Today has been all wrapped up in two main sessions with Beth Guckenberger, two breakout sessions on fantastically intriguing topics, and one creative quiet/meditation time. The large group sessions were on things like "Finding Shalom in the Chaos of Life" and "Identity and the Reconciled Life." Breakout 2 was "Sensory Processing and Difficult Behaviors," then Breakout 3 was on "What Black Moms Want You to Know about Raising Black Children."
I have taken 22 pages of notes today, people. Twenty. Two. Pages. 😳
I'm racking my brain to think of any speakers I've heard, like, ever, who are as good as what we are hearing and learning through Beth Guckenberger this weekend, and I'm going to tell you that list is seriously short. Beth is a beautifully talented writer, but she is also a dynamic speaker who pours the kinds of inspiration through stories with which adoptive and foster mamas identify. She is hysterical in all the right moments and so thought-provoking in others. She has experienced nearly every kind of adoption or foster situation you could imagine (no, really) and has much wisdom and authority on those grounds, but she also is one of the most rock solid communicators/teachers of biblical history and language I've ever heard. I love these people and just wanted to listen listen listen to her all stinking day. Just the worship and Beth alone would have earned this C4C a perfect 10 in my book.
But wait...there's more! Great breakout sessions, that is.
The early afternoon session was on sensory processing issues, taught by Amy Monroe of the Empowered to Connect/Dr. Karyn Purvis/The Connected Child organization. Amy is so sweet and so precious and so knowledgeable of all the attachment and sensory issues that tend to come with adoption, but mostly she has a generous spirit of humility and grace about her. Her sessions are always comforting, always equipping.
I knew that this was a hot topic in the adoption world, but was still surprised when Amy said that everybody has some sort of sensory issue. As adults, we can adjust and regulate and remove ourselves from uncomfortable situations, but our kids don't have that liberty. The result is that they tend to misbehave as a way of coping with the sensory overload. This session, for me, was all about learning that a child's behavior is not simply because they are bad or defiant or willfully disobeying. These actions are beyond their control, because their brains are not able to process sensory input in an organized way just yet.
Kids who have been adopted have likely experienced some sort of stressor...whether it is high cortisol/stress/drugs in utero or physical or relational trauma. (*Side note: this can absolutely apply to biological children as well! Sometimes bio kids experience early medical or relational trauma as well, and that can have the same results.) All of these interfere with the development of the brain and nervous system, of which over 80% is involved in processing or organizing sensory input. There are 5 external senses, 3 internal (vestibular-where your body is in space, proprioceptive-muscles and joints, & tactile-perpetual points of touch). When our kids have issues with some of these areas, their brain goes into traffic jam mode, and they respond in ways that can seem pretty ridiculous to us on the outside. Common example might be a child having an absolute meltdown over their tags in their shirts, or food of a certain texture, or the seams in their socks not aligning just right.
Long story short? It isn't ridiculous behavior when we remember that their brains cannot handle the stimulation...and if we can help them with this, we should. Cut the tags out! Buy seamless socks! Other practical suggestions include considering items to help with sensory integration such as weighted blankets (rule of thumb is to get a blanket that is 10% of the child's body weight plus 1 lb), lap pads, chewlery for oral fixations, and feelings balls/charts/stickers to help teach them words for what they feel. The book recommended far and wide for sensory issues is The Out of Sync Child (with The Out of Sync Child Has Fun as a supplement).
Breakout Session 3 was one I have anticipated for months! It featured a panel of black moms who shared very graciously and candidly things that we need to know about black culture in order to raise our black children. As one mom put it, it doesn't matter if our kids are from Haiti or Ethiopia or Rwanda. Once they get here, they will be seen and recognized as black American children, so in thinking about preparing them for the world they are living in we should consider a few key ideas that we (as white Americans) may not be aware of:
1) Hair and Skin - Lotion and oil are absolutely essential to our children's hygiene. Real lotion, like Eucerin or coconut oil or Shea butter. We should make an honest effort to learn how to care for and style their hair, because everything we say about and do for their hair...everything we think about their hair will have an impact on how they feel about themselves.
2) Relationships - We must establish relationships with people who look like our children. They need to see people of their race in your circles. Neighbors, church, friends. It really matters that they have someone who looks like them because they will have moments in life when they will need to hear from someone who has had a common experience (discrimination, profiling, etc.). They need to see black pediatricians and dentists and eye doctors to understand that these options are open to them as well.
3) Celebrate black culture - Yes, we should celebrate Black History Month, but more importantly we should celebrate black culture and history all year long. There should be black literature, artwork, poetry, images in our homes so that our children are represented. We should seek a firm understanding of the black diaspora (how black people came to arrive in America and what that history means for modern culture). Choosing ignorance on this topic is a disservice to our children.
4) Awareness of issues - DWB is a commonly known code within their culture of Driving While Black. Three of the moms on the panel and at least one from the audience shared specific, rattling accounts of situations in which their teenage sons (or their husbands, back when they were younger) were pulled over/roughed up/arrested due to cases of mistaken identity or assumed wrongdoing. The moms stressed that as their sons reach driving age, they not only prepare them in the typical ways such as making sure they can change a tire or whatever, but they also have to teach them the Black Male Code. Their boys have to know that they have to be very careful if ever pulled over, even if wrongly. They have to equip them to protect themselves in a world that is unfriendly to young black men. In the words of one mom, "You moms have to remember that one day brown and cute will turn into black and threatening." There were other issues they discussed, including treatment of the n word, when they're called any racial slur, and special considerations for the dating years. In all of these we can support our children through having those established relationships with black adults, to provide another place for them to seek advice in areas of common experience. They left us with thoughts for preparing our children for the world, and the fact that they will likely experience discrimination at some point. But, though they'll have to work twice as hard to prove themselves, we must teach them to do it anyway.
It was a heavy, full day, but through all of these settings I feel so reflective, so much closer to understanding how to be a better mama not only to my Pearl but to all of these little girls under my wing. Thinking about their tomorrows has been the focus of the day, and I hope to leave here able to be a better mom for them!