Archive for the ‘General Discussion’ Category

Best Gift: Confidence, Courage and, Capability and, Compassion

Wednesday, December 13, 2017 @ 04:12 PM
Author: admin
Best Gift: Confidence, Courage and, Capability and, CompassionIn the previous two blogs we’ve explored an approach to the holiday season from the perspective of Intentional Parenting. We’ve striven to shift our focus from material presents and instead to concentrate on intangible blessings. Intentional families reinforce family values in both words and in action.
Like many others of my generation, I am a grandparent handling the day care responsibilities for my grandchild. The reasons for this are two-fold. First, it gives me an irreplaceable channel to forge life-long, solid attachments with my grandson. Second, the cost of quality day-care is prohibitive. My willingness to shoulder this responsibility allows my children to stretch their hard-earned dollars further.
With this first-hand opportunity to shape my grandson, I am able to practice much of the Intentional Parenting suggestions which I proffer here. I believe that helping to shape my grandson’s values in a positive way is one of the best gifts I can provide him. Each day during our time together, I intentionally sprinkle messages—comments that encourage, demonstrate and, reinforce our family values. I think of them as thought-seeds, ideas which I trust will take root and bear fruit throughout his lifetime.
Best Gift: Confidence, Courage and, CapabilityWhat ideas?
I remind him that he is loved by me, his parents and his extended family. Who loves you, PJ? I continue asking, And who else? Until he runs out of names. Then we reverse engineer the activity reinforcing that there is room for all of the people in his heart. This includes the members of his dad’s biological family who do love him deeply and whole-heartedly. At twenty-eight months, he’s familiar with this “game” and appears to enjoy it.
I also like to remind him that he is capable, that it is essential to try and try again until success is achieved. Nana is so proud of you for trying… I acknowledge when he accomplishes something especially when he’s worked hard to do it. When we are together, I also comment on my own efforts to try. I point out when something doesn’t work but that I’m going to try again. This models capability in addition to speaking about it. And it reveals that even adults must work to gain proficiency.
I think it is important for children to understand that adults do not achieve success every time and that it is a process for us also. If they overheard me speaking aloud, narrating our play like a toddler outsiders might think me crazy. But I believe it reveals important information to children which they might otherwise not notice. In fact, most kids infer that everything is easy for adults; they do not realize we’ve been learning for our entire lifetimes.
One other belief which I emphasize is the importance of helping others. I let him know that I noticed and admire his efforts to help. Then I mention that his mommy and daddy are wonderful helpers as well. Our family believes in helping. Similarly, I highlight how everyone in our family is a helper, tryer, sharer and, hard worker. This builds compassion as well as a sense that we should not only feel empathetic but that we also should feel called to action.
Often this requires courage, especially in the moments when it is difficult to speak out, stand up or, get involved. This kind of conviction emerges from a lifetime of reinforcement. We plant these seeds when our kids are young and then we nurture them as they grow. This benefits them and us. While teaching them we are reminded of what is important and why.
While this may sound overly preachy and moralistic, fear not. One additional value I teach him is that every day we must make time for laughter and dance. ( And cooking, we’re a family that believes when you love someone, you cook them good food. Like his dad, PJ already loves to cook.)
Whatever one’s family values are, they bind us together and forge a common belief system that will determine actions. Actions, in turn, become our contribution to the world and a legacy for the entire family. Although we can’t wrap it and place it under the tree, a clear family value system is a mighty special gift! One might even say it is the proverbial “pearl of great price.
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Creating Holiday Joy

Wednesday, December 6, 2017 @ 08:12 PM
Author: admin

Creating Holiday Joy Imagine strolling alone through a park, savoring the brisk winter air and enjoying a much-needed respite from work and family responsibilities. Overhead a picture-perfect sky arcs. You release a deep sigh and then … behind you a branch snaps. Your reverie breaks and reality crashes back on to the forefront of your consciousness.

Daily life overflows with this kind of distraction which draws our attention away from our intended destination, mission or, goal. At this time of year, many of us feel both the joy and the burden of the holiday season. It weighs on our minds and hearts. We get caught up in the cultural effort to create a “Hallmark” holiday.

As we explored in last week’s blog, the real meaning of Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, etc cannot be found in a box or gift shop. It lies in the steadiness of connection, the joy of shared laughter, the balm of troubles divided. We all know this in our heart yet, we still find ourselves pulled in other directions striving to fill cultural expectations. Imagine being able to interrupt this entrenched pattern of subordinating your Intentions. How might this refresh your family life?

To help you stay on track with your highest intentions, ponder these questions about the last week.

Use your answers to guide you to a richer fulfillment of your goals next week. Strive to approach this without judging or criticising yourself. For this week, the goal is simply to notice. Before we can change, eliminate or, tweak patterns, we have to first become aware of them.

  1. How did I connect with each member of my family?
  2. When did we share a laugh?
  3. How fully did I immerse in the moment and resist the urge to get back to “doing” stuff?
  4. When my kids needed help regulating themselves, what alerted me?
  5. When I needed a break, how did my body let me know? How did I respond?
  6. How and when did I ask for help?
  7. When the kids needed help, how did they ask for it?
  8. What was the highlight of the week?
  9. What presented the biggest challenge? How did I handle it?
  10. What do I want to create with my family during the upcoming week?

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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.

Acceptance

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.

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