Posts Tagged ‘Connection’
Parenting is challenging work, probably far more difficult than you had anticipated. You might even find yourself wondering why nobody clued you in ahead of time. Think back, however, to the time when you were awaiting your child’s arrival. Most likely all you could anticipate was the joy and wonder of holding your child in your arms. Any caveats would have fallen on deaf ears or be filed under other people’s issues.
Once your child arrives and the initial ecstasy subsides, reality sets in. Oh boy does it ever! We discover that parenting—especially adoptive parenting— is not only beautiful, amazing and consuming. It is also complex, exhausting, overwhelming. For you. For your child. For your family. For his birth family.
Parents can easily fall into a “responsibility rut” and become over-focused on the work of parenting: teaching children to walk, talk and develop competencies; enticing them into eating healthy meals; preparing them for school; assigning age-appropriate chores; mastering Adoption-attunement … Over-emphasizing the regulatory aspects of parenting doesn’t exactly generate an atmosphere of warm, cuddly connection. Do you like to spend time with someone who constantly nitpicks, admonishes and routinely points out your shortcomings? Neither do our children. How can Intentional Parents address this?
Shared fun is the best antidote to the “work” of parenting. Blessedly, it is also a most effective and essential ingredient to building healthy attachment relationships. Fun builds joy. When joy exists within a relationship, it increases mutual value and respect and grows an interest in being together. Spending time together weaves a shared history. This creates a common story between parents and children which they all can enjoy retelling over the years.
Parents must also spend chunks of time setting boundaries, enforcing rules and imposing consequences. Shared fun provides an essential counter-balance to the “work” of parenting. While we want our children to grow into kind, successful and respectful family members and good contributors to the world, we also want them to yearn to spend time together as a family and to feel deep, abiding love and security. In the absence of fun and joy in a family, kids will regard parents more as “wardens” than as inspiring role models.
Authoritarian parents may elicit compliance and begrudging respect but most likely, that soul-deep unconditional love may be elusive. Children must be both inspired by parents and engaged by the values the family sets forth. This happens through days, weeks, months of shared interactions which include a healthy dose of fun, affection, discipline and encouragement. Intentional Parents understand that fun is not frivolous. It is integral to attachment and building family bonds.
How have you shared fun within your family? It need not be time-consuming or expensive but it must be consistent ingredient in family life on a daily basis. Try establishing a silly daily ritual. (Solicit ideas from your children.) Take an interest in your child’s interests. Teach siblings to do the same for one another. In addition to family grace, create a family handshake. Be inventive and have some fun!
Recall special memories from your own childhood. What made them memorable? Also be mindful of those times when you wished your parents had been interested in you and had opted to share in your daily life, not just in providing the essentials to you. Use that insight to inform the memory-building times you create within your family. How might your family benefit?
We shared the recent Easter weekend with my son’s birth mother and grandmother. How apropos it seemed to be celebrating this holiday which focuses on resurrection and new life. After living a closed adoption for twenty years, twelve years ago my son and his birth mother reconnected. Their relationship has grown and deepened over the years. We have come to discover the blessing of expanding one’s concept of “family” to include his birth relatives. Because they are important to him, naturally, they are important to us.
We are navigating the unique territory of becoming acquainted on a deep level as we build history and forge connections that make our relationships meaningful and authentic. Over the last ten years our family has significantly dwindled in size. It gives me great peace of mind that my son now has many additional people in his life who truly love and care about and for him. Since reconnecting and meeting his family, he feels more grounded. Many of his passions and talents which were unique in our family, reflect familiar skills, talents and generational inclinations in his birth family. He finds it reassuring and validating.
I find it fascinating and also a bit sad. For him. For them. For all of us. However, our growing intimacy also increases awareness for all of us about the duality of adoption. (Our joy at his being part of our family exacted a great loss for him and his birth family. We all could see the great What Ifs. What If he’d been adopted within his biological family? What if he’d never been adopted?) Our experience has reinforced my appreciation for the benefit of open adoption. If we truly and unconditionally love him, how could we deny him the benefit of expanding his world to include so many additional people who love him? Can we ever be loved by too many? I think not.
For further explorations about adoptee search, reunion and open adoption, read the anthology It’s Not about You: Understanding Adoptee Search, Reunion and Open Adoption edited by Brooke Randolph, LMHC. I wrote the first chapter and adult adoptees, adoptive parents and professionals shared their personal experiences in the remaining chapters. The book provides wonderful insight into what has and has not worked for many adoptees. Those currently parenting will find their experiences provide information based on personal experiences and not on supposition or hypothesis. It addresses when, why and how to tell a child they were adopted; reasons why adoptees search; benefits and challenges of open adoption and reunion. Intentional Parents will find this book provides a much-needed resource.
“The Donaldson Adoption Institute’s three-part online interactive curriculum is a critical resource to parents who are experiencing or considering openness in adoption and professionals who provide services in this area. Launched in November 2016, Openness in Adoption: What a Concept! is an interactive presentation where a narrator guides users through the curriculum. It includes audio and video clips, reflection questions, exercises and a comprehensive User’s Guide with important key concepts and terms.
We know openness is a healthier way to experience adoption but that doesn’t mean people always find it easy to navigate these new relationships in their lives. Without the right supports in place, families may needlessly struggle.
Starting today, we [The Donaldson Institute}will be charging a modest fee of $29.95 for this curriculum. Thank you for making openness and healthy relationship development a priority in your life.”
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
Rear View Mirror, Gratitude and the Lens of Love
Conventional wisdom says hindsight is twenty/twenty. With Thanksgiving now in our rear view mirrors, what lessons can we bring forth throughout the holiday season?
Intentional Parents can choose to sustain a gratitude perspective amidst the onslaught of holiday noise and stress. Take a deep breath and imagine the benefits that might accrue to you and your family. Resist the temptation to groan and bemoan that it’s impossible to add another item to your To Do List. This is doable and it needn’t take much more than a moment of time and attention.
How many times a day do you check your phone for texts, Twitter and Facebook alerts or to post on Instagram? What if you resolved to reduce the times you choose to react to your phone. If you check it hourly, change it to every two hours or, only at break time or only after 5:00 p.m. (How does that make you feel? Responses may vary from exhausted relief, to a shivery sweat of withdrawal. We’ll blog about this aspect another time.)
Back to this momentous decision. Intensify your resolve and breathe … Now create a “Notes” page titled I Am Thankful For... Each day use this newly available chunk of time to list one thing about each family member which you appreciate. These can be significant or minor. Avoid turning it into a Big Deal. This list is for your eyes only and it’s intended to shift your point of view from one of stress, frustration and failed expectations to a lens of appreciating the little blessings.
Too often the weight of what we think loved ones should be doing or saying traps us. We focus on how they fall short. This tendency ignores the fact that we are all works in progress–especially our children. Our parental “hat” tends to highlight our awareness of what our kids still need to master: the skills, habits and values which they need to be successful human beings. This makes it easy to overlook our own shortcomings.
For a bit of perspective, let’s pause for a moment to review a recent day. Turn the lens back on ourselves. How many times did life serve a “reminder” that we can do better, that we depend on the help, cooperation, and feedback of others throughout our day. Humbling right? Knocks us right off that pedestal that is too easy to set ourselves atop.
Let’s return to our Daily Appreciation List. As we contemplate taking on this daily practice, what feelings bubble up? Our emotional response often provides a window of the emotional thermostat of our family relationships. What feelings wash over us? Excitement? Confidence? Doubt? Exhaustion? Something else?
If you struggle to find something positive to list, take this awareness as a wake up call that your family Emotional Bank Account* needs deposits. Fast!
Temporarily ignore instances that conjure disappointment, annoyance, anger or judgment. Sometimes we get stuck on “correction” mode and chronically evaluate our loved ones through this negative perspective. Problem is, this grim point of view easily overwhelms us and dominates our feelings towards others. We quickly see how they’ve missed the mark and we remain blinded to their efforts to comply, learn or, improve.
Time to don the proverbial “rose-colored-glasses. For this exercise, release the negativity and accountability lens and focus on finding one thing–no matter how small–one thing about each family member that brings a smile. While searching for an entry, view life exclusively through a lens of love and affection. Temporarily ignore instances that conjure disappointment, annoyance, anger or judgment. (There’s plenty of time to address that later.)
For the next month take on this daily practice. Notice how it opens your awareness to what IS working on your family. Notice too, how it alters the emotional temperature of the family. Consider sharing your Daily Positives List with your loved ones. (Have no expectations regarding their reactions! Simply inform them that you wanted them to know that you appreciate “this” about them.) Observe both their immediate and their long-term response.
What might be the result of committing to this daily gratitude practice for the month of November? Please share your experience with us. Look in the distance of time’s rear view mirror and remember the overwhelming joy of welcoming your child to the family. That memory serves as a driving force for being the Intentional Adoption-attuned Parent that he needs.
As coaches committed to Intentional Parenting, we strive to support parents’ efforts to successfully fulfill their Purpose for becoming a family and to identify the Values that define them.
Adoption is a complicated process which usually involves much soul-searching, lengthy waits, and the revelation of a great deal of very personal information to outsiders who sit as both gatekeepers and judges of our worthiness to parent. Once we’ve completed the process and our wonderful kiddos have joined our families, we exhale in relief. Many of us never reexamine the home study materials.
What if we revisited the questions posed during the home study process–without the sword of failure hanging over your head? How might this lead to important conversations with your spouse? Now that children actually are part of your family, how has your parenting philosophy changed? Consider these questions and discussion points with your partner. Where do you agree and where are you conflicted?
What are the five Primary Values by which you live?
What is your Family Purpose? (Write it down. Post it conspicuously)
Look for inconsistencies in parenting style. Create a unified plan.
Examine faith matters. How will faith be lived within the family?
Clarify behavioral standards. What and why are they important?
Choose disciplinary techniques. (Be sure they are adoption- appropriate, Time In not Time Out)
Set family priorities and individual priorities
Identify individual attachment styles. Understand why/how they are important.
What patterns recur in your families of origin? In your children’s family of origin? Which are “keepers” and which do you want to eliminate?
How will you handle conflict? How will you repair damaged relationships?
How genuinely do your extended families accept your children?
What measures will you take to ensure your children get the love, respect, acceptance and attention they deserve.
How “high” is your Adoption-attunement Quotient?
Any signs that “rose-colored glasses” might be hiding some hard truths?
Also discuss these ideas with your children. Learn what they think and believe. Explore with genuine curiosity. Be careful not to suggest that their ideas, feelings and goals are silly or wrong. They have value because they are important to them!
Use the Deep Listening strategies we’ve discussed in previous blogs; strive to understand their dreams and motives. (This level of attentive connection is rarely experienced. If you’ve ever shared that kind of moment, it feels almost sacred.)
Study the graphic that headlines this post. This is one example of the “planks” on which parent(s) may build a family. What are the elements of your family “platform”?