Archive for the ‘Blogs by Gayle Swift’ Category

“You probably don’t remember Me…” a Boy’s Letter to His Birth mother

Wednesday, November 15, 2017 @ 05:11 PM
Author: admin

Back in April I blogged about a letter which a now-adult adoptee had penned to her birth mother when she was ten years old. The poignant, heart-breaking note was also an example of a very common mindset of young adoptees in closed adoptions.

I received another, similar letter. Though very brief, it captures many aspects of adoption complexity. (The names have been redacted from the photocopy.) This note was written by a nine-year-old boy. Like the young lady I featured, he’s now an adult. As I read his letter, his yearning for connection leapt off the page, palpable, irrepressible. Sadly his ache–to know, to understand, to meet–remained unfulfilled until adulthood. Open adoption was still rare at that time when the “blank slate” mentality prevailed and the either/or mentality reigned supreme.

Like many adoptees he expressed a desire to see her face. Perhaps he wanted to see if he resembled her. Most adoptees say they fantasize about that. A lot. His letter is brave; he openly admits his need and he confides that he misses her. Something in his little-boy heart ached for his first mother, to know her, to see her and, to connect with her.

No one suggested that he write her this letter. It arose from his own need, a need that could not and, should not be repressed or denied. At the time, he shared the letter with his parents who reassured him that they would help him reconnect when he turned eighteen. (This was the only legal option available at the time. Fortunately, he felt safe in approaching his parents and trusted that they would support him and understand his situation AND that they would not themselves feel rejected by, disappointed in or, angry with him)

Pause for a moment and sit with that thought.

Imagine how that experience of rejection would shape your thoughts and beliefs about yourself, how it might influence your ability to create relationships. At some level, rejection is an adoptee’s constant companion. It factors into who and how he is as a person. He needs understanding and support. Unfortunately, often people castigate adoptees for daring to express a need for knowledge and connection to their roots. Adoptees “get” the societal message that their yearning is disloyal. Ungrateful.

But, in fact, “rootedness” is a fundamental human need.

Even at the tender age of nine, this young boy feels obligated to affirm his gratitude and connection to his adoptive family. It demonstrates his underlying compassion for his birth mother. He doesn’t want her to feel badly, rejected. He knows too well how that feels/hurts. The boy asserts that his adoptive family takes good care of him. Again, adult adoptees tell us that they feel a strong need to reassure people that their interest in their birth family co-exists with their connection to and love for their adoptive families. It’s almost as if they sense they must apologize for their need to know who they are and where they come from. But

Since November is National Adoption Month, I thought it appropriate to remind our readers, that adoption is complicated. We cannot allow ourselves to be blinded to these challenging realities. We must provide our children not only with all of our unconditional love but also, ensure that we validate and support our children in all aspects of their adoption journey. We must allow them to “own” all of their family relationships—birth and adopted—and help them understand and work through the jumble of feelings and thoughts which adoption causes.

National Adoption Month highlights family building through adoption. Too many children remain in foster care for far too long.

Every child also deserves their truth, their story—all of it.

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Values in Action: Learning to Contribute

Wednesday, October 11, 2017 @ 05:10 PM
Author: admin

Values in Action: Learning to ContributeA recent Washington Post article:  Want your kids to be resilient? Here’s what not to do reviewed Amy Morin’s book  and includes some practical ideas for helping kids to grow up to be self-sufficient, capable and happy.  As intentional parents, we share this universal goal. We are also mindful that our kids benefit when we tweak parenting techniques meant for the non-adopted population. After reading the article, I considered how her thoughts might be distilled through a trauma-informed, adoption-attuned lens.

One of her points is that children must learn that they are not the center of the universe. This false expectation sets them up for disappointment and dependence. Instead, we can choose to teach them the pleasure of being a member of the family–a team of sorts–one in which everyone contributes and everyone benefits. Everyone has value and responsibilities.

A strong link exists between our values, beliefs and actions. Values shape beliefs. Beliefs generate actions. Actions yield results. We know our kids benefit from consistent reinforcement of their sense of capability and agency. This means resisting the inclination to do too much for them or to rescue them from struggles and failures. Our job as parents is to teach them how to cope; it is not to shelter them from problems. We must allow kids to learn through the logical consequences of their actions when the life-cost is small and easily survived.

The process of problem solving has inherent value. Each time a child faces a challenge, develops a strategy and solves a problem, they reinforce their own sense of competency. This in turn helps them trust in their ability to face future challenges. On the other hand, when parents intervene too soon, too often or, too broadly,  a child learns they lack capability, need to be rescued and, their world becomes a scarier place. Although the parental intention was to help the child, this tends to set up a dynamic of unhealthy co-dependence and simmering resentment.

But wait. We know that our kids have difficulty with rejection, abandonment and mistrust. Why not “rescue” them? An important distinction must guide us: what is best for our child in the long run? Resist the desire to avoid short-term discomfort and concentrate on the value of learning from these unpleasant experiences. What we choose not to do can be as important as what we choose to do. Let’s consider this question in regards to just one family issue. Chores.

When children are tots, they love to “help.” Admittedly, more often than not, their help is counter-productive. However, if we take the long-term perspective, we can see the value not only for tolerating their contribution, but also for encouraging it. Obviously our expectations must be age-appropriate and we should set the scene for success. For example, a toddler can take his plastic dish from the table to the sink. (If necessary, scrape any food from his plate to eliminate the possibility of spillage en route to the kitchen. Have them take their silverware in a separate trip.) Thank them for helping. Verbally express your family value about this. “in our family everybody helps.” Then be sure that this assertion is true.

Values in Action: Learning to Contribute: little ones can help tooTake advantage of a child’s desire to help when they still perceive of it as a privilege, this lays the groundwork for lifetime habits. One the other hand, if we do everything for them when they are little, when they are older and the intrinsic eagerness has faded, they will be much more resistant to the expectation to help.

Readers of this blog know that we recently faced a hurricane. Nominal damage occurred but we still had a lot of landscape debris to clear. My two-year-old grandson observed us hauling branches from the backyard to the curb. Without being asked to help, he grasped a broken branch and dragged it along. He wanted to contribute. (Already, he recognizes “helping” as a family value.) He experienced the pleasure of capability. This event becomes part of many  which will eventually engrave a sense of self-confidence and resilience.

He regularly observes his mom and dad being helpers. He sees this family value in action and hears it being reinforced. Through picking up storm debris, he had the pleasure of being a helper and enjoyed a shared family experience. It would have been easy to stop him from helping because he was struggling. What he’d chosen to do was hard. But the very fact that it was difficult, made his effort valuable. This is an important life lesson: things can be  hard, worth while and doable.

We teach our children most effectively through the small actions of daily life. It is not a once-and-done deal. We must articulate our family values clearly–our words count–but our actions bring them to life. (Or reveal them as empty platitudes.)

During this next week, focus your intentions on one of your family values. What choices will you make to embody that value? How will you help your children to notice this value in action. How will you invite them to participate?

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Reweaving Connection: Think Globally. Work Locally.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017 @ 04:10 PM
Author: admin

Reweaving Connection: Think Globally. Work LocallyReweaving connection…so much of life depends on our ability to accomplish this. Families built via adoption live this reality in a unique life-redefining way! We understand the effort and importance involved.

Whether a relationship breach exists between spouses (or significant others,) between/among friends or, among larger social groups like classrooms, offices, communities and countries, repair is an essential part of keeping relationships alive and healthy. Relationship repair takes work, requires accountability, cooperation and, commitment. It is challenging to admit we’ve messed up, fallen short or, failed. While not easy, it is worth it.

The many horrific weather events that have confronted the world recently, remind us that working together smooths the pathway to rebuilding damage. It is impossible to do it alone. We need every skill set. Every contribution is valuable. None of us can sit back and do nothing. Each of us can contribute something.

Sunday night in Las Vegas redefined ghastly. Evil.

When moral and social values completely collapse–as in the case of this massacre–we reel with shock, despair, anger and helplessness. However, we must not succumb to these emotions. Yes, they have their place and time. We must move beyond the outrage and DO SOMETHING. Channel the anger and frustration into productive directions.

Contemporary society focuses too much on difference, division, and viewing other people as obstacles to our goals and happiness. While practical steps are essential, we must recast the conversation of negativity, disrespect, hate and “othering.” We must upend this destructive paradigm and embrace a world view built on respect, cooperation, empathy and common purpose. We must resist petty distractions and focus on doing what is right instead of what is easy or comfortable.

Reweaving Connection: Think Globally. Work Locally.How can we become part of the solutions? Sending donations and writing checks certainly helps, but we must do more. The adage “Think globally. Work locally.” must guide us. Family is the most “local” place on which to focus our attention. Do an honest gut check about how well we are exemplifying and teaching our children our values. Then, expand our assessments into other layers of our lives: work/school, community, country, etc. Let us be brave enough to ask the hard questions and acknowledge the reality. This allows us to identify shortfalls or disappointments and then focus on creating the change we desire.

Here are a few questions to consider.

Do I practice the “Golden Rule?”

Do I speak and interact with respect?

Do I welcome and absorb feedback without arguing why it is wrong?

When I offer feedback, is it free of any hidden agenda or petty emotions?

Do I encourage and acknowledge the efforts of others without tacking on criticism?

Do I respect differing viewpoints?

Do I listen to understand without formulating a rebuttal?

When expressing my own viewpoints do I allow space for divergent positions?

Can I disagree without making it a personal attack on the other person?

Do I work to improve the inequities around me?

Do I feed conversations that inspire and encourage?

Do I disparage and complain, dismiss the struggles of others as their fault or not my concern?

Do I look beyond overt differences to see the common humanity of others?

Am I amplifying convesations that reinforce hate and anger?

Am I advancing conversations that build solutions instead of simply venting anger?

 

 

 

 

An Eclipse Can Blind Us

Wednesday, August 23, 2017 @ 02:08 PM
Author: admin

challenges-of-parenting-can-blind-us-to-the-joysThe recent total eclipse captured our national attention and provided a refreshing point of unity for all Americans regardless of their political beliefs. It offered an experience of staggering beauty and reminded us of the fragility of this planet which we all share. For all of its mesmerizing beauty, an eclipse can blind us if we stare at the sun’s brilliance without adequate protection. Sometimes the challenges of parenting can similarly blind us and cause us to lose heart.

All parents know that in addition to the exquisite heart-touching, soul-altering joys of parenthood, it also includes challenges that can break the heart or cause us to question our capabilities as parents. The hard work of parenting also includes a healthy dose of drudgery: the heavy lifting of inculcating and enforcing family values and the important responsibility of teaching children how to learn from their mistakes.

Adoption imposes additional challenges to our parenting tasks. In addition to the same tasks which all children face, our kids also must discern how to blend a dual heritage from their birth and adoptive families. Make no mistake; their job is far from easy. It takes courage and persistence, support and encouragement. Most of all it takes time. Lots and lots of time.

This extended period of dependency can exceed our expectations; it also can exceed our patience. Sometimes parenting can feel utterly overwhelming and endless. We look at our friends (who are raising kids by birth and not through adoption.) We envy their kids’ seemingly effortless ability to fledge the family nest and make it on their own. We’re ready for the next stage of life.

Sometimes, we can fall into feelings of despair and wonder if our kids will ever pull themselves together. We fear that we are not up to the task. We mistrust our skills and inner strength. We tire of the conflict that simmers between us and children who are struggling to solidify their identity and enter adulthood. We crave a break from the stress and worry–for a moment, a day, a week… We pray for reassurance that things will work out well.

Shift vantage points. Imagine what it is like to be in our children’s shoes. They can’t step away around these obstacles. Their only pathway forward is to leap over these hurdles. They must forever manage the two planets of their lives: birth family and adoptive family. It’s a lifetime burden on their shoulders. As fatigued as we are by the shadows adoption casts into our family life, their stress pales by comparison.

As Intentional parents we must remind ourselves that our kids are tired of the conflict too. They too, crave the relief of resolution. We know behavior is the language of trauma and that their behavior speaks volumes. They’re probably afraid they’ll never figure themselves out. They sense our worries and fears and these emotions magnify their own self-doubts, feelings of inadequacy and fears of rejection.

Our exhaustion and impatience tells them we aren’t up to the challenge of standing with them until the crisis passes. That’s scary. It’s a primal fear like primitive man experienced when an eclipse wiped the life-giving sun from the sky and they wondered if it would ever return. Our kids need to know that we can handle them, their “stuff,” their anger and their fear.

Unless we can hold that space of acceptance, security and hope, we’ve allowed ourselves to become blinded by the glare of the conflict because it is so close, so hot, so intense. But like the eclipse in which the moon succeeds in totally obscuring the sun which is four hundred times larger, the result occurs because of the perspective and proximity. Eventually the planetary alignment shifts, the moon continues on its orbit and our reality returns to its “normal.” As people of this century, we have this knowledge and that bedrock of security neutralizes our fear of the darkness.

It’s scary until the light returns and begins to shimmer around the edges of the current problem. We must hold hope in our hearts with the sure knowledge that we can be the safety lenses that enable our kids and ourselves, to look right at these two things and learn how to establish a balance. In spite of any self-doubts or moments of weakness, we do have what it takes. Sometimes a shift in perspective can make all of the difference. Staring too directly at the fiery glow of the “problem” can blind us to the choices that will unfold in the near future or those that currently remain obscured by the too-close light. How will you use your “safety glasses to look at the challenges ahead? How can you serve as safety lenses for your children?

Coping with Transitions …

Thursday, August 3, 2017 @ 12:08 AM
Author: admin

Adoption-attuned Coping with Transitions ...

Anyone connected with adoption knows that transitions can be challenging for adoptees. Some posit that it echoes the primal loss of their being separated from their birth families. Regardless of how they connect to this profound loss, transitions do operate as trigger points for many adoptees. As Intentional parents we work to be mindful of this hot button and we use strategies to help our kiddos cope. Let’s face it, nobody enjoys a meltdown–not even the kids. These emotional events leave everyone shaken by the intensity and depth of the feelings which under gird them.

They also tend to trigger visceral responses within us. A combination of irritation, frustration, overwhelm, helplessness, impotence, confusion and, even fear all vibrate–in a symphony of dissonance that leaves all feeling spent. What are some steps that help families to move forward? Attunement offers one excellent path.

Acknowledge: Keep it neutral! Resist the temptation to match their drama with our own responses. Stay factual. I can see you’ve got big feelings about this

Witness: Move beyond the act of observing and choose to give witness. Just like in a courtroom, our words offer a perspective–ours–which informs how others understand the situation. Our testimony gives kids the language to express, describe and, capture their experience. Once kids have words to express their feelings and needs, they can begin to step off the hamster wheel of what Daniel Goleman calls an “emotional hijacking.” Language helps them label their thoughts, feelings and needs and gives some sense of being able to manage them. Much of the trauma which adoptees experience as a result of being separated from  their birth mothers, is held as preverbal memory. They need us to provide tools to cope. A broad “emotional vocabulary” empowers them to transform the feeling  that stressors are  infinite, unlimited and permanent and instead to impose some boundaries. It provides them a way to package it so they can examine, assess and manage it.

Affirm: Adult adoptees frequently report that some of their most painful memories center around feeling invalidated and invisible. This happens when their feelings and concerns are dismissed, trivialized or ignored. Many report they received powerful messages–either overtly or subtly–that adoption conversation could include only positives; that they were expected to choose undivided loyalty to the adoptive family and never refer to, or seek information about their birth families; that they needed to sublimate their natural talents and inclinations and follow the traditional patterns of the adoptive family; that discussing adoption distressed their parents. To avoid that they sacrificed themselves and learned to ignore their need for support in order to protect their adoptive parents.

Intentional parents have the opportunity to choose a more healthy and honest approach. Affirm the realities of adoption. Welcome discussions–even painful ones. The absence of an open forum forces children to wrestle with these issues alone and without the support they need to process them. Embrace a Both/And paradigm that makes space for adoptive and birth family; Don’t make them choose one over the other. They need both.

Adoption-attuned*Coping with Transitions ...Set boundaries: One thing parents fear is that if they try to “connect before correct” kids will grab the upper hand and the family will devolve into chaos. In reality, if we try to yell, persuade or punish a child who is in the stranglehold of an emotional hijacking, we engage in a lose/lose situation. Overwhelming emotions blunt the brain’s ability to think, limit the body’s ability to regain control and, completely focuses on a fear/flight/freeze response. Until those emotions subside, until the child feels safe,  they are unable to think logically and rein in their behavior.

So yes, connect. Connect so you can correct but delay the educating part of correcting until calm has been restored. Then correct. Reiterate the boundaries. Rehearse the better choices.  Clarify that it is the behavior that falls short, not the child. Nurture a sense of hope, capability, possibility and love for your child.

For more on the concept of Emotional Intelligence and emotional hijackings read Daniel Goleman’s seminal work, Emotional Intelligence. At GIFT, we move beyond the common idea that intelligence equates with Intellectual capability as measured by a high IQ and consider the concept of multiple intelligences. In addition to Intellectual Intelligence (IQ), we embrace Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence, (EQ,) and it led us to develop the idea of Adoption-attunement™–our theory of Adoption Intelligence (AQ.)

No Bohns About It