Archive for the ‘Strengthening Family Relationships’ 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?

When Family Remains a Dream: National Adoption Month

Wednesday, November 9, 2016 @ 05:11 PM
Author: admin

When Family Remains a Dream: national-adoption-month-square-never-outgrowNovember brings to mind Thanksgiving. As adoptive parents we feel deeply grateful for the added blessing of our children. It feels particularly apt to observe National Adoption Month in November.

Note, however, that the original (and on-going) mission of National Adoption Month focused on finding families for kids languishing in foster care. When adoptive parents heard about National Adoption Month, they enthusiastically embraced the month-long observance through a lens which celebrated adoption. The adoption-as-amazing-blessing movement gained momentum and overshadowed the original purpose.

This resulted in two significant losses. One, the mission of finding families for foster kids fell to the periphery. Two and most important, viewing adoption through rose-colored glasses ignored—invalidated—the very real co-existing losses for adoptees, the persons at the center of adoption.

Several years ago, some very brave adoptees responded to the “co-opting” of National Adoption Month. They stood up and insisted that their voices also be heard. Loudly. Passionately. Yes, and sometimes angrily. Very angrily. After all, who understands adoption better than an adoptee? Thus the #FliptheScript movement arose. Courageous adoptees shared their stories, destroyed the fairy tale and replaced it with their individuals truths—warts, heartache, short-comings, and all. They acknowledge what worked and they refuse to suppress what did not. Some of their narratives fell heavy on our hearts. It pained us to listen.

But listen we must. It is imperative that we heed the lessons that #FliptheScript reveals. It is knowledge garnered at a very steep price and which will help us parent our children better. Read their posts with an open mind. Set aside any adoption-is-totally-awesome bias and consider their stories. Listen even if it makes us squirm. Prepare to be “triggered.” It may be the cost of discovering uncomfortable awareness of how our parenting might currently fall short. By listening deeply, authentically without any urge to refute or deny, we can understand our child’s needs better. And then we can parent them better. It empowers us to improve. Isn’t our deepest desire to be the best parent to these children whom we love so fiercely, and whom we yearn to protect?

If, because it is too painful to heed, we choose to plunge our heads in the sand and ignore #FlipTheScript’s perspectives on the unique needs and realities of adoption, we shortchange the children we love so much. None of us would willingly choose our own personal comfort over the very genuine needs of our children. Let’s Google the hashtag #FliptheScript, fasten our seatbelt, open our hearts and minds and listen. We just might discover precisely what our child needs and understand and embrace the need for reforming adoption practices.

Honor the mission of National Adoption Month by advocating for foster kids who need families now. Help make their dream of a loving family come true. Then yes, hug your kids a little closer. Enjoy a moment of profound gratitude and then set the stage for some important, ongoing conversations about the complex realities of their adoption experience and acknowledge the losses as well as the gains.

national-adoption-month-grid-2016-jpg-copy-2 Check out these book reviews to help you start. These books validate the adoptee’s experience and offer a wonderful way to discover what your child is thinking about his adoption. And believe me, they think do about it even if they don’t speak about it.

The best way to enter their interior world is to create a comfortable forum where they know their thoughts and feelings are welcomed. These books make it easy to have that kind of loving conversation. Prepare to listen deeply.



Adoptive Families and the “REAL” Factor, part 2

Wednesday, October 26, 2016 @ 01:10 PM
Author: admin

Adoptive families and the Real factor.real-graphic-2As we discussed in a recent blog, adoptive families are often questioned in one way or another about who the “REAL” relationship figures are in their lives. These questions land like a sucker punch to the chest. Sometimes we can quickly recenter ourselves and decide how we want to respond. At other times, their verbal assault knocks us off balance and leaves us reeling. Let me offer you a personal insight.

As I’ve mentioned several times during the last year, my husband is in the end stages of a terminal disease and I am caring for him at home. My children have been stalwart throughout this process.  Their bond with their dad is very REAL. They visit regularly and make an earnest effort to cheer their dad on and to enjoy time with him while they are able. They perform many kindnesses, bring him his favorite food treats and spend time with him.

When I need help, they respond promptly and gladly. This makes me proud and appreciative. We are so lucky that they live nearby and are able/willing to help.

pinterest-real-griefTerminal illness is a challenge for any family but the long slow, decline of a degenerative neurological disease is especially heartbreaking. The physical and cognitive  losses are so difficult to watch. Seeing their robust and intelligent father decline so precipitously grieves me and my children in a viscerally painful way. I assure you their emotions and their attachments are very genuine. They love their dad and speak of how he parented and loved them well–humanly,  imperfectly, deeply–and in a way they experienced as very REAL. Their best–and most REAL–expression of their bond with their dad is their actions.

Since the 1980’s when they were placed with us as infants, we’ve made a conscious and consistent effort to speak about their birth parents positively. We followed through on our promise to help them reconnect with their birth parents. (Years ago, they both took us up on our promise.) We consistently reassure them that we are NOT in competition with their birth families, that we consider their birth family relationships a vital and important part of their lives and, therefore, an integral and valued part of ours.

Adoptive families real factor AQAs their parent, I am concerned for their emotional well being as we face this next chapter in our lives. How will they handle their anguish? Will it tear away the scab from the pain of their adoption-connected losses? Exacerbate their pain? How can I best support them?

For adoptive families who have not embraced openness in adoption and who are facing an adoptive parent’s death, children may experience an ambivalent, unsettling sense of profound grief and simultaneously feel that they now finally have the freedom to search out their biological family connections. That pairing of grief, guilt and relief make a painful emotional soup.

I encourage families to commit to seeing both adoptive and birth families as REAL and important relationships in their children’s lives. Make absolutely sure your kids know your  adoption-attuned position. Reiterate your stance until you are certain they believe your inclusivity is genuine. Do not ask your children to choose between one or the other. Adoptees need all of their “parts.” We must not expect them to choose between us. That kind of monolithic loyalty oath is too high a price to pay for a loving family.

The Open-hearted Way to Open Adoption, Adoptive Families and the Real FactorAs Lori Holden asserts in her landmark book, The Open-hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole  openness does not directly equate with visitation; it is first and foremost an attitude of the heart. (Lori’s book is essential reading for adoptive families and we have previously reviewed it.) Even if your adoption is not fully open, the underlying respect and value that you hold for your children’s birth family is a foundational pillar of your attachment. To explore this concept further, read Lori’s book.

In conclusion, adoptive families and their bonds are authentic, REAL and significant. Don’t let anyone imply otherwise.

Truth and Adoption. Viewpoints Coexist & Differ

Tuesday, October 4, 2016 @ 12:10 PM
Author: admin

multiple-pov-with-giftMultiple points of view can be true at the same time! Adoption proves this fact every day. We experience this reality in deep, visceral ways.

Case in point: adoptive parents celebrate their child’s arrival. Birth parents grieve their loss. Children experience a seismic realignment of their lives, even in open adoptions. They were “pruned” from one family tree and “grafted” into ours.

This is the tough reality. No way around it. While adoption brings many benefits, we must not sugarcoat it. Doing that would hurt the children whom we love so deeply.

Family to Family.square 3Rebecca Swan Vahle of the  Family to Family Support Network describes it as a “wedding and a funeral” in the same moment. Gut wrenching stuff to admit, however, when we do acknowledge this fact we validate, reality. This enables us to deal with things as they actually occur instead of as how we wished they were. No one needs to pretend or role-play, or contort themselves to be or think what they think others expect of them.

With this level of honesty parents can support their kids through the emotional challenges and hard realities of adoption. When parents connect at this level with their children, strong bonds grow. It is immensely validating for kids to have parents “see” them in such a deeply authentic way and to “hear” them without refuting, justifying or minimizing. This lays the foundation for growing healthy, permanent attachments and benefits children and parents (birth and adoptive).
Family GIFT.2Most adoptive parents struggled to build their families. We plowed through paperwork, jumped through hoops and vowed not to quit until we were matched with a child in need of a family. We must bring the same passion and relentless determination to our pursuit of skills and understanding so that we become the parents our children need us to be. For each of us, that process is unique. The needs of the actual children whom we adopt will define the specific credentials and resources we need to amass.

How have you polished your adoption-attunement skills? How did it benefit your child? How is Deep Listening benefitting your family?

If we agree, that multiple viewpoints can be true at the same time, how do we encourage our children express theirs? How do we ensure that they feel safe in entrusting their “hard stuff”? How do we convince them we WANT to listen, even if it is as hard for us to hear as it is for them to express?

Books, movies and TV and social media can offer some useful conversation starters.

adoption-at-the-moviesFor many useful suggestions, check out

Adoption at the Movies 

by Addison Cooper, LCSW

and …


gayle-swift-logoWriting to Connect for book reviews through an adoption-attuned lens.



Check out this relevant book review post that details how to use books that are not connected to adoption to open important conversations about adoption. Coexisting Viewpoints: Equally True, Wildly Divergent


Empathy and the Intentional Family

Wednesday, August 3, 2016 @ 02:08 PM
Author: admin

Unselfie.41rIXftU6RL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200Unselfie._Americans value success. We believe our land of opportunity rewards hard work and determination. Last week we discussed Dr. Michele Borba’s excellent book, Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me WorldDr. Borba asked us to consider that we can focus on traditional success-producing skills and even increase the likelihood of success if we place equal emphasis on empathy. This allows us to raise children who shine both as human beings and as high achieving go-getters.

As Intentional Parents, how does fostering empathy influence our parenting priorities, practices and choices? What will we change, eliminate. add, or emphasize? How will it alter our expectations of our own behavior as well as our children’s?

EQ Emotional IntelligencePsychologist Dr. Daniel Goleman coined the concept of Emotional Intelligence and defined it in terms of five elements. Empathy is one of those foundational ingredients. When we parent with an awareness of the role emotions and emotional intelligence play, we can work with our children to nurture them to maturity as well-rounded individuals who succeed in all aspects of their being.

We cannot intimidate our children into behaving. Yelling will not elicit their cooperation. We must carefully nurture their internalization of family values and their decision to live by them. We do not want to be their wardens; we want to be their role models.

Frustrated mother behind angry daughter in provocative clothingHow does this look in action within our Intentional families? Imagine a moment of disagreement between you and your child … You’re frustrated, maybe even angry and worried. You are determined to hold strong and deny what your child has requested.

Now imagine their response… Most likely your decision evoked their anger as well as disappointment. This mutual anger feeds off itself and each of you digs in, amplifies your certainty about the rightness of your stance.

How might an Intentional Parent handle this scenario differently? Remember the recent topics of Deep Listening and Empathy. How might it look when Adoption-attuned parents embrace those two principles?


Here’s a sample dialog.

First acknowledge the obvious: “Wow, you really feel angry and disappointed.” Expect them to double-down on this position and their anger. LISTEN. Do not debate our attempt to change their mind. At this point, do not reiterate your position or impose consequences for their behavior. They will probably keep blowing up, expecting push back from you. Your lack of resistance confounds them, alters their expectations, and, interrupts the pattern of arguing.

Second, deliver a second unexpected response: validate their emotions. Genuinely empathize with them. “I get angry too when things don’t go my way.” Anticipate an emotion-charged reply. And again, listen… Allow them to unload until their fury dissipates, the “emotional hijacking” ends and, they are capable of listening.

Third, maintain a neutral stance and repeat their position, enumerating their reasons and desired goal. Seek affirmation that you’ve expressed their position to their satisfaction. The goal here is not to create a winner and a loser. It is to sustain a relationship, model respect and to inculcate our Values. (Later when everyone is calm, address the issue of disagreeing with respect. Practice it; do overs are much more effective than shouting matches. Remember both parties benefit from this practice.)

Finally, restate your parental position. Include any adjustments only if you are now willing to consider them. Choose your language precisely. avoid the word “but.” It is a relationship killer. For example. if Trevor cannot attend his friend’s party, reiterate their  request, then express your stance like this: You had your heart set on going. Many of your friends will be there AND we stand by our decision that you cannot join them.”

At this point do NOT expect that they’ll slap on a happy face and enthusiastically accept your decision. Do expect them to abide by it. Allow them the time and space to be disappointed and vent their anger–in their room. Choosing empathy and Deep Listening does not mean parents stand there like a punching bag. Walk away and do not reignite the discussion. If necessary, reply once, “Asked and answered,” then disengage with calm and respect.

Recall a recent argument between yourself and your child (or spouse.) How might have this empathy based approach improved the interaction?