Guiding Values, Week 3

As we continue to look at the values that drive our “alt” parenting, this week’s excerpt from Magic Lessons looks at possibly the most important value of all, fit:

For adoptive parents, you are introduced to fit the day you start the search process for your kids. All children have both good and challenging qualities—what you want is to find the kids who are the right fit for your personality, values, and lifestyle. This is just my opinion, but I believe detecting fit is a matter of gut-level, versus brain-level, knowledge. A kid can look perfect—or very imperfect—on paper, but when you meet him or her in person, something kicks in that tells you “Of course” or “No way” or “Maybe . . . .” (For the maybes, I’d recommend a second or third visit before you commit.)

And that’s just the beginning. From the point at which you and your kids become a family, you can apply fit to . . . well, to pretty much everything that follows. Over the years, we had to suss out fit for obvious things like babysitters, coaches, therapists, tutors, and music teachers—but also to less-obvious things like behavioral systems, travel destinations, movie picks, restaurants, and so on. As just one random example, the boys and I had more fun on our previously-described first trip to Victoria (where there is Nothing. To. Do.), than we did on our one trip to Hawaii. All because the former, with its quirky charm, was more us at the time.

Now it’s your turn! Share your family-building story by leaving a comment, or contact me at joe@jmswordsmith.com to have your story featured as a post in a future week!

Guiding Values, Week 2

Week #2 of looking at questions like:

  • What ideas informed your approach to parenting: around structure, discipline, identity, etc.?
  • Where did these values come from?
  • How did they change over time?

This week’s excerpt from Magic Lessons looks at a huge value in our family, independence:

I started fostering (no pun intended) independence pretty much from the day the kids crossed the doorway officially for the first time. I’ve mentioned many of these examples already. From the beginning, they had to clean their own rooms and make their own breakfasts and lunches. Not long after, they began the monthly cooking experiment I’ve also previously described. There was also a period where they cleaned the bathrooms, on the theory that ninety-five percent of the crud came from them. This ended when I realized that it was faster for me to clean the actual crud than to do a second pass on whatever was left after they … did whatever it was they did in there.

Perhaps the most obvious marker of the kids’ independence was how, from a relatively early age, they traveled from place to place by themselves. I did drive them to their elementary school, even though both we and the school are a block or two from BART stations. This was mostly because I wasn’t convinced they would consistently get on the right train. And because I could see lots of arguments when one was sure it was the red line, and the other was sure it was the yellow line, and then I would be getting regular calls from the BART police. On the one hand, being on a first-name basis with a BART officer might not be a bad thing, depending on the gender and level of hotness. On the other … easier just to get in the car.

Now it’s your turn! Share your family-building story by leaving a comment, or contact me at joe@jmswordsmith.com to have your story featured as a post in a future week!

Guiding Values, Week 1

This month, we look at the values the drive the way we raise our families. February’s posts look at questions like:

  • What ideas informed your approach to parenting: around structure, discipline, identity, etc.?
  • Where did these values come from?
  • How did they change over time?

This week’s excerpt from Magic Lessons looks at the all-important (to me) value of structure:

When I got my kids, I made a conscious decision to make myself central in their lives, to a point that others might consider (and that, in retrospect, maybe was) excessive. Want something to eat? Ask. Watch TV? Same. Going outside? Let me know. Have a lot of homework and need to skip chores? Don’t just blow them off—talk to me about it. And so on, and so on.

My reasoning was twofold: (a) They had never had a parent who was a center, so I felt like we had a lot of catching up to do. And (b) I wanted to try to instill the belief—especially in Daveon—that it’s possible to get what you want by going through the person who can provide it to you. You don’t have to figure out everything on your own (he did), you can trust adults (he didn’t), and they won’t let you down (they had). So rather than him raiding the fridge on a whim, or walking up to someone he had just met and fiddling around with their hair, we spent a lot of time—a lot—on, “Ask. If you want something, or want to touch someone, just ask. You can trust that the answer will be yes, or at least, we’ll work something out.”

This message didn’t always sink in—often, for example, when told to close the fridge door and ask for something to eat, Daveon just decided he wasn’t hungry and left the kitchen. But I felt that it was important to reinforce the message whenever possible. You can get what you want, and the people around you will be happy to provide it. And of all those people, the main provider is me.

Now it’s your turn! Share your family-building story by leaving a comment, or contact me at joe@jmswordsmith.com to have your story featured as a post in a future week!

Family Building, Week 4

Our final week of looking at how our families came together, before we move on to the next topic. This week’s excerpt from Magic Lessons looks at my initial visits with my soon-to-be kids:

On December 23, Heather called me to see if the boys could come by that afternoon and stay through the 26th—basically, instant family Christmas. Which was fine, except at that point, I didn’t have anywhere for them to sleep. This resulted in my dear friend Aunt Leigh and I having a frantic, curse-filled IKEA bunk-bed-building speed-date. Who knew Swedes were so evil?

On this initial in-our-house visit, we had our first taste of family magic. Being a single dude cottage-dweller for many years prior, I didn’t really do Christmas. I hadn’t bought a tree in . . . well, maybe ever. I didn’t have any decorations or lights, not even a stocking. On December 24 (after a good night’s sleep in their new bed), the boys and I made the trek out to get some basics. The store where we bought the ornaments, tinsel, and other goodies had one tree left on the lot. They gave it to us for free.

Not a bad start.

Now it’s your turn! Share your family-building story by leaving a comment, or contact me at joe@jmswordsmith.com to have your story featured as a post in a future week!

Family Building, Week 3

As we continue to look at how LGBTQ+/adoptive/”alt” families chose to build their families, this week’s excerpt from Magic Lessons describes my “love at first sight” experience of finding my kids:

The rules for looking through the binders were simple. As you go through, you are to flag any potential matches with a post-it note. The agency worker then contacts the county worker for each of those kids or sibling sets and sends the worker a brief bio of the prospective parent (me).

After this point, the process is out of your hands. Each county worker makes a decision whether they think you (the prospective parent) are a good fit for the kid or kids in question. If so, the county worker replies to the agency worker and sets up a meeting. Again, similar to dating, it’s basically a numbers game: If you want a match, flag lots of potential kids. There’s no commitment at this point.

OK, so I have my county binder, and I open to the siblings section. And there they were: my kids. They were the very first picture I saw, and I knew right away they were the ones. Yes, I’m typically one of those gut-instinct people. But this was gut instinct times infinity.

Now it’s your turn! Share your family-building story by leaving a comment, or contact me at joe@jmswordsmith.com to have your story featured as a post in a future week!

Family Building, Week 2

We continue our January theme of family building, with posts that focus on questions like:

  • What made you decide to have kids?
  • Did you have any criteria for what kind of kid you wanted, and why?
  • How did you decide on your process (adoption, surrogacy, etc.)?
  • What memorable moments occurred during your process, good or bad?

This week’s excerpt from Magic Lessons looks at my experience in that necessary evil of the fost-adopt process, training:

In training, one of the first things you learn is the definition of a special needs child. This includes, believe it or not, a child with a diagnosed special need such as a physical, emotional, or developmental disability. However, again at least in California, it also includes the following:

  • Any child over two
  • Any child who is not white
  • Any siblings

So, yeah: You could fost-adopt a future president of the United States, and if he or she is three, or Latino, or has a sister who’s also in foster care, that child is special needs. I actually hit the trifecta: My kids were both over two and not white and part of a sibling set. Yahtzee! The good news is, the county gives you a (meager, but every penny counts) monthly stipend for these “special” kids, up to age eighteen. The bad news is . . . really?

Anyway, other things you learn in training include the following:

  • How to discipline
  • How not to discipline
  • All the attachment disorders you can expect to see
  • How there’s a good chance you won’t see these disorders until your kid hits puberty
  • The honeymoon
  • How not to be fooled by the honeymoon
  • What to do when the honeymoon ends—probably much sooner and more abruptly than seems reasonable

Now it’s your turn! Share your family-building story by leaving a comment, or contact me at joe@jmswordsmith.com to have your story featured as a post in a future week!