Posts Tagged ‘self-esteem’

“You probably don’t remember Me…” a Boy’s Letter to His Birth mother

Wednesday, November 15, 2017 @ 05:11 PM
Author: admin

Back in April I blogged about a letter which a now-adult adoptee had penned to her birth mother when she was ten years old. The poignant, heart-breaking note was also an example of a very common mindset of young adoptees in closed adoptions.

I received another, similar letter. Though very brief, it captures many aspects of adoption complexity. (The names have been redacted from the photocopy.) This note was written by a nine-year-old boy. Like the young lady I featured, he’s now an adult. As I read his letter, his yearning for connection leapt off the page, palpable, irrepressible. Sadly his ache–to know, to understand, to meet–remained unfulfilled until adulthood. Open adoption was still rare at that time when the “blank slate” mentality prevailed and the either/or mentality reigned supreme.

Like many adoptees he expressed a desire to see her face. Perhaps he wanted to see if he resembled her. Most adoptees say they fantasize about that. A lot. His letter is brave; he openly admits his need and he confides that he misses her. Something in his little-boy heart ached for his first mother, to know her, to see her and, to connect with her.

No one suggested that he write her this letter. It arose from his own need, a need that could not and, should not be repressed or denied. At the time, he shared the letter with his parents who reassured him that they would help him reconnect when he turned eighteen. (This was the only legal option available at the time. Fortunately, he felt safe in approaching his parents and trusted that they would support him and understand his situation AND that they would not themselves feel rejected by, disappointed in or, angry with him)

Pause for a moment and sit with that thought.

Imagine how that experience of rejection would shape your thoughts and beliefs about yourself, how it might influence your ability to create relationships. At some level, rejection is an adoptee’s constant companion. It factors into who and how he is as a person. He needs understanding and support. Unfortunately, often people castigate adoptees for daring to express a need for knowledge and connection to their roots. Adoptees “get” the societal message that their yearning is disloyal. Ungrateful.

But, in fact, “rootedness” is a fundamental human need.

Even at the tender age of nine, this young boy feels obligated to affirm his gratitude and connection to his adoptive family. It demonstrates his underlying compassion for his birth mother. He doesn’t want her to feel badly, rejected. He knows too well how that feels/hurts. The boy asserts that his adoptive family takes good care of him. Again, adult adoptees tell us that they feel a strong need to reassure people that their interest in their birth family co-exists with their connection to and love for their adoptive families. It’s almost as if they sense they must apologize for their need to know who they are and where they come from. But

Since November is National Adoption Month, I thought it appropriate to remind our readers, that adoption is complicated. We cannot allow ourselves to be blinded to these challenging realities. We must provide our children not only with all of our unconditional love but also, ensure that we validate and support our children in all aspects of their adoption journey. We must allow them to “own” all of their family relationships—birth and adopted—and help them understand and work through the jumble of feelings and thoughts which adoption causes.

National Adoption Month highlights family building through adoption. Too many children remain in foster care for far too long.

Every child also deserves their truth, their story—all of it.

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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?

http://wp.me/p4r2GC-1GL

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.

The Burnishing Reality of Trauma: Life as an Adoptive Family

Wednesday, August 19, 2015 @ 04:08 PM
Author: admin

group of multiracial kids portrait in studio on white background

Readers of this blog demonstrate intentionality in their parenting and an interest in enlarging their parental skill set, deepening their understanding of their children’s needs and a commitment to adoption attunement—a very admirable and worthwhile goal. Adoptive parents know it is important for our kids to have a peer group where they feel seen and heard. Imagine their exhilaration as they step out of the “different” box framed by their status  as an adoptee to the unrestricted space of belonging emanating from that same status. (Lesli Johnson, MFT wrote this wonderful article about the benefits of peer support groups for adoptees. Do check it out.)

As we were raising our now-adult children, we believed in the value of a support group; we ran and participated in them regularly. As our children approached their teen years, however, we backed off. We mistakenly believed our kids needed space around their adoption more than support. My children have since told us that while they absolutely benefited from support groups and the commonality it provided them as youngsters, they actually needed it even more as they were floundering their way through adolescence. Lesson learned and now shared  with this community.

Woman in medical inhalation mask breathing

Sometimes the focused pursuit of this commitment to our kids causes us to skimp on our own needs and/or our relationship with our partner. Self care fades in the overwhelming job of parenting kids after trauma. Even though we’ve all heard the oxygen mask metaphor (i.e., put your own on before assisting kids with theirs,) we cannot seem to carve out the time/energy/resources for ourselves. We convince ourselves that we are the adults and our time will come later. But somehow, later doesn’t come. Until … we arrive at the point where we have nothing left to give. Spent. Our good intentions wither in the face of exhaustionphysical, emotional, spiritual and financial.

 While raising my children, I relied on my fellow adoptive parents. We shared resources, encouraged one another and relied on the sense it gave us that we were not alone. Yet often, adoptive parents plow ahead–without support, feeling overwhelmed, under-resourced, isolated and alone. The reality was/is that our parenting world often diverges radically from our non-adopting friends. We are reluctant to reveal the struggles we face within our family with these “bio-fam” friends because we do not want to betray our family’s privacy and/or  expose our children’s vulnerabilities and struggles. We understand trauma, how it looks and what it takes to heal, but the world at large usually has little or no clue.

Before collapsing at such a low point, consider how it might look if you did make yourself a priority. How might this benefit your family? To whom might you turn? How will you identify who is a competent resource? (Rely on the advice/ support of people who are adoption-attuned and who understand the unique challenges of adoptive parenting. Inappropriate advice/support can be more detrimental than none at all and can leave you and your child feeling blindsided, criticized and judged.)

Look for support groups in your community. Participate in on-line support groups. Work with a therapist and a coach. Each has something to offer you. In every case, make sure #AQ* (Adoption-attunement) is the constant. There are many wonderful books available, both fiction and non-fiction, for parents and for children. Consult our suggested reading page for titles and  brief synopsis. Reading can serve as both lighthouse and life raft, providing inspiration, hope and strategies.

everything you ever wantedRead Everything You ever Wanted by Jillian Lauren. Her story is an impassioned example of adoptive parents’ dedication to their child in the face of very challenging post-trauma behaviors. Readers will admire, empathize, cry and laugh while they read about the courage and unconditional love of this family for their son  as they walk together on his healing journey through adoption. Equal parts inspiration, cautionary tale and sisterhood sharing, Lauren skillfully narrates a story that will break your heart and warm your soul. A great read.

 

Positive Parenting–Focusing on Leadership Not Fear

Wednesday, August 12, 2015 @ 03:08 PM
Author: admin

Frustrated mother behind angry daughter in provocative clothingParenting can be very rewarding; it can also bring us to our knees, leaving us overwhelmed, frightened and desperate. Kids with tough starts, trauma histories and strong wills can prove difficult to manage. What parent has not had the frustrating experience of recognizing they cannot compel an uncooperative or unwilling child to do something?  Consequences, incentives, threats, pleading…nothing works. Such power struggles leave parent and child exhausted, stressed and unhappy. Family life becomes mired in confrontation, exasperation and conflict.

So what recourse do parents have? Coaching uses some fundamental presuppositions to develop effective strategies that move families forward through difficulty, for example,  accountability and working/not-working.  Accountability examines how one’s own behavior—to whatever slight degree– contributed to an outcome. This is very removed from either fault-finding or assuming responsibility that rightfully belongs to others.

seamless pattern, interlacing of branches

Accountability helps identify leverage points for future change  because our own behavior is the only thing over which we have total control. By backtracking through the decision tree that led to a given outcome, choice points can be identified that might have altered the result. The purpose is to identify an exit ramp from the chaos. Note that this removes the need to assign blame. Fault is irrelevant. Remember,  the blame-game takes us out of the game instead of keeping us in it.  When we are in the habit of telling our children what they did wrong, we end up alienating them instead of bringing them closer to us. Instead concentrate on making different choices and identifying which ones move the family closer to a mutual goal. This strengthens the relationship. It also reduces anger, shame and resistance, models respect and nurtures capability.

Another important coaching presupposition is working/not-working (as distinguished from the proverbial right/wrong viewpoint.) Right/wrong insists there is only one approach, method or strategy. It crushes creativity, initiative and self-designed problem solving and leaves little room to accommodate individual approaches, patterns and personalities. Right/wrong is more about compliance than competency or cooperationFocusing on working/not-working allows parents to look at strategies and behaviors with neutrality. It keeps the focus on the goal. Success is determined by effectiveness. Was the goal achieved? If not, what can be tweaked? Added? Subtracted? No energy is wasted on insisting that one approach—MINE–is the correct way while yours is incorrect.

Heller weisser Hund traegt T-Shirt mit Aufdruck, im Vordergrund steht ein Spielgeraet, Waveboard

For example, imagine a parent requests a child take the trash to the curb and clarifies the time by when the task is to be completed.  He gives the child room to shape the task to his liking, perhaps adding an element of fun. Pull it on his skateboard? Drag it his wagon? Run a timer to see if they can “Beat the Clock?” You get the idea.   This allows both parents and children to focus on goals, on learning from mistakes and using such experiences as stepping stones to effective solutions and independence. The parents are not dictators giving orders; they are leaders who model respect and raise children who are thoughtful, capable and willing contributors.

Newbie's guideRelationship offers the most reliable path to attachment, cooperation and strong family connection. When kids care about their parents, they also care about parental priorities, values and standards. One excellent parenting book is The Newbie’s Guide to Positive Parenting, second edition by Rebecca Eanes. Although not specifically directed at adoptive families, it definitely concentrates on sustaining connection, on parenting via modeling the attitudes and behaviors parents want their children to learn. Rebecca asserts an important distinction: “leading and controlling are very different.” One invites cooperation; the other invites rebellion. One is respect-based; the other is fear-based.

An important mantra guides adoptive parents: “connect before correct.” Positive Parenting includes a commitment to restoration, to repair and reconnect after breakdown occurs in family relationship. Parents must never withhold their love because of a child’s inappropriate choices. Unconditional love is the lifeblood of the family relationship.

Here are a few memorable quotes from the book:

“Positive discipline isn’t about making a child pay for his mistake but rather learn from it”

“It’s about teaching them to do what is right instead of punishing them for doing what is wrong.”

“There is no such thing as an unimportant day when you are shaping a child’s life…Be intentional about what it is you are writing.”

The Newbie’s Guide to Positive Parenting  is an excellent book. that will inspire you. Check it out.

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.