Archive for the ‘Strengthening Family Relationships’ Category

“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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Reweaving Connection: Think Globally. Work Locally.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017 @ 04:10 PM
Author: admin

Reweaving Connection: Think Globally. Work LocallyReweaving connection…so much of life depends on our ability to accomplish this. Families built via adoption live this reality in a unique life-redefining way! We understand the effort and importance involved.

Whether a relationship breach exists between spouses (or significant others,) between/among friends or, among larger social groups like classrooms, offices, communities and countries, repair is an essential part of keeping relationships alive and healthy. Relationship repair takes work, requires accountability, cooperation and, commitment. It is challenging to admit we’ve messed up, fallen short or, failed. While not easy, it is worth it.

The many horrific weather events that have confronted the world recently, remind us that working together smooths the pathway to rebuilding damage. It is impossible to do it alone. We need every skill set. Every contribution is valuable. None of us can sit back and do nothing. Each of us can contribute something.

Sunday night in Las Vegas redefined ghastly. Evil.

When moral and social values completely collapse–as in the case of this massacre–we reel with shock, despair, anger and helplessness. However, we must not succumb to these emotions. Yes, they have their place and time. We must move beyond the outrage and DO SOMETHING. Channel the anger and frustration into productive directions.

Contemporary society focuses too much on difference, division, and viewing other people as obstacles to our goals and happiness. While practical steps are essential, we must recast the conversation of negativity, disrespect, hate and “othering.” We must upend this destructive paradigm and embrace a world view built on respect, cooperation, empathy and common purpose. We must resist petty distractions and focus on doing what is right instead of what is easy or comfortable.

Reweaving Connection: Think Globally. Work Locally.How can we become part of the solutions? Sending donations and writing checks certainly helps, but we must do more. The adage “Think globally. Work locally.” must guide us. Family is the most “local” place on which to focus our attention. Do an honest gut check about how well we are exemplifying and teaching our children our values. Then, expand our assessments into other layers of our lives: work/school, community, country, etc. Let us be brave enough to ask the hard questions and acknowledge the reality. This allows us to identify shortfalls or disappointments and then focus on creating the change we desire.

Here are a few questions to consider.

Do I practice the “Golden Rule?”

Do I speak and interact with respect?

Do I welcome and absorb feedback without arguing why it is wrong?

When I offer feedback, is it free of any hidden agenda or petty emotions?

Do I encourage and acknowledge the efforts of others without tacking on criticism?

Do I respect differing viewpoints?

Do I listen to understand without formulating a rebuttal?

When expressing my own viewpoints do I allow space for divergent positions?

Can I disagree without making it a personal attack on the other person?

Do I work to improve the inequities around me?

Do I feed conversations that inspire and encourage?

Do I disparage and complain, dismiss the struggles of others as their fault or not my concern?

Do I look beyond overt differences to see the common humanity of others?

Am I amplifying convesations that reinforce hate and anger?

Am I advancing conversations that build solutions instead of simply venting anger?

 

 

 

 

An Eclipse Can Blind Us

Wednesday, August 23, 2017 @ 02:08 PM
Author: admin

challenges-of-parenting-can-blind-us-to-the-joysThe recent total eclipse captured our national attention and provided a refreshing point of unity for all Americans regardless of their political beliefs. It offered an experience of staggering beauty and reminded us of the fragility of this planet which we all share. For all of its mesmerizing beauty, an eclipse can blind us if we stare at the sun’s brilliance without adequate protection. Sometimes the challenges of parenting can similarly blind us and cause us to lose heart.

All parents know that in addition to the exquisite heart-touching, soul-altering joys of parenthood, it also includes challenges that can break the heart or cause us to question our capabilities as parents. The hard work of parenting also includes a healthy dose of drudgery: the heavy lifting of inculcating and enforcing family values and the important responsibility of teaching children how to learn from their mistakes.

Adoption imposes additional challenges to our parenting tasks. In addition to the same tasks which all children face, our kids also must discern how to blend a dual heritage from their birth and adoptive families. Make no mistake; their job is far from easy. It takes courage and persistence, support and encouragement. Most of all it takes time. Lots and lots of time.

This extended period of dependency can exceed our expectations; it also can exceed our patience. Sometimes parenting can feel utterly overwhelming and endless. We look at our friends (who are raising kids by birth and not through adoption.) We envy their kids’ seemingly effortless ability to fledge the family nest and make it on their own. We’re ready for the next stage of life.

Sometimes, we can fall into feelings of despair and wonder if our kids will ever pull themselves together. We fear that we are not up to the task. We mistrust our skills and inner strength. We tire of the conflict that simmers between us and children who are struggling to solidify their identity and enter adulthood. We crave a break from the stress and worry–for a moment, a day, a week… We pray for reassurance that things will work out well.

Shift vantage points. Imagine what it is like to be in our children’s shoes. They can’t step away around these obstacles. Their only pathway forward is to leap over these hurdles. They must forever manage the two planets of their lives: birth family and adoptive family. It’s a lifetime burden on their shoulders. As fatigued as we are by the shadows adoption casts into our family life, their stress pales by comparison.

As Intentional parents we must remind ourselves that our kids are tired of the conflict too. They too, crave the relief of resolution. We know behavior is the language of trauma and that their behavior speaks volumes. They’re probably afraid they’ll never figure themselves out. They sense our worries and fears and these emotions magnify their own self-doubts, feelings of inadequacy and fears of rejection.

Our exhaustion and impatience tells them we aren’t up to the challenge of standing with them until the crisis passes. That’s scary. It’s a primal fear like primitive man experienced when an eclipse wiped the life-giving sun from the sky and they wondered if it would ever return. Our kids need to know that we can handle them, their “stuff,” their anger and their fear.

Unless we can hold that space of acceptance, security and hope, we’ve allowed ourselves to become blinded by the glare of the conflict because it is so close, so hot, so intense. But like the eclipse in which the moon succeeds in totally obscuring the sun which is four hundred times larger, the result occurs because of the perspective and proximity. Eventually the planetary alignment shifts, the moon continues on its orbit and our reality returns to its “normal.” As people of this century, we have this knowledge and that bedrock of security neutralizes our fear of the darkness.

It’s scary until the light returns and begins to shimmer around the edges of the current problem. We must hold hope in our hearts with the sure knowledge that we can be the safety lenses that enable our kids and ourselves, to look right at these two things and learn how to establish a balance. In spite of any self-doubts or moments of weakness, we do have what it takes. Sometimes a shift in perspective can make all of the difference. Staring too directly at the fiery glow of the “problem” can blind us to the choices that will unfold in the near future or those that currently remain obscured by the too-close light. How will you use your “safety glasses to look at the challenges ahead? How can you serve as safety lenses for your children?

Coping with Transitions …

Thursday, August 3, 2017 @ 12:08 AM
Author: admin

Adoption-attuned Coping with Transitions ...

Anyone connected with adoption knows that transitions can be challenging for adoptees. Some posit that it echoes the primal loss of their being separated from their birth families. Regardless of how they connect to this profound loss, transitions do operate as trigger points for many adoptees. As Intentional parents we work to be mindful of this hot button and we use strategies to help our kiddos cope. Let’s face it, nobody enjoys a meltdown–not even the kids. These emotional events leave everyone shaken by the intensity and depth of the feelings which under gird them.

They also tend to trigger visceral responses within us. A combination of irritation, frustration, overwhelm, helplessness, impotence, confusion and, even fear all vibrate–in a symphony of dissonance that leaves all feeling spent. What are some steps that help families to move forward? Attunement offers one excellent path.

Acknowledge: Keep it neutral! Resist the temptation to match their drama with our own responses. Stay factual. I can see you’ve got big feelings about this

Witness: Move beyond the act of observing and choose to give witness. Just like in a courtroom, our words offer a perspective–ours–which informs how others understand the situation. Our testimony gives kids the language to express, describe and, capture their experience. Once kids have words to express their feelings and needs, they can begin to step off the hamster wheel of what Daniel Goleman calls an “emotional hijacking.” Language helps them label their thoughts, feelings and needs and gives some sense of being able to manage them. Much of the trauma which adoptees experience as a result of being separated from  their birth mothers, is held as preverbal memory. They need us to provide tools to cope. A broad “emotional vocabulary” empowers them to transform the feeling  that stressors are  infinite, unlimited and permanent and instead to impose some boundaries. It provides them a way to package it so they can examine, assess and manage it.

Affirm: Adult adoptees frequently report that some of their most painful memories center around feeling invalidated and invisible. This happens when their feelings and concerns are dismissed, trivialized or ignored. Many report they received powerful messages–either overtly or subtly–that adoption conversation could include only positives; that they were expected to choose undivided loyalty to the adoptive family and never refer to, or seek information about their birth families; that they needed to sublimate their natural talents and inclinations and follow the traditional patterns of the adoptive family; that discussing adoption distressed their parents. To avoid that they sacrificed themselves and learned to ignore their need for support in order to protect their adoptive parents.

Intentional parents have the opportunity to choose a more healthy and honest approach. Affirm the realities of adoption. Welcome discussions–even painful ones. The absence of an open forum forces children to wrestle with these issues alone and without the support they need to process them. Embrace a Both/And paradigm that makes space for adoptive and birth family; Don’t make them choose one over the other. They need both.

Adoption-attuned*Coping with Transitions ...Set boundaries: One thing parents fear is that if they try to “connect before correct” kids will grab the upper hand and the family will devolve into chaos. In reality, if we try to yell, persuade or punish a child who is in the stranglehold of an emotional hijacking, we engage in a lose/lose situation. Overwhelming emotions blunt the brain’s ability to think, limit the body’s ability to regain control and, completely focuses on a fear/flight/freeze response. Until those emotions subside, until the child feels safe,  they are unable to think logically and rein in their behavior.

So yes, connect. Connect so you can correct but delay the educating part of correcting until calm has been restored. Then correct. Reiterate the boundaries. Rehearse the better choices.  Clarify that it is the behavior that falls short, not the child. Nurture a sense of hope, capability, possibility and love for your child.

For more on the concept of Emotional Intelligence and emotional hijackings read Daniel Goleman’s seminal work, Emotional Intelligence. At GIFT, we move beyond the common idea that intelligence equates with Intellectual capability as measured by a high IQ and consider the concept of multiple intelligences. In addition to Intellectual Intelligence (IQ), we embrace Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence, (EQ,) and it led us to develop the idea of Adoption-attunement™–our theory of Adoption Intelligence (AQ.)

No Bohns About It

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?