(Photo Credit: This is Lauren and Tony Dungy and was sent by their publishing company for use with the article.)
It was such a pleasure to talk about adoption and life with Lauren Dungy. Lauren, an education specialist, speaker, and author, is also the wife to former NFL coach, Tony Dungy and is, above all, a mother.
I wanted to learn and share more about this remarkable woman and her amazing family after reading We Chose You: A Book About Adoption, Family, and Forever Love, which she co-authored with her husband, Tony.
We Chose You: The Making of an Amazing and Crucial Kids Book
All parents through adoption (and frankly, all parents in general) are faced with questions from their children that are sometimes difficult to answer. Personally, I love to have books on hand to reference should an issue arise because of my daughter’s age, but we also read books like the Dungys’ We Chose You regularly with my daughter so that maybe, she’ll be equipped to navigate situations and answer questions on her own.
One of the things that I’ve found when talking to adoptive parents is that it can always be difficult when schools ask children to share more about their families for school projects, like by creating a family tree, etc. The Dungys address this in such a truly meaningful way that I appreciate and that engages my 4-year-old daughter and reflects her own story.
This was a project that Lauren and her husband were prompted to write based on their own experiences as she and her husband have adopted eight children to date. Currently, they have children ages 4-19 in their home. In fact, they adopted a child this past summer!
Lauren explains that there is a rich legacy of adoption in her family. She isn’t the first in her family to adopt and she and her husband have adopted out of foster care as well. “This is what the Lord has for us,” says Lauren of adoption. “It’s our calling. We want to provide a loving and safe environment.”
The Dungys inspiration for this project? Their family. “Our own children were our inspiration. We’ve had conversations about adoption and didn’t wait until school projects,” she says. “We felt that there wasn’t a lot of material or books that talked about adoption and oftentimes, when kids hear about things that they aren’t prepared for, they might feel like they did something wrong.” Wanting families to be encouraged and to have the resources they needed was important to Lauren and her husband, Tony.
By sharing this story through the eyes of a child, it is engaging, heartwarming, and most importantly, relevant.
As Lauren notes, “This is a great way to give children the opportunity to talk about their family and to make it a natural thing.” The uniqueness of a child’s family is important to share and this book gives them age-appropriate information to do that. “When adoptive parents wait to have this conversation, it’s presented in a way that might seem like the information is or was hidden,” Lauren says. It was important to Lauren that adoption also be highlighted in a positive manner.
Looking for additional resources to talk about adoption with your children? I’m personally an advocate of talking about it from day one, even if your child is an infant when you bring him or her home. This article helps you find ways to have those conversations.
As I mentioned before, my husband and I are huge fans of using materials, like books, to help assist us in talking about the “tough stuff” and another book that addresses adoption that works well for us and is a great book to read along with We Chose You is The Not in Here Story.
Creating Intentional Opportunities to Talk about Adoption with Your Children
Lauren notes how important books that discuss adoption like this are to raise awareness about adoption as its just one way that a family is created. “We don’t want this to be secretive because it’s a beautiful thing,” she says. “It may bring up questions and that’s a good thing. This is a great way to have a discussion so that children can feel loved.” And, this does prompt questions—all good. More importantly, it helps children understand that they aren’t alone and gives them the confidence to navigate situations like this in school and for the rest of their lives.
I asked Lauren what tips she had for having conversations like this with kids. As we all know, it can be tricky and if you’re like me, you sometimes fret about not handling it properly.
Her suggestion is to have age-appropriate discussions with children. (I find reading books like Lauren and Tony’s with my child is a great way to do this.) She also notes that you should be intentional about these discussions and positive. “Timing is important and you should encourage questions,” Lauren says. She also explains that having these conversations as early as possible, letting children know that you intentionally built your family by way of adoption, and above all, to ensure that children feel good about themselves following this conversation.
I also second the suggestion to start talking about adoption as early as possible. In our case, we adopted our child when she was an infant and we began reading books about adoption and telling her story to her before she was old enough to comprehend, but it was always my goal for her to know that she was adopted the same way that she knew her own name.
For more information about talking with your child about adoption, read this article, which is a great resource!
Sharing Their Story: Lauren and Tony’s Mission to Educate Others
Lauren and Tony’s book was so powerful to my family that I, of course, asked if more books like this were in the works. Lauren’s goal is to continue to speak about adoption, her own family, and encouraging other families. “People are excited, nervous, and hesitant,” she says about those who approach her to ask about adoption. “They need to hear about the joy and disappointments that come along with it. We tell our story to bless other families so that they know that they can do it.”
It is great that people feel comfortable approaching the Dungys. If you want more information about adoption and know parents who have been through the process, more often than not, they’ve been in your shoes and are comfortable sharing more information. All you have to do is ask!
Balancing It All: How this Remarkable Mother Juggles a Big Family…and even Squeezes in a Date Day with her Husband!
In talking with Lauren, one thing is certain: she’s busy! From speaking engagements to being an active and present parent, to finding time for herself, etc., she is always on the go. However, it is even more evident that she is dedicated to her faith, her marriage, her children, and her family.
When I talk about adoption, write about it, or interview experts and those who have full lives, one of the things that people tend to ask me about is balance when you have children, work, and a family. This tends to be a concern with those adopting because they know additional time can be added to their plate, so it was a question that I asked Lauren. As a mother by adoption and a wife with a professional career that’s important to me, I, too, wanted to know how she does it!
“Be intentional about creating balance,” Lauren shares.
She further notes how important it is to her personally to make sure that each child feels special and that she recognizes their talents and light. “Do something special with each child. Otherwise, they’re just a number and the quieter ones can get lost in the shuffle,” she notes.
Like me, Lauren is a big advocate of a family calendar. She keeps a master calendar in the kitchen and her older kids are responsible to write down important dates from birthday parties to athletic events and school activities, to make sure that they aren’t overlooked. (I’ve spoken to many families that prefer an online calendar through Google or something, but as a planner, I like to see it and have my family take responsibility for their own schedule as well!)
She and her husband, Tony, also use their own skills to tackle various projects with their kids. While she likes to do homework with them, Tony likes to help with sports, etc.
And believe it or not, this busy couple does have regular dates with the power of “prayer and planning.” Though they don’t always get a night out alone, the couple do tend to use Friday during the day to hang out, whether they volunteer by reading at a Title 1 school, go out to lunch, or even sneak in a movie, they understand that it’s important to have time for the two of them and Lauren advises that you also make sure to create that time. Lauren and Tony use their love of sports to bike, swim, or play tennis to also regroup and reconnect.
This is important and I encourage parents to take the time to schedule these ways to connect. It’s healthy for you and your child!
If You’re Considering Adoption…
If you’re considering adoption and are moved by stories that you read about, it’s time to do your research and get started. Though there are some things outside of your control, like timing, finances, when you can get in with an agency or a lawyer, etc., preparing yourself and your family is something that you can start to do.
Yet, Lauren does share some important advice. She notes that you need to be sure that both you and your partner are on board with the process. “There are a lot of hard discussions when it comes to adoption,” Lauren cautions. “You need to both be in agreement.”
Many of us who have spoken about adoption hear from people who have decided they want to adopt but have a partner that isn’t necessarily there yet. Lauren explains that you need to start talking about this from the beginning. If you’re both not prepared to go down this journey together, it is going to be difficult.
Lauren explains that these are hard discussions to have, but it will help you be in agreement before you adopt. The adoption process can be difficult to handle and without everyone being on the same page, it can be even harder.
Lauren is a dedicated mother and wife and her willingness to share about adoption and to be a light in the adoption community is evident. She and her husband talk the talk and walk the walk when it comes to loving each other, loving on their children, and being active in the greater adoption community.
Books like theirs, offer parents (like me!) the opportunity to have the conversations that we need to be having with our children in a way that makes sense, is at their level, is engaging, and overall, helps them to understand their own unique family dynamic.
Do yourself a favor, read We Chose You, with your family and start those conversations today!
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