Rebekah Hall, MSW
Director of Adoption & Child Welfare
As the Director of Adoption and Child Welfare for Catholic Charities I hear so many stories of adoption. I work hand in hand with families looking to adopt, am there with them as they welcome a child into their family, and in some cases have had the privilege of meeting with birth families as well. Professionally I have been doing “all things adoption” for a little over 12 years. On a personal level it has been a lifetime. I am an adoptee.
November is National Adoption Month and this year at Catholic Charities we made the concerted effort/decision to try to focus on the voice of the adoptee. If you have been following us on social media you have seen video clips of adoptees answering the question what being adopted means to them. In some ways that is a simple question but in truth it is a HARD question. I have thought about this question for many years and have even been asked it from time-to-time. I had my answer down and pretty much would give the same answer every time I responded. That all changed in August of this year. My answer is now different. My answer now?? “Adoption is beautiful, adoption is heart-wrenching, adoption is joyful, adoption is loss, adoption is lifelong, and adoption is HARD.”
The reason that I took to telling my story this way instead of on video is that emotions are still too fresh. I am still processing and figuring things out. But I believe that we can only learn and teach if we are open and transparent. So, why is adoption hard? Let’s rewind; my parents were “forward thinking” for their time and always told me that I was adopted. There was no surprise there. I was not the kid that asked a lot of questions and was content in what I knew – my birth mother was 16 and my birth father was a little older. In graduate school I decided it might be interesting to search for my birth family so I made some initial inquiries and found out in Pennsylvania it was not an easy process, for my type of adoption, to initiate a search – ADOPTION IS HARD. I let it go at the time and moved on. 2016, now I was ready, I wanted to know where I came from. Where did I get my green eyes, my nose, what was my ethnic heritage, did I have any similar traits to my birth mother? So I began with the attorney who facilitated my adoption. He claimed to have no recollection of the adoption – ADOPTION IS HARD. Next I went to the courts (still called orphan court in Pennsylvania) and was told they had no records based on the little information I had – ADOPTION IS HARD. As a final recourse I decided to try Ancestry DNA and besides now knowing my ethnic heritage struck out again – ADOPTION IS HARD.
Now let’s talk about August 2020. 11:37 p.m. on Friday, August 7, 2020 to be exact. The night that a FB message popped up on my phone. The moment I read that a woman had an Ancestry DNA match that listed me as a “close relative” and she had been searching for her sister for years who had been adopted and could I possibly be that person. The answer, YES.
As I began talking with my sister, birth mother, two other sisters, and brother (yes there are 4 siblings) life got real. ADOPTION GOT HARD. You learn things that are HARD. You learn that your birth father wanted you to be aborted. You learn that your birth mother stood up to her own family in order to carry you to term. You learn that your birth mother, on the day you turned 18, contacted the aforementioned attorney to give them her info in case I ever contacted him (so he clearly lied in 2016). You learn that ADOPTION IS HARD.
My life was privileged. I am THANKFUL that I have had the life I have. My life would have been drastically different and I am glad that it wasn’t. But then there is the guilt that creeps in, should I be thankful for that? ADOPTION IS HARD. Almost 4 months have passed since the day my world changed. I can say that it has mostly been for the better. But it has not come without it’s hardships. My body is manifesting externally what I am processing internally in physical ways which has sent me on many trips to the doctors and multiple tests. On the flip side it is good, I am slowly getting to know the family that shares my blood. I love seeing what we have in common while also learning about our uniqueness.
I first posted my story, when I was ready, on my Facebook page. A friend asked what would make me want to share this story publicly. One easy answer was that it was a quick way to let friends (beyond those I had told in person) what was going on in my life. But it was also a way to help share and educate others. Whether that be adoptive families, people who have friends or family who have been adopted, or adoptees themselves. ADOPTION IS HARD. It comes with trauma. Adoption comes with loss. Adoptees are the one group of the triad who have no say about adoption, the decision is made for them. Birth parents and adoptive parents alike need to respect that and understand that. This is our lives, our stories. I cannot speak for every adoptee out there. We each have our own unique story and journey. And while it is oftentimes beautiful no one can forget that each adoptee’s story began with loss and eventually that loss is going to emerge. For some it is when they are younger, for others it is when they are much, much older, or for me, it was at 39 years old.
So this adoption month take a few minutes and talk to those you know who are adopted. Listen to their stories, hear their perspective. You won’t be able to understand it fully as you have not walked it. But realize that as beautiful as their adoption is, it is also HARD and be ready to walk with each one through that hardness.
Written by Kelle Watson, M.A. LPC
Director of Clinical Counseling, Catholic Charities of Eastern Virginia
How do you make peace with a pandemic? What does that mean? What does that even look like? You probably have had a wealth of emotions regarding this lingering pandemic that ranged from fear to anxiety to sadness to anger to confusion to uncertainty and then looped back through all of the above. One thing to be sure is the Pandemic has hung around longer than any of us thought that it would. It is an unwelcome guest that refuses to leave. In counseling, when a client is faced with difficult negative life circumstances that they cannot change, we use Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. This therapy gently challenges an individual to accept the circumstances in their life that they have no control over. By accepting circumstances that we have no ability to change instead of using all of our energy railing against them, acceptance ends up resulting in an ironic and surprising peace. While this may sound like a strange new concept with a paradoxical outcome, it is nothing new.
Most of us are familiar with the Serenity prayer by Rienhold Niebuhr. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference”. The serenity that comes from accepting what we cannot change can be very empowering. When we feel empowered, we experience a sense of control and this sense of control ultimately brings us peace. Peace can calm our emotions of fear, anxiety, sadness, anger, confusion and uncertainty. Peace can give us the rest we need to face today and the strength we need to face tomorrow.
While making peace with the pandemic will be a continual process, it is well worth the effort. The fruit of this important life skill of accepting what we have no power to change will help us to deal with all our difficult life circumstances both now and in the future.
What does it look like when someone has not made peace with the pandemic? We have all seen the stories on the news of people over reacting to wearing masks and social distancing. What makes them behave this way? They are railing against the pandemic instead of making peace with it. This railing comes from fear. This fear leads to anger which then leads to aggression. They are like that stray animal by the side of the road you reach down to help and they bite you. Underneath that reaction is a very frightened living thing. If someone is lashing out at those around them, they have not made peace with the pandemic.
We have also heard of the other extreme. People who are so paralyzed with fear that they are not leaving their homes if they don’t have to, quitting their jobs because they are afraid to go near people, and have resigned themselves to live in social isolation because they feel that is their only safe option. This also comes from fear. This fear leads to anxiety and the anxiety leads to social isolation. Social isolation is not healthy for anyone. The toll this can take on someone’s emotional and mental well being can be detrimental. Even the most introverted among us need social human interaction.
We can all remember when we first ventured out into the world after shut down. It was eerie, strange, almost apocalyptic, but we did it and now it is not as scary. It is still scary to be sure, but we have made peace with it and are still being smart, wearing our masks, and social distancing. Our hands are so clean, we could preform surgery. We have made a conscious choice to overcome the fear to find our new normal. We have made peace with our new normal. Life is not the absence of fear. Life is how we live in the midst of fear.
Fear is not a bad emotion, but rather a basic emotion that can actually serve a vital purpose. If we are walking down a dark deserted alley at 3 in the morning, we should be fearful. It is our instincts letting us know this is a dangerous situation. William Bradford Cannon first illustrated this theory of the physiological fight or flight response. When an individual is faced with danger or stress, they may react by either fighting the danger or stress or taking flight from it. There is a third element to this theory that is not as well known called “freezing”. Some, when faced with danger or stress, freeze and are paralyzed. Freezing can also be a form of flight, but the end result is still freezing. It seems with this pandemic, one of our physiological responses of flight is not really an option. We cannot run from the pandemic like a gazelle trying to outrun a lion. Since we cannot take flight, we can create a new option called adaption.
We can adapt to this new normal with a new skill of adaptation. One life skill I often teach clients is that the only one who has ultimate power over their life is themselves. We make a conscious choice to get up each day and decide who we want to be that day, how we want to act, and how we want to treat others. We are the ones in charge of our thoughts, our emotions and our actions. We could be in the midst of the most terrible circumstances and feel peace. We could have things going wrong to the right and left of us but remain calm. We can choose to adapt to the circumstances around us.
I am impressed by those who have chosen to adapt to the pandemic instead of fighting against it or being paralyzed by it. I hear of people doing it everyday. On the radio, I heard a principal of a school put out a parody of the song, “You can’t touch this” by M.C. Hammer. He uses the melody in an amusing way to let returning students know what they can and can’t touch. He has adapted to the pandemic and he is role modeling for his students to do the same. Several celebrities have hosted Virtual proms and graduations as the class of 2020 adapts to missing these major life events in person. Sporting events have cardboard cut outs in the audience to resemble fans as they adapt to finding their new normal as professional athletes. Saturday Night Live finished its season as Saturday Night “Virtual”, as a 45 year old live show adapts to the pandemic. Numerous retailers put social distancing and mask wearing policies into effect so they could reopen as they adapt to the new normal in the shopping experience. Restaurants have contactless deliveries as they adapt to the new normal. Apparently so many people are having pizza delivered that we have a peperoni shortage! Grocery stores clean the carts for their patrons, put up Plexiglas to minimize droplet transmission and tape signs on the floor for social distancing as they adapt to the new normal of grocery shopping. Churches have drive in services as they adapt to the new normal in worship. Political Conventions are held virtually as they adapt to the new normal of an election year. Music award shows are virtual as they adapt to the new normal in entertainment. Zoom stock must be soaring as employers utilize this medium to continue adapting to the new workplace landscape. In fact, I heard Zoom recently crashed because so many people were using it. Parades of cars drive by to honor a vet who turned 100 and a boy recovering from cancer as people adapt to a new way of showing support for their fellow man. In all these cases, people have adapted and made peace with the pandemic. Life goes on and so do we.
While many of us have learned to adapt to a new normal during this pandemic, the fall of 2020 has brought the need for even more adaptation especially for parents as they attempt to navigate another new normal. Change is never easy nor is it very welcome. Yet it constantly comes back to challenge us again and again. It is important to remember that change can be a good thing making us stronger and more resilient. I read once that a pearl is formed by a grain of sand getting inside of a marine oyster. The oyster secretes a substance to get rid of the irritant and in the process of trying to remove the irritant, the marine oyster ends up forming something quite strong and beautiful that we have come to know as a pearl. Change can make us stronger. Change can show us how to adapt to the circumstances around us.
As parents attempt to find a new normal this fall, kids are finding their new normal too. What I have learned in working with children is that they are highly adaptable and resilient. Kids seem to learn how to make peace with things earlier and easier than we do. They are fearless at times, impressive at times and awe inspiring at other times. Kids truly can take lemons and make lemonade. We could learn a lot from them. Many of my school counselors returned to in person open schools last week after much discussion and preparation from myself, their schools, and the superintendent of schools. What they reported to me was the absolute joy kids had in returning to school and seeing their friends again in person! They didn’t care that they had to wear masks and social distance because they got to see their friends. They are adapting to their new normal. What the counselors reported regarding parents was a lot of uncertainty and questions as parents are seeking the knowledge they need to feel comfortable with their new normal of sending their kids back to school. You have probably all heard the expression, “Knowledge is power”. In this regard, it truly is. The more parents gather information and knowledge about their children returning to in person instruction, the less uncertain they will feel. The less uncertain they feel, the more power they will feel. This power will give them a sense of control and the sense of control will give them a sense of peace. Parents will once again find another new normal for themselves and their families.
There is a wealth of knowledge out there to equip parents for finding another new normal as kids return back to school. Here are some great websites addressing the return to in person instruction:
Center for Disease Control and Prevention:
National Association of School Psychologists:
American Academy of Pediatrics:
School Nutrition Association:
American Occupational Therapy Association:
As a department that helps individuals with all kinds of issues they face in life, we are here to help individuals deal with the pandemic and find that peace that is so important for our mental health. If life feels uncertain right now, we can help. We have all had to chart our own course as we attempt to make peace with this continual and enduring pandemic. We have all been walking on the same road, in the same shoes, with the same fears, questions and anxieties.
You’ve heard it before, but I will say it again, we are all in this together. We can find strength from one another. We can make peace with this pandemic.
How many parents have heard this impatient question while driving the family on a road trip? It is a legitimate question from a kid’s perspective if not annoying from an adult perspective. We probably can all remember asking this of our parents when we were young sitting in the back seat of the family car. My family set out on a road trip from New York to Washington DC. My eight year old mind was convinced we were driving instead to the state of Washington because it seemed to me that we were in the car for several weeks. How much longer would I have to endure being trapped in this car playing A my name is Alice and I come from Alabama and looking at my brother’s face and having his smelly shoes thrown over on my side of the car? When you’re a kid, time is one of two things, it is either very fluid or at a complete standstill where a minute seems like several, an hour seems like a day, and a day seems like forever.
If kids are happy and occupied and busy, they don’t seem to notice time except that it is going by too fast. But if it is boring and drags on they are painfully aware of it and want to make you painfully aware of it also.
Recently the concept of time for kids has changed drastically in a very short amount of time. Months ago they were on a schedule, getting up, getting dressed and going to school. They were riding the bus, seeing their friends, eating lunch with them, having PE and recess. They were talking to their friends in the hall, laughing, and having inside jokes. They were complaining about homework, talking about the next soccer game, basketball game, or lacrosse game. They were making plans for the weekend and birthday parties, dances, graduations, proms, the movies, and the mall. It was hectic, but it was their everyday normal life. It was day after busy day. They would come home from school, maybe grumble about homework, not eat all their dinner and slip it to the dog under the table. They would promise to do homework in their room and you would find them instead watching television or playing a video game. “ Hurry up”, you would say. “You have to get your homework done by tomorrow and put your dirty clothes in the hamper and give me what you need washed before the next soccer game”. You would supervise whatever nightly ritual you had with them whether it was reading them a book, praying with them and making sure they brushed their teeth and washed behind their ears. You would tuck them in. You would check in a little while after you put them down to see if they were asleep because tomorrow was another day full of schedules, events, places to go and people to see. That was their life a few months ago. It was predictable, routine and it was safe.
How in the world do you explain to your kids who have lost their routine why they are at home all the time, why they can’t see their friends, and why they can’t go to school? How do you make sure they feel safe? Especially when you as a parent may not feel safe?
REMEMBER TO PROVIDE SAFETY AND SECURITY FOR YOUR CHILDREN:
One of the most important things about being a parent is that in all ways and in all times, your child comes first. Being a parent is a selfless, all encompassing job which requires you to protect, comfort, reassure, encourage, support and love beyond measure. All these things contribute to a child feeling safe and secure.
I have heard people describe the Coronavirus as a storm. In many ways it is. In Hampton Roads, we are use to preparing for Hurricanes. They are forecasted in a decent amount of time so we can get supplies and hunker down until the storm passes. We head to Kroger, chat it up with the stranger next to us in line about how bad we think it may get, tell them to be safe, go home with our supplies and wait for the storm to pass. It does. Then the sun shines again and we come out of our homes and go back to life as usual. The Coronavirus has been different. It started out as a storm that didn’t affect us and was on the other side of the world. We had compassion, sure, but it didn’t really have any impact on our lives. Then it began to affect the other side of our country. A little concerning, but that was the west coast after all, a good 3,000 miles away. Our lives still went on and remained pretty much the same. Then like a tornado, the virus has picked up speed and intensity and destruction and it has taken many of us off guard, leaving us unprepared, and uncertain about how long it will last and when it will end. Now going to the grocery store we do not chat it up with the strangers around us. We keep a good six feet from them, maybe wearing a mask so we didn’t even breathe the same air. We go home with our supplies, but are left feeling unsettled as we do not know how long we need to hunker down, when this will end and when we can go back to being normal.
The speed at which this has happened and is continuing to happen is accelerated and uncertain. Decisions that started with schools closed for two weeks accelerated to schools closed for an indeterminate amount of time to schools closed to the end of the year. This left parents scrambling with what to do with their children, how to continue to work, how to teach their children from home and keep their children on task with schoolwork. Businesses went very quickly from being open to shutting down which gave parents new worries and concerns about finances and how to care for their families. Restaurants, gyms, malls, and movie theatres were also quickly closed which led to most of the country being physically isolated from one another with the challenge of not having any outlets or distraction from this new sequestered normal.
PARENTS REMEMBER TO TAKE CARE OF YOUR SELVES:
Parents, it is normal to feel stressed and anxious about what is going on! These are uncertain and trying times that would even stress out Mr. Rogers! While putting your children first is paramount, you also need to take care of yourself. That includes physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. It’s important to eat right, take your supplements, get enough rest, relax, and exercise. It helps to focus on the positive, be grateful, connect more with your spiritual self, connect with nature, and connect with those you love. Dr. Sanjay Gupta said something I thought was quite helpful. We are not socially distancing, we are physically distancing. We still have access to one another socially. Thank God we live in a technological age where we can skype, text, and Facetime with those we love whether they are in the next city or on the other side of the country. We are blessed to have technology at this trying time. Most of us have computers, Netflix, Hulu and multiple ways to relax, and destress from where we find ourselves. The other night Hulu froze for several minutes while I was watching SNL. It was a parody on American Idol but with animals. Simon Cowell was telling a Golden Retriever that he didn’t make the cut in his snarky British accent. Hulu froze on the dog’s face which made me laugh for several minutes mostly because the dog had no idea what was going on. Even frozen technology can be a hoot.
REMEMBER TO TALK AGE APPROPRIATELY WITH YOUR CHILDREN:
In addition to providing a foundation of safety for your children and providing good role modeling for your children by taking care of yourself, there comes the task of talking with your children about what is happening. You know your child better than anyone and know how well they individually handle stress. Some children are more sensitive to stress and the stress of their parents. In this case, the more you can manage your own stress, the more calm your child will be when you have a conversation.
It is important to talk with children in an age appropriate way. While this sounds obvious, sometimes parents make the mistake of talking to their children in an adult manner that is not only inappropriate but can frighten a child. Conversely, sometimes parents talk down to their children in an effort to protect them. This usually backfires as the child knows when the parent is playing down a situation because it is scary and this can also frighten a child. An age appropriate, honest conversation from a calm parent is the best approach.
Children handle difficult situations incrementally. They will come to you and ask you questions and when they ask they want to know the answers right then. They may ask one question or several. Let them be the lead on your conversation. They may just ask one question and then be satisfied with your answer and go off and play. They may ask several questions until they feel satisfied. They may ask you one question everyday or several everyday. It is helpful to know this and not overwhelm them with information that they don’t need at that time or didn’t ask for.
Your body language and facial expressions are important to be self aware of. You’ll want to convey both a genuine demeanor yet not be anxious or fearful. Kids pick up on this energy. While this may sound like an impossible task, if you think back you have done this with your kids before multiple times. How many of you when teaching your kids to ride a bike did they fall off and scape their knee and they were upset and crying? You didn’t freak out and cry along with them. You reassured them and calmed them down and cleaned their wound and put a bandage on it. Imagine if you had freaked out with them? They would have never gotten on a bike again. The stakes are more important now. You want them to realize that you are there for them, taking care of them, reassuring them and when it is time they will get back to their life again.
Be sure to validate what they are feeling in an appropriate way. Let them know that it is ok that they are scared, but that you are here for them whenever they need to talk. Knowing that you are there is very reassuring. Knowing that they can come and talk with you whenever they are feeling scared or anxious or concerned provides safety and stability for them. It also role models for them how to respond to life’s ups and downs, good and bad, certain and uncertain.
RESOURCES FOR TALKING WITH YOUR CHILDREN:
School Psychologist Resource:
REMEMBER TO LIMIT SOCIAL MEDIA EXPOSURE:
While it is important for you to limit your own social media exposure, it is also important to limit your child’s social media exposure to the Coronavirus. Too much focus on their part can cause anxiety and fear. This can lead to physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, and loss of appetite. It can also lead to emotional difficulties such as anxiety, fear of being separated from you, clinginess, nightmares, withdrawal, and aggression to name a few. While technology is helpful for staying connected to loved ones and distracting, it is not helpful to use technology to focus on the news all the time, the death toll, the lack of ventilators, the incredible contagiousness of the virus. This is not a healthy use of social media.
I have heard and seen so many positive stories of families spending time together that does not involve everyone in their own room on their own device. I have seen parents pulling kids in wagons down the street. I have heard of teenagers playing board games with their parents. There’s so much time now to really spend with your kids. Before you know it, this extra time will be gone. This morning on the radio I heard people calling in saying what they would like to continue once life gets back to normal with most responding with they want to continue to spend time with family.
REMEMBER TO LET KIDS DO SOMETHING FOR OTHERS:
Some kids when they hear what is happening will want to do something to help. This is very healthy as they try to make sense of things and learn to connect with humanity on a larger and altruistic level. This can also help them build a lifetime of being charitable to others. I heard a story of a teen who is hand making masks for those medical workers on the front lines. Her kind heart is making her take action and be part of the solution. Years ago when my son was five, he would not let me pass the Salvation Army bell ringer without insisting both he and I give whatever money we could spare. He insisted we do it both going in and coming out of the store. He would then stop, close his eyes and put his hands together. When I asked what he was doing he would say he was praying that the money we gave would help the people who really needed it. Kids will surprise you sometimes by how much they care about wanting to help others.
REMEMBER TO PROVIDE STRUCTURE FOR YOUR KIDS:
Kid’s lives and schedules have been turned upside down. Getting and keeping your kids on a schedule will help them have some routine in their lives. This routine will give them some stability. Have them get up and go to bed at the same time during the week. Have their meals at the same time. Have their school work at the same time. Whatever chores they were doing, they should continue to do. Make a different routine for the weekend so there is a division between the weekday and the weekend. This will help give them a sense of normalcy and remind them of what life was and what it will return to be.
Within the structure, it is helpful to provide rewards for adhering to the schedule. You may want to propose that If your child gets their homework done by 1, they can earn an hour to play a video game, or text with a friend, or watch their favorite show, etc. This will motivate positive behaviors and reinforce structure. It will also provide structure between a schedule and down time.
If kids are kept on some time of schedule during this time, then when they return to one it won’t cause a major meltdown. We are all familiar with kids going back to school after a break and the challenges that go along with a change in schedule.
For some children a regular schedule and structure is extremely important especially for those that may struggle with ADD. Structure helps minimize acting out and impulsive behaviors. This is key to their feeling safe and acting calm.
REMEMBER TO PROVIDE JOY FOR YOUR KIDS:
Besides safety and structure, you will want to provide some joy for your kids. Why not teach them how to bake some cookies from scratch? Why not go outside and play Frisbee with them? Why not let them play make up artist and manicurist and use you as the guinea pig? (Even more fun if you are the Dad) Why not play a game of go fish? Why not play a game of snowball socks? For those who don’t know what that is, you get a supply of rolled up socks and hide behind furniture and try to hit someone with your socks much like dodgeball only with furniture shields and with socks that don’t hurt. I highly recommend. Why not go camping in your living room? Why not make a fort? Why not learn how to make slime?
As parents one of our greatest joys is seeing our kids happy. Whatever you can do to accomplish that during this uncertain time will give both you and your children great reward.
Remember to provide safety and security for your children, remember to take care of yourselves, remember to talk with your children in an age appropriate way, remember to limit their social media exposure to the coronavirus, remember to let them do something for others, remember to provide structure for your kids and don’t forget to include some joy!
There are so many ways we can help our kids during this time. We can build lifelong memories of family and togetherness. When they are grown and they look back on this time in their life they will remember a parent who did their very best to make them feel safe and loved. What better use of your time could there be?
By Kelle Watson, Director of Clinical Counseling
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