Posts Tagged ‘healing’

Adoption Matters; Talk about It

Wednesday, February 15, 2017 @ 01:02 PM
Author: admin

Adoption Matters; Talk about It

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; Talk about It.magnifying-lens-AQAdoption 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; Talk about ItAdoption 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; Talk about ItAdoption 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; Talk about ItAdoption 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; Talk about ItAdoption 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.AQ

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.

What Matters for Adoptive Families: the Tuning in Part of Adoption-attunement

Wednesday, July 13, 2016 @ 01:07 PM
Author: admin

what mattersOur recent posts focused on communication, on deep listening and on respect. These are foundational values for Intentional Families. In this blog we also frequently discuss the intrinsic connection adopted families have to Diversity. Our families are rooted in difference. It is inherent in the way we became a family. Moreover with the increasing number of transracial and/or transcultural adoptions, adoptive families are living Diversity with a daily, visceral experience.

Adoption has removed the cultural blinders of white privilege from the eyes of thousands of families. We know it is real because we personally experienced discrimination, about race, culture and the way families are formed. Painful. And unfair. It is important that we work to erase any imbalance and ensure equality for all. We must validate our children’s encounters with discrimination and be aware that when they are in the world without us, any insulating cushion of white privilege which exists when they are with us, is removed.

With that being said, let’s consider another form of ‘discrimination” that can exist in adoptive families, one that is more subtle but equally powerful. Not racial or cultural but adopted versus not adopted. Unless we ourselves have been adopted, we cannot totally understand the challenges that our children face—especially for those in closed adoptions. We might be tempted to dismiss our children’s reports of being treated differently by extended family and attribute their perception as being overly sensitive or just inaccurate.

tuning in to attunementWe might lament Johnny’s less-than-stellar behavior at the elaborate party we’ve staged and wonder, Why does he spoil every family gathering?)

We overlook aloofness of  extended family at gatherings and “blame” or child. (It’s simply Maddy’s personality.)

Sometimes, our yearning for the fairy tale ending where everyone lives happily ever, after leads us to white-wash their adoption-related struggles. Wishing something were true does not make it so. This kind of denial is a kind of discrimination. Equally unacceptable is telegraphing to kids that they must repress any adoption-related grief or loss. This requirement becomes the unspoken “cost” of belonging to the adoptive family.

More insidious, our own feelings of loyalty to our families of origin might cloud our judgment, and tempt us to cast things as rosier than they are. It’s difficult to admit that Grammy and Grandpa are bigoted or that they prefer their biological grandchildren over their adopted grandchildren or acknowledge that their acceptance of our children is only surface deep. Lip service. But in some families this is the reality. This is unacceptable.

When things get difficult, their words and actions of these “relatives” reveal their true feelings. They comment that you should have known better than to adopt an older child, or should have expected problems “considering…” the list of reasons vary but the theme is the same. The adoptee is perceived as “other.” Not one of “Us.” Relatives/friends use information we’ve shared as a way to diminish our children. (This is one important reason why it is imperative to not share the details of our children’s story. It belongs to them, not us. Family and friends need only know our kiddos had tough stuff to overcome. Specifics are unnecessary.)

reveal Heal dealTruth matters. As adoptive families we must deal in the realities of life. (This is the “tuning in” part of  Adoption-attunement.) Together we can face our challenges but first we must acknowledge them. This requires courage, commitment, and trust. Then we can come together to support one another. There is strength in the struggle and the conquering of challenges. Healing occurs over time and is a family effort, a family goal, a family purpose.

As children mature they will take increasing control of their relationship with their birth families. Some adoptees seek intimate contact. Others prefer a more aloof relationship. The choice belongs to them. It is our job to respect their lead and to continue respecting their birth families.

Similarly, our kids may not feel as attached to our extended family of origin, and may stop coming to family events. This disappoints us.  It represents a loss both for our kids and for us. However, we must accept where they are. 

This will keep the communication and relationship flowing and allow healing to begin to take place. Or at least hold open the possibility for that healing. Letting our kids take the lead is essential. If they choose to distance themselves from extended family, take a stance of loving curiosity as you seek to “know” and understand your child’s feelings and reasons for that choice. Resist any urge to pressure kids to change their mind. Do not try to convince them they are wrong. Respect their feelings and decisions just as you expect them to respect yours. Their life. Their truth. Their decision.

Advantages at the Starting Line

Wednesday, March 23, 2016 @ 02:03 PM
Author: admin

race sprintSubscribers to this blog know that I recently became a grandmother.  My husband and I are fortunate to spend time with PJ while his parents work. This has provided many opportunities to connect with him, to be intentional about how we spend time together, and to make memories and create relationship.  This has been especially poignant for my husband who is terminally ill and currently under Hospice care. This sad reality has enhanced our appreciation for the fragility of life and has spotlighted  the difference between what is and is not important.

An idea struck me the other day as I watched one of my hubby’s nurse’s aides cheerfully play with the baby. I thought about the disparity between PJ’s start in life and that of adopted children whose lives began in chaos, trauma, neglect, fragmented families and orphanages.  

Our grandson has accumulated evidence that adults consistently care, represent safety, security and encouragement. By contrast “tough start” children amass evidence that is the polar opposite; they’ve learned adults are frightening, dangerous, unreliable, and inconsistent. (Of course some orphanages do have caregivers who strive to deliver  good, loving care but due to the numbers of children for whom they are responsible, their efforts fall short. Under these circumstances, kids learn to expect little, trust only themselves, and freeze out any budding attachments because caregivers “leave.”)

Is it any wonder that these kids struggle to fit into families, have difficulty trusting adults, and struggle in school because they’re enmeshed in hyper-vigilant monitoring and are convinced that the only person on whom they can rely is themselves?

By contrast, from the day PJ arrived on this earth, his life has overflowed with people who are thrilled he’s here. In addition to his mom and dad, he’s been blessed with a steady flow of people who convey affection, respond promptly to his needs, engage in attuned interplay, encourage his learning and celebrate each milestone he masters. This has provided PJ with a consistent experience of being seen and heard. Not only have his basic needs been met, but they’ve also been fulfilled with affection and joy. He’s been encouraged, soothed and cuddled. He’s been fed, clothed and cleaned, etc., and these interactions have been performed with kindness not resentment, anger or detached disinterest. His world is safe, secure and stable. He has learned that his “voice” counts and that it is worth making the effort to involve himself with people. He wants to connect because it brings him pleasure, satisfaction and security.

The reality of life is that some children do not get this kind of warm, fuzzy start. They must play catch up on their ability and desire to connect and attach with family, peers and the world at large. They must rewire their neurological architecture. As adoptive parents, many of us have committed to parenting these children with tough starts. This road can prove arduous and very, very long. How can we best sustain ourselves and our children as we journey together for a lifetime?

Effective communication is one critical element. Our kids need lots of empathy and understanding; they also need a lot of “do overs.” Skill sets and social patterns that have been easily acquired in infancy or early childhood by most kids (those whose lives have been free of trauma,) may take years for our kids to master. First they must “unlearn” their old patterns and templates and then write over these failed strategies with new ones. Before they can risk changing–and more importantly, trusting us to keep them safe–they must feel confident enough that the benefit will outweigh the risk. Talk about a monumental task!

This process can feel as slow as the power of water to erode mountains. But it is well worth the effort, the agony and the hope.

Please take the time to watch these two startling videos which demonstrate both the importance and  positive effect of  attuned communication and the negative effect of mis-attuned  interactions. Two minutes that will break your heart and galvanize your commitment to being intentional about your communication with your children.

Heather Forbes books offer strategies, insights and hope for families. Read my review  Beyond Consequencesof her book, Help for Billy for BillyHeather Forbes.books

This post originally appeared on the Long Island Support Group Blog

Adoption SummitAs an adoptive parent, I know what it is like to feel challenged by the unique and complicated demands of life as an adoptive family. As an adoption coach, I know how other families struggle to locate resources that understand adoption and are attuned to the needs of child and parents–both adoptive and birth parents. Living as an adoptive family has often felt like a trek up the steep slopes of Mt. Everest. I suspect other adoptive families experience similar moments of overwhelm and confusion.

Imagine finding and talking with a knowledgeable guide who’s also walked that path and survived. Imagine feeling heard, understood and supported, with empathy not judgment. Imagine being able to know what will best serve your child, yourself, your partner, and, your child’s birthparents. How might that kind of unified resource help your family? Imagine no more.

On Nov. 10-12, 2015 and Nov. 17, 2015 a collaboration of adult adoptees, birth parents, adoptive parents and adoption professional join together to present “The Adoption Summit Experience.” This free, on-line summit is unique as the three individual perspectives join forces to become one voice—a voice that speaks with respect and compassion for all individuals involved in an option.

Parsons quote

Summit presenters will address adoption from all “sides” and will share the insights and learnings that we have acquired along the way.  We want to take our hard-won wisdom and infuse it with purpose to create a more collaborative and mutually supportive understanding of adoption. All presenters are directly living adoption either as first parents, adoptees or adoptive parents.

adoption both and.6As listeners hear the “other” viewpoints, we hope to awaken empathy and understanding of how we are inextricably and permanently interconnected. Instead of compartmentalizing adoption into adoptee issues, birth parent issues and adoptive parent issues, we accept this interconnectivity as the reality of adoption. By understanding the needs of each part of the adoption triad, we can work together to make adoption better for all involved.

Are you in an open adoption, trying to determine how to make it work? Do you wish you knew how to enjoy and balance your happiness against a backdrop of the grief and loss of your child’s birth parents? Do you wonder how to handle your own triggers? Do you ever wish you could chat with several birth mothers to ask them questions to help you relate better with “your” birth mother/s? Then this summit is for you!

Are you struggling to handle the challenges of adoption and yearn to speak with parents who have “survived” similar events and whose family remained firmly attached and thrived? Do you wish you knew alternative parenting strategies—ones tested by other adoptive families? Then this summit is for you!

L-is-for-Love-300x271Are you looking for guidance on good resources? How do you evaluate which therapists, coaches, social workers, etc. understand adoption and are properly prepared to guide you? Do you know which books truly serve your family and which perpetuate outdated social myths? Then this summit is for you!

Imagine learning from adult adoptees what worked, didn’t work or what they wished their parents had done for them. How might that knowledge help you be a better parent to your child?

Have you ever wished you could talk honestly about your family struggles with no fear of judgment? Imagine confiding in peers who understand the joy, frustration, fear and commitment that adoptees face? Then this summit is for you

Watch this welcome video from Adoption Summit sponsor and adult adoptee, LeAnne Parsons as she invites you to “Come Climb with Us” at the free, on-line adoption summit. All who are interested in adoption are welcome and urged to participate. Register today:

Your Family’s Adoption Library.v8.10.07.2015

Gayle’s presentation at the summit will focus on books as an ideal resource for introducing and sustaining healthy adoption conversations both within and beyond the family. It will include three bibliographies: one for children, one for parents and one of books written by adult adoptees.




Continued Reflections on the ATTACh Conference, Week 4

Tuesday, October 27, 2015 @ 04:10 PM
Author: admin

Attach part 4Final of a 4 part series examining the promise of faith communities as sources of healing and connection and GIFT coaches, Sally Ankerfelt and Susan David’s recent presentation at the 2015 ATTACh Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

To bring you up to speed in this 4 Part series: 

Week 1 discussed the promise of faith communities as healers and connectors, perhaps even more than we think.

Week 2 noted that faith communities at their best – through worship services, rituals, community outreach, even the physical presence of the building — are designed to improve areas of our lives and develop coherent healthy systems that foster emotional well-being.        

Week 3 highlighted that despite the promise and potential of faith communities to heal and connect, it sometimes falls short because it seeks to influence its congregants. A paradigm shift from influence to integration is needed if congregants are to feel accepted and loved. This is especially true for those families dealing with inconsistency and trauma in their lives.


Today: How would it be for congregants to experience Gods love through our relationship with them, by focusing on acceptance and belonging rather than influence?


unconditional loveThis week Susan and I offer some suggestions that can shift our faith communities away from influence and toward integration. These are specific integration adaptations that you can begin to discuss and work to implement with your own faith communities. This process may be a slow one but it need not happen overnight. Some suggestions may fit and others not but as coaches we know that even a small change can yield big results. In our opinion, continuing to educate the congregation on the need for acceptance and belonging as a way to heal and connect is vital. More importantly, a paradigm shift from influence to relationship will create a change that can take root and grow for years to come.

Faith Communities as a Source of Healing and Connection: What You Can Do list:


  • Set the tables in the fellowship hall in larger groupings to encourage “family style” eating.
  • Have fellowship/coffee time take place closer to the worship space to encourage a fluid transition from one place to the next. If you can, have the coffee hour in different areas of the building to encourage others to participate. For example, if you have an elevator and there is space, have coffee available near the elevator, as well. Another example: occasionally have coffee and snacks in the education area, encouraging folks to go to the youth and “hang” in their “neck of the woods.”
  • Rocking chair in sanctuary
  • Quiet corner close to worship
  • Increase entryway space if it’s small.
  • Consider positioning of the pews. Is there any other way they can be configured to encourage community and relationship building?
  • Consider calming colors on the walls.
  • Look into putting windows in Sunday school rooms for safety.
  • Have colorful plants outside the building.
  • Temperature in the building

Faith community


  • Provide a “fidgets cart” near the worship space where people young and old can reach in for a squeeze ball, stuffed animal, scented play-doh (there are homemade recipes on line that make a lesser-scented dough to which you can add aromatherapy oils), etc.
  • Equip a pew with coloring crayons, paper, etc. directly on the pew/chair seat where a child can kneel on the floor and use the pew/chair as a table.
  • Join hands for prayer time during worship.
  • Provide brief explanations in the bulletin/order of service that set the various elements in the light of integration.

Examples: Confession and Forgiveness- Here we let go of our disappointments and failures of the week, trusting in God’s ability to ‘remember our sins no more’ so our here-and-now will not be clouded by our past and our future can be open to possibility.

Service of the Word – Hearing God’s love and guidance and listening to the Word, we find meaning in our experiences and move forward with faith and confidence.

Prayers- Together we lift up our joys and concerns. By doing so, we grow as a God-formed community and we are reminded that we are not alone.

Hymns- Singing Together reminds us that we all have a place in the choir; we all are important to the Body of Christ in our own, unique way. Christ’s body in this world is enhanced through our collective voices.

  • Write liturgy for worship that reflects integration.
  • Instead of “cafeteria style” congregational meals, try “family style” meals. It’s amazing what can happen when we pass the plate and have to ask our neighbor to pass the butter!

kids divinde love


  • Begin the conversation by asking and discerning:
  • If the church can agree that they want to create a safe place and ministry for traumatized, excluded, special needs children.
  • If so, who within the church can oversee this
    • What resources will help meet those needs?
    • Develop a mission statement that reflects the emphasis on relationship- building purely for the sake of people’s well-being.
    • Invite all groups in the congregation to reflect on how their group supports the new mission statement of the church.
  • Consider the qualifications/requirements for membership and removal of membership.
  • In your constitution or by-laws, if you have a process for discipline that leads to removal of membership, consider developing a process for renewal of the relationship, whether it be reinstatement of active membership or some sort of maintaining of the relationship, even from afar. This may be as simple as a commitment of the congregation to pray for these members.
  • Education:

-Safe and healthy congregation training

-traditional Sunday school vs. relational Sunday school with an explicit emphasis on connection rather than curriculum

-base curriculum on the five Intelligences, providing a variety of learning styles (rotational Sunday school sometimes works well)

-Consider multigenerational Sunday school where children can receive more personal attention.

-Put something like a “Trauma Tidbits” article in each newsletter that begins to educate the general membership.

-Seek out as much information about a child as possible concerning learning and behavioral support needs, asking parent what is effective, what constitutes contacting them for support, etc. (i.e. screening interview)

-Have an “angel helper” or trained “floater” or “mediator” who is knowledgeable in trauma behaviors and can help.

-Buddy system

-Special needs classes and rooms

-Have a leadership and Sunday school leader training on the basics of trauma and the congregation’s philosophy (based on the mission statement) on behaviors and responses.

-Create a plan for teachers so that they will feel both supported and equipped to respond to a behavior challenge.

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Interested in speaking to Susan or Sally?

Call for a thirty-minute consultation.