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Episode 43

Adopting an Older Child and Honoring Their Story

Dr. Jacqueline Gustafson, Adoptive Mom, University Dean and Professor, and Founder of the Abeba Collection

You’re listening to season three of Together by AGCI. I’m Marisa Butterworth.

Today, I get to speak with one of my all time. Favorite women, Jacqueline Gustafson about adoption and how to honor your child’s whole story as they grow up. Jackie and I first connected as adopted moms, but she is a university dean and professor who has worked to promote equity and access for underserved populations in both local and global settings. On top of that, she is the founder of the Abeba Collection, a lifestyle brand that sells handmade artisan goods and empowers women business leaders in the developing world. In my opinion, Jackie is a real life superhero. And every time I talked to her, I walk away feeling better about the world. And like I’ve learned something really important. I have a feeling that you’ll feel the exact same way. Thank you so much for joining me on the podcast. Jackie, it’s so funny because you guys used to live in Washington where I am, and we had a lot of mutual friends and I, people kept telling me all the time, like you have to meet the Gustafson’s and, and while you were living here, we never crossed paths. And I always heard about you because we were both, you know, adopted Ethiopia families. And I think when I first heard about you, it was before our daughter had even come home.

Um, so it was, you know, I kept hearing about it and I finally met you like years after I had first heard your name randomly at a concert. And, um, I probably forced myself on you, but I was like, I’m going to be friends with her. So now we’re friends. Amazing timing. So glad we, we went to that concert. We were, we were visiting family and friends back in Washington. And so somehow yes, it took us moving away and coming back to visit for you and I to finally meet in person. And then we’ve been like close friends from a distance. Yes. Yeah. It’s so amazing. I know, I love it. I love talking to you. And I love that. I finally was able to hear your family’s adoption story because really it was, um, in some ways kind of an upside down version of our adoption story. Um, yeah, the cool thing is that when I met you, I felt like I just identified with you so much right away, because there are so many things about the process, things that we can talk, we just jumped right in. And it was like, okay, like, and I have learned so much from you really, um, over the years that I’ve met you. I mean, it’s been probably it two or three years now, but it’s been pretty cool.

So thank you for taking the time out and joining me on the podcast today and talking through. Yes, my, my pleasure. Thank you for the invitation. It is always a joy to spend time with you. And, um, you know, I love as you sort of talk about our relationship and, and that part of the story, because it, in a way reminds me of, um, like an old friend that you don’t see for years, but you can jump back in totally that like established relationship. And it’s a little different with us because we didn’t, we’re not old friends. Um, but I think that you’re absolutely right. Just some of the shared story and experience and journey that we have, like walked side-by-side, although not necessarily knowing each other the whole time, if this, that ability to jump right into that space in such a meaningful way. And so that’s been incredible for me as well. So yeah. Well thank you and means so much. So the really short version of our personal story is that my husband and I both knew we wanted to adopt when we were kids. So when we got married, it was just kind of a matter of life hitting and us figuring out what adoption would end up looking like in our lives. And, uh, we ended up having our first two kids biologically before we decided to start the adoption process for our daughter.

So will you share really what your family’s story looked like? Whatever you’re comfortable sharing about that. And of course, uh, so we began to explore, um, how, and when we wanted to start a family, we had been, um, we’d been married for like several years, cause we got married when we were, uh, fairly young and then, you know, going through graduate school and all of that. So sort of when we, when we started to come out, the other side of that, those conversations, um, emerged, um, just related to, you know, starting a family and adoption was really a part of that conversation early on. Um, but there was an evolution of what that looked like. So at first it was something that we had talked about as a piece that we, um, both knew that we wanted to incorporate. I was the person that initially brought that to the table. Um, but Dave was super receptive to that. And so he said like, yeah, that would be, um, an amazing part of our family constellation as we began to dream about that. Um, but it quickly sort of moved or shifted to, um, evaluating what it might look like to begin there.

So, um, we always kept the door open to add children biologically, although never ended up doing that, but for us many families, um, well for many families, adoption is, is not something that they embrace or is not something that’s a good fit for them or that they’re comfortable with. And then for other families that do embrace the idea of being an adoptive family, it often takes the form of it being, um, sort of a plan B and that’s okay because that can be like a beautiful and redemptive part of their becoming a family. But a question that we just felt sort of prompted in our heart to ask was what would it look like if we sort of flipped that around and said, if this is something that we want to incorporate, what would it look like to just start there and just make that our plan a and, um, as soon as we asked that question, things really moved pretty quickly, um, uh, towards that journey of us becoming an adoptive family. Wow. That’s so cool. So when you made that decision, what were your next steps? Did you, um, reach out to someone in particular? Did you have any idea of, of even where you wanted to adopt from, or were you open to anything? Uh, we were open and, um, because it did move so quickly there wasn’t like a whole, a whole lot of exploration.

And I don’t know if you know this story, but if you don’t know this story, um, this is going to be super fun to share with you right now, which is, um, I’m, I’m a university professor. So I was working at a university in the Seattle area and I had a student that was looking for like a job or internship or something in this sector. And she had become familiar with AGCI as a result of that working there, but that was actually my introduction was through my students. So I was like mentoring her. She was looking at different places. She talked to me about AGCI and she ended up going in another direction, but I was just really attracted to the work that the organization was doing. And so, uh, Dave and I went to an AGCI fundraiser in Seattle and, um, support this organization. And, um, if we like learn more about the adoptive process or how we might, you know, personally, uh, you know, incorporate that, you know, great, but that wasn’t necessarily our intent. So we went to this fundraiser, um, we almost didn’t make it because we like had a hard time finding it, but things, we made it a great evening. We learned about AGCI, you know, we provided support. That was awesome.

Um, but we were seated, um, with one of the AGCI, um, like home-study social workers was at our table was just amazing, struck up a conversation with us. And by the end of the evening, she was telling us about the Ethiopia pilot program that was like, just started or was just about to start and, um, was provided us with information, but also like nudge us a little bit. And by the time we’re like driving home that night, we were like, you know, taking next steps to enter that program. That’s amazing. I don’t think I had heard that whole story. Like that’s incredible. Yeah. So you really just jumped right in. We totally been thinking and comparing parents we’d been having the like adoption conversation. So we were, we were very thoughtful about that, but what we didn’t do is like go through an exhaustive process, like related to, you know, searching out agencies and things like that. But as we became familiar that evening with AGCI, we just felt so, um, like the mission just really resonated with us. It was, it was about adoption, but then ultimately it was about, um, serving kids in tough places and with Tufts stories and, um, and, and finding forever families and redemptive opportunities. And that is something that just, um, like it just, it just resonated with our spirit. Yep. I know.

And I think that, that I had a similar experience when we found AGCI and kind of dug in what they were doing. Um, I did not go to a fundraiser, but yeah, if there’s something that you’re my spirit like gravitated to, and, and I was like, I think this is right. There’s something about that. I think that you have to trust sometimes of like, okay, this makes sense. We’ve done our work ahead of time, and now we’re moving forward. So tell me just a little bit, you have two boys. Yes. They both have very different stories of how they came home. Would you share, um, with about both of them, your, your story of like, or, or what you feel comfortable sharing about, um, you know, their ages and how that looked and, and I think it’s so interesting, especially because you have two very different stories. Both your boys are Ethiopian, but that they have their, their own people and they have their own thing. Yes. So, you know, I think like all of our children in all of our families, um, we have our shared experiences and identities, and then we have the pieces that are unique to us in our individual stories. And so, uh, you know, with, with my boys, that might be more exaggerated than let’s say, like in some other family constellations or, you know, bio families. Um, but I think we can all identify with that on some level.

Um, even as we think about our own experiences growing up, and if you have a sibling, the ways in which we experienced our and the world in similar ways, but then also as adults, the ways that we look back and realize that we also experienced things really differently, even though we were, we have our own lenses yes. That we live our life through. And yeah, exactly. I love that. You said that. So for our boys, um, our oldest, um, came into our family when he was just barely over six months old. And, um, so, you know, he certainly had, um, in, in experience and in a home and a family before he came into our family, um, though not one that he cognitively remembers. Um, you know, I know that those, those imprints are there, but they’re all they are present. They are there in a different way than for my youngest son, um, who came into our family at seven years old. And so for my youngest, um, being seven, he had, you know, he lived, uh, I won’t say a whole life, but like a whole childhood, he lived a whole childhood in, um, in another place with different people and with a different language and, um, different ways of being, um, you know, sort of, uh, at the cultural level, as well as just the like everyday routine, you know, piece of that as well. And so you’re right.

They absolutely have like that, um, shared identity and heritage of being, um, uh, Ethiopian, uh, now being Ethiopian Americans being a part of an adoptive family. Um, and then they have really different stories. One, you know, being adopted as an infant without, um, those cognitive memories and the other one, you know, really bringing that, that whole childhood with him into that. Um, there’s a, you know, there’s so many complexities of that and I, and I don’t use the word complexity as, uh, like to be synonymous with challenge, but complexities to connote layers. Right. It’s just, it’s an onion. Like there’s so many layers. That’s what I mean by complexities related to that. Um, because they both, um, identify with their Ethiopian heritage and, um, appreciate it in ways, but they also identify and then like are appreciated, I guess, in, in different ways as well. Um, so for my oldest son something, or excuse me, my youngest, so the one that was adopted my youngest, the one that was adopted at seven years old, um, you know, one thing that is, is interesting and is important to give him room for, um, is as much as we want to like honor and celebrate his heritage and identity. He also had a lot of really tough things that happened during that portion of his life.

And he’s not always in a space where he feels as though this is something he’s super excited about is remembering all of that or thinking about it or incorporating, you know, those pieces of his story into who he is now. So while we know that’s important in the long run, we also need to give him space to, um, to manage that differently than my oldest, who, because it’s been at a distance and he didn’t have those same tough experiences. It’s, um, he has a different relationship with his birth country as a result of that. Yeah. Super interesting. How, like, as a mom and you can, you know, speak for Dave too, as a dad too, but how were those two experiences different when you brought them home in so many ways? So I, you know, with my oldest, he was our first child. So like the pieces that aren’t even about adoption, but just becoming first time parents, uh, becoming first-time parents, um, to an infant, uh, you know, he wasn’t a newborn, I guess, but, you know, still very little guy. Um, and having that experience, um, on the other side of the world in a place that we were not familiar with and that, um, just works in a lot of different ways from what we’re accustomed to just an in terms of everyday life. And so that was a huge adjustment.

And then, uh, you know, certainly bringing a child into our home that was also, uh, you know, just wrestling with his own adjustment and transition and, and, you know, feeling safe or not feeling safe with new caregivers and, um, all of that, that happens in the bonding. And, and so it was a beautiful experience of becoming first-time parents, um, having this amazing little guy that we were now, um, and trusted with, which was just surreal, but also navigating how to be parents and how to be adoptive parents and how to be, um, specifically, um, good and present adoptive parents to like the specific child that we had and all that he came with and what his needs were. Um, but all of that, like said, like, I guess once we went through that initial transition, um, we just, just kind of rolled into being a family. Right. And we found the norms and figured out the routines. Um, and then we, um, we’re, you know, we just, we just had him for years. So like our youngest didn’t join our family until my they’re a year apart. So until my oldest was eight, right. So he was an only child for, um, eight years. So as we brought our youngest son into our family, there was, um, the transition of now parenting too. But then, uh, you know, parenting a child that was coming to us at seven very different experience.

Um, and then learning how to be a family of four and for my son, uh, you know, how to have a sibling. And so, I mean, so many pieces, a lot of it is like, it’s about adoption and it’s about my son’s stories. And it’s also just about the parenthood and becoming a family and the way that all of those identities, uh, sort of intersect. So you had a specific question and I’m not sure. No, I think you answered it. I just was curious about like the two different experiences from your vantage point. And I think you answered it beautifully. Like it was different. It, um, but there are still so many similarities to having your child enter your family, whether it’s biological or adopted and, and, um, I think that’s so interesting and, and I mean, crazy in, in the way that he did not speak English. So I’m always fascinated to hear how quickly it’s, it’s incredible to hear how quickly kids learn the language. Was that, uh, an issue at all with him coming home or like an added layer, I would assume of complexity. Um, or was that something that, um, just kinda happened? I mean, how did that look English amazingly? Well, as you alluded to, um, that said it was absolutely an added layer because while little ones don’t have language in general, um, like there, they also have never had it developmentally. Right?

And so they, their, their brains are like, they’re doing life in such a way that language is developing with them in tandem. And like, that’s just a normal part of lifespan where when a seven-year-old in this case comes into our home, he’s had a language that he’s been speaking and communicating and relating to others through shared language. And then all of a sudden one day that stops because he no longer has shared language, whether it’s about communicating like needs or wants or desires, or it’s just about being relational, like joking with a friend playing, and now you can’t do that. And you can’t relate in that way because you don’t have that tool. So it’s a tool that he had and then a tool that he no longer had and had to develop again and a new language. And so while he developed English language skills very quickly, um, it’s just something we were really super mindful of, of just that experience of like having it and the not having it as like that. I can’t imagine. Cause there’s things I think we oftentimes think of the very tangible things. How would he tell us if his tummy, her, or he didn’t like it, or he was tired, so yes, that’s there. But I think the piece that we might not talk about as much is the relational component and the potential isolation. That is part of that.

And what did you guys do then to help ease that transition for him coming into your family when he had an older brother right away, um, who maybe looked more like him, but didn’t speak his language and suddenly two white parents. I, what did you guys do to kind of help ease that? Or, or, I mean, if you feel brave enough, like, are there things that you wish that you did, um, looking back, such good question. So, I mean, I know for sure our, our oldest was an incredible bridge, so not language, but just, uh, you know, for our youngest, he was able to see, okay, there’s this other guy that he has, you know, looks a little bit more like me than my new parents and is, you know, maybe, uh, kind of close in age and what is he doing or how is he responding or, um, yeah, just that modeling. Right. So huge. It was huge. So we would introduce new foods that we were clearly eating ourselves and enjoying. And the immediate response for my youngest was to look at his now older brother. And even like one of his first phrases was like, is it good? Is it go hilarious and like, check it out. I can’t trust them, but I can like, okay, okay, I’ll go ahead and eat it.

But it’s like, we’re going to go and do something we’re going to go to the beach, but what does going to the beach mean? That’s nothing. Right. So same thing looking at him like, is it good? It pushes, you know, translate. Is this going to be fun? Am I going to like, it is all of that. And so that was a hugely invaluable piece that, um, I mean, I guess maybe we hoped it would play out that way, but you don’t know what that looks like. So certainly that was part of it. Um, you know, lots of just trying to communicate through sign language, little bit of language, interpretations, some apps and things like that really hard. That’s not simple then I think, um, just patience and yeah. Patience and grace. Right. So, you know, I think about, is there something that I wish that I might’ve done a little bit different? Um, I think I just didn’t life. I can prone. I can be proud to be impatient or to rush things and I don’t have it like a specific memory related to that, but I’m confident. I probably tried to it. Wasn’t always, I do that to strategy. Um, but I have an ability to sort of see where we need, where we need to be going and where we need to land. Um, but don’t always have, um, the right spirit in getting there.

Well, I feel the same way just in general, myself, where I’m like, oh, Marisa. And then I hope too, that you were able to offer yourself some grace and kindness too, as you were navigating this of like, gosh, this is new territory for everyone, you know, that, that you had that, that that’s really incredible, um, and challenging and beautiful and all of the things all at once. But I love, I love that you shared that. So I wanted to talk a lot about now that we’ve kind of laid a foundation for, um, your boys and, uh, there are different stories. Now, your boys are older. They are, um, well share how old they are. And then I wanted to specifically talk about navigating and honoring our children’s stories when they, uh, come home. And, um, it, it looks different from when they’re babies and people are asking you like, oh, where are they from? When did you bring them home? If you’re lucky, they also ask really inappropriate questions that you have to navigate as well. Those are nice normal questions. I got a lot of ones that I won’t mention here, but I’m sure anyone who’s brought a child home that looks different than they do, has heard from a lot of people with a lot of different questions.

Um, but as they get older, my daughter, you know, is nine and, and each kind of stage it’s maybe not by age, but more by general stage. Um, I have to kind of newly figure out how to navigate telling her story. And now that she’s nine. I really feel like it’s not my business to tell, um, at all. So share how old your boys are now, if you’re okay with that. And then would you talk us through like how you suggest navigating it, especially when you have two very different stories at home and honoring both of their past at the same time. So would you talk through a little bit of that because I think it’s super interesting. You have such a different outlook on it. Yeah. I’m, I’m happy to, so they are, they’re 12 and 13, almost 13 and 14. So they’re, they’re like 11 months apart. We’ve got those birthdays real close together and they, they like share an age for a month, right? Oh, I love it because they are very like just different personalities. They’re different sizes, they’re in different grades. They have different skills and all of that to be the same age for one month, every year. And that’s kind of fun.

Um, so they are in, um, you know, they’re in adolescents, a significant developmental stage as we think about identity and story, whether we are part of an adoptive family or not, and we all have different stories, but, uh, just really significant age just related to identity development and stories. And so, you know, all the way from the beginning with my oldest, one thing that we were really, um, we, we really tried to be thoughtful about or intentional about was, um, these two pieces, one was honoring his whole story. Um, and the second piece of that is that it’s his story. Now it’s part of our family story, but it’s his story. And so it’s, it’s not actually mine to share, but it is his to share. And, but then to your point, the way that, that looks different in different ages and stages. So I, you know, I think at sometimes I almost defaulted to, um, making it, giving so much respect to the fact it was his story. Um, but also like needing to catch myself. But I also don’t want him to be in a position where maybe he doesn’t have the, um, language or disability to know how to navigate that. Right. So if I were to give you an extreme example, like I never did this, but let me just make it extreme. If an adult like said like, oh, you know, here’s my questions.

And my response to that was, you know, well, it’s his story. Um, he’s five. Why don’t you ask him? It’s not a great position to put a five-year-old and the, no, there has to be a space in between there to say, well, really, I, you know, how do I let someone know that, um, I want to honor that being his story to share, without putting the burden on him to do that. Like, I still have to be the parent and be the person that’s navigating that sometimes that, that, um, that means there’s awkward conversations or people don’t get their curiosity satisfied and like, that’s okay. I never want to be rude or hurt anyone’s feelings, but I am also comfortable with like my responsibilities to my child and to my family and what’s in their best interest. So yeah, these two pieces, um, honoring their whole story. Um, if I, if I can talk about that for just a moment, the idea here is really, um, like there’s so many beautiful things about the adoptive community and adoptive culture. And, um, I also want to be open and talking about, um, what I believe some of the challenges are or things that I think at times we can be more thoughtful about as, as a community.

And, um, one of those pieces is really, while we have so much reason to celebrate what happens when a child comes into our family and how beautiful that is and how exciting it is that I think it’s equally important to give, um, space and, um, acknowledge that they are a person that lived a, a life before they joined our family. And, um, sometimes that means there’s, there’s tough pieces of that, but there’s also good memories and things to celebrate and things to honor. And my children’s stories did not begin the day that they came into our home. They began into this world, or frankly, before they came. Um, and so, um, I, as an adoptive mom and my husband is an adoptive dad, we just had to get really comfortable with, they have a story and a life that we were not a part of. Um, but we can still be their champion in, um, honoring all of that, got to let your own ego go. Right. Really do sometimes daily. I mean, really? Yeah. I wasn’t there. Yeah. I wasn’t there and everything that happened in those days, or months or years is just as much a part of their story and journey as everything that happens after the day that I was there. Yep. I love that. I think that’s huge. So is that, that’s the whole story kind of piece, and then you, you had a second question there.

I would say, you know, I would love to hear from you. Maybe we’ll just divide it into two parts. I know that there’s way more than that. This is bigger than just two parts, but let’s say, um, what would you say to someone if you have, you know, both of your boys are like seven and eight, someone cut, your kids are verbal, your kids know they were adopted. Um, what would you to say to someone who walked up to you and asks you for details of their story? And then on the second half, now that they’re teenagers, um, or almost teenager, both teenagers, um, what would you say now versus back when they were seven and eight? What are some examples of something that you could, um, I just help people navigate the words. I feel like you’re so gifted at that. And every time I hear from you, I, you know, get something else that I’m like, oh, I love how you put that. I love how you phrase that because you’re really good at, like you said, those awkward conversations. Um, I think you’re really good at making them not awkward just by the words that you use and your piece around it and, and, um, intentionality. And you can tell that you’ve thought about it.

And, uh, I, you know, a lot of people everybody’s different and we’re all, you know, I want to give grace to adoptive families, but there has to be some intentionality around it as well. So with now that I keep talking with those two, you know, ages and stages, what would you say are the best things? Um, like the best kind of responses, even if it’s just very general on this end. Hmm. It’s it’s a great question. And, um, thank you for your kindness and grace, but the, the vulnerable truth here is, uh, I actually have spent a lot of time feeling, uh, regretful about not managing conversations. Well, because, you know, I either maybe shared more than I wanted to because I didn’t know how to navigate it, or maybe I didn’t share more than I wanted to, but I’m not sure that I navigated it well with the individual. I think that it’s, um, we can put a lot of pressure on ourselves around these conversations, which they are important, but like I said, to just share the vulnerable truth, which I appreciate, I don’t know that I have, well, let me rephrase that. I know that I don’t have the answers. Let me put it that. Yes. And so what I would recommend to anyone is not a set phrase or response or words, but my recommendation would be this, think about it on the front end, anticipate conversations.

And like, this is, this is a life recommendation, right? Like anticipate hard conversations and be thoughtful about how you would like to respond to those hard questions are hard conversations, even to the point of considering words or phrases that are consistent, that just work for you. Like they’re consistent with your values. They resonate. They build that. As you think about paying it, you’re going to feel good about that conversation. Now we can’t plan or anticipate everything. And that’s the thing. People come at you with wide range of questions, you can do all your homework and then something’s going to come out of left field and you’re going to go, okay. I, you know, I thought I was, I was prepared. I’m trying to be intentional. And I never even thought about that. And I felt that a hundred percent. Um, but there’s also been times when, um, I have to put a little thought or intention to it, and then the conversation it comes that hits, and it doesn’t mean I get it right. Or, uh, you know, you know, do a perfect job of navigating it, but maybe I feel a little bit more at ease because I’ve thought about it on the front end. So, you know, one of those things that I think, you know, your question was how is it different? Like the seven and eight than, you know, 12 and 13?

I’m not sure, but what I do know is in that timeframe, I have developed and found language that I didn’t initially have that feels more comfortable. And then we just learn how to adapt that language over time. So one, just to give one concrete example around that, we get so many birth mom questions and we got them when they were little and they were in between and we get them still. And sometimes it’s in front of them. Sometimes it’s not in front of them. And as I believe you’ve experienced as well, they can be very, very specific. And so we all have to find what we’re comfortable related to sharing and our own response on that. But again, just to give an example, um, a phrase that we have found is, um, that we are comfortable sharing that our children both have, um, family in Ethiopia that they remain, um, connected to. I love that is that, um, mom, dad, siblings, aunts, uncles, those are specifics that we don’t get into except with close family and friends, we’ve shared more of the details of their story, but for individuals that, and, and, you know, the intent is often good, I’d say most of the time. And so to be able to provide a response that is not shaming of the person asking the question for having asked, because again, I do believe the intent is often good.

So it gives a response, it acknowledges it, it shares some information, but it is also a response that has the boundary on it, to the details of that. I love that that’s going to be different for everyone. I don’t even know that that’s a difference between like the seven and eight and the 12 and 13. No, but that’s a through line there. Now a piece that is a little bit different is we are, um, just super straightforward with our kids at their ages right now about what they’re comfortable with and what they’re not comfortable with. So an example I have on that is we have a, um, like an Alexa device in our kitchen. That is the video one. And so it’s really fun because our family like photos that are stored on the computer, just going through. And so, you know, things you haven’t looked at in years and kids pop up, just pop up. Um, but as a family, we’ve taken trips back to Ethiopia and, um, visited a family that they have there. And so just as an example, those photos are on there. And so just the other day, we had a very real conversation around, um, Hey, it’s really fun. When we see these photos pop up, how would you feel if we had guests over or you had a friend over, and this came up, these photos came up.

And if that resulted in a question being asked, and would you feel, how would you feel about that? Um, they both shared their response to that and were actually both really surprisingly, um, open about it. And it like it, wasn’t, it’s probably a bigger deal to mom and that wants to limit it. Didn’t feel like a big deal to them right now. Um, but maybe that looks different in a year. So those are things we want to have planned intentional thoughtful conversations, but then also just as we’re doing life and it comes up, right, the photo comes up on the screen and then we realize, oh, there’s a question to have a family conversation about. And we haven’t had that. So let’s do it. And I think it gives them permission if a year from now they do have something paying inside of them that feels uncomfortable, that they already know that you asked and that they can go to you and say, Hey, that feels weird. Can we not do that right now? You know, you’ve given them the permission to change their mind and open that up. And I think that’s really important and beautiful and that they could each have different, you know, reactions to a one might feel weird about it and the other might be fine.

And you can kind of go from there with that, you know, that you’ve given that space and opportunity to talk about it and not have it be something weird in the future. I think that that’s really huge. And, um, in other ways, besides like talking about it with other people, talking to them, I think that’s the biggest thing of like, continuing to honor their story by continuing to have the conversation that it’s not something that just ends like, well, I talked to you when you were five and you said this. Um, so I’ve just been going on that because they forget too. Like, if you’ve talked to them, when they’re five, when they’re 14, they’re not thinking back to that one conversation you had about what they’re comfortable with. And, and like you said, you’re, there’s an element of like, you’re their guardians at that age. And now you’re, you know, working your way. You’re always going to be their guardian, but how much do they want of that? You know, as they continue getting older. So I think that’s really beautiful and such a good reminder to keep talking about it. And even if they’re uncomfortable or if they’re like mom, you know, like seriously, you know, but just to, so that they know that they can then talk about it. I think that’s huge for sure. Oh, I mean, so they’re 12 and 13, right?

There’s a lot like they don’t enjoy talking about a lot of things, honestly, all awkward about like being a family. We, we as parents. Okay. Um, we continually are bringing to the forefront of conversation, what we value as a family, whether that’s like deep held beliefs and ways of being, or it’s like just fun things, you know, a love of a sports team. Like those are just continual, continually brought to, um, conversation. And so if we think of this as just being a part of that, it’s not a one-time conversation. It’s also not only a plan conversation or only a spur of the moment, but if it’s something that’s a part of who we are and what we value, then it’s always going to be integrated, um, in, in the way that we engage as a family over time. And it does look different just as all of our conversations, evolve and look different as our kiddos get older. Um, but something that’s always present. Yeah. I love that. Well, thank you so, so much for jumping on with me, I feel like you have just endless amounts of wisdom to offer. I know you probably would be like, oh my gosh, this is embarrassing, but I feel like that.

I, I think that, um, I learned something every, every time I talked to you and I know that you’re not like trying to teach me things, but just hearing from you and how you’re navigating this, I think is, um, just such a huge value to me. And now we get to share with a lot of other people that I hope will, um, get something out of this. So thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I really appreciate your time. It’s my pleasure that I was is, um, just a joy to spend time with you. Um, I appreciate you using the wisdom word, although your, your suspicion is correct. No one likes it said about themselves or feels that I think what I want to do and what, what I hope those in my community wants to do is, uh, continuing to lean into important conversations. And I want to be growing every day in my ability to be listening to others. Um, and also in my ability to be thoughtful in sharing my own story in my own experience, in a way that might be, um, beneficial or helpful or, or inspiring, or build another up. And so really that’s, that’s what I see this as an opportunity to do. Uh, my story will be different from your story, but there will possibly be things that you, um, identify with as I share.

And if we can do that, like I said, in a way that is, um, helpful to others in our community. I love that. Me too. Well, thank you. I love it.

Thanks for listening to Together by AGCI. That was Jacqueline Gustafson, adoptive mom, university dean and professor, and founder of the Abeba Collection. As always, if you liked what you heard, please rate and review us wherever you listen to podcasts. If you’d like to read or watch even more stories or learn about the work that we do at AGCI, go to our website at, reach out to us and let us know what you think on Instagram at @allgodschildreninternational, or you can email us at Thank you for listening.