Mother’s Day sits in our rearview mirror with all of the complicated emotional baggage that adheres to it for us, our children, and their birth mothers. Hand in hand with great joy, we all grapple with elements of grief and loss. Unsurprisingly, this affects the already complicated dynamics of being family because we must deal with the additional complications of being an adoptive family. We experience moments of resonant emotional attunement, feel mutually attached, and secure. But in spite of our good intentions and our best efforts, we also share incidents of painful and frustrating disconnect, anger, and rejection that leave us feeling discouraged, frustrated, exhausted, and unsupported.
As Intentional Parents, we understand that perfection is both unachievable and unrealistic. We know that intellectually, but our hearts operate on an entirely different plane. We yearn for that intimacy, joy, and reciprocity of mutual attachment between ourselves and our loved ones. A conflict-heavy relationship feels like the antithesis of that dream.
It’s essential to remember that all relationships experience conflict. Healthy relationships are characterized not by the absence of conflict but by the effort expended in addressing conflict, repairing emotional injuries, rebuilding broken trust, and cultivating an ongoing commitment to one another.
Pasting a happy face over unresolved conflict allows emotional wounds to fester and ultimately destroys both connection and trust. Equally damaging, are expectations that rely on the other person’s ability to read our minds, to intuitively know what we need and want. It takes courage to speak up and say, “You hurt me,” especially if we make this admission not in the passion of anger but rather, with a clear head and a willingness to expose our vulnerability. "You hurt me,” especially if we admit this not in the passion of anger but rather, with a clear head and a willingness to expose our vulnerability. Sharing this message requires courage and reveals an emotional investment in the relationship. Sharing the truth and hearing the truth requires both persons to be emotionally vulnerable. This is intimacy and connection in action.
How does this distinction look in action? Let’s assume we all have a very clear picture of how hurt feelings generate angry, aggressive, and hurtful responses. (Often we say things which we regret and wish we could take them back. But words, once spoken, can never be unheard. Profound damage to the relationship occurs. Hence the need for repair.)
A less familiar response is an intentional confrontation whose sole purpose is the repair and healing of the relationship. This outreach is made after emotions have cooled. It arises from the person’s higher commitment to the relationship than to being right in the specific event. When a person declares that a breakdown occurred in a relationship, when they share that they felt hurt, a simple “I’m sorry” is not enough and a cavalier “If I hurt you…” not only is insufficient, it often deepens the damage to the relationship. Once someone told us they felt hurt, whether or not we intentionally inflicted that hurt does not erase their hurt. This pain cannot be soothed with the assertion that I didn’t mean to hurt you. Hopefully, none of us intentionally hurt those with whom we share an intimate connection.
Imagining the event as having resulted in a physical injury, helps us better appreciate how our loved one feels. For example, if we opened the kitchen cabinet door and it slammed into their face, we would feel compelled to apologize and would certainly not say, “If your broken nose hurts, I am sorry.” because the injury is so physically obvious. It would feel ridiculous—as well as counterproductive to the relationship—to suggest that the injury did not occur. Yet too often, when a loved one asks us to apologize, we invalidate that apology by questioning the existence of the injury for which we are being asked to make amends: “If I hurt your feelings, I’m sorry. I never meant to do it.”
The lack of intentionality about the offense does not make the injury less painful. A more genuine apology might sound like this, “I am so sorry that I hurt you. I value our relationship. How can I make things right between us?” This statement does not dispute that the injury took place. It accepts the fact accountably. No effort is made to evade responsibility for the miscommunication under the escape hatch of I-did-not-mean-to-hurt-you.
An often overlooked perspective of the dynamics of unintended injury--within the context of a significant relationship-- is specifically the lack of intention. It suggests disinterest, dismissal, and lack of valuation of the relationship on the offender's part. The injured party can feel as if their significant other no longer holds the relationship as an important priority or has begun to take it for granted, not worth the time and attention which it requires so it can continue to flourish and remain mutually vital. Indifference, not hate is the opposite of love. When one no longer feels they are being held as an important priority by their partner (close friend, family member, etc.) they feel discarded, insignificant, hurt, unheard and invisible. Consider the words of David Augsberger: "Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are indistinguishable." No relationship can survive in the vacuum of inattention and indifference.
How are you nurturing your relationships? In which ones are you currently investing the most time and energy? How well does the current reality reflect your intended priorities versus your actual priorities? Who needs to know that you do hear and see them? What actions will you take to ensure that happens? What apologies and relationship repair work will you choose to handle? Carefully think through what you want to say. Remember to avoid verbal potholes—any effort to wriggle out of responsibility or soften accountability—that might invalidate apologies. Conclude with a question: Are we okay? Is there anything else you need from me? How can we move forward together?
GIFT coachees stand ready to help you handle similar difficult conversations. Imagine how it will benefit you and your family.
Listen to our podcasts on Adoption-attuned Parenting.
Read adoption-attuned book reviews by GIFT coach, Gayle H. Swift. They are written with an Adoption-attuned perspective
We are in the midst of Award Season. Media is touting favorites and making predictions for the Oscars, Emmys, etc.. The buzz is a pleasant distraction from more serious contemporary issues. Americans love winners, especially those "underdogs" who overcome stacked odds and manage to succeed. While we enjoy this entertaining diversion, as parents, we remain focused on a far more important win: raising healthy, happy, and productive children.
Let's face it, parenting is not for sissies. It demands patience, compassion, persistence, and lots and lots of love. Sometimes we ourselves are the ones who most need acknowledgment and understanding from us. Yes, we want to hold ourselves to high standards. We also want to admit that we are human, make mistakes, feel tired, lose patience, and make less-than-stellar choices.
It is important to be scrupulous in the assessment of our behavior, decisions, words, silences, actions, and inactions. We must also forgive ourselves for any shortcomings and then insist on making the appropriate accountability, forge the repair, and resolve to do better. Apologizing to our children when we mess up is an important part of sustaining our relationship. It also provides a vital blueprint for our kids to follow in their own interactions with family, friends, teachers, etc.
By admitting our personal missteps, we demonstrate integrity. If we are willing to own our mistakes our children will be on the receiving end of that integrity. They will experience how good it feels when someone who has wronged them apologizes to them. This, in turn, helps them learn how to make a genuine apology which is a critical life skill.
The flip side of recognizing the need for an apology is the ability to know when it is appropriate to offer acknowledgment of sincere effort. Our attention is the currency of connection. When our spouses, family members, and colleagues strive to improve their actions within the context of our mutual relationship and we notice and verbalize this spoken noticing affirms and encourages our connection with them. Any positive change, regardless of how small is still a step in the right direction. Like a tiny seedling just breaking through the soil, this change needs nurturing and encouragement. Without attention, it will wither and die. It is both wise and compassionate to be generous with our encouragement!
Our expectations serve as primary filters of what we "allow" ourselves to see. Remember the book series Where's Waldo? Each page overflowed with tiny images. Until the reader concentrated on finding dear old Waldo, he remained hidden in the cluttered imagery. Once we decided to look for Waldo, almost magically, his image emerged from the chaos.
When we engage with our children what behavior grabs our attention? How is what we see influenced by our expectations? Are we assuming Tommy is going to misbehave because he has in the past? Are we basing our mental picture on an old "box" which we have not updated to reflect his effort and any behavioral changes he has demonstrated? Have we wiped the board clean and opened ourselves to the possibility that he will have better control over his behavior--even if only slightly more? If he does make an improvement, do we take obvious note of that change and acknowledge him for it? Or, do we focus on his failure to fully meet our standards yet again?
Which response is more likely to encourage him to continue to improve? Which response is more likely to convince him it is not worth the effort? Certainly, we must love, educate, and discipline our children. We must not break their spirit or their hearts in the process. Their childhood is spent riding a steep learning curve of both social and school mores and standards. They experience far more failure than success because success is a process build on stepping stones of failure that inch them closer to mastery. Sustaining their persistence and confidence is essential. Encourage their efforts, notice their progress and nurture their belief that life is a Learning Conversation.
If we imagine ourselves in their shoes, i.e., on the receiving end of a steady stream of criticism and feedback that focused more on what we did wrong than on what we did right we develop an empathy for them. Whether a chronic negative feedback loop happens at work, between partners, or friends this tilt to a negative focus is disheartening at best and toxic at its worst. Like a hug from a porcupine, regardless of his positive intent, the experience prickles with discomfort. Understandably, the decision to bail, zone out, or give up would be mighty tempting.
To counteract this need to escape a pervasive sense of failure, concentrate on what is working, on what change is happening. Focus attention there on the incremental change. This shift will benefit you and them. It will kindle hope which in turn will fuel further change and deeper connection.
Where will you focus your attention this week? How will you adjust the setting of your personal "lens" so that it will shift what you see?
Listen to our podcasts on Adoption-attuned Parenting.
Read these book reviews by GIFT coach, Gayle H. Swift. They are written with an Adoption-attuned perspective.
To be successful, parenting requires love--deep, abiding, patient, forgiving love. Yet, because of the responsibilities parenting includes, it is often the locus of conflict between parent and child, between needs and wants, between growing independence and parental inclination to keep kids close and safe. These dueling priorities can lead to dramatic confrontations, angry words, isolating silences and deep feelings of disconnect. Each side embraces a potent sense of righteous indignation and conviction of the other's faults, errors and unwillingness to listen and/or compromise.
Certainly, this explosive state of affairs is far from constant. Nonetheless, I'm betting conflict is familiar territory for us. We've all lived through the exhaustion, despair and, frustration. As intentional parents, however, we recognize that we must remain focused on our purpose--to build lifelong bonds as a family-- and not be distracted by any temporary conflicts. Sometimes it takes a metaphorical wake up call to remind us of our priorities.
Last week's horrific shooting was one of those events. I'm not going to wade into the gun issues; although a vital conversation, lots of others are shining a light there. Instead, let us choose to learn something powerful for our families. I'm sure those families were just like us. They probably had their points of connection as well as differences. I'm also sure that they all believed that they had plenty of time ahead of them to work through their conflicts and come to a connected, respectful resolution ... eventually.
But as we all know, for seventeen Stoneman Douglas families, time ran out. For kids huddled in hallways fearing for their lives, there will never be another hug, another argument, another apology, another resolution, another vacation. All that remains is the memory of whatever final words or texts they shared as well as all the things they wished they could say but now remain forever unspoken. In their final moments, kids recognized what was really valuable to them: their families. Horrified parents who waited in fear for news of their children's fate scrambled to reach them, prayed for their safe return and then wept as they learned the worst had happened.
Stay focused on the opportunity as intentional families to wake up, to step out of the quicksand of frustration and failed expectations regarding kids behavior and disconnect those negative emotions from the central focus of our mindset. It is so easy for us as parents to crumble under the weight of the arguing, of watching kids break family values, of kids pushing up against boundaries--all that is exhausting and distracts us from "seeing" that we do really care about one another.
Yes, it is important for us to strive to change or improve what is not working. BUT, we cannot afford to overlook what is working. Take time to acknowledge it. Give it the attention and appreciation it merits. Kids and relationships flourish under the sunlight of attention. It is through those parts of the relationship that are working and connected that more good things come.
As the country struggles to find ways to keep our schools and communities safe, we all agree that "somebody should do something." In fact, each and every one of us can do something; it does have to be grand or even part of a larger movement. We can start where we care the most. Today. Tonight. Reduce the negative energy in our own families in our own work relationships and friendships. Nurture feelings of belonging. It is a fundamental human need.
For us, there is still time. Why not make the most of it? Please consider this challenge:
just for tonight, set aside the drama. Shelve the conflict and carve out the time to say the things that would explode from your hearts if a similar situation occurred at your child's school, your job, your church.
Carve out the time to say the things that would explode from your hearts if it were the last message you could share. #AdoptionAttunement #Connect https://giftfamilyservices.com/before-it-is-too-late/
In recent posts, we've gotten REAL about relationships and adoption complexity. To continue this conversation, let's examine how fear, self-doubt and rivalry can undermine us, color our thoughts on adoption, on permanency and on beliefs.
Without doubt, we have a fierce love for our children. We strive to be the best parents possible. Because we understand that adoption is complex, we accept the need to develop a healthy adoption-attuned awareness. This commits us to do everything in our power to become adequately educated and sensitive to the needs of adoption. We accept that we must go the extra distance.
We recognize that birth family is a REAL presence in our children. It exists in their DNA, their psyche and their hearts even when they are not physically in touch. We understand that biology influences their beliefs, self-image and their behavior. (Betty Jean Lifton, a pioneer in adoption calls this presence the "Ghost Kingdom"--the great if onlys or what ifs which underlie every adoption. Birth and adoptive parents and adoptees wonder about alternate realities: What if I'd been able to raise my child? What if we'd conceived a child? What if I lived with my birth mother?)
These "ghost" relationships can challenge us in many ways. Sometimes they can blossom into fears. Fears that we aren't good enough parents. Fears that our child might choose to leave us in the dust when they reach eighteen. Fears that our children might be better off with their birth mother, especially if their race or culture differs from our own. Fears that we have not embraced their cultural or racial roots adequately. Fears that we are falling short or doing it wrong in adoption. Fear is an intimidating and dangerous adversary.
In response to a recent article written by a transracial adoptee which I shared on the GIFT Family Services Facebook page, a subscriber** commented, "Sometimes it's hard for me to hear the experiences of children in my children's situation. But in order to love more completely, I need to take it in and be receptive and then open to change within myself." It requires courage to face our shortcomings, to see our need to grow or learn so we can do better.
Fear lies to us, seeds mistrust, throws us off balance, and undercuts our relationships. We must learn to recognize fear as the dissembling factor that it is. When fear arrives, first, perform a gut check; sometimes fear is actually our subconscious messaging us that we are lying to ourselves or are resisting action that needs to be taken.
This requires courage because admitting our own shortcomings is unpleasant. Plus, once we allow ourselves to see we have unfinished work, we can no longer live in the fantasy of denial. We must take the necessary action, make the change, express the apology, offer forgiveness, etc. or we will continue to tumble in the undertow of fear.
Once we've determined we are living in our integrity, we must move on. Leave fear in the dust and get on with the REAL business of loving and living, of facing the hard stuff and savoring the good stuff. Strive to have routine conversations within the family that address these REAL issues and the power that fear wields. Fear can drive an adrenalin-fueled challenge to change or grow. Or, it can hurl a tidal wave that drowns us. We determine which.
Subscribers to this blog know I believe general-interest books offer an excellent gateway to important adoption-connected conversations. Consider this delightful picture book, A Dark, Dark Cave., written by Eric Hoffman and illustrated by Corey R. Tabor. It follows two children and their dog while they explore. They aim a flashlight into the abyss. Will they respond with excitement or fear when braving the darkness? Will they choose to enter the cave? Yes! An adventure of sight, sound and emotion begins as they explore. They cautiously, bravely continue and encounter a variety of surprises--bats, lizards, sparkling crystals. Until ...
Imagine the potential discussions it might spark when we ask our kids the kind of things they might fear in the dark. How might you gently nudge the conversation towards adoption? How might this discussion benefit the entire family? Read my entire review on Writing to Connect.
**Used with permission http://wp.me/p4r2GC-1Bm
We all strive to get along well. But, conflict, breaches and breakdown inevitably touch every relationship. This is especially true within families, the home of our most intimate relationships. Here we are most deeply invested, most passionately committed, most thoroughly vulnerable and most frequently engaged. In the parent/child relationship, we add the extra pressure of loving and educating while simultaneously disciplining.
In our previous post we explored how parents might use our personal experiences of confronting challenges, developing strategies and handling obstacles as a teaching tool that our children can use as a template for their own lives. This post will focus on strategies to repair relationships after they have been breached, threatened or, damaged.
1. Acknowledge that a break in relationship occurred.
Why is this important? If we say nothing, admit nothing, the entire family must engage in a game of denial. We reinforce family taboos, declare subjects off-limits and leave each family member to flounder on their own. With this approach no one wins. No one learns to do better. No one feels better.
Admittedly, some parents find it difficult even inconceivable to admit mistakes to their children. To them, such a confession is unthinkable, unappealing and/or unwise. Perhaps parents fear looking weak, ineffective, out of control. Perhaps parents believe that if they admit imperfections their children will cease to see them as worthy role models or will doubt their parents' ability to steer the family ship through stormy waters and thus children might feel unsafe.
But Intentional Parents do not buy into this line of thinking. They recognize the importance of truth in relationships. They own their failures and use them to better themselves and their families. Intentional Parents admit when they've erred; they and their families benefit from that honesty. The children benefit also from the parents’ expression of vulnerability, and will learn the vulnerability is not a weakness but a strength.
2. Deliver the acknowledgement with calm, and untainted by any attempt to minimize, deflect, or, project fault to others or circumstances. (A half-hearted, excuse-laden apology makes things worse not better.) How might this type of an acknowledgement sound?
Last night things got rather ugly...
3. Take ownership of your contribution to the breakdown
I said some hurtful things and doled out some disproportionate consequences...
I didn't listen and just kept yelling...
I continued to argue long after any of us were rational enough to listen or compromise.
Notice that the statements reflect what I did, not what you made me do. Identify how you influenced the event--what you said or did. Include your non-verbal involvement: eye rolls, huffing and puffing, hands on hips, sneers, etc.
4. Allow other family members to identify their parts in the breakdown. The challenge her is to resist telling them what their part in the breakdown was. For it to be meaningful, it's got to come from inside themselves. They get to identify and own it using "I" language. Children may opt to remain mute, offended, parked firmly in the point of view that sees themselves as innocent and the parents as guilty. It takes time and practice for they are willing and feel safe enough to catalog their contribution to the breakdown.
5. Engage in solutions This is where parents express both their resolve to improve on their Intentionality, calmness and to better utilize their tools. Commit to calling a Time Out that gives all parties breathing space to calm down.
Revisit any consequences that were doled out in the heat of anger. We've all been there, engaged in a lunatic dance fueled by anger no one is rational. We furiously threatened that if they say/do one more thing we'll double, triple the consequence. No one listened. No one benefited. No one backed down. No one learned to do do better, be better.
Keep in mind that the intent of discipline it to educate not to punish. Reassess consequences for fairness, proportion and appropriateness. Redraft them if appropriate. But distinguish between being a push over who gives in to whining and being willing to admit that anger clouded judgement. To avoid encouraging an expectation that consequences are always changeable, when making any adjustment clarify why.