? Why THESE particular children? I honestly couldn’t answer that question. Who knows? They were just our kids.

I think everyone starts a family in pretty much the same way. They want to be parents. They want to share in little league games and pre-school macaroni necklaces. People want to give goodnight kisses and pass on family traditions to a new generation.

What I want you to know from this adventure is that life never works according to a plan. Luke and I took a lot of the steps that we thought would lead us to parenthood. We got steady jobs with pensions. We bought a little house in the country with room to grow. Our neighbors has horses and goats and there was forest all around us. There was a big yard with great trees for climbing. Luke already had two children from a previous marriage. We thought we would have two more. Our plan was to conceive one child and adopt one from foster care. As a teacher I saw so many children in the system that I wished I could take home. They needed so much and there were so many amazing kids.

The plan was that I would acquire some great mom skills and then we would adopt when I was a seasoned and proficient parent. After all, if we adopted from foster care, then that child would need someone with experience and exceptional parenting skills. Right? Wrong!

Luke and I got pregnant right away. It was an ectopic pregnancy that came close to claiming my life. The damage from it made it difficult to conceive again. Even the thought of another pregnancy was terrifying to me.  We decided to take the foster parent classes and start there. Maybe we would foster a few sibling groups. Maybe eventually we would foster a child that would need us forever.

What I want you to know is that everything changed the day we me them. Our family. Our kids. We went to an “adoption party” at the encouragement of some friends who had adopted two siblings this way. I think we went more out of curiosity than actually planning to adopt right away.

It was a huge building with a million different activities. Basketball, Arts and Crafts, games and pizza. Luke and I went into the woodworking area and I looked around nervously. There was a 12-year-old boy in a huge sweatshirt building a bird house. His name was Sean. He had 3 finished products next to him already. He had curly black hair, huge brown eyes and thick eye lashes, just like my husband. He began talking to me a mile a minute. He showed me everything he had built. He was talkative and animated and he laughed so easily. He told me he loved science. He loved the Percy Jackson book series, and reading was his favorite pastime. As an avid reader I quickly became immersed in a conversation about books.  Within minutes I was smitten. I looked over his head at Luke. I nodded and he nodded back. Silently, we knew. This boy was our son. I made a wooden ring toss with him and we played a few rounds. That ring toss now sits on display in our dining room. Sean takes it down whenever he wants to see me cry a few happy tears.

12-year-old Sean introduced us to his little brother, Carl. Luke sat down with Carl and built a little wooden car. As I watched them bent over the project I had a small flutter of excitement. We had always wanted to keep siblings together. We could adopt these 2 boys and our family would be complete. I had a feeling of relief. No more pregnancies, no more trying. We would be a family without fertility treatments, worry, and fear.

After we finished building our woodworking projects it was time for the boys to eat lunch. Sean led the way and invited us to come. He said, “Do you guys wanna meet our sister?” Sister??? There were 3 kids?! Were there more? Oh my. We went anyway.

She was tiny. Mary was 6 years old at the time. A small Hispanic girl with blonde curly hair. She could have been our biological child. Not that we were looking for “matching” children, but it just seemed like some sort of sign. Sean quickly spoke for her and told us she was “quiet.” He doled out food for them and told them what they must eat and what they didn’t have to eat. He was a tiny little grown-up and they depended on him. They didn’t even all live together in the same foster home. Carl was in a separate home and it haunted me that they should all be together. Their love for each other was obvious. Another woman was at the table briefly to inquire about just Mary. the youngest only. I felt immediately protective over this little group. Who would want to break this bond? The woman was obviously impaired if she didn’t enjoy charismatic Sean and his tales from the Percy Jackson books!

Mary looked down at the table and avoided eye-contact. The woman eventually walked away. As soon as Sean scooted next to his sister, Mary leaned into him and chewed absently on his sweatshirt strings. I introduced myself and made some comments about her art project. She answered me and said a few words. It wasn’t until later I found out that she was selectively mute. I was the first adult she had spoken to outside of her family, in a very long time.

We were sold. For months afterward we pursued these kids. Luke and I spent hours debating if we would be the “right” family for these siblings. Could we do it? Financially? Emotionally? Logistically? We debated, we planned, we searched within ourselves. In the end, we couldn’t stop thinking about them. We later learned that they had an older brother. He didn’t want to be adopted at the time so we just asked if he could visit his siblings with us. Maybe we could build a relationship with him. We didn’t want our kids to lose more than they had already lost. We didn’t know it at the time, but we would eventually meet Marcus and fall in love with him, too. We brought him home a year after we were placed with the other 3. Love is a complicated and unpredictable thing.

What I want you to know is that there are things you can’t plan for. We didn’t plan to fall in love with a large sibling group. In the end we didn’t have any more money, house space, free time, or extra-super parenting skills. All we had was love and commitment. What I want you to know id that there are no perfect parents and there is no perfect family. We adjusted, we accommodated, we fell into place. We went from 2-sometimes-4 into 5-sometimes-8 in the blink of an eye.

What I want you to know is that taking a risk is the best thing we ever did. I wouldn’t trade this journey for any other.

If you’ve ever considered foster care or adoption, I encourage you to start your own adventure today!


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** Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.