Posts Tagged ‘bonding’
Recently, an adult adoptee shared with me a letter which she wrote when she was ten years old. It reflects directly on our recent blog regarding the need to listen deeply to adoptees and affirm both the positive and the challenging impact which adoption imposes on their lives. It began, Dear Mother I Do Not Know, and continued:
Can you be my ghost friend? I will write to you and talk to you. Since I am not related to anyone I know, I am practically alone. I was adopted. I don’t know who I am related to.
This child was raised with a very open attitude towards adoption and yet, her pain is palpable. She still felt the angst of isolation, the yearning for connection to birth family, the desire to know someone who was related to her. The absence of any biological relationships left her feeling unmoored, rootless. For those of us raised in our birth families, this struggle is difficult to imagine, understand and to determine how to best respond. Her words embody what Betty Jean Lifton, Ph.D discovered in her research: that adoptees’ inner world are inhabited by an entire kingdom of missing, broken or out-of-reach relationships.
To help all members of the adoption triad, therapists must be able to see the ghosts that accompany them. These ghosts spring from the depths of the unresolved grief, loss, and trauma that everyone has experienced. They represent the lost babies, the parents who lost them, and the parents who found them. Too dangerous to be allowed into consciousness, they are consigned to a spectral place I call the Ghost Kingdom. Search and reunion is an attempt by adoptees to reconnect with the ghost mother and father, and live the alternate life.*
But as Intentional Parents, we can–and must–do something to help our children. We can create an atmosphere that invites–welcomes–discussion of adoption and which acknowledge the adoption-connected realities which our children face. We can welcome Open Adoption because of the benefits it imbues to our children. (While Open Adoption brings complications to our lives, the benefits it offers our children make it worthwhile. Keep in mind that Open Adoption is a spectrum of as clearly explained by Lori Holden in her landmark book, The Open-hearted Way to Open Adoption.)
The first step is to acknowledge what is. The second step is to intentionally work on our family relationships. Our crazy, hectic lives too often drive s to operate on autopilot Family life can be hectic. Time and energy run out before everything gets accomplished. We can get so enmeshed in the “doing” of our parenting responsibilities that we forget to take time to create moments of joy, connection and authenticity. Last week we discussed the importance of creating a relationship with our children that wraps them in an experience of being “seen.” What steps did you take to begin building this level of intimacy? Perhaps you intended to make a change or intensify your commitment, and life just got in the way. (Translation: nothing changed.)
Choosing a mindset is only the beginning. We must also set up a “system” that will remind us gently, but firmly and with regularity! How might such a system work? It could be as simple as a daily alarm on your phone or daily calendar entry. Icons work well. Here are a few examples: 🤗 ❤ 🐻 🍕 🏀 🏈 ⚽️ ⚾️ 🎼 🚲 ⛺️ 🌠 👩🍳 📚. It’s your system. It’s sole purpose is to remind you to squeeze in those important moments of connection. It can be a simple as asking your child what his current favorite song is and then listening to it together. Perhaps you’ve got a sport-minded child. The icon could remind you to practice a skill, watch a game or, go for a bike ride together. Perhaps they’d enjoy cooking, reading a book together etc. Get creative. The activities need not be expensive or time consuming. They simply must connect with the child’s interest and convey that because it is important to them, it is important to you.
What will be your first step? How will you help yourself remember to do it?
*Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 30:71–79, 2010 Copyright © Betty Jean Lifton ISSN: 0735-1690 print/1940-9133 online DOI: 10.1080/07351690903200176
Adoption matters; Talk about it! For far too many years adoption was buried under layers of secrecy. People considered it a sensitive subject. Off limits. Some parents kept adoptees in the dark. Families mentioned it only in whispers. Adoptees absorbed the subtle message that adoption was a subject which should be kept under wraps. Any discussion—when it occurred—should be unflinchingly positive.
This attitude had more to do with shame than privacy. Sealed files hid vital information from adoptees even after they achieved adulthood. A subtle cultural belief underpinned this: that adoption shamed the birth mother and by association, tainted the adoptee.
Another cultural belief held that it was the “perfect” solution! It solved three sets of problems with a single act. One, it relieved overwhelmed birth parents who could not undertake their responsibilities to parent a child. Two, it fulfilled the dream of potential (usually infertile) parents to have a child whom they could raise. Three, it provided a permanent, loving family for a child who needed one. Many adoption professionals saw adoption as a transaction, a life-changing event that set all parties on a new path. They communicated this belief to both birth and adoptive parents. They advised everyone to get on with their new lives and fostered the expectation that all would be happily-ever-after.
Adoption Matters to FAMILIES; Talk about It Over the last few decades, a great shift has occurred in Adoption World. Openness has become the predominant norm. Birth mothers themselves often find and select the adoptive family for their child. The need, possibility or, desire for secrecy has diminished. Parents acknowledge that they built their families via adoption.
Still, the Fairy Tale of Adoption lingers. Too many adoptees still receive the message—transmitted intentionally or unconsciously—that when they mention adoption, the conversation must be upbeat and positive and that loyalty to the adoptive family should triumph over connection to birth family.
Adoption-attunement tells us that adoptive families must live a Both/And relationship. Both birth and adoptive families matter to adoptees. Both contribute important elements. Both influence adoptees and remain a permanent part of them. Unless families accept all parts of their children, then adoptees will continue to feel split in two.
Adoption Matters to ADOPTEES; Talk about It Our understanding of adoption complexity has expanded dramatically. We recognize that adoption is a life-long journey not an event. Adult adoptees have awakened professionals and parents to the fact that adoptees never outgrow their biological connections. Biology is permanent and remains an integral part of who they are. Adoptees need all of their “parts.”
One does not replace the other. Adoptees must learn how to integrate their dual heritage into a healthy unity. Open adoption expert Lori Holden calls this the joining of biology and biography. At GIFT we refer to it as embracing a high AQ* (Adoption-attunement.) To accomplish this, adoptees need not only “permission” to discuss adoption but also must feel that the topic is “welcomed” by parents. Adoptees must experience validating emotional support for their complete experience of adoption not only the positive results and benefits.
When parents become this receptive force, kids can do the hard work WITH the loving support of parents. They are freed from having to pretend a one-sided, all-is-perfect role play. This enhances the attachment bonds within the adoptive families. Adoptees’ feel accepted for their authentic selves. In the absence of parental support and encouragement, adoptees must confront this intimidating process alone, without the comfort of the people whom they most need.
Adoption Matters to ADOPTIVE FAMILIES; Talk about It As this Both/And paradigm takes root, parents and children can relate to one another on a genuine level which accepts the hard realities that exist in adoption-created relationships.
While conversations and relationships do not concentrate solely on the “hard stuff,” they do acknowledge and validate the existence of “hard stuff.” These conversations must always occur in age-appropriate conversations. And it is important that they begin when children first join the family. This allows all involved to become comfortable raising the subject .
Even more importantly, it avoids the quest for some future magic moment when parents think kids are old enough to start hearing about adoption. (Too often delay leads to the discussion never happening or to children hearing it first from someone other than a parent which is NEVER good and leads to intense feelings of betrayal and mistrust.)
Stay truthful. Avoid candy-coating while still framing conversations with compassion and empathy. Regardless of how painful the truth is, it is the child’s truth and they deserve to know it. Imagine how painful it is for late-discovery adoptees to learn that other people–even perhaps those whom they most trust and love–that these people kept the truth hidden. This type of information-hoarding destroys relationships. It is the antithesis of healthy, honest communication.
Adoption Matters to EXTENDED FAMILIES; Talk about It Not only must the immediate adoptive family be steeped in Adoption-attunement, but also the extended family. We hear of too many examples where the acceptance of adopted children by grand-parents and other extended family is only on the surface.
Parents mistakenly try to “dismiss” or minimize this reality; It can be hard for parents to admit to themselves when their extended family is treating their children differently from other relatives. But when parents deny the painful reality of their extended family’s attitudes, their children suffer. Parents cannot “pretend away” the shortcomings of relatives and when they attempt to “pretty up” the truth, it undermines their children’s reality.
It subtly teaches kids not to trust their own judgment, experience and insights. This reality-contradicting expectation confuses them. It requires them to build their reality from quicksand and clouds and places adoptees on a shifting, unsteady foundation. This is the kind of stuff that increases adoptee feelings of not quite fitting into a family which is of course, the exact opposite goal of well-intentioned but misinformed parents who candy-coated or deny the actual facts. (Prettifying the truth doesn’t improve the issues.) It also magnifies fears–often unconscious but deep-seated– that unless they are “Good Adoptees” and don’t complain, they might risk the rejection of their adoptive family. (Mandating permanent rose-colored glasses does nothing to foster good mental health. Instead it requires adoptees to live in a permanent fantasy world. Life is far more complex, problems are quite real and wishful thinking does not actually solve problems. Reality-based action does.)
Adoption Matters to COMMUNITIES; Talk about It According to ChildWelfare.Gov, approximately 120,000 adoptions occur each year in the United States. Clearly, adoption impacts our communities–both secular and religious. Adoptees become members of communities where they will become contributors and where they will use services (like schools, hospitals, athletic facilities, etc.)
Consider the number of people touched by adoption, not only their immediate and extended adoptive families but also their friends, fellow students, teammates, etc. The number is significant. All will benefit from an improved understanding of adoption, as well as adoptee and birth parent needs.
Adoption Matters to COUNTRIES; Talk about It For many years Americans have adopted children internationally. Countries have changed their own positions regarding the adoption of their citizens. Economic conditions improved. Oversight intended to prevent human trafficking increased. Women’s rights have improved. These factors reduced the numbers of international adoptions.
Therefore, the predominant countries from which children have been placed have changed over time. China’s One Child policy, for example, contributed to large numbers of children (mostly girls) being adopted in the USA. This in turn, led to a shortage of female adults and changes in their adoption policy. Both nations have been significantly impacted. America gained additional children—and their talents and contributions. Outplacing nations lost these same individuals. All involved have been permanently changed. Those changes continue down the generations.
It is important that families embrace the cultures of their adopted children not simply in a week-long culture camp type of surface celebration, but in a family commitment that recognizes that their adopted child’s culture is now part of every family member’s life in a deep and abiding way.
Adoption Matters; Talk about It. Often.
In summary, adoption transforms lives, families, communities and countries. The significance of its impact cannot be overstated. Adoption deserves honest, open and continuing discussion to ensure that adoptees benefit as much as possible and also strives to ameliorate the negative impact on them. Particular effort must be dedicated to ensure that adoptees feel the totality of their adoption experience validated.
All parties must acknowledge, confront, handle and “own” their “stuff.” This nurtures integrity, empathy and connection. This perspective originates within the nuclear family and should be echoed within each expanding circle of influence: extended family, community, and country.
Imagine a world where this kind of accountability operated in families, communities and countries. Wouldn’t that be something worth talking about?
This multi-award-winning book eases the way into vital adoption connected conversations. It approaches adoption from the child’s point of view and introduces complex ideas in a simple, child-friendly way. Set the ground work for making adoption a welcome and open topic for family discussion.
ABC, Adoption & Me: A Multicultural Picture Book appeals can be enjoyed by children from 5-11. Children’s understanding of the content will deepen as they age. Adoptive Families Magazine named it a Favorite Read in 2013. Includes a Parent Guide.
In our two previous posts we asked you to bring intentionality to time management as a way to create opportunities to be available to your family. We avoided the burden of piling additional items on your already overcrowded to do list. Instead we invited you to take on a new practice: detaching from all tech for 1-2 hours each day. Then, using two fundamental coaching attitudes–neutrality and experimentation–we simply observed what happened. (We reminded you to hold a mind- and heart-set of data collection not fault-finding or measuring up.)
Before we examine our results, recall a time when you saw a mobile hung over a baby’s crib. Tiny shifts in the placement, weight or number of elements caused it to shift erratically until it settled down to a new balance point. In some ways, our family relationships are just like that. Tiny shifts in behavior, belief or language can interrupt entrenched patterns, This creates the space for a new way of being together.
Now we are ready to look at results. Suspend all judgment and expectation. Simply focus on what actually happened. What got in the way of holding the time sacred? What made it easy? What little shifts occurred? On whom did this make the biggest impact? Where and in whom did resistance show up? How might you refine the practice? What would make you consider continuing the practice? How did your self-talk shape your results?
I can think of dozens of questions to pose, each of which might generate a key element toward accomplishing important, positive change, but, I’ll leave that for another time.
I trust that you can see the benefit of taking on a “practice” as a way of augmenting your commitment to intentional, adoption-attuned parenting. Once you develop the habit it is easy to create practices. Here are a few we’ve (GIFT family coaches) use/d in our own families.
Rabbit: On the first of each month if a person says “Rabbit” to someone, they capture that person’s good luck for the month. When my kids were little and truly believed in magical events, they loved this practice. As adults they still follow it. To succeed in “getting” us, they resort to all sorts of trickery–like borrowing a friend’s cell phone so we don’t know it’s them telephoning us.
Keep on Paddling: When our kids were young, we did a lot of canoeing and kayaking. Typical kids, they preferred to be passengers relaxing and enjoying the ride. My husband and I would have to remind them to “Keep on paddling.” We felt it was important for them to learn to pull their own weight (and provide a chance for them to experience being capable.) We also wanted them to learn to contribute to the world, not simply lie back waiting for things to be given to them. Eventually, they learned to paddle.
When the teen years arrived, we faced crushing challenges including placing my son in residential treatment. Our letters, phone calls and visits always ended with, “Keep on Paddling.” Now he is a happy, grown man, a father, spouse and a hard worker. We still say to one another “Keep on paddling.” Our entire family has learned paddling is especially important when confronted by white water! (literally and metaphorically speaking.)
Home-made pizza night: When her children were little, one of my partners made homemade pizza on Sunday nights. This is a lot of work, so once they got older and life got even busier, she tried to cut back. Her kids pleaded for her to continue. Now her boys are both in their twenties. Still, when they get together, they still look forward to her pizza. Sometimes on a Sunday; sometimes another day; sometimes at her home; sometimes at their homes. Regardless of location, her boys clearly treasure this practice!
These are easy, sometimes silly practices, but over the years they’ve become threads woven into our family histories. They extend back through the years. I believe they will persist into the future with our children’s own children. It’s something we “do” that reflects our Family Values and is a legacy of which we can be proud.
What family traditions are you creating with your family? Which ones originated within your own or your spouse’s family? Which did you invent?
Anyone who will be involved in your post-adoption life must be a fully enrolled part of your team. (This does NOT mean they are entitled to the details of your childrens’ stories. It DOES mean that they must have a commitment of the heart that becomes their admission ticket to your family’s post-adoption life.)
When a garden is planned, preparation must occur before the harvest. This is true a hundred-fold when you decide to become an adoptive family. Not only must you prepare and educate yourselves, but also, extended family, friends, community, etc. This task is the most critical thing you do to ready your lives for your child/ren. Think “nesting” on an epic scale!
Adoption Is A Family Affair by Patricia Irwin Johnston is an excellent resource for this job, particularly for extended family but also for yourselves. (My Amazon review) Just as it took time for you to embrace the idea of adoption, it will probably take time for your family to become fully on board. There is a difference between steady progress, however, and an inhospitable heart.
Occasionally, extended families will appear to accept your child –but only on the surface. In the unfortunate circumstances where extended family hold themselves emotionally aloof, you have important work to do. Your child deserves a family that is fully committed.
If this task has not been fully accomplished before they join your family, you must protect your children from additional hurt. They’ve already experienced the loss of one family and should not be subjected to feeling less than by their adopted family. Time to pull out the Tiger Heart and insist that your children be treated and welcomed the way they deserve.
Most painful of all, some families will overtly reject your child. Your first loyalty must be with your child/ren; they did not ask to join your family. If you cannot succeed in opening your extended family’s hearts, you face difficult decisions on how to remove relationships that are damaging or toxic to your children. It is particularly unhealthy to white-wash or make excuses for poor behavior or ill-treatment delivered by callous family or friends. This lack of honesty adds insult to the original pain and undermines a child’s natural intuition about people. It adds another layer of hurt and rejection on an already wounded heart.
Adult adoptees repeatedly inform us that this invalidation is especially hurtful–emotionally, spiritually and even physically. As parents we seek to help our children grow to be happy, healthy and to come to terms with the realities of their lives’ challenges. Living in Truth is a key element to success, the foundation to healthy, authentic relationships. The Holy Grail of family life is to nurture a tapestry of emotional attachment that can weather all of the storms of life. Truth is essential. And respect. And joy…liberal amounts of joy.
My sister understood joy. Monday would have been her birthday, which is what made me think of her and what a comforting presence she was to me and my children. After an eight-year struggle with early-onset Alzheimer’s, she died in 2008; She was sixty-five. I still miss her dearly as do my children. They remember her as the legendary “Auntie Mame,” whose zest for life was equaled by the ferocity of her love for them. They never once doubted her acceptance of them. She fully embraced her role as their aunt. Adoption did not weaken her feelings of attachment to them. They knew she loved them/
The kids considered sleeping over at Auntie’s house a huge treat, not because they were “Disney-esque,” or involved spending a lot of money. Nancy treated them to her undivided attention and time, not her cash. They knew they were important to her. She understood and taught them that real value in life lies in creating connection and appreciating the magic in an ordinary day–simple things… having dessert first, staying in your pjs all day…transforming the family room furniture into a fort… piling whipped cream, marshmallow and hot fudge sauce on ice cream… playing pretend…spending undistracted time…simply BEing together. The kids intuitively recognized, this was the stuff that counted in life.
My children were blessed with extended family relationships which reassured, accepted and nourished them. Our extended families were “all in” on the grafted family tree of adoption.
How are you ensuring that your children feel welcome, secure, accepted and loved by their extended adoptive family? What might you do differently, to improve these relationships?
Reader questions about open adoption relationships
Oh, yes indeedy, learn I did. And that’s because, as one reviewer put it, “this is the adoption book the Internet wrote.” For starters, I learned a lot by asking others in the adoption constellation about their experience with adoption.
- I learned from adoptees how it feels to be asked who your “real” parents are, and not to be able to get your own original birth certificate like others can.
- I learned from first mothers what has and hasn’t worked in their moving forward through grief.
- I learned from other adoptive parents cases for and against pre-birth matching, paying pre-birth expenses, and formalized adoption agreements.
All that was great wisdom, but it was second-hand experience. Synchronistically, with my daughter’s birth mom Crystal (who contributed a great deal to the book), I also got to learn first-hand how to work through conflict. While writing Chapter 4 about establishing boundaries, a situation arose that Crystal and I had to work through.
Crystal and I had had mostly smooth sailing over the years, and with our cruise control on I had gotten complacent. The situation that arose (details remain private) required me to go off auto-pilot and figure out what was really bothering me by going deep within: breathe, be mindful, dig, gain clarity. Then zoom back out with clear communication with Crystal and a commitment to our relationship — and to Tessa the daughter we both claim.
It’s clear, in hindsight, that this uncomfortable episode was actually an amazing gift.
How did you and your daughter’s birth mother collaborate on The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption?
Another reader asked,
The additions from Crystal are a lovely and informative piece of the book. I’m curious how this collaboration took shape. Did you develop the framework of the book together? Did you have an idea of where you thought Crystal’s voice would be most helpful and just ask her for that specific input? Or did you work to find or create spaces for things she wanted to add to the conversation?
Crystal and I had talked for years about how we might help others develop the kind of relationship we stumbled into with each other. First we had to take a look at what we did and didn’t do and what has made our efforts a openness successful. For years we taught classes in Denver to share not only that such a relationship doesn’t have to be contentious, but that it can also be enjoyable. More than anything we say in these sessions, people seem to get a lot just out of seeing a template for how an open adoption can look.
The framework of the book was mine. Crystal and I had extensive interviews about her thoughts and emotions at various points of our journey, as well as her own deconstruction of how we got to where we are. For a book that is largely about how adoptive parents and birth parents can be on the same “side,” rather than the traditional concept of competition between the two sides, it seemed important for us to work together on this book.
As for which came first, her words or a space for her words, I believe it was mostly the former. We had a few jam sessions in which we put as much on the table as we had in us. I took notes and the book began to take shape. Sometimes the book fit around her words and sometimes her words fit into the book.
I suppose in that sense, the way the book took its form is much the same way Crystal and I have taken our form.
Lori Holden blogs from Denver at LavenderLuz.com.
Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, written with her daughter’s birth mom, is available in hardcover and e-book through Amazon or your favorite online bookseller.