Archive for the ‘Strengthening Family Relationships’ Category

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?

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.

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