Archive for the ‘Adoptive Parenting Skills/Tool’ Category

Dear Abby, We Need to Talk about Gotcha

Wednesday, March 8, 2017 @ 02:03 PM
Author: admin


For adoptive parents, the arrival of their children is a miracle beyond conception and an event which they love to celebrate. In a recent letter, Dear Abby extolled the virtues of “Gotcha Day” as a wonderful way to celebrate an important and life transforming event. As Adoption-attuned parents, we understand that adoption is a beautiful way of forming a family. But, the Both/And reality of adoption means it has its roots in loss and grief for each member of the adoption triad. Thus, as an adoption professional and an adoptive parent, I’d like to offer three reasons to rethink “Gotcha Day” and to provide some alternatives. Please click this link to read my complete essay which appeared on Lori Holden’s blog author of The Open-hearted Way to Open Adoption.

For me, Gotcha Day feels a bit like a hair shirt. It’s intended to generate warmth but it itches like crazy and somehow doesn’t accomplish the job.

Gotcha-Dear-Abby-The Open-hearted Way to Open Adoption,



Will 2017 Be Smooth Sailing for Your Family Or …?

Wednesday, January 11, 2017 @ 03:01 PM
Author: admin

January traditionally motivates us to review the recently ended year and to set our intentions for the new year. As adoptive parents this practice takes on extra significance. Parenting is challenging. Adoptive parenting has additional complexity and responsibilities so we have an intensified need to learn how we did and what we can do to improve. This January scrutiny  is like standing on the pinnacle of a mountain to capture a unique 360° perspective. As we pause to examine the challenges we faced–and handled–we can assess what strategies and decisions served us well and identify the behaviors and decisions that sabotaged our intentions and/or fell short of the mark. We can notice gaps in our skill sets, lapses in commitment, acknowledge times we couldn’t or didn’t put forth our best effort, spotlight missed opportunities and roads not traveled.

With these data points in hand, we can then determine when and how we want to do differently in 2017. As we begin this year, let’s get clear about the priorities which will drive our choices. Resist relying on autopilot and commit to being fully engaged and conscious about any decisions and choices.

Last year many of our blogs encouraged parents to focus on Intentionality and on increasing our commitment to Adoption-attuned Parenting.* We hope that those concepts will continue to significantly influence your choices. Using these two criteria as a rudder makes it easy to decide if something will serve our family or will undermine it. Life is a balancing and priority-setting challenge. Time always seem insufficient and responsibilities ever-present. Still we invite you to try this simple activity. I promise it will take only a few minutes.

Draw two circles on an index card. (A small piece of paper would also work but will be less sturdy.). Use the sample “pie” graphic as a model. Title the first one Priority. Change the tags on the individual wedges to reflect your family’s deeply held values. (Feel free to divide the sample equally (as shown in the sample) or weighted according to importance. Use pencil so you can edit the labels  if you have any change of heart. Be intentional as you name each section with a category that indicates how you want to live as a family. Consider each of the Prime Values that guide you as adults and by which you want to raise your families. No need to fuss or worry about making this graphic pretty. It’s only meant for yourselves. No one else needs to see it. For Your Eyes Only–unless you choose to share it.

Pause and read the labels out loud. Absorb what these priorities mean. Imagine a life truly lived as an embodiment of such deeply held principles. Feel the inspiration, the hope, the reassurance and the energy it calls forth. Hold that vision. Note what you feel emotionally, mentally and, physically.  Becoming conscious of these elements allows us to “package” them as a resource to access in the year ahead. You can connect with them in moments when things become difficult, when you need a boost of hope or a reminder of what you committed to be as parents, as families. A light at the end of the tunnel.

Now we are ready for the second circle. Title this one Time.

For the next two weeks, track the time you spend on each of these categories. Use a simple shorthand –like having each tally mark equate to fifteen minutes. There are innumerable ways to track it on your phone, if you find a tech approach easier. The important thing is to track how you actually spend time versus how you wish you spend your time. Graph your time on the pie. Begin in the center and move out. How smooth is the wheel?

Challenge yourself to make a few predictions about what this times chart assessment might reveal. Will you be pleasantly surprised? Or, will your predictions fall short of your best intentions? The first step to making change is establishing a clear picture of current reality! In two weeks, we’ll look at your results to see what might make your family life easier.

These time/priority wheels were adapted from ©Resource Realizations.


Adoption-attuned Parenting* Essentials, the Podcast Series

Wednesday, November 16, 2016 @ 01:11 PM
Author: admin

podcast-graphic-templateToday, as part of our observance of National Adoption Month, Growing Intentional Families Together (GIFT) debuts our newest resource for adoptive families: a weekly 15 minute podcast– Essentials for Adoption-attuned Parenting*.

Listen to learn practical tips for building and strengthening your family. Podcasts will air for approximately 15 minutes. (They’ll be concise and to the point so you can easily squeeze it into your busy schedule!) The coaching and discussions will focus on real situations confronting adoptive families. Available on i-Tunes.

Adoption the wayHow often have you yearned for support from someone who understands adoptive family life who doesn’t judge you or your child for the struggles that you face? Wait no longer. Sample the free series. Discover how it might help you and your family. Hear how other families handled similar situations. Experience a sense of judgment-free community, possibility, and hope.

Joann DiStefano and Susan David have developed these podcasts using coaching principles and a healthy, relational adoption philosophy that views adoption not as a one time experience but a lifetime journey. They look forward to its launch and to connecting with our listeners.

Adoptive families real factor AQGIFT Family Services has consistently advised parents to commit to Intentional Parenting and to develop a high AQ* (Adoption-attunement Quotient* ) because we believe Adoption-attuned* advice and methods best suit adoptees and their families. This acompanying graphic summarizes the Adoption-attunement* approach. Copy and save it for future reference.

Adoption Stereotypes and Cultural Misperceptions

Wednesday, October 19, 2016 @ 03:10 PM
Author: admin


How do cultural misperceptions and adoption stereotypes affect our children, ourselves as parents, and our family dynamics? When movies or books paint adoptees as a “bad seed” or unwanted inconvenience, how does it impact us emotionally and shape our relationships within our own families and beyond our inner circle out in our communities? When thoughtless folks ask demeaning questions it both shocks and offends us.

Let me set the stage. Like most adoptive families, we discussed adoption with our kids from an early age. They knew they’d been adopted. With the naive innocence of little ones, they’d absorbed the story with little appreciation of the complex realities of adoption that would evolve as they matured. They felt no need to hide their adoption. Their circle of friends and classmates all knew this fact about them.


Orphans, Adoption Stereotypes and Cultural Misperceptions bullyingI recall when my now-adult son reported being teased by his first-grade peers because he had a small birthmark on his face. His intense distress felt significant. I sensed this was a Big Deal Moment, not routine. When I pressed for more details, I learned his classmates asserted his birthmark resulted from his being abandoned by his birth mother (untrue) and left out on the street (untrue) where he became so dirty he could never become completely clean. Let me repeat that.

He. Could. Never. Become. Clean. 

The inference he drew left him feeling, dirty, inferior, rejected. In addition to any personal adoption-connected loss and grief issues the friends whom he had trusted with his story betrayed him in a way that cut deeply. He absorbed their words on several levels. Felt judged. Ugly. Rejected. Hurt. Othered.

For years we dealt with the fallout from this–and unfortunately many similar incidents. Like all bullying and mean-spirited words, they could not be  “unheard” and remained deep within his memory. Part of him feared this hateful message might be true.

Where had his “friends” picked up this message about adoption? At home? Through the media (TV, film, books)? By absorbing cultural myths about adoption? Regardless of the source, we had to deal with the fallout.

adoption is a family affairParents currently raising adopted children, what do your children’s friends and classmates believe and “know” about adoption? Their attitudes will determine how they will treat your kids. (Also, be aware of the attitudes and biases of extended family and friends. Unless you’ve educated them in adoption-attuned awareness, they will rely on what they subconsciously “know” from cultural messages and biases. Consider sharing Patricia Irwin Johnston’s book, Adoption Is A Family Affair.)

This raises another important caveat. How to  teach adopted children how to respond to these kinds of conversations. Parents must be pro-active and must not wait until a child has been blindsided by adoption-ignorant. bullying talk.

Explain that many people do not understand adoption and might question the real-ness of their family or might imply that adoption was their fault. (Unfortunately, kids are pre-disposed to believe this already. They assume something must be wrong with them because they can imagine no adequate reason for their birth mother to have opted not to raise them.)

Portrait of girl with finger over mouth

Teach kids the distinction between private and secret when it comes to their adoption. Remind them not to share the specific details of their history. Instead help them internalize a generalized response. Distinguish between private which is a boundary issue versus secret which implies shame.

Arm them with responses that enable them to feel strong, worthy and assertive. Practice so they can stand in a position of strength not vulnerability. For example,

Birth moms have adult problems that prevent them from raising any baby, etc.

My parents worked very hard to bring me home.

No, Miss Hannigan did not run my orphanage….

Sisters.FotoliaComp_71760083_JKiXLxv8FZf7nRxgAvzOLIdVV1Tks7z1_NW40If your adopted child has been affected by a classmate’s or friend’s comment, or even something on the news or TV, make sure you stay attune to his feeling and needs when you discuss this issue with him/her.  Let him/her express what they feel without adding your own feelings or outrage.  Validate their reactions. Avoid minimizing or intensifying them. Once they have completely expressed themselves, share your own reasons for your thoughts or positions without trying to persuade them. Simply offer your side of things with an eye to show as we discussed last week that multiple points of view can co-exist, be contradictory and be simultaneously true.

In summary, parents must be mindful of the media messages that your children encounter regarding adoption. Vet  films and books ahead of time so you can identify potential triggers. Talk, talk, talk about adoption when everyone is relaxed; don’t wait until it’s a “situation.”

gayle-swift-logoWriting to Connect reviews books through adoption-attuned lenses. Most of the titles are not directly about adoption. The intent for these reviews is to identify talking points from every day literature which naturally evolve into important adoption-related conversations. Find suggestions for books that contain a theme that might help you address specific issues with your adopted children.

adoption-at-the-moviesConsult resources like Adoption at the Movies  for tips on films that contain adoption themes or triggers.

Trust, Attachment and Family Links

Wednesday, August 10, 2016 @ 03:08 PM
Author: admin

Family building via adoption requires effort, commitment, education, intentionality and a willingness to take a risk–by both parent and child. Each must muster the courage to open emotionally and be vulnerable to the other. When we dare to love, we also understand that the risk of being hurt exists. We accept that risk because we believe  the opportunity to love and be in relationship far outweighs any emotional pain.

When we adopt children who have spent years in orphanages, we realize that the risks and challenges increase. The strategies on which children in orphanages depend for survival, don’t magically fall away once these children are adopted. Experience taught them that relying on others is dangerous, that the only one on whom it is safe to depend is themselves, that caring about or for others only leads to heartbreak. This “successful” skill set kept them safe under adverse experiences. They believe in their methods. They have real-life data to prove the value of this self-isolating approach.

Seen in this light, it is no surprise that it takes tremendous courage, effort and a great deal of time before a child dares to risk trust and attachment. Often described as RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder; it is also known as Reactive Attachment Syndrome.) I would argue it is less a “disorder” and more a strategy that has outlived its effectiveness. Their strategy becomes counter-productive and causes kids to deny themselves the love and security they crave and which adoptive parents are eager to share with them. While it is not easy to break through the prison of RAD, it is possible. Michele Weidenbenner has written a fictionalized story which begins in a Russian orphanage. Convinced by her experiences, Oksana believes that trust as an unafforable luxury. “Scattered Links”chronicles her family’s triumph over RAD. Read my detailed book review here. Her story offers hope to those coping with attachment challenges.

When we interviewed Michele for this post we focused on this book but she has written many others as well.

  1. Scattered Links.Weidenbenner.51EFfra9u4L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_What was your primary purpose for writing Scattered Links?

I wanted to show the frustration that a parent might have who wants to bond with a child who can’t trust, who struggles with knowing how to love someone. I also wanted to show the child’s side of the story, so adopted parents and foster parents would see a different perspective, so parents might better understand why a child who’s suffered a difficult beginning might not be capable of loving or trusting someone. 

  1. How has this book been received by readers in general and by those touched by adoption?

Here is how one reader summed it up, which thrilled me:

“A thoughtful story about the complexities of the well-intentioned who set out to “rescue” orphans from horrible conditions, and the attachment difficulties that arise from adopting a child who has lived a lifetime of abuse and/or neglect. The book was realistic. The characters were well developed and real. It would have been so easy to have written this as a “Hooray for the good Christian couple who rescues poor orphans from a horrible existence.” Instead the book looks honestly at the motivations of all involved, and calls into serious question the “happily ever after” ending that one assumes happens when older children are adopted. A serious but up-beat book. The ending is honest but hopeful without being overly cheesy.”

  1. What books did you read to prepare yourself for adoptive family life?

Before we adopted our daughter from Russia, we had been foster parents, too, so I read a lot of parenting books. However, it was the psychologist who did our home study who really pushed us to see that sometimes love is NOT enough.

I didn’t want to believe her though. I thought she was rude and a bit extreme, but she was trying to give us a more realistic viewpoint of what adopting a post-institutionalized child might be like. She didn’t sugar coat anything. I was naïve because I wanted to believe that she was wrong, that my child would bond with us because we would provide the right environment.

I had faith that God would give us the child He intended for us to raise, that He would help us through the ups and downs.

I didn’t adopt to ‘rescue’ a child, I knew it was going to be a challenge. I adopted a child because I never felt that our family was complete. I felt that I was being called to adopt, and that God had His own agenda. He was using me to facilitate His work. (We have two biological children, but I couldn’t conceive again.)

  1. If you could revise your book today, what might you change or add and why? 

Great questions. There are a few typos that I’d love to go in and fix, but it’s not that easy. I had hired at least three or four editors and an oops editor before this book was published, and yet there are still a few missing letters and typos. I despise that, but reformatting everything and reloading the book at all the sites is really complicated, expensive, and timely.

As far as changing the plot—I don’t think there is anything I would change. There comes a time when you write a novel that you need to say, “It’s finished.” The Doubt Devil will often squeeze into a writer’s thoughts that will make us think it’s not good enough. We have to constantly fight him.

Perhaps I would handle the “Gotcha Day” day part differently. We celebrate the day that our daughter “got” us and we “got” her, but after you mentioned how this could be perceived, I might arrange that part differently.

  1. How did your daughter feel about your writing this book?

I remember the day she texted me from school—she was a junior at the time—and she said how much she loved the book. She rarely read or asked me about my work, so I was thrilled.

I asked her your question today (she’s 20 years old now) and she shrugged. She said she couldn’t remember much about the book. She never thought the story was about her, and it wasn’t. Her story is different. However, I gave a character in the book her Russia name, Ruzina. She loved that.

  1. What obstacles in adoption have changed you the most?

Just like so many other families, we waited a long time for Olivia. We were paper ready to go to China (in 1997), but they closed their doors and said since we had two children they were not going to allow us to adopt from their country. I know, it doesn’t make sense, but they were making the rules. I was sad.

We were nervous about adopting a child from Russia because of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and all the horror stories we heard about families who adopted a child from Russia with this disorder.

The process was long and uncertain, but what I learned along the way was to have faith. My faith grew. Adoption made our family closer.

  1. At GIFT (Growing Intentional Families Together) we advocate for parents to commit to Adoption-attunement. If you had been educated on this approach prior to adopting, how might it have changed your family’s experience? 

I think I’ve always been hyper-focused on this. I didn’t know what it was called, but having a strong healthy relationship with our daughter mattered to me from the very first moment we met her, and it’s still a top priority.

At our first meeting with Olivia, I was looking for signs of attachment issues—did she look away when I made eye contact? Did she have sensory issues? Yes and yes.

She was 25 months old and weighed 16.5 pounds. (But today she’s only 4’11” and 100 pounds, so she’s a peanut.) She was developmentally delayed and walked with tight fists. She didn’t even know how to smile. But within days she learned to smile, grew stronger and met our gazes.

When we returned to America, we worked with an occupational therapist on sensory-integrated training, and enrolled her in First Steps—a program for children with developmental delays. She learned sign language and was given the opportunity to work through her. It didn’t take long before she began to grow and thrive. Watching this progression was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had—seeing through the eyes of a two-year-old “new born.” Everything was a new experience for her.

  1. What else would you like to share with our subscriber’s? 

Adoption is a huge commitment and a life-long endeavor. The responsibility is great, but so is the reward if you don’t expect your child to thank you. Your child might, but don’t expect it. Don’t adopt for that reason.

Post-institutionalized children are special needs children regardless of their situation. Each child suffered abandonment. We don’t know how a child will be affected by that, but it can dampen their self-esteem and make life difficult.

Adopt for the right reasons –not because you want to do a good deed. Do it because you are committed to helping that child become an independent adult who contributes to society.

Be open to getting outside help to strengthen the relationship with your child.

  1. What is your current adoption-related goal?

Olivia will be 21 in a few weeks and still lives with us. We’re encouraging her on her college journey. She wants to be an environmental scientist, but also has a huge interest in teaching others about God, which is difficult for her because she’s an introvert.

I also love to coach Mom’s who are considering adoption. People reach out to me often. I don’t sugar coat it. I tell it like it is.

  1. You’ve written several books. How are they connected to adoption?

I write what’s on my heart. Most of the stories are about social issues, but I have a huge heart for children. Adoption is just one issue.

Cache a Predator, my thriller, is about a father’s quest to get custody of his five-year-old daughter.

My children’s book series, Éclair, is about a seven-year-old girl who has to live with her grandma because her mother is ill and her father goes to work. It’s a modern-day Junie B. Jones story. So many children are growing up in extended families—grandfamilies—that I wanted to write a series about that kind of family situation. However, there is humor in this story.

Fractured Not Broken, is a true story of a woman who’s rendered a quadriplegic at the hands of a drunk driver. However, there is an adoption piece to this story, too.

I have a YA series that hasn’t been published yet. It’s about a girl who has special healing abilities. However, she’s an adopted child, too, but that’s just a subplot to the story.

I also have a mid-grade novel that hasn’t been published yet, but there’s nothing in that story about adoption. However, there’s a centaur, a talking dog, and a frog in the story.

M. Weidenbenner.B46C2E57-D41D-4E59-905D-13B68C1D85D8[6]Michelle Weidenbenner

Award-Winning and Bestselling Author

Award-Winning Speaker

John Maxwell Team Speaker, Coach and Trainer

Book Page          Website          Facebook          LinkedIn          Amazon Author

Blog: Teaching Kids To Lead By Equipping Moms and Dads                         Twitter:  @MWeidenbenner1