Posts Tagged ‘attachment’

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


Adoptive Families: Real or Fake or What?

Tuesday, September 27, 2016 @ 03:09 PM
Author: admin

real-or-fakeOne of the most demeaning questions thrown at adoptees and their families centers on the concept of REALDo you know your REAL parents? Do you have any REAL brothers or sisters? In addition to your adopted children, do you have any REAL ones?  

These questions strike deep. They demean the validity of our families, cast us as less than biological families and require us to defend our “inferior” status.

At some level, the REAL question causes kids to worry that perhaps the questioner is correct. Perhaps adoptive families are not quite as good as other families. Even we parents wrestle with doubts: Are we doing a good job? Are we all attaching well? Are we respecting birth parents and birth family enough? Will our children grow up and want to abandon our family in preference for a return to their birth parents?

Most of the time we remain strong in our commitment to our family and trust in the genuine bonds we are building. But when people wave the REAL  flag in our faces, their implied criticism shakes us.  In that moment, we are challenged. As Intentional Parents, we’ve rehearsed these scenarios, have analyzed our thoughts and beliefs, committed to adoption-attunement and thus, we can remain confident that our families and the bonds which braid us together are very real. We do not lose ourselves in the fear factor. This is why we parents discuss adoption topics.

Adoptive Families: Real or FakeIt is equally essential that we have similar conversations with our kids. We want to help them be reassured in their own minds and to prepare them to handle the inevitable REAL questions when they are lobbed in their direction. How do we bring up such a “Big” and difficult conversation?

This book offers the perfect gateway to discussing what makes a family real. As adoptive families, we know that our families and our relationships are all deep and permanent. Real. The choice is not binary; both adoptive and biological parents and relatives are real. A book  like this offers an indirect way of initiating a conversation with our kids about realness, truth, misperception and ignorance. Begin by discussing an item from the book, and then ask your child if people ever ask them about any part of their life being real or “not real.” If they follow your lead and mention adoption-connected stuff, go for it.

asian father and elementary-age son sitting on grass outdoors having a conversation.

Invite them to share their experiences and thoughts. Listen. Deeply. Give them time. When they pause, ask them to tell you more. Stay quiet and listen. Once they’ve downloaded all their thoughts, then review the  events together. Explore how they felt. Identify what they wished they could have changed. Look for opportunities where they could have influenced the conversation. Be sure to approach it from a perspective of improving things for the next time as opposed to judging their experiences as failures.

Help them to determine if the question emerges from mean-spiritedness or genuine curiosity hampered by ignorance. (Many people lack the appropriate vocabulary to draw the distinction between biological and adopted relationships. They default to REAL when what they actually mean is biological.) Once they’ve taught the questioner how to use adoption-attuned language, any further use of REAL most likely is pejorative and intended to demean adoption.

Another path this family conversation can explore: some people won’t accept adoptive families as fully equivalent to biological families. Not an easy topic, but still an important one to address (in an age-appropriate manner.)

Adoption-attuned book review from Writing to Connect

Real or Fake? Far-out Fibs, Fishy Facts and Phony Photos by National Geographic Kids is a fascinating book that helps kids to see through information and identify what is true from what is contrived, faked, tweaked or downright false. With the advent of the Photoshop era and the proliferation of exaggeration on-line, in print and in advertisements, truth competes with persuasive, authentic-sounding lies and fakes. Such stories, “news” reports, photos, and zany factoids can even fool adults .

We must help kids develop the ability to see through the trickery and deceit to discern what is real or fake.

The book uses a fib-o-meter to help display the range of falseness that an item may contain. Some lies are broader and more serious than others. The bottom line is that it still represents an untruth. We all must be alert for the tricks that people use to fool, confuse and manipulate us. Sometimes the deceit is unintentional, sometimes it is for fun. Many times, however, the intention is to control and trick kids (or us) into doing something or believing something we would not otherwise do or believe if we knew the truth.

In what way do you personally struggle with the question of REAL? Which buttons does it push? What is the best way you’ve found to cope with such questions?


A Cow Patty With Frosting Still Stinks

Wednesday, September 14, 2016 @ 02:09 PM
Author: admin

cow-patty-pretty-still-stinksA cow patty slathered with vanilla frosting still stinks.

What!?! A cow patty stinks? Indeed, no amount of frosting can change a cow patty into dessert.

What does this statement have to do with Intentional Parenting? More than you might think.

Adult adoptees report that people often dismiss, trivialize or ignore their adoption-connected grief and loss. They’re told to get over it AND be grateful. After all, they have a “great family now; why mourn the loss of their first family? This cultural expectation is the emotional equivalent of  frosting a cow patty. Underneath the pretty exterior, it still stinks.

True, their first family relinquished them, but their adoptive family yearned for them … so …. things all worked out after all. Strangers–and sometimes friends and family–tell adoptees they should get over it–and be grateful in the process. This is a false equivalence.  The substitution of one family for another–regardless of how awesome that replacement family is–this substitution does not erase the emotional and physical pain of the loss involved. (Nor does it eliminate adoptees’ interest in learning more about their birth families.)

In the past, professionals advised families to live “as if” lives. As if children had no remaining connection to birth families. As if they had no losses. As if we’d given birth to them. As if they had no scars, memories or grief. As if adoption was the fairy tale solution from which all could walk unscathed into the future.

Intentional, adoption-attuned parents know the truth contradicted the fairy tale. Underneath the happily-ever-after label existed some painful stuff. Prettying it up did not make the pain go away. It merely buried it deeper where it festered. Unresolved.

How does this awareness guide Intentional Parents? When it comes to adoption “stuff” we don’t gloss over it, pretty it up, minimize or turn a blind eye.

Several recent posts have focused on the benefits of authentic listening and encouraging kids to share their emotions/thoughts/beliefs regarding adoption. As Adoption-attuned parents, we understand these conversations will be complex, unsettling and painful to hear. We want our children to confide in us because we promised to be the safe harbor they need.


High AQ* families know enough to ask the questions that bring thoughts and feelings to the surface, that validate our children’s struggles. This serves as evidence of our permanent commitment to them and reminds our children we don’t require them to value only us and dismiss their birth families. We ask questions, listen deeply, validate our children’s authentic experience and live with a Both/And paradigm. This is what it means to be an Intentional, Adoption-attuned family.

Trust, Attachment and Family Links

Wednesday, August 10, 2016 @ 03:08 PM
Author: admin

Family building via adoption requires effort, commitment, education, intentionality and a willingness to take a risk–by both parent and child. Each must muster the courage to open emotionally and be vulnerable to the other. When we dare to love, we also understand that the risk of being hurt exists. We accept that risk because we believe  the opportunity to love and be in relationship far outweighs any emotional pain.

When we adopt children who have spent years in orphanages, we realize that the risks and challenges increase. The strategies on which children in orphanages depend for survival, don’t magically fall away once these children are adopted. Experience taught them that relying on others is dangerous, that the only one on whom it is safe to depend is themselves, that caring about or for others only leads to heartbreak. This “successful” skill set kept them safe under adverse experiences. They believe in their methods. They have real-life data to prove the value of this self-isolating approach.

Seen in this light, it is no surprise that it takes tremendous courage, effort and a great deal of time before a child dares to risk trust and attachment. Often described as RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder; it is also known as Reactive Attachment Syndrome.) I would argue it is less a “disorder” and more a strategy that has outlived its effectiveness. Their strategy becomes counter-productive and causes kids to deny themselves the love and security they crave and which adoptive parents are eager to share with them. While it is not easy to break through the prison of RAD, it is possible. Michele Weidenbenner has written a fictionalized story which begins in a Russian orphanage. Convinced by her experiences, Oksana believes that trust as an unafforable luxury. “Scattered Links”chronicles her family’s triumph over RAD. Read my detailed book review here. Her story offers hope to those coping with attachment challenges.

When we interviewed Michele for this post we focused on this book but she has written many others as well.

  1. Scattered Links.Weidenbenner.51EFfra9u4L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_What was your primary purpose for writing Scattered Links?

I wanted to show the frustration that a parent might have who wants to bond with a child who can’t trust, who struggles with knowing how to love someone. I also wanted to show the child’s side of the story, so adopted parents and foster parents would see a different perspective, so parents might better understand why a child who’s suffered a difficult beginning might not be capable of loving or trusting someone. 

  1. How has this book been received by readers in general and by those touched by adoption?

Here is how one reader summed it up, which thrilled me:

“A thoughtful story about the complexities of the well-intentioned who set out to “rescue” orphans from horrible conditions, and the attachment difficulties that arise from adopting a child who has lived a lifetime of abuse and/or neglect. The book was realistic. The characters were well developed and real. It would have been so easy to have written this as a “Hooray for the good Christian couple who rescues poor orphans from a horrible existence.” Instead the book looks honestly at the motivations of all involved, and calls into serious question the “happily ever after” ending that one assumes happens when older children are adopted. A serious but up-beat book. The ending is honest but hopeful without being overly cheesy.”

  1. What books did you read to prepare yourself for adoptive family life?

Before we adopted our daughter from Russia, we had been foster parents, too, so I read a lot of parenting books. However, it was the psychologist who did our home study who really pushed us to see that sometimes love is NOT enough.

I didn’t want to believe her though. I thought she was rude and a bit extreme, but she was trying to give us a more realistic viewpoint of what adopting a post-institutionalized child might be like. She didn’t sugar coat anything. I was naïve because I wanted to believe that she was wrong, that my child would bond with us because we would provide the right environment.

I had faith that God would give us the child He intended for us to raise, that He would help us through the ups and downs.

I didn’t adopt to ‘rescue’ a child, I knew it was going to be a challenge. I adopted a child because I never felt that our family was complete. I felt that I was being called to adopt, and that God had His own agenda. He was using me to facilitate His work. (We have two biological children, but I couldn’t conceive again.)

  1. If you could revise your book today, what might you change or add and why? 

Great questions. There are a few typos that I’d love to go in and fix, but it’s not that easy. I had hired at least three or four editors and an oops editor before this book was published, and yet there are still a few missing letters and typos. I despise that, but reformatting everything and reloading the book at all the sites is really complicated, expensive, and timely.

As far as changing the plot—I don’t think there is anything I would change. There comes a time when you write a novel that you need to say, “It’s finished.” The Doubt Devil will often squeeze into a writer’s thoughts that will make us think it’s not good enough. We have to constantly fight him.

Perhaps I would handle the “Gotcha Day” day part differently. We celebrate the day that our daughter “got” us and we “got” her, but after you mentioned how this could be perceived, I might arrange that part differently.

  1. How did your daughter feel about your writing this book?

I remember the day she texted me from school—she was a junior at the time—and she said how much she loved the book. She rarely read or asked me about my work, so I was thrilled.

I asked her your question today (she’s 20 years old now) and she shrugged. She said she couldn’t remember much about the book. She never thought the story was about her, and it wasn’t. Her story is different. However, I gave a character in the book her Russia name, Ruzina. She loved that.

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

Just like so many other families, we waited a long time for Olivia. We were paper ready to go to China (in 1997), but they closed their doors and said since we had two children they were not going to allow us to adopt from their country. I know, it doesn’t make sense, but they were making the rules. I was sad.

We were nervous about adopting a child from Russia because of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and all the horror stories we heard about families who adopted a child from Russia with this disorder.

The process was long and uncertain, but what I learned along the way was to have faith. My faith grew. Adoption made our family closer.

  1. At GIFT (Growing Intentional Families Together) we advocate for parents to commit to Adoption-attunement. If you had been educated on this approach prior to adopting, how might it have changed your family’s experience? 

I think I’ve always been hyper-focused on this. I didn’t know what it was called, but having a strong healthy relationship with our daughter mattered to me from the very first moment we met her, and it’s still a top priority.

At our first meeting with Olivia, I was looking for signs of attachment issues—did she look away when I made eye contact? Did she have sensory issues? Yes and yes.

She was 25 months old and weighed 16.5 pounds. (But today she’s only 4’11” and 100 pounds, so she’s a peanut.) She was developmentally delayed and walked with tight fists. She didn’t even know how to smile. But within days she learned to smile, grew stronger and met our gazes.

When we returned to America, we worked with an occupational therapist on sensory-integrated training, and enrolled her in First Steps—a program for children with developmental delays. She learned sign language and was given the opportunity to work through her. It didn’t take long before she began to grow and thrive. Watching this progression was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had—seeing through the eyes of a two-year-old “new born.” Everything was a new experience for her.

  1. What else would you like to share with our subscriber’s? 

Adoption is a huge commitment and a life-long endeavor. The responsibility is great, but so is the reward if you don’t expect your child to thank you. Your child might, but don’t expect it. Don’t adopt for that reason.

Post-institutionalized children are special needs children regardless of their situation. Each child suffered abandonment. We don’t know how a child will be affected by that, but it can dampen their self-esteem and make life difficult.

Adopt for the right reasons –not because you want to do a good deed. Do it because you are committed to helping that child become an independent adult who contributes to society.

Be open to getting outside help to strengthen the relationship with your child.

  1. What is your current adoption-related goal?

Olivia will be 21 in a few weeks and still lives with us. We’re encouraging her on her college journey. She wants to be an environmental scientist, but also has a huge interest in teaching others about God, which is difficult for her because she’s an introvert.

I also love to coach Mom’s who are considering adoption. People reach out to me often. I don’t sugar coat it. I tell it like it is.

  1. You’ve written several books. How are they connected to adoption?

I write what’s on my heart. Most of the stories are about social issues, but I have a huge heart for children. Adoption is just one issue.

Cache a Predator, my thriller, is about a father’s quest to get custody of his five-year-old daughter.

My children’s book series, Éclair, is about a seven-year-old girl who has to live with her grandma because her mother is ill and her father goes to work. It’s a modern-day Junie B. Jones story. So many children are growing up in extended families—grandfamilies—that I wanted to write a series about that kind of family situation. However, there is humor in this story.

Fractured Not Broken, is a true story of a woman who’s rendered a quadriplegic at the hands of a drunk driver. However, there is an adoption piece to this story, too.

I have a YA series that hasn’t been published yet. It’s about a girl who has special healing abilities. However, she’s an adopted child, too, but that’s just a subplot to the story.

I also have a mid-grade novel that hasn’t been published yet, but there’s nothing in that story about adoption. However, there’s a centaur, a talking dog, and a frog in the story.

M. Weidenbenner.B46C2E57-D41D-4E59-905D-13B68C1D85D8[6]Michelle Weidenbenner

Award-Winning and Bestselling Author

Award-Winning Speaker

John Maxwell Team Speaker, Coach and Trainer

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Blog: Teaching Kids To Lead By Equipping Moms and Dads                         Twitter:  @MWeidenbenner1