Beyond “Naughty or Nice”: What Our Children’s Unwanted Behavior Can Teach Us

Holiday photo with list of names on "nice list" next to plate snowflake shaped cookies

“Naughty or nice?” We hear these words a lot during the holidays, especially surrounding December traditions that pivot around children’s behavior. “Santa’s List Day,” celebrated December 4, was the day for determining who’s well-behaved and who’s not, and all month long millions of children write “Dear Santa” letters, requesting toys they want along with their commentary on whether they’ve been bad or good.

When it comes to children’s behavior and the way we talk about it, the conversation is much more complex and doesn’t fall into tidy categories of “good or bad,” “right or wrong,” “naughty or nice.” This is particularly true for fostered and adopted children who have complex trauma histories.

It’s important to reframe the conversation. As WACAP’s Clinical Director Zoila Lopez reminds us in this post, unwanted behavior is immensely valuable and communicates our children’s needs.


Naughty or Nice or …Unwanted Behavior

In a perfect world, we would all be perfectly behaved. Six-year-olds wouldn’t fight putting on their shoes before school. No one would see a child throwing a temper tantrum at the grocery store. Teens wouldn’t slam the door on the way to their room. Moms and dads wouldn’t lose their patience. In this perfect world, we wouldn’t witness or engage in “bad behavior.”

When thinking about behavior, it’s beneficial for us as parents to reframe what we might call “bad” behavior as unwanted behavior. Unwanted (or dysregulated) behavior in children is the result of a poor capacity to process, accept, and manage environmental changes. The more we can recognize “bad” behavior as useful, the more capable we are to see what our child is communicating and understand how to best respond—and the better equipped we’ll be to recognize and meet our child’s needs.

Tantrums, defiant behavior, screaming, impulsivity, meltdowns, and battles for control are all examples of unwanted behaviors. Among older children, teens, and young adults, unwanted behaviors may take the form of outbursts, annoyance, mood swings, and what may come across as lack of empathy and self-centeredness. Unwanted behaviors are more frequent among children who are afflicted by complex developmental trauma. This is so because children from trauma have missed out on important attachment and developmental milestones, which results in immaturity in self-regulation of emotions and behaviors.

Behavioral challenges like those outlined above put parents’ patience to the test. Considering the environment and imagining our child’s experience is integral to understanding how to respond, and how our child needs us to respond, especially during stressful times.

Unwanted Behaviors During the Holiday Season

The holidays are a breeding ground for dysregulation. They often bring out an array of challenging behaviors in children, and it’s no wonder why. For many kids, the holidays are an assault on the senses: colorful and flashing lights, evolving store displays, loud music, crowded stores, and an assortment of smells, sounds and sights to process. With so much going on, it’s difficult for children to remain well-regulated.

Furthermore, children thrive on routines, which are often interrupted during holidays and family gatherings. Holidays bring time off from school, visiting family members, travel, extended stays at others’ homes, unfamiliar faces, and new surroundings. Children also have trouble adjusting to their parents’ busier schedules or lack of availability. The sensory extravaganza plus routine changes are difficult for children, particularly for those with a complex trauma history and for children who’ve just come home to their families. These conditions are overwhelming for adults without a history of trauma, let alone children from hard places!

Many fostered and adopted children don’t respond well in these environments—they might even regress and exhibit behaviors often present during children’s integrations to families through adoption (e.g., food issues, bed wetting, etc.). Unsurprisingly, we, as parents, become stressed, frustrated, and anxious, witnessing our children descend into what feels like a spiral into a land where dysregulation is king without much warning. We may respond from this place of stress, while our child’s behavior continues to digress … and the stress-response escalates for all parties. The parent and child responses create a closed feedback loop that can be difficult to break without taking some deliberate steps as a parent.

Responding to Your Child’s Unwanted Behavior: Strategies You Can Take

  • Pause. Stop what’s happening if possible.
  • Attune yourself in the moment to your child.
  • Count back from 10 (to yourself).
  • Use a soft voice with your child.
  • Get down to your child’s eye level.
  • Practice mindfulness – What is it about your child’s dysregulated behavior that’s causing you to respond in a dysregulated way?

Reframing the way we think about behavior—thinking about behavior as a messenger offering information about our children’s emotional state (vs. bad/good)—reminds us why even undesired behavior is so valuable. It uniquely educates us about the needs of our children, reminds us how we need to respond to those needs, and nudges us toward the empathy that we need to practice on their behalf, on good days and bad and in every season.

Additional Resources:

WACAP is committed to building strong families. Visit WACAP’s social services page to learn more about how we support foster and adoptive families.


By WACAP Clinical Director Zoila Lopez (content-theory-collaborative writer-editor) and WACAP Communications Editor M. Harrel (collaborative writer-editor).

wacap-clinical-directorAbout WACAP Clinical Director Zoila Lopez: Zoila joined WACAP in 2016 as the organization’s clinical director. She is an adoptive mom, a former foster parent, and has an extensive work background as a therapist and adoption coach, working to support all members of the adoption triad. Within her community, she helps organize and plan trainings and events that support families built through foster care and adoption. An advocate for adoptees, children in foster care, and families, she is committed to connecting children and families with supportive communities and resources that help them thrive.

mh-photoAbout WACAP Communications Editor Missy Harrel: Missy joined WACAP’s communication team in 2011. She spent the first part of her career in nonprofit program management focused on child welfare and early learning, as well as teaching in higher education. Growing up with family and friends who were adopted, she has an ongoing interest in sharing about family and the stories they create together. She blends her communications background with a love of learning and technology. She enjoys reading a poem with a good cup of coffee in hand.

Image Source: Pexels stock photo

Posted in Adoption, Advice, Foster Care | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Got Holiday Stress? Three Resources for Foster and Adoptive Families

Holiday Lights at Night

Help With Navigating the Holidays

It’s that time of year!

The holidays create memories we can’t forget and sometimes, difficult moments and meltdowns we wish we could. Bringing days filled with excitement and emotion, anxiety and anticipation, this time of year can be stressful, no matter how it’s packaged. Here are a few WACAP resources to help foster and adoptive families during a sometimes taxing holiday season.

1. Free WACAP Webinar on Holiday Stress

“Holiday Stress in Fostered and Adopted Youth” / 4 p.m. Pacific / 7 p.m. Eastern – December 3, 2018

All of us can feel stressed around the holidays. This stress can be amplified by past trauma, and feelings of grief and loss for fostered and adopted children, especially the first year in a new home. This training will help participants identify holiday stress that children feel, create a healthy environment for the holidays, and address how to help adults and youth cope. Appropriate for both domestic and international foster or adoptive families. Sponsored by Coordinated Care, Apple Health Core Connections. Facilitated by WACAP Adoption Counselor, Zia Freeman, M.A., LMHC.

2. Collected Advice from WACAP Families

WACAP staff asked families they’ve worked with how they approach or navigate the holidays. Here’s a summary of advice from families, for families.

3. WACAP’s Online Support Group

WACAP’s private, moderated Parent Support Group offers advice and support for foster and adoptive families nationwide. The holidays are one of many times that families bring their questions and experience to this engaged and supportive Facebook community of parents, WACAP foster care and adoption staff, and social services professionals.


WACAP is committed to building strong families. If you have questions about WACAP support services, please contact us at wacap@wacap.org.


Image Source: Stock – Pexels.com

Posted in Adoption, Celebrations, Foster Care, WACAP | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Adventure We Didn’t Plan”: Adopting Our Daughter From India

A WACAP mom reflects on the unexpected process and adventure that brought their daughter Ila into their lives. Adopting a child with medical needs from India was not initially the family’s plan but as they waited to bring Ila home, their “whole family learned to love a stranger.” Today, they’ve found she’s taught them so much about what family means.


Family of five outdoors on fall day

The family together last fall. (Image Source: WACAP Family)

“Everything We Never Knew We Didn’t Know, We Learned From an Adventure We Didn’t Plan to Take”

By Sara Stratton, WACAP Adoptive Parent

46 months ago …

We submitted an application to adopt through WACAP. This caught us by surprise as much as it did our friends and family. This was not our plan. We were going to have one more little blonde biological child and go along our merry way. But, suddenly we were hit with a loud-and-clear call to adopt from India. How would we pay for it? But what about our plans? Despite the million questions running through our minds, we stepped out in faith and submitted an application.

37 months ago …

We accepted a referral for a 16-month-old girl in Mumbai with a medical rap-sheet about as long as our list of “what ifs”. As much as I’d love to say it was love at first sight and we just knew she was the one, it actually wasn’t like that.

We had already lost a match with a little girl whose file and face we fell in love with just to find out it had been a mistake and we were not yet eligible to be matched. My heart was still longing for that first little girl but knew it was time to match.

We were sent a few referrals that didn’t meet our family’s criteria and finally chose our daughter simply because her needs seemed less scary than the other child sent to us this day. We spent hours upon hours staring at the few photos we had and trying to feel as close as possible to this little girl across the world. Over time, our whole family learned to love a stranger and nearly lost our minds waiting out the rest of the process.

29 months ago …

Our daughter celebrated her 2nd birthday in her orphanage in India. I had prayed and hoped for months that she would be home by her birthday but that hadn’t happened and at this point the courts were closed for summer holidays. I prayed aloud that morning and asked that God would move mountains that day and let our girl know how loved she was.

I had no expectation of any updates as courts were closed for another month but I prayed anyway. A couple hours later, I received an email from WACAP with the subject “You’ve PASSED COURT.” She was our daughter and we were her parents! What better birthday gift for a child then a FOREVER family!

27 months ago …

I held my daughter for the first time. She cried, pushed me away and refused to look at me, but that was just fine by me. I knew that she was absolutely, without a doubt, the child who was meant for me. Three hours later when she woke from her nap, huge progress was made and on Day 3 she called me mommy.

I knew immediately that the other files we had reviewed and the lost match were not our children – they had other parents who were meant for them. But THIS little girl – she was ours and we were hers. She is the bravest person I’ve ever known and her capacity to love and be loved is truly a gift.

10 days later, we returned home to the rest of our family and she was finally able to meet her dad and two older brothers. She took a couple weeks to warm up to her dad (I’m certain it was due to an all female staff at her orphanage), but she and her brothers fell instantly in love and her dad was smitten from the start.

Now that she has been home over two years …

It is hard to even remember life before Ila. It has not always been easy (far from it at times) but we have learned so much from our sweet little girl and the process of bringing her home and weaving her into our family. Many of the lessons we’ve learned were not covered in any adoption trainings as they are the intangible pieces only gained from the incredible human experience that is adoption:

  • Our life plan is often not the best plan. Taking a leap of faith and stepping outside the box we’ve created for ourselves is where the good stuff happens.
  • Adoption does not always look like a Hallmark movie. The referral matching process isn’t always necessarily going to feel magical or divine, but that is okay. Don’t ever compare feelings for an adopted child to those for your biological child. One is not greater than the other but they are definitely different. While one is an immediate and physiological emotion, the other takes time and intention.
  • We’re all stronger than we think. While in India without my husband and faced with a severe medical emergency with my daughter that took me to the scariest emergency rooms and a straight week without sleep, a fierce mama bear came out in me; I learned I had a strength I didn’t know existed and a willingness to do absolutely anything it takes to help my daughter whom I had only just met.
  • Be an overly safe and wise traveler. (Something we learned: Just because your cab driver says they know how to find an address, doesn’t mean they actually do.)
  • Biological families have a collective rhythm we may not be aware of until it is disrupted. Weaving a new child with their own set of experiences and programs into a family is not natural. It takes a lot of additional explaining and outlining. Explaining to and preparing a new child for each familial pattern is essential. Become hyper-aware of every detail of your family’s life and explain it to your new child for as long as it takes. It helps them feel in control of their own life and helps them feel like a vested part of things, not just like they are along for the ride. Trust me, the difference in behavior when they are included in planning and decision making is worth the extra steps.
  • Jet lag is REAL. Accept every bit of help that is offered and ask for what is not. Meal train? Yes, please. Do I need help folding laundry? Absolutely!
  • It is not the responsibility of adoptive parents to paint a picture-perfect image of adoption to the rest of the world. The beauty of adoption is often found in the mess and chaos of it all. The ugly stuff is where our children experience unconditional love for the very first time. Sharing your real-life experiences, even at their ugliest, is where our friends and family can see the true beauty of adoption.
  • “Chatty toddler” takes on an entirely different meaning in children who have experienced trauma. Seriously, we went a year without a single second of silence. Let them work through it but give yourself breaks and find a quiet space. It becomes a survival mechanism on especially chatty days.
  • Post-adoption depression (PAD) is definitely a real thing. Don’t think for a second that you are failing or in over your head. I had all those feelings despite our daughter having a super great attachment period. Connect with other adoptive parents and share what you’re experiencing. Just hearing someone acknowledge that PAD is real and that I wasn’t alone turned everything around for me. For moms and parents who struggle with this, I hope you find healing and reassurance in knowing that this phase is temporary and that you absolutely are equipped for this.
  • Superheroes are sometimes disguised as tiny little malnourished toddlers and they have the power to turn your life upside down and grow your heart in ways you never knew possible.

Thank you to Sara and her family for sharing their experience and their journey.

To learn more about adopting from India through WACAP, please contact us at wacap@wacap.org.


About Sara Stratton: Cameron and Sara Stratton are loving a fun and busy life in the Pacific Northwest with their two biological sons (ages 9 and 5) and adopted daughter from India (age 4). They recall struggling through the fundraising portion of their adoption process and today, work to assist others on that part of their journey. Sara founded and manages Ragini Project, a 501(c)3 fair-trade e-commerce store that purchases handmade imports direct from artisans in developing countries all over the world, using net proceeds to support families pursing adoption and those working in orphan care.

Posted in Adoption, Adoptive Parents' Perspectives, Advice, WACAP, Waiting Children | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stories Worth Telling: Review of Paramount’s “Instant Family”

Cast from Paramount's

Recently, and with gratitude to Paramount Pictures and Redbox for their sponsorship of the event, WACAP hosted an advanced screening of the new movie, “Instant Family.”  If you haven’t yet heard of it, the movie is based on the adoption and foster care experience of writer/director Sean Anders.

I’m often asked to describe success stories from the work we do at WACAP.  Honestly, most often people are expecting a happily-ever-after tale.  I’m not such a fan of those stories, because there’s an implication that every sad emotion has left these adoptive families forever, with only happiness ahead. That’s simply not real. Grief is a permanent fixture in adoption, as is conflict and mistakes and failures. There’s also plenty of laugh-until-you-cry moments. “Instant Family” embraces this idea, finding inspiration in the process of how an idea to foster or adopt unspools through a muddled process that is both unpredictable and unremarkable.

Like most movies that touch on child welfare themes, my assumption was that it would be inspirational.  It would surely spark conversations around the topic –an admirable outcome, for sure.  It would likely, however, miss the mark on the realities of the life of foster parents and children who navigate the foster care system in America.

I was wrong.

I’ll hint at no spoilers here, but we at WACAP want to let you in on the sneak peek we enjoyed.  First, let’s agree that no single film could fully encapsulate the experience of the entire adoption triad, including the adoptee, adoptive parents, and biological parents.  Two hours couldn’t even scratch the surface of the complicated dynamics nor could they accurately represent the process, and “Instant Family” is no exception here. (One knowledgeable attendee wondered aloud about the missing scenes of this family completing volumes of paperwork.)

The movie pursued a higher goal, actually, and through the subtleties in many scenes, it captured so many of the complicated and contradictory emotions of foster care and adoption. I felt this most often through the fully painted, and quite complex characters. And, it should be said, the movie is really, really funny.  Rather than becoming mired in tragedy, this movie generously provides comic relief.

From a couple’s tentative exploration of fostering children, through their preparation and placement, we watch as each of their assumptions fall away.  Like them, we wonder how – or if – strangers might eventually feel like family, simply because children (and a teenager) moved in with two adults who were willing to let them.  We watch as their early confidence gives way to a parade of emotions, confessions, breakthroughs, and failures one right after another.

There is one particular scene with which many foster and adoptive families will identify. In a public setting, our new parents struggle with extreme tantrums under the judgmental glare of passers-by and a “you asked for this” smirk from the eldest sibling. While most filmmakers would offer a quick and easy resolution, “Instant Family” allows the growing weight of this parental commitment to linger while this family’s support system begins to dwindle and question their sanity.

In this movie, no one is a savior, and no one is a scapegoat. The biology, heritage and culture of these children, rather than being swiftly erased, is a featured player. And at the end of the story, what you have observed is how the concept of family is negotiated and redefined into something quite different, but also entirely normal.

It is the story I wish were true for every child in foster care.

These are the types of stories that have inspired WACAP to begin recruiting temporary foster families as well as adoptive families for children in Washington State.  When we hear of children who, once removed from biological family members for their safety, are then warehoused in hotel rooms or state offices because there aren’t enough qualified foster families in our state, we are compelled to act. Children, and siblings, and teenagers deserve a family to love and nurture and protect and celebrate them, whether for a short time or for a lifetime.

These are families worth celebrating, and these are stories worth telling.

“Instant Family” arrives in theaters on November 16, 2018.


WACAP CEO at orphanage in Africa, children gather smilingAbout WACAP’s CEO, Greg Eubanks: Greg joined WACAP as CEO in December 2014. Serving children and families has been the focus and passion of his 20-year career in nonprofit executive leadership and business administration. With an extensive background in international adoption and foster care, Greg is committed to bringing hope to the children living without a family … and helping them home.  

Posted in Adoption, Adoption Washington, Art and Creativity, Domestic Adoption, Foster Care, From the CEO, WACAP | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

National Adoption Month Calendar from WACAP

Celebrate with us this National Adoption Month!

As we move through November, thankful for what we’ve accomplished together, we hope you’ll follow along on this calendar. And please follow us on Instagram where we’re posting throughout the month.

national-adoption-month-calendar

WACAP 2018 Adoption Month Calendar – PDF

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

One Year and Counting: Why One Volunteer Comes Back Each Week

“You keep coming back!” I said to Vi, a WACAP volunteer I see every Monday. “You must like us,” I teased.

It turns out, she does.

Vi retired from Boeing after 30-years as a project manager. Today, she’s celebrating one year as a WACAP volunteer.

Ask her why she begins each week at WACAP helping others, and her answer is simple. In addition to liking the people, she just believes she should.

Vi learned about WACAP over lunch one day with a longtime friend, Maya Andreic, a WACAP mom and manager of WACAP’s Haiti program. “You know, you really should volunteer with WACAP,” Vi recalls her friend saying. “So I started the process.”

Working with WACAP’s Family Finders Team, Vi writes some of the profiles that introduce children to their potential parents and foster parents through WACAP’s Waiting Child website.

Volunteers like Vi, shown here with a big smile, make all the difference.

“It’s a small thing I do that helps staff …” she says. But for the families and children she helps connect, it’s not small at all.

Vi concedes she can’t get attached to every photo, with so many children that need families and need their stories to be shared. She knows she may not learn where their paths lead, but what she does know is that she’s “helping a child – helping that child somewhere along the line.”

“Today, I also helped the staff in WACAP’s Foster Care and Adoption department,” says Vi, smiling. She knows she’s part of something special.

“I think if we look at the obligation, or the responsibility, we have in our community, then we should help somebody along the way,” says Vi.

“People have helped me along the way.”

Learn more about volunteering with WACAP.


mh-photo-profile-wacapAbout WACAP Communications Editor Missy Harrel: Missy joined WACAP’s communication team in 2011. She spent the first part of her career in nonprofit program management focused on child welfare and early learning, as well as teaching in higher education. Growing up with family and friends who were adopted, she has an ongoing interest in sharing about family and the stories they create. She blends her communications background with a love of learning and technology, and enjoys her coffee with poetry in hand. 

Image Source/Design: WACAP 

Posted in Adoption, Foster Care, Volunteerism, WACAP | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The “Invisible” Waiting Children

There are children we see every day whose photos we can’t share. How do we advocate for these children, WACAP’s Lindsey Gilbert asks, sharing about a particular group of children in India so often overlooked: children with Down syndrome who are waiting for families. 


By Lindsey Gilbert, India Program Manager

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month, and I have loved seeing the many social media posts and articles about Down syndrome. There are stories about people with Down syndrome that help educate and demystify, and many posts about children with Down syndrome who are waiting for an adoptive family! However, my heart aches for one group so often overlooked: children with Down syndrome from India.

Children in India with Down syndrome need adoptive families

Though more and more families are adopting from India, there are few families who come into WACAP’s India program open to needs like Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, or blindness. Other countries, such as China, Bulgaria, and Taiwan allow waiting children to be listed on agency or adoption advocacy websites. As a result, many families see their sweet faces, and many children with Down syndrome are matched with their forever family! However, India’s central adoption authority, CARA, does not allow adoption agencies to post photos of waiting children anywhere online. The unfortunate result of that is fewer families for children who are older or have more complex needs.

Of course, we understand and respect India’s right to make decisions about their children, and this rule was made to protect the privacy of children. At the same time, we know that it is often a photo that first draws a family’s heart towards a child, so what do we do when we can’t share those photos? How do we advocate for the children you can’t see?

We tell their stories. I can’t show you a picture of “Heidi,” but I can tell you she’s nine years old, has a wonderful imagination, and loves to ride tricycles! I can’t show you “Una’s” gorgeous big brown eyes, but I can tell you she’s a happy and gentle three-year-old. They both happen to have Down syndrome, too.

Even though I can’t show you their faces, they are no less real than the waiting children you do see, and no less in need of a family. My hope this Down Syndrome Awareness Month is that more families would become aware of children like them, and take the leap of faith to bring them home.

WACAP wants every child to have their best chance for permanency. To open the door for more potential families, WACAP is offering a $5,000 promise child grant for eligible families adopting any child with Down Syndrome in India. Contact WACAP Family Finders to learn more.


LindseyGilbertAbout Program Manager Lindsey Gilbert: Lindsey became a member of WACAP’s China adoption team in 2011, after joining WACAP as a volunteer. She’s helped numerous families through their adoption process as a case manager, and she currently dedicates her time to both managing WACAP’s Thailand program as well as advocating for waiting children in WACAP’s international programs. She and her husband Geoff adopted their four-year-old daughter Vennela from India through WACAP in December 2017. Outside of work, Lindsey can be found practicing her Indian cooking, in the garden, or on a hiking trail with Geoff, Vennela and their two dogs.

Image Source: Canva stock illustration/WACAP design.

Posted in Adoption, Advocacy, International Adoption, WACAP, Waiting Children | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

When Times Were Different: My Search for My Biological Family

In this post, a WACAP staff member shares her story about growing up adopted and the search for her biological family. More than 60 years after her adoption, she’s found some of the answers she was looking for and invites us along on her journey.


Grayscale photo of Karen as a child next to picture of Karen today

(Left) Karen as a child; (Right) Karen today (Image Source: WACAP Staff)

My Search for My Biological Family

By a WACAP Staff Member and Adoptee

Wondering If There Was Family Out There

As an adoptee I found myself wondering many times if there was family “out there.” Even an aunt or uncle, grandmother or grandfather. Did they know about me? Why had they never searched for me?

I was adopted in 1951. I came to my mom and dad when I was six weeks old. Mom was 37 and Dad 43.

They’d tried to have children for years with no luck and their being able to adopt me was truly an answered prayer.  Due to some health issues, they could not adopt again.

What My Mother Told Me, and What She Didn’t

I knew I’d been adopted from a very young age, but it was not something my mom wanted to discuss nor did she want others to know. She was terrified that someone would come take me away and due to her insecurities, she told me that my mother had died in childbirth and that my father had been killed in the Korean War.

It wasn’t until I was near the end of my pregnancy with my first child (1977) and having some health issues related to the pregnancy, that my mother finally told me my biological mom had not died in childbirth, so that I could tell my doctor. (She never said anything about my father.)

Behind Curtains of Shame and Fear

My mother was so ashamed that she had lied but still so scared that I would find my bio mom and fall “in love” with her. It was a sad, but true worry she clung to. As a result, I never did much searching for family members out of respect for her wishes and her fears.

I am sure she felt inadequate not being able to bear a child and on top of that, she didn’t want others to know that I was, as some would have called me, “illegitimate.”

Times were different then.

Looking for Something

Time didn’t stand still, however, and neither did my desire to know more about my biological family.

In the late 90’s, I did do some internet searches, but I came up blank.

Mom passed away in 2006. I still felt I needed to honor her wishes that I not search for my bio mom.

However, in 2008, I began working for WACAP, where I heard stories about adoptees’ birth family searches, and helped answer questions about WACAP’s search and reunion services. After a few years, I learned about the at-home DNA and ancestry testing kits that were becoming so accessible and thought they might help me piece together parts of my story. In late 2016, after much debate, I finally sent in a kit through 23andMe.

I’d been able to obtain an original copy of my birth certificate with my bio mom’s name on it and waited eagerly for news of a DNA match that might tell me more. For months, I heard nothing encouraging.

Finding a Match

In February of 2018, I received notice I was a 23 percent DNA match with a girl who was likely my niece. I was in shock.

Lo and behold, when I contacted her, she knew my biological mom’s name, where my bio mother was from, and announced I had a brother and three sisters, all living in Colorado.

Sadly, I learned my bio mom had passed away in 2016.

There was still some uncertainty about who my father was, but my niece convinced her great uncle to do a DNA test as well. He was my uncle. His brother was my bio mom’s husband and my bio dad.

He’d passed away in 1997, but I had found him.

Uncovering Stories From a Different Time

Since both of my bio parents were deceased, it was evident that neither my siblings nor I would ever know the full story of why I was put up for adoption.

Since my bio mom had only been gone for just over a year, at first, I wished I had searched sooner. But apparently, my niece was also trying to honor her grandmother’s wishes for privacy, and had not done the DNA test until after her death. I wished for what I could know.

I learned that my bio parents were married about two months after my birth, and they went on to have four children together in seven years that followed.

I have since been in contact with all my newfound siblings and discovered that, though their mother told several of them she had given a child up for adoption, she gave them very little information beyond that.

They knew the child was a girl, they knew my birth date, and that I was born with club feet. My bio mom feared this condition was due to her binding herself to hide her pregnancy, and she’d made it clear to my siblings that she didn’t want to discuss anything further about this.

Times were different back in the 1950s for an unwed mother.

The Good and the “Weird” of It All

People who know my story are always asking me how I feel about all this. My initial response: “weird.”  I am sure that seems like an odd thing to say, but there is still so much going through my mind regarding my story’s twist and turns.

For one, the siblings I’ve gained “welcomed me to the family,” but at least for right now, they don’t feel like family.

Next, we were raised in very different circumstances. We share “nature” (DNA) but not “nurture.” As an only child I know I had many opportunities they never had. How different would my life have been if I had not been put up for adoption? Would I have been able to attend college? It is likely I would not have traveled as extensively as I did.

Furthermore, there is some current tension between the siblings that, thankfully, I don’t have to deal with.

Yes, it is all very weird.

Beneath the Desire to Know

Some might wonder what I was looking for. It’s true I didn’t know what I would find, and also that I was content in my life as it was.

So, then, why did I search?

On the surface, a main reason was to learn about my family’s medical history. I was tired of doctors asking me, “Is there a history of (diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc.) in the family?” and me having to say, “I don’t know, I was adopted.” I believe this has caused me to have several medical tests that I might have avoided had I just had some family medical history. My siblings have been great at providing me some of that.

But, deep down inside, there are other reasons; some instinctual curiosity has always been there.

If there was family out there, I had questions:

  • What was my ancestry like?
  • What education did my parents have?
  • What career, if any, did my bio mom pursue?
  • What personality traits do we share?
  • Where did my daughter get her red hair?
  • Who does my 6’ 2” son get that height from?
  • Does baldness run in the family?
  • The list goes on.

Search and Discovery

Although my mother was worried about what would happen if I sought answers to some of my questions, I can honestly say that I have not regretted or resented being adopted for one minute, nor do I hold any ill will against my bio mother and bio father for putting me up for adoption. To me, it would be silly to have regrets. As the expression goes, that’s “water under the bridge,” a past I can’t change.

If I could, I would love to be able tell my bio mom what a gift she gave my mother and that I never for even a moment felt unloved. Over protected, maybe, but not unloved. (I am not sure my new siblings fully understand that.)

Time will tell whether or not my siblings and I will stay connected or if this unusual relationship will fade away.

For now, I am delighted to have the contacts I have made, especially with one of my sisters, and grateful for all the information they have provided me. It’s all a little weird still, and there still questions without answers.

But times are different today, different for me, and perhaps too for the family that knows I’m here.

WACAP believes in providing lifelong support to families before and after adoption. Learn more about WACAP’s Social Services and its search and reunion services


About WACAP’s Home Study Processing Coordinator: Karen joined WACAP’s staff in 2009. Helping families across the U.S. during their home study process, she also assists executive staff and WACAP’s Family Finders team. She’s committed to helping children find families and loves the people she works with. Outside of work, she enjoys traveling, likes crafts including crocheting and rubber stamping, and enjoys gardening and attending theater productions with friends. “Can you tell I am not one to sit around and do nothing?” she’s known to ask colleagues with a smile.  

Posted in Adoptees' Perspectives, Adoption, Domestic Adoption, Staff/Board Spotlight, WACAP | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

WACAP Receives Donation From Local Business Partner

"A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees." -Amelia Earhart

“A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.” -Amelia Earhart

First Financial Northwest Bank employees donated over $800 to WACAP, raising funds as part of their “Dress Down for Charity Day” last Friday.

We learned about the contributions of the FFNWB staff here at WACAP’s Renton, Washington headquarters today, October 5, a day where people across the country are celebrating National Do Something Nice Day.

Their donation will help WACAP bring stability to children who need it through foster care and adoption.

We hope the story of the FFNWB team’s generosity will inspire you to do something that’s kind and charitable today as well.

WACAP executives accept a donation from First Financial Northwest Bank Vice President Jay Townsend

WACAP executives accept a donation from First Financial Northwest Bank Vice President Jay Townsend

Posted in Philanthropy, Quote | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Agents of Change: Painting Pictures from Family Camp

thank you note and photo from family camp volunteer-organizers with highlighted text about the

Thank you note from 2018 Family Camp volunteer organizers who call out what’s so special about this magical week at Sun Lakes (Image Source: WACAP Family)

Remembering the Pictures We Paint Across Seasons

By M. Harrel, WACAP Communications Editor
Interview with Zoila Lopez, WACAP Clinical Director

“I got a little emotional sitting there, seeing the kids showing off their talent, being goofy, simply being themselves,” says Zoila Lopez.

She’s telling me about a family talent show she attended at Sun Lakes Park last month in Central Washington, one of the stand-out experiences at her first WACAP Family Camp.

A glance out the window from Zoila’s office back in Seattle reminds us both that fall has come quick and change is in the busy September breeze. We stop anyway to reminisce about the summer, a chat that’s overdue. Zoila’s description of Family Camp transports me.

I’ve never been to Sun Lakes, but as Zoila talks about her week away, it’s suddenly August in the Sun Lakes campground, and I’m there:

A bright, eager sun dances over the lakes sunup to sundown. Children pass the day with friends and laughter, imbued by a sense of surety and freedom in a place they’ve come to know well. Families find time to connect, confident of their children’s safety. New friendships grow or grow stronger. Children adopted from many different countries are able to connect with fellow adoptees, surrounded by a community that belongs to them.

Listening, I can feel the magic that keeps generations of families returning to Family Camp year after year. It’s heartening to hear, and it’s nice to chat with Zoila, clinical director at WACAP. She’s someone who helps both colleagues and the families she works with “push pause” between seasons.

Talking with her about summer, you’ll come away remembering more vividly the pictures you’ve painted—joys, tears, family adventures—and you’ll realize they’re part of the canvas you’re carrying with you into fall.

What she’s brought into fall from Family Camp is her memory of the camp’s warmth, literally and figuratively. “Sun Lakes in August was hot! 112 degrees, hot!” she says brightly. “I’m glad there was air conditioning in the cabins,” she continues, her laughter melting into a song about the indelible mark made by her week with WACAP families. “The intensity of the heat was parallel to the strength of the connections.”

For Zoila, the talent show sticks sharply in her mind. This child-focused and family-centered event where children were delighted to be themselves “showed the impact families had on these kids’ lives,” she says. In groups or on their own, children performed, acted, giggled, and smiled to an applause of friends and family … and love.

Again, I can see it:

Each talent show moment, extraordinary. Every child, loved. Each with a family that has their backs through the best moments … and the hardest. Zoila adds, “The magnitude and value of the work that we do as a group of people here at WACAP, as advocates for children, was highlighted in the faces of all these children and their parents.”

From Family Camp, Zoila brings back a picture of “agents of change”:

  • “Parents, so powerfully and significantly impacted by adoption, who are caring for and teaching their children.”
  • “Children, who can see themselves represented in the friends and families that look like theirs, and who are sharing valuable lessons with their parents—what it means to have grit, perseverance, and strength of the human spirit.”
  • “Families, who recognize the common experiences adoptive parents have, and support each other.”
  • “A community of volunteers and advocates who help create lifelong bonds.”

WACAP is committed to providing lifelong support to families before and after adoption. Learn more about WACAP’s support services.


mh-photo-profile-wacapAbout WACAP Communications Editor Missy Harrel: Missy joined WACAP’s communication team in 2011. She spent the first part of her career in nonprofit program management focused on child welfare and early learning, as well as teaching in higher education. Growing up with family and friends who were adopted, she has an ongoing interest in sharing about family and the stories they create together. She blends her communications background with a love of learning and technology. She enjoys reading a good poem, sipping a nice cup of coffee, or a seeing a child jump carefree into a mud puddle, overcome with the sense of opportunity that every child deserves.

WACAP_Zoila_LopezAbout WACAP Clinical Director Zoila Lopez: Zoila joined WACAP in 2016 as the organization’s clinical director. She is an adoptive mom, a former foster parent, and has an extensive work background as a therapist and adoption coach, working to support all members of the adoption triad. Within her community, she helps organize and plan trainings and events that support families built through foster care and adoption. An advocate for adoptees, children in foster care, and families, she is committed to connecting children and families with supportive communities and resources that help them thrive.

Posted in Adoption, Events, Images of Family, International Adoption, Reflections, Volunteerism, WACAP | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment