Posts Tagged ‘relationship building’
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
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.
Last month we focused on accumulating information to underpin some intentional change-making. Today’s tips can help you implement change even if you didn’t participate in last month’s series. (It’s not too late to follow the exercise outlined in the series, define a goal, implement your resolve and begin. ) We ended the series with a final question: What will be your first action step in response to this exercise ?
Let’s stipulate that your first criteria was tuning into your Core Values. What principles determined which step you decided to take first? Some folks choose the change they think will bring about the greatest shift. Others select the one that connects with their heart most deeply. Some people elect to begin with one, small step to which they believe they can and will commit. (That’s an important distinction: ability versus intention and follow through.) And some will choose based on the change they expect will get the best “buy in” from their entire family.
All are good options; the essential thing is simply to take the first step.
Tip Number 1: Choose an intentional frame for your selected change. How we view change can also affect our response to it. Pause and seriously consider what metaphor comes to mind when you consider creating changes in your family dynamics. Does it feel like jumping off a cliff? Climbing a mountain? Herding cats? Paragliding over the Pacific? Setting humor aside, one can easily see that viewing change through a lens colors the way we experience it–with dread, enthusiasm or fear–or a combination of similar emotions.
Tip Number 2: Remember that change takes time. Allow yourself and your family time to find their new footing and for a new balance point to emerge. Imagine for a moment a large jar stuffed with several balloons. Whenever one balloon is squished, shaken or moved, all of the other balloons will reflect that motion in some way. Similarly, whenever one person in a family changes in behavior or attitude, every family member responds. Some will welcome the change. Others will feel threatened, frustrated, annoyed or resistant.
Tip Number 3: The only person whom we can compel to change is ourselves. We can invite, persuade and encourage change in others but the decision remains theirs. Even when no one else embraces the suggested change, it is still possible to make a difference in the family dynamic. Merely by focusing on one’s own change process, a shift will occur. Because we behave differently, others will receive different “input.” Consider this example. Decide to remain neutral when a teen vents and uses deliberately provocative speech. You’re not my real mother and I hate you!
The most typical parental response tends to be anchored in hurt feelings which then lead to angry words, righteous indignation and “consequences.” While those reactions are understandable, they tend to inflame the situation and to give power to those words. This increases the likelihood that the child will use them again because they succeeded in unloading their pain and anger onto the parent. By not reacting, the inflammatory words lose their power. Thus, it is less likely to be the “go to” phrase they’ll use in the future.
Something even more powerful can happen however, when parents don’t bite the bait and instead listen and then respond with genuine empathy. You must feel very angry. Usually the child will respond with still-angry words. However, instead of arguing about “realness” the focus becomes a validation of the child’s feelings. Things tend to de-escalate. Later, when emotions have settled mother can address the disrespect.
Tip Number 4: Value the relationship more than “being right.” Parenting, especially adoptive parenting demands a fierce, intentional love. Because of adoption’s inherent duality–the coexistence of gain and loss, grief and joy–both parent and child have emotional raw points that can trigger one another. When we are in emotional meltdown, like the scenario described in Tip 3, we must remind ourselves of that soul-deep yearning that propelled us to adopt. Remember the impassioned promises we made, if only we could be lucky enough for this child to join our family. We can use that resonant memory to refocus us on how much we value the relationship. Preserving that attachment is far more important than winning an argument at that moment. We are building families for a lifetime. That is the greater victory!
Tip Number 5: We must set aside the traditional parental templates. Most people learned how to parent by being parented. They use that experience as an unconscious template to guide them. But, unless we ourselves were raised in an adoptive family, we have no template for how to deal with this adoption complexity. We cannot default to autopilot (parenting like we were parented in our own families.) to handle the unique needs and circumstances that adoption imposes on families. We have no learned experience to tell us how to relate with members of birth families, and overlapping roles. We find ourselves building the blueprint as we go along. Using threads of love, commitment, mutual respect and empathy, we weave a tightly knit family. How does being an Adoption-attuned Parent* benefits your family? When Intentionality, Adoption-attunement and fierce love, work hand in hand, what amazing things result?
Bonus! Tip Number 6: Consider partnering with an adoption coach. How might your family benefit from working with an adoption coach? What would it be like to work with a coach whose focus was your family, your goals, your needs? Imagine having the guidance of a professional who is also an adoptive parent, who will listen to you without judgement. How can this common bond help you achieve your dreams for your family?