Archive for the ‘Family dynamics’ Category

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?

5 Tips for Course-correcting Family Dynamics

Wednesday, February 8, 2017 @ 02:02 PM
Author: admin

Course correctingLast month we focused on accumulating information to underpin some intentional change-making. Today’s tips can help you implement change even if you didn’t participate in last month’s series. (It’s not too late to follow the exercise outlined in the series, define a goal, implement your resolve and begin. ) We ended the series with a final question: What will be your first action step in response to this exercise ?

Let’s stipulate that your first criteria was tuning into your Core Values. What principles determined which step you decided to take first? Some folks choose the change they think will bring about the greatest shift. Others  select the one that connects with their heart most deeply. Some people elect to begin with one, small step to which they believe they can and will commit. (That’s an important distinction: ability versus intention and follow through.) And some will choose based on the change they expect will get the best “buy in” from their entire family.

All are good options; the essential thing is simply to take the first step.

Tip Number 1: Choose an intentional frame for your selected change. How we view change can also affect our response to it. Pause and seriously consider what metaphor comes to mind when you consider creating changes in your family dynamics. Does it feel like jumping off a cliff? Climbing a mountain? Herding cats? Paragliding over the Pacific? Setting humor aside, one can easily see that viewing change through a lens colors the way we experience it–with dread, enthusiasm or fear–or a combination of similar emotions.

Tip Number 2Remember that change takes time. Allow yourself and your family time to find their new footing and for a new balance point to emerge. Imagine for a moment a large jar stuffed with several balloons. Whenever one balloon is squished, shaken or moved, all of the other balloons will reflect that motion in some way.  Similarly, whenever one person in a family changes in behavior or attitude, every family member responds. Some will welcome the change. Others will feel threatened, frustrated, annoyed or resistant.

Tip Number 3: The only person whom we can compel to change is ourselves. We can invite, persuade and encourage change in others but the decision remains theirs. Even when no one else embraces the suggested change, it is still possible to make a difference in the family dynamic. Merely by focusing on one’s own change process, a shift will occur. Because we behave differently, others will receive different “input.” Consider this example. Decide to remain neutral when  a teen vents and uses deliberately provocative speech. You’re not my real mother and I hate you! 

The most typical parental response tends to be anchored in hurt feelings which then lead to angry words, righteous indignation and “consequences.” While those reactions are understandable, they tend to inflame the situation and to give power to those words. This increases the likelihood that the child will use them again because they succeeded in unloading their pain and anger onto the parent. By not reacting, the inflammatory words lose their power. Thus, it is less likely to be the “go to” phrase they’ll use in the future.

Something even more powerful can happen however, when parents don’t bite the bait and instead listen and then respond with genuine empathy. You must feel very angry. Usually the child will respond with still-angry words. However, instead of arguing about “realness” the focus becomes a validation of the child’s feelings. Things tend to de-escalate. Later, when emotions have settled mother can address the disrespect.

Tip Number 4: Value the relationship more than “being right.” Parenting, especially adoptive parenting demands a fierce, intentional love. Because of adoption’s inherent duality–the coexistence of gain and loss, grief and joy–both parent and child have emotional raw points that can trigger one another. When we are in emotional meltdown, like the scenario described in Tip 3, we must remind ourselves of that soul-deep yearning that propelled us to adopt. Remember the impassioned promises we made, if only we could be lucky enough for this child to join our family. We can use that resonant memory to refocus us on how much we value the relationship. Preserving that attachment is far more important than winning an argument at that moment. We are building families for a lifetime. That is the greater victory!

Tip Number 5: We must set aside the traditional parental templates. Most people learned how to parent by being parented. They use that experience as an unconscious template to guide them. But, unless we ourselves were raised in an adoptive family, we have no template for how to deal with this adoption complexity. We cannot default to autopilot (parenting like we were parented in our own families.)  to handle the unique needs and circumstances that adoption imposes  on families. We have no learned experience to tell us how to relate with  members of birth families, and overlapping roles. We find ourselves building the blueprint as we go along. Using threads of love, commitment, mutual respect and empathy, we weave a tightly knit family. How does being an Adoption-attuned Parent* benefits your family? When Intentionality, Adoption-attunement and fierce love, work hand in hand, what amazing things result?

Bonus! Tip Number 6: Consider partnering with an adoption coach. How might your family benefit from working with an adoption coach? What would it be like to work with a coach whose focus was your family, your goals, your needs? Imagine having the guidance of a professional who is also an adoptive parent, who will  listen to you without judgement. How can this common bond help you achieve your dreams for your family?

Adoptive Families Give Thanks

Wednesday, November 23, 2016 @ 02:11 PM
Author: admin

Thanksgiving, Gratitude & the Adoption Connection #RoomAtTheTableForAll

Thanksgiving centers on gratitude; that is the very reason for its existence. As adoptive parents we must be mindful of the hot button issue that often connects gratitude and adoption. Adoptees frequently hear that they “should” feel “lucky” that they were adopted and be grateful to their parents. This attitude/expectation ignores and trivializes the losses that co-exist with the benefits of adoption. Avoid commingling the desire to encourage gratitude with the burden of this misguided cultural expectation.

Yes, help them tally their blessings and observe the genuine spirit of Thanksgiving. As a family, join together to give thanks and share the holiday. Joyfully celebrate the genuine treasures of our lives: the people we love and cherish, good health, and commitment to one another. Remember those present and those at a distance. Make space for all the important relationships in our families’ lives, birth and adoptive. We are all in this together! We are family. For a lifetime.

Remember too, that November is National Adoption Month and the purpose of that observance is to highlight the need for permanent families for kids in foster care. For too many children in foster care family remains a dream. Hold tight to those you love. Teach them good values, nurture their talents, and teach them well.

thanksgiving-collageConsider sharing these Thanksgiving-themed books. They offer good opportunities for conversations about important themes like gratitude, history, truth-telling and the Promise that is America. For children adopted internationally, the  book “How Many Days to America” gently describes some of the forces that drive people to choose to leave their country and emigrate to the United States. Read the complete reviews on Writing to Connect.

podcast-graphic-templateRemember that GIFT’s newest free resource is now available on demand via  iTunes. We air a weekly fifteen-minute podcast called  “Essentials for Adopted-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.
How 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. Tune in and 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. Click on this link and begin. How might this resource benefit your family?

Adoption Attunement.lighting the wayHappy Thanksgiving from all of the coaches at GIFT Family ServicesWe feel privileged to be your partner Growing Intentional Families Together.

“May your blessings be many, your sorrows be few. May the love in your hearts always be true.”

–an Irish blessing

 

Yearn to Succeed? Be Like A Baby

Monday, August 15, 2016 @ 04:08 PM
Author: admin

Baby making his first stepsAs a first-time grandmother, I watch my year-old grandson with fascination and amazement. Like all babies, fierce determination drives him to learn. He takes trial and error in stride and innately understands that failure is the cost of mastery. I watch him and imagine how amazing we all would be if we retained that unflappable determination.

Experience tells me that eventually, his confidence will diminish. Self-consciousness will compete with his willingness to risk trying new things. Saving face will become more important than working through the embarrassment of being a novice long enough to develop proficiency.

Fear of failure presses kids–and adults– to avoid trying in the first place or to quit early in the process. This causes the loss of faith in ourselves and we succumb to discouragement.

As I write this blog post, the 2016 Olympics plays in the background. I consider these competitors. They did not fall prey to fear. They did not give up on their dreams. They embraced hard work and commitment, tolerated frustration, achieved success via the information distilled through failure and held onto their dreams of athletic excellence.

As parents, we can help our kids cultivate determination, persistence and acceptance of failure as an integral part of any learning process.

Another figure well-known for his determination comes to mind. Inventor, Thomas Edison who famously quipped, “I know several thousand things that won’t work.” His life serves as a wonderful model for persistence through failure. What made him so resistant to discouragement and surrender?
success not easy
As Intentional Parents, how can we help our children be strong, confident and determined? How do we teach them not to fear failure? No surprises here. No magic. Our most effective tool is the way we live our lives so that we model what we wish our kids to learn. All parents know that toddlers study us to learn about their world (flush things down the toilet, unlock baby gates, open cabinets, etc). This learning-through-observation never stops. Whatever their ages, kids watch us and learn. We must always remain conscious of this fact and be very intentional about what we are modeling.

How does this look in action? Consider these steps:
First,  set an expectation that success will NOT be easy. Emphasize how often we practice, rehearse, refine and repeat our efforts to learn and perfect our skills. Make clear that we expect to see the similar fits and starts in their lives. Assure children that we do not expect their proficiency to come easily, quickly or without stumbles and resets.
Second, show kids that learning is a lifetime process not just something that happens in the classroom. Let them hear about the challenges we face as adults which require our persistence and determination until we succeed.
Third, encourage effort. Talk about the tasks and skills which we are committed to learning both for work and for personal pleasure.

Convey that learning is valuable for its own sake, something we choose for ourselves, and not simply a burden imposed on us by others. Clue them in to the many tasks we face at work, home and in the community so they are aware of our efforts in action. Unless we call attention to our struggles, kids assume everything is effortless for us. (Obviously, we must use discretion so we avoid burdening our kids with worries that should sit squarely and solely on adult shoulders.)
Fourth, value failure as the road to success. As adults we know that instant success is a myth. Achievement results from effort, commitment and occurs in steps. Each attempt refines our learning and improves our skill, product or understanding. Comment on our own recognition of our incremental progress. (“Wow, I’m able to do that better than my previous time.”)

Remember to note our own encounters with the reality of “two steps forward, one step back.” Talk about failure in terms of how it propels learning instead of with an eye to fault-finding, comparing to others or belittling the lack of success. Convey an attitude of confidence that says success is possible. Do not play the blame game. It’s a dead-end that distracts our attention from revising to fault-finding.

Fifth, share our own struggles to learn. Even if it feels a bit silly, we can take a page out of the toddler play book and speak our inner conversations aloud. This allows kids to hear healthy, respectful self-talk. (It also ensures that we practice what we preach: encourage ourselves. Too often our inner critic is the worst bully we encounter.)

Dawn on the road in the forest in summerDreams are important.  They spark our creativity, however, they are “future oriented” only. We must help them move beyond “magical thinking” and exemplify for our children that it takes energy and discipline to accomplish dreams–for children and adults.

We must model through our own lives that continual practice eventually lead to “unconscious” remembering and doing. Utilizing feedback fosters flexibility that bends us in the direction most needed.  Instead of regarding mistakes as disastrous and dream-ending, we can teach kids to regard them as a way to expose needed adjustments that inch them closer to the fulfillment of their dreams.

How might your family benefit from this five-pronged approach to life as a learning conversation. What possibilities might it open? How might it strengthen relationships? Practice this for two weeks and notice how it influences family morale and then share your thoughts with us.

Timeless Thomas51TxnoesHmL._SX449_BO1,204,203,200_For a fun family read, that focuses on learning through failure, check out this review of Timeless Thomas written and illustrated by Gene Barretta. It opens with the lines, “Have you ever thought about inventing something of your own? You’re never too young to try.” What a fun invitation to spark a dream  in a child’s mind. Heck, I will paraphrase that quote and say, “You’re never too old to try.”

Dream on.

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


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