Posts Tagged ‘trauma’

An Eclipse Can Blind Us

Wednesday, August 23, 2017 @ 02:08 PM
Author: admin

challenges-of-parenting-can-blind-us-to-the-joysThe recent total eclipse captured our national attention and provided a refreshing point of unity for all Americans regardless of their political beliefs. It offered an experience of staggering beauty and reminded us of the fragility of this planet which we all share. For all of its mesmerizing beauty, an eclipse can blind us if we stare at the sun’s brilliance without adequate protection. Sometimes the challenges of parenting can similarly blind us and cause us to lose heart.

All parents know that in addition to the exquisite heart-touching, soul-altering joys of parenthood, it also includes challenges that can break the heart or cause us to question our capabilities as parents. The hard work of parenting also includes a healthy dose of drudgery: the heavy lifting of inculcating and enforcing family values and the important responsibility of teaching children how to learn from their mistakes.

Adoption imposes additional challenges to our parenting tasks. In addition to the same tasks which all children face, our kids also must discern how to blend a dual heritage from their birth and adoptive families. Make no mistake; their job is far from easy. It takes courage and persistence, support and encouragement. Most of all it takes time. Lots and lots of time.

This extended period of dependency can exceed our expectations; it also can exceed our patience. Sometimes parenting can feel utterly overwhelming and endless. We look at our friends (who are raising kids by birth and not through adoption.) We envy their kids’ seemingly effortless ability to fledge the family nest and make it on their own. We’re ready for the next stage of life.

Sometimes, we can fall into feelings of despair and wonder if our kids will ever pull themselves together. We fear that we are not up to the task. We mistrust our skills and inner strength. We tire of the conflict that simmers between us and children who are struggling to solidify their identity and enter adulthood. We crave a break from the stress and worry–for a moment, a day, a week… We pray for reassurance that things will work out well.

Shift vantage points. Imagine what it is like to be in our children’s shoes. They can’t step away around these obstacles. Their only pathway forward is to leap over these hurdles. They must forever manage the two planets of their lives: birth family and adoptive family. It’s a lifetime burden on their shoulders. As fatigued as we are by the shadows adoption casts into our family life, their stress pales by comparison.

As Intentional parents we must remind ourselves that our kids are tired of the conflict too. They too, crave the relief of resolution. We know behavior is the language of trauma and that their behavior speaks volumes. They’re probably afraid they’ll never figure themselves out. They sense our worries and fears and these emotions magnify their own self-doubts, feelings of inadequacy and fears of rejection.

Our exhaustion and impatience tells them we aren’t up to the challenge of standing with them until the crisis passes. That’s scary. It’s a primal fear like primitive man experienced when an eclipse wiped the life-giving sun from the sky and they wondered if it would ever return. Our kids need to know that we can handle them, their “stuff,” their anger and their fear.

Unless we can hold that space of acceptance, security and hope, we’ve allowed ourselves to become blinded by the glare of the conflict because it is so close, so hot, so intense. But like the eclipse in which the moon succeeds in totally obscuring the sun which is four hundred times larger, the result occurs because of the perspective and proximity. Eventually the planetary alignment shifts, the moon continues on its orbit and our reality returns to its “normal.” As people of this century, we have this knowledge and that bedrock of security neutralizes our fear of the darkness.

It’s scary until the light returns and begins to shimmer around the edges of the current problem. We must hold hope in our hearts with the sure knowledge that we can be the safety lenses that enable our kids and ourselves, to look right at these two things and learn how to establish a balance. In spite of any self-doubts or moments of weakness, we do have what it takes. Sometimes a shift in perspective can make all of the difference. Staring too directly at the fiery glow of the “problem” can blind us to the choices that will unfold in the near future or those that currently remain obscured by the too-close light. How will you use your “safety glasses to look at the challenges ahead? How can you serve as safety lenses for your children?

Coping with Transitions …

Thursday, August 3, 2017 @ 12:08 AM
Author: admin

Adoption-attuned Coping with Transitions ...

Anyone connected with adoption knows that transitions can be challenging for adoptees. Some posit that it echoes the primal loss of their being separated from their birth families. Regardless of how they connect to this profound loss, transitions do operate as trigger points for many adoptees. As Intentional parents we work to be mindful of this hot button and we use strategies to help our kiddos cope. Let’s face it, nobody enjoys a meltdown–not even the kids. These emotional events leave everyone shaken by the intensity and depth of the feelings which under gird them.

They also tend to trigger visceral responses within us. A combination of irritation, frustration, overwhelm, helplessness, impotence, confusion and, even fear all vibrate–in a symphony of dissonance that leaves all feeling spent. What are some steps that help families to move forward? Attunement offers one excellent path.

Acknowledge: Keep it neutral! Resist the temptation to match their drama with our own responses. Stay factual. I can see you’ve got big feelings about this

Witness: Move beyond the act of observing and choose to give witness. Just like in a courtroom, our words offer a perspective–ours–which informs how others understand the situation. Our testimony gives kids the language to express, describe and, capture their experience. Once kids have words to express their feelings and needs, they can begin to step off the hamster wheel of what Daniel Goleman calls an “emotional hijacking.” Language helps them label their thoughts, feelings and needs and gives some sense of being able to manage them. Much of the trauma which adoptees experience as a result of being separated from  their birth mothers, is held as preverbal memory. They need us to provide tools to cope. A broad “emotional vocabulary” empowers them to transform the feeling  that stressors are  infinite, unlimited and permanent and instead to impose some boundaries. It provides them a way to package it so they can examine, assess and manage it.

Affirm: Adult adoptees frequently report that some of their most painful memories center around feeling invalidated and invisible. This happens when their feelings and concerns are dismissed, trivialized or ignored. Many report they received powerful messages–either overtly or subtly–that adoption conversation could include only positives; that they were expected to choose undivided loyalty to the adoptive family and never refer to, or seek information about their birth families; that they needed to sublimate their natural talents and inclinations and follow the traditional patterns of the adoptive family; that discussing adoption distressed their parents. To avoid that they sacrificed themselves and learned to ignore their need for support in order to protect their adoptive parents.

Intentional parents have the opportunity to choose a more healthy and honest approach. Affirm the realities of adoption. Welcome discussions–even painful ones. The absence of an open forum forces children to wrestle with these issues alone and without the support they need to process them. Embrace a Both/And paradigm that makes space for adoptive and birth family; Don’t make them choose one over the other. They need both.

Adoption-attuned*Coping with Transitions ...Set boundaries: One thing parents fear is that if they try to “connect before correct” kids will grab the upper hand and the family will devolve into chaos. In reality, if we try to yell, persuade or punish a child who is in the stranglehold of an emotional hijacking, we engage in a lose/lose situation. Overwhelming emotions blunt the brain’s ability to think, limit the body’s ability to regain control and, completely focuses on a fear/flight/freeze response. Until those emotions subside, until the child feels safe,  they are unable to think logically and rein in their behavior.

So yes, connect. Connect so you can correct but delay the educating part of correcting until calm has been restored. Then correct. Reiterate the boundaries. Rehearse the better choices.  Clarify that it is the behavior that falls short, not the child. Nurture a sense of hope, capability, possibility and love for your child.

For more on the concept of Emotional Intelligence and emotional hijackings read Daniel Goleman’s seminal work, Emotional Intelligence. At GIFT, we move beyond the common idea that intelligence equates with Intellectual capability as measured by a high IQ and consider the concept of multiple intelligences. In addition to Intellectual Intelligence (IQ), we embrace Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence, (EQ,) and it led us to develop the idea of Adoption-attunement™–our theory of Adoption Intelligence (AQ.)

No Bohns About It

Prevent Suicide–Talk about It

Thursday, May 19, 2016 @ 02:05 AM
Author: admin

Toe tag feet.cropped.Fotolia_87156069_XS

In adoption, great joy  and many blessings coexist with grief, sadness, curiosity, regret and  other complicated but very real and profound emotions. We’ve focused several recent blogs on proactively establishing an adoption-attuned safety net for our children. Comprehensive and open communication. is one essential ingredient of any family system. For adoptive families this means we talk about 360° of emotion surrounding adoption. The entire range of feelings are acknowledged, validated and respected.  Children need regular reassurances that all topics are “open” for discussion, even–perhaps especially–those which may be difficult for adoptive parents to hear.

When kids  feel hopeless, overwhelmed by their challenges, or believe they are unable to broach issues, whether their belief is grounded in reality or their imagination, they flounder emotionally and suffer greatly. In some extreme cases it leads them to consider, or tragically, to choose suicide. (The suicide rate is higher among adoptees than non-adoptees.)

No parent wants their child to feel that desperate. No parent wants their child to choose suicide. But it happens. This is why it is essential to talk about suicide before it is too late. Parents cannot afford to sugar coat their child’s struggles or to live in denial about the depth, intensity and reality of their child’s traumas.

Portrait of little girl crying with tears rolling down her cheek

This dad, unable to find the proper resources,  learned to understand his daughter’s adoption losses too late. Now he speaks out so other families will not face the same excruciating emotional tragedy. Yes, it is hard to listen to this interview, but it is also too important not to do so. ‪#‎ThePainIsReal‬ None of us want to learn too late that our child is contemplating suicide. #TalkAboutTheHardStuff

In some situations, our children are not contemplating such drastic measures for themselves but it exists in their family background. We must resist the urge to protect them from the information and instead prepare them gradually to learn, process and accept their history. Read our earlier post that addressed how to reveal and discuss issues like rape, abuse, suicide, etc., when they are part of a child’s biological history. Although these topics are emotional, traumatizing and difficult to discuss, we cannot afford to stuff them under the rug.

Obviously, there are no guarantees, Sometimes a child’s problems, traumas, depression, etc., are too much for them to bear and they may still consider suicide as a possible solution. Be sure to seek professional help.

Here are two links to click. The first is a Mother’s Day video letter from an adoptee to his birth mother back in Africa.  It dramatically demonstrates how children remain viscerally connected to their birth parents.

The second link is an article by adoptee, Joanne Bennett. Her brutally honest post about her childhood in a family plagued by mental illness, alcoholism, divorce and denial deserves our attention.



Smoke and Mirrors–Fun or Foul Play?

Wednesday, March 30, 2016 @ 09:03 PM
Author: admin

smoke mirrors truth.Did you know that March 29 is National Smoke and Mirrors Day? Smoke and mirrors is a familiar expression to describe the distraction techniques used by magicians as they try to entertain with their illusions. The audience enjoys the deception even while they struggle to discern how the performer could trick them so easily and convincingly.

Occasionally, we fall prey to a more sinister use of smoke and mirrors when politicians use it to distract voters from the important issues and instead focus on attention getting drama.

In both cases, we are, at some level, willing participants to the illusion. We suspend our critical thinking skills and voluntarily buy into the trick because we want to be entertained or distracted in the moment. Or because the truth is too uncomfortable…

Sometimes we even perpetrate a smoke and mirrors approach to issues and events in our own lives. This can have disastrous results because the illusions may make situations seem different or better than they are but reality remains unchanged. Behind the smoke and mirrors, issues and circumstances continue whether or not we allow ourselves to see or admit it.

In the life of an adoptive family smoke and mirrors can come into play in a variety of ways. Parents may stuff their infertility loss and grief issues and live “as if” adoption “cured” these profound factors. Adoptees may struggle to suppress their own loss and grief issues in an effort to numb their pain or in the mistaken notion that denial is the cost of acquiring/keeping their forever family.

Our culture imposes the expectation which demands we acknowledge only the positives of adoption, hide any pain, psychic costs  or difficulties that might co-exist for our children and ourselves. Plaster on a happy face and forget about the challenges. Don’t spoil the fairy tale.

This kind of smoke and mirrors approach imposes a huge price. When they role-play “Perfect Happy Family,” parents and children miss the opportunity to create genuine and honest connection, to walk through the flames of fear, and come together to validate the truth of their both/and bonds. They miss the chance to  reveal, heal, and deal with very real vulnerabilities and challenges. The body knows, remembers…even if the consciousness chooses the illusion that smoke and mirrors can provide.

Leave the smoke and mirrors to the entertainment and recreational aspects of life. When it comes to family, sweep away the illusions and come together in courageous truth. Admitting the challenges in adoption in no way diminishes the genuine bonds it creates. Honor and trust the bonds you form as a family. Be brave enough to see the truth, sweep away any “smoke” and help your children to do the same within themselves and with you. Hold those difficult conversations. Your connection as a family will be stronger, more honest and more inclusive. Embrace the both/and reality of adoption and value all of the threads of your family-bio and adoptive.

Advantages at the Starting Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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