Posts Tagged ‘traumatized children’

Trust, Attachment and Family Links

Wednesday, August 10, 2016 @ 03:08 PM
Author: admin

Family building via adoption requires effort, commitment, education, intentionality and a willingness to take a risk–by both parent and child. Each must muster the courage to open emotionally and be vulnerable to the other. When we dare to love, we also understand that the risk of being hurt exists. We accept that risk because we believe  the opportunity to love and be in relationship far outweighs any emotional pain.

When we adopt children who have spent years in orphanages, we realize that the risks and challenges increase. The strategies on which children in orphanages depend for survival, don’t magically fall away once these children are adopted. Experience taught them that relying on others is dangerous, that the only one on whom it is safe to depend is themselves, that caring about or for others only leads to heartbreak. This “successful” skill set kept them safe under adverse experiences. They believe in their methods. They have real-life data to prove the value of this self-isolating approach.

Seen in this light, it is no surprise that it takes tremendous courage, effort and a great deal of time before a child dares to risk trust and attachment. Often described as RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder; it is also known as Reactive Attachment Syndrome.) I would argue it is less a “disorder” and more a strategy that has outlived its effectiveness. Their strategy becomes counter-productive and causes kids to deny themselves the love and security they crave and which adoptive parents are eager to share with them. While it is not easy to break through the prison of RAD, it is possible. Michele Weidenbenner has written a fictionalized story which begins in a Russian orphanage. Convinced by her experiences, Oksana believes that trust as an unafforable luxury. “Scattered Links”chronicles her family’s triumph over RAD. Read my detailed book review here. Her story offers hope to those coping with attachment challenges.

When we interviewed Michele for this post we focused on this book but she has written many others as well.

  1. Scattered Links.Weidenbenner.51EFfra9u4L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_What was your primary purpose for writing Scattered Links?

I wanted to show the frustration that a parent might have who wants to bond with a child who can’t trust, who struggles with knowing how to love someone. I also wanted to show the child’s side of the story, so adopted parents and foster parents would see a different perspective, so parents might better understand why a child who’s suffered a difficult beginning might not be capable of loving or trusting someone. 

  1. How has this book been received by readers in general and by those touched by adoption?

Here is how one reader summed it up, which thrilled me:

“A thoughtful story about the complexities of the well-intentioned who set out to “rescue” orphans from horrible conditions, and the attachment difficulties that arise from adopting a child who has lived a lifetime of abuse and/or neglect. The book was realistic. The characters were well developed and real. It would have been so easy to have written this as a “Hooray for the good Christian couple who rescues poor orphans from a horrible existence.” Instead the book looks honestly at the motivations of all involved, and calls into serious question the “happily ever after” ending that one assumes happens when older children are adopted. A serious but up-beat book. The ending is honest but hopeful without being overly cheesy.”

  1. What books did you read to prepare yourself for adoptive family life?

Before we adopted our daughter from Russia, we had been foster parents, too, so I read a lot of parenting books. However, it was the psychologist who did our home study who really pushed us to see that sometimes love is NOT enough.

I didn’t want to believe her though. I thought she was rude and a bit extreme, but she was trying to give us a more realistic viewpoint of what adopting a post-institutionalized child might be like. She didn’t sugar coat anything. I was naïve because I wanted to believe that she was wrong, that my child would bond with us because we would provide the right environment.

I had faith that God would give us the child He intended for us to raise, that He would help us through the ups and downs.

I didn’t adopt to ‘rescue’ a child, I knew it was going to be a challenge. I adopted a child because I never felt that our family was complete. I felt that I was being called to adopt, and that God had His own agenda. He was using me to facilitate His work. (We have two biological children, but I couldn’t conceive again.)

  1. If you could revise your book today, what might you change or add and why? 

Great questions. There are a few typos that I’d love to go in and fix, but it’s not that easy. I had hired at least three or four editors and an oops editor before this book was published, and yet there are still a few missing letters and typos. I despise that, but reformatting everything and reloading the book at all the sites is really complicated, expensive, and timely.

As far as changing the plot—I don’t think there is anything I would change. There comes a time when you write a novel that you need to say, “It’s finished.” The Doubt Devil will often squeeze into a writer’s thoughts that will make us think it’s not good enough. We have to constantly fight him.

Perhaps I would handle the “Gotcha Day” day part differently. We celebrate the day that our daughter “got” us and we “got” her, but after you mentioned how this could be perceived, I might arrange that part differently.

  1. How did your daughter feel about your writing this book?

I remember the day she texted me from school—she was a junior at the time—and she said how much she loved the book. She rarely read or asked me about my work, so I was thrilled.

I asked her your question today (she’s 20 years old now) and she shrugged. She said she couldn’t remember much about the book. She never thought the story was about her, and it wasn’t. Her story is different. However, I gave a character in the book her Russia name, Ruzina. She loved that.

  1. What obstacles in adoption have changed you the most?

Just like so many other families, we waited a long time for Olivia. We were paper ready to go to China (in 1997), but they closed their doors and said since we had two children they were not going to allow us to adopt from their country. I know, it doesn’t make sense, but they were making the rules. I was sad.

We were nervous about adopting a child from Russia because of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and all the horror stories we heard about families who adopted a child from Russia with this disorder.

The process was long and uncertain, but what I learned along the way was to have faith. My faith grew. Adoption made our family closer.

  1. At GIFT (Growing Intentional Families Together) we advocate for parents to commit to Adoption-attunement. If you had been educated on this approach prior to adopting, how might it have changed your family’s experience? 

I think I’ve always been hyper-focused on this. I didn’t know what it was called, but having a strong healthy relationship with our daughter mattered to me from the very first moment we met her, and it’s still a top priority.

At our first meeting with Olivia, I was looking for signs of attachment issues—did she look away when I made eye contact? Did she have sensory issues? Yes and yes.

She was 25 months old and weighed 16.5 pounds. (But today she’s only 4’11” and 100 pounds, so she’s a peanut.) She was developmentally delayed and walked with tight fists. She didn’t even know how to smile. But within days she learned to smile, grew stronger and met our gazes.

When we returned to America, we worked with an occupational therapist on sensory-integrated training, and enrolled her in First Steps—a program for children with developmental delays. She learned sign language and was given the opportunity to work through her. It didn’t take long before she began to grow and thrive. Watching this progression was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had—seeing through the eyes of a two-year-old “new born.” Everything was a new experience for her.

  1. What else would you like to share with our subscriber’s? 

Adoption is a huge commitment and a life-long endeavor. The responsibility is great, but so is the reward if you don’t expect your child to thank you. Your child might, but don’t expect it. Don’t adopt for that reason.

Post-institutionalized children are special needs children regardless of their situation. Each child suffered abandonment. We don’t know how a child will be affected by that, but it can dampen their self-esteem and make life difficult.

Adopt for the right reasons –not because you want to do a good deed. Do it because you are committed to helping that child become an independent adult who contributes to society.

Be open to getting outside help to strengthen the relationship with your child.

  1. What is your current adoption-related goal?

Olivia will be 21 in a few weeks and still lives with us. We’re encouraging her on her college journey. She wants to be an environmental scientist, but also has a huge interest in teaching others about God, which is difficult for her because she’s an introvert.

I also love to coach Mom’s who are considering adoption. People reach out to me often. I don’t sugar coat it. I tell it like it is.

  1. You’ve written several books. How are they connected to adoption?

I write what’s on my heart. Most of the stories are about social issues, but I have a huge heart for children. Adoption is just one issue.

Cache a Predator, my thriller, is about a father’s quest to get custody of his five-year-old daughter.

My children’s book series, Éclair, is about a seven-year-old girl who has to live with her grandma because her mother is ill and her father goes to work. It’s a modern-day Junie B. Jones story. So many children are growing up in extended families—grandfamilies—that I wanted to write a series about that kind of family situation. However, there is humor in this story.

Fractured Not Broken, is a true story of a woman who’s rendered a quadriplegic at the hands of a drunk driver. However, there is an adoption piece to this story, too.

I have a YA series that hasn’t been published yet. It’s about a girl who has special healing abilities. However, she’s an adopted child, too, but that’s just a subplot to the story.

I also have a mid-grade novel that hasn’t been published yet, but there’s nothing in that story about adoption. However, there’s a centaur, a talking dog, and a frog in the story.

M. Weidenbenner.B46C2E57-D41D-4E59-905D-13B68C1D85D8[6]Michelle Weidenbenner

Award-Winning and Bestselling Author

Award-Winning Speaker

John Maxwell Team Speaker, Coach and Trainer

Book Page          Website          Facebook          LinkedIn          Amazon Author

Blog: Teaching Kids To Lead By Equipping Moms and Dads                         Twitter:  @MWeidenbenner1




Continued Reflections on the ATTACh Conference, Week 4

Tuesday, October 27, 2015 @ 04:10 PM
Author: admin

Attach part 4Final of a 4 part series examining the promise of faith communities as sources of healing and connection and GIFT coaches, Sally Ankerfelt and Susan David’s recent presentation at the 2015 ATTACh Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

To bring you up to speed in this 4 Part series: 

Week 1 discussed the promise of faith communities as healers and connectors, perhaps even more than we think.

Week 2 noted that faith communities at their best – through worship services, rituals, community outreach, even the physical presence of the building — are designed to improve areas of our lives and develop coherent healthy systems that foster emotional well-being.        

Week 3 highlighted that despite the promise and potential of faith communities to heal and connect, it sometimes falls short because it seeks to influence its congregants. A paradigm shift from influence to integration is needed if congregants are to feel accepted and loved. This is especially true for those families dealing with inconsistency and trauma in their lives.


Today: How would it be for congregants to experience Gods love through our relationship with them, by focusing on acceptance and belonging rather than influence?


unconditional loveThis week Susan and I offer some suggestions that can shift our faith communities away from influence and toward integration. These are specific integration adaptations that you can begin to discuss and work to implement with your own faith communities. This process may be a slow one but it need not happen overnight. Some suggestions may fit and others not but as coaches we know that even a small change can yield big results. In our opinion, continuing to educate the congregation on the need for acceptance and belonging as a way to heal and connect is vital. More importantly, a paradigm shift from influence to relationship will create a change that can take root and grow for years to come.

Faith Communities as a Source of Healing and Connection: What You Can Do list:


  • Set the tables in the fellowship hall in larger groupings to encourage “family style” eating.
  • Have fellowship/coffee time take place closer to the worship space to encourage a fluid transition from one place to the next. If you can, have the coffee hour in different areas of the building to encourage others to participate. For example, if you have an elevator and there is space, have coffee available near the elevator, as well. Another example: occasionally have coffee and snacks in the education area, encouraging folks to go to the youth and “hang” in their “neck of the woods.”
  • Rocking chair in sanctuary
  • Quiet corner close to worship
  • Increase entryway space if it’s small.
  • Consider positioning of the pews. Is there any other way they can be configured to encourage community and relationship building?
  • Consider calming colors on the walls.
  • Look into putting windows in Sunday school rooms for safety.
  • Have colorful plants outside the building.
  • Temperature in the building

Faith community


  • Provide a “fidgets cart” near the worship space where people young and old can reach in for a squeeze ball, stuffed animal, scented play-doh (there are homemade recipes on line that make a lesser-scented dough to which you can add aromatherapy oils), etc.
  • Equip a pew with coloring crayons, paper, etc. directly on the pew/chair seat where a child can kneel on the floor and use the pew/chair as a table.
  • Join hands for prayer time during worship.
  • Provide brief explanations in the bulletin/order of service that set the various elements in the light of integration.

Examples: Confession and Forgiveness- Here we let go of our disappointments and failures of the week, trusting in God’s ability to ‘remember our sins no more’ so our here-and-now will not be clouded by our past and our future can be open to possibility.

Service of the Word – Hearing God’s love and guidance and listening to the Word, we find meaning in our experiences and move forward with faith and confidence.

Prayers- Together we lift up our joys and concerns. By doing so, we grow as a God-formed community and we are reminded that we are not alone.

Hymns- Singing Together reminds us that we all have a place in the choir; we all are important to the Body of Christ in our own, unique way. Christ’s body in this world is enhanced through our collective voices.

  • Write liturgy for worship that reflects integration.
  • Instead of “cafeteria style” congregational meals, try “family style” meals. It’s amazing what can happen when we pass the plate and have to ask our neighbor to pass the butter!

kids divinde love


  • Begin the conversation by asking and discerning:
  • If the church can agree that they want to create a safe place and ministry for traumatized, excluded, special needs children.
  • If so, who within the church can oversee this
    • What resources will help meet those needs?
    • Develop a mission statement that reflects the emphasis on relationship- building purely for the sake of people’s well-being.
    • Invite all groups in the congregation to reflect on how their group supports the new mission statement of the church.
  • Consider the qualifications/requirements for membership and removal of membership.
  • In your constitution or by-laws, if you have a process for discipline that leads to removal of membership, consider developing a process for renewal of the relationship, whether it be reinstatement of active membership or some sort of maintaining of the relationship, even from afar. This may be as simple as a commitment of the congregation to pray for these members.
  • Education:

-Safe and healthy congregation training

-traditional Sunday school vs. relational Sunday school with an explicit emphasis on connection rather than curriculum

-base curriculum on the five Intelligences, providing a variety of learning styles (rotational Sunday school sometimes works well)

-Consider multigenerational Sunday school where children can receive more personal attention.

-Put something like a “Trauma Tidbits” article in each newsletter that begins to educate the general membership.

-Seek out as much information about a child as possible concerning learning and behavioral support needs, asking parent what is effective, what constitutes contacting them for support, etc. (i.e. screening interview)

-Have an “angel helper” or trained “floater” or “mediator” who is knowledgeable in trauma behaviors and can help.

-Buddy system

-Special needs classes and rooms

-Have a leadership and Sunday school leader training on the basics of trauma and the congregation’s philosophy (based on the mission statement) on behaviors and responses.

-Create a plan for teachers so that they will feel both supported and equipped to respond to a behavior challenge.

32361c1ad0779a540f85120d1fb39c7e_64 1.800.adopt.21sally_ankerfelt1-150x150


Interested in speaking to Susan or Sally?

Call for a thirty-minute consultation.





How Can Faith Communities Better Minister to Traumatized Children?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015 @ 02:10 PM
Author: admin

Attach Part 3Part 3 of a 4 Part series examining the promise of faith communities as sources of healing and connection and GIFT coaches’, Sally Ankerfelt and Susan David’s recent presentation at the 2015 ATTACh Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

If faith communities are sources of healing and connection, why don’t I feel that way?  Sound familiar?

Something is going on between what is really happening in our faith communities and this ideal coherent integrated faith community that offers unconditional love and acceptance. It is an ongoing tension between influence on the one hand and acceptance and love on the other.  To heal and connect our congregations so that they can truly be what we think and have heard others ask for in a faith community requires a paradigm shift.


Divine loveLast week we talked about developing the areas of integration and promoting a healthy, coherent system that promotes well-being. And beyond that, Andrew Solomon, in his book, Far from the Tree, speaks about the need for those with extraordinary children, children who fall out of what would be considered “normal” to some, to have a community in which they belong and are loved and accepted. He identifies that many families and communities in which people live are structured vertically. They have a “passing down” structure. It is natural for us to have our children to want to have certain values, behave in certain ways, and love certain things. When this does not happen or our child is so different from us, there can be struggle and tension.


Solomon also mentions faith communities as often being primarily vertical. We seek to pass down the faith to the next generation, teach certain beliefs and instill a certain moral stance to our children. We have expectations of behavior and rites of passage to be met like confirmations and bar and bat mitzvah. In the Lutheran church, we have Luther’s catechism that we want to teach to our children. In our baptismal service, we say, we hope that the child will grow “in faith, love, and obedience to the will of God.” That is not unlike other faith communities and of course, a very natural tendency.

know best

This natural tendency toward vertical identity creates a tension for faith communities because   for families whose children fall outside of the norm, they need more of a horizontal community, one that emphasizes acceptance and belonging.


Andrew Root, seminary professor, youth director and author, in Relationships Unfiltered, admits that even though it is our best intentions, we often miss the mark because we are preoccupied with passing down the faith, getting new members, making model citizens, etc. This kind of motivation leads to a fracture or broken belonging. Root admits that the faith community might fall short because it seeks to influence first. Though it is often times relational, its primary goal is to INFLUENCE. So what Susan and I are proposing here is that similar to an individual, the faith community can think about and learn to act in such a way that understands building relationship as a source of comfort and healing as the primary focus and not simply to influence.

unconditional love

What we need is not the influence or the teachings but our immediate needs of wanting to be understood, accepted, and loved. In the community’s mindset, in their belief system, in their behavior there needs to be a systemic shift in the interaction of the faith community that is about integrating heart, soul, mind, brain and relationship. SO what does that look like? As members of a faith community grappling with trauma ”disturbances”, if we were connected, open, harmonious, engaged, receptive, emergent, noetic, compassionate and empathic (a COHERENT System), would we not be a community integrated in love? That sounds a little like unconditional love, doesn’t it? And we’d ask you further, does that not sound like how faith communities profess Divine love – God’s love – to be? Imagine how this would be, then for them to experienced God’s love, through our relationship with them.


Paradigm shiftHow might this shift challenge us?


Join us next week as we offer some suggestions that can shift our faith communities away from influence and toward integration. We will discuss specific integration adaptations that you can begin to discuss and work to implement with your own faith communities.









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.


20 Life-Transforming Choices Adoptees Need to Make

Tuesday, March 17, 2015 @ 03:03 PM
Author: admin

Growing Intentional Families Together is honored to continue our conversation with Sherrie Eldridge, an adult adoptee and tireless advocate for adoptees. She answered our questions about the upcoming re-release of her book, 20 Life-Transforming Choices Adoptees Need to Make.
20 Life-Transforming Choices Adoptees Need to MakThis is the second edition of the book. When was the first edition published and by whom? It was published by  NavPress  on April 4, 2003.


Who is the new publisher? Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2 edition (March 21, 2015)


Who is the main audience for this book? Adoptees. Interviewed more than 70


Can others in the triad benefit from it? Entire triad


Are there new concepts in the book? What are they? Rite of passage, Hope, How to get unstuck from anger, Where we are to live…our focus, life purpose


Smile night skyWhat is the main take-away for you as an adoptee from doing the 2nd publication of this book? I literally relish my adoption. I cherish it as something profound and life changing…for the best.


You say you feel like a lucky girl doing this book project. Tell me more? Retirement (haha)


When is the release date? March 21, 2015 by Jessica Kingsley Publishers

How others can contact Sherrie: Site (blog also here)      Facebook      Sherrie Eldridge     Author page      Pinterest Page


20 Life-Transforming Choices Adoptees Need to Make is available for preorder. Jessica Kingsley Publishers officially launches this new issue on March. 21, 2015. It will be available in both paperback and Kindle formats.

In last week’s GIFT blog, Sherrie had this to say about her book read more


Read GIFT’s blog post on Forever Fingerprints

sherry Eldridge

Eldridge.20 things adoptees wish  Eldridge 20 things ... parents succeed Eldridge Questions adoptees AskEldridge.Under His Wingsnew book cover.2014