The Choice I Didn’t Know I Was Making for Them: One mom’s realization of how adopting transracially stole a secret from her kids

By Amanda Purvis, COPARC Project Director

Growing up in DC I was often times one of the only white people in a room. I grew up with friends who were born in India, Israel, Sudan, Iran, Burma, and Bali. We were all different colors, different economic classes, and all of our lunches looked and smelled completely differently. Play dates consisted of attending synagogue with a friend, before taking off my shoes and bowing to the Buddha at the entrance to the neighbor’s house, and finally racing home to not miss Wednesday night church. I grew up with all of the people. I didn’t realize what a privilege that was until the first day of seventh grade.

The summer between 6th and 7th grade, my parents moved our white, middle-class family back to their home, Colorado. My first day of seventh grade was nothing but terrifying; for all of the normal reasons. I remember when I finally got home (I forgot how to get home once I got off the bus and wandered the neighborhood for some time) my mom was waiting to greet me at the door. Her first question, “How was it?” my response, “Mom, everyone here is white. Where are we?”

Fast forward fifteen years, my husband and I became foster parents in the Denver Metro area. During one of our monthly visits we found out from our certification worker that we were currently the only family in three counties who was willing to take African American boys under the age of three. I first thought she was joking. She wasn’t. I started to get angry, and she could sense it. She explained that many families in the area weren’t racist, but felt that they couldn’t meet the needs of Black children within their community and didn’t want to expose them to negative racial experiences that might happen if they were to move into their neighborhoods.

I am still chewing on this explanation seven years later. Continue reading

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Holiday Survival Tips

By Amanda Purvis, COPARC Project Director

If you are parenting children, you know that the holidays tend to be one of the most amazing times of the year, and one of the most difficult times of the year, all at once: the sugar, the cold, the lack of normalcy, the relatives, the travel. It’s all wonderful and terrible, sometimes in the same breath. Here are some great survival tips to make it through the holidays with both caregivers and children feeling celebrated and cherished.

Remember that what fires together wires together. Often when working with parents who are parenting kids from trauma, they explain what they think they alone have experienced – the phenomenon that their child creates, the child that “sabotages” the good days. Have you gone through this? Your child has been so excited about their birthday, or another special day, only to completely “ruin” the day with non-stop temper tantrums and meltdowns?

Remember that stress hormones are the same; whether it is “good” stress or “bad” stress, the body releases the same hormones. As a result, the brain does what it normally does when those are released (picture child in a puddle in the middle of all their presents, spent with excitatory neurotransmitters and the bliss of it all- but it looks like disrespect and manipulation). So if your child is acting more like the day they got in trouble at school, and it’s Christmas morning, remember that most often, they are not trying to sabotage the day, but that they just don’t know what else to do with their brains and bodies.

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Heading Back to School

By Amanda Purvis, COPARC Project Director

Well, it happened. Summer is almost over. School emails keep dinging in my inbox. School fees have been paid; boxed lunches, uniforms, all of the #2 sharpened pencils and Crayola 24-count crayons, they’ve been bought.

And now it’s time to make that decision that we as parents of kids from hard places struggle with making every single year at this time. What do we say to the new teacher? Anything? Everything? Some where in between? As a parent, I am looking for the right combination of words to fill this teacher with deep levels of understanding on developmental trauma and its effects on the brain, compassion that will carry them through some tough days, and huge levels of thanksgiving, because teachers are heroes.

So here is a note to all the teachers who will help us parent our children from trauma, from all of us parents, foster parents, kin parents, adoptive parents, and all of the other beautiful ways we find ourselves parenting these amazing kids. Here’s to you teachers!

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Adopting a Sibling Group

By Amanda Purvis, COPARC Project Director

My husband and I have been foster parents for over five years. We have had 14 children come into our home, forced to believe that we could keep them safer. Our first placement was an emergency placement of twin two-year-old boys. We had been waiting for them for over a week; each attempt that the authorities made to bring the children in, their biological mom would evade their attempts, finding another secret place to lay her babies down each night.

On the night they arrived on our little purple front porch it was after midnight. I remember going out to the social worker’s car to help her carry in one of the sleeping boys. We laid them down in their new beds and were whispering above the hum of the hall fan, trying to glean any information we could from this overworked and underpaid fresh graduate student who had found herself as a safety net between hurting and  hurt, lost and found, breaking and broken. I could tell she was new to this. As she was slipping out our front door, into the crisp cool night air that is fall in Colorado, the crickets were chirping as if they didn’t know that our lives had just changed forever, and the breeze was blowing as if it didn’t know that two little boys had just fallen asleep in a stranger’s home, whom they’d never met, but were too exhausted to be afraid of any longer. I looked into the social worker’s eyes, and said, “Who is who?” And she looked down at the grey Trex decking on our front porch kicking at a lady bug that was making its way up the step she was leaning on. She looked back, a little bit ashamed and a little bit angry, she said, “We don’t know. Mom wouldn’t tell us anything.” And so began our journey of helping siblings and families stay together.

Those two little boys didn’t stay in our home long, but our journey will never be remembered without their sweet little faces, big brown eyes, and hearts of loss. Our next placement was our now 8-year-old son, D. He came to us at almost three years old; we were his seventh, and final home. Our next call came about four months later. We said yes to a newborn little boy. Little did we know on that day that we were also saying yes to his almost two-year-old sister as well. Two years later we adopted them both: a brother and sister, almost exactly two years apart. It still marks one of the saddest and happiest days of my life. Bitter-sweet doesn’t do it justice. Adopting a sibling group was something we were open to for sure. What I didn’t realize was how much I would learn about my self, attachment, and what it means to be a part of a family.

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When Laila moved in with us she was almost two years old. She had been in four foster homes in the past year that she had been in care. When her younger brother Noah, who came to us from birth turned two, I had a really hard time for a few months. I realized that how I had treated Laila at two was so, so different than how I was treating Noah.

Laila came to us with a lot of “learned” behaviors that I was sure I could change in her, with my parenting methods (isn’t that funny?!). But when Noah turned two I realized that much of those behaviors Laila had exhibited were actually probably more nature than nurture, and that they were just made this way. I remember I would make Laila climb the stairs from the garage to the main level after we would exit the car. Usually my arms were full of Noah and groceries, and purses, and cups. And she would cry and cry.

I set Noah down at the bottom of the stairs the day he turned two, and I couldn’t imagine leaving him there to climb those steps on his own.

When Noah refused to eat tomatoes, I took him to the doctor and had him tested for an allergy; he had one.  I think I remember finally, out of exasperation, beginning to hide
tomatoes in Laila’s stuff when she was his age. When I found out Noah was allergic to tomatoes, it dawned on me, I bet Laila is too!

Sib pic 1When you parent siblings, you get a bigger peak into genetics. Something I didn’t have with any of the other children I had parented at that point. I was so glad that we were able to keep them together, but I did have to look myself in the mirror and own that I had messed up with Laila. My bond wasn’t as healthy with her when she moved in and so I treated her unfairly, and I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I have apologized to her since then. Luckily she’s seven now, and just laughs and hugs me when I tell her with tear-filled eyes that I am sorry I didn’t carry her up the steps, and that I made her eat tomatoes. She rolls her eyes, kisses my cheek, and begs for another bedtime story.

I love that she and Noah have each other, but I also love that they see all of the kids in our house as their siblings. We are many colors and shapes here, and when someone asks us at the grocery store, “Are any of them siblings?” They all respond, from their pure and true hearts, “We all are!” And I love that the most.

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