Posts Tagged ‘Proactive parenting’
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
Building families through adoption forges strong, loving bonds. It also realigns the life trajectories of entire families and fractures biological ties. Regardless of the degree of openness, adoption generates complicated tangles of atypical* relationships (* in the sense that these relationships do not exist within families built solely through biological ties.)
Raising children, most of us learn, is a team sport. Parenting is too important and too challenging to tackle without proper support resources. Adoption delivers experiences, needs and challenges to which our bio counterparts have no match. This impedes their ability to comprehend what we face and to offer appropriate solutions. How can we help our children handle the task of braiding together their dual heritage and all that task entails? Adoptive families eventually learn that the parenting templates which guided our own childhoods do not suit the needs of our adoptive families. It’s the equivalent of tossing a life ring when only a life boat will adequately serve.
So where do adoptive families find shoulders upon which we can lean? Family, friends and professionals who have little or no understanding of adoption realities often offer advice that misaligns with our needs as an adoptive family. As the saying goes, a bad marriage is worse than no marriage; so too, poor advice that is not Adoption-attuned* is worse than no advice at all. this is true whether the advice is well-intended or whether it comes from family, friend of professional. A commitment to Adoption-attunement must guide everyone. In the absence of that mindset, any suggestions are apt to create more harm than good.
How does this look in action? Imagine your ten-year-old child formerly comfortable with his adoption, is just beginning to understand the deep losses which adoption created. His teacher reports that he’s struggling to stay focused at school. Your friends suggest you “Impose consequences for his choices: limit TV time, make him do extra homework or miss out on some weekend activity.” The teacher agrees that you should drop the hammer and put pressure on him to buckle down. Your parents also think “Johnny” is being lazy.
When you listen to all this advice, an internal voice whispers a warning that warns you not to listen because their suggestions will further stress your child when he is already feeling vulnerable. Your intuition tells you that such an approach will shift Johnny’s attention from both his schoolwork and his “adoption work” to build resentment and anger towards you and the perceived unfairness of your punishing him. Still, you feel you must do something. But what? How will you respond?
Adoption-attunement guides you to a solution. First, you make a concerted effort to reinforce your relationship connection. Second, drop “seeds” that might trigger adoption-related conversations. Even if Johnny doesn’t react, you’ve reminded him that adoption is a welcome and safe topic. Model an approach he might follow. In either direct conversation with him or, in a conversation with your partner that he will overhear–mention that you are working through a relationship at work. Without betraying the privacy of those involved, allude to some of the strategies you use. (That’s a great model of both loyalty and respect for others.)
Talk about the complicated feelings that the circumstance raises and how you are addressing them. Emphasize that you are confident you will solve the problem. Even if your specific techniques do not resonate with your child, he will hear that it is possible to have conflict, ambivalence and emotional messiness and still work it out. That is a great life lesson for him to learn.
Most kids will stonewall when directly confronted with questions like, “Why did you do that” or, “What the heck is going on?” Try empathy. Focus on reassuring him that you believe he can overcome the situation. Say something like, “School has always been important to you. I’m guessing something must be bugging you. Remember I’m willing to help you work it out.” Although it is counter-intuitive, try to follow this with an invitation to share some fun together. Fun is the building material of relationship. It strengthens the connection. When kids feel connected, they feel safer sharing their “hard stuff” and they care about aligning with the values parents espouse.
Perhaps I’m being presumptuous but I believe for adoptive families, Adoption-attunement merits a place in the pyramid of needs. This attunement is primal, constant and evolving. Like the basic need for food and water, the need for adoption-attunement is life-long, life-giving and vital.
We, at GIFT Family Services” believe strongly in adoption-attuned parenting. If you would like more information regarding this topic, feel free to contact one of our GIFT members. Adoption-attuned support is just a phone call away.
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.
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.
Today, as part of our observance of National Adoption Month, Growing Intentional Families Together (GIFT) debuts our newest resource for adoptive families: a weekly 15 minute podcast– Essentials for Adoption-attuned Parenting*.
Listen to learn practical tips for building and strengthening your family. Podcasts will air for approximately 15 minutes. (They’ll be concise and to the point so you can easily squeeze it into your busy schedule!) The coaching and discussions will focus on real situations confronting adoptive families. Available on i-Tunes.
How often have you yearned for support from someone who understands adoptive family life who doesn’t judge you or your child for the struggles that you face? Wait no longer. Sample the free series. Discover how it might help you and your family. Hear how other families handled similar situations. Experience a sense of judgment-free community, possibility, and hope.
Joann DiStefano and Susan David have developed these podcasts using coaching principles and a healthy, relational adoption philosophy that views adoption not as a one time experience but a lifetime journey. They look forward to its launch and to connecting with our listeners.
GIFT Family Services has consistently advised parents to commit to Intentional Parenting and to develop a high AQ* (Adoption-attunement Quotient* ) because we believe Adoption-attuned* advice and methods best suit adoptees and their families. This acompanying graphic summarizes the Adoption-attunement* approach. Copy and save it for future reference.