Posts Tagged ‘respect’

“Parenting in the Eye of the Storm”: an Important Resource for Families

Wednesday, June 7, 2017 @ 12:06 PM
Author: admin

Parenting in the Eye of the StormParenting in the Eye of the Storm by Katie Naftziger, LICSW has written a readable and practical book. Katie is both a therapist and a transracial adoptee originally from Korea. Subtitled, “The Adoptive Parent’s Guide to Navigating the Teen Years,” her book offer insight, encouragement and strategies for families. Adam Pertman, President and CEO of the National Center on Adoption and Permanency in his introduction to the book , opines, “Whys wasn’t it [Katie’s book] around when my wife and I needed it. No Joke.”

I experienced a similar sentiment while reading it. While this book is widely applauded by seasoned professionals, adult adoptees also chime in to praise Katie’s book. Their perspective speaks volumes to me; who understands adoption better than the adoptees that are living it? As an adoption coach and a parent whose family weathered some extremely turbulent times, I can also add my voice to those who say that Katie has created an important book.

If you are parenting teens now, or will be in the future, this book offers a welcome resource for navigating the challenges of this stage of parenting. If your children are younger, begin now to master the skills she outlines. It just may smooth the path ahead for you and your child. Overwhelmed parents will appreciate both her clarity and practicality and also her brevity. Katie conveys her insights and strategies concisely. Parenting in the Eye of the Storm packs a lot of value into 160 pages. This is a book which parents will refer to again and again.

Among several premises presented in the book, Katie suggests that adoptive parents need to master four skills:

“Unrescuing” your adoptive teen  [Are you exhausted from being expected to be the EMT to the rescue at a moments notice? Want to nurture your teens capabilities–for their sake and yours? If so, this skill will interest you.]

Setting adoption-sensitive limits [Because you’re committed to Adoption-attunement and are trauma-informed, do you struggle to balance empathy with accountability, responsibility and respect? If so, this skill will interest you.]

Having connected conversation [Do you struggle to have conversations which create intimacy instead of eye rolls and annoyance? If so, this skill will interest you.]

Helping your teen envision their future [Do you sense that both you and your teen have some ambivalence about their “fledging the nest”? Does the history of grief and loss which has touched the family color your thoughts, beliefs and concerns–consciously or unconsciously? If so, this concept will interest you.

Do you see a pattern here? Katie understands what adoptees and their families are facing. She’s been there. Her insights offer hope and compassion not judgment. She presents her ideas in an inviting and approachable way. She’s not looking to scapegoat or criticize, she’s committed to increasing capabilities, awareness and nurturing healthy families. Respect and loving boundaries are an integral part of the structure of a steady family. Ironically, parents sensitized to adoptee losses and triggers, many times flounder in their ability to establish these important guard rails. The sample conversations offer insight and ideas on how to master this skill. The dialogs feel natural, not rehearsed or overly contrived–like words parents might actually speak and teens might actually “hear.”

Naftziger also highlights the importance of parents nurturing the natural inclinations and talents of their adopted children. We all know kids “listen to” and learn more from our example than our lectures. In the absence of direct information to the contrary, they may infer that the only acceptable future for them is one that mimics their adoptive parents’ path. This can create a significant double bind for them, especially if they’ve been adopted into a family whose talents and past patterns diverge from the innate talents and inclinations of the adoptee. If a family whose highest passion is sports adopts a child who inclines to the cerebral and abstract, there is a danger the child will feel that he can never meet the expectations of his parents. Even worse, he may never feel permitted to become his authentic self.

Naftziger asks adoptive parents to examine how well they are helping their child identify their innate talents and how clearly are they encouraging and valuing those aptitudes. We want our kids to know that we love and accept them for themselves not for some cartoon imitation of an idealized parental fantasy.

If we think back to when we were teens struggling to figure out how to carve a future for ourselves, imagine how much harder it would have been if our parents insisted–overtly or covertly–that even though we had zero interest in mathematics, we had to become an actuary–or some similar disconnect between our talents and our parents plans. It is certainly a parent’s duty to encourage children to plan for the future and work to bring that future to fruition. We must ensure that our child’s dream is genuinely their dream and not their interpretation of what they believe our dream for them is.

We often talk about being sure to take the time to care for yourself and your relationship with your partner. This book just might be a significant part of that self-care. Check out Parenting in the Eye of the Storm I believe you and your teen will be glad that you did. Marshal all your resources to prepare you for the parenting task at hand. The more prepared you feel, the easier it will be to stay calm and Intentional in the midst of the storm. In addition to reading pertinent books, attending workshops and chatting with other adoptive parents, partner with a an adoption coach (like GIFT) and/or an adoption therapist.

Admitting Others into Your Post-adoption Life

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

joy.ordinary.3Anyone who will be involved in your post-adoption life must be a fully enrolled part of your team. (This does NOT mean they are entitled to the details of your childrens’ stories. It DOES mean that they must have a commitment of the heart that becomes their admission ticket to your family’s post-adoption life.)

When a garden is planned, preparation must occur before the harvest. This is true a hundred-fold when you decide to become an adoptive family. Not only must you prepare and educate yourselves, but also, extended family, friends, community, etc. This task is the most critical thing you do to ready your lives for your child/ren. Think “nesting” on an epic scale!

adoption is a family affairAdoption Is A Family Affair by Patricia Irwin Johnston is an excellent resource for this job, particularly for extended family but also for yourselves. (My Amazon review) Just as it took time for you to embrace the idea of adoption, it will probably take time for your family to become fully on board. There is a difference between steady progress, however, and an inhospitable heart.

Occasionally, extended families will appear to accept your child –but only on the surface. In the unfortunate circumstances where extended family hold themselves emotionally aloof, you have important work to do. Your child deserves a family that is fully committed.

If this task has not been fully accomplished before they join your family, you must protect your children from additional hurt. They’ve already experienced the loss of one family and should not be subjected to feeling less than by their adopted family. Time to pull out the Tiger Heart and insist that your children be treated and welcomed the way they deserve.

Most painful of all, some families will overtly reject your child. Your first loyalty must be with your child/ren; they did not ask to join your family. If you cannot succeed in opening your extended family’s hearts, you face difficult decisions on how to remove relationships that are damaging or toxic to your children. It is particularly unhealthy to white-wash or make excuses for poor behavior or ill-treatment delivered by callous family or friends. This lack of honesty adds insult to the original pain and undermines a child’s natural intuition about people. It adds another layer of hurt and rejection on an already wounded heart.

Adult adoptees repeatedly inform us that this invalidation is especially hurtful–emotionally, spiritually and even physically. As parents we seek to help our children grow to be happy, healthy and to come to terms with the realities of their lives’ challenges. Living in Truth is a key element to success, the foundation to healthy, authentic relationships. The Holy Grail of family life is to nurture a tapestry of emotional attachment that can weather all of the storms of life. Truth is essential. And respect. And joy…liberal amounts of joy.

My sister understood joy. Monday would have been her birthday, which is what made me think of her and what a comforting presence she was to me and my children. After an eight-year struggle with early-onset Alzheimer’s, she died in 2008; She was sixty-five. I still miss her dearly as do my children. They remember her as the legendary “Auntie Mame,” whose zest for life was equaled by the ferocity of her love for them. They never once doubted her acceptance of them. She fully embraced her role as their aunt. Adoption did not weaken her feelings of attachment to them. They knew she loved them/

The kids considered sleeping over at Auntie’s house a huge treat, not because they were “Disney-esque,” or involved spending a lot of money. Nancy treated them to her undivided attention and time, not her cash. They knew they were important to her. She understood and taught them that real value in life lies in creating connection and appreciating the magic in an ordinary day–simple things… having dessert first, staying in your pjs all day…transforming the family room furniture into a fort… piling whipped cream, marshmallow and hot fudge sauce on ice cream… playing pretend…spending undistracted time…simply BEing together. The kids intuitively recognized, this was the stuff that counted in life.

My children were blessed with extended family relationships which reassured, accepted and nourished them. Our extended families were “all in” on the grafted family tree of adoption.

How are you ensuring that your children feel welcome, secure, accepted and loved by their extended adoptive family? What might you do differently, to improve these relationships?

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




Names, Adoption and Identity

Monday, August 3, 2015 @ 01:08 AM
Author: admin

questionsIdentity formation in adoption is a complicated process and we have explored it from many angles recently. In last week’s GIFT blog post, eighteen-year-old adoptee Elias Ankerfelt shared some insights about his recent visit to the Philippines and the orphanage where he spent the early part of his life.

Elias described the exhilaration of blending into his native culture. of stepping out of his daily experience as an obvious minority. He expressed a deeper sense of pride in being “Pinyo” (native slang for being a Filipino male.) Clearly this visit had a direct impact on how he saw and thought about himself, his heritage and his adoption.

This week we will look at identity from another slant: the power of a name to influence and shape identity. Most of us are familiar with the Biblical passage in Genesis 2:20 when he was given the responsibility of naming the creatures of the earth.   And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him. Shakespeare, also offered an opinion on names:   What’s in a name. That which we call a rose / By an other name would smell as sweet.

So which is it; does a name change us in some way or not?

name word cloudA name can help to shape our identity in many ways. It can incorporate traditions, expectations, suggest gender, and or lend itself to bullying. Who hasn’t heard of the song, “A Boy Named Sue”? In adoption, names can serve an important part of the “claiming” process that grafts a child to his adoptive family tree. (In my own family, for example, each of our children have names that extend deep into the history of our family. They were adopted prior to openness in adoption so we had no knowledge of birth names.) Thus a name can  serve as a public declaration that a child is part of his nuclear (adoptive) family and his extended family tribe as well.

Each time the child’s name is spoken, it reinforces this connection.

A name can also sustain an important tether to the adopted child’s birth family. It is especially important to honor a child’s given name if he is adopted post infancy and knows and recognizes it. Approach these circumstances with empathy; find a way fingerprint treeto blend his birth name/s with one you have selected. (Imagine what it would be like for you, if suddenly you were moved to a new family, new home, new county and the one thing that truly is yours–your name–was stripped away and discarded. This piles trauma on top of trauma.)

Older children may have strong feelings about maintaining their birth name, blending it, or replacing with their adopted surname. Have a clear discussion that reveals your child’s authentic feelings on the subject. Reassure them that you will be pleased with whatever choice they make. Even for newborns, it is respectful to incorporate a child’s heritage in his name.

Increasingly, we recognize that adoption is not an either/or relationship. Rather, it is a both/and relationship. The naming process offers an early opportunity to demonstrate respect for our child’s roots and to telegraph our acceptance of its presence as an ongoing and important one in our family.

Read another recent GIFT Family Services blog that speaks to this issue, From Korea to America, Now Who Am I? 



Three Names of MeThree Names of Me by Mary Cummings and illustrated by Lin Wang tells the story of Mary’s little girl who was adopted from China. It asserts that she has three names: “My first name was whispered to me by my first mother; when I was born; it’s someplace in my heart.” Even though the child is unable to recall it, she finds comfort in the belief that her first mother called  her by a name, one that is no longer part of conscious memory but it still part of her history. Further along her timeline, at her orphanage, she was given the name Wang Bin which means “gentle and refined.” The child experiences a sense of being seen as an individual worthy of a name that captures who she is. This affirms her dignity, acknowledges her journey through to adoption and is a treasured part of her. Finally, from her adoptive parents, she receives her third name: Ada, a phoneme of the Chinese  Ai da  which means “love arrived.” Three names of Me is a heartfelt tale of tradition, identity and history.




Kids like me in chinaKids Like Me in China follows a young girl on her homeland visit to China. Like Elias, she also visited the orphanage where she lived. She shares similar experiences and insights. The story also tackles both generalized adoption concepts and some of the more difficult/serious aspects of international adoption: “abandonment,” one-child-family-rules, special needs issues and orphaned children who never get adopted. The topics are handled with respect and honesty in a way that a child can read and absorb. Photographs from her actual trip illustrate the story. Although published in 2001, the book is still relevant and a worthwhile read.






motherbridge of love.2Motherbridge of Love If you haven’t read “Motherbridge of Love,” a story about a little girl adopted from China and how both her mothers love her, I highly recommend this exquisite picture book. Love, love, love it. This wonderful book clearly champions respect for and validates a child’s feelings for his birth and adoptive mothers. When we open the space for a child to hold his birth family in a place of respect, we allow them to honor that part of themselves too.
My daughter, an adult adoptee and I both believe it is one of the best adoption books for kids.






Read my earlier revithe name jar book coverew of The Name Jar Although not about an adoptee, the story is pertinent because it explores a child’s desire to replace her Korean name with one which sounds more American.


Marriage Equality, Adoptive Families and Adoptee Identity

Wednesday, July 1, 2015 @ 07:07 PM
Author: admin


A happy African American man and boy, father and son, family sitting together at home

The recent Supreme Court decision has repercussions in the adoption universe. In states that require and/or prefer married couples, it opens adoption as a possibility for married same-sex couples. This is life-changing news for children who languish and await a family. I suspect they focus on whether a potential parent will love and care for them properly not on whom that parent is partnered in a loving relationship. Expanding the pool of potential parents is critical; we cannot rest until every child who needs a family finds one.

How does this legal, cultural shift affect adoptee identity? Because of this SCOTUS ruling, LGBTQ adoptees may reasonably infer a deeper level of acceptance and security for the reality of who they are, who they can become and who they may choose to love in the future. Certainly, adoption challenges identity in many ways. Children struggle to distill their various threads of “biology and biography”² into a unique tapestry: a healthy, confident and capable identity. The LGBTQ¹ subset of adoptees faces additional constraints on being accepted for themselves without a need to hide, camouflage or deny their sexual orientation. The Supreme Court’s ruling provides a welcome guardrail for them.

Happy family  in a cabriolet convertible car at the sunset in summer

This new level of “equality” shifts attitudes and beliefs in society. It also reverberates in the adoptive family. Adoptive parents are familiar with traveling that extra distance in parenting, of living with a highly developed AQ* (Adoption-attunement Quotient). In addition to sensitivity to trauma, loss and grief factors, we must add sensitivity and acceptance of our children’s gender and sexual preferences.  Our children must be convinced—convicted even—that we accept them for whom they authentically are (not whom they perceive we wish them to be.)  Gordon Neufeld calls this establishing a secure “invitation to exist in [a parent’s] presence.” That statement might seem absurdly obvious. Of course we want our children to be with us, to spend time together, to be a family, to know and feel how much we love them. We must ensure that we routinely convey this unconditionality and constantly convey that we love our kids and have released any expectations–overt or unconscious– that they fulfill the role of our perfect fantasy child. Additionally, cell phones and other  technology, present significant challenges to sustaining that connection “of relating” unconditionally and one-to-one. Adoptive parents must be intensely intentional at establishing and nurturing that invitation to be real.

At some level, however, adoptees are painfully aware that a family is something that can be lost; it has already happened to them once (in some unfortunate case, more than once.) To avoid a repetition of that loss of family membership, some become chameleons adept at embodying their impression of who they think we want/wish/need them to be. Having been relinquished by one family, adoptees may fall vulnerable to role-playing that parental fantasy expectation even if it is not who they want to be and whom their DNA has prepared them to be.

Even to those readers who cannot embrace the recent SCOTUS ruling, there is a fundamental take-away: embrace a commitment to love unconditionally, to encourage our children to feel free to actualize their full potential and to live in authentic relationship. This results when we allow them to live their truth not our fantasy. In the absence of that permission, we fall prey to a painful dance of “preten” that serves no one and prevents genuine relationship. That depth only occurs in the sunshine of truth and honesty.

¹Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer

²Lori Holden, The Open-hearted Way to Open Adoption

Adult Adoptees Share their Hard-Won Wisdom

Wednesday, June 10, 2015 @ 01:06 PM
Author: admin

Adoptee survival guideI recently read Adoptee Survival Guide by Lynn Grubb. This collection opens a window into the actual experiences of adoptees who are now adults. Each shares their personal truth and offers insight into how we can support adoptees as their parents, partners and peers. Much of their message is painful to hear because it shines a light on the dark underbelly of adoption that is grounded in loss, grief and pain. Truth is often difficult to confront and it is important that we acknowledge and deal with it. Living with or in a lie is far more detrimental for all.

The message this book delivers is clear: Tell the truth; share it with respect and compassion; honor the reality of adoption—not only the benefits, but also the co-existing grief, loss, pain, identity confusion and ambivalence. While it may be tempting to hold back difficult information or to skew the truth through omission or actual untruths, the damage such falsehoods generates are devastating to the parent/child relationship.

Although these stories belong to adoptees who were placed before open adoption and the inauguration of healthier adoption practices, they provide an invaluable window into the adoptee experience through the lens of individuals who actually live/d it. The authors write from the heart to reveal how their adoptive families succeeded and/or fell short in supporting them through childhood and as adults. Parents often unwittingly missed the mark in providing the support their children needed. Sometimes parents undervalue the differences/unique talents which their child brought to the family tree and longed instead, for their child to be the embodiment of parental fantasies.

Adoptee Survival Guide presents parents a chance to learn what adoptees need. The changes in adoption practice may be different from much of the experienced referenced in these stories, however, the message is fundamentally constant: accept your child for who she is; validate her truth; respect her biological family and understand that you are not in competition with them.


akaDanFor an additional insight from a younger adult adoptee check out (a korean adoptee.) He has a website as well as a series of videos documenting his homeland visit and reconnection with his birth family. This video series offers an authentic and raw insight into his experience. Prior to being adopted from Korea, he was well cared for as an infant, with a loving foster mother in Korea. He was adopted by a loving, supportive family in the United States, who were there for him during his journey toward meeting his adoptive family. Still he struggles with emotional conflicts, identity issues, mourns the loss of what-might-have-been. As the twin placed for adoption while his siblings were not he faces why-me questions.

Rap music provided him an outlet for his turmoil. (And coincidentally, is a passion shared by his twin that his parents raised.) His videos witness “acceptance” of the life he had and the life he had lost, and even though he does not know how the future will enfold, he believes it will include all “the above” that makes him who he is.

Both Adoptee Survival Guide and Dan’s work offer  an honest and raw look into adoption as a lived experience. There is hard won wisdom here.