Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Choice Network Photos of the Week

Photos from the Journey 9/1/13

Definitions of a Mother

Recently during a continuing education training I was given the task of introducing myself. I was up first so I spoke about my career, my schooling, where I was currently living and why I was currently in the adoption field. As the next person and then next began to introduce themselves they began in a totally different way; “Well first, I’m a mother,” the woman next to me chirped. “I’m a mother of two.” the woman next to her informed the crowd, and so on.

As the conversation went around the room people talked at length about their children, stepchildren and grandchildren. They talked about how becoming a parent was a defining role in their lives. They talked about their children’s hobbies, interests, marriages, and social circles. I felt so guilty that as the last volunteer finished their story I had to raise my hand and lamely state that I was also the mom to a one year old and stepmom to an 8 year old.

The woman next to me and smiled and stated I probably forgot to mention it because I was a new mom. As if once you are an “old mom” being a mom would automatically define you.

The comment sat with me for a minute. The last thing I would consider myself is a new mom. Having step parented a very SPIRITED little boy for the past 4 years, I’ve had experience with home work, packing lunches, discipline, unconditional love and support, first days of school, mean friends, grandparent issues, field trips, budgeting for holidays, not to mention all the additional fun stuff only step moms get to experience- entitlement issues, court dates, child finances and ON and ON and ON. Having a biological child in the past year had made me no more experienced as a mother. Nor did it or would it ever define my introduction of myself.

However it did make me feel guilty. Guilty that I could forget to define myself as a mother and not one of the other five definitions I used. The guilt reminded me of conversations had with birth moms I have worked with in the past. Many of them have struggled with the questions “do you have children?” “Are you a mom?” “How many children do you have?” Even just filling out simple medical questionnaires to obtain a new doctor can become a stressful, judgmental experience.

In the social world we live in, being a parent is an important experience. It is a club that means you understand, you have experienced sleepless months, worried about your child’s happiness and development, stressed over your child being bullied, put another human being’s interests before your own and ultimately you have a deep understanding of unconditional love. “you could not understand unless you are a parent” I have heard that phrase often.

Researchers studying the teen mom epidemic have even attributed teen pregnancy in impoverished areas with enhanced social statuses. Several studies have found that women actually seek to become a mother, potentially before they are financially ready, to elevate themselves socially. Once you are a mom, in some social circles, you become a full fledged community member. (

So for a society obsessed with children, parenting and the American home, where does that leave a mother like me who defines herself in different ways? We are excellent, selfless, loving mothers, we may just define ourselves instead as a great friend, painter or writer. I am a mother but also a student, friend, sister, teacher and learner. All the other amazing things about me that I had described in my introduction.

My guilt at not mentioning my sons showed me that there has to be some subconscious stigma to childlessness or even worse, having the biological capability to be a mom but then choosing a different definition for yourself. At the training, I noticed that I immediately wanted to correct my introduction and be initiated into the group as a mom and fellow parent. I also felt guilty, as if i loved my children less because they were not the first thought in my mind. I cannot imagine that this is true.

What if it was ok that becoming a mother was only a small piece of my story and I could expect to be received equally well whether I gave myself that definition or not? What if I could expect to receive the same respect and social status as the other parents if I mentioned that I had given birth to one child but was parenting two or vice versa. I think these would be are first steps towards removing the stigma our society has as a whole around parenting.

If you like/dislike the blog or want to know how you can contribute your thoughts please contact or

Thursday, March 28, 2013

10 Days and 10 Ways to Create a More Meaningful Life

Welcome back to the blog! We apologize for the short hiatus, however, today's post is certainly timely. Today's topic is making time for what's important

Prioritizing home, school, work, children, and family life can be overwhelming. A lot of times we are rushing around so much we forget to stop and enjoy a free afternoon or a happy moment with family. Today’s topic is about pausing in the chaos to welcome a moment that we would otherwise miss.

Here are five tips on how to be more mindful during times that matter.

5) Only work at work. The Millenial Generation of workers are a group I’m proud to be part of. We are modern, we are tech savvy, we are creative thinkers, we get the job done. What we do terribly is keep a regular or reliable schedule. As part of “getting the job done” we are notorious for answering emails at home, preparing presentations on our ipads while waiting for the bus and closing big work deals at 7:00 p.m. on Fridays. The New York Times called our generation the most “stressed” generation in history and one can only wonder why. While we are closing business deals what we are missing is enjoying our evenings with our kids and families. The best worker is one who is recharged and ready to conquer each day so think of your time away from your computer, ipad or iphone as an investment in the next day's productivity and your own mental health.

4) Create Boundaries- Similar to work boundaries, create boundaries with your family and friends. My friends and I are all social workers and have the same typical complaint. We always attract other people’s problems. Our favorite waiter looked forward to my group coming in on a Friday because he knew he could lay out his week and get support and feedback. My professor used to relay all her complaints during quiet moments after class. Family members would cry to us when they couldn’t pay their rent or had a bad break up. Stop being the only support in a one sided relationship. With your time and mind free you can reinvest in people who reciprocate your needs with theirs and support you unconditionally. For more on these people check out the post on creating your inner circle

3) Build Balance- Balance is not something that just occurs. Just like any challenge in life it is something that is built with time and effort. You have to make time for building balance, just as you make time for any other important chore or task in your daily life. You can create balance through planning. Make a mindful plan to carve out 15 minutes in the morning to eat a home made breakfast instead of running through the drive through. Carve out 45 minutes in the evening to take a walk with your children instead of watching an extra tv show. Create a rule about “no cell phones” at the dinner table. Choose one small technique a week and continue to build to increase balance at home.

2) Ask for help- Asking for help is a tough one. As someone who is used to doing it all and helping others, what you need to realize is that everyone needs help with something sometime. It is not a personal failure or a short coming. Asking for help is actually a characteristic of the strong. Anything great was built with team work- introduce this same concept into your daily life. When you ask for help, what you will find is you have just carved out more time for you to spend meaningfully.

1) Listen- It is so hard to focus on a simple conversation when you have a thousand other things on your mind. It’s so easy to zone out when your child tells you about their day but LISTEN. Listen. Put your cell phone down, step away from the television and listen to the important people in your life. Before there were tvs in cars and texting in lieu of conversations, there were just conversations. Try that simple interaction for a moment and see if it brings you peace.

Photos of the Week

First Choice Network Brothers!

Up, up and away to Florida!

Philadelphia Center

Detroit Michigan Travels

Monday, March 18, 2013

10 Ways in 10 Days to Live a More Meaningful Life- Creating Your Inner Circle

Thank you for your patience with our weekend hiatus. Choice Network staffers had a whirlwind week in Detroit, Philadelphia, Florida and Columbus, which culminated in the birth of a new baby. Happy birthday to our very special birth and adoptive families involved!

Your mom may have told you growing up “if you lay down with dogs you will get fleas,” and annoying as it is, the saying bodes true and actually works in the opposite way as well. Although there isn’t a cute phrase for it, if you surround yourself with the type of people you aspire to be, you will adopt the same positive traits and empower yourself in the process. Positive support networks have been linked to career and financial advancement, mental and personal health and an overall well rounded lifestyle.

This post was inspired as I was recently speaking to a client who mentioned she had an “inner circle” of support in her life. Her inner circle was composed of her longest term, most hardcore friends. These were women she could always depend on to support her during tough times and cheer with her during the great. As she began describing the characteristics of each woman in her circle they had the same positive traits she did; they were intelligent, ambitious and successful.

Creating Your Inner Circle
This immediately made me think “what if everyone had an inner circle?” So many times we see people susceptible to abuse and exploitation because they are marginalized. They lack the key supports to make themselves successful, and worse they may surround themselves with people who are the opposite of who they want to be and those people, although good at heart, bring them down instead of build them up.  

An inner circle can be created organically or it can be made. When we train families we tell them adoption is hard. Adoption can be painful. Adoption can be a long journey. We ask them to find four support people to help them on this journey. What we did not realize is we were actually asking them to build their own inner circle. Here’s who you should have:

The Realist- The realist is the person in your life who has plenty of life experience. He or she will tell you the truth whether it hurts or not. They want the best for you but they will not sugar coat their advice. They can be mistaken as; judgmental, opinionated, and argumentative. They can be; empowering, life affirming, your biggest fan.

My optimist is my wonderful husband and family
The Optimist-  The optimist is like your cheerleader of the group. Whatever you do, they will cheer you on and find the positive to any bad situation. You can tell them anything and know you will walk away feeling relieved and supported. They can be mistaken as; too cheerful, disingenuous, not serious enough. They can be valuable as; your closest confidante, a shoulder to cry on, your silver lining to every gray situation

Tam is a mama of five

The Roots- This person anchors your life or group. She or he may be the “parent” of your friends or they are actually your parent in life. This person is someone who stabilizes you in choppy waters. They remind you of your strengths and focus on your skills to overcome an obstacle. They remind you to stay grounded whenever things feel overwhelming. They are often telling you “don’t make a decision based on emotion” “look at the facts” “you are smart, you can handle this.” They can be mistaken as; too cerebral, too bossy, too set in their ways.  They can be valuable as; a constant source of support, your back up child/pet care when life gets crazy, the person you can call in a crisis

Throwback Companions

The Companion- This person is someone who understands you deeply. They may have grown up with you or in a similar way. They have an understanding and empathy for you that transcends new bonds or relationships. You can call or text them any time about past memories and find peace in reliving old times. They can be mistaken as; irrelevant, old friend, someone who grew in a different direction than you. They can be valuable as; your link to your past, a resource when the present is too stressful, someone who can empathize with you

Check back for more daily tips and affirmations

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

10 Ways in 10 Days Series- Day 3- Stress Relievers

Welcome to day three of our series to live a more meaningful life. By now if you have been following the series, you have forgiven your wayward mother in law and quit your job…no? Not quite?

Today we will be talking about something much less life changing but life affirming all the same. We will be discussing five things you can do in the week to significantly reduce the stress in your life.

Stress is one of the biggest contributors to burn out and living an unhappy life.  Even as you are enjoying a quiet moment, being subconciously stressed can consistently undermine your peace.

Here are five ways to lower your blood pressure and have a more peaceful week:

5.) Make your work and play space enjoyable. Spend one hour per week organizing your physical workspace. Living and working in a chaotic environment day in and day out may not feel stressful, but your subconscious is picking up on the subtle stress. Spend one hour Friday afternoon organizing your up coming week, cleaning out your old worthless notes and deleting irrelevant files. Do this one hour spring cleaning on your home or car as well. You will be surprised how comforting a clean work desk is to come in to the following Monday morning

Mentally check in to your peaceful place- this is mine
4.) Practice balance in all aspects of life. Too much of a good thing is still always…too much. Our rule is that when something new comes into your life, something old must leave to maintain balance. If you invested in yourself this week and got a new pair Louboutins (jealous) take last season’s favorite pair and donate them to Goodwill or give to a friend. Make enjoyable things more enjoyable by practicing them in moderation.

3.) Find a routine you enjoy. Many people say going to the gym can be cathartic, I am not this person. However, I do acknowledge the benefit of a positive, stress relieving routine. Mine is turning out all the lights in the house and lighting candles. One hour of candlelit chores does something to help me re-focus and center myself. Other positive routines include going for a daily walk, talking with your spouse, gardening, cooking, meditating or visualizing yourself in a serene positive space. Anything that feeds your soul and gives you peace for a few hours.

2.) Remember a time you were successful. Sometimes when stressful situations feel insurmountable it is comforting to remember a time you overcame a struggle and reflect on the personal tools you used to do so. Relive a successful moment- over and over and over.  Remind yourself that you overcame a stressful situation in the past and have the life experience to do it again. One time when I was overwhelmed and at my wits end in my personal life I complained to a social work friend. She asked me to assess the situation. I did and still felt terrible. She asked me to reflect on something “hard” that I had done well. After thinking for a moment I said I felt I was good in my career. If I was great in my work she said, then I have the same tools to be great in other areas of my life. She told me, that you cannot be great in one area of life and terrible in another. The same skills I have at work are ones I can use to simplify my personal life. Any skills that I have used to successfully navigate stressful situations are skills that I can fine tune to use to be successful in every aspect of my life.  
Grateful for long, sunny drives

1) Find daily moments to be grateful as many times as you can. Make it a mental game- every time you would otherwise complain think about the small moment in the otherwise frustrating situation that can be positive or affirming. My son missed the bus today, this is frustrating because now I may be late for work or have to rearrange my schedule- BUT I get ten unstructured minutes in the car with an otherwise busy, hard to pin down guy. I will make these ten minutes together worthwhile and affirming. Make a conscious decision every day to find gratitude in mundane situations and you will be impressed to see the subconscious stress dissipate.

Do you have any tips or tricks we didn’t cover? Please post to our comments section or email to

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

10 Days in 10 Ways- Day 2- Investing in Yourself

Welcome to our second tip for living a meaningful life.

Today’s edition, invest in yourself.

At Choice Network, we have the fortune of working with some of the most ambitious families and birth parents in the world. Both adopting and placing a child for adoption takes enormous consideration and forethought. Both of these attributes also take investment and passion to cultivate.

Here are some tips on how to invest in your dreams

Invest in a job you love. Studies have recently emerged stating that when people are in jobs they dislike they are more likely to become sick, suffer from exhaustion, stress and burn out. Consider the fact that you are at work 40-80 hours a week and it’s obvious why an investment in the right career is an investment in your own mental health. If you are struggling to find the right career path try volunteering, returning to your school academic advisor or reaching out to mentors or other people you look up to in careers they are passionate about. The best job advice is to find something you would do for free and then get paid for it!

Invest in a social group- By nature, humans are a highly socialized society. Researchers have recently reported that in addition to levels of happiness and fulfillment, being social can also makes us more intelligent, increase our self esteem and give us a strong feeling of belonging. Research aside what does an investment in others do for you? One, it creates a core support group. A core support group is the best thing to have when you have a rough day, need emergency child care or have another bump or life crisis that momentarily rocks your world. Two, having a core support group exposes you to new opportunities and ideas. Valuable networks when you are living your life meaningfully. Before we approve a home study for a family we require them to join three adoption or kids related community support groups. Some of our favorite social group suggestions are; church, life support groups (like adoptive moms, birth moms etc,) gyms, social clubs and hobby related groups. Check out your local YMCA or for more ideas on how to build your own community network

Invest in yourself- The best thing you can do for yourself is to put the money, time and effort into being the best person you can be. It is often said you cannot be a good partner, parent or child if you aren’t first the best version of yourself, and this has proven to be so true. In a recent study, the Ohio State University noted that under classmen reportedly wanted self esteem over sex, money, alcohol and even friendship. In short, what you invest in yourself with regard to schooling, building good credit, and a strong and positive persona to the world matters. It matters a lot it seems.

Check out Creating Intentions to learn how you can invest more in making the world around you harmonious and peaceful: