Posts Tagged ‘boundaries’

Coping with Transitions …

Thursday, August 3, 2017 @ 12:08 AM
Author: admin

Coping with transitions: the adoption connectionAnyone connected with adoption knows that transitions tend to unsettle adoptees. Some posit that it echoes the primal loss of their being separated from their birth families. Regardless of how they connect to this profound loss, transitions do operate as trigger points for many (most) adoptees. Transitions tend to trigger uncertainty which in turn connects to fear, insecurity and, a sense of amorphic threat or danger. As Intentional parents, we work to be mindful of this hot-button and we use strategies to help our kiddos cope. Let’s face it, nobody enjoys a meltdownnot even the kids. These emotional events leave everyone shaken by the intensity and depth of the feelings which undergird them.

They also tend to trigger visceral responses within us. A combination of irritation, frustration, overwhelm, helplessness, impotence, confusion and, even fear all vibratein a symphony of dissonance that leaves all feeling spent. What are some steps that help families to move forward? Attunement offers one excellent path.

Acknowledge: Keep it neutral! Resist the temptation to match their drama with our own responses. Stay factual. I can see you’ve got big feelings about this.

Witness: Move beyond the act of observing and choose to give witness. Just like in a courtroom, our words offer a perspectiveourswhich informs how others understand the situation. Our testimony gives kids the language to express, describe and, capture their experience. Once kids have words to express their feelings and needs, they can begin to step off the hamster wheel of what Daniel Goleman calls an “emotional hijacking.

Language helps them label their thoughts, feelings and, needs. Words offer us a way to express their inner turmoil. This provides us some sense of being able to manage the “overwhelm”. What happens when there are no words?

Think about it. When adopted as infants and toddlers, children have not yet mastered language. This means the trauma which adoptees experienced by being separated from their birth mothers is held as pre-verbal memory. This means it is not encoded in words. They experience the memory as a feeling without a script. Although “non-verbal,” the memory holds a deeply entrenched, consuming sense of danger, fear and, abandonment on a sensate, cellular level. Without words to recapture and revisit the memory, it is experienced as unbounded, ongoing and unending. And, because it lacks a perceived beginning or end, these undefined, unlimited feelings are easily triggered throughout life.

They need us to provide tools to cope. A broad “emotional vocabulary” empowers them to transform the misperception that stressors are infinite, unlimited and permanent. Language imposes some boundaries. It provides them a way to package it so they can examine, assess and manage it.

Affirm: Adult adoptees frequently report that some of their most painful memories center around feeling invalidated and invisible. This happens when their feelings and concerns are dismissed, trivialized or ignored. Many report that they received powerful messageseither overtly or subtlythat adoption conversation could include only positives; that they were expected to choose undivided loyalty to the adoptive family and never refer to, or seek information about their birth families; that they needed to sublimate their natural talents and inclinations and follow the traditional patterns of the adoptive family; that discussing adoption distressed their parents. They chose to sacrifice themselves and learned to ignore their need for support in order to protect their adoptive parents.

Intentional parents have the opportunity to choose a healthier and more honest approach.

Adoption-attuned*Coping with Transitions ...Set boundaries: One thing parents fear is that if they try to “connect before correct” kids will grab the upper hand and the family will devolve into chaos. In reality, if we try to yell, persuade or punish a child who is in the stranglehold of an emotional hijacking, we engage in a lose/lose situation.

So yes, connect. Connect so you can correct but delay the educating part of correcting until calm has been restored. Then correct. Reiterate the boundaries. Rehearse the better choices. 

For more on the concept of Emotional Intelligence and emotional hijackings read Daniel Goleman’s seminal work, Emotional Intelligence. At GIFT, we move beyond the common idea that intelligence equates with Intellectual capability as measured by a high IQ and consider the concept of multiple intelligences. In addition to Intellectual Intelligence (IQ), we embrace Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence, (EQ,) and it led us to develop the idea of Adoption-attunement™–our theory of Adoption Intelligence (AQ.)

No Bohns About It

Protecting Our Kids from Abuse

Wednesday, April 27, 2016 @ 05:04 PM
Author: admin

protecting kids at homeWe love our kids unconditionally. To us, the absence of a biological link to them does not matter. Our children are the offspring of our hearts and souls though not of our bodies. We would do anything–everything–to keep them safe. When we hear that April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, we sigh with relief: our kids have landed in a family where they are safe, loved and protected. We need not worry about abuse. “It happens to other families, not ours.”

However, from the personal experience of now-adult adoptees, we’ve learned this isn’t always true. Abuse can take many forms: physical, mental, emotional. Sometimes it occurs at the hands of relatives who appear loving and accepting on the surface but who actually relate to our kids as “less than” or “different from” their other [biological] relatives.

Imagine what happens when extended family is not fully accepting of adoption. How does this impact the child? How does it affect us and how we relate to relatives who are cool, aloof or distant from our children?

What happens when “family” appears to accept our children but in their hearts they relate to our children as “less than”? What about those who are outright rude and intolerant? That happens too.

How does a child feel when we allow “family” to treat our kids poorly/differently or when we dismiss it as untrue or unintentional?

Nat. Child Abuse Prev GraphicWhen we make excuses for Nana’s prejudices, (That’s just Nana …”) we may think this softens or neutralizes the hurt. But consider how our children feel about Uncle John’s distance, or Aunt Sarah’s judgmentalism. The experience is real. And it is remembered.  Not acknowledging the truth, does not remove the hurt.  It is our responsibility to protect kids from such injury.

Yes, we hope  that eventually our extended family will come to fully accept our kids. But it may never happen. In the interim, we must ensure that we protect our children.

Our core strategy must be truthfulness. First with ourselves, then with our kids. When we candy-coat or deny  our children’s experiences, we damage the fundamental relationship between us. Instead of looking to us for safety and honesty, and validation, they receive mixed messages. “Grandpop doesn’t mean to …”  When we don’t acknowledge that bio-grandkids receive more attention, better presents, more time and attention than our adopted kids we deny their reality, their intuition, and their judgment. Even at a young age, kids sense when they are not being accepted. They may not have the vocabulary but they do experience the pain. We cannot pretend it away. Covering a cow patty with frosting doesn’t make it dessert. Such wishful thinking only makes it worse for our kids.

Imagine how painful it is when kids realize that we expect them to subordinate their feelings, that we have chosen kin relationships over them. Without being told in direct words, they understand that we expect them to tolerate comments and interactions that demean them for the sake of maintaining extended family harmony. That is quite a price for us to ask our kids to pay. It is, in fact, a form of child abuse.

Intentional parents will be honest with their kids when relatives  fail to treat their kids with the respect, acceptance and affection they deserve. This means holding a firm boundary and avoiding certain people until they change their attitudes. Educate relatives on how they can become adoption-attuned and support you and your children. Give family a chance to change but shelter children from hurt until that change has occurred.  In your own family, what have you experienced regarding less than 100% acceptance of your kids? How did you handle it? With this new level of awareness, what, if anything, would you do differently?

Finally, to reflect back to our two prior blogs, consider those whom you have chosen to be part of your family emergency support system. How adoption-attuned are they? Are they completely accepting of your kids? If not, who will you choose instead? . Any prospective resource must authentically respect and accept your child as “family.”

Fielding Intrusive Questions

Wednesday, January 27, 2016 @ 04:01 PM
Author: admin

What Do I Say NowLet’s face it, as adoptive families we frequently must field intrusive/offensive questions about our family, children and adoption.   What Do I Say Now?  by Carol Bick and M. C. Baker, illustrated by Sophie Meyer helps us address this issue. The book uses a question and answer format. Many include several alternative responses–a Quick Fix, often humorous reply, one that Raises Awareness and a Take Home choice that speaks to the parent

What Do I Say Now? includes an introduction to guide parents on how to use it effectively. Adoptive families will welcome this resource as a way to prepare themselves and their children on how to confront or deflect inappropriate and intrusive questions.

Such dress rehearsal benefits both parent and child, first, as a way of discussing these points as a family. This will help uncover misunderstandings that the child might have. It will allow parent and child to define boundaries about what they want to share and what they choose to keep private within the family.

One of the most important lessons parents can impart to their children is that it is appropriate and encouraged for children to refuse to answer rude questions–even those posed by adults.  By rehearsing some responses, kids can answer with intention instead of blindsided reactions. Plus, it demonstrates that such discussions are welcome and encouraged within the family. This fosters a family atmosphere of openness and approachability.

In the absence of a clear invitation and because they want to shelter parents from these kind of offensive conversations, kids will often assume that they must handle rude questions without parental support or input. Kids keep experiences and feelings locked inside themselves where they fester and distress them. Many of them mistakenly believe their parents want them to only acknowledge the positive aspects of adoption. Parents must consistently convey their willingness to acknowledge both the gains and losses which adoption accrues to their children.

Another important benefit of sharing a book like What Do I Say Now? is to remind parents of the critical need to define the conversation boundaries about adoption so they can reduce–even better, eliminate, the incidences of children suffering these toxic conversation encounters. It is a parent’s worst nightmare when people ask questions like, “How much did you pay for your Susie?” within earshot of your child. Learn how to anticipate, deflect and shut down questioners in a way that respects and protects the children and does not leave them feeling diminished or depersonalized. Be assertive.

We explored this in an earlier blog: “Consider the effect such hurtful comments have on our children. Be assertive in setting boundaries with others. Step in immediately to cut short any conversation that is inappropriate or hurtful. While our natural inclination is to be polite and avoid a confrontation with a rude, unthinking, or judgmental person, we must be vigorous in holding safe boundaries for our children. Vigilance is essential. Hurtful words, once spoken cannot be erased. They take an especially raw toll on kids with trauma histories.” Read more “Little Ears Have Sensitive Hearts.


Perspectives on National Adoption Month

Wednesday, November 18, 2015 @ 06:11 PM
Author: admin

Happy family together, parents with their little child at sunset.


Adoptive parents had a soul-deep desire for their adopted children. It is important that we help our children understand that we benefited as much as they did when we became a family.

The previous statement is point number thirteen from GIFT’s  Adoption Philosophy, a document posted on our Growing Intentional Families Together website. This entry highlights an important balancing point in the parent/child relationship that is often overlooked in how others (and sometimes ourselves, families or friends,) perceive as a positive result that is created by adoption.

Virtually everyone can recognize that adoption provides a family for a child in need of one. Equally true, it grafts a child to a family. Often the adults’ desire for a child is intense–even consuming. Thus, when the adoption occurs, the parental dream is fulfilled. Clearly the parents benefit as much as the child.


Parents must not diminish or invalidate the reality of our childrens’ losses in adoption. Adopted children should know that they were not the only one who had a need for family. This is a fine line on which to tread. The intention of this philosophical point is to balance the relationship between parent and child so that one party is not viewed as the “needy” one and the other seen as the rescuer. Instead, parent and child are simultaneously giver and receiver. We expanded our family song and together became a symphony.

How does this distinction matter? How will you simultaneously acknowledge your need while affirming your ability to be able to meet their needs, hold their pain and affirm their spirits?

Please review the entire document. Adoption Philosophy has twenty-five specific points. Mull them over. With which ones do you agree? Are there any with which you would quibble? We invite you to sit down and hammer out your family adoption philosophy. Understand how these beliefs influence your parenting. How does bringing these beliefs to conscious awareness assist you in attuning to your child’s needs as well as your own? How does this scrutiny reveal both similarities and differences between you and your partner?

Consider broadening this discussion with your extended family. What benefits might accrue? What pot holes might it bring to light? (Review your boundaries and remember to hold them lovingly and strong.)


Admitting Others into Your Post-adoption Life

Wednesday, September 9, 2015 @ 05:09 PM
Author: admin

joy.ordinary.3Anyone 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 affairAdoption 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?

Gift of an Ordinary Day(Indulge yourself in a bit of self-care; consider reading, Gift of an Ordinary Day: A Mother’s Memoir by Katrina Kenison. YouTube video)