Coparent Academy Podcast

Redefining Normal With Justin and Alexis Black

May 31, 2022 Linda VanValkenburg and Ron Gore
Coparent Academy Podcast
Redefining Normal With Justin and Alexis Black
Show Notes Transcript

In our first ever shared podcast, Linda and I sit down with an amazing couple, Justin and Alexis Black.  Listen to Justin's podcast, ROSE from Concrete:  ROSE From Concrete (

Justin and Alexis are the authors of Redefining Normal: How Two Foster Kids Beat The Odds and Discovering Healing, Happiness, and Love.

Their book is a powerful memoir that takes the reader through their harrowing childhood experiences, which included abuse, neglect, and years in the foster system.  More importantly, however, their book details their commitment to overcoming the odds stacked them and ending the generational cycles of abuse and addiction they were born into.

Justin and Alexis take you into the rooms where things happened, and their searing accounts will stay with you.  Be warned, their story contains factual depictions of domestic violence, trauma, sexual assault, and other difficult issues faced on the road to healing.

Linda and Ron were profoundly affected by the time they were privileged to spend with Alexis and Justin. Everyone can benefit from listening and reading their compelling and inspirational stories.

Learn more about Justin and Alexis and buy their powerful memoir at:  Buy Now | Redefining Normal (

Listen to Justin's podcast, ROSE from Concrete:  ROSE From Concrete (

Follow Justin and Alexis on social media at: 

Instagram: Redefining Normal (@re.definingnormal)
TikTok: Redefining Normal (@re.definingnormal)
Facebook: Redefining Normal | Facebook

Email Justin and Alexis at 

Linda VanValkenburg  0:08  
I'm Linda VanValkenburg.

Ron Gore  0:09  
And I'm Ron Gore. And you're listening to Coparent Academy podcast.

Ron Gore  0:24  
All right, welcome, everybody. We have a really exciting episode of Coparent Academy today, because we're doing our very first shared podcast, which is going to be pretty awesome. We have two folks with us today who are not only amazing people, they're amazing authors with a life history that you just are not going to believe in, they have so much to offer us. We have Justin and Alexis Black with us today. They are the authors of Redefining Normal, a book that Linda and I started reading and just we're blown away by so we can't wait for you to hear from them. And like said, this is going to be a shared podcast. So let me introduce to you, Justin and Alexis Black.

Justin Black  1:01  
Yes, yes, we're doing a shared podcast with the Coparent Academy. And this is the Rose From Concrete podcast. And we're just excited to be on here a little bit different this episode, because I have my amazing business partner who just so happens to be my wife Alexis Black with me. And as you know, we are the authors of the Redefining Normal book. And we're going to be diving a lot into the book today, but also learning a little bit more about our guests as well that we're sharing this platform with and it's just a privilege and honor to be sharing his platform with you all to talk about the book, but also talk about your experience with everything as well.

Linda VanValkenburg  1:36  
Well, we, we've gotten to know you over the last couple of days to set up with you side by side at the Association Family Conciliation Courts conference in Chicago, and just were instantly drawn to you guys as human beings and a couple and just thought you were the sweetest things in the world. And then, you know, hearing a little bit about your story. And then, you know, last. Last night Ron gave me the book. And it's just like, wow, I was I was really unprepared. And I told Alexis this morning that I had a hard time even reading some of the pages of her early years. And so it, you have such a great writing style, but you have so many things to share with people as far as I think parents, for the most part of how what they do with their young people in their homes, their children, what they do that affects their life going forward, in especially traumatic stuff. But you know, some of the parents we work with their children might not hopefully experience some of the trauma you guys did. But some of the stuff was just so still fairly typical of what we do see and work with that it struck quite a chord with us, too.

Alexis Black  2:54  
So thank you so much for having us on here. And we always tell people that our story isn't necessarily unique. There are so many other individuals with very similar backgrounds and histories. But it's what we've done with it that makes us unique. And so that's why we are here sharing our story constantly with other people that we have choices, we have the autonomy to make those decisions moving forward, to choose the life that we want to live. And we heard one time in a marriage conference that we went to that our relationship essentially sets the tone for the next three to five generations. And that is a scary thing in that moment where like, we really have a lot of work to do before we have a baby. And that really was one of the main reasons of why we wanted to write this book, it actually came from wanting to learn more and talk more about our history, our trauma, but then about healthy relationships and how we were never exposed to that really as young adults. How can we support other people in making good decisions and choosing the right partner?

Linda VanValkenburg  3:52  
And if you haven't grown up with that, how do you do anything different? Because we do tend to you know, as a young adult, myself, and a step parent at the time, I heard things come out of my mouth that I swore I would never say again. But they sounded very much like the critical parent that I grew up with. And so I just don't even know how you decide that. Okay, now's the time to do this because I I think I know what to do now.

Alexis Black  4:22  
Well, oftentimes is my one of my best friend says, who's also a social worker. She says that almost always our inner voice is our actually our parents voice. And unless we're incredibly intentional on changing that narrative, then that is just how it's going to be moving forward. And then we'll see how essentially we're acting out the behaviors and things that we learned as a childhood because either we're always essentially avoiding what our parents did to our lives or reenacting it, unless we're incredibly intentional, moving forward each and every day.

Linda VanValkenburg  4:54  
I really love that word intentional, just I mean, I'm working on those things in my life too. And especially I think that's something we want all of our coparents and our Coparent Academy that you do have to be intentional about what you do to set the environment for your co parent to be a good parent and a good helpmate with parenting no matter what your circumstances are.

Justin Black  5:20  
And we'd love to kind of talk a bit about, you know, the Coparent Academy, and really what does it mean, the purpose behind it all, because just by the name, you can kind of get a general idea of what it means. But I would love to learn a little bit more about the work you all are doing and the impact you all are trying to create. 

Ron Gore  5:38  
And to give some our listeners behind the scenes, we are at the AFCC, the American Family Conciliation Courts conference. And I, in my infinite wisdom, brought a number of microphones and equipment, but not the accurate number of microphones and equipment, that would be helpful. So we have three microphones for four people. And Linda and I are doing a bit of a gymnastics routine to get back and forth. So just want to let everyone know that in case they're like, oh, that doesn't sound like Ron normally sounds like. But yeah, in terms of what the Coparent Academy is. So Linda is a counselor, and she has been one for ever. And she's been doing reconciliation counseling for more than 30 years. And I am an attorney, I'm 100% focused on family law. I'm also a guardian ad litem for children and a parenting coordinator and a mediator. And Linda and I work together all the time in our actual cases in Tulsa County, Oklahoma and surrounding counties. And we realized in all of our conversations that we kept saying the same things over and over and over again, and we started realizing that we had folks coming in who's other attorneys with whom they were working, had never educated them about what they were doing, why they were doing it, how they could do things better. And so we put together Coparent Academy first because we can't write a book, we tried. And it was not working for us. It was not working for us. So instead, we put together the Coparent Academy was, which is an online educational platform on a subscription model that gives all of the education that a parent needs to help understand how to be a better, better co parent, and actually just sort of a better human in terms of communication and conflict resolution, and things like that.

Justin Black  7:28  
And I love just the description of you know, what you all are doing and the ways that you support, you know, the population that you're serving. And as we were kind of approaching this podcast, I was starting to think for myself, like around, you know, families that have gone through that process of divorce and parents that are that are going through the co parenting situations. And I just remember, and just being completely honest and transparent. You know, as a teenager, I remember, you know, going through foster care, and not having parents around and looking at kids, when I first went to college, looking at kids who have divorced parents, and I'm like, oh, that's nothing compared to what we've gone through and, and so much around that and not really having a sense of empathy. And that was like early on teenage years and first years in college. But as I started to try to work towards, you know, this work that we're doing now and having more empathy, and trying to have a full understanding of it all and understanding that even you know, so much of the work we do is around aces and adverse childhood experiences. And with that being the perspective of our work, understanding that divorce is a part of that as well. And so much trauma comes from divorce also. And fully understanding that, wow, that's also part of ACEs and trauma as well. And I need to empathize with those people who have gone through those experiences. So I don't know if you can talk about, you know, some of those family dynamics and experiences of what are some of the things that you've saw within families that can be unique, when it comes to a co parenting situation, you know, what are some unique situations that someone from the outside looking in and may not know?

Ron Gore  9:10  
So it's a really interesting perspective that you had and something that you told me earlier in the day Justin was, you know, we don't have to make comparisons andyou're giving me so much grace when I was coming to you apologizing for sharing any of my story and you're like, No, no, no, no, no, there's no comparisons. Everybody's story is their story. And, and Right, exactly. And I've heard people say to, you know, the worst thing you've ever gone through is the worst thing you've ever gone through, and, and that affects all of us. So one of the things that I think parents don't understand about conflict is that the conflict in a couple who stay married for the kids, quote-unquote, can be even worse for the children than the separation itself. And when children live in conflict, they don't have the ability to flee. You know, we all have our fight or flight mechanism. But children don't have the ability to fight back. And they often don't have the ability to flee. And so they're stuck in this incident of having this increased stress. And that leads to increased cortisol production, it leads to all sorts of adverse effects that go down the road for them. And it essentially makes them triggered when they wake up in the morning, and makes their stress levels, their stress hormones higher when they wake up than other normal kids. And when they run into situations that would normally lead to increased stress, their levels go higher, and it takes them longer to recover. And that winds up having long lasting effects on them epigenetically in terms of their hormone levels, everything. And then once familys separate, and you have this continuing conflict that occurs in all sorts of conflict and loyalty struggles, between the parents, what you wind up having are some of the same things that you'll see in kids coming out of foster homes. I mean, you guys are just so amazing to us, because we see you having beaten the odds on so many different levels. Because we know from the research regarding just kids in normal divorce and conflict situations, you're going to see higher incidence of at risk activity. And youth you're going to see earlier pregnancies, you're going to see pregnancies without marriage, you're gonna see reduced incidence of high school graduation, you're going to see lower employment success, and all of these things, you know, insecure attachments, and or adult relationships, and romantic relationships. All of these things that occur for them, like you said, wind up having generational effects, because a lot of them are also independently associated with increased levels of poverty. And so once you get those reduced financial resources and a reduced ability to cope with stress, it just builds and snowballs. So that's part of how when Linda and I were thinking about your stories, that's part of the connection that we see is that we deal with on a sort of lower level than what you had to experience the same levels of difficulties with kids who, I think interestingly, get the sense that they shouldn't feel that way that they shouldn't have problems, but they sure do. And it's on a smaller scale than what you all have experienced. But it's the same kind of thing.

Alexis Black  12:29  
I really do love with the Coparent Academy, that you focus so heavily on healthy communication and conflict resolution. Because this is something we talk about pretty much every day of why we see relationships fail is because we're not taught how to handle conflict at all in any stages of our lives. And if we don't know how to handle conflict, how can we have healthy communication? Because conflict is necessary, and it's required in a relationship, but are we handling it in a healthy way, just in the way.

Linda VanValkenburg  12:56  
And I can tell you to it doesn't matter what socioeconomic level you are, what educational level you are, you know, in Tulsa, we work with people of all levels. And I swear some of the people of what we would consider the highest level, the most privileged level, have the most conflict and do not know how to communicate.

Alexis Black  13:15  
Absolutely. So this is something 100% crosses, you know, race, gender, class lines, because we if we don't know how to communicate, if we don't know how to handle conflict in a healthy way, then this is something that's going to bleed over into all of our relationships. And that goes back to why we actually wrote our book where I mentioned before, we essentially were going to write about healthy relationships. But then to get to the root of how do we define even what healthy is. What was normal for us and for us, and what we've seen so many people who've experienced trauma, where at least 70% of Americans have experienced trauma, with COVID, probably 99% of Americans have experienced trauma and probably the world. And so looking at that, if we have, you know, this rooted trauma, how do we take that moving forward and looking at even what our normal is rooted in, which is our family, community and society and with people who have experienced trauma, especially high levels of trauma, especially in Justin and I's situation. It's there's a lot of toxicity, abuse, other things like that. And so that is our definition of normal, what is in our household is normal. And we talked about this earlier, where you know, what is happening in your home, that is normal. And so until you see outside of that and have something that challenges that thought or perspective or whatever that looks like, you will never understand that that is actually not normal. Um, that was that's what it took for the both of us was to have that exposure and that experience outside of our community and our home situation. So we could say, okay, this is actually abnormal. And we're still I mean, I'm pushing 30 And I'm like, I'm still running into stuff where I'm like, you know, this is actually not normal. And this is not something that I want in my life moving forward. And how do I be proactive about change? Doing that and changing that perspective. And, you know, we're still constantly riding that wave, especially, you know, when I'm where my parents are around other people that we see are very, very, very healthy. And it's just so abnormal from what we've known.

Linda VanValkenburg  15:13  
Can you tell us a little bit about your backgrounds for our listeners?

Justin Black  15:16  
Yeah, of course. So with us having lived experience in foster care, I entered the system at nine years old, largely due to what I believe was mental health issues being passed on in my family generationally, and I talked about in the book, how, you know, generations of domestic violence on my dad's side of the family, and generations of drug abuse on my mom's side of the family. So that kind of somewhat leaves me in the middle of a lot of things. And, you know, with those experiences, you know, when those dynamics are in one household, and in one family, you know, it's natural for children not to receive the love and attention that they need to grow and develop. So, for me, you know, when I went to school, you know, acting out in school fights, doing inappropriate things, and, and when I got home from school, you know, I received more than enough attention. When I got suspended from school, I've received more than enough attention from my parents, you know, woopings or whatever it may be. So I received that attention in that way. But it wasn't until I got in some summer trouble, or stirred things up either neighborhood or a school that I received that attention a lot of times. So you know, and it's understandable, because there's so much trauma, you know, people have so many issues that they need to focus on within their life, that is hard to really focus on raising children. So going through that process, and eventually going through some crazy situations of poverty and living in shelters and abandoned houses, and so many other things that I experienced, my siblings, and I eventually entered into the foster care system. So with that, you know, dealing with so many insecurities, why didn't my parents love me? And I think that that's a question that a lot of foster youth deal with, why didn't my parents love me? Why weren't they there for me, and I'm skipping ahead a lot. But it wasn't until I became an adult that I fully was starting to understand grace and mercy for my parents, and what they dealt with, and understanding that maybe just because of their life experiences, and what was their normal, they couldn't love me to where I needed to be loved, and, and they thought that they loved me, but they didn't fully understand how to love themselves. So having a grace and mercy for them in that way, was something I had to learn as an adult, but as a child and teenager, you can't you couldn't tell me that, you know, I didn't fully understand that. So a lot of resentment and anger, throughout my time bouncing around the system, you know, from living with family for a little bit to answer in the group home eventually, and so many other dynamics. So I said a little bit about my story. And before going to college, and before meeting, you know, my wife, Alexis and everything, but just a lot of insecurities and not fully understanding my identity outside of the trauma that I learned and the environment that I grew up in, well, my family so

Linda VanValkenburg  18:02  
I want to say something that really touched me in Justin's part, their their book, flips back and forth between their two perspectives and and you know, their their developmental stages. And so, something that I thought rang true even if if our coparents, children do not wind up in foster care, although we both worked with foster kids and guardianships, and so forth. And so we we have worked with that as well. But the people that usually probably will be a part of our CO Parent Academy, their children may not be in foster care. However, this rings true for them to you said "My parents always fighting left my siblings and me in search of someone to love us. With their attention torn away, all five of us grew up desperate for love". Now, you were all still intact at that point as a family system. But their attention was not on parenting you but on their fight with each other. And just like you said about that, you know, I see so many families where that's the case, they really are not attuned to and then even after the separation or illegal divorce, they're still so much engaged in the fight with each other, that their attention really is not with the child. Many times I'm reading as a co parenting therapist or a PC, I'm reading emails back and forth between the parents and it's hard for me to determine which parent has possession of the kids at that given time with their parenting plan. Because how could you possibly be giving your children attention if you're writing an enormously long email to the other parent about how angry you aren't with them? So it's it's it's a thing and then you said the tricky part about domestic violence between your parents is that you feel obligated to be loyal to both of them, you know, if children are that way, they still feel, you know, an older boy in the family, like you might be feeling like I should have or or maybe you did protect your mother you know, and it it is such a pressure and a duty that descends on kids.

Justin Black  18:56  
Yeah, and it's so much that I feel like parents, a lot of times could we could avoid putting so much pressure on children a lot of times and putting them in so many awkward situations of like you mentioned a domestic violence situation of, you know, am I, I still love my dad, you know, even through you know, those flaws, you still love your parent. And now you're stuck in the middle of like you need to choose. And even though there may be some times, you know, clear wrong on one side, you feel like that's still my parent, and you still have that emotional attachment to them. So it feels like it's in such a sticky situation, and especially in those domestic violence cases where you look back, and he's like, my mom nearly died. And you know, I could have protected her and you kind of hold this guilt, because of the conflict with your parents, you hold this guilt and shame that you couldn't do more. But really, you're just an innocent child, and stuck in this unique situation. So a lot of kids carry that, that weight and burden on them throughout their childhood or throughout their childhood, and even to their adulthood.

Linda VanValkenburg  21:27  
Alexis, tell us about yourself.

Alexis Black  21:29  
Yeah, absolutely. So I would say generally, when I share my story, I share that. So I entered foster care at 13. And before that, my biological mother passed away by suicide. And I didn't learn about that until high school actually had a track meet, which was fun. And I think a year or so later, after that, I found out that that's actually how my grandmother died, which is her mother. And so this is something generational within my family. And when my biological mother passed away, I met, I went and lived with my biological father, who, somewhere around that time, when I moved in with him, the abuse began. So it was very physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. Now lasted for about eight years, and got to be pretty brutal. And there was, you know, one night where it was, you know, the worst it's gotten. And the next morning, I essentially ran out the house and got with a friend, well, I tried to go to church and arm was black and blue. And then, and then, after church, I essentially went to the hospital. And, you know, he went to prison, and I went live with biological family, which was not the best situation for me. And we see that a lot where maybe kinship is not the best placement. And that was not the case. For me, it was emotionally mentally abusive, but it wasn't with my dad's brother, it was with his wife, which was not blood family. But so it made it really difficult. And it changed a lot for me of always seeking a mother figure. And she knew that and she essentially twisted it and warped it in a way of when I first moved in, I shared a lot of pieces of what I've gone through and all these different things, but during arguments behind closed doors, she'd throw it in my face, or go and grab my suitcase and pack it up. And, you know, all these things lead to threats, which is typical of an abuser to do these, do these things. And so I you know, I didn't really get to heal from my biological father. You know, until college, pretty much. But if we look at aces, and we look at trauma from individuals who maybe experienced abuse, domestic violence, or, or, you know, all these different spectrums, and even divorce, you have to look at what are you predisposed to. And I have an Acer score of a 10, which is the highest and then when I look at all the things, and basically then I'm predisposed to, I check off pretty much all of them.

Linda VanValkenburg  24:03  
And one of the most amazing sentences of the whole book to me was your sentence when you said we accept what we think we deserve. Oh, my.

Alexis Black  24:14  
Yeah, and that's exactly why I entered into an abusive relationship at 13. And it lasted eight years, and an average abusive relationship is seven years. So it was like well beat that one too. So you know, it's now I like, it was laughing about it and learn from it. That's really all I can do and see how I can channel that into a positive perspective. So I wouldn't have, I wouldn't be in the position that I am right now. I wouldn't have my husband Justin, I wouldn't have all these things that I have for myself if I know that if I didn't go through that. Because it was rough. It was a rough patch, you know of life and living and learning.

Justin Black  24:52  
And I have a quick question for you all. So with the work you're doing, you know, trying to support families and support parents, you know, how do you go about addressing those things that they can improve on the things that are maybe passive aggressive, the things that, you know, children being caught in the middle of it all, and now being caught in the middle of they're carrying on more and more burden between the parent conflicts, how do you go about addressing that, and trying to find some form of resolution to this conflict within the family.

Ron Gore  25:24  
So this family dynamics, very incredibly, because every child is different, every parent is different. And you have multiple children in the same family who have different experiences of the conflict that's occurring, you know, something that we run into all the time, for example, is that you'll have, let's say, you have a boy and a girl, you could have twins, in the same family, a boy and girl the same age. And let's say that, you know, they're eight or nine years old, that boy will very likely have little idea of some of the conflict that's going on, unless it escalates to a point where it's just unmistakable, the girl will be the one who's creeping down the stairs to listen to the fight, who's picking up mom's cell phone to see what's going on. So they're just so different, just based on all sorts of different factors. And what we find is that it's impossible to fully change some of these parents. But I think what we tried to do and what I tried to do as the attorney side because I have a very different role than Linda has, you know, sometimes I'm the litigation attorney for a parent, or sometimes I'm the guardian ad litem for the child, or the parenting coordinator who's trying to sort of manage that family dynamic. What I'm attempting to do is to recognize that I can't necessarily change that adult human, who has spent many years building up the crust or whatever it is about themselves, that makes them act that way. But we can try to shield the child from that. So trying to sort of pull the child out of that conflict, trying to minimize the conflict by improving their communication by instilling more core principles into them by trying to give them conflict resolution skills. But to the extent that we can't stop that conflict, to have it occur outside of the purview of the children. So not a visitation exchanges, not having conversation. So a big thing that happens too is, you know, moms, especially will do this, they'll call their sister or their mother or their best friend, and have a conversation on speakerphone, either knowing or oblivious to the fact that their children are listening around the corner. And they say, Well, I never said anything to my kid. But you know, they heard everything. Yeah, so what we try to do is try to remove the children from the conflict the best we can simultaneously separately trying to reduce the conflict between the parents, but it's sort of a triage situation, First, remove the kids from the conflict and then try to reduce the conflict. But in most cases that we're dealing with, it's not a situation in which you're going to entirely remove the children from the home. So they're going to be living in that conflict, even after the parents separate, they'll be living in conflict. So just trying to triage it the best we can and isolate the children from the conflict the best we can.

Alexis Black  28:32  
Because we've seen a lot in our families, and I'm doing dealing with it right now with my biological father, or biological brother of essentially, where the parent is weaponizing the child and using that as a way to harm the other parent, you know, causes much guilt or shame or harm, or whatever it may be in a just very evil way, you know, how can I use this child as a way to cause as much or inflict as much pain on that other human as possible? Would you say, you know, is that sort of similar to how you would handle that situation of triaging and seeing how you can take the child out of that situation? Between the two parents? I guess, I'm asking it for my own personal interest and you know, within our families, we see this time and time again, it's incredibly sad and hurtful, because I know that all it's doing is hurting the child and nobody cares about the child at the end of the day. It's just how can I be as evil as possible to the other human.

Ron Gore  29:32  
Right and what better tool to use than the child who they love so much, and who is so central to their self esteem? The one of our core principles in our course is that every child deserves to be able to love and be loved by their parents without fear. So so often, we fall into these conflict and loyalty traps that children do where if they show that they love their parent or if they enable themselves to be loved by their parent, then they know that it's going to cause conflict with the other parent that they're going to hurt someone. And what we typically find is that children, I'm sure you guys know this better than most, children are not dumb, they're just inexperienced. And so children are cunning, and they identify winners and losers quickly. So they have a good sense of who's probably going to win, and who's going to keep them safe, or, you know, if it's a young boy who's going to keep them with their Xbox, you know, whatever that situation is. And so they will pick a winner. And they will also tend to hurt the parent that they know will love them anyway. And so very often, we see that in those kinds of situations where a child is being weaponized, the parent who maybe has been able to stay in the marital residence as an advantage, because maybe the kids are their neighborhood are their friends, and maybe they have better access to the toys that they like. And then also, the parent who's actually the more loving and considerate parent is going to be the one who loses out because they're the most forgiving parent. And you can't blame a kid. Because again, there's no flight, there's no fight for these kids, they have to survive in that situation. They're just trying to cope with the situation. And they're gonna pick the winner. And that's how it's gonna go.

Linda VanValkenburg  31:28  
Make sense? Something Justin said too in in one of one of our one of his chapters was that he believed every word that his mom and dad said to him, and this is when correct me if I'm wrong here, but you were living in a boarded up building with no utilities, no water, no lights, no anything. But somehow your dad had everybody convinced that he was going to work on the place and renovate it. And all that, and everybody was believing that that would happen. It was a fantasy that everybody had bought into. And, you know, if you as a child, you know, were believing that, can you imagine with the kids were working with, if one parent says this, and this is true. And the other one says, this is true. I've had so many kids over the years, if there's one concept that kids have repeated, ad finitem of any age, I'm really kind of surprised sometimes how old the kids are, that are still saying, Linda I do not know which story is true, I don't know which parent to believe in they they know intuitively, that they both stories cannot be true. Obviously, they're too different. But you know, in for some, it could be that, you know, one parent says, well, the other parent had an affair or something, you know, into the marriage, but you know, the other one's going, that's not even true. And it was really the other parent that dad or you know, and so they want things to make sense. And they want people to, you know, say something that they can believe and then you follow it up with, you know, you still clung to the faith that you had in your parents. You know, if you couldn't trust your parents, who could you trust and that is such a shaky foundation for a child to develop a life. And it just, you know, once again, you guys had some occurrences in your lives that that were worse than most of the kids that we're going to run into and work with. But still, you know, parents don't realize how much they are destroying the foundation that their kids are trying to build upon. By destroying the trust and the other parent instead of firming up the trust for both parents underneath the child.

Justin Black  33:47  
Yeah, in essence is a scary thing for parents because use a key word Foundation. Because a huge part of the reason why I'm writing this book is because like Alexis said, When you come together with another human being and create a create a child, you're forming their identity, you're helping form their foundation, what they will believe about the world what they won't believe about the world you're shaping and forming, they're normal. And if you start to get if it starts to get to a point where they can't believe you are certain things, then there's cracks in that foundation. That foundation is not steady, it's not strong. And as they start to form their own relationships, they'll have trust issues with friends to have trust issues in romantic relationships and for parents and for children that you know like me in that situation who believe everything that parents are saying, I think for me and for many other children who are in you know traumatic situations, that is we don't feel safe and there you see a lot of things going on around us and you really look for a lifeline. And a lot of times your your parents seem like that hero, the one that's going to bring you out of this is going to save you from this scary situation, whatever it may be, if it is foster care if it is divorce, you're holding on to your mother, your father to kind of give you some type of, you know, clarity on the situation like, you know, I don't know what's going to happen, but I know my dad is going to figure something out, I know, my mom is going to figure something out, you know, and after that, that trust is broken, then it takes so much rebuilding, so much rebuilding as far as your foundation identity to really grow and develop into a productive, you know, adult because of that foundational, there's cracks in your foundation, because of your parents. So a lot of pressure, being a parent in that way. And just a quick nugget also with me and Alexis kind of expecting right now a child. Yeah, thank you, thank you, this is so much that goes so much worry in my heart, because I'm like, I don't ever want to, you know, have cracks in my foundation and raising our child. And I know that, you know, as human beings, we will make mistakes, you know, I will make a mistake, I will fail my child in one way or another. But I just want to be intentional about you know, not having, not having cracks in their foundation. And even on the flip side it's like, I don't want to try to expect perfection from them, and everything and even expect perfection from myself. But it's just so much that goes into that of trying to be aware and intentional about what we're passing down and being a representation of that.

Alexis Black  36:38  
Yeah, and a huge piece of that with the foundation, part of the conversation really is what is your definition of love, and our parents set what that definition is, and how we perceive love how we give and receive or how we give and receive it. And so that to me, it was one of the scariest pieces of being a parent because I'm like, okay, well, for the rest of my life, my child will understand what love is and what love should look like, based upon how I model it. And that is terrifying. So for these families, whether you're divorced or not, if you are a parent, you are modeling what love is and how they will perceive it, how they will view relationships, how they will view commitment, and persistence, and you know, all these things moving forward, you're setting that as an example. And you have to be extremely conscious of that. And that's why when I see these families where they're weaponizing, the child or they cannot coparent, well just know that that child is learning that that's exactly what normal family dynamic looks like when that's actually not normal. And that's how they're probably going to raise their children is based upon how you are modeling raising your children. So yes, really be mindful of that, because that is a scary thing. This could be generational, that you're modeling in front of you.

Ron Gore  37:54  
But doesn't have to be and I can tell you that Linda and I having sat next to both for a couple of days in, you know, inadvertently, we can hear each other's conversations, because we've been sitting a few feet from each other for a few days, even when you two don't know that anyone's listening to you or looking at you, you're so sweet and generous and considerate of each other, that there's no doubt in my mind that you both know how to model a loving, trusting supportive relationship. So I don't think you'll have anything to worry about. You've been a warm light in that room. So thank you. I mean, you know, and one of the things we all really want our kids and even as adults, we we want we yearn for that affection and approval from our parents. And one thing that you wrote Alexis, in the book was, when you were young, you would go up to any woman and say, Mama, and that is just classic results of having an insecure attachment, where the person who's supposed to keep you safe is not keeping you safe. And you're going to look for that safety anywhere and you're indiscriminate in your search for a safe, warm place to be able to land. And that is something that we never quite lose. We always want to have that safe place to land. I don't care if you're almost 50 years old, like I am, you still want that approval and love from your folks, if you can get it, you never lose it.

Justin Black  39:32  
And I wanted to add something to that point of looking for safety. And when we have, when we raise children that never feel safe in their household with their parents, and they grow up as adults still looking for safety. They enter into unhealthy relationships. Because a lot of times you know, there are abusers who are looking for people who are looking for safety, right? Look, they're looking for people who are looking for safety, and they may seem Safe initially. And then you get into a relationship you have sex enter the conversation and other things and other tricky components. And now you're in a situation where it is complicated. And now you're just looking for safety. And now someone has taken advantage of you, because you were looking for safety, but they were looking for something else, and they knew you were looking for safety, they probably knew your background. And they took advantage of that. And now you're in a situation where you're attached mentally, spiritually, emotionally to this person where you're just looking for a safety and your your perspective of safety was shaped again by your parents. And because they didn't do a good job of modeling that for you. Now, you're acting that out as an adult. So that's a huge word of safety and what it really means and trying to model that for your kids,

Alexis Black  40:48  
I saw that exactly 100% play out in my life where I always define love is hurting. So love hurts. That's what I saw. That's what I defined it as. And so it made sense for me to enter in that abusive relationship. And then when I finally left, after years, and then I saw the women that he was dating, it was always women who came from similar backgrounds as me who was always searching for somebody to save them, filling voids all these things, because it's something to prey on. And we see that time and time again within that the you know, those domestic domestic violence situations.

Linda VanValkenburg  41:23  
That's another thing that just really blows me away about the two of you. And as Ron said, just observing you just got the tears flowing. I wish you guys could see this precious young couple. It really is phenomenal. Knowing your story from your book that you two have been able to trust and love each other. And know that you do have safety in in your home and your child definitely will. I don't think you have to yes, be intentional. But on the other hand, like you said, Don't Don't be striving for perfection and in questioning or yourself all the time. If you if you freely give the love and the boundaries that the kid needs, you know, growing up. That's the main thing.

Ron Gore  42:12  
So I feel like this is a perfect segue to ask you both about your work. And so no one can see this. But us because this is not a video podcast. But Justin, you're wearing a shirt that says Redefining Normal? Can you tell us about that?

Justin Black  42:27  
Yes. So this shirt is Moff Pink. It has the white word Redefining Normal.

Ron Gore  42:33  
I think he took that a little too literally.

Justin Black  42:36  
No, of course, of course. So yeah, what Redefining Normal, I think the book was something that was important for us, you know, to really write and get out there. And I have to say it was so many there are so many reasons why we didn't want to write this book, while we didn't want to put our stories and our experiences out there. But what we realize is what our pastor told us is that our skills, our talents, in even part of our story is really, it's not about us, but how we can impact others. And how many people needed this and how many testimonials we've received from, Alexis can tell you about the women who have come to her and said they've experienced the exact same thing, and never have been able to share with anyone, not even their spouse. And now they have the courage and power to do that. And that's a huge part of the reason why we wrote this book. And with that, you know, we wanted to continue to conversation beyond just the book, and and put this in a form where that is digestible for other people. So now we have to Redefining Normal company where we're able to do, you know, speeches and workshops and trainings for different organizations, universities, and students and organizations that are serving communities and families around this concept of how trauma is normalized within families, communities and society, how we're doing things that are unhealthy and don't even realize it a lot of times and things that are not conducive for the next generation. Because it's just what we're used to, you know, my mom did it, so I'm going to do it. My dad did it. So I'm going to do it. And it's just normal to us, and we don't think think twice about it. So being able to identify that with a lens of adverse childhood experiences. Having a lens of okay, is this conducive for my children? Or is it just comfortable, you know, being comfortable with being uncomfortable? And talking about these conversations around that? And so many techniques and strategies of how can I communicate in a healthy way with my partner, with a friend, or my romantic partner, with my child? How can I do these things in a healthy way and talking about the verbal communication, the physical communication of being on the same level as you talk to your child or your partner and not belittling them in that way. There's so many other techniques that we've learned throughout our lives. Learned from counselors, learned from therapists, learned from foster parents, and especially her adoptive parents, which are amazing people and trying to combine all these things around the research and statistics, as well as lived experience as someone who has trauma and foster care alumni, combining these things to build relationships with people, but also inform them on not just a good story, but how can you implement these things in your life, and your relationship, and your children's lives one day and thinking about your foundation and your legacy and the things that you're doing moving forward. So those are just some of the things that we're challenging people to do in these workshops. And as much, you know, as cool as it is to sell a book and sell a t shirt. I think, really hearing people say things like, you know, your, your session was beautiful, you know, your story is amazing.

Alexis Black  45:45  
The session in Connecticut, this woman was crying during our during our presentation, and just seeing how it is physically impacting people.

Linda VanValkenburg  45:54  
I'm crying during this podcast. So come on. Now.

Alexis Black  45:57  
I appreciate that. And I think that if, if you don't get anything else from us, what I hope that people get the most is that intentionality, peace and accountability, because our healing is nobody else's responsibility, but our own. And that's why we wrote the book in the way that we did, where it's both both narratives, side by side, because I am my own person. And Justin is his own person, just because we are together as one in marriage, I still am held accountable for my own healing. And, you know, and, and moving forward in that. And also, we're in this together. So this is not an easy journey. We're here standing here before you today, because we were accountable to each other to ourselves, we were extremely intentional on what life do we want. And how can we make that happen through our decisions and our actions. And for the both of us, it was like, I would say more me than, you have counseling, you know, in therapy for years. And we are also in marriage counseling, you know, this is, these are not things that is seen as a strength in society of, you know, going to counseling and getting help and getting support. But we said that if we want a strong marriage and strong foundation, then that is a requirement of what we're wanting to do moving moving forward, especially bringing a child into this world, and looking at the divorce rate of being over 50%. Then for interracial couples, it's an additional 10%, then you add on our trauma. And I tell people all the time, I'm like, well, why don't we get started? Like, why? Why did we get married to begin with, if we knew that divorce was gonna happen anyways, because of the background. And it's like, but that's not, that's not something that's going to happen in our family and what we see moving forward, because we're so intentional. Now in the beginning, and that foundation that we're building now, and even if you are divorced, and you are coparenting, you get to decide, do I want to heal from this, how the divorce may have happened, but what are you going to do moving forward, it's not something that you have to harm a child harm each other, you can make a decision today that I want something different for myself and for my child. And, and really full accountability comes upon you and not that other person.

Justin Black  47:57  
And even the subtitle of the book is How Two Foster Kids Beat the Odds. And you know, as you read the book, you can see the statistics for each chapter. And, you know, Alexis, just talked about some of the statistics against us, and marriage being interracial, the divorce rate, in general, so many other things. But it's been a blessing for me and Alexis to be defying the odds, our entire lives of, you know, one in three black men go to jail or prison at some point in their lifetime. And, you know, seven out of 10 women who've experienced foster care become pregnant by their 18th birthday, and 3% of foster youth graduate college. And we've defined all these eyes that it's only right that, you know, we continue to do that and try to do the impossible, you know, with our faith as our foundation. So it's really just been a blessing doing this journey with your life partner. And you know, we challenged each other like one of my favorite stories in the book or situations as was when she talked to me about counseling, and wasn't any big issue, but she was going to counseling and she encouraged me to do the same. And I said, I don't need a counselor, you're my counselor. And then we had a conversation around around like helping me find a good counselor that was a good fit for me. And even, you know, I always say finding a counselor is I wouldn't say just as important but it's almost like finding a romantic partner you know, you need to find somebody that you can mesh with, you can talk to maybe a certain person of a certain gender, certain person of a certain ethnicity, certain religion, whatever it may be, but finding your person and being able to communicate with them and understanding yourself and what you need. So, so much self discovery throughout this journey of redefining normal of individual self discovery and and marriage, the journey of marriage and everything and building a family now it's just all been a blessing. 

Linda VanValkenburg  49:51  
I think a huge part of anybody that decides that they might need counseling is knowing that there is something you want to work on, you know, and some. Yeah, and so many of the people that nobody is, and so many of the people that we work with, they're the court has mandated them to go to some sort of counseling, anger management, or drug and alcohol abuse counseling, or, you know, individual counseling or counseling I do to repair relationships between a parent, that's astranged from the child, you know, and so many times, the parents come in very resentful of that. And they want to blame anyone but themselves for the fact that they're there, in that they are told to do it, and rarely feel like they need it, you know, on a personal level. And so, it's, it's really, you know, through no fault of your own that through, you know, your your childhood upbringing, that the two of you decided that you needed to be accountable to yourselves for the rest of your lives, and to make your lives better in the lives of your offspring. And for generations better, you know, I mean, you are a total turning point in both your family histories. And it's just phenomenal to see.

Alexis Black  49:54  
Thank you. Turning Point is actually a chapter in our book.

Ron Gore  50:59  
Well, to quote, the great philosopher, and Vanilla Ice, "got no shame in my game, I've had lots of counceling". So I saw an interview once where he said that, you know, anybody can benefit from counseling we all have, like we were talking about earlier, the worst thing you've experienced is the worst thing you've experienced. And we all have capacity to deal with problems based on what we've experienced before. Sometimes it reduces our capacity, sometimes it increases our capacity. But having that counseling, having that person who helps you be a little bit more introspective, and gives you a framework for understanding yourself a little bit better, and understanding, you know, where you're falling short, not to someone else's standard, but to your own in your, how you're farther away from living a life that you want, then, then you want to be, it's just incredibly impactful. And I wish, you know, I can't tell you how many times I tell my clients, you are in a divorce, you need counseling, right, you're experiencing a major life change, you need to be talking to a professional about these life changes, because I'm not qualified, and you're not qualified to deal with it on your own. 

Alexis Black  52:34  
I told him, he's gonna go to a counselor, I'm your life partner, I am not your counselor, I'm not qualified for this. And I think it's unfair for you to put that on me as something that I have to do as has a responsibility in our relationship and you know, setting that boundary. And when I rephrase it in that way of, you know, it's unfair for you to put that on me. Then immediately he went, and you know, and found that and found that counselor and found support. And we have to remember that it's not the responsibility of anybody else to do that. And we also have to be really careful that the individuals that you go to, you're gonna go to somebody, right for advice, or whatever it is, and especially if you're going through a divorce, you're probably going to go to somebody else that can support you. But remember that everybody's looking through their own life lens. And if they're also divorced, if they're bitter, if they're, whatever, whatever perspective they're coming from, that's, that's what they speak through. And so they're not going to give you an unbiased opinion, almost always, I think my mom is the only person probably able to do that, give an unbiased opinion. And you know, so you have to think they're looking through their lens. So you want to go to somebody who can be unbiased and give you healthy, safe advice, moving forward in a situation that is qualified to do so. So that's, that's another huge piece that I always look for when I'm like, who should I go to? I'm going to go to a counselor?

Ron Gore  53:50  
Well, I've got a question that I don't. And if you feel like you can't answer this question, please tell me. But we run into situations all the time in which we're told by one parent, that parent never did anything in this child's life, or the parent hasn't been in this child's life, the child is better off without them doesn't need that parent in their life. You all had experiences with parents and other caregivers that were extremely traumatic to you. Do you think or do you have any feeling about the benefit of having closure with your biological parents, being able to connect with them even though they've harmed you? You know, for us, Linda, and I deal with the reconciliation process quite a bit and a struggle that we often have. And I'm not speaking from Linda, I'm speaking for myself. But I imagine she might agree is whether it's even appropriate. Is this a circumstance that's appropriate to put this child back with this person? Even though there's the potential that there's going to be some emotional harm that happens in the future? There's going to be some disconnects. Is it even worse? During the process, do you feel like you have anything to share with us about from people who have experienced that kind of separation and trauma to the people who sometimes are tasked with trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together? Again, to some extent? What are your thoughts?

Justin Black  55:18  
Well, first, I would just say real quick, pass it to you like is that I think the child has to have the loudest voice in that conversation. And yes, of course, make sure they're safe. And in Alexis' situation, you know, the parent caused them harm. So you always have to prioritize, making sure the child is safe. And also, I think eventually, we all want to get to a point of forgiveness. But I think forgiveness is different than reconciliation. As far as like, you need to build another relationship with them. You know, boundaries are extremely important with safety, with your mental health and emotional health. So in order to protect yourself, we need to create a boundary, but you can still have forgiveness and a boundary at the same time. So I think that the child or the person as affected most, which is usually the child needs to have the loudest voice in that situation. And you can have suggestions and ideas, but it has to be something that they are willing to do. And hopefully it gets towards some form of forgiveness, but if it's safe and appropriate for them to build that relationship, sure. But again, it has to, it has to make has to be in an environment where they're not being, they're not in danger, mentally, emotionally, or physically. 

Alexis Black  56:35  
I mean, you said pretty much what I was gonna say, of, you know, the individuals that are going through the divorce, a lot of times it's self-seeking, and what am I going to get from this? And how am I going to benefit and, you know, what am I getting in the end, versus the child being at the core in the center of it, and how are they affected through this whole situation, and remembering that at the end of the day.

Linda VanValkenburg  56:55  
And our goal is all, at least being the one that is frequently in that position, my goal was always to never ever re-traumatize the child, or put them in any situation where they could be, in many times when it's been substantiated that something like in your case, it was uber-substantiated. Even at the probably the most, it would be an opportunity to speak your truth to that parent who did abuse you, if you want that. And in some kids that are old enough and have been through a lot of therapy with and maybe even some training in developing their voice with maybe a DVIS counselor or something, you know, with domestic violence counselors, that they are ready to speak their truth and tell that person about themselves. And my, my job is to just facilitate that, give them a very easy platform for it as easy as possible, make sure in facilitating it that the parent is still and listening. And many times the parent has not even been allowed to say one word and the entire thing the child comes in and declares what needs to be said and then leaves the room. And I've in those situations, I've seen that child literally look like they grew about a foot during that because they have needed to say that sometimes for years. And just the venue had not presented itself. And even the DVIS counselors were amazed at how, how much they grew. And I'm not really about having anybody forgive anybody. You know, that's, that's totally a thing that could come down the road or not. It's about and you're right, it's about those boundaries being upheld, throughout that, but it's more about having in most most people who revisit in some way that person sometimes sending a letter, sometimes it's you know, 50 years later at a family reunion, you know, and they're, they're confronting that person who did some harm to them in their childhood or adolescence. They don't hear what they want to hear from that person, that person acts like they don't remember it, or they don't own it or anything, you know, and so not expecting that. But just going into a session where I'm going to speak my truth. This is my opportunity, is sometimes all the catharsis they need.

Alexis Black  59:36  
Because oftentimes, we wrote this in the book, we see so many adults that spend their entire life healing from their childhood. And again, going back to the coparenting situation, or maybe a divorce situation, or whatever it looks like. You don't want your child to have to heal the rest of their lives from what they're going through in that moment. And just because you were resilient or just because you made it through it doesn't mean that they necessarily have to go through that and that they're going to have the same outcome. But giving grace for that and knowing, you know that you have so much responsibility and accountability for that.

Justin Black  1:00:05  
And real quick forgiveness is not just always you need to face that person face to face, you know, in forgiveness is largely for yourself, you know, you may need to write a letter even sometimes, you know, in, in situations like Alexis, you know, you've read about in the book for a long time, she blamed herself for the abuse that she went through, she thought it was her fault that she deserved it. So a lot of times forgiveness is for yourself. And even if you need to, if you want to write a letter to other person, you know, whatever you feel is necessary and comfortable. But whatever you need to do to not hold on to that burden where you know, it wasn't your fault. You know, going through that process of renewing your mind in the situation where you know, you can you have control over the situation and you're not acting out of that abuse or that situation, or that trauma I should say.

Ron Gore  1:00:54  
Well, it's just hard for me to express how grateful that we are that you spent this time with us today. This has been an amazing conversation for us. I know you all live your lives every day because they're your lives. But allowing us to have a window for even a brief period into your thought process has been really powerful and impactful for us and we're really grateful. For listeners who don't know us, you can find Linda and Me at our podcast, the Coparent Academy podcast. Also we have our site, where you can find co parenting educational materials. If you need to reach out to us regarding the podcast, we have podcasts that and you can reach me individually at, and Linda is Linda, L I N D A,

Justin Black  1:01:47  
Of course yeah and I have to say it's such a privilege and honor to be able to talk to you. All your wisdom and knowledge and everything is being poured out on this episode. And just being able to learn from you in general I'm wanting to take so many nuggets from this conversation and apply it to our lives and and I hope that listeners do the same so if you want to keep up with the Rose From Concrete podcast, continue to support, continue to pour out your love on all the work we're doing. Please stay in contact with us on social media. Redefining Normal on Instagram is Redefining Normal as well as on TikTok we're trying to keep up with the young folk on TikTok, so Re.Define Normal on Instagram and Tiktok and on Facebook is we Redefine Normal Movement but feel free to email us at and check out our website for Redefining Normal book for booking for your next event or conference and continue to redefine normal in your life and rise above all societal expectations.

Rebecca Gore  1:02:52  
Thanks for listening. If you'd like to leave questions, comments or concerns, please email And please remember to rate, review, and subscribe to Apple podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen.

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