Days 15 & 16 - Kindness Co-op

I am going to combine Days 15 & 16 because I am a day behind on blogging. I blame Squarespace website swindlers (the people who make you buy your own name on the internet) because they won’t allow me to save drafts as I am working on them. They do this because they don’t just want your money, they want you to go absolutely insane. Well played Squarespace, you obvious victor you.

There is a bit of a theme to my kindnesses for these past two days so the last laugh is on Squarespace. Days 15 & 16 were really all about kids. The smallest of these #AdamsActs was for London and Harper (my own kids.) There was a bit of an altercation in the morning and we are really big on having the kids make repairs to their relationships with people when they’ve done something wrong or hurtful. They don’t just apologize (in fact I don’t like them to insincerely apologize ever) but they do have to acknowledge a few things. They must acknowledge:

  1. This is what I did wrong.
  2. This is why it’s wrong.
  3. This is what I can do differently next time.

After acknowledging those things, they need to ask how they can make the other person feel better. After the struggle du jour, London decided that what would repair the damage to their relationship would be having Harper's help when cleaning her bedroom after school.

She doesn't exactly love cleaning by herself.

She doesn't exactly love cleaning by herself.

We always enforce that they follow through on the reparation agreement. This sounds like a lot of work, but I promise you that when you have a child with a behavioral disorder, there is a lot of opportunity for siblings to harbor resentment. This actually preserves relationships and in the long run actually saves a lot of time because they have learned how to resolve conflict themselves. Between this strategy and my husband's invention of The Tattle Tax, our children are practically parenting themselves.

So, here we are at #AdamsActs for London and Harper. They can both easily become overwhelmed with a multi-step chore. To make it more fun for them to work together, I will sometimes make these silly lists for them to break a big chore down into manageable - and sometimes silly - steps. They LOVE when I do this and it really is a kindness to myself because they work so much better together when the mood is light and playful. And a touch of potty humor usually does the trick.

This list:


Makes this job:

Suddenly way more fun.

Suddenly way more fun.

My first act of kindness was to help my own kids, but my second and third #AdamsActs are about other kids. For the past two nights Tom and I spoke at two final panel discussions about foster care and adoption and I spent some time today connecting with a few different people from those meetings who wanted more information.

And finally, we signed up to sponsor a child through Compassion with our neighbors Danielle and Derek. You may find it ridiculous that we are going halfsies on a sponsorship, but look… these are some lean months for us and it would be reeeeeally easy to say no. But instead of saying “No, we cannot afford another $38 a month” we creatively decided that we probably could do $38 every other month! For some of us $38 is nothing, but for a lot of us it’s a really huge sacrifice to commit another $38 on top of regular giving. No matter what $38 means to us though, I can guarantee it means a lot more to these families who receive support through Compassion. I want to encourage you all to sponsor a child, or give to a different organization whose mission you value. And if you cannot afford to do it alone, grab a neighbor to share the burden with you. If you and your neighbor can swing it together, get the whole neighborhood involved. I don’t care if your kid’s whole soccer team splits the $38 a month… just do something! Do anything. And if we all partner together with these small kindnesses and small donations, we will collectively make a huge impact for kids like Erick.


A Deadbeat Mom's Tips for Surviving Summer: Tip #2 Sibling Bootcamp

If there is one thing I did out of desperation in my early years as a mom (that I don’t actually regret) it is Sibling Boot Camp. I know it sounds intense, like a lot of work. And yes, I will be honest -  a lot of poster board was involved. But, this little blog series isn’t just about us “getting through summer,” it’s really about getting these kids through their childhood, and to a place where people actually like them when they are “grownies” as we say in my house. Just like Tip #1: Tattle Tax required some work up front, this tip will too. The question then, is will that work pay off? The answer my friends, in the words of every British judge on every talent competition on TV, is “a million percent yes.”


 And while we all know that one cannot be a million percent anything (because that is not how math works, or maybe it is?) I don’t really care about math, the point is that I wish I was British. And also that the work for Sibling Boot Camp is definitely worth it.

Sibling Boot Camp came into existence when my oldest daughters (now 13 ½ and almost 12) were in Kindergarten and 1st grade. They were arguing consistently about who got to be first for things. It was this constant back and forth about “you got in the car first last time, now it’s my turn to get in the car first this time.” Then the other one would chime in saying “Well, you got out of the car first, so now it’s my turn to do something first so I get to get in first again.”


And then my head would explode.

So one day, on the way to school, I gave them a moving sermon in the car where I exegeted the passage of scripture about "the first being last and the last being first." When we got to school, you know what happened? That’s right, they argued about whose turn it was to get out of the car first.

I maybe lost my mind a little and I told them that they had lost the privilege of school. I added that I would not allow them to go into that building and behave like perfect angels toward their teachers and friends if they could not get along with each other. I called the school office from the parking lot and said that my girls would not be back to school until they were best friends.

They missed an entire week of school. We commenced Sibling Boot Camp. And are they now best friends?


A million percent, yes.

So, I offer you...

The Five Phases of Your Very Own DIY Sibling Boot Camp:

  1. Buy so much posterboard. Draw a line down the middle of the poster. At the top, write “Entitled” on one side and “Responsible” on the other.
  2. Run so many drills. Take some time to explain to your kids the difference between entitled behavior and responsible behavior. Once they know the difference, test them by throwing out some everyday scenarios and have them file the behaviors under the headings, either the behavior is entitled or it’s responsible.                                                                                                                             Sample 1: “Okay my fallen cherubs, it’s time to get in the car to go to school, you both want to get in first. What is an example of an entitled response?”
    Sample 2: “You would both like to get in the car first, Child A offers to let Child B get in and out first, with the agreement that Child A can get in and out first on the return trip. Is this a responsible agreement, or entitlement?”
    Sample 3: “Mommy gives her precious baby sinners a really lovely sermon in the car. Now, is it responsible or entitled to immediately disregard her brilliant life lessons?”                                                                                                                                                                             
  3. Sibling fun is now a privilege. Reward every correct answer with 5 minutes of fun time together. Catch and reward any responsible interaction with 5 minutes of sibling fun. Try to catch them doing anything right, and give them 5 minutes. This part is key though - END the sibling time as soon as their minutes run out! They will be doing great, and will just be getting into some kind of game… but when the time’s up, it’s up. They can’t play together until they earn more minutes. This ensures that they don’t have time to get into a conflict, and because kids will often strive toward what we pull just out of their reach… they will try to earn more time together. VOILA! They are trying to earn time to play with their sibling!
  4. Introduce quiet sister/brother talk. When our girls started consistently showing more responsible (and less entitled) interaction we would celebrate by letting them stay up late for “quiet sister talk.” This works best if you are generally bedtime nazis, which fortunately, we were. But, no matter how lax you are about summer bedtimes, add time for quiet sibling talk. Little kids love to stay up late because they are small and foolish and they don’t yet realize how wonderful sleep is. Take advantage of their folly by reserving late bed times for siblings who love each other and get along.

  5. Sleepover City. If you have successfully made it out of DefCon 5 of sibling bickering and into Phase 5 of Sibling Boot Camp, then… congratulations. You may celebrate by manipulating the children into becoming best friends. This can be achieved by letting them have a sleepover on any non-school nights. To this day my older daughters will jam all their gangly limbs into the same top bunk bed and stay up late talking. They do it all summer long and every weekend. They tell each other everything. They whisper and giggle and make up ridiculous stories and inside jokes that turn their whispered giggles into full on belly laughs. It is magical.

They both still remember Sibling Boot Camp and I have never had to do it again. The younger three sort of followed suit and they all get along pretty well considering. We have some special circumstances which prevents them all from having the sleepovers, etc. but the overall mission remains the same. Engaging with other people is a privilege. Can that privilege be taken away if you are behaving like a child criminal? You betcha. But can it be earned back with consistency and three dollars worth of poster board?


A DeadBeat Mom's Tips for Surviving Summer: Tip #1 Tattle Tax

In New York, our summer weather lasts for five whole entire minutes. And not, like, five minutes in a row or anything. What I mean is that from May until September there will be five perfect minutes dispersed willy nilly throughout the months. Half of those precious, sunshiny minutes will take place while you are in the waiting room at the orthodontist. The other half of the minutes will appear, without warning, sandwiched in between hail and an inexplicable windpocalypse. And this half of the minutes are magical. Like a unicorn.

Because of the severe lack of awesome weather here, it feels like a crime against humanity that our kids go to school until nearly the end of June. This year, they missed ⅓ of the nice weather minutes because they were still in school. And it wasn't like they were even being educated at this point… they were just barely contained because everyone under the age of 100 goes absolutely bananas when there is finally nice weather. So, the kids are learning nothing but Flag Day songs, while the NWM (nice weather minutes) are just evaporating into the atmosphere - to be immediately replaced by 99.75% humidity.

By early June, I start seeing pictures on Facebook of kids’ last day of school. By mid-June, people are camping and hosting neighbors for bonfires. By the end of June, everyone else is enjoying the “staycation” portion of summer. But oh no, not here in New York. Here, at the end of June, we still got field day so…

But here I am now, four weeks (and 4.5 NWM) into the shortest summer vacation in America, and I am wondering how on earth I will make it to September. I don’t know about everyone else, but summer days are longggggg when you’re home with five kids (and it won’t stop raining.) Now, don’t get me wrong here. I love my precious angel babies, and by the time school ends I am equal parts excited, relieved, and terrified. It’s “a different kind of busy!” than the school year, I cheerfully tell people at the grocery store as a gaggle of children follow behind me, just wanting gum so bad.

And it’s true, it’s definitely a different kind of busy. It’s the kind of busy that makes me hide in the basement for three minutes and forty eight seconds, so I can just watch one America’s Got Talent audition video on youtube. Because, those auditions are life. Those auditions make me weep, and then believe in myself. And I am inspired to go on.

And in the spirit of going on, I will be doing a mini-series of blogs about how to survive the remainder of the summer. If you only read one tip, this is the one to read, because it will not only change your summer with your children… but it will change your whole life.

You will want to make out with my husband after you read this, because he is responsible for the brilliance that IS... Tip #1. You may not make out with him - you homewrecker - but I can understand why you’d be tempted, because this tip for summer survival is the single reason that my children are still allowed to live in my house. Without further ado, I offer you…

TIP #1:  Immediately institute the TATTLE TAX.

As citizens of our home, the children have certain inalienable rights. Not many, but, whatevs… everyone’s eating, alright? Our citizens also have certain responsibilities. These vary depending on the child’s age, ability, special skill set and whether or not I am spazzing about company coming. And then there are the privileges. These can be earned or lost depending solely on my mood and how many times that day I have been asked for gum. Beyond the rights, responsibilities and privileges, we also offer our citizens certain services.

Enter: taxes.

As benevolent dictators, one service that we will provide the citizens of our home is that of conflict mediation. If our citizens cannot or will not independently resolve a conflict, and we receive an “incident report” (formerly known as tattling), we happily provide the service of mediation… as long as both parties have paid their taxes. For the reasonable tariff (one completed chore) we will provide our citizens with the invaluable service of conflict management. The plaintiffs must complete the chore TOGETHER and to my satisfaction and once the tax has been collected, conflict resolution will be promptly executed.

Guess what my kids don’t do anymore?

That’s right. Tattle.

You know what they do now? They talk it through like the angelic creatures I taught them to be. Or they stuff their feelings and move on. I honestly don’t care which it is. Because all I know is that I have gotten hours of my life back, and my kids are learning the valuable lesson of letting go of an offense instead of always getting their mother involved. Do you know how much better they will be at life because they are learning to solve and/or avoid their problems? So much better.

I will say that I have, on occasion, allowed tax exemptions for extenuating circumstances. If someone comes for help because they or another child is in danger? Tax break. If an older (trusted) child is appropriately coaching a younger citizen, and the younger party is still, I don’t know, let’s say… licking the window like a feral cat, backup will be provided and read my lips, no. new. taxes.

But apart from these unusual scenarios, tattling is virtually a thing of the past. In it’s place is the very lucrative business of tax collecting. And - all kidding aside - my kids really are learning the valuable lessons essential for the success of all human relationships: Which offenses are worth sorting out? Which issues must be accepted vs. hashed out? Is it more important to win an argument or to come to a compromise? How do we deal with irrational people? How do we speak up for ourselves and/or negotiate? How to listen and forgive and repair relationships.

And, most importantly, how to make vacuuming a two man job. 


Life in the Tension

Sometimes I like to imagine what my kids will remember me teaching them throughout their childhood. What will stick? Will they remember all the "I love you's?" Will the "you're so brave's" and "tell me about your day's" be the words that become fastened to their memory? Or will something else overshadow the sweet and encouraging sentiments? One thing I frequently tell them that they find less favorable (but I am certain they will remember me saying) is "that is not a real problem." Let's run this down so we are all clear on what a real problem is in our house.

Scenario 1: You are four years old and you have no food to eat. At all. Ever.

Correct, that's a real problem. 

Scenario 2: You are four years old and you do not like "beet taste." 

Not even close to a real problem. (Also, beets are delicious.)  

Scenario 3: You must spend a half a day walking to a source of (questionably) drinkable water. 

Yes, this. This is a real problem. 

Scenario 4: Your food touches.  

No. Having your hot, nutritious food touch other bits of hot, nutritious food? That is - comically - not a real problem. 

You can see how they might remember me saying this. Because it is said frequently. And trust me, we are a big 'feelings' house. We talk about our feelings, we validate each others feelings, we use lots of expressive feeling words. There is no shutting down how they might feel about beets. This is a safe space to feel strong dislike for "beet taste." While I strive to always hear and even affirm their feelings, I don't pretend for a second that this is a real problem. 

I was discussing this with my friend Megan the other day. (Some of you might remember her from previous #AdamsActs posts about the heartbreaking loss of one of their sweet little twin girls, Zoey.) Megan and I were discussing our very low threshold for problems-that-aren't-really-problems. I think that low threshold is directly correlated with experiencing great and tragic loss. It changes you. It changes your perspective on what suffering is. It changes your capacity to tolerate complaints about that which is not a real problem. 

When facing challenges of various kinds, the leaders at our church will often use this phrase, "This is a tension to manage, not a problem to solve." Ugh... I love this, and oh how I wish that this concept would go ahead and just embed itself in my memory already! There are some challenges in my life that I have viewed as problems I desperately need to solve. Or avoid. Or feel sorry for myself about. These "problems" are not really problems to solve, they are simple tensions to manage. 

Instead of graciously managing the tensions, I have tried to control the tensions. I have tried solving the tensions. I have attempted to escape or avoid or blame the tensions. Shoot, I'd punch the tensions in the face if I could. Yet, nothing changes... the tension remains.

I recently shifted my definition of a problem to something more like this: a problem is only a problem if there is an actionable step one can take to work toward a solution. If no actionable step can be taken, there can be a lot of tension. That tension needs to be managed in a healthy way.

Parenting a child with a pretty severe behavioral disorder can feel a heck of a lot like a life-consuming problem. Except for one thing... there is no actionable step that I can possibly take to work toward a solution.

I must live in the tension. 

I can pray in the tension. I can cry in the tension. I can seek wise counsel in the tension. I can adjust my attitude about the tension. But I cannot solve it. I must accept it. 

The focus then is not on how to "solve" my son's disorder, but on how I can remain emotionally, physically and spiritually healthy enough to manage the tension that surfaces in light of my son's disorder.   

You may be wondering, "Who cares? What's the difference?" But the difference is everything. It's the difference between overwhelming shame that I cannot heal my child, and accepting him where he's at in his process. It's the difference between feeling exhausted and infuriated by the sheer volume of time spent supervising every little move, and recognizing our family's need for respite in order to prevent that fury and exhaustion. 

The difference is the understanding that I cannot play the Holy Spirit in my child's life. In the tension, I can only manage my own reactions, my own health, my relationships. But in the tension, I can know that I did not cause my child to have Reactive Attachment Disorder any more than I can cause my child's aversion to the glorious taste of a perfectly roasted sugarbeet. 

I did not cause either of these phenomena, and I cannot "cure" them either. I can only manage myself in the tension. 

It's hard to suffer well. And the greatest suffering occurs when there is no actionable step to take, because we cannot solve our way out of our pain. We cannot bring back the child that died. Or the parent who left. We cannot heal the primal wound that is left within the child who is separated from his first mother. 

We must simply learn to live, and accept, and love, in the tension.

So, when my five little ones are all grown and they reflect back upon their childhood, I hope that what they remember most is all the expressions of love, encouragement and adoration. Yet, I don't mind if they also remember me clarifying the difference between a real problem - real suffering - and something that is simply a tension to manage. Not only do I hope they remember hearing me speak these truths into their life, but I hope they remember me living, and loving, in the tensions... and teaching them to someday do the same. 


Jay, age four, confronting his greatest fear, a beet.  

To All the Other Haggard Moms Parenting a RAD Child

There is nothing so painful as unrequited love. And there is no love as powerful as a parent's love for their child. So when you love your child and he does not, can not, love you back... it might be the most heartbreaking scenario of them all. 

At least that is how I am feeling now... that (apart from losing a child) there is no pain I can fathom like having a living child that you cannot reach. 

Unrequited attachment, unabsorbed love.

And the world takes the salt of misunderstanding and rubs it into the proverbial wound. All kids lie, they say. Or steal, or hurt others, or themselves.

All kids want control. All kids say hurtful things.

All kids... 

He is not all kids. He is my kid. And I know him best. I know what makes him sicker. I know that treating him like "all kids" is one of those things.

I am exhausted. I am fed up. I am done explaining to people that yes, a child can be traumatized inside a womb. Google it. I am tired of trying to convince people that an unborn baby who develops in a bath of cortisol (stress hormones) instead of bonding chemicals will not respond to life or love in the same way as a typically developed child. I am all done explaining how exposure to different substances may harm a child's ability to bond and connect. I will not keep explaining that my child is both brilliant and unable to choose wisely. I will not keep asking for support only to be questioned or accused or dismissed. I am done.

Except that I'm not. I'm never done. As much as I freakin want to be done... I am not even close.

We are on four different waiting lists for various supports and schools and services. We have four siblings who are confused and wounded and are trapped between knowing that they must forgive, and their natural instinct to protect themselves from a person that causes them pain. 

I cannot describe the sight of a small, furious, hurting sister shaking her fists with the totality of her exasperation. The helplessness in her eyes, matched by my own.

 And all I can say is "I know baby. Me too." 

I cannot take away my son's pain. I can not make him feel unabandoned. I am not enough to fill in neurological gaps or heal his amygdala. My love is not that big. My love is not enough. YOUR love is not enough... so don't try to be his friend, or tell me to love him where he is at. I do. It's all I have done. And it isn't working. And I will keep doing it because there is nothing else to be done. But, all I can do is still not enough. 

I read the Bible so I know that God IS enough. I know that. But, right now... it's looking a lot more like

God + an unreasonable amount of time + so much pain in the interim = enough

I know that I sound hopeless. I know that all this is raw and scattered and probably sounds dramatic. But of one thing I am sure, there is at least one set of eyes on the other side of this screen that are filled with dysfunctionally relieved tears. One set of eyes that are seeing their feelings put into words, maybe for the first time.

So, I am writing to her. To the isolated, discouraged, helpless mom who's love is unrequited:

Hey. What's up? Thanks for somehow finding my blog. (Probably at 3am.) What you are going through is really, really hard. For you, and even harder for your child. You probably chose adoption because you wanted to be the family that helps to complete a child and now you are realizing that - surprise! - your family is being torn apart instead. Listen. Here are some things I need to hear on a regular basis and sometimes I have to say them to myself. 

1- You are not alone. There are a crap ton of us out here going through this, but most of us are too ashamed of ourselves, or too protective of our kids, to talk about it. There are a lot of anonymous blogs, but be careful, people are angry and exhausted and they sometimes bash their children. That's not okay, and it's not helpful for you.

2- You didn't cause this. (Unless you are an abusive dirtbag and you did cause this.) You didn't cause this.

3- Nobody, literally nobody, will understand what you are going through unless they are also a parent of a RAD kid. Social workers, psychologists, attachment therapists, adoption specialists, respite providers, felllow adoptees, friends, family... they all have their place, and they may even be excellent and able to help. They will not understand. Unless they are raising a child with RAD, or have done so in the past, they simply won't get it. 

4- A lot of people won't believe you. They probably will eventually, but until then, there will be a lot of advice and suggestions and have you tried's. There will be a lot of judgement. There will be a lot of people who try to "rescue" your child by loving on him, because they can't understand that you have done that, and it wasn't enough.

5- Get a door alarm and a video monitor. You need sleep, and peace of mind, and you need both of these to have a snowball's chance at either of them.

6- It's okay to go away. You need respite. Your other children need respite. Your hurting child needs respite. You all need to breath, and it's really okay to make room for it. It's not just okay, it's necessary.

7- Find a Lexi. A Lexi is a faithful friend, a champion for your self-care, a devoted caregiver, and defender of the weak and a giver of good gifts... like breaks from your child and cups of hot coffee. She doesn't have to be named Lexi, but mine is, and I couldn't do this without her. 

8- He can't love you. It's not that he won't, it's that he can't. He might want to love you, or he might actually love you, in his way, but he can't show it. He can't stop protecting himself from your love. Your love is scary to him, but it's also all you've got. And when you run out, it's okay to fake it. 

9- This is probably going to be the hardest thing you will ever do, and the biggest fight you will ever fight. You will probably not see results for a really long time. You might not ever see results. You must keep going. You signed up for this, even if you didn't know it at the time, and it is your job to keep going. And it's going to break your heart over and over and over. 

10- I know baby, me too.