Adopted: looking the part and living the part of adopted person or adopted family, is something most of us had no idea we'd be doing. How can we best prepare?
Develop a High AQ* (Adoption-attunement quotient.) Release pre-conceived notions about adoption and listen deeply to the voices of those who know it best: adult adoptees. In this post, GIFT is pleased to interview Anne Heffron, author of You Don’t Look Adopted a riveting, unflinching personal memoir of her life-journey as an adoptee.
Growing up, Anne often heard those words: "You don't look adopted." True, on the surface adoptees look no different from other human beings. Some, of course, don’t “match” the families into which they’ve been adopted. But still, there’s no external “branding,” no visible “Scarlet letter A” that announces to the world that a person was adopted. Unless an adoptee volunteers the information, their adoptee status remains undisclosed.
And yet, adoptees tell us, they experience an uncanny radar that attracts adoptees to one another. An intuitive recognition calls out to one another and recognizes those who are part of their adoptee community. Some say this connection arises from their struggle to braid their dual heritage (biology and adoption) into a single healthy identity. Others attribute it to a hyper-vigilant fear of additional abandonment.
Anne was adopted during the Baby Scoop Era when secrecy, sealed files, and silence was the approach to an adoptee’s pre-adoption history and birth family. Parents expected a blank slate and telegraphed the message that curiosity about birth family equaled a betrayal.
[ctt template="7" link="rs1A9" via="no" ] In the Baby Scoop Era, an adopted family came at a price: absolute loyalty to the one and amnesia about the other. Too often this is still true. [/ctt]
These beliefs were not only unfair, they were unhealthy and worsened the grief, loss and identity issues for adoptees.
Instead of turning to their parents for reassurance, security, and guidance, kids like Anne wrestled with confusion, fears of abandonment and not being good enough. (They confronted these dark feelings alone, unspoken except through the language of behavior.)
Anne reveals, “As the child prays for an open door of free speech and total acceptance of self, the parent prays for the conversation to end. Everyone stiffens … it’s the stories we don’t tell that keep us in various states of paralysis."
Fortunately, adoption has evolved since the Baby Scoop Era. Much of the changes have been propelled by adults like Anne, who are now speaking up, publishing their stories, creating films, and sharing their side of adoption life. This is why their voices, books, and films are profoundly important; they guide us to a kinder, healthier way of handling adoptions. Their direct experience teaches us what did/didn’t and does/ doesn’t work in adoptive parenting. Still, we have so much to learn and improve.
As adoptees personally understand, adoption is not painless, is not an event but rather a lifetime journey. The biggest "forever" in adoption is how it permanently reshapes everyone--child, birth parent and adoptive parent and to some extent the extended members of both birth and adoptive families.
[ctt template="7" link="EuJpa" via="yes" ] The biggest "forever" in adoption is how it permanently reshapes everyone--child, birth parent and adoptive parent[/ctt]
This realization convinces us that the entire family needs to understand how adoption affects each of them individually and the family collectively. All must become adoption-attuned for self-preservation; parents must commit to AAQ* to become the adoption-educated parents their adopted children need.
It takes courage for Anne and other adult adoptees to share intimate details and personal struggles and brave the tide of cultural resistance to acknowledging the reality of adoption as a lived experiences. Adoption is complex, imperfect. Grief coexists with joy, loss with gain. One does not neutralize the other. Adoption separates a child from his birth family and engrafts him to his adoptive family. This process is not painless.
Current practice recognizes the importance of both the child’s biological and his adoptive families. Certainly, this has not always been the case. Even today, some adoptive families fear openness and yearn for their child to need only them and to “forget” about his ancestral roots.
[ctt template="7" link="eba9T" via="no" ] A “loyalty oath” has no place in an adoptive family. Kids need to be able to learn about, cherish and acknowledge all of their relationship links whether through birth or adoption. [/ctt]
In You Don’t Look Adopted Anne writes about many struggles within her family. One that will ring familiar to most adoptive moms is how she projected birth-mother anger and fear of abandonment onto her adoptive mother. Anne says she had a compelling yet unspoken need for her mother to reassure her that she “was going to hold on no matter how ugly or disagreeable I got. She wasn’t leaving." These thoughts offer precious insight to those currently in the parenting trenches.
We parents often lament that children do not come with a handbook. That’s why You Don’t Look Adopted is the next best thing. Please read Anne's responses; she has a great deal of insight to share with us. (Underlining for emphasis is mine.)
This question makes me cry. It’s hard to even admit how much of a struggle it is to grow up with adoption being a topic that isn’t a topic. I didn’t even know it at the time, and as a child, I would have told you I was 100 percent fine with being adopted. All the therapists I went to as a young adult and up until a year ago TOLD ME I was lucky I nice people adopted me and that I had a good home. NO ONE used language that is taught in something like the adoption-attunement. I think I would have felt like we were all on dry land together, instead of feeling however subconsciously, that I was under water while my parents were on dry land. I would have felt seen. Safe.
2. You wrote: "As the child prays for an open door of free speech and total acceptance of self, the parent prays for the conversation to end. Everyone stiffens …it’s the stories we don’t tell that keep us in various states of paralysis." How can parents foster this level of honesty and openness?
Be interested in what the child says about adoption. Let the child talk about the birth mother and father. Even encourage the child, perhaps, to write a story about his birth mother or birth father. When I was fifty years old I felt I was breaking all the rules when one morning I got out paper and a pen and sketched out a children’s book about a little girl who was adopted—-I felt like I was committing a crime by writing it. I even read it out loud and put it on Youtube because I was trying to bust out of my fear shell I had around me about talking about my feelings when it came to my adoption.
That’s when everything shifted for me—with the story I wrote about Baby Momo. If my parents had encouraged that kind of behavior, I might have felt less split—less like it was my false self that was running the show, living my life.
3. GIFT encourages parents to live a both/and approach. Both birth and adoptive parents. Both nature and nurture. Each has positives to offer. Each is a permanent and core part of the child. Both/And releases our children from the lose/lose expectation that they must be loyal only to us. Can you address this “divided loyalty” issue?
A friend introduced me to my now-screenwriting partner, Antonia Bogdanovich, eight years ago. Antonia and I told each other about ourselves during our first lunch, and she said I should write about adoption, but I told her I couldn’t, that it would kill my mother. We ended up writing a screenplay about a birth mother who goes in search of the baby she had given up twenty years earlier, and before we finished, my mom died. I have to tell you, there is a piece of my brain that believes I did it. That I broke the most important rule: do not admit you have another mother. My mom, my mom who raised me, was fiercely my mother. She would have not been able to tolerate meeting my birth mother as she was not able to even talk about her with me. What that meant was that part of me was not acceptable, the part that was adopted. That meant that I was split: there was the good Anne and the not good Anne. That meant that I was always in conflict with myself. I first thought about killing myself when I was in about fourth grade. That thought has been background music all of my adult life. Part of me is unacceptable. Get rid of it. And the only way to do that is to die. I wish I had felt fully accepted by my mom.
4. What do you suggest adoptive parents know/do/avoid that would improve their parent/child relationship?
When I was a little girl, I once told my mother after she asked me to sweep the kitchen floor that my real mother would be very angry when she came back to get me and saw how I had been treated. My mother started to cry and ran from the room. That was a terrible moment for me. I felt so awful that I had hurt my mother, but I also felt betrayed by both mothers. They had both run from me. I wish my mother had been able to stay in the room, to tell me that my birth mother wasn’t coming back for me. I wish my mother had known that I needed to grieve this loss. I didn’t KNOW I needed to grieve it. I NEVER said to ANYONE, I miss my birth mother. I didn’t know that was even allowable. I think my stomach might have hurt less all my life if I’d been able to grieve the fact of my adoption with my mother. When my mother died, I realized the one thing I wished we had done was that she had held me as a little girl and that we’d both cried over the fact that she wasn’t my birth mother and that we also both cried that a piece of me was missing because I was adopted. I wish we’d been able to live with the fact that my mother was both my mother and not my mother in a way that didn’t make my mom cry. I wish we’d been able to talk about it. About loss and grief and love.
5. You wrote that you needed your mother to reassure you that she “was going to hold on no matter how ugly or disagreeable I got. She wasn’t leaving." This push/pull is a frequent dance between parent/adoptee. What additional insight can you offer to help adoptive families?
I was a good girl growing up, and then I started to do not great things. I stole a lot of money from my mother in my early twenties, and I remember thinking, finally, she is going to tell me that she can’t do it anymore, that she isn’t my mother, but what she did was she wrote me a letter and told me that while she didn’t like my behavior, she still loved me. That was a game changer. I ended up going back home and finishing college. She hadn’t let me go. She’d held on. Even though I wasn’t even really aware of this thought, somewhere in my mind I was waiting for my mother to decide that I wasn’t good enough to keep.
I have to note that for some reason, all of my issues have pretty much centered around the mother figure. It didn’t even occur to me until I was in my twenties that I also had a birth father.
6. What obstacles in adoption have changed you the most?
Wanting to please my parents by being like them, but being different in ways that I couldn’t articulate or even prove (by saying, for example: well, my birth father was a scholar-athlete in college, so maybe any physical prowess I have is worth investing in, or, well, my birth mother loved bodywork and so that is perhaps why I am obsessed with massage therapy). My mother loved that I was like her, so I grew up, like many kids who want to please their parents, trying to be like her so she would love me.
I wonder sometimes what it would have been like if my parents had sat me down at some point and had said, We have no idea what genetic talents or gifts you have, but we would love to help you explore and find out what most suits you.
A strange obstacle is the feeling that maybe I wasn’t even real. Since I didn’t know who my birth parents were or where I was the first ten weeks of my life, I didn’t feel entirely grounded. I could just as easily have come from another planet. When I found the names and identities of both my birth mother and father I became present in the world in a way I had never been before.
Not feeling real can be dangerous. It’s easier to try to throw yourself away if you don’t feel solid in the world.
7. Tell us about your other projects. Are connected to adoption?
The very first screenplay that my writing partner and I finished over five years ago, The Rabbit Will Die, where a birth mother goes in search of a daughter she had relinquished twenty years earlier, is now in development.
I am, in a few months, going to start a second memoir about what happens AFTER and adopted person, me, finally DOES tell her story and DOES meet her birth father. So far, the experience has been nothing I could have predicted.
8. What was your primary purpose for writing You Don’t Look Adopted?
This sounds dramatic, but really it was to save my life. In five years, my birth mother had died before I ever met her; my mother died; I got fired for throwing a pen at a student, crying and saying the f word; I got divorced for the second time, I moved yet again—three times—my daughter left for college, and the man I was dating broke up with me, saying I talked about adoption too much.
I had met Kitty Stockett, the author of The Help, at a writer’s retreat, and she’d offered me her Manhattan apartment for the month of February if I wanted to write. First I said yes and then I chickened out and said no. I didn’t think I could just step away from my life. I had bills to pay, that kind of stuff. But then I got into Noepe Center on Martha’s Vineyard for two weeks in April, and something just clicked in me. I felt that I had gotten as far as I could get in my life without telling my story, without even knowing how to tell it, and so I decided to corner myself into finally writing it
My mother had died of cancer before she’d finished her first book, and she didn’t get to see it published by Yale Press, didn’t get to see it on the cover of The New York Times Book Review or in the pages of The New Yorker. I didn’t want to follow in her footsteps; I wanted to live to see my book finished, so I called my trip Write or Die and I wasn’t going to come home until I was finished.
Kitty said I could have her place for the second two weeks in March, so I gave up my apartment, put all my stuff in storage, went to Berkeley to say goodbye to my daughter (that was the hardest—yes she was in college, but I’d still been just over an hour away from her—now I was going to be a long plane ride), and went to New York.
I ended up staying 93 days and not only did I finish the manuscript, but I found out, miracles of miracles, who my birth father was. That’s another story. I still can’t believe it. I got his picture on Day 93, when I got off the airplane to my connecting flight in Chicago.
I went deep in debt to write this book. I acted like a crazy person, putting my story and my voice ahead of everything else. It was the best 93 days of my life. I wrote my story and I found my roots. Everything shifted. I am myself. I found me.
Now I want to spend the rest of my life helping people, adopted and not, doing their own form of Write or Die, only on the cheap, without having to fly across the country and going into debt.
Kitty Stockett is my hero, by the way. Her generosity to a near stranger radically changed my life.
9. What else would you like to share with our subscribers?
Please, please, please, communicate fearlessly and lovingly about just about everything. I can’t tell you how many people write to me after reading my book, telling me that they thought they were alone in their feelings. And it’s not just adopted people who write to me. It’s almost everyone. We’ve all felt abandoned. We’ve pretty much all have had our hearts broken. We suffer when we stay quiet. What I found when I went to New York and Martha’s Vineyard was the more open I was, the more love that poured into my life. The more real I was, the more people wanted to be with me. I saw the world as a spider web of people, and I was now part of that spider web instead of feeling like an alien that was somehow cut off from everyone because I didn’t know who I was or where I had come from—now I know, I am the birth daughter of X and Y (Yes, it’s true: I can’t tell you my birth parents’ names because, get this: it’s secret information. There are family members on both sides who don’t know about me and so, yes, I am a shameful secret and must remain hidden. So, no, the shame-game hasn’t completely ended for me.) and the daughter of Margery and Frank Heffron. I know the names of grandparents of all four parents. This means something. It means I’m real. It means that my actions have consequences and that I am worthy of feeling, giving, and receiving love. It means the world.
Labor day sits in our rear view mirror. Now our thoughts focus on a new school year. As our children's education shapes the family schedule we are mindful of the need to also teach our children how to navigate what it means to be adopted. We understand that talking about adoption matters. A lot.
Fortunately, we have moved beyond the inaccurate beliefs of the Baby Scoop Era which we highlighted in last week's blog interview with adoptee Anne Heffron. We understand adoption is a lifetime journey not an event, an imperfect, not a painless solution. Our biggest challenge is how to best school ourselves and our children for that experience. This means adoption must become a routine element in family conversations, one that pops up organically instead of as an intimidating and heavy we-need-to-talk-about-this topic.
Anne's story reminds us that we must always ensure our children know adoption is a welcome subject. We need and want to hear all of our children's adoption-related thoughts and concerns. Not just the pretty ones. Not only the happy ones. But also the conflicted emotions, the mixed bag of feelings that co-exist with one another. We are able to handle challenging circumstances and strong enough to support both our children and ourselves. Together we can weather the challenges of adoption, of life.
It is essential for kids with trauma histories to know there is nothing in their story can make them unlovable to us. They are not their story. They are so much more than that.
Their ability to survive trauma amazes us. Kids demonstrate great courage when they drop their walls and open themselves to attach to our families.
Equally important for children to know, our love for them is unconditional. It is not extinguished when they make poor choices. And they will. We all do.
Our children are not their choices. They are not "bad" children. Like all human beings, they will make some poor choices which they will regret--and hopefully, learn from. But our love will remain steady.
We remind ourselves that adoption-world is a universe of Both/And. Both biology and adoption, both nurture and nature, both joy and sadness, both grief and gain, both loss and love. Our children need all of the elements of their story; we cannot cherry pick the facts to present only a rosy picture to make it easier for them-or ourselves--to hear. We cannot edit out the parts that distress us to discuss or which we'd prefer to shelter them from learning. Our kids need every piece of their story.
We must ensure that we reveal the elements of their story to them with compassion and kindness and honesty. Parse it pieces over time. Plant age-appropriate seeds of information which can be elaborated over time as our child matures. All information shared must be the truth.
Do not be tempted to "clean up" history. Do not minimize reality. They lived through it. At some level, they "know" the truth. Their bodies remember. Repackaging a child's story with "white" lies and omissions will backfire. Somehow children always stumble upon the truth. We want to ensure they receive information from us not from a stranger or loose-lipped friend or relative whose motives may be less than pure or kind.
I repeat: talking about adoption matters. The best way to ensure that we are the ones to deliver the facts of our children's history is to start casually mentioning adoption when they are very young. Sprinkle these seeds in various types of conversations.When snuggling babies and tots simply say, "We're so happy we adopted you." They won't understand the meaning of the word "adopted." But, they will understand the affection behind the statement. This positive link helps to make adoption a less charged word when they're older and begin to understand the reality of being adopted.
Routinely talking about adoption will make it easier for both parents and child to mention it. This eliminates the need for a BIG conversation when the child is older. More importantly it prevents parents from backing themselves into a corner waiting for just the right moment to "tell" a child he's adopted. Usually this leads to either the conversation never happening or postponing it so long the child experiences the "delay" as a betrayal. Neither is a good situation. So please, ensure that adoption is mentioned and not treated as taboo or a dirty secret that needs to be hidden.
Other good moments for planting conversation seeds are when you observe children demonstrating a skill: "Wow, you are so artistic. I wonder if your birth mother or birth father were skilled at drawing." No need for an in depth conversation. Let the kids decide if they want to elaborate or discuss it further.
Books serve as excellent conversation starters. Visit, "Writing to Connect" which reviews "regular" books (those NOT directly linked to adoption.) It evaluates them through an adoption-attuned lens to identify unexpected, subtle opportunities to serve adoptive families & spark important conversations.
The family library should include some adoption-connected books which they can easily access. (If they never request them, periodically remind them the books are there.) Check out our resource page for an extensive list of adoption-connected suggested books for children and adults.
Some great adoption specific titles are:
Check our resources page for many more book suggestions. Also visit "Writing to Connect" which reviews books and highlights how to find adoption-related conversation points in every day books.
Feeling short of time or finding it difficult to concentrate? You can listen to this post.
An adult adoptee I know described a recent conversation she had with the eight-year-old daughter of a coworker. Somehow the child learned that my friend was adopted. This shocked the little girl because my friend didn’t “look adopted.” In her child's mind, she assumed that adoptees would exhibit an identifiable appearance that would be instantly recognizable by all observers. At first, the child thought the revelation of my friend’s adoptive status was a joke or a trick. Once reassured that it was neither, the youngster tried to wrestle with her thoughts.
She had questions. The first one began as follows: “So when your real mom got rid of you…”
My friend is a middle-aged adult, well-adjusted, with a life that is proceeding well. She has come to terms with adoption, has reconnected with her birth mother, writes and speaks publicly on adoption complexity. Nonetheless, my friend felt gut-punched by the innocent comment and called me ASAP to help her work through her reaction.
Words spoken so innocently had cut deeply on two main points. The first was “got rid of you.” Intellectually, my friend understood that the child lacked the vocabulary to express her thoughts more tactfully. Viscerally, in the recesses of her own insecurities, the words echoed a deep-seated fear that plagues her—and I think most adoptees— that somehow my friend caused herself to be adopted. A mental laundry list of personal failures that she had compiled during a lifetime of adoption grief, self-recrimination, and doubt immediately came to mind. Her baby self had been “too needy, too plain, cried too much, or wasn’t good enough, etc, etc. etc.…
My friend is familiar with the words of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Carl Sandburg: “A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on…” In that conversation with the little girl, however, she didn’t feel like a miracle to be celebrated. The only thought which she could hold was “your real mom had gotten rid of her” like trash.
Inside her adult self, a Rejected Child still lived, anguished, ashamed, and convinced she had caused her adoption. She had to be at fault because, in her Inner Child’s eyes, mothers are Good.
A Good Mother would only reject a Bad Baby. My friend recognizes the irrationality of these thoughts and yet…they still burn like battery acid and persist like the belly button that reminds her they were once united.
She has worked hard to develop resiliency, confidence, and competency. Yet this Inner Child awakens easily and for a micro-second she automatically accepts blame, feels at fault, and unworthy in the face of life’s challenges. Intentionality, self-awareness, and a strong commitment to Adoption-attunement has helped her overcome this negativity. Her learning and resiliency have been hard-won.
The second big trigger in this conversation centers on the child’s use of the word real. My friend knew that the child lacked the appropriate language with which to refer to a birth mother. However, because of the unique circumstances of my friend’s life, she dislikes it when anyone suggests that her adoptive mom is not real. (In her mind she experienced mothering only from her adoptive mom. From her first mother, she received only on-going distance and rejection.
She accepts that both are real, but only her adoptive mother has filled her needs for mothering. If anyone minimizes her adoptive mother, my friend fiercely comes to her mom’s defense.)
As intensely as her Inner Child feels emotions connected to being placed for adoption, she feels equally impassioned about the importance of the parents who loved and raised her and whom she loves and treasures in return. Fortunately, her adult self can hold a medley of emotions and beliefs about adoption complexity. But that requires higher-order thinking and sometimes that more cerebral thinking lags behind the immediate responses of her emotions.
Why did I detail so much of this single conversation? Because it offers a peek into the emotional vortex that lies beneath the observable surface of an adoptee’s daily life. It’s complicated, not always visible, and occasionally understandably reactionary. This is where the skills and empathy of Adoption-attunement help us to be the parents our children need. AQ is helpful from infancy through adulthood. That is why we encourage all our client families to grow a High AQ!
At GIFT Family Services we know and encourage clients who work with us to accept that birth and adoptive parents are all real and are all forever, permanent parts of an adopted person’s whether their presence is physical or only emotional.
Our coaches are available to present workshops in person or online or to speak at your organization or conference. Contact us to explore this possibility.
For additional insight into the adult adoptee experience read “You Don’t Look Adopted” by Anne Heffron. We interviewed her in a past blog. Her book is raw, unvarnished and well worth the read.
Learn how the coaches at GIFT Family Services can help you and your family navigate your adoption journey. We've faced our share of family challenges and crises, ridden the metaphorical rollercoaster, and our families have not only survived; they have thrived. We offer experience, neutrality, and understanding. GIFT coaches are available to present workshops on-line.
Contact us to explore this possibility: 1-800-653-9445
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ABC, Adoption & Me (REVISED & REILLUSTRATED The original version of this book launched in 2013. It earned many awards and adoptive families reported that it genuinely helped them explore and discuss adoption with their little children, in a way that kids felt supported and that also deepened their connection. Using the familiar framework of an alphabet book, it introduces a range of adoption-connected concepts, from the very simple such as "B is for bellybutton. Everyone has one." to "R is for real. My birth parents and my adoptive parents are all real. I'm a real kid and we are a real family."
ABC, Adoption & Me (REVISED & REILLUSTRATED allows parents to plant seeds of understanding which they can expand over the years in age-appropriate ways. This revised version reflects the latest in the professional understanding of adoption complexity, the challenges of young adoptees, and the conversations and strategies that draw families in support of one another. Wesley Blauvelt’s evocative illustrations are compelling. The illustrations in this revised version of ABC reflect a more nuanced emotional tone and better capture adoption complexity. We hope you agree! Includes a Parent Guide.
ABC Adoption and Me, A Multicultural Picture Book for Adoptive Families by Gayle H. Swift - Named a Notable Picture Book of 2013 by Shelf Unbound, this is a book about adoption that celebrates the blessing of family and addresses the difficult issues as well. With charming, exuberant illustrations and a diverse representation of families, ABC, Adoption & Me will warm hearts, deepen understanding of what it means to be an adoptive family, and provide teaching moments that bring families closer, connected in truth, compassion, and joy.
Truly a multiple-award-winning book about the experience of adoption, "ABC, Adoption & Me" breaks new ground in the field of adoption experience integration. Useful for children, families, caretakers, and teachers, "ABC, Adoption & Me" offers positive presentations of many common experiences shared by adoptive children and families. Prefaced by a helpful introduction titled How to Use ABC, Adoption & Me, this cheery, vivid color illustrated ABC book focuses on special topics related to adoption in a non-judgmental and respectful way. Some examples are, "C is for children. You can be adopted at any age, from tiny babies to teens," or "M is for miss. Sometimes I miss my birth parents. I wonder if they miss me too." Also memorable is "P is for parents. Birth parents gave me life. Adoptive parents gave me a (forever) family." And finally, there is "Z is for zig-zag. Sometimes I feel happy and sad about being adopted." Written by an adoptive mother/daughter team, "ABC, Adoption & Me" uses bright cartoon illustrations to present interracial adoptive families and origin birth families with equal validity and authenticity, as well as many other adoption sensitive issues and topics. "ABC, Adoption & Me" deserves every single one of its many awards and should be a part of every child's library.
Kids need to see themselves in the books they read. We're Adopted, So What? tells the story of a diverse group of girls and the complex emotions and thoughts that often come with being adopted. Aimed at middle-schoolers, it strives to help adoptees grapple with and discuss their adoption-connected thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
Being a teenager is tough enough. When you factor in the complexities and challenges of being adopted, it is exponentially harder. This graphic-style book, "We're Adopted. So What?" features five teen girls who share a huge thing in common: each of them was adopted. This shared experience draws them together yet the distinctions between their experiences are as unique as their personalities. Feisty, fun and outspoken, the girls tackle some tough topics. They share their thoughts and feelings about adoption, how it shapes their world and relationships, creates challenges, burdens them with curiosity, frustration, anger, and grief, and shows how they strive to blend together their biological and their adoptive worlds.
Open adoption has become the norm for most contemporary domestic adoptions yet questions and complications still remain for adoptees and their families. How can all these people cooperate to create healthy, supportive relationships that best support adoptees? How does a young adoptee balance their dual loyalties and connections? How do they weave the spectrum of their feelings, challenges, and experiences into a cohesive identity?
We now recognize that connection to, and respect for, an adopted child's biological roots is integral to an adoptee's ability to successfully unify their dual heritage. Still, the concept of openness remains shrouded in apprehension, confusion, and curiosity. How is it possible for a child to have two sets of parents involved in their lives? Against this backdrop of openness, how do teens in international or "traditional closed" adoptions, feel about and deal with their lack of connection with birth families?
This book overflows with practical suggestions for how to navigate the constantly changing seas that adoptees face. The influences of DNA are forever, just as the influence of the adoptive family's nurturing will permanently shape the child worlds. The process is complicated and can be difficult to articulate. This book provides a way to spark these important conversations with families or friends. It validates and renders compassionate witness to the adoptee experience.
Reimagining Adoption: What Adoptees Seek from Families and Faith by Sally Ankerfelt, M. Div., and Gayle H. Swift, CPC
As certified coaches, cofounders of GIFT family services, and as adoptive parents, the authors bring a unique blend of professional skills and personal experience with adoption to their book. Sally is a Lutheran minister and Gayle is an award-winning author. This combination of education and experience provides them with a robust perspective on the issue. They see beyond the cultural mythology and understand the practical reality that challenges adoptees, their families, and the people who support them. They infuse this knowledge into an examination of adoption practice and on forging ways to improve it. "Reimagining Adoption: What Adoptees Seek from Families and Faith" aligns personal experience, trauma research, expert insights, and adoptee interviews into adoption-attuned strategies that support adoptees and their families. They infuse this knowledge into a reimagining of adoption practice inside and outside the church.
The book is intended for anyone who is interested in understanding adoption through the lens of faith as well as how congregations can grow in support of adoptees and their families. One thing that makes the book powerful is that adoptee interviews form the basis of the book. The authors heard from many adoptees how their faith has been challenged because of what people in their congregations and some family members have told them. For example: "It was God's will." "We were meant to be together." "You should feel lucky you were adopted."
Reimagining Adoption is a resource that is both practical and visionary, one that understands the history as well as the current needs of adoptees and their families. This Adoption-attuned approach will help families build a deeply connected life together, a fundamental goal of every adoptive family.
Families come in all shades and groupings—bio families, stepfamilies, foster families, and adopted families. Who’s in My Family: All about Our Families by Robie H. Harris and illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott presents a wide array of family constellations. Most readers will be able to spot their own family reflected in the range depicted in the illustrations. The multicultural illustrations depict families as they participate in several activities: eating, exercising, visiting the zoo, etc. While the variety of families is richly depicted, the unifying thread of the story is that families enjoy spending time together and love each other regardless of how alike or similar they look.
“A beautiful adoption parable about a fruitless apple tree, an abundant apple orchard, one wise farmer, and the greatest gift of all,” is a lovely picture book that captures this concept in exquisite watercolor drawings that are paired with gentle text. (Amazon includes this description: “A parable about adoption, this charming story tells of an apple tree who is unable to bear fruit—no matter how hard she tries—until a wise farmer finds a way. He grafts a bud onto Little Tree’s limb, and in time she becomes the most colorful tree in the orchard. All those who have experienced the bonds of family in more ways than one will share in Little Tree’s delight when she discovers that it does not matter if her apples came from another tree; she loves them as her very own. Existing adoptive parents, as well as those exploring the possibility of adoption for the first time, will find Little Tree’s story especially touching. The book also honors the birth mother in a unique way, helping children understand how love is the motivation for her actions.”)
One excellent resource is a marvelous book by Julia Cook titled, “Personal Space Camp.”With a deft sense of humor and zany illustrations by Carrie Hartman, this book tackles the complicated concept of personal space. Louis, the confused main character loves the world of outer space. But when it comes to personal boundaries, Louis is clueless. His frustrated teacher arranges for him to attend “Personal Space Camp.” This thrills Louis. He is surprised to learn that he will not be an astronaut exploring.
Louis is, however, entering unexplored territory: the world of personal space boundaries. “Personal Space Camp” is entertaining and informative without being preachy. It conveys important information that will assist kids that lack an understanding of social cues.
Julia Cook has written several other books that delve into the confusing world of social cues and interaction. One that is also quite helpful is,“I Can’t Believe You Said That.” (Illustrated by Kelsey De Weerd, it features multicultural characters.) The story helps kids discern the difference between saying something true: ”You are fat,” versus something that is appropriate: “You are a good cook.”
What greater blessing than that of a mother’s love? It is exquisitely depicted in the book, Lullaby (for a Black Mother.) Based on the Langston Hughes poem, it is illustrated by Sean Qualls in acrylic, pencil, and collage.
This lovely book beautifully captures the intimacy of a bedtime ritual. The text is melodious, soothing, and accompanied by pictures in the perfect palette of soft hues of blues, purples, and aqua. When I view the book’s universal theme of mother/child connection through the lens of adoption-attunement, what do I notice? Read more
As an adoptive parent, an adoption coach, and a writer on adoption issues, I found In Our Mother’s House by renowned author, illustrator Patricia Polacco exceptional. As is probably obvious from the title, the story focuses on a/n (adoptive) family with two mothers. Readers searching for stories that include LGBTQ families will appreciate this upbeat and poignant tale. Read more
And Tango Makes Three is a charming book that presents a sweet story of “family as different” but still very much a family. On the flyleaf of the book is this quote: “In the zoo, there are all kinds of animal families. But Tango’s family is not like any of the others. Tango has two dads. Read more
Jack & Emma's Adoption Journey speaks about adoption through the adoptee's personal lens. It is a short yet powerful book. Written by an adult adoptee, the story focuses on the thoughts and feelings of Jack and Emma. The text on each page is accompanied by an author's note addressed to the adoptive parent. This sidebar clarifies the moment/issue for the parent and shines a light on Jack and Emma's action or thought being depicted on the page. Although this book is brief, it touches on some important adoptee issues, e.g., identity questions, yearning to fit in, anxiety, fear of rejection, wondering about birth parents, ambivalent feelings about birthdays, self-blame, anger and longing to understand biological ancestry. All of these thoughts are common to adoptees. Mentioning them in the story helps to normalize their thought processes and opens the door to important family conversations in which parents can listen, validate and support their child's feelings and concerns. When parents share such conversations, they reassure their children that their love is unconditional and does not require kids to choose between their two families. It affirms that each is an integral and treasured part of the child, and by extension to the entire family. Pam Kroskie serves as the past President of the American Adoption Congress, is a Congressional Angel in Adoption Award Winner, the current president of H.E.A.R. (Hoosiers for Equal Access to Records,) and for many years has raised her voice on behalf of adoptees. She hosts AAC Adoption News and Views on Blog Talk Radio.
Kids 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 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.
Mary Grossnickle’s sweet story, “A Place in My Heart, is one great example of a story that validates the adopted child’s point of view. Charlie–a chipmunk adopted into a family of squirrels wrestles with the differences in their appearance. Adoptees commonly feel like they don’t quite fit so they will easily identify with Charlie’s struggle. Read more
Tells the story of Mary’s little girl who was adopted from China. It asserts 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.
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
In a blog post, we discussed The 5 Love Languages of Children, by Chapman & Campbell and learned the benefits of using a child’s primary Love Language because it provides a direct way to connect with them. The 5 Love Languages of Children asserts that once parents start speaking in a language that the child understands fluently, communication improves dramatically. The child’s Love Language provides a fast lane to their attention and their hearts. To recap, the Five Love Languages are: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Physical Touch, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Services Read more
Chapman has written several books on the concept of Love Languages and how they operate within relationships to forge communication that "lands" and/or misses the mark. This book is a foundational read in one's effort to communicate from the heart, to the heart of those whom we love and care about. This is a superb tool to have in your relationship toolbox. Parents with teenagers will benefit from reading The Five Love Languages for Teens.
The wonderful adoption classic, Forever Fingerprints by Sherrie Eldridge is being reissued by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. An adoptee and a staunch advocate for adoptive families writes, who LIVES the adoption journey, Sherrie connects with adoptees’ hearts and validates their experience. She has written many books about the adoption experience. Forever Fingerprints, a picture book serves a younger audience than Sherrie’s other books.
Behind its simple story line, Forever Fingerprintsmodels adoption-attuned* relationships. It speaks to child and parent. As an adoption coach as well as an adoptive parent, I know it is important for parents to clearly establish that adoption is a suitable topic for family discussion. While this may seem obvious, to children it is not. In the absence of expressed permission, kids will assume that adoptions conversations are off limits. They will fear that it might hurt their (adoptive) parents if they talk about their concerns, mixed feelings and sharing their thoughts about their birth parents. And so, many wrestle with heavy worries weighing down their hearts. Forever Fingerprints is an easy and enjoyable way for parents to talk about some of the “hard stuff” of adoption.
Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew by Sherrie Eldridge - An essential book in the adoptive family’s library. Written by an adoptee, it provides a broad sweep of the issues adoptees face. With this awareness parents can provide the emotional context their children need to develop healthy attachments and to reconcile the challenges of being adopted. It is never too early or too late to read this book. A gem.
The Adoptive & Foster Parent Guide: How to Heal Your Child's Trauma and Loss by Carol Lozier, LCSW The book is written in a straight-forward style that is practical and easy to understand. Because it is compact, overwhelmed parents can read it quickly and put the suggestions to work immediately.
Carol writes in a manner that is informative, compassionate, and encouraging. She understands that adoptive parenting is different from bio-parenting and requires adoption-appropriate techniques. She shares tools that parents can use to educate themselves, family and friends. This helps to create a team that supports the family instead of critics who sit in judgment. Carol Lozier's book is practical and insightful.
Adopting the Hurt Child: Hope for Families with Special-Needs Kids A Guide for Parents and Professionals by Gregory Keck and Regina Kupecky; 1995 by Gregory C. Keck and Regina M. Kupecky; Pinon Press - For those who have adopted special needs children, this book is helpful in its realistic portrayal of the challenges and also the hope and opportunity in parenting children who have been hurt. I appreciated the vingettes interspersed throughout the book that helped illustrate the concepts that Keck and Kupecky were discussing. This book also includes a chapter on intercountry adoption, which we found helpful.
Children enjoy being able to decide things for themselves. As parents we often make the bulk of the decisions in our children's lives. Most of us understand that decision making is a skill. Like all skills, mastery only comes through practice. Long before kids become proficient decision makers, they will plod through many errors in judgment. As parents, we face a learning curve too--when is it "safe" for kids to make a choice and when must the decision fall on our shoulders? Read more
Adoption & the Jewish Family by Shelley Krapnek Rosenberg -
This book addresses some of the unique issues that Jewish families face when adopting.
Anger: How To Live With And Without It by Albert Ellis, 1977 by Reader's Digest Press and Thomas Crowell Company - Though this is not directly a book about adoption, it has helped me greatly in my response to not only my children but all people in my life. Anger is partly a learned response. Learning and discerning when and how to be angry can improve relationships greatly, especially when we may have children who come with a great deal of anger over past hurts. I highly recommend this "oldie but goody."
by David Brodzinsky Ph. D., Marshall D. Schechter M.D. And Robin Marantz Henig - This book covers all stages of development, infancy through adulthood, of the adoptee. The authors use stories from their patients and surveys to illustrate the 6 major themes of their book; life from the adoptees perspective, how the adoptee feels about being adopted changes throughout their developmental stages, giving the adoptee a sense of normal, creating individuality as there is no right way to experience adoption, search for self when a part of them has been cut out of their life and the adoptees sense of loss. I appreciated how the authors tied the scientific evidence to life through the adoptees experiences.
The Blessing of a B Minus: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Resilient Teenagers by Wendy Mogel - Similar in nature and follow up to Wendy Mogel’s first book and looks at the blessings of raising teens and some of the issues today’s parents face and practical advice for dealing with them. Although rooted in Jewish precepts, I agree that Mogel's compassion and authenticity will ring true with parents of all faiths facing the tumultuous teen years.”
The Blessing Of A Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children by Wendy Mogel - Although not particularly about adoption, this book is a guide to parenting and supports a coaching model in that we cannot, nor should we save our children from experiences from which they can grow to be self-reliant, compassionate and ethical children. Draws on the wisdom of the Torah, the Talmud, and other Jewish teachings and employs the framework of nine “blessings” to address key parenting issues such as respect for adults, chores, keeping expectations in line with your child’s temperament, avoiding over scheduling and overindulgence, and more.
Building the Bonds of Attachment: Awakening Love in Deeply Troubled Children by Daniel A. Hughes - Looks at, through the experience of one child how attachment can occur, even at a later date in a child's life. Attachment only worked by using a technique called "The Attitude" (its five qualities include being accepted, curious, empathetic, loving and playful) and by creating strong boundaries.
The Connected Child: Bring Hope and Healing to Your Adopted Family A brilliant book filled with strategies to assist adoptive families. Dr. Karen Purvis is the Director of the Institute of Child Development at Texas Christian University (TCU) in Fort Worth, Texas. Her work focuses on building and strengthening relationships.
The Eye of Adoption by Jody Dyer Jody Cantrell Dyer writes from the heart with integrity, honesty, humor, compassion, and a commitment to guide others who wait for “their” child to arrive through private agency adoption. She offers her experience as encouragement as they too, work through the arduous pre-adoptive process. When adopting, a baby doesn’t arrive after a nine-month wait; sometimes the matching process takes many years.
Jody’s story gives an inside view of how one person successfully navigated the journey. She and Kerri created an open adoption that works for them. It acknowledged the grief and loss of all parties—Kerri’s, Bryant, and their extended families—and continues an ongoing relationship.
Dyer understands that adoption must be focused on finding the best family for a child versus finding a child for hopeful parents. This awareness does not dilute the raw emotions that she experiences. Joy, excitement, yearning, frustration, fear, impatience, self-doubt, depression, envy of the fertile—all of these feelings make an appearance in this engaging portrait of a woman who is 100% to adopting a child. Eight years is a long time to remain dedicated to a dream but Jody never faltered.
The interview pages with Kerri provide insight into this young birth mother’s thoughts, emotions, and choices.
Waiting parents will find Eye of Adoption an excellent read. They will also want to read widely on how to prepare and educate themselves for the unique task of living as an adoptive family.
Family First: Your Step-by-Step Plan for Creating a Phenomenal Family
by Dr. Phil McGraw - In this book by Dr. Phil, parents are honored for their “noble” and powerful role that shapes the “tone, texture, mood and quality of this interconnected and vitally important unit”. The book empowers parents by providing strategies for creating a phenomenal family, for creating a family legacy and for parenting with the insight of knowing your personal style, as well as your child’s. Divorced and blended families are recognized for their unique challenges as well and he addresses that in the beginning of the book. In Part Two, Dr. Phil shares seven tools for purposeful parenting: Define success, Listen and learn, Partner with your child, Performance and payoffs, Shake it up to break it up, Put your house in order and Walk the talk.
I found this book an incredible resource for families and recommend it whole-heartedly. I loved the practical tips but, more importantly, I was impressed by how much the book coincided with the personal growth work that I’ve been involved with in the past few years. Dr. Phil says, “…the challenge of raising a successful family cannot and will not happen until you decide to clean house inside yourself first.” And, what a great first step in creating your phenomenal family – Being the best and most authentic parent you can be.
How It Feels to Be Adopted
by Jill Krementz, 1982 by Jill Krementz; Alfred Knopf, Inc. - This book is smaller than Sacred Connections but similar in its structure of telling the stories of adoption, this time exclusively from the children's viewpoints, ages ranging from eight to sixteen years old and from various backgrounds. It's an honest book that provides great conversation starters for children as well as letting them know they are not alone in the adoption experience.
Let's Talk About It: Adoption (Mr. Rogers)
by Fred Rogers ("Mr. Rogers"); 1994 by Family Communications Inc.; Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers - Mr. Rogers of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood does an excellent job of describing adoption, giving equal weight to the need of the child and the need of adults to be parents. The pictures are diverse, offering different ethnic backgrounds of both the child and the parents. It's an easy, short read and a great book for children of pre-school and grade school ages. Our kids had us read it together over and over again.
Although not specifically directed at adoptive families, "The Newbies Guide to Positive Parenting" 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.
Here are a few memorable quotes from the book:
No Matter What by Sally Donovan Yes, love heals but parenting kids with trauma/neglect histories, requires so much more. Immerse yourself in this story of the fierce love of this adoptive family. Understand the day to day challenges as these children learn to deal with and heal from their past. Cheer on these parents as they are called on to muster every ounce of patience, determination, and hope while they discover what their kids need emotionally, academically, and socially and then work to provide it. Experience the heroism of both kids and parents who must confront the aftermath of abuse, learn to cope with and channel the anger, shame, and grief. This story will break your heart wide open, expand your understanding of the life-long impact of abuse and neglect and educate you on how to be a better, friend, teacher, family member, and perhaps call you to rise to the challenge of parenting kids with "tough starts." At the very least, it will open your eyes and hearts and draw you in to view adoptive families with more empathy and less judgment. This is not a happily-ever-after tale but a true portrait of what it takes as a family to overcome such a disastrous beginning and to triumph.
Get ready for a rollicking ride on an emotional roller coaster. One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt will make you laugh and weep as you follow Carly Conner’s journey through foster care. She’s a sassy, resilient survivor shaped by her single mom’s inconsistent parenting. Carly never knows what to expect: her mom’s whacked-out version of nurturing or neglect. When a violent stepdad enters the picture, home life deteriorates from inadequate to life-threatening.
Carly enters foster care with the Murphys. Life becomes more complicated than ever as Carly experiences what it feels like to have a mom that knows how to love unconditionally and who enjoys caring for her children. The contrast between her two families becomes apparent to Carly. Now that she’s experienced a calm, loving family home, she wants that for herself too. Carly must face a gut-wrenching decision—deciding whose daughter she wants to be.
In Carly, Lynda Mullaly Hunt has created an unforgettable character that will grab your heart and leave an indelible mark on your memory. A truly exceptional read.
Open adoption has moved beyond the experimental stage and become the norm for most contemporary domestic adoptions. It has also created awareness that even with international adoptions, every effort should be made to gather as much birth family information, to preserve and respect these ties and to foster ongoing communication. We now recognize that connection to and respect for an adopted child’s biological roots is integral to successfully unify their dual heritage. Still, the concept remains shrouded in apprehension, confusion, and curiosity. How is it possible for a child to have two sets of parents involved in their lives?
Questions abound in the minds of prospective adopters as well as expectant parents contemplating adoption for their unborn child. (Do we need a contract? Is it enforceable? Desirable? Isn’t open adoption confusing for the child?) These and many more issues are addressed in The Open-hearted Way to Open Adoption by Lori Holden and Crystal Hass. They are the adoptive mother and birthmother who have an open adoption relationship.
There are many reasons to recommend this excellent book. It overflows with practical suggestions for how to navigate the constantly changing seas that permeate open adoption. Not just for adoptive parents, it offers ideas for all members of the triad because the three are inextricably connected. Each will be a permanent part of the child. Only the degree and level of involvement will vary. The influences of DNA are forever, just as the influence of the adoptive family’s nurturing will permanently shape the child. (Lori refers to these factors as biology and biography.)
Lori and Crystal Hass (the birth mother of one of Lori’s children,) share strategies, ideas, and personal anecdotes that are valuable, sensible, and practical. They offer options, not a specific blueprint for every adoptive family to follow. This makes sense since each adoption is unique. Their honesty and shared experience provide a window into living an open adoption journey. They reveal that open adoption is not without challenges and suggest “Talking about it and bringing your emotions up to a conscious level allows a healing release to occur … and prevents misunderstandings from cropping up.”
But the greatest value of The Open-hearted Way to Open Adoption is the philosophical assumption that underpins the book: open adoption is fundamentally an attitude that must infuse the relationship and all of the parenting decisions. The child’s best interest is the foundational premise. This may sound like an obvious fact, but all too often—especially in the past--adoption considers the comfort level, fears, and of the adults over the needs of the child. Yes, each of these is an important factor, but the foremost criteria must to be child-focused. Many fear that children will be confused or distressed by having an ongoing relationship with a birth parent/s. Lori responds, “Openness is not the cause of any eruptions but instead can actually be part of the solution to them. If you’ve established an open relationship with your child, he is more likely to allow you into his innermost thoughts and fears. He then doesn’t have to face them without you. But if you are closed, he is more alone.” [emphasis added]
The Open-hearted Way to Open Adoption is a positive and inspiring book that will touch your heart as well as provide you with persuasive, practical, and useful ideas. I am an adoption coach and a mom of now-adult children who came to us in the 1980s through closed adoptions. My children have reconnected with their birth mothers and I have seen first-hand the beneficial impact this reunion has brought all of us but most especially my children and their birth mothers. Lori points out that she takes her children to various professionals who can provide services that she cannot: physician, dentist, therapist, etc. She writes, “I can’t fill a certain emotional need that Tessa has, but I can take her to the well.” (Tessa’s birth mother, Crystal) That is love and that is parenting with a child’s best interest at heart. I would assert that no adoptive parent wants to leave their children unsupported as they process difficult parts of the adoption experience.
Open adoption is not easy nor is it perfect, but it is far better than the old secrecy-based closed adoptions. The greatest ingredient to success is a heart-connected attitude. This book offers a welcome, worthwhile resource for parents who are embarking on the adventure of open adoption parenting. As Lori writes, “Open adoption is a journey rather than a destination.”
Parenting Adopted Adolescents: Understanding and Appreciating Their Journeys by Gregory C Keck - A hopeful message that acknowledges and understands teen behavior as a regular developmental pattern and then gives parents tools for handling the behavior in light of new understanding of the behavior. It is all about relationship!
Parenting Teens With Love And Logic (Updated and Expanded Edition)
by Foster Cline, MD & Jim Fay - I found this book during the teen years and wished I had found their other versions sooner. A no-nonsense approach to giving choices and allowing natural consequences even expressing empathy for the pain of the choice when it doesn't turn out the way your teen expects. Fabulous learning for both parent and teen.
Pieces of Me: Who do I Want to Be by L. Ballard, editor, EMK A series of essays written by adoptees. They face the same identity issues of all teenagers with the added complication of adoption themes. Well written in a way that addresses difficult topics without sugar-coating or catastrophizing. A heartfelt exploration that might provide a much-needed sense of common experience to a teenage adoptee and several possible roadmaps that could inform their own adoption journey.
The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child
by Nancy Newton Verrier - A wound exists when a child is separated from his/her mother. The Primal Wound explains how this wound came to be and how it manifests itself in various ways throughout the developmental stages. The book provides solutions to facilitate healing the wound for different age groups and in different situations. This book validates the existence of the Primal Wound and offers great insight to behaviors caused by it. The solutions are extremely helpful for any adoptive parent.
Raising Adopted Children, Revised Edition: Practical Reassuring Advice for Every Adoptive Parent
by Lois Melina - An updated version that is comprehensive in covering adoption issues and a good resource book to have on hand.
Sacred Connections: Stories Of Adoption
, essays by Mary Ann Koenig and Photography by Niki Berg; 2000 by Mary Ann Koenig; Running Press Book Publishers - Mary Ann Koenig, a clinical psychologist and herself an adoptee, interviews those connected through adoption. The stories are real, touching, and span the various experiences of adoption: some who find their birth parents and some who do not, some who are excited about the reunion, and some who are disappointed, birth parents who are have searched for their children, etc. My adolescent son has read this book with me several times. Each night, we would take one story and read it, looking closely at the pictures. As the title suggests, the book honors all connections and this is evident in how carefully and candidly the stories are told. I highly recommend this book as a bridge to discussions with your adolescent about adoption.
Saving CeeCee Honeycutt: A Novel by Beth Hoffman - A both delightful and heart-felt fiction book that reveals 12-year-old Cecelia Rose’s (CeeCee’s) journey through her mother’s tragic mental illness and death to her soft landing in her great aunt’s home in Savannah, GA. I especially liked the author’s “take” on grief and how Great-Aunt Tootie so beautifully nurtures CeeCee through it.
Here’s a quote from the book, “You might not think you’re grieving, but grief comes in all sorts of ways. There’s the kind of grief that leaves you numb, and the kind of grief that rips your world in half. And then there’s another kind of grief that doesn’t feel like grief at all. It’s like a tiny splinter you don’t even know you have until it festers so deep it has nowhere to go but into your soul. I think that’s the hardest kind of grief there is because you know you’re hurting but you don’t know why.”
Scattered Links by M. Weidenbenner connected with me in many ways. First, the story is exceptionally written. Second, As an adoptive mother and a coach to adoptive families, the story had authenticity. Page after page, I ached for Oksana, the twelve-year-old heroine, for the sad reality that was/is her life and that of many other orphanage-raised, severely traumatized children who fear to trust and open themselves to attachment.
The emotional struggles portrayed ring true for both Oksana and her adoptive parents. Self-doubt, grief, loss are experienced by the entire family, not just the child. It affects the way they relate to one another. It factors into their thoughts, beliefs, and expectations
Each is shaped by both their history and their dream of becoming a family. Successfully bridging the gap between their painful reality and their idealized fantasies demands a leap of faith that does not come easily for any of them. Oksana’s struggle to build attachments, to trust and heal is well depicted. Children like her who have experienced such significant trauma cannot magically release their fears, their self-limiting coping behaviors, and their isolating belief that they must rely only on themselves. History has taught them trust is a luxury they cannot afford. They’ve learned that lesson well. In some cases, their wariness and resistance to connect was the only thing that kept them alive. (No wonder they are so reluctant to change their strategy.)
This unwillingness/inability to open oneself to emotional connection is often referred to as “RAD” (Reactive Attachment Disorder.) Many prefer to call it something less judgmental, like Reactive Attachment Syndrome. This acknowledges that the child’s response to the emotional trauma of her history is less a “disorder” and more an imperfect, self-isolating, and inefficient strategy. But they are terrified to relinquish it because they mistakenly believe it is their only way of preventing further hurt.
This complicates the attachment building process, especially when they haven’t been taught how to identify their own “stuff” and it from that of their adopted children.
When Oksana rebuffed her parents, resisted their affection and their rules, she wasn’t being ungrateful or bratty. She was in survival mode. All walls up. Heart on lockdown. Mind on Red Alert. She’s as adversely affected by her ill-designed strategy as her parents are.
There is no quick fix for this family and others with similar trauma histories. Healing takes time, patience, commitment. The process is difficult. Success is possible just not quick or easy.
Scattered Links features horse therapy. It is one therapeutic method finding that when human relationships have been contaminated by abuse, neglect, and significant violations in trust, sometimes it is easier to trust an animal. This is because they bring a clean slate to the relationship.
This book succeeds in depicting both the struggles, the good intentions, and the long road to breaking down walls and weaving family attachments.
As an adoption professional, I do have one criticism of this wonderful book. The celebration of Oksana’s joining her adoptive family is called “Gotcha Day.” This is a term many adoptees find offensive. It is seen as depersonalizing and parent-centric because it casts the child as acquired by the parents.
Some preferable terms for celebrating the anniversary of a child’s adoption would be, Homecoming Day, Adoption Day, Oksana* Day (*use your own child’s name.) Adoptive families must be sensitive to the co-existing grief that celebration days may highlight: Adoption day cannot exist without the prior loss of the birth family. Even if that family was utterly dysfunctional, the separation from one’s ancestral roots is still a loss. Some children enjoy celebrating their adoption; others do not. Let your child determine if he likes it or not.
The bottom line of this review: Adoptees are not the only ones with emotional baggage. Adoptive parents also bring their own…
The Tell: A Memoir Heartbreaking, honest. A mother shares her family's worst nightmare. It is both an immensely cautionary tale and a story of family commitment. This is a book you will never forget. The Tell: A Memoir by Mags Karn chronicles a family walking through the unspeakable horror of sexual abuse perpetrated by one child against his sisters.
The Unofficial Guide to Adoptive Parenting by Sally Donovan is a welcome contribution to the reality of adoptive parenting. She knows what it is like to live in the “Polar Vortex” of parenting. She has faced her fill of platitudes, criticism, and rude questions. Reading her book is like finally finding a friend her really “gets” the journey of parenting traumatized kids. Sally has some practical ideas as well as incisive commentary that will make readers laugh as well as cry.
Read it for her great–and practical–suggestions and for the experience and encouragement of “visiting” with a kindred spirit.
Why Love Matters: How Affection Shapes a Baby's Brain
by Sue Gerhardt - Explains why love is essential to a baby's development & how this starts very early on... even in the womb & has lasting effects on the infant.
We parents often lament that children do not come with a handbook. That’s why You Don’t Look Adopted is the next best thing. Please read Anne’s responses; she has a great deal of insight to share with us. It is a raw, unflinching look at adoption through an adult adoptee's experiences. Her story will inspire parents who are currently raising children to create the spaces, open the conversations, and help support their kiddos through the adoption-related stresses and fallout. This is an exceptional book that is well worth the read.
Yushi and the Tall Man by Tami Staut - A children’s (pre-school and elementary school) book about adopting a Chinese baby. This is a great children's book to open discussions about adoption, and Chinese baby girl adoptions in particular. The story follows what happens to most Chinese baby girls who are abandoned in China, and has a happy ending with a forever family. The illustrations are wonderful and calming.
This book was written by my friend Tami Staut and is about and for my friends, the Jones family, when they adopted their baby Chinese girl, now named Elizabeth.
The wonderful adoption classic, Forever Fingerprints by Sherrie Eldridge is being reissued by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. An adoptee and a staunch advocate for adoptive families writes, who LIVES the adoption journey, Sherrie connects with adoptees’ hearts and validates their experience. She has written many books about the adoption experience. Forever Fingerprints, a picture book serves a younger audience than Sherrie’s other books.
Behind its simple storyline, Forever Fingerprintsmodels adoption-attuned* relationships. It speaks to the child and parents. As an adoption coach as well as an adoptive parent, I know it is important for parents to clearly establish that adoption is a suitable topic for family discussion. While this may seem obvious, to children it is not. In the absence of expressed permission, kids will assume that adoption conversations are off-limits. They will fear that it might hurt their (adoptive) parents if they talk about their concerns, mixed feelings, and sharing their thoughts about their birth parents. And so, many wrestle with heavy worries weighing down their hearts. Forever Fingerprints is an easy and enjoyable way for parents to talk about some of the “hard stuff” of adoption.
Help A Hamster by Hilary Robinson (Picture book for children) Meet Alphie, his classmates, and their pet hamster, Henry. Turns out, Henry is a she who recently delivered a litter. Taking care of all those babies overwhelms Henry so Alphie and his friends search for safe, loving homes for the babies. They appoint Alphie hamster monitor.
Alphie, an adoptee, sees the parallels in his own story and works hard to find homes where each of the hamsters will be happy.
This book includes information about adoption that is presented in a gentle and subtle tone. It will offer many teachable moments for kids to learn about adoption whether they are adopted themselves or not.
The illustrations by Mandy Stanley are lovely, engaging, and inclusive. As in real life, families come in different shapes and sizes. “Help a Hamster” is an excellent addition to the family library.
The Road to Paris (Coretta Scott King Author Honor Books) by Nikki Grimes - Paris is a person, not a place. This is the story of her journey as a frightened eight-year-old girl placed into foster care. Protective of her mischievous little brother, she is resilient and resourceful. This book follows Paris and her younger brother through many placements. After the children are separated, Paris struggles to stay connected. She is finally comfortable in a supportive foster home. Then her final challenge comes―rejoining her mother and brother discovering what it means to be family.
by Sarah Weeks. Directed toward late elementary and middle-school - Highlights the impact of a fifth-grade girl learning she is adopted. Deals with the powerful questions of nature vs. nurture as the protagonist discovers how the behavior of biological parents may or may not inform her own choices and character. An outstanding book.
A Memoir of Foster Parenting and Beyond by Deborah Gold "Counting Down is a deeply moving memoir about both the reward and daunting challenges of being a foster family." Deborah Gold incorporates both parent and child perspectives creating a unique and valuable perspective on fostering. A great read for anyone even if not a foster or adoptive parent.
The Strangely Hopeful Story of Foster Care and Adoption in Appalachia by Wendy Welch "Fall or Fly is a compelling, unvarnished glimpse into the complex world of foster care and adoption in modern-day Appalachia. Dr. Welch provides readers with a multifaceted view of the system through the eyes of children, foster parents, and caseworkers ... offering a more complete understanding of the foster care system."