Because they come from Ethiopia and South Korea, Dina Vinson says her two children will never be able to look at her or her husband and say, “I’ve got your eyes,” or “Look! I’ve got your hands,” or even “I’ve got your skin.” But she hopes they will always see and hear her saying “I’ve got your back!”
“I want them to know I love them with my whole being!” she says passionately. Helping her kids feel loved, accepted and proud of who they are and where they’ve come from is her number one priority as a mom.
The Vinson household is the kind of place where a dance party might break out at any given time, where creativity is encouraged, where laughter is frequent and where the cool mom in the shredded jeans might be giving her two young children pointers on their skateboarding skills. Fun? You betcha! But don’t let the cool factor throw you off. Beneath the partying is a calculating, intelligent and savvy mama whose parenting is done with great intentionality and purpose.
In fact, Dina is an adoption specialist working for Bethany Christian Services covering the entire state of Arkansas with the exception of the Northwest area. In this role, she provides support for prospective adoptive parents, conducts home studies and provides support and education for both domestic and international adoptions. With a degree in social work and a passion to assist adoptive families, it seems a natural fit.
I contacted Dina to see if I could interview her for my blog for the week of Mother’s Day. We enjoyed a delightful conversation and afterwards I decided the information fell into three helpful categories: adoption, adjustment and awareness. I’m happy to share part of our conversation with you here.
“We waited a total of five years to bring our kids home,” Dina recalls. It involved two one week long trips to two different countries, a significant financial investment and a huge emotional roller coaster!” It’s not an easy process.
“Why adopt?” was the question I first wanted to ask. Dina says that she and Kent had always wanted to grow their family through adoption and that it had always been in the back of their minds. Shortly after they were married they made a missions trip to Ethiopia and started the process for adoption after they returned home. Dina’s mom was the kind who always took people in. From exchange students to friends who needed a temporary place to stay to kids who were having trouble at home and needed a safety net, the door to their home was always open. From this Dina learned that family is not always about bloodline but is about caring for people. Her definition of family became fluid and flexible early on.
Six-year-old Tyce and four-year-old Jett are beautiful, charismatic kids. People sometimes look with envy and longing at this colorful, fun loving family and remark how lucky these two children are to have Kent and Dina as parents. Dina, however, says adoption was never Tyce or Jett’s “Plan A”. Growing up with your birth parents is the preferred and natural scenario. “There is a lot of grief and loss with it,” she says of adoption and then humbly adds, “I wish they didn’t need me but at the same time I feel honored to be their parent.”
Regarding the need of a child who has been adopted to know about his or her birth parents, she says, “It’s not a matter of IF but of WHEN.” Although contact with the biological family is not always what adoptive parents are comfortable with, Dina insists it’s ultimately about the child’s needs and not the parents. “I wish I had access to their parents, but I don’t,” she says of her own children.
What she does do is try to connect them to their separate cultures in as many ways as possible. Fortunately, there is a rather large South Korean population in our city so Jett is enrolled in a Korean daycare where she speaks the language and eats the foods of her native culture. Jett loves singing the Korean songs she learns there and teaches them to big brother Tyce when she comes home. The family celebrates Children’s Day which is a Korean holiday but I have a feeling every day is pretty much a celebration of Children’s Day in the Vinson household!
The Vinsons are particularly intentional about trying to provide racial mirrors for both of their children which is one reason they prefer public schools over private. Diversity is so important for this family. Although there are no Ethiopian restaurants in town, they have discovered a great one in Nashville and apparently Tyce loves everything on the menu. The Vinsons are planning an initial return to Ethiopia for the entire family next year. In the meantime, they have purchased a jebena, a pot in which raw coffee beans are cooked, ground and served in Ethiopia for coffee ceremonies celebrating special occasions. And yes, six-year-old Tyce already loves his caffeine!
Because their son was only seventeen months old when he was adopted, Dina says his adjustment period was fairly quick and easy. She and Kent became “reclusive” for awhile but within a couple of months seemed to be in an easy routine.
Jett, who was three and already speaking Korean, took a bit longer to assimilate into her new surroundings. Dina stresses that EVERYTHING about interacting with a child who was adopted is different: discipline, displays of affection, bonding, parenting styles and methods all must be approached with informed intentionality. She even chooses bedtime stories that are based on adoption.
Equally important as becoming educated and informed on parenting cues for adoptive parents is the need for assuring their children of permanency in their situation. Dina says she is constantly telling her children, “I am your mother and I am not leaving you!” It is the same reassurance we receive from our Father God in Hebrews 13:5, “I will never leave you nor forsake you”. That knowledge leaves us in a place of security and comfort.
She encourages adoptive parents to find an adoption community where they can ask “What are your struggles?” and discuss other’s paths to adoption. Because adoptive families sometimes appear to make it look so easy and seamless Dina feels many people are not aware of the challenges and struggles involved. While her Facebook page admittedly has some of the cutest pictures you’ll ever see, Dina readily admits they’re the “highlight reels” of their family’s life. Talking with adoptive parents may help give a more complete view of the full picture.
Because she and husband Kent decided to adopt across racial lines, Dina knows there will be more questions asked and comments made. Already one of Tyce’s friends has said to him, “She can’t be your mom because she’s white and you’re black.” But Dina’s take on it is that “It’s better to be color aware and appreciate our differences than to be color blind” so she openly discusses the race issue with both of her children.
It has helped that one of her sisters-in-law, an African American, has educated her on skincare and hair care for Tyce, which has given them ample opportunities to discuss their physical differences. She is also aware that this adorable little boy will someday grow into a black man who must be prepared to confront a society that may not always be accepting. But never one to be intimidated by a challenge, this skateboard packing mama is committed to the task.
“ You can educate yourself, try your hardest and give all you have to give,” says Dina, “but sometimes you have to be ok with it not being enough.” And that is pretty good advice for every parent everywhere, biological, adoptive, foster and step parents included. Even though we’ve done our best we can’t always control the outcome. But what we can do is let them know we always have their backs!