The interview of a lifetime

Adoption

bclcWell, maybe this wasn’t really the interview of a lifetime, but I did get to interview someone that’s made a huge difference for my family: Heather Forbes. If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I am a big fan of Heather’s and her parenting model, Beyond, Consequences, Logic and Control (you can read more posts about this model in my BCLC section). Keep reading to learn more about Heather and a different approach for parenting kids affected by trauma or attachment disorders.

I’ve read volume one and two of “Beyond Consequences, Logic and Control,” and I’m so curious to know how you came up with this approach. Can you please share how you developed this model?

I originally entered this field as a mother of two completely out-of-control children who were adopted from Russia. The traditional parenting models were not only not working, they were making things worse in my home. I then sought help from local professionals and again, the dynamics in my home continued to get worse. I stretched out further and sought professional help from mental health experts from around the nation. During this time as well, I decided to go back to school to get my master of social work. The way I figured it, I was doing so much research, I might as well get credit for it with a degree! And as I did more research in my graduate studies into the effects of childhood trauma on the brain, the more I realized that there was a deep and profound misunderstanding of our children from all levels – the parent perspective, the professional perspective, and the research perspective. What was viewed as “bad” behavior was not about behavior at all. It was about fear. Everything that was being suggested to help my children was completely fraught with fear. What my children needed was love and understanding. It really was a concept that simple.

You know so much about your students’ and readers’ families – would you be willing to share a little bit about your own family?

My son was adopted from a Russian when he was 2 ½ years old. He had lived in the orphanage since he was born. Immediately the dynamics in my home started going into a state of chaos as his behaviors were well beyond typical 2-year-old behaviors as he was incredibly violent and completely defiant. We struggled and sought help from friends, family, and professionals, all to no avail. So we then did what anyone losing their minds would do, we went back to Russia and adopted again! I don’t know if that was pure insanity or complete denial. Fast forward 18 years, my children are doing very well in relation to their tough beginnings. We by no means are a perfect family (because there is no perfect family), but what got us through our darkest moments was the value we placed on relationship, not behavior. That doesn’t mean our children could do anything without boundaries, it means that when the light disappeared and darkness prevailed, we never lost the love we had for each other.

I was a skeptic about the Beyond Consequences model when I first heard of it and I’m sure I’m not the only one. What do you tell skeptics when you meet them? What is the biggest hurdle in overcoming our skepticism?

When I meet someone who is skeptic, I open my heart and simply listen to him or her. I am not here to convince anyone of this model, simply to offer it.

Can you explain the Beyond Consequences approach in one or two sentences?

(Here is my two-sentence answer). The Beyond Consequences model is a love-based, relationship-based, regulatory-based, and trauma-based parenting model. It works to remove the fear that has infused our traditional parenting approaches and helps children learn the language of human emotion and to develop their emotional intelligence.

(And here is an expansion of my two-sentence answer). It is about teaching children to learn to self-regulate through the context of a strong parent-child relationship, despite a child who has been traumatized in the past through a parent-child relationship. It helps parents to switch their thinking from seeing a child as disobedient or “bad” to a child who is ill-equipped to handling stress and unable to self-regulate. It gets to the root of the behavior rather than just dealing with the symptoms of the behavior.

In your experience, what is the best way to introduce a parent to the Beyond Consequences model?

Most of us will parent the way that we were parented, even when we try to do it differently. We say, “I’ll never say what my mother/father said to me” and then in the heat of the moment, whose voice comes out of our mouths? Yes, our mother’s or our father’s! We as a human species have a hard time changing from what is familiar. It isn’t until we reach a point of crisis that deep change typically happens. It isn’t until families find themselves at their screaming edge or on the brink that they are able to truly make a life-long and lasting change. Most of the families who attend my trainings or read my books are at this point. So while it is a horrible and unsettling place to be, it is also a beautiful moment of opportunity for families to change generations of dysfunction and it is when the door to healing opens.

Can you share what you’re working on now and what you’re planning for the future?

I have found that this model of parenting is most easily understood by experience and demonstration, not by reading a book or by hearing me speak about it in theory. Feedback from parents has shown that me doing role-plays is the most effective tool for teaching this model. I am currently working to film more role-plays for parents to use as a training tool. I’m very excited about this as I know it will help parents really understand how to make the shift from traditional parenting into a more love-based approach to help their families!

What words of encouragement can you share with those of us who feel that our situation is hopeless?

It is in your darkest moments that you are preparing and stretching yourself for a new beginning. Your children have the ability to bring to you complete utter chaos and it is natural to immediately see this as them turning your world upside down. But hang in there, because what they really are doing is turning your world right side up. The answers are there. Solutions do exist. Open your heart to your own pain and there you will find your next steps.

“Love never fails” appears on your website, newsletter, and I’m sure many other materials. Why did you choose this phrase and what does it mean to you?

I believe the only thing that truly exists in this world is love. Love is hard to see and to hold on to with all the other distractions, fear being the top distracter. But when it comes down to it and you break everything else down, love is the only reason we are here. Our parenting journeys are an experience into learning the depths of unconditional love and how love can manifest in a multitude of ways. Love isn’t always light and fluffy. It has its ups and downs, it has its strong boundaries, but when you learn to live your life out of love instead of fear, it will never fail you or misguide you.

I still haven’t participated in one of your webinars. What am I missing?

You’re missing the fun! My webinars are live and I’m there on video with you and other parents from around the world for 90 minutes each session. I present information to help you with your parenting but the best part is that I take direct questions from all the participants and we work out solutions right there to your individual problems going on in your home. I can even bring up parents (if they are willing) on their webcams so we can talk “in person” and “face-to-face” in the class. It is a very educational yet fun way to connect and get the solutions and support you and other parents are needing.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about Beyond Consequences?

My hope is that every parent finds the support and solutions they need to create the loving home they originally envisioned for their families. There are numerous resources on my website, many of which are free just to download. I have a variety of programs available to fit the various needs of families. Please check out these resources and most of all, remember you’re not alone in your struggles so never never lose hope!

Most importantly, when are you coming to Detroit again?

I’ll be there to present my full-day free parent training on Saturday, September 27, 2014. I’ll also be in a number of other cities this coming fall. For more information and to sign up for these events, go to: http://www.beyondconsequenceslive.com

Adoption Day 2014

Adoption

On June 25, 2010, our adoption became legal. The kids and I had dinner and dessert out today to celebrate. We spent a couple minutes sharing our memories from the past four years. I felt good that I finally had some memories to share with them that they didn’t remember. Since I didn’t know them as babies, I’ve not really been able to tell them funny stories about things they used to do. We talked about our first trip to the water park and a silly game I used to play with BC.  In another four years, the kids will be 10 and 13. It’s hard to image them being so old. When they were 2 and 5, I definitely couldn’t imagine them at the ages they are now.

Homework Horror

Adoption

BC is in kindergarten this year and the homework situation is awful. Every Monday he brings home a packet of work that is due on Friday. For him, the work is simple – one digit addition, writing punctuation, and short spelling words like “it” and “can.”

I know he can do the work, yet he seems to enjoy making things more difficult. He often claims that he forgot how to sound out certain letters when he had read them perfectly fine the night before. It takes him a very long time to get through homework and he gets upset when BE finishes before him and gets to play.

I understand that something about homework is probably overwhelming for him, and I wish I could figure out what it is. He’s not old enough yet to really put words to his feelings. If I ask why he doesn’t like homework or what bothers him about homework, he just says he doesn’t know.

As always, I was reading the BCLC monthly newsletter, and of course Heather had some great advice. A reader had asked how to deal with her teenage daughter who wouldn’t help with family dinners, which made her appear lazy. Here are a few quotes from the response:

“To solve this issue, do proactive work and develop a plan with your daughter. This is a child who needs you to join her and to assist her in order to keep her from automatically going into overwhelm…. Explore the real issue: it’s too much for her and it is threatening…. Moving a child out of a state of overwhelm happens within the context of the relationship. Focus on the relationship.”

As always, for Heather, it’s all about the relationship. She did share some ideas for discussing the issue with the daughter, but I know BC can’t have that type of conversation yet. So, it’s nice to be reminded that building our relationship will help. I think he would like more attention than he’s getting, so the challenge for me will be to figure out how to invest more time. We don’t get home from latchkey/work until 6 p.m. and there’s a lot to do before bedtime. I’ll be looking forward to July when school is out for the summer.

BC’s 6th Birthday

Adoption

BC had his 6th birthday earlier this month. I keep thinking about when first we met him, he was just over a year old and still learning to walk. He’s still as fearless as he was back then. Earlier this month he delivered a monologue at a school program and the audience loved him – check out the video (I apologize for the dark images – I tried to distort the video because I generally don’t share photos of the kids publicly) http://youtu.be/lSFEwc3Lw8A.

Thankful

Adoption

I always make my kids write thank you notes for the gifts they receive, usually for Christmas and birthdays. BE just had her 9th birthday, so we were working on thank you notes for her friends. For the first time ever, I got a thank you note. I was so happy that she was thoughtful enough to do this unprompted and that she really appreciated her gift. I’m working hard to hold onto the positive things; I spend too much time dwelling on the negative.

She needs a little work on her past tense

She needs a little work on her past tense

An Unfortunate Christmas Tree

Adoption

For many years, I had a “themed” Christmas tree. Only star shaped ornaments in gold, silver, or white were allowed. The kids first moved in with us at Thanksgiving in 2009 and by the time Christmas came around, there hadn’t been time for them to make any of those homemade ornaments that I knew would ruin my tree. In 2010, I had a great solution – I bought them their own little miniature trees to keep in their rooms. I tried my best to make it seem like this was a favor to them – and not merely a way to keep their beaded wreaths and foam ornaments off my tree. It worked well for a few years, but this year I finally gave in. I can’t control everything, even though I still wish I could. I still haven’t caved on Santa though …

tree

Breakdown

Adoption

J and I still own the house we lived in before we moved to Detroit. It was empty for a few months while we were looking for new renters. One day last month, the kids were off of school and we went there so I could paint one of the rooms.

I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy day because the house is empty and there are no toys/TV there. Plus, BE had homework. It was a disaster. BE had a tantrum because she thought her homework was too hard. BC got paint all over himself. The two of them fought constantly. It took forever to paint and since the homework was never finished, I didn’t get to bring out the laptop I brought as backup.

I had what I’ve come to think of a breakdown. I yelled, cried and had my own tantrum. And I spent the next month in a little depression. I say “little” not because it was insignificant, but because it was in addition to the existing depression.

Parenting and being married is hard. You hear that before you do either of those things. And, you’re expecting it, but it usually turns out to be hard in ways you were not expecting. Ways that are more difficult to cope with than you anticipated. And, sometimes you feel that the biggest disappointment is yourself.

Open Adoption Interview Project: Meet Camille

Adoption

Open Adoption Bloggers hosts an annual Open Adoption Interview Project in which bloggers interview each other about – what else – open adoption. This year I was paired up with Camille from Embracing the Odyssey. Continue reading to learn all about Camille and her family (and don’t forget to check out her blog to read her interview with me).

You’re building a new home and you’re planning to raise Alpacas there. Why alpacas? What are they like?

Ummm…..yeah. I barely knew what an alpaca was until about two years ago when my husband, a veterinarian, suddenly shared his lifelong dream of living on a farm and raising these big-eyed llama-like creatures. He thinks they’re cute. Mmmkay dear. Maybe this should have come up sometime before we walked down the aisle?! Fast-forward to now, and we’re nearing the end of a year-long building process that will see us moving to a 50-acre farm with alpacas. And goats. And rabbits. And chickens. And the loss of my sanity, most likely!

In all seriousness, we both believe that nature and animals can be useful tools in fostering healing, empathy, responsibility, and trust in kids from hard places. The alpacas are just one part of our new home, to which we eventually hope to welcome several more children from foster care. Oh, and they can projectile spit stomach contents on people, so that’s cool.

I was recently talking to some friends about open adoption and they indicated that they would not be comfortable with this arrangement as they want to be the only mom. Clearly you don’t feel this way, as you have a very open adoption. How do you feel about being one of two moms?

In regards to my youngest daughter, Ellie, adopted as an infant, the fact of the matter is that she has two mothers, and pretending otherwise isn’t what’s best for her or respectful of the woman who gave her life. Her birthmother provides biological connections that I cannot. She answers, “Who do I look like? Where do I come from?” I provide the day-to-day, moment-to-moment mothering—the lullabies, the hair combing and teeth brushing, the story reading and doll playing.  And we both have a place.

Though it’s awkward or confusing sometimes, as an adoptive parent, I have to realize that my own comfort is always secondary to my daughter’s emotional security. Many adopted children don’t talk about their biological families for fear of hurting their adoptive parents. They suppress questions and complicated feelings. I want my daughter to feel completely welcome in expressing herself honestly and embracing all parts of herself and her story.

At first, I remember having those thoughts of wanting to be the “only” mother, but now, I feel grateful to be “one of two moms.” I love her first mother and admire the incredible sacrifice she made. I’d ask your friend to please consider that openness can be an amazing blessing. Our relationship with Ellie’s grandmother, aunt, and mother are more than we ever expected. We started slowly, with a visit moderated by a social worker from our agency. It felt silly having a third party, so we traded phone numbers and e-mails. Then, we starting texting pictures and sharing our lives. We met at restaurants or playgrounds. It hasn’t always been easy, but we stayed committed. Our relationship grew naturally, and now we consider Ellie’s birth family good friends. We visit about once a month now. They come to our home, and Ellie has even stayed the night with them.

Thus, Ellie will grow up blessed to always know both of her families. People she knows and trusts can answer any questions she has immediately. She’ll have living, breathing connections to all parts of her story.

Of course, in regards to children adopted from foster care, openness may or may not be an advisable or possible option depending on the circumstances, but it remains true that all adopted children have two families, and I believe parents should strive for as much openness and connection as possible.

It seems that most adoptive parents choose one of the following: infant adoption or older child adoption through foster care. However, you’ve done both. How did this come to happen?

This came to happen through no real planning of our own.  We’ve tried making plans, and God laughs and gives us the family we’re meant to have. Turns out, the guy knows what He’s doing.

When we adopted Ellie as an infant, we really didn’t even consider older-child adoption. We were first-time parents, first-time adopters, and honestly, we didn’t feel prepared to handle the extra challenges of an older child. We wanted to experience parenting an infant, and we had it culturally ingrained in our heads that children enter a family as chubby little babies.

Hahahaha! We crack up thinking back on that version of ourselves. The January after Ellie was born, Ian, a former student of mine, asked if he could move in with us. A few weeks later, Herdest, who worked for my husband, asked if he could move in with us while he finished his senior year of high school. So, within a month, we also became the parent-like people to two teenage guys. The boys, now 21 and 19, have been with us for almost two years, and we love them dearly.

At the beginning of this year, we started looking at available children, planning to pursue a toddler around Ellie’s age, when I came across a profile for a 17-year-old that I knew from a local community center. Ian and Herdest opened our eyes to how incredibly important family support is to older teenagers and young adults, and when I saw her beautiful smile, I couldn’t get her out of my head. Within a week, after some serious prayer, my husband and I decided that we were meant to adopt her. We finalized on Nov. 17.

Thus, from both ends of the spectrum, I can tell you that we are a blessed family.

You were formerly an English teacher. What is your favorite book and why?

Seriously, just one? I couldn’t possibly. Sacrilege! So here’s a LINK to my Top 10 for the classroom. I’ll just share one here. *sigh*

Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck

As a teacher, one couldn’t ask for a better book. In a few brief chapters, it includes a myriad of content standards. Also, I used this book to build trust; the simple text doesn’t overwhelm struggling readers, and the fact that the book is packed with curse words from the beginning demands attention. Once students discovered I’d encourage them to curse loudly while reading, their participation reached new heights. (I’ll tolerate a good four-letter word any day to get a kid to read.) However, most importantly, reading Of Mice and Men was the first time many kids ever truly connected with a book. Do you remember the last few pages…gripping your seat in horror as you realized what’s about to happen? Yeah. Steinbeck makes football-players cry.

You recently reviewed a book called Jesus Feminist. How do you feel that Jesus and feminism fit together?

As I said in the post, I feel that an honest look at the life of Jesus and his interactions with women reveals that he was himself a feminist. Jesus treated women with no less kindness or consideration than the men in his life and affirmed their importance to his work. In my opinion, feminism is the belief that each woman should be able to use each of her gifts to the fullest of her ability. Since I believe all gifts and talents come from God, if we limit a woman’s role in the world, we are limiting her ability to serve and fulfill her God-given calling.

Also, if we are serving God, should we not care about justice in this world for all of our brothers and sisters? Many current issues—rape, human trafficking, domestic violence, genital mutilation—are often classified as “feminist” issues, but in reality, these are problems that demand our unified action as Christians.

Can explain the title of your blog “Embracing the Odyssey?” Your tag line at the end of your posts is “find the joy.” What does finding joy mean to you and how do you do it?

One of my favorite blogs is Kristen Howerton’s “Rage Against the Minivan.” Shortly after we adopted Ellie, we purchased a Honda Odyssey, but instead of “rage”, I found myself adoring my new “mom-mobile.” Also, on my journey to become a mother, I experienced infertility, a miscarriage, and a lot of heartache and uncertainty. When I first started blogging, Ellie was strapped to my chest, and I was overwhelmed with the joy of my life, however different than originally planned. I started thinking about all the twists and turns life throws our way, and how sometimes, you just have to embrace what you cannot control. Sometimes, you have to dig hard to find the joy, such as during times of loss, and other times, joy floods down from heaven….like little baby breaths on your chest or the huge smile of your newly-adopted teenager.

In one of your posts, “Thoughts on Babies …” you critique the idea that Christian women are valued for their ability to have children. Did you ever feel this way yourself – if so, how and why has your opinion changed? If you’ve never felt this way, how have you managed to keep an accurate perspective on what does make you valuable?

This post came after reading Rachel Held Evans book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Great read! Basically, there are many Christian leaders out there who teach that motherhood is a woman’s “highest calling.” Which, you know, kinda sucks if you’re infertile or just not interested in having children.

In my early 30s, I know few people my age who aren’t parents, and I can understand how it’s easy for women who are not mothers to somehow feel “less than.” When I was experiencing infertility, I certainly felt “out of the club” on more than one occasion. It’s hard to separate our worth from cultural expectations.

But RHE writes: “As a Christian, my highest calling is not motherhood; my highest calling is to follow Christ.”

Amen. I believe that as a woman, my service to God does not depend on a working uterus or on raising children. It’s a high calling, but not more important than any other.

As a woman, I’m valuable because I’m a child of God. When I feel like a complete failure as a mother because my toddler scratched another kid or my teenager is in a crappy mood or one of the hundred other times I want to give up every day, I remember that I’m not God to my children. He has a plan for them outside of my control. I will love them and do my best to protect and guide them, but at the end of the day, my worth can’t be tied to them.

As mentioned in an earlier question, you consider yourself a feminist. Some people would argue that feminism and stay at home motherhood are opposed. What is your opinion on work (in and out of the home) and feminism?

I’ve worked in and out of the home, and both present a unique set of challenges. Neither one is better or more important than the other. Each woman must choose what is best for her and her family, and we have no right to judge what works for another. In my interpretation of feminism, a woman should be fully supported to be amazing in whatever role she’s in at the moment. Wiping noses and tiny bottoms? You go, girl! Cancer research at St. Jude? Rock it! Baking a casserole for a sick friend? Fabulous! Preaching and teaching God’s word? Shout it, sister! I think it’s entirely possible to be a stay-at-home mom and a feminist at the same time. After all, right now, I’m choosing to be home. For true equality, we must have the freedom to choose our path. 

What is the hamster dance song – is there a YouTube video?

Hah! I was trying to figure out where you came up with this question, then remembered the random list of “likes” on my About Me page. When I was in college, a roommate gave me a small, robotic stuffed hamster that played that song, and my Westie, Kenobi, went absolutely psycho nuts. Now, I can play the song, and my Sheltie howls. Something about this song and dogs don’t mix. It’s weird, I know, but the song never fails to make me smile. You can find it here: http://originalhampster.ytmnd.com/. Apparently, there’s also a www.hamsterdance.com.

A Rare Opportunity

Adoption

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to do something most adoptive parents never get to do: I went to my kids’ foster home. For a year and half, BE and BC lived with the L family, not too far from where we live now. We’ve been fortunate enough to keep in touch with the Ls all these years, and one of the kids’ foster sisters recently invited us to a birthday party for her 1-year-old daughter.

I was ecstatic to see where the kids lived and I took a lot of photos of the house and the rooms. I did take photos of the kids with their four foster sisters and foster parents too.

I was fascinated by the people who were at the party. A good number of guests were former foster children themselves, now grown up with children of their own. The L family has been doing foster care for more than 20 years, and CL, the foster mother, estimates that she has had more than 100 foster children. I would love to interview her for this blog someday – the whole family is so unique that I just want to capture their perspective on family and life in general. Hopefully I’ll have a post on this in the future.

There were so many emotional moments for me during the party. I just felt so thankful that my kids had such a great family to take care of them. CL and I got emotional as she remembered rocking and feeding Brendan – she was pretty much his first mother. We’re so fortunate that we’re still in touch with the Ls and that the kids have such a large family of people who love them (including members of their first family of course).

fosterfamily

BC and his foster dad