Stacy Manning is a post-adoptive family coach who has recently written her first book, Adoptive Parent Intentional Parent. She has worked with special needs kids and with adoptive families across the US, bringing hope and healing in the adoption journey. I’m honoured to host Stacy on my blog today as she shares about her own journey into adoption and her call to help other adoptive families.
A bit about myself and my family: In order to tell you about myself, I’ll tell the story my husband tells. I am always proud when he tells it and I believe it gives you an accurate picture of who I am.
After college, I decided I wanted to run my own business and felt very passionate about the importance of offering daycare to sibling groups that included a special needs child. I believed that was in the best interest of both the typical and special needs siblings, so that they could interact during the day. I didn’t see that happening in regular day care settings so I bought a home and started a special needs plus daycare.
I met my husband of nineteen years during this time. Pat tells a story about taking a day off of work to hang out with me at my daycare to see what it was all about. He learned a lot about “who I was” that day. At that time, I had children with attachment disorder, cerebral palsy, autism and even one who was blind. It was so exhilarating to me; I loved them all and we had a system that worked.
Then it was time to go for a walk. I only took the kids for a walk when I had a helper and I figured Pat could be the helper. He was shocked I would leave the building with these kids; he hadn’t had any experience working with special needs kids before so was feeling a bit overwhelmed.
Anyway, we set out and I made it easy for Pat—all he had to do was pull the wagon; I would handle the rest. The way he tells it is that he was at the back of the line so he just watched me while I wove in and out of the children, one on my elbow the whole time, keeping them engaged. They just followed like I was the Pied Piper.
Well, good news is it didn’t scare him away…. he did ask me to marry him soon after that day. He always says he knew at that moment I could handle anything that came my way. He usually sums up the story by saying it was moving to watch me relate to the children as if I had already memorized a script of the walk—that my perception of their needs before the needs even arose was what hit him the most. I think that is why I am where I am today; my love for children and my strong belief that they should all get the best chance at a life full of quality relationships, experiences and opportunities drives me.
Fast forward nineteen years. My husband and I have been biological parents since 1996 and adoptive parents since 2001. We have six children: three biological sons (17, 14 and 13 years old) and three adopted daughters 17, 14 and 13 years old. No, that is not a typo; they are like three sets of twins!
In the first years of our adoption, many people likened us to the Brady Bunch and we agreed except that we were desperately in need of our “Alice” and she really needed to be able to speak Russian. We are a busy homeschooling family who spend lots of time at church and in 4-H and Robotics clubs and we could still use an “Alice” in our lives!
How did you feel led to adoption?
I have been a peruser of “waiting children” sites since before I got married. I knew even if I never got married, I would adopt. I have always felt I could be a mom to whomever needed me. Pat wasn’t against it, but he hadn’t really thought about it either—and the reality is he had been watching me peruse the sites for years so was probably getting ready.
Our youngest was about a year and a half old when I suggested to Pat that we think about adding to our family again, but this time we should adopt. My theory was that we were fortunate he had a great job and we had plenty of room and I felt selfish giving birth to another child when there were so many children already in the world who deserved a family. That conversation was the beginning of our adoption journey.
How did you get in to coaching and writing a book?
It was about two years into our adoption that I decided I would not let any other family go through this journey alone. Because of my education and past work experiences, I was equipped more than many to “handle” this situation and it was taking every ounce of me to keep our journey headed in a positive direction. The trauma of losing a primary attachment figure (along with other kinds of trauma such as neglect and abuse) is all encompassing and the deficits our children were saddled with were huge.
We knew they hadn’t had an easy life and we knew it was going to be a process; however, we were not truly prepared for what our reality became. Yes, there were good times, but they were few and far between. We chose to keep our girl’s world small because the chaos of other places and people just created more anxiety and fear and then behavior at home would worsen. Our support system was very confused because typically the hard behaviors stayed behind closed doors and were mostly aimed at me as MOM—our loved ones felt like our judge and jury except they were without evidence.
Even others in our lives such as the medical professionals didn’t see our “real” life, which led them to question our parenting choices. As we became more honest and open about our life, other families opened up about their circumstances—they were all in such pain, they blamed themselves, they questioned whether they should continue… they needed help. Our parenting choices were working; over the next couple of years behaviors started to lessen, but most importantly trust started to grow. All was not healed, but things were headed in the right direction.
I continued to meet hurting families so I began leading support groups, educating myself and connecting with as many adoptive parents as possible. I have walked along side many families, helping them navigate their way through the trenches—just being there in the moment, helping them be a source of healing for their child. Being an adoptive parent is extremely counter-intuitive, which makes it exhausting. We have love we want to give, but a child who is too broken, frightened and self-dependent to be able to receive it.
It became very clear to me that there is a kind of “formula” for creating the perfect environment for attachment to blossom, a safety net that really works. I knew in order to help more families, it was important I write it down so they could begin to intentionally work towards healing—Adoptive Parent Intentional Parent: A Formula for Building and Maintaining Your Child’s Safety Net was born. It is clear to me that it is crucial that we intentionally build a new safety net for our adopted kids by first getting our own stuff out of the way, then educating ourselves, using tools and techniques that really work for our adoptive/foster situation, surrounding ourselves with support and NEVER, NEVER giving up the HOPE that our child can heal.
In my mission to help families create a net for their child, I have found that having someone to coach you that has lived it, can finish your sentences, and really knows your pain makes a difference. I hope my book will be used as a resource to help guide parents to be more intentional about the way they parent and that it gives them tools to use in everyday moments which will ultimately create room for life to be more hope filled. As a family coach, through my webinars and trainings, my website and our Hope Connections Facebook page, it is ultimately my goal to make sure that families know they are not alone!
One piece of advice I would give to parents thinking about adopting would be… Do it!
Do it, but do it with your eyes wide open, having educated yourself with the knowledge that my story is the story of thousands and thousands of families. It is the story, to some degree or another, of most children who have lost their primary attachment figure.
Do it, but know that whether your child is adopted only a few hours old or many years old, they have been forever changed by that loss—even if it was in their best interest, they have been touched by that loss.
Do it, but work to move your expectations and emotional “stuff” to the side so you can meet them where they are and love them the way THEY need to be loved.
Do it, but make the choice to be an intentional parent, to create a new safety net for your child.
Do it, but make a commitment to be that safety net for your child long after their chronological counterparts might need it.
Do it, but make sure you create a support system that “lives your journey,” surround yourself with others who have adopted.
A couple things I’d like to add…
In addition to supporting families, I have a real passion for educating other members of society about the truths of trying to form a family through adoption. I believe society as a whole has a very distorted understanding of what it takes to be an adoptive parent. I believe it is crucial that the society has a clear understanding what the impact of having lived through trauma does to our children. The false belief that they are children so they will “get over it” only acts as a hurdle as we the adoptive parents try to help our children heal.
To be loving to our children means to meet them where they are emotionally and psychologically.
To be loving means to make parenting choices based in the knowledge of their deficits, not by society’s standards or the same way as everyone else.
To be loving means to discern how to best help our children consistently feel safe, even if it looks different.
For the sake of our children’s future and for the sake of our family’s present, I urge adoptive families to be open about your story, be transparent in your daily life—the good and the bad—as you continue to educate yourself educate those around you. I know that our adopted children’s best chance at healing is “us,” their adoptive parents, but I also know that our best chance at being those healing parents is deeply rooted in the sense of being understood and supported by others.
For more about adoption, check out the adoption story my friends shared.
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