Archive for the ‘Blogs by Gayle Swift’ Category

Mirroring and Belonging: Building Healthy Relationships

Wednesday, July 5, 2017 @ 02:07 PM
Author: admin

Mirroring and Belonging: Building Healthy Relationships-© HaywireMedia - Fotolia.com

Last week we introduced the relationship pyramid and discussed how safety and security provide the foundation on which relationships depend. The more substantial the experience of feeling safe and secure, the stronger the relationship will be and the easier the transition to the increasing intimacy of the upper levels of the pyramid.

Until feelings of safety and security are firmly in place, the higher levels of relationship remain stubbornly out of reach. Efforts to teach, or discipline fall on deaf ears. Until kids feel connected, they don’t care or give much credence to what parents, ( or teachers, coaches, etc.) want.

Think about it. As an adult, the opinions of total strangers have little impact on your choices. Personal values, beliefs and priorities drive you, not the instructions of some random passer-by on the street. The influence of public opinion is minor compared to the sway of those about whom you really care and with whom you feel securely connected.  Kids too, listen to those they care about and to whom they feel connected.

Mirroring and Belonging: Building Healthy Relationships-relationship-pyramid-Mirror

The next level of the Relationship Pyramid focuses on Mirroring and belonging. Mirroring is interactive. It involves a “Serve and Return” loop. Mirroring occurs between parent and child; sometimes the parent leads the mirroring. Other times the child mirrors what the parent models.

In the former, a parent notices a behavior in the child and repeats it back to them–not in a mocking way. But in a way that says, I “see” you and accept you.

Kids need assistance in learning to identify and name the emotions they feel and to accurately recognize the emotions displayed by others.

(Events from their history may be causing them to “go on the alert.” Discover what these triggers are. Validate their perceptions and help them to recognize that in the past it was true that  when a person from their past looked that way/acted that way, it indicated danger.)

Be careful to maintain  congruency about your own emotions. If children infer that you are angry, and their perception is accurate, own your emotion. Validate the accuracy of their “read.” Do not deny your emotions; this only confuses kids and makes it more difficult for them to develop accuracy in reading social cues.

How can parents help kids develop a broad emotional vocabulary that will serve them well, enhance their ability to socialize and foster the sense that they belong? Teaching children to recognize and name emotions provides them the vocabulary with which to think about and communicate their feelings.

Mirroring-Belonging-Building Healthy-Relationships-Father and toddler son playingPlayfulness plays an important–essential–role in creating and strengthening  connection between parent and child. Parents can engage in silly face games which involve mirroring on a purely physical level.  Check out this link for several ideas for emotional literacy activities including puppetry, miming, mirrors and more. (Practicing these skill-building activities when parent and child are in a relaxed mood, not when  a child is in the middle of an emotional meltdown.)

For another fun, joint activity, take pictures of each other as you dramatize different feelings. Turn the photos into  a matching game (similar to “Concentration” a popular child’s “matching” game.) Have fun. Enjoy spending time together, knitting that bond that connects while simultaneously helping your child acquire essential social skills.

How do you consciously mirror your child’s emotions?

 

Adoptive Families: Planning for the Unexpected

Wednesday, June 28, 2017 @ 02:06 PM
Author: admin

Adoptive Families: Planning for the UnexpectedWe ran this post last year and we think it bears a second look. 

For most of us the carefully wrought, precarious balance of our family systems depends on everything operating as expected. But what happens when an event smashes that equilibrium? This made me think about parenting in adoption. Beyond the “normal” challenges of raising a family, working and sustaining a marriage (or significant-other partnership,) adoptive families have additional roles, relationships and challenges to juggle. We get used to handling mind-numbing stresses and living life as the ultimate roller coaster ride. But… What if you or your spouse suddenly got sick? If you totaled your car, lost your job, or one of your kiddos came totally unglued, what emergency plan do you have?

I’m guessing that few of us have a really detailed blueprint of whom to call upon for help. Perhaps we have casual agreements: My sister would take the kids; My Mom would come and stay; Joe could carpool, etc. Are you and your spouse (partner,) on the same page? Have your resource people actually agreed? Or is your plan based on assumptions? And we all know where assumptions land us, right? Our children have already experienced a primal disruption in their lives when they were separated from their birth families and grafted into ours. We must ensure that we do whatever we can to ensure that if tragedy ever strikes our families, we have carefully outlined a plan that addresses such situations.

Adoptive Families: Planning for the UnexpectedThe middle of a crisis is the worst time to be scrambling for resources and the assistance that you need. Do yourself a favor and brainstorm with your partner now and persist until you’ve developed a specific plan. Have those Difficult Discussions; if there’s anything adoptive parents know, it is that life does not always go the way we plan. Actually, make that two plans: one for short-term problems and one for long-term. Be sure you have written things down. Have notarized permissions that allow others to access healthcare for your kids—and you—if you are unable to make those decisions. Compile a file that has their medical information, physician’s names, numbers, etc. Have a legally binding agreement that specifies who would care for your kids if something happened to you and/or your spouse (or partner.) What if neither of you could communicate?

While these events are unpleasant to confront, it is an act of love to ensure that you provide care and custody for your kids with people who would welcome and love them (as opposed to agreeing to it because they feel they “should.”) Ensure that the people you’ve chosen are willing to commit to the plan, are thoroughly educated on adoption realities and, embrace Adoption-attunement*. Compile a folder with pertinent resources. Include agencies as well as individuals, advocacy groups, on-line support forums, etc. Review your plans periodically; people and their circumstances change. Your choices may have to be adjusted to reflect those changes.

take the first step concept:running person and arrow

Schedule those conversation with your spouse and anyone designated in your “plan.” It just might be one of the most loving and important things you can do for your children. It’s a situation you hope you never face but if it happens, your kids’ will benefit from your pre-planning immensely. Create the plans– in detail.

What’s your first step?

Take it.     Today.

 

 

Adoption-attuned* Parenting Tips for Ages 0 – 7

Wednesday, June 14, 2017 @ 01:06 PM
Author: admin

Adoption-attuned* Parenting Tips for Ages 0 - 7

In their latest podcast, GIFT Coaches Susan David and Joann DiStefano offer tips on how to Adoption-attune your relationships with your child aged zero to seven. Three additional episodes will follow: Adoptees and the Middle School Years; Supporting Your Adopted Teen; No Longer a Child–Parent Relationships with the Adult Adoptee. Be sure to listen to the subsequent broadcasts as well. You’ll be glad that you did.

Success for any family is uniquely defined by the individual family. However, some elements appear almost universally in all families. Most parents aspire to raise happy, healthy, moral children who share the family’s values and contribute to the well-being of their families, communities and the world. Most adoptive families also include additional criteria: that their children successfully braid their dual heritage—birth and adoptive—into a healthy and functioning whole. (Writer and adoptive mom, Lori Holden calls this weaving “biography with biology.)

Adoption-attuned* Parenting Tips for Ages 0 – 7Adoptive parenting demands intense energy, patience, focus and Adoption-attunement* that sensitizes and alerts us to the unique needs of the entire family. Being a successful parent begins with an honest self-appraisal of the skills which we execute well and those which require additional time and attention. Some skill sets might only need tweaking while others may demand a complete reset of our parenting paradigm.

We awaken to the idea that adoptive parenting is different from parenting non-adopted children. We recognize that the methods we use to educate, inculcate values and teach discipline must always be selected through the lens of relationship building. We choose to be Intentional, to abandon autopilot parenting and instead commit to Adoption-attunement. At first this may sound like a huge mountain to climb. In reality, it is simply parenting from another angle with a fresh blueprint.

Adoption-attuned* Parenting Tips for Ages 0 – 7For example, in the early years of childhood from the years zero to seven, this means using “Time In” instead of “Time Out.” Listen to the entire podcast for many additional ideas of how to parent through an Adoption-attuned lens. Be brave enough to honestly assess your strengths as well as your greatest opportunities for improving skill sets. At this age children attend more to the examples which we model than to the words which we utter. Be intentional about how you relate with your kids. Keep in mind one question: Does this build connection with my child? As Dr. Karyn Purvis asserted: “Connect before you correct.” Relationship is the conduit to connection, attachment, family identity and attachment. It outstrips intimidation and yelling which instill fear and destroy relationships. Fear-based parenting elicits compliance in the moment not commitment.

When we do fall short of our lofty goal, Intentional Parents are quick to repair the relationship. This has a triple benefit: it shows children how to make amends, it demonstrates mutual respect and, it resists perfectionism. Parents and adoptees often incline to perfectionism—parents because they may feel the need to prove that they “deserve” to parent their child. Adoptees may fear a repeat of the biological parent’s “abandonment—so the ability to admit mistakes and make amends is a much-needed skill for all. Mastery comes through practice and life tends to serve up lots of chances to miss the pitch. It’s important that we show kids that we will take a shot at bat, again and again and again.

Adoption-attuned* Parenting Tips for Ages 0 – 7Susan and Joann have packed a lot of practical information into their thirty minute podcast. Tune in and check it out. Listen to the archived podcasts on our website. Episodes are brief and steeped in Adoption-attuned Parenting* concepts as well as Coaching Presuppositions. These strategies will help you build a strong family. Understanding the unique needs of our families enables us to parent smarter and more effectively.

 

“Parenting in the Eye of the Storm”: an Important Resource for Families

Wednesday, June 7, 2017 @ 12:06 PM
Author: admin

Parenting in the Eye of the StormParenting in the Eye of the Storm by Katie Naftziger, LICSW has written a readable and practical book. Katie is both a therapist and a transracial adoptee originally from Korea. Subtitled, “The Adoptive Parent’s Guide to Navigating the Teen Years,” her book offer insight, encouragement and strategies for families. Adam Pertman, President and CEO of the National Center on Adoption and Permanency in his introduction to the book , opines, “Whys wasn’t it [Katie’s book] around when my wife and I needed it. No Joke.”

I experienced a similar sentiment while reading it. While this book is widely applauded by seasoned professionals, adult adoptees also chime in to praise Katie’s book. Their perspective speaks volumes to me; who understands adoption better than the adoptees that are living it? As an adoption coach and a parent whose family weathered some extremely turbulent times, I can also add my voice to those who say that Katie has created an important book.

If you are parenting teens now, or will be in the future, this book offers a welcome resource for navigating the challenges of this stage of parenting. If your children are younger, begin now to master the skills she outlines. It just may smooth the path ahead for you and your child. Overwhelmed parents will appreciate both her clarity and practicality and also her brevity. Katie conveys her insights and strategies concisely. Parenting in the Eye of the Storm packs a lot of value into 160 pages. This is a book which parents will refer to again and again.

Among several premises presented in the book, Katie suggests that adoptive parents need to master four skills:

“Unrescuing” your adoptive teen  [Are you exhausted from being expected to be the EMT to the rescue at a moments notice? Want to nurture your teens capabilities–for their sake and yours? If so, this skill will interest you.]

Setting adoption-sensitive limits [Because you’re committed to Adoption-attunement and are trauma-informed, do you struggle to balance empathy with accountability, responsibility and respect? If so, this skill will interest you.]

Having connected conversation [Do you struggle to have conversations which create intimacy instead of eye rolls and annoyance? If so, this skill will interest you.]

Helping your teen envision their future [Do you sense that both you and your teen have some ambivalence about their “fledging the nest”? Does the history of grief and loss which has touched the family color your thoughts, beliefs and concerns–consciously or unconsciously? If so, this concept will interest you.

Do you see a pattern here? Katie understands what adoptees and their families are facing. She’s been there. Her insights offer hope and compassion not judgment. She presents her ideas in an inviting and approachable way. She’s not looking to scapegoat or criticize, she’s committed to increasing capabilities, awareness and nurturing healthy families. Respect and loving boundaries are an integral part of the structure of a steady family. Ironically, parents sensitized to adoptee losses and triggers, many times flounder in their ability to establish these important guard rails. The sample conversations offer insight and ideas on how to master this skill. The dialogs feel natural, not rehearsed or overly contrived–like words parents might actually speak and teens might actually “hear.”

Naftziger also highlights the importance of parents nurturing the natural inclinations and talents of their adopted children. We all know kids “listen to” and learn more from our example than our lectures. In the absence of direct information to the contrary, they may infer that the only acceptable future for them is one that mimics their adoptive parents’ path. This can create a significant double bind for them, especially if they’ve been adopted into a family whose talents and past patterns diverge from the innate talents and inclinations of the adoptee. If a family whose highest passion is sports adopts a child who inclines to the cerebral and abstract, there is a danger the child will feel that he can never meet the expectations of his parents. Even worse, he may never feel permitted to become his authentic self.

Naftziger asks adoptive parents to examine how well they are helping their child identify their innate talents and how clearly are they encouraging and valuing those aptitudes. We want our kids to know that we love and accept them for themselves not for some cartoon imitation of an idealized parental fantasy.

If we think back to when we were teens struggling to figure out how to carve a future for ourselves, imagine how much harder it would have been if our parents insisted–overtly or covertly–that even though we had zero interest in mathematics, we had to become an actuary–or some similar disconnect between our talents and our parents plans. It is certainly a parent’s duty to encourage children to plan for the future and work to bring that future to fruition. We must ensure that our child’s dream is genuinely their dream and not their interpretation of what they believe our dream for them is.

We often talk about being sure to take the time to care for yourself and your relationship with your partner. This book just might be a significant part of that self-care. Check out Parenting in the Eye of the Storm I believe you and your teen will be glad that you did. Marshal all your resources to prepare you for the parenting task at hand. The more prepared you feel, the easier it will be to stay calm and Intentional in the midst of the storm. In addition to reading pertinent books, attending workshops and chatting with other adoptive parents, partner with a an adoption coach (like GIFT) and/or an adoption therapist.

Faith Communities and Adoption

Wednesday, May 31, 2017 @ 11:05 AM
Author: admin

Faith communities and adoptionAs Intentional adoptive parents, we understand that our families need resources. Not just any resources. We need Adoption-attuned* resources. Any professionals whom we consult must understand the nature and challenges of adoption. They must realize that adoption is not a fairy tale. Rather, it encompasses an entire range of emotions, some heart-warming and some heart-aching. With this Adoption-attunement in mind, adoptive families should consider how well their faith community meets their families’ needs–especially the needs of the adoptee.

Through conversations with adult adoptees we’ve come to realize that while faith communities can be sanctuaries of support and healing, they can also be the seat of judgment, dismissal and blind-sightedness. Faith communities are run by people and thus, can fall to the vicissitudes of human failings, bias and judgments. As part of our commitment to spread the awareness of Adoption-attunement, GIFT coaches Sally Ankerfelt–a Lutheran minister–and Gayle Swift decided to write a book centered on faith communities and how they serve–and sometimes, fail to serve adoptees. Next month, at the North American Council For Adoptable Children Conference,  Sally and Gayle will be presenting a workshop on this subject. To ensure that they are basing their book on what adoptees actually experience, they have been speaking to adult adoptees, engaging in on-line communities and compiling responses from an on-line survey.

We invite readers of this blog to support this information gathering. Become part of the solution process. Help us help adoptees. Please share this survey with any adult adoptees you know. If you are an adoptee, please participate in the survey, and or message us you thoughts regarding your experiences with your faith community (church, synagogue, etc.) How have they best met your needs? Where have they missed the mark? How have they been part of the challenges facing adoption?

If you prefer, you may copy this survey and email your responses to Gayle@GIFTfamilyServices.com

We are two adoptive parents who want to help faith communities become Adoption-attuned. To accomplish this, we are writing a book that uplifts the voices and perspectives of those with the greatest insight: you, adult adoptees. Thank you for sharing your personal experiences with us. Feel free to pass this survey to other adoptees who are interested in sharing their experiences. Your input is valuable to us and much appreciated.  Gayle and Sally, GIFT Family Services, LLC.

1. How well has your faith community served your needs?

 

2. What role has your faith played in your family life?

3. To what extent did adoption affect your response to Scripture, Biblical themes and rituals?

4. List any specific liturgy, ritual, Biblical theme that resonated and/or challenged you as an adoptee.

5. How would you suggest faith communities might better address the adoptee experience?

6. What is your first and last name?

7. What is your email address?

8. Please share any additional thoughts which you might have on the topic of faith and adoption.

9. If we quote you, Would you like to stay anonymous?

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