Posts Tagged ‘Adoption attunement’

Dear Abby, We Need to Talk about Gotcha

Wednesday, March 8, 2017 @ 02:03 PM
Author: admin


For adoptive parents, the arrival of their children is a miracle beyond conception and an event which they love to celebrate. In a recent letter, Dear Abby extolled the virtues of “Gotcha Day” as a wonderful way to celebrate an important and life transforming event. As Adoption-attuned parents, we understand that adoption is a beautiful way of forming a family. But, the Both/And reality of adoption means it has its roots in loss and grief for each member of the adoption triad. Thus, as an adoption professional and an adoptive parent, I’d like to offer three reasons to rethink “Gotcha Day” and to provide some alternatives. Please click this link to read my complete essay which appeared on Lori Holden’s blog author of The Open-hearted Way to Open Adoption.

For me, Gotcha Day feels a bit like a hair shirt. It’s intended to generate warmth but it itches like crazy and somehow doesn’t accomplish the job.

Gotcha-Dear-Abby-The Open-hearted Way to Open Adoption,



You Don’t Look Adopted: Living as an Adoptive Family

Wednesday, August 31, 2016 @ 05:08 PM
Author: admin

A is for adoptionAdopted: looking the part and living the part of adopted person or adopted family, is something most of us  had no idea we’d be doing. How can we best prepare?

Develop a High AQ* (Adoption-attunement quotient.) Release pre-conceived notions about adoption and listen deeply to the voices of those who know it best: adult adoptees. In this post, GIFT is pleased to interview Anne Heffron, author of You Don’t Look Adopted a riveting, unflinching personal memoir of her life-journey as an adoptee.

Growing up, Anne often heard those words: “You don’t look adopted.” True, on the surface adoptees look no different from other human beings. Some, of course, don’t “match” the families into which they’ve been adopted. But still there’s no external “branding,” no visible  “Scarlet letter A” that announces to the world that a person was adopted. Unless an adoptee volunteers the information, their adoptee status remains undisclosed.

And yet, adoptees tell us, they experience an uncanny radar that attracts adoptees to one another. An intuitive recognition calls out to one another and recognizes those who are part of their adoptee community. Some say this connection arises from their struggle to braid their dual heritage (biology and adoption) into a single healthy identity. Others attribute it to a hyper-vigilant fear of additional abandonment.

Looking Adopted

Anne was adopted during the Baby Scoop Era when secrecy, sealed files and silence was the approach to an adoptee’s pre-adoption history and birth family. Parents expected a blank slate and telegraphed the message that curiosity about birth family equaled a betrayal.

An adopted family came at a price: absolute loyalty to the one and amnesia about the other. These beliefs were not only unfair, they were unhealthy and worsened the grief, loss and identity issues for adoptees.

Instead of turning to their parents for reassurance, security and guidance, kids  like Anne wrestled with confusion, fears of abandonment and not being good enough. (They confronted these dark feelings alone, unspoken except through the language of behavior.)

Anne reveals, “As the child prays for an open door of free speech and total acceptance of self, the parent prays for the conversation to end. Everyone stiffens … it’s the stories we don’t tell that keep us in various states of paralysis.”

Looking Adopted peeking behind the curtain of SecrecyFortunately, adoption has evolved since the Baby Scoop Era. Much of the changes have been propelled by adults like Anne, who are now speaking up, publishing their stories, creating films, and sharing their side of adoption life. This is why their voices, books and films are profoundly important; they guide us to a kinder, healthier way of handling adoptions. Their direct experience teaches us what did/didn’t and does/doesn’t t work in adoptive parenting. Still, we have so much to learn and improve.

As adoptees personally understand, adoption is not painless, is not an event but rather a lifetime journey.  The biggest “forever” in adoption is how it permanently reshapes everyone–child, birth parent and adoptive parent and to some extent the extended members of both birth and adoptive families.

AQ graphic 06.26.2016This realization convinces us that the entire family needs to understand how adoption affects each of them individually and the family collectively. All must become adoption-attuned for self-preservation; parents must commit to AAQ* to become the adoption-educated parents their adopted children need.

It takes courage for Anne and other adult adoptees to share intimate details and personal struggles and brave the tide of cultural resistance to acknowledge the reality of adoption as a lived experiences. Adoption is complex, imperfect. Grief coexists with joy, loss with gain. One does not neutralize the other. Adoption separates a child from his birth family and engrafts him to his adoptive family. This process is not painless.

Current practice recognizes the importance of both the child’s biological and his adoptive families. Certainly, this has not always been the case. Even today, some adoptive families fear openness, and yearn for their child to need only them and to “forget” about his ancestral roots. A “loyalty oath” has no place in an adoptive family. Kids need to be able to learn about, cherish and acknowledge all of their relationship links whether through birth or adoption.

You don't look adopted.41k7jwA+itL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

In You Don’t Look Adopted  Anne writes about many struggles within her family. One that will ring familiar to most adoptive moms is how she projected birth-mother anger and fear of abandonment onto her adoptive mother.  Anne says she had a compelling yet unspoken need for her mother to reassure her that she “was going to hold on no matter how ugly or disagreeable I got. She wasn’t leaving.” These thoughts offer precious insight to those currently in the parenting trenches.

We parents often lament that children do not come with a handbook. That’s why You Don’t Look Adopted is the next best thing. (Underlining for emphasis is mine.) Please read Anne’s responses; she has a great deal of insight to share with us.

1.GIFT advocates for parents to commit to Adoption-attunement.* If your parents had been educated on this approach prior to adopting, how might it have changed your family’s experience? 

This question makes me cry. It’s hard to even admit how much of a struggle it is to grow up with adoption being a topic that isn’t a topic. I didn’t even know it at the time, and as a child I would have told you I was 100 percent fine with being adopted. All the therapists I went to as a young adult and up until a year ago TOLD ME I was lucky I nice people adopted me and that I had a good home. NO ONE used language that is taught in something like the adoption-attunement. I think I would have felt like we were all on dry land together, instead of feeling however subconsciously, that I was under water while my parents were on dry land. I would have felt seen. Safe.  

2.You wrote: as the child prays for an open door of free speech and total acceptance of self, the parent prays for the conversation to end. Everyone stiffens …it’s the stories we don’t tell that keep us in various states of paralysis.” How can parents foster this level of honesty and openness?

Be interested in what the child says about adoption. Let the child talk about the birth mother and father. Even encourage the child, perhaps, to write a story about his birth mother or birth father. When I was fifty years old I felt I was breaking all the rules when one morning I got out paper and a pen and sketched out a children’s book about a little girl who was adopted—-I felt like I was committing a crime by writing it. I even read it out loud and put it on Youtube because I was trying to bust out of my fear shell I had around me about talking about my feelings when it came to my adoption.

That’s when everything shifted for me—with the story I wrote about Baby Momo. If my parents had encouraged that kind of behavior, I might have felt less split—less like it was my false self that was running the show, living my life.


3.GIFT encourages parents to live a both/and approach. Both birth and adoptive parents. Both nature and nurture. Each has positives to offer. Each is a permanent and core part of the child. Both/And releases our children from the lose/lose expectation that they must be loyal only to us. Can you address this “divided loyalty” issue?

 A friend introduced me to my now-screenwriting partner, Antonia Bogdanovich, eight years ago. Antonia and I told each other about ourselves during our first lunch, and she said I should write about adoption, but I told her I couldn’t, that it would kill my mother. We ended up writing a screenplay about a birth mother who goes in search of the baby she had given up twenty years earlier, and before we finished, my mom died. I have to tell you, there is a piece of my brain that believes I did it. That I broke the most important rule: do not admit you have another mother. My mom, my mom who raised me, was fiercely my mother. She would have not been able to tolerate meeting my birth mother as she was not able to even talk about her with me. What that meant was that part of me was not acceptable, the part that was adopted. That meant that I was split: there was the good Anne and the not good Anne. That meant that I was always in conflict with myself. I first thought about killing myself when I was in about fourth grade. That thought has been background music all of my adult life. Part of me is unacceptable. Get rid of it. And the only way to do that is to die. I wish I had felt fully accepted by my mom.

4.What do you suggest adoptive parents know/do/avoid that would improve their parent/child relationship?

 When I was a little girl, I once told my mother after she asked me to sweep the kitchen floor that my real mother would be very angry when she came back to get me and saw how I had been treated. My mother started to cry and ran from the room. That was a terrible moment for me. I felt so awful that I had hurt my mother, but I also felt betrayed by both mothers. They had both run from me. I wish my mother had been able to stay in the room, to tell me that my birth mother wasn’t coming back for me. I wish my mother had known that I needed to grieve this loss. I didn’t KNOW I needed to grieve it. I NEVER said to ANYONE, I miss my birth mother. I didn’t know that was even allowable. I think my stomach might have hurt less all my life if I’d been able to grieve the fact of my adoption with my mother. When my mother died, I realized the one thing I wished we had done was that she had held me as a little girl and that we’d both cried over the fact that she wasn’t my birth mother and that we also both cried that a piece of me was missing because I was adopted. I wish we’d been able to live with the fact that my mother was both my mother and not my mother in a way that didn’t make my mom cry. I wish we’d been able to talk about it. About loss and grief and love.


5.You wrote that you needed your mother to reassure you that she was going to hold on no matter how ugly or disagreeable I got. She wasn’t leaving.” This push/pull is a frequent dance between parent/adoptee. What additional insight can you offer to help adoptive families?

I was a good girl growing up, and then I started to do not great things. I stole a lot of money from my mother in my early twenties, and I remember thinking, finally, she is going to tell me that she can’t do it any more, that she isn’t my mother, but what she did was she wrote me a letter and told me that while she didn’t like my behavior, she still loved me. That was a game changer. I ended up going back home and finishing college. She hadn’t let me go. She’d held on. Even though I wasn’t even really aware of this thought, somewhere in my mind I was waiting for my mother to decide that I wasn’t good enough to keep.

I have to note that for some reason, all of my issues have pretty much centered around the mother figure. It didn’t even occur to me until I was in my twenties that I also had a birth father.

6.What obstacles in adoption have changed you the most?

Wanting to please my parents by being like them, but being different in ways that I couldn’t articulate or even prove (by saying, for example: well, my birth father was a scholar athlete in college, so maybe any physical prowess I have is worth investing in, or, well, my birth mother loved body work and so that is perhaps why I am obsessed with massage therapy). My mother loved that I was like her, so I grew up, like many kids who want to please their parents, trying to be like her so she would love me.

I wonder sometimes what it would have been like if my parents had sat me down at some point and had said, We have no idea what genetic talents or gifts you have, but we would love to help you explore and find out what most suits you.

A strange obstacle is the feeling that maybe I wasn’t even real. Since I didn’t know who my birth parents were or where I was the first ten weeks of my life, I didn’t feel entirely grounded. I could just as easily have come from another planet. When I found the names and identities of both my birth mother and father I became present in the world in a way I had never been before.

Not feeling real can be dangerous. It’s easier to try to throw yourself away if you don’t feel solid in the world.

7. Tell us about your other projects. Are connected to adoption?

 The very first screenplay that my writing partner and I finished over five years ago, The Rabbit Will Die, where a birth mother goes in search of a daughter she had relinquished twenty years earlier, is now in development.

I am, in a few months, going to start a second memoir about what happens AFTER and adopted person, me, finally DOES tell her story and DOES meet her birth father. So far, the experience has been nothing I could have predicted. 

8. What was your primary purpose for writing You Don’t Look Adopted?

This sounds dramatic, but really it was to save my life. In five years, my birth mother had died before I ever met her; my mother died; I got fired for throwing a pen at a student, crying and saying the f word; I got divorced for the second time, I moved yet again—three times—my daughter left for college, and the man I was dating broke up with me, saying I talked about adoption too much.

I had met Kitty Stockett, the author of The Help, at a writer’s retreat, and she’d offered me her Manhattan apartment for the month of February if I wanted to write. First I said yes and then I chickened out and said no. I didn’t think I could just step away from my life. I had bills to pay, that kind of stuff. But then I got into Noepe Center on Martha’s Vineyard for two weeks in April, and something just clicked in me. I felt that I had gotten as far as I could get in my life without telling my story, without even knowing how to tell it, and so I decided to corner myself into finally writing it

My mother had died of cancer before she’d finished her first book, and she didn’t get to see it published by Yale Press, didn’t get to see it on the cover of The New York Times Book Review or in the pages of The New Yorker. I didn’t want to follow in her footsteps; I wanted to live to see my book finished, so I called my trip Write or Die and I wasn’t going to come home until I was finished.

Kitty said I could have her place for the second two weeks in March, so I gave up my apartment, put all my stuff in storage, went to Berkeley to say goodbye to my daughter (that was the hardest—yes she was in college, but I’d still been just over an hour away from her—now I was going to be a long plane ride), and went to New York.

I ended up staying 93 days and not only did I finish the manuscript, but I found out, miracles of miracles, who my birth father was. That’s another story. I still can’t believe it. I got his picture on Day 93, when I got off the airplane to my connecting flight in Chicago.

I went deep in debt to write this book. I acted like a crazy person, putting my story and my voice ahead of everything else. It was the best 93 days of my life. I wrote my story and I found my roots. Everything shifted. I am myself. I found me.

Now I want to spend the rest of my life helping people, adopted and not, doing their own form of Write or Die, only on the cheap, without having to fly across the country and going into debt.

Kitty Stockett is my hero, by the way. Her generosity to a near stranger radically changed my life.

 9.What else would you like to share with our subscribers?

Please, please, please, communicate fearlessly and lovingly about just about everything. I can’t tell you how many people write to me after reading my book, telling me that they thought they were alone in their feelings. And it’s not just adopted people who write to me. It’s almost everyone. We’ve all felt abandoned. We’ve pretty much all have had our hearts broken. We suffer when we stay quiet. What I found when I went to New York and Martha’s Vineyard was the more open I was, the more love that poured into my life. The more real I was, the more people wanted to be with me. I saw the world as a spider web of people, and I was now part of that spider web instead of feeling like an alien that was somehow cut off from everyone because I didn’t know who I was or where I had come from—now I know, I am the birth daughter of X and Y (Yes, it’s true: I can’t tell you my birth parents’ names because, get this: it’s secret information. There are family members on both sides who don’t know about me and so, yes, I am a shameful secret and must remain hidden. So, no, the shame game hasn’t completely ended for me.) and the daughter of Margery and Frank Heffron. I know the names of grandparents of all four parents. This means something. It means I’m real. It means that my actions have consequences and that I am worthy of feeling, giving, and receiving love. It means the world. Heffron



Beyond Filling the Crib: Nurturing AQ* (Adoption-attunement)

Wednesday, May 25, 2016 @ 12:05 PM
Author: admin

Children toys hanging from the crib

Adoptive parents understand to the marrow of our bones, what we’ve called in earlier blogs “our magnificent obsession”: the consuming desire for children. We pursued adoption with passion and dogged determination, leapt every hurdle and met every requirement that stood between us and our child.

The majority of us chose adoption because of infertility. Our dreams centered on fantasies of “our” baby nestled peacefully in a crib, sleeping under our watchful and loving gaze. The crib simultaneously embodied both the fulfillment of heart’s desire and symbolized our failure to conceive.

We adopted after fourteen years of marriage I can readily identify with this soul-yearning for a baby. Been there. Oh, yes. Been. There. Rebecca Swan Vahle adoptive mom, adoption advocate and Executive Director of  Family to Family Support Network frequently mentions this focus on “filling the crib” in her superb podcasts. She challenges us to grow beyond this point of view. (Check out her archives; they overflow with important interviews from all sides of the adoption constellation.)

It is essential that we move to an even more profound understanding, the one that recognizes and commits to the belief: “Adoption is about providing families for children, not for providing children to potential parents.

The purpose of adoption

Most of us need some educating to understand the profound shift in viewpoint, priorities and choices that is embodied in this statement. Once we embrace the why of this essential shift, we then switch our attention to the how. This is where the process of adoption attunement takes root. The education takes time to acquire. In fact, it is a lifetime endeavor. We must consult many sources: books, videos, podcasts, conferences, therapists, coaches, support groups, etc. This is how we dedicate ourselves to being a high AQ* Family; we strive to better understand how adoption affects our children as well as ourselves..

GIFT Family Services website lists many valuable resources for adoptive families. In this blog we frequently review worthwhile books in the adoption arena. This includes titles for adults as well as those for children. We mention specific podcasts, blogs and conferences that we believe parents will find beneficial. GIFT coach Gayle Swift writes an additional weekly blog that reviews children’s books through a lens of adoption attunement. Most titles reviewed are not about adoption. They’re simply interesting, worthwhile and fun books to read.  Her blog centers on how to use any book as a support for the adoptive family.

So, why bother reading Adoption blogs, books, attending conferences, etc? Because we choose to be the best version of the parents are children need us to be. How high is your family AQ?


10 Ways to Increase Attunement with Adopted Children–Part 1

Wednesday, October 22, 2014 @ 02:10 AM
Author: admin

Adoption the wayLet’s stipulate that a healthy parent-child relationship grows in the nurturing cocoon of love. In adoptive families love is present, pervasive, intentional and committed. Unfortunately, love is not “enough” to firmly heal a child’s losses in adoption. It takes much more than love to prepare him to accept and embrace his adoptive family. Adopted parents need to understand attachment, bonding, trauma and how these factors must shape parenting strategies with an adoption spin. At GIFT we believe parents need to develop three intelligences: Academic Intelligence (IQ), Emotional Intelligence (EQ),  and (unique to adoptive families), Adoption-attunement Intelligence (AQ ).

All healthy parents care about and attend to their children’s academic and emotional needs. That is a given. Adoptive parents are called to an additional level of education: that of mastering parenting that is infused with adoption-sensitivity.

On this blog, we refer to AQ frequently. As National Adoption Month approaches we thought it made sense to elaborate on each of the specific AQ elements.  AQ (Adoption-attunement Quotient) considers how adoption influences a child and includes:

Adoption-sensitive parenting techniques Parenting techniques–like Time Out— considered the “norm” work well for families with children who haven’t faced the trauma of separation, abuse or neglect. But such strategies can be ineffective, even damaging to adopted children. When we work so hard to build connection and attachment, punishing kids with isolation and creating insecurity about the parent/child relationship is not wise.

Instead AQ parents choose Time In which focuses on “connecting before correcting” a technique advocated by Dr. Karen PurvisTime In focuses on strengthening the relationship, on helping the dysregulated  child become regulated and on establishing an experience of perceived safety. After the child becomes regulated, then he will be able to examine his missteps, to listen to parental input,  and to extract any learning.

Another popular behavior management tool, reward systems and charts often backfire or are largely ineffective–especially for kids with trauma histories. Whether it is the pressure of being “good enough” or self limiting beliefs that expect failure or their unwillingness to participate because they need to be in control–any or all of these factors could contribute to the low response rate with kids who had “tough starts.”

Sound adoption language— Language infused with respect best serves all parties in the adoption triad (adoptee, adoptive parents and birth/first parents.) Choose words that are accurate and reflect the realities of the adoption experience. This is a step beyond “positive” adoption language which can slide into minimizing. The actual vocabulary changes as we better understand the complexities and sensitivities of each. Think it through by imagining yourself as a birth parent or adoptee. How does the term touch your ears and heart now?

Consider “Gotcha Day,”  a term that celebrates a child’s arrival in the adoptive family. While the intent of this unfortunate term is positive, the reality is a bit off the mark. First, it focuses on the parental experience instead of the child’s. Second, “gotcha” is often a term used to indicate victory over another person. Third, it objectifies the child, like a prized toy that was finally acquired. “Arrival Day, Homecoming, Family Day are better choices. Be mindful however, that there are two sides to this special day: the happy part about joining a permanent family, and the sad part –losing the family to which he was born. Be prepared for your child to show very mixed emotions.Read more

Knowledge of the attachment process Attachment is a dance of action and response. A parent’s own attachment style will influence how he/she interacts with each child. By understanding one’s own inclinations, a parent can modify this feedback loop to  be more responsive to their child’s attachment style. Responding accurately, promptly and consistently to your child’s overtures sends many important messages:

You are listening.

He’s important and worth your time and attention.

You value what he feels, thinks, and says.

She is capable of asking for what she needs.

It is appropriate for him to speak up for himself.

She can count on you to listen and respond.

When you respond with empathy, she learns to do the same.

Consideration of grief and loss issues As parents we celebrate the great blessing of welcoming our children into our families. The reality for our children, however also includes  very real losses as well. Their separation from their birth families is a significant source of grief and pain. The two realities–adoptive family/birth family–coexist; they do not cancel out one another. Each is important to the child. Each is an integral, valuable, and permanent part of them.

Respect for birth parents–A fundamental tenet of adoption. Our children are the fruit of their birth parents. When we honor and respect birth parents, we honor and respect our children. In cases where  abuse and neglect occurred, it is essential to separate the individuals from their actions. Find some way to demonstrate to your child that there is always a kernel of goodness that can be acknowledged–even if the it is only that they created your child.

Next week, we will explore the remaining concepts of AQ

Modeling healthy boundaries

Educating family, friends and teachers on adoption

Remembering that a child’s story belongs to him

Recognizing that adoption is a family experience

Encouraging playfulness and good humor as a family value

Integrating a child’s birth heritage

Adoptive Parents handle their own grief and loss issues.

Family Story Telling: Have I told you about the Time I …

Tuesday, July 15, 2014 @ 09:07 PM
Author: admin

Family Camping On Beach And Toasting reported on recent research by Dr. Marshall Duke of Emory University indicates that children benefit from repetition of family stories. “Duke found that children who were exposed to family stories experience “higher levels of emotional well-being, and also higher levels of identity achievement.” These benefits emerged not simply from the content that bridged the generations but more importantly from “the process of capturing them. It’s the dialogues, open discussions, and Q & A sessions that lead to positive results.”

How can adoptive families capitalize on this activity and add the appropriate AQ (Adoption-attuned*) spin? First, when retelling family stories, do so with an eye to reinforcing relationships, memories of good times or of important relational moments. Recall the funny antics, endearing questions, and charming innocence and always stay tuned to your child’s emotional response. Keep in mind that children are tender-hearted, easily humiliated or offended. Some of these children-say-and-do-the-darndest-things stories may delight you and be hurtful, humiliating, or upsetting to children.

Obviously, if your child responds by withdrawing, pouting or with any other types of negative way, delete the story from your repertoire. To continue in the face of this reaction would defeat the intention of the story-sharing exercise. One of my children had highly tuned radar that resented being the brunt of a joke. He hated being laughed at even when there was no malice or sarcasm involved. He could not tolerate appearing as less than.

(Keep in mind that adopted kids tend to have a hair trigger on anything that suggests they are not good enough; it awakens an inner fear that their adoption resulted from a fault within themselves. They do not need parents to help pick at that particular “scab.” They do that to themselves often enough as it is.)

Include stories that show yourselves and your older generations as examples of many kinds of emotions and behaviors—the good, the bad and the ugly. Your courage and willingness to look less-than-perfect will serves as a template for your kids to imitate—eventually. Be willing to take your turn looking like the “goat” and laughing it off with grace and good humor. If you only tell stories that paint you in your best light, you create a false image of perfection which your children may then interpret as the standard set for them as well. Do share stories that show you struggling, failing and persisting to success.

Keep in mind that the benefit of this family story sharing grows from the interaction, the time spent together with ALL family members contributing to the conversation. The article further clarifies: “it’s less about children knowing family stories, and more about the process of capturing them. It’s the dialogues, open discussions, and Q & A sessions that lead to positive results.”

The article shares ways in which social media can be used to connect distant relatives for regularly scheduled chat times—Facebook, Google+ Hangouts, e.g. Keep it fun; turning this into an obligation will make it a chore. Focus on remembering and nurturing moments that feed the spirit of the family.

Part of being a high AQ family is being intentional. This means proactively educating extended family members so they understand the important emotional boundaries that your children need. As parents, it is our responsibility to teach family and friends so that are kids are not unnecessary hurt by insensitive attitudes or conversations. Spending time listening to the details of one another’s lives proves the value we place on each person. It says, “Because we think you are important, your story is important. We care enough to remember.”

What will be your first step in initiating Family Talk Times? How will you make it fun for everybody?

*Adoption-attunement Quotient

AQ considers how adoption influences a child and includes:

Adoption-sensitive parenting techniques

Sound adoption language

Knowledge of the attachment process

Consideration of grief and loss issues

Respect for birth parents

Modeling healthy boundaries

Educating family, friends and teachers on adoption

Remembering that a child’s story belongs to him

Recognizing that adoption is a family experience

Encouraging playfulness and good humor as a family value

Integrating a child’s birth heritage