Posts Tagged ‘attachment’

Roots and Wings, Questions and Answers, Building Connections

Wednesday, March 21, 2018 @ 02:03 PM
Author: admin

Roots and Wings, Questions and Answers Love connects families across time and distanceBy the very fact that you chose to take the time to open this blog, you have demonstrated a commitment to being the best parent you can. Posts like this one help us identify leverage points from which we can better guide and connect with our children. Today as I write this blog, tragically, another school shooting has occurred. This is another reminder of the fragility of life. In recent weeks we’ve concentrated nurturing our relationships within our family context. Strong, connected relationships form the foundational bedrock of healthy families. They do not happen by accident. They grow from a consistent commitment of words and aligned actions.

As Intentional Parents we have committed to a goal: to parent in a way that reflects our deeply held values and which helps children grow into happy, healthy adults with strong “roots” and sturdy “wings.”

So, let’s consider a few questions.

(First, identify one specific attempt you actually made to reinforce your relationship connection members of your family. Then repeat this series of questions regarding at least one attempt you made to connect with each of the remaining members of your family.) Let’s explore what you can “data mine” about your efforts.

Roots and Wings, Questions and Answers Keep reaching until you connectHow well was it received? What did it accomplish?  How did their response affect your emotions?

How have you reminded yourself each day to ensure you fulfilled your intention to make a daily connection?

Did you think to consider taking advantage of each family member’s “love language?” (If you need a refresher, reread this blog.)

What did you notice within yourself as the interactions occur?

 What happened when those efforts “landed”?

If your effort was rebuffed, how did you respond? (Think of both your external reactions and your internal emotions and thoughts.)

What can you do to help identify additional ways of connecting? How can you make them more effective?

How did timing, location, and the presence–or absence–of others influence whether or not connection successfully occurred?

Now run an instant replay in your mind WITHOUT any soundtrack.

What role did body language play—yours and theirs? How did they play off one another?

Now run ONLY the soundtrack. How did word choice influence the result? How does your wording influence the communication, for example, when you speak saying “you” versus “I”?

What have you learned about yourself? What have you learned about individual members of your family?  Decide what actions you want to repeat and which ones need further revision or a totally new strategy. When unable to connect “in person” what other ways might you try? Notes? Text messages? Get creative. Instagram? Letters? (the snail mail kind!) The bottom line:

Sustain the intention and

Develop the effective strategies

Implement systems that remind you to follow through.

Approach this effort one day at a time. What will you do today?

Changing Intentions, Changing Behavior: An Uphill Climb

Wednesday, February 28, 2018 @ 05:02 PM
Author: admin

Changing Intentions, Changing Behavior: An Uphill ClimbLast week we challenged you to set time aside to have deeply connected and vulnerable conversations with the people you love. We titled it “Before It Is Too Late.”  Our intent was to encourage some positive change regarding the mood of negativity, anger and, violence in America. We believe we must focus on connection as a prime priority.

Creating genuine feelings of belonging and connectedness are the solution to anger and isolation, not the after-effect.

A loving relationship is the soil from which our family bonds grow. We plant the seeds of trust, caring, forgiveness and, acceptance. The growth process takes time and attentive nurturing.

Change of this magnitude requires a combination of intention, commitment and, execution. It is definitely an uphill climb that demands persistence, powering through failure, forgiveness, encouragement and, acknowledgment of every tiny increment of success.

So … back to last week’s challenge. Did you actually make time to have the conversation in which you told them you love them? How many times did you do? if not, what distractions, habits and behavioral patterns got in your way? Pause for a moment to listen to your inner dialogue as you considered the previous questions. How “accountable” were you? What rationale (excuses?) did you invoke to justify not taking the time for the challenge?

Step back. Now ask yourself, if a spouse, friend, coworker or, child used similar reasons for not following through on a Big Intention would you call “baloney” on them? Would you think it but not share the thought?

Now imagine yourself as the “listener” hearing your reasons for not acting on your intention. Do the words ring true? Great. How can you overcome those obstacles to create a different outcome this week? What are you willing to do to make sure you make the time to connect? What reminders might serve your goal?

If you judged your “reasons” as insufficient, are you ready to move beyond these distractions, obstacles or, excuses? What will you have to think, do and say differently?

Intimacy requires us to be vulnerable with one another which means it leaves us open to being hurt. Risk it. Start the conversation. Lead by example and speak from your heart. Reciprocity may not come but the words will have been heard. Even if the message didn’t take root immediately, repeat the process until it does. When family members do respond, listen, totally, with heart and mind. That is a daring act of love which transforms, hearts, lives and, worlds. This is how we attune and it is through this attunement that we interact in ways that benefit the entire family.

The time for these conversations is now. #LoveRadically

Believing Hearts, Hurtful Words, Healing Words

Friday, February 16, 2018 @ 11:02 PM
Author: admin

Believing Hearts, Hurtful Words, Healing WordsLife-affirming people make us feel better after being with them. The way they speak and interact resonates, refreshes & supports us. Through their words and demeanor we feel heard, seen and, validated. They listen attentively and respectfully. We feel the difference. They believe in us and thus remind us to believe in ourselves. They roll up their shirtsleeves then dig in and help. We blossom within this type of rare and blessed relationship.

As adoptive parents we have the opportunity—the obligation—to create this level of communication within our families. Since adoption is the most significant factors that make our families unique, the way we communicate around adoption occupies center stage in our family dynamics and family cohesion.

Believing Hearts, Hurtful Words, Healing Words

It is a truism that adoption brings together disparate individuals and grafts them into a family. Unlike a cake mix where simple stirring blends the ingredients sufficiently, adoption requires a unique life-long commitment to understanding how to best fulfill the needs of adoptees. It also mandates that we maintain an understanding about how our own grief and loss issues contribute to the complexity. We cannot afford to deny that these raw spots exist. To do so would require that we build a false façade that dooms the entire family to role-playing instead of genuinely connecting.

Both parents and children have emotional hot spots—triggers—which can be easily detonated causing hurt feelings and damaged relationships. This blog will focus on only one of the many contributing elements: the role language plays in shaping family relationships. We cannot afford to be cavalier or haphazard with our words, nor can we default to cultural phrases and assumptions about adoption. We must dig deeper, be intentional and use language in a positive, almost therapeutic way.  We must maintain a scrupulous awareness of how we use language.

Believing Hearts, Hurtful Words, Healing Words

Nature/Nurture Conundrum

The push/pull between the influences of nature and nurture is undeniable in adoptive families. Both forces operate in a constantly changing balance. The differences that exist between ourselves and our children contribute as much as our commonalities to shape who we are as individuals and as a family.

All families have differences. We are after all, not clones but individuals. Adoptive families are even more likely to have areas where preferences and inclinations don’t quite synchronize. The way we talk about—or ignore this challenge—impacts our relationships and attachment-building process.

Most of the time we appreciate the zest and spice that our children’s differences add to our families. Sometimes, however, their aptitudes and inclinations challenge us. A family of sports nuts, for example, may be utterly confounded by their child’s total disinterest in things athletic. Or, a family whose generations have been steeped in the arts, music and dance may be frustrated with their child’s refusal to engage while they prefer to focus their complete attention on sports.

As Intentional Parents we strive to respect the spectrum of the entire family’s aptitudes, successes and struggles with mutual respect. We choose to consciously honor, nurture and encourage their unique—and different—interests and abilities. We scrupulously avoid sending a message that we wish they were different—code for “more like us.” It is essential to release our children from the straitjacket of expectations limited to historical family patterns. Language counts in this regard. So does silence.

Believing Hearts, Hurtful Words, Healing WordsOnce we adopted, we entered a new world, one that includes substantial differences. We must embrace this infusion of difference and never convey disappointment or resentment or imply that who their DNA has designed them to be is not quite good enough. Most especially, we must not imply that our children should stifle their natural talents and subjugate them to our family’s “traditional” patterns as the unspoken cost for acceptance into our families.

Our children struggle with the weight and challenge of the inevitable differences they feel as they walk through life and accomplish the task of becoming themselves within the context of our families. This is not an easy job. They must in essence, “build the bridge as they are walking across it,”[1] and figure out how to straddle their dual identity of biology and biography.* They need our guidance and encouragement and the words we use to express our support matters.

When our child pursues an activity which we find dull, uninteresting or even not “worthwhile,” the judgmental part of our consciousness may undermine our best intentions. For example, a sports nut mom may find it excruciating to listen to her child drone in minute detail about a piece of music or favorite film. She might make an auto-pilot comment like, “That’s interesting.” That phrase commonly operates as code for BORING. At best it damns with “faint praise.”  

Often our body language conveys our authentic feelings: eyes roll or avoid contact, mouth gapes open or we remain focused on our own task rather than fully engage with our child.

(The message is clear whether vocalized or not.) Although the adage says, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” we all know the truth that contradicts this old saw. Some words cut to the core, flay the spirit, and destroy self-esteem.

Believing Hearts, Hurtful Words, Healing Words, toxic wordsOnce spoken and heard, such toxic words cannot be taken back, “unheard” or forgotten. Forgiveness may follow, but the memory of such verbal poison and the emotional message they convey, will linger. The scar will remain as memory of a painful experience and a permanent part of their inner audiotape.

The quicksand of harsh words can damage our children. Adoption has its roots in loss–for parent and child–and this reality can leave us vulnerable to feelings of shame, self-doubt and, inadequacy. As the saying goes, “Hurt people hurt people.” In other words, when people feel hurt, they tend to lash out in response. It is helpful to remind ourselves of this when our kids dish out hurtful or rejecting comments. The heat of the moment is not time for a rational discussion.

Prepare for these conversations ahead of time and remember though the words are directed at us–and may be intentionally hurtful–they’re usually  our child’s effort to unload pain and to shift it to parents. The reality is that their words can land on very raw and tender emotional hot spots within us. At some unconscious level, all adoptive parents wrestle with fears that their children will never fully bond with them. Many adoptive parents unconsciously fear that their children might prefer their biological parents. Others worry that their children might not have enough room for both their adoptive parents and their biological parents. These fears can lead  them to place subtle—perhaps even overt—pressure on their children to choose between their first parents and their adoptees.

Being mindful of this vulnerability, parents must commit to holding an absolute boundary regarding certain toxic, emotionally devastating phrases.

As the saying goes, “Hurt people hurt people.” In other words, when people feel hurt, they tend to lash out in response. It is helpful to remind ourselves of this when our kids dish out hurtful or rejecting comments. The heat of the moment is not time for a rational discussion.

We can prepare for these conversations ahead of time to remind ourselves that though their words are directed at us–and may be intentionally hurtful–they’re usually our child’s effort to unload pain and to shift it to parents. The reality is that their words can land on very raw and tender emotional hot spots within us, e.g., fears that our children will never fully bond with us, or that they might prefer their biological parents over us. Some of us may struggle to believe that our children might not have enough room for both us and their biological parents. These fears can lead us to place subtle—perhaps even overt—pressure on children to choose between their first parents and us. That’s a lot of fear on our side of the equation.

Regardless of the buttons kids may push or the emotional hand grenades they lobby parents must remain solid in their commitment to respectful, compassionate language. There is NEVER justification for the use of such “Black Box” phrases as:

“I wish we’d never adopted you.”

“You’re just like your mother (or father) [An insult is clearly implied]

“My biological children would never be like you.”

“Adopting you was a big mistake”

“You should be grateful we adopted you.”

“Maybe I’m not your real mom/dad but you’re not my real kid either.”

“You’re so puny, or such a big Amazon, or ____ (insert a phrase that attacks your child’s being.”

“You’re stuck with us; your parents didn’t want you.”

The preceding words do irreparable harm to the fragile bonds of attachment which require so much effort, time and intention to foster and strengthen and are, unfortunately, so easy to undermine an damage.

Here a few questions to consider.

What other toxic talk might be fatal to your relationships as a family?

When your kids say deeply hurtful things to you, how do you remain calm and “adult” and resist the urge to retaliate?

How might you model ways of “off-loading” pain in a way that does not hurt others?

Take the time to develop an arsenal of responses that support your child and your child who is experiencing an “emotional hijacking.” (This is when they are so inflamed with emotion, their thinking brain is shut down. They’re not thinking; they are downing in a tsunami of overwhelming and frightening emotions. Logic is useless. Reasoning is futile. The time for discussion, problem solving and consequences will come later, after the firestorm subsides.)

Here are some ways to respond.

It must be scary to feel angry enough to hate me. It sounds like “x” is really important to you.

I bet that feeling like I’m not your “real” mom (dad) must leave you feeling alone and unprotected.

I’ve never had to wonder who my real parents are; I think it must be both scary and painful.

Don’t expect miracles. Notice that these responses focus on meeting the child where he is, not in yelling at them to calm down, not in screaming back a laundry list of escalating consequences and not in trying to impose parental control. They focus on conveying empathy, not winning the argument. This response is about salvaging the relationship and reminding them that it is  something valuable. Bridge cross the crisis to connect and nurture the seeds of attachment. Remember when our kids are behaving in their must “unloveable” and unpleasant ways, it is usually when they need our love and reassurance the most.



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