Archive for the ‘Blogs by Gayle Swift’ Category

Reflections on a Year of Intentional Parenting

Wednesday, January 3, 2018 @ 08:01 AM
Author: admin

We are about to conclude another year of Intentional Parenting. I invite you to take some time to review the year. What pops first into your mind? Was it a memory that conjured feelings of connection, warmth or pride? Or, was it something which reeks of regret, disappointment or anger? The answer reveals a lot about where our attention and energy has been drawn. If worry, fear, frustration, anger or rejections dominates the conversation, it will tilt our thoughts and beliefs in a negative direction.

Let’s revisit the question and this time, clear your heart and head. Use a lens of neutrality. Now what memories spring to mind? How did things shift?

How many are positive? How many of these memories conjure up moments of struggle or conflict?  Perhaps 2017 held many challenges and this negativity dominates your thoughts and feelings. Dig until at least some positive moments take center stage in the 2017 highlight reel of your life. Savor this perspective of celebrating what worked in the past year.

Notice how this intentional shift allows even more positive memories float to the surface.

As you review the highlight reel of the past year. Focus on the top three memories. Pause to enjoy them for a few moments. Which of those three memories bring the warmest feelings?


Choose three success to analyze. What factors contributed to successful encounters? Who was involved? How did each person influence the outcome? How might you increase the likelihood of similar positive interactions in the future? In addition to the elements that you want to include what should be eliminated? Keep in mind that the prime directive of Intentional Parenting is the nurturing the relationship. Unless it is healthy, parents will find it difficult, if not impossible, to influence  children positively and inculcate their core values.

Trifecta Redo

Contrast these elements of success with factors that inflamed conflict. What role did your family values play? Resist the temptation to tackle every item on your list of things to improve.  This creates overwhelm and reduces the likelihood that the desired changes will result. Instead, prioritize; select three items you commit to improving.

What flashpoints tended to trigger breakdown? It is a truism that we can only change ourselves. So, determine how you can interact differently when these types of conflict reappear. Get clear on who owns the “problem.” How do each person’s beliefs, attitudes, actions and, assumptions influence the conflict? How do entrenched patterns keep the family stuck?

Use the Well-formed Outcomes[1] approach to develop a strategy for change.

What do you truly want?
State it in the positive.
Can you initiate it?
Can you control it?
Chunk into manageable task size.
Determine evidence of completion.
Use sensory terms –see, hear & feel it
What must be included?
            Actions, places and people
What must be eliminated
            Actions, places and people
What’s the context?
            Who else? Where? When?
What are the current barriers?
What results will the goal yield?
            (Positive & Negative)
What resources are essential?
Set action Steps Specific/achievable.
What is the first step?
Create several ways to get result.
What time frames are involved?
Create systems to support outcome.

[1] Adapted from Resource Realizations

Gifts That Endure: Time, Attention and Validation

Wednesday, November 29, 2017 @ 08:11 PM
Author: admin

Gifts That Endure: Time, Attention and ValidationAlong with the joys of family celebrations, parties and, charitable efforts, the holiday crush creates stress and pressure. Expectations soar into the stratosphere. Parents seek to create magical moments with our kids by buying their dream gift. We want to make our family and friends happy. We yearn to feel that warm thrum of pleasure when our gift brings joy to them.

(Feel a tinge of pressure in your gut?)

We want to show them that we care and know enough about them to pick the perfect gift for them. I suspect that as adoptive parents, there is often a subtle yet potent pressure to “prove” ourselves to our kids, perhaps an unconscious sense that we must make their childhoods glorious to compensate for any adoption-connected loss and grief.

(Feeling more pressure?)

We know we must balance finances with our desire to buy the perfect gift. Often this pushes us to stretch the budget. Perhaps even to the point where it bursts and we create real financial pain for ourselves. Before buying an item, ask three questions: Can we afford it? Is this gift purchase about me feeling good or about the recipient? In six months will this still be valued?

(Feeling the burn now?)

How do we walk back expectations, defuse the stress and make healthier choices?

Let’s step back from the ingrained pattern and consider something our hearts all know: the best presents are not “stuff.” This is not to deny the hardcore realities of our culture.  Yes kids dream of the “in” toy of the season or, the trendy clothing that will help them fit in with their chosen social group. They’ll get some pleasure from having their Christmas wish list fulfilled. But they don’t need everything they want. Help kids learn this life lesson.

Time and attention

By spending less time shopping, we can spend more time with our children and our partners. Make an opportunity to connect with each of them individually as well as collectively as a family. Be sure it is focused, undivided and connected. It does not have to be lengthy. Concentrate on truly being with one another. Here are just a few ideas.

  • Make cookies. (To save time even more time, buy the pre-made rolls of cookie dough.)
  • Walk—or drive—through the neighborhood to view the holiday lights. Enjoy hot chocolate—with marshmallows, of course. Bring it with you in insulated cups or share it when you get home.
  • Decorate the house together. Make it about the fun not about creating a perfect look. When the kids are older, those photos of the tree with most of the ornaments hung on the bottom will bring laughter. Resist the temptation to redo the children’s work to bring it up to adult standards. Kids will remember—and cherish—the experience if they feel like their contribution was accepted and didn’t need to be “fixed.” Conversely, they will feel diminished if everything they contribute is edited or redone by an adult. (Some families compromise and have a children’s tree and an adult’s tree.)
  • Participate in local holiday events like parades, tree lightings, community, school or, church music shows.
  • Find a charitable activity to do as a family
  • Have the children help you select an item to donate to a toy drive.
  • Watch a holiday movie together. Serve popcorn or holiday cookies.

Gifts That Endure: Time, Attention and ValidationValidation

One of the greatest gifts we can provide our children is validation. For adoptees the holidays can be complicated. Along with the excitement and anticipation which all kids feel, they can experience conflicting and distressing emotions. They can feel great longing and curiosity about their birth parents—even children adopted as infants. Validate that. Create a family tradition like burning a candle in honor of their birth parents or a special mention in the holiday blessings. (If the adoption is open, share an activity with the birth parents, perhaps replicating a tradition from the birth family. Keep it private without other family or friends. )

Ensure that you’ve created a space for children to be honest about their feelings. Be sure they know they can find support from you to help them cope, that you won’t be angry or hurt.

For children adopted through foster care, memories of other Christmases will be on their mind. At best it will increase their grief and loss issues; at worst it will remind them of painful memories, abuse and neglect, and a tangle of mixed emotions. Sadness, longing, regret, anger and, love will all swirl in their minds. Do not wait for kids to raise the subject themselves. Open the space for talking about these hard things. Let them know that it is okay to have mixed feelings about the holidays, Reassure them that you understand if they are missing their first families. Identify a signal for when they are feeling overwhelmed and need an exit. Try to learn the triggers that might distress them, for example, songs, foods, smells, activities, sounds, even locations. Do not force them to participate in large, extended family gathering where they may feel out of place. This only reinforces feelings of not belonging. Give them the time and space they need. You and they will feel better in the long run.


Family dynamics are complicated, often unpredictable and highly charged. As intentional parents we recognize that the emotional health of our nuclear family must be at the center of any celebrations. Sometimes the emotional needs of our children will require us to skip the chaotic extended family gathering because it is too much for them to handle. Our guts can sense this. Listen to them. Being the safety net for our children is the best gift we can give them.

Acceptance is a two-way street. We must also give ourselves the grace we need. Admit when it is too much pressure, then maybe just do a minimal holiday –something that could be added to each year.  Have no expectations, and if you feel you are heading for breakdown, take the cues from your child, and slow down the festivities to what can be tolerated–for them and you. Default to the lowest level of excitement–the one at which everyone can cope. Stay present and focus on what your intuition senses your family needs.

Blessings and peace.

“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.


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?