I love this time of year. Not only is it the kick off to the holiday season, it is the month that hosts my birthday! My Mom used to make such a big deal out of my birthday not only the day itself but the lead up to it as she planned for every detail. My next door neighbor’s Mom would do the same and also throw me a birthday party every year. While I loved the attention from these two wonderful women, I also loved their thoughtfulness. I was filled with gratitude for what they did for me. Being a very observant little kid I was keenly aware of the sacrifice that came with my birthday celebration both in my household and my next door neighbor’s household. There were many other issues underlying why it would have been easier for both these women to not go to the trouble and expense of throwing me a party. Knowing and observing this helped develop my feelings of gratitude. I think it also was the beginning of my training to be a counselor. I always sought to understand why people do the things they do such as in this case throwing a party for someone when there were so many reasons to funnel resources in another needed direction.
As a counselor I spend a lot of time teaching clients how to be more positive. It is a theoretical approach called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. You teach clients a new positive mental script so they can turn from negative dysfunctional thinking which increases their issues such as depression and anxiety to a more positive healthy thinking pattern which conversely decreases these issues, at least theoretically. This is basically counselor talk for learning how to be grateful. Many of the clients we deal with have never learned how to look at life in a positive way. They have become victims of their own thoughts stuck in a downward spiral of negative self defeating self focus. They have never learned how to be grateful.
I would like to say I have mastered this area in my life, but like everyone else I am a work in progress. We all can get stuck in this downward spiral of negativity. It can start from something insignificant. We feel we are having a bad day. We think it, then we speak it, and then we live it out in a self prophetic way. We share it with others reliving it. We ruminate over it in our mind allowing it to keep us up at night. We get stuck in it.
One day years ago I had a doctor’s appointment to get some stitches removed at a very large hospital I had never been to before. As I stressed about finding it and then found a parking spot in the largest parking garage I had ever seen, my mood increasingly deteriorated to that of complete negativity. I was late. I didn’t know exactly where in the hospital this doctor was located. I was stressed. I was annoyed. I was in a bad mood. What a pain I thought. I have to walk all this way. Now I will be late. Then I will have to walk all the way back and I certainly did not wear the right shoes for all this walking. I probably will not be able to find my car and will wander around this smelly garage for hours . Why did I get sent here? Why couldn’t this doctor meet me at his office where I knew I was going instead of this hospital that I have never been to? Why did I have to come here? What a waste of my time! As I was getting sucked down that spiral of negativity by such an insignificant set of circumstances, a woman was wheeled by me in a wheelchair. She was quite pale. She had no eyebrows or eyelashes. She had a turban on and a bucket between her legs in case she needed to throw up. She must have just received chemo. She looked up at me and smiled. Why I am not sure as I must have had a scowl on my face or perhaps that is the very reason she did. I will never forget how kind she looked when she smiled at me. It reminded me how ridiculous my thinking was. Her smile reminded me that my visit to the doctor was quite minor-a removal of stitches from my appendectomy that thankfully was caught in time and didn’t rupture. Suddenly I was struck by my own lack of gratitude. I wasn’t facing chemo. I wasn’t throwing up in a metal bucket. I was being incredibly ungrateful, complaining about being here for the removal of stitches which potentially may have saved my very life.
At this time of year when the world attempts to focus on being grateful let’s not just mouth the words while complaining that the turkey is dry or how early we are going to get up on Black Friday or worse Brown Thursday as this very special and very-overlooked holiday gets whittled away each year. Let’s not simply recite our gratitude because it is Thanksgiving. Let’s truly think it, speak it and live it out. Let’s truly look at life as a gift and be thankful for it. If a woman in a turban can do it so can we.
Contributed by Kelle Watson, M.A. L.P.C., Director of Mental Health Counseling
This is the final of four blog posts for National Adoption Month – contributed by Rebekah Hall, M.S.W., Director of Youth & Family Services. For more information on Catholic Charities’ Adoption Program, please visit: adoptionandpregnancycenter.org
It is estimated that there are 153 million orphans in the world today, 153 MILLION. That is 153 million children who go to bed each night without knowing what it is like to be read to sleep by a parent or given a kiss goodnight. Some may say, “Okay, that is orphans across the world but what about here in the United States?” It is approximated that there are 397,000 children in the foster care system with 101,666 of those being available for adoption. Those are not kids in some country halfway around the world; these are kiddos who are right in our backyard.
Caring for orphans is not a new concept. James addressed this in James 1:27; “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” We are told to care for the orphans. Now, in saying that, I realize that not everyone out there is called or led to adopt and that is okay. There are so many other ways to help care for the orphan.
1. Adopt – that is the “obvious” answer; you can adopt. Whether it be adopting internationally, an infant domestically, or adopting through the foster care system you can adopt.
2. Financially support someone who is going to adopt – adoption is expensive. While you may not be led to adoption you may know people who are. Perhaps you can be the one to provide them with their application fee or home study fee. Maybe you are someone who travels a lot and accumulates frequent flyer miles. You could donate those to the friends flying overseas to bring home their little one.
3. Service project or trip – you can go and serve. Go to Africa for a week and spend time in an orphanage loving on and playing with the children living there. Work on a collection of toys in your church for children in our local foster care system. All of these things can make a small difference in the life of a child.
4. Be a support system for a family adoption – adopting a child, especially one who is older who has special needs, can be stressful for a family. You can help organize meals for them when they return home so they don’t have to worry about what to cook for dinner for their first few weeks home. Perhaps it is watching their other children for them while they go to interviews or trainings for adoption. Or maybe it is just being an ear on the other end of the phone to listen to them cry when they have had a difficult day.
5. Pray – finally, you can pray for those kiddos out there awaiting their forever family.
There are many ways to get involved in “orphan care.” As National Adoption Month comes to a close think about ways that you can become involved and help those children in need; those children who are waiting for their forever home and family.
Contributed by Rebekah Hall, M.S.W., Director of Youth & Family Services
Adoption has a language all its own. First there are the acronyms: ICPC (Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children), ICWA (Indian Child Welfare Act), USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services), ROI (Report of Investigation), and the list goes on and on. Then there is “positive adoption language.” This is a language that is used in adoption to show the maximum respect, dignity, responsibility, and objectivity to the decisions made by birth parents, adoptive parents, and adopted children. For instance; we would say “birth parent” instead of “real parent,” or “make an adoption plan” instead of “give away my child.” While acronyms and positive adoption language are all important in the world of adoption when I think of the language of adoption some very different words come to mind. The words that come to my mind are grief/loss, courage, selflessness, and love.
Grief/Loss – these words impact everyone within the adoption triad (birth parents, adoptive parents, and adopted children). Many (not all) adoptive families are pursuing adoption due to the loss of not being able to have biological children. They have had to process and grieve that loss before being ready to move forward and pursue adoption. Birth parents experience grief and loss in the act of placing a child for adoption. Whether it is a voluntary domestic placement, a woman who has had to leave her child on the doorstep of an orphanage overseas, or even a parent who has had their rights involuntarily terminated; they all will face a loss and they all must grieve. This will look different for each birth parent depending on their circumstances but they are experiencing a loss of their child. Finally, there is the adopted child. Every child adopted has a different story. Those adopted as infants don’t remember a time with their birth parents, however, they could still grieve the loss of not knowing them or feel a sense of loss in knowing certain aspects of their background. Children adopted internationally experience loss of culture and language. While it is not something that people often want to think about adoption is surrounded by grief and loss.
Courage – adoption is about courage. When I think of the word courage and adoption my thoughts automatically go to birth parents. Deciding to place a child for adoption is an act of courage. It takes someone being brave to make that decision. I have looked into the eyes of a birth parent as they sit across my desk exploring the option of adoption and all I can think of is how courageous they are. However, I also see adoptive parents as courageous. They are willing to take a step into the unknown. Adoption comes with a lot of uncertainty and a loss of control. They must have courage to enter that world and give up that control and be okay with uncertainty; and that take courage. Finally, I see it in the adopted child who decides that they want to explore finding their birth family. This takes courage. They face possible rejection, learning that their birth parent could be deceased, or the beginning of something that could be an amazing relationship. But it takes COURAGE.
Selflessness – again, a birth parent is the initial person who comes to mind when I think about selflessness in adoption. A birth parent who is voluntarily making an adoption plan is thinking beyond themselves. They are thinking about what is going to be best for that child. They have to move past their own feelings of hurt, loss, and grief and do what they feel is best for that child. What could be more selfless then putting the needs of someone else before your own?
Love – this for me is the ultimate word when it comes to adoption. Adoption is love. It is the unconditional love of a birth parent to make a hard decision knowing that it is the best decision. It is an adoptive family loving the child placed with them and loving the birth parent for giving life to that child. It is the love of a child (even if it takes years for that child to show it). Adoption is about love. It is a love that can be scary, sad, or happy but is ultimately unconditional.
So, instead of getting bogged down with the acronyms or making sure that the appropriate adoption language is used in conversations; let’s instead focus on the words that actually mean something in adoption. The words that show the emotions and feelings in adoption. Let’s remember to be compassionate to those experiencing grief and loss, to recognize the courage and selflessness that surrounds adoption, and to ultimately remember that it all comes back to one four-letter word; LOVE.
Contributed by Rebekah Hall, M.S.W., Director of Youth & Family Services
You have finally reached the place where you have made the decision. You’re going to adopt. That decision in itself is huge! Now, no matter if you are pursuing an international adoption, domestic infant adoption, adoption through the foster care system, or private adoption there is one thing that all of these have in common; the HOME STUDY. I am sure that in your decision making process you spent some time on google researching the home study. You have probably read and heard all different things about the home study. The home study can be disconcerting for many people. It can be scary, exciting, overwhelming, and a bit mysterious all wrapped into one big package. In order to alleviate some of your fears or anxiety here are ten facts about the home study (please note that this is based on the home study process in Virginia) to help you as you begin your journey.
- Every state is different
When I meet with families and start discussing the home study process I often see confused looks on their faces as what I am describing may be quite different from what they have read on the internet. The first thing you need to know about the home study is that every state is different. So, while it is important to do research and those google searches can provide some wonderful insight into what a home study could look like please remember that some of the things you are reading may be applying to another state’s standards and not Virginia standards.
- It is a process
Having a home study completed is a process. It is not something that happens overnight. I typically advise families that the time period from when they submit their application and their home study being approved is typically somewhere between 3 and 5 months depending on how quickly they are able to turn their home study paperwork in.
- There are interviews
Yes, there are interviews, three to be exact. In Virginia I meet with families a minimum of three times. A joint meeting, individual interviews, and the home visit. If there are others residing in the family’s home (children, extended family, a close family friend, etc.) I meet with them as well. I realize that many families are very nervous about the interviews; that they might say the “wrong thing”. There is no need to be nervous. This is a time to get to know families. We talk about their childhood, school history, work history, marriage, relationship with friends and family, reason for adoption, thoughts on parenting and discipline, etc. This is really a time for me as the worker to get to know the families I am working with. And the reality is that it is a time for families to talk about themselves and that is a subject that you should know plenty about!
- There is paperwork (a lot of it!)
Yes, there is a lot of paperwork. However, as a worker I try to break it up at intervals throughout the process so families don’t get overwhelmed. Home study paperwork includes things like background checks, references, questionnaires, medical reports, and lots of documents to read through and sign. My advice; take it one document at a time and you’ll get through it.
- Be ready to be educated
Education is a large component of the home study. I want families to be prepared for adoption. In fact, Virginia has various training competencies that must be met in order for a home study to be approved.
- It is a time to ask questions
While the home study process is definitely a time where I am getting to know you as a family it is also a time for you to ask questions. I personally love it when families come to meetings with questions. This is all part of the “getting to know each other “ process. So, don’t be afraid to ask your questions and trust me, there are no stupid questions in adoption. You need to be fully prepared and it is my role as a worker to help make sure that all your questions are answered!
- What the home visit really looks like
The dreaded home visit (at least that is what I think families feel). It should not be feared or dreaded. It is a time for me to see what you as a family are like. I enjoy walking through your home and seeing what you are all about. I love to see pictures on the wall, how you decorate your home, even your DVD collection (because I have quite the DVD obsession myself). Are there specific things I am looking for? Of course! However, that list of home requirements is provided to you early on in the process so you have plenty of time to prepare. I am not going to be looking in your kitchen drawers or refrigerator. I will not be wearing my white glove to make sure that there is not a spec of dust. I am there to see how you live and that your home is a safe environment for a child. So, if you forgot to make your bed that morning no worries, that’s life!
- It is a decision making time
It is the time for you to make decisions like the type of child you are open to (race, age, gender, etc.). It is the time for you to decide what type of ongoing contact you envision with the birth parents. It is the time to finally have those hard conversations if you have not already and come to some decisions.
- Yes, changes can be made later
But you know what? If down the line you decide that you want to expand the age range of the child you are open to or you decide you might be open to some special needs we can amend the home study to change that so don’t worry, what you say on day one is not what you are held to throughout the entire process – you can make changes later.
- What is the final product?
At the end of all the paperwork, interviews and education is a report. This is a 12-15 page report that combines all the information you have provided and was discussed into a final report that approves you for adoption.
So, while the home study is a major part of your adoption journey please don’t let it stress you out or overwhelm you. Embrace this time as a time to learn and ask questions and help prepare you for this amazing journey you are getting ready to enter into!