Archive for the ‘Blogs by Gayle Swift’ Category

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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Our Greatest Treasures: Memories Not Stuff

Wednesday, May 17, 2017 @ 02:05 PM
Author: admin

Our Greatest Treasures: Memories Not StuffAfter a very lengthy and debilitating illness, my husband died in December. During these difficult eight years, we lived with Intention. We resolved not to allow the future to spoil our present and decided how we wanted to spend his remaining time together. This meant not living through a lens of sadness or anger but with a commitment to building a legacy that survived his death. We knew that our greatest treasure as a family lay in shared memories and strong relationships not in accumulations of stuff.

How does this relate to Adoption-attuned Parenting*? The most important things we can give our children is to grow  deep, mutual attachment that is built on a fundamental understanding of the unique demands that adoption imposes on an entire family. These are the ties that bind us together as a family. Such bonds spring from love, encouragement, self-reliance, confidence and, the ability to integrate all aspects of themselves—birth and adoptive. It may be tempting to give our kids lots of stuff. A certain base level is essential. Excess is not. Over-indulgence can be damaging and counter-productive. Stuff cannot substitute for connection. (When we devolve into materialism, it’s a good idea to pause and examine what is driving our choices. How well does the strategy accomplish our goal? What alternatives could be more effective?)

Our Greatest Treasures: Memories Not Stuff

Still, we live in a material world and amassing things is inevitable. They deliver beauty, convenience, comfort and, entertainment. Our things reflect our personalities and priorities. They create a footprint of who we were and what we valued. When we are gone, our things remain for others to sort through. One of the most difficult tasks I have tackled in the past four months has been sorting through my husband’s possessions and deciding which to save, donate, pass on to the children or, toss. The hardest disposition decisions involve the things that evoke memory and emotions.

Each item holds both a practical value and an emotional one. Many have no intrinsic value yet my family considers them treasures (letters, notes, photos, a collection of plastic bugs … yes, not a typo … a collection that he delighted in hiding in hilarious places. He loved a good joke.) Others have some monetary value but are perceived as junk to us. Ironically, these often are items which he truly treasured (plastic trading tokens, obsolete paper scrip, etc.)

The bottom line: after taking dozens of boxes and bags to Goodwill, the curb, I have been profoundly reminded that the real value of things lies in how they connect us to one another. Everything else is secondary, something that fits in a trash bag, disposable.

How are you investing in your relationships each day? What is the most effective way to connect with each of your family members individually? How do you nurture connection as a family? How are you encouraging family members to think deeply and individually tailor their interactions with family members? How are you teaching Intentionality to your children?

Our Job as Parents

Wednesday, May 10, 2017 @ 12:05 PM
Author: admin

Our Job as Parents.puddle jumping familyMother’s Day and Father’s Day focus attention on the importance of our job as parents. To our children, we are the life raft in which they find security, love, affirmation, and shared history. We educate, coach, and counsel. We serve as confidants and strive to instill a conscience. We represent the nurturing and care which provide children a sturdy foundation on which to build their lives. For all the love and commitment we bring to our families, we also bring our humanity, character flaws and imperfections. How can we be the parents our children deserve?

One of the most important things we can choose as parents is to ensure two things. First, we must work at our relationships with our spouse (or significant Other).  Our relationship serves as our children’s template when they begin selecting people to date and ultimately when they choose a life partner. Our children will study the way we treat each other. Their observations will outline what they want and expect from a partner. (It will influence how they choose and treat their friends as well.)

Taking care of ourselves is the second, essential thing that we must choose as parents. Everything we do, serves as a role model. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three-hundred-and-sixty-five days a year we are always “on stage.” There’s no getting around it. Our kiddoes are always watching. And learning. When we over-give or engage in perfectionism, they notice. When we comment on our looks, belittle ourselves or disparage our abilities, they absorb the message.

Equally true, when we practice good mental hygiene, make time for exercise, eat well and nurture our talents, our kids take note as well. Intentional Parents periodically remind ourselves of this fact. We are the hub of the family wheel. If we break down, the family journey experiences a rough ride. In the long run, it is a greater kindness to our kids to ensure that we take adequate care of ourselves. Making this a priority blesses the entire family.

Our Job as Parents.Mother's Day quote

While observing Mother’s Day and Father’s Day recommit to this AAQ* process which focuses on the unique needs of our families.  While adoption profoundly reshapes our children’s lives, it also permanently changes us. Adoption is fundamentally a family experience. Each of us is changed by it. Forever.

In last week’s blog we talked about the importance of sharing family fun. Consider these questions to help you get started.

How will you celebrate Mother’s and Father’s Day as a family?

How will you create a space for your children to share their feelings about/with their birth parents?

In what way will you remember and honor their birth parents?

Having Fun Yet?

Wednesday, April 26, 2017 @ 01:04 PM
Author: admin

Having Fun Yet?Parenting is challenging work, probably far more difficult than you had anticipated. You might even find yourself wondering why nobody clued you in ahead of time. Think back, however, to the time when you were awaiting your child’s arrival. Most likely all you could anticipate was the joy and wonder of holding your child in your arms. Any caveats would have fallen on deaf ears or be filed under other people’s issues.

Once your child arrives and the initial ecstasy subsides, reality sets in. Oh boy does it ever! We discover that parenting—especially adoptive parenting— is not only beautiful, amazing and consuming. It is also complex, exhausting, overwhelming. For you. For your child. For your family. For his birth family.

Parents can easily fall into a “responsibility rut” and become over-focused on the work of parenting: teaching children to walk, talk and develop competencies; enticing them into eating healthy meals; preparing them for school; assigning age-appropriate chores; mastering Adoption-attunement … Over-emphasizing the regulatory aspects of parenting doesn’t exactly generate an atmosphere of warm, cuddly connection. Do you like to spend time with someone who constantly nitpicks, admonishes and routinely points out your shortcomings? Neither do our children. How can Intentional Parents address this?

Shared fun is the best antidote to the “work” of parenting. Blessedly, it is also a most effective and essential ingredient to building healthy attachment relationships. Fun builds joy. When joy exists within a relationship, it increases mutual value and respect and grows an interest in being together. Spending time together weaves a shared history. This creates a common story between parents and children which they all can enjoy retelling over the years.

Parents must also spend chunks of time setting boundaries, enforcing rules and imposing consequences. Shared fun provides an essential counter-balance to the “work” of parenting. While we want our children to grow into kind, successful and respectful family members and good contributors to the world, we also want them to yearn to spend time together as a family and to feel deep, abiding love and security. In the absence of fun and joy in a family, kids will regard parents more as “wardens” than as inspiring role models.

Authoritarian parents may elicit compliance and begrudging respect but most likely, that soul-deep unconditional love may be elusive. Children must be both inspired by parents and engaged by the values the family sets forth. This happens through days, weeks, months of shared interactions which include a healthy dose of fun, affection, discipline and encouragement. Intentional Parents understand that fun is not frivolous. It is integral to attachment and building family bonds.

How have you shared fun within your family? It need not be time-consuming or expensive but it must be consistent ingredient in family life on a daily basis. Try establishing a silly daily ritual. (Solicit ideas from your children.) Take an interest in your child’s interests. Teach siblings to do the same for one another. In addition to family grace, create a family handshake. Be inventive and have some fun!

Recall special memories from your own childhood. What made them memorable? Also be mindful of those times when you wished your parents had been interested in you and had opted to share in your daily life, not just in providing the essentials to you. Use that insight to inform the memory-building times you create within your family. How might your family benefit?

Witness of the Heart

Wednesday, March 29, 2017 @ 12:03 PM
Author: admin

FATHER SON.WITNESS OF THE HEART adoption grief loss

Adoptive families frequently encounter rude, inappropriate, intrusive or, dismissive questions and comments.  Most of us who struggle with infertility have heard a variation of the following: Now that you’ve adopted, you’ll conceive and have a child of your own. While those with both bio and adopted children frequently hear: Which of your kids is your real child? People feel free to admonish our adopted children and tell them: You should feel lucky and grateful you were adopted. Or another hurtful criticism: How do you think your parents feel when you  talk about or search for your birth parents? Although it remains unspoken, our kids get the message that they were a breath away from being aborted or abandoned to an orphanage and that there’s no room for any sad or angry feelings. They also recognize that you perceive their needing or valuing their birth relatives as a betrayal of the adoptive family.

What do all these comments have in common? The conversations lack personal engagement. They are rife with assumptions based on inaccurate, outdated cultural beliefs that see adoption as an event that perfectly—and painlessly–solves a problem for the child and both sets of parents. This myth dismisses the life-long emotional fallout that each member of the adoption triad must face. These speakers have not taken the time to listen or understand the unique and complicated experience of being an adoptee, birth parent or, adoptive parent.

Every comment glosses over the losses and grief that underpin the creation of an adoptive family. They’ve rendered these deep and powerful emotions invisible. In so doing, they’ve trivialized adoption-connected grief and loss and have denied people the opportunity to have their circumstances validated, acknowledged and witnessed. The speakers replaced the real people with two-dimensional characters because they are not willing to open themselves up and be mutually vulnerable. That level of intimacy is scary and intense. People tend to prefer the cultural myth.

But myth is not reality. Life is messy. Adoption is life on steroids: emotionally messy and complicated. All parties carry wounds which take time—for many, a lifetime—to heal. In the era of open adoption, balancing the multiple relationships takes commitment, respect and, persistence.

Remember the Hollywood blockbuster movie Avatar? The characters yearned to be seen—viscerally, authentically. Connecting on this personal level happens rarely because it takes commitment, empathy and deep listening. It means moving beyond the gloss of generalizations and noticing what is occurring between the lines, between the words, beyond the events.

Adoptees and their families (birth and adopted) crave this kind of authentic validation. (I would assert all people seek this kind of visibility and validation.) As adoptive parents, we have the opportunity to grow relationships with our children that are honest and that do see the reality of their experience. We must take the time to listen or understand the unique and complicated experience of being an adoptee. Instead of trying to “fix” things or minimize, Intentional Parents choose to listen to understand and validate our child’s reality. To do so, we must step beyond our own emotional baggage and history. This level of affirmation, honesty and vulnerability is intense, demanding—an exceptionally rare and genuine blessing. It makes for not just a relationship, which can be casual or intimate, but also for a true connection, a major building block for true family growth.. Few people experience this. As Intentional Parents we can bestow this gift on our children.

What that would be like for your child … for yourself. Imagine how would that benefit your family?