Posts Tagged ‘Adoption attunement’

An “Unreasonable” Christmas Wish: A Family

Wednesday, December 20, 2017 @ 01:12 PM
Author: admin

An "Unreasonable" Christmas Wish: A Family

In the United States over 100,000 children in foster care need permanent families. Their most earnest Christmas wish is to receive a family who wants to welcome them into their hearts and homes and love them for a lifetime. There is no good reason that a child should have to languish alone, without the support of a loving, safe, permanent family. It is a tragedy beyond measure. We can and should do better by these children.

Love, sadly is not enough to heal their wounds, remediate their trauma and rebuild their ability to trust. Along with a willingness to love, the potential parents they dream about must have adequate preparation that provides them with the skills, understanding and commitment which will ensure that they have the stamina and capability to be the parents these children so desperately need and deserve.

To bridge these children across the divide of their grief, trauma and neglect requires more than good intentions. Through no fault of their own, these children have suffered great loss. That is their reality. Their truth. Their prospective adoptive families will need to be able to handle their truth, validate their emotions and walk with them as they journey to healing and regain their ability to trust. And love.

The journey will not unfold as a fairy tale. Rather it will reveal itself as a hero’s journey for both child and parent. This will take emotional, spiritual and psychic strength beyond measure—enough to sustain parent and child through the rocky shoals of the healing process. Prospective adoptive parents must be able to kick fairy tale expectations to the curb and deal with reality. This is the kinder, healthier and harder approach.

Happy, healthy families can emerge from this crucible as long as people pair their best intentions with the best Adoption-attuned* knowledge and understanding of the needs of children who fell into foster care. The deterioration of a family is neither pretty nor kind. It leaves scars, memories, self-sabotaging coping skills which—given the circumstances—they may be reluctant to release. Success will be hard won. Like all of life’s most valuable things, it will absolutely be worth the effort.

An "Unreasonable" Christmas Wish: A Family-P4P-Partnerships-for-PermanenceSally Ankerfelt, one of GIFT Family Services coaches had the opportunity to interview two young women who were adopted after being placed in foster care. (Click here to listen to the podcast.) These young ladies have pioneered a movement to help the next generation of foster kids. They’ve organized others like themselves, along with interested professionals to create Partnerships for Permanence* which is “an organization for former foster youth and adoptees coming together to raise awareness and actively work to improve the child welfare system.”

While their own personal experiences may have been imperfect, they have taken this experience and channeled it into a desire to help others. By sharing their personal insights about what helped and what failed them, they can improve the experience for children currently in the foster care system.

Their mission demands courage, resilience and commitment. They could have chosen to be bitter and resentful; instead, they have become committed and hopeful that they can repurpose their suffering to ensure a better experience for foster youth.

Please take the time to listen to their interview. Listen. Learn. Act. Then ask yourself, how has their story inspired you to adjust how you handle things within your family?

*Partnerships for Permanence is an affiliate of GIFT Family Services. They can work with families using the services of our coaches.



Adoption-attuned* Parenting Tips for Ages 0 – 7

Wednesday, June 14, 2017 @ 01:06 PM
Author: admin

Adoption-attuned* Parenting Tips for Ages 0 - 7

In their latest podcast, GIFT Coaches Susan David and Joann DiStefano offer tips on how to Adoption-attune your relationships with your child aged zero to seven. Three additional episodes will follow: Adoptees and the Middle School Years; Supporting Your Adopted Teen; No Longer a Child–Parent Relationships with the Adult Adoptee. Be sure to listen to the subsequent broadcasts as well. You’ll be glad that you did.

Success for any family is uniquely defined by the individual family. However, some elements appear almost universally in all families. Most parents aspire to raise happy, healthy, moral children who share the family’s values and contribute to the well-being of their families, communities and the world. Most adoptive families also include additional criteria: that their children successfully braid their dual heritage—birth and adoptive—into a healthy and functioning whole. (Writer and adoptive mom, Lori Holden calls this weaving “biography with biology.)

Adoption-attuned* Parenting Tips for Ages 0 – 7Adoptive parenting demands intense energy, patience, focus and Adoption-attunement* that sensitizes and alerts us to the unique needs of the entire family. Being a successful parent begins with an honest self-appraisal of the skills which we execute well and those which require additional time and attention. Some skill sets might only need tweaking while others may demand a complete reset of our parenting paradigm.

We awaken to the idea that adoptive parenting is different from parenting non-adopted children. We recognize that the methods we use to educate, inculcate values and teach discipline must always be selected through the lens of relationship building. We choose to be Intentional, to abandon autopilot parenting and instead commit to Adoption-attunement. At first this may sound like a huge mountain to climb. In reality, it is simply parenting from another angle with a fresh blueprint.

Adoption-attuned* Parenting Tips for Ages 0 – 7For example, in the early years of childhood from the years zero to seven, this means using “Time In” instead of “Time Out.” Listen to the entire podcast for many additional ideas of how to parent through an Adoption-attuned lens. Be brave enough to honestly assess your strengths as well as your greatest opportunities for improving skill sets. At this age children attend more to the examples which we model than to the words which we utter. Be intentional about how you relate with your kids. Keep in mind one question: Does this build connection with my child? As Dr. Karyn Purvis asserted: “Connect before you correct.” Relationship is the conduit to connection, attachment, family identity and attachment. It outstrips intimidation and yelling which instill fear and destroy relationships. Fear-based parenting elicits compliance in the moment not commitment.

When we do fall short of our lofty goal, Intentional Parents are quick to repair the relationship. This has a triple benefit: it shows children how to make amends, it demonstrates mutual respect and, it resists perfectionism. Parents and adoptees often incline to perfectionism—parents because they may feel the need to prove that they “deserve” to parent their child. Adoptees may fear a repeat of the biological parent’s “abandonment—so the ability to admit mistakes and make amends is a much-needed skill for all. Mastery comes through practice and life tends to serve up lots of chances to miss the pitch. It’s important that we show kids that we will take a shot at bat, again and again and again.

Adoption-attuned* Parenting Tips for Ages 0 – 7Susan and Joann have packed a lot of practical information into their thirty minute podcast. Tune in and check it out. Listen to the archived podcasts on our website. Episodes are brief and steeped in Adoption-attuned Parenting* concepts as well as Coaching Presuppositions. These strategies will help you build a strong family. Understanding the unique needs of our families enables us to parent smarter and more effectively.


Faith Communities and Adoption

Wednesday, May 31, 2017 @ 11:05 AM
Author: admin

Faith communities and adoptionAs Intentional adoptive parents, we understand that our families need resources. Not just any resources. We need Adoption-attuned* resources. Any professionals whom we consult must understand the nature and challenges of adoption. They must realize that adoption is not a fairy tale. Rather, it encompasses an entire range of emotions, some heart-warming and some heart-aching. With this Adoption-attunement in mind, adoptive families should consider how well their faith community meets their families’ needs–especially the needs of the adoptee.

Through conversations with adult adoptees we’ve come to realize that while faith communities can be sanctuaries of support and healing, they can also be the seat of judgment, dismissal and blind-sightedness. Faith communities are run by people and thus, can fall to the vicissitudes of human failings, bias and judgments. As part of our commitment to spread the awareness of Adoption-attunement, GIFT coaches Sally Ankerfelt–a Lutheran minister–and Gayle Swift decided to write a book centered on faith communities and how they serve–and sometimes, fail to serve adoptees. Next month, at the North American Council For Adoptable Children Conference,  Sally and Gayle will be presenting a workshop on this subject. To ensure that they are basing their book on what adoptees actually experience, they have been speaking to adult adoptees, engaging in on-line communities and compiling responses from an on-line survey.

We invite readers of this blog to support this information gathering. Become part of the solution process. Help us help adoptees. Please share this survey with any adult adoptees you know. If you are an adoptee, please participate in the survey, and or message us you thoughts regarding your experiences with your faith community (church, synagogue, etc.) How have they best met your needs? Where have they missed the mark? How have they been part of the challenges facing adoption?

If you prefer, you may copy this survey and email your responses to

We are two adoptive parents who want to help faith communities become Adoption-attuned. To accomplish this, we are writing a book that uplifts the voices and perspectives of those with the greatest insight: you, adult adoptees. Thank you for sharing your personal experiences with us. Feel free to pass this survey to other adoptees who are interested in sharing their experiences. Your input is valuable to us and much appreciated.  Gayle and Sally, GIFT Family Services, LLC.

1. How well has your faith community served your needs?


2. What role has your faith played in your family life?

3. To what extent did adoption affect your response to Scripture, Biblical themes and rituals?

4. List any specific liturgy, ritual, Biblical theme that resonated and/or challenged you as an adoptee.

5. How would you suggest faith communities might better address the adoptee experience?

6. What is your first and last name?

7. What is your email address?

8. Please share any additional thoughts which you might have on the topic of faith and adoption.

9. If we quote you, Would you like to stay anonymous?


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.

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  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.

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.  Please read Anne’s responses; she has a great deal of insight to share with us. (Underlining for emphasis is mine.)

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