I met Jillian Lauren several years ago. We had an immediate kinship because we were both writers and adoptive moms. Over the past few years, our families have grown to be friends, and she and I got to go to Ethiopia together last year. Here’s Jillian and I last month with our hero Bob Goff because life is weird and wonderful. Jillian is an incredible writer. I read her first book, an account of her life in a Harem in Brunei, in just a couple of days. I was so riveted by her story, but also by her storytelling. When she told me she was working on a memoir of adopting her son Tariku, I couldn’t wait to read it, and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a fantastic book that I stayed up until the wee hours to finish. I knew her journey to motherhood in broad strokes, but I loved reading her telling of it in all of the details. Nothing in Jillian’s life has ever been ordinary. She approaches life with a sense of bold adventure and her journey to create a family is no exception. Everything You Ever Wanted is a memoir that will resonate with anyone who has forged a family in unconventional ways, told with both humor and poignancy. Jillian interweaves her struggle to become a mother with her own story of being adopted as an infant. It’s a love story – between Jillian and her rockstar husband, and also between a couple and their new son. Like all great love stories, the beauty is in the struggle.
I did a recent Q&A with Jillian about her book that I wanted to share:
EVERYTHING YOU EVER WANTED is a story is about how you became a mother, after emerging from radically non-traditional background. Can you talk about how your past shaped the kind of mother you wanted to be? I had a pretty wild pre-baby life, including drug addiction and the infamous harem years. On paper, I might not be considered the best candidate for motherhood. I initially put a lot of pressure on myself to be very, very good. And by good I mean not competent so much as virtuous. This was supposed to be my redemption story. What I found instead is that being a good mother wasn’t so much about transcending my past but rather about drawing from my entire range of experiences and learning to embrace the imperfections. I have this life now not in spite of my obstacles but because of them. Adversity has shaped me more than anything else, and shown me that I’m strong. Your understanding of Tariku and of yourself evolves significantly throughout the book. What were the most important benchmarks in your relationship and where are all of you now? When Tariku was little he had a lot of challenging behaviors. It took us years of searching to truly understand that these behaviors were related to early childhood trauma and sensory processing disorder. These are slippery and hard to understand diagnoses and they can look very different in each individual child, but in our case, he was aggressive and constantly terrified. He didn’t sleep little, ate even less, and had violent tantrums ten times a day. A lot of schools and therapies didn’t work out before we landed on the things that did. Once we found our path, it brought us healing both to us as a family and to Tariku as an individual. We’re all still learning and growing of course, but Tariku is doing just beautifully now. His is a story or triumph. It’s the great privilege of my life to be a part of it. Do you have any specific advice for parents who may be facing similar struggles? 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. Can you talk about the place of faith in your life and your parenting? I’m deeply engaged with my faith. I have a strong and daily relationship with God through prayer, my writing and, hopefully, my actions in the world. As a family, our spiritual life is something of a patchwork quilt. I’m Jewish. My husband is Christian. My son attends a Christian school. I move very fluidly between the two communities. It’s important to me that Tariku has God in his life, but I’m not attached to any particular set of operating metaphors. I can easily talk about Shabbat or about Jesus with him, and I don’t find it confusing. My son has such a wealth of possibilities in this world open to him. He’s an immigrant. He’s Ethiopian. He’s a California kid. He’s a black kid with white parents. He’s Jewish. He’s Christian. I think it all adds to the richness of his identity and his world. Everything You Ever Wanted is available for kindle, and in paperback and audio book format at Amazon.com.