Everything You Ever Wanted is the newest memoir by New York Times Best Selling Author Jillian Lauren. It follows Jillian and her husband Scott’s journey through infertility, making the decision to adopt, traveling to Ethiopia for an international adoption, and arriving home with their new son Tariku. However, unlike many adoption memoirs, arriving home with Tariku is not the end of this family’s story.
After Jillian and Scott arrive home, they find parenting to be much different than expected. As a result of a rough start in life, Tariku does not thrive on traditional methods of parenting. Learning to parent in a way that works for their family takes time, effort, and often a lot of heartache. Despite the difficulties, Jillian’s love for her son is evident on every single page.
As an adoptive parent, I’ve read many memoirs about adoption. I’ve never related to a book as much as I related to Everything You Ever Wanted. Although there were differences between Jillian and me (she adopted internationally, I adopted through foster care; she married a rockstar, I married a guy from my science class), so many of the things her family went through were identical to my family’s experiences. I know this beautiful, heartwarming memoir will resonate with all adoptive parents, no matter what the circumstances of their adoption were. I enjoyed Everything You Ever Wanted so much that I decided to chat with Jillian a bit more about the book.
I’m sure everyone must ask about this, but I am dying to know what Tariku has thought of the book.
Tariku loves the book! Of course, he has only heard certain carefully chosen sections. He’s not ready to hear all of it yet. He went with me for part of the tour and he came to a few of the readings. One of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had was looking out and seeing him smiling at me from the audience. He ran up to me afterwards, threw his arms around my neck, and said, “You make me proud.”
People are always concerned about sharing adoptee’s stories. One thing I really loved about the book was your ability to tell the honest truth, while still being respectful of your son’s privacy. Can you tell me a little bit about finding that balance?
I wanted to give a radically honest account of my experience of motherhood, with all of its complexities and ambiguities and beauty. I wanted to tell the truth, warts and all, because it’s so much better and richer than some glossy façade. At the same time, it was vitally important to me to distinguish between what was mine to tell and what wasn’t. I don’t include anything that didn’t involve me directly, or anything private or sensitive about his history. Once it’s out there, there’s always a chance he’ll hear about it from someone other than me, so I tried to be hyper aware of that as I wrote. And I always came at it with the intention that this book is a gift for my son. I figure that way it would be hard to go too far wrong.
As an adoptee yourself, have any of your thoughts or feelings about adoption changed since you became Tariku’s mom?
As adoptees, my son and I both create our identities from many disparate influences. I hope my experiences in this regard will help deepen my understanding of my son’s journey. I’ve become more politicized around adoption, and have become much more passionate about it, as well as becoming an advocate of transparency and reform. I’ve also become aware that adoption is a beautiful and complex thing, but it’s not a solution for the situation of women living in extreme poverty in developing countries and even here in the US. It’s so important that we focus on efforts to increase the visibility of the struggles faced by women like Tariku’s birth mom, and to address family preservation. Meeting her put a face on this problem for me, made it specific rather than general, and gave us a greater sense of responsibility to the world around us. It’s important to understand that adoption isn’t an act of charity. You’re not saving a disadvantaged child, who should then reward you with eternal gratitude. Many of our children suffer tremendous loss. In the case of international adoption, they lose an entire culture. We have to be respectful of the trauma our children go through, and the loss and grief that follow.
What would you tell adoptive parents who are struggling after bringing their children home?
I would tell anyone facing daunting challenges with their child to keep trying and asking for help. Most importantly—never, never give up. I don’t believe there’s any one cure-all, but I would definitely advise parents to seek help that focuses on relationships, and on the needs behind their child’s behaviors, rather than on diagnoses and medication. It’s easier to be black and white, and that tends to be the stance of most traditional therapeutic professionals. Can’t sit still? Your kid has ADHD, so here’s some Adderall. That kind of thinking may appear to help in the short term, and may even ultimately be the right avenue for some people, but I think too often it’s the first recourse, and it shouldn’t be. For the people who relate to the book and are seeking specific recommendations around PTSD, Sensory Processing Disorder, or adoption-related issues, there is a detailed resource section in the back.
Everything You Ever Wanted closes when Tariku is 4 and a half. How are things going today? What’s next for your family?
As I answer these questions, Tariku and I are on a plane to Greece. Which is so crazy, and would have been unthinkable a few years ago. For a while there, his tantrums were so bad we could barely take him out in public. And now we’re here holding hands, chowing down kettle chips, and watching cartoons on a fifteen-hour flight, and it’s awesome! It’s a delight. I don’t want to make it sound like POOF everything is magically perfect. In many ways things are easier because we understand what’s going on with his sensory and trauma issues and we can employ strategies accordingly. He’s done so much work on himself. He tries and he tries, and it took a while to start paying off, but now it really shows. In fact, things have gotten so great that we’re diving in the deep end again and pursuing another adoption. This time through the foster care system. We’re about 3/4 of the way through the certification process and we’re really excited about what the future will bring!