Giftflasche isoliertAlthough the old adage says, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” we all know the truth that contradicts this old saw. Some words cut to the core, flay the spirit, and destroy self-esteem. Once spoken and heard, such toxic words cannot be taken back, “unheard” or forgotten. Forgiveness may follow, but the memory of such verbal poison and the emotional message they convey, will linger. The scar will remain as a permanent memory of a painful experience.

Adoptees are predisposed to feelings of shame and inadequacy. Being mindful of this vulnerability, parents must commit to holding an absolute boundary regarding certain toxic, emotionally devastating phrases. Regardless of the buttons kids may push or the emotional hand grenades they lobby, this boundary must remain solid. There is NEVER justification for the use of such “Black Box” phrases as:

     “I wish we’d never adopted you.”

     “My biological children would never be like you”

     "Adopting you was a big mistake”

     “You should be grateful we adopted you.”

     “Maybe I’m not your real mom/dad but you’re not my real kid either.”

     “You’re so puny, or such a big Amazon, or ____ (insert a phrase that attacks your child’s being.”

 What other toxic talk might be fatal to your relationships as a family? When your kids say deeply hurtful things to you, how do you remain calm and “adult” and resist the urge to retaliate?

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 the ones who most need acknowledgment and understanding from us is ourselves. 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 expectation? 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?

 

Adoption Attuned ParentingListen to our podcasts on Adoption-attuned Parenting.

 

 

 

Abc adoption

Read these book reviews  by GIFT coach, Gayle H. Swift. They are written with an Adoption-attuned perspective.

 

Believing Hearts, Hurtful Words, Healing WordsLife-affirming people make us feel better after being with them. The way they speak and interact resonates, refreshes & supports us. Through their words and demeanor, we feel heard, seen and, validated. They listen attentively and respectfully. We feel the difference. They believe in us and thus remind us to believe in ourselves. They roll up their shirtsleeves and then dig in and help. We blossom within this type of rare and blessed relationship.

As adoptive parents, we have the opportunity—the obligation—to create this level of communication within our families. Since adoption is the most significant factors that make our families unique, the way we communicate around adoption occupies center stage in our family dynamics and family cohesion. Our silences have as much if not more, impact than our words.

Believing Hearts, Hurtful Words, Healing Words

It is a truism that adoption brings together disparate individuals and grafts them into a family. Unlike a cake mix where simple stirring blends the ingredients sufficiently, adoption requires a unique, life-long commitment to understanding how to best fulfill the needs of adoptees. It also mandates that we maintain an understanding about how our own grief and loss issues contribute to the complexity. We cannot afford to deny that these raw spots exist. To do so would require that we build a false façade that dooms the entire family to role-playing instead of genuinely connecting.

Both parents and children have emotional hot spots—triggers—which can be easily detonated and lead to hurt feelings and damaged relationships. This blog will focus on only one of the many contributing elements: the role language plays in shaping family relationships. We cannot afford to be cavalier or haphazard with our words, nor can we default to cultural phrases and assumptions about adoption. We must dig deeper, be intentional, and use language in a positive, almost therapeutic way.  We must maintain a scrupulous awareness of how we use language.

Believing Hearts, Hurtful Words, Healing Words

Nature/Nurture Conundrum

The push/pull between the influences of nature and nurture is undeniable in adoptive families. Both forces operate in a constantly changing balance. The differences that exist between ourselves and our children contribute as much as our commonalities to shape who we are as individuals and as a family.

All families have differences. We are, after all, not clones but individuals. Adoptive families are even more likely to have areas where preferences and inclinations don’t quite synchronize. The way we talk about—or ignore this challenge—impacts our relationships and the attachment-building process.

Most of the time we appreciate the zest and spice that our children’s differences add to our families. Sometimes, however, their aptitudes and inclinations challenge us. A family of sports nuts, for example, may be utterly confounded by their child’s total disinterest in things athletic. Or, a family whose generations have been steeped in the arts, music, and dance may be frustrated with their child’s refusal to engage while they prefer to focus their complete attention on sports.

As Intentional Parents, we strive to respect the entire spectrum of the family’s aptitudes, successes, and struggles with mutual respect. We choose to consciously honor, nurture and encourage their unique—and different—interests and abilities. We scrupulously avoid sending a message that we wish they were different—code for “more like us.” It is essential to release our children from the straitjacket of expectations limited to historical family patterns. Language counts in this regard. So does silence.

Believing Hearts, Hurtful Words, Healing WordsOnce we adopted, we entered a new world, one that includes substantial differences. We must embrace this infusion of difference and never convey disappointment or resentment or imply that who their DNA has designed them to be is not quite good enough. Most especially, we must not imply that our children should stifle their natural talents and subjugate them to our family’s “traditional” patterns as the unspoken cost for acceptance into our families.

Our children struggle with the weight and challenge of the inevitable differences they feel as they walk through life and accomplish the task of becoming themselves within the context of our families. This is not an easy job. They must in essence, “build the bridge as they are walking across it,”[1] and figure out how to straddle their dual identity of biology and biography.* They need our guidance and encouragement and the words we use to express our support matters.

When our child pursues an activity which we find dull, uninteresting, or not “worthwhile,” the judgmental part of our consciousness may undermine our best intentions to convery neutrality and acceptance. For example, a sports nut mom may find it excruciating to listen to her child drone in minute detail about a piece of music or favorite film. She might make an auto-pilot comment like, “That’s interesting.” That phrase commonly operates as code for BORING. At best it damns with “faint praise.”  

Often our body language conveys our authentic feelings in direct contradiction to our spoken words: eyes roll or avoid contact, mouth gapes open or we remain focused on our own task rather than fully engage with our child.

(The message is clear whether vocalized or not.) Although the adage says, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” we all know the truth that contradicts this old saw. Some words cut to the core, flay the spirit, and destroy self-esteem.

Believing Hearts, Hurtful Words, Healing Words, toxic wordsOnce spoken and heard, such toxic words cannot be taken back, “unheard” or forgotten. Forgiveness may follow, but the memory of such verbal poison and the emotional message they convey will linger. The scar will remain as a memory of a painful experience and a permanent part of their inner audiotape.

The quicksand of harsh words can damage our children. Adoption has its roots in loss–for parent and child–and this reality can leave us vulnerable to feelings of shame, self-doubt and, inadequacy. As the saying goes, “Hurt people hurt people.” In other words, when people feel hurt, they tend to lash out in response. It is helpful to remind ourselves of this when our kids dish out hurtful or rejecting comments. The heat of the moment is not the time for a rational discussion.

Prepare for these conversations ahead of time and remember though the words are directed at us–and may be intentionally hurtful–they’re usually our child’s effort to unload pain and to offload it to parents. The reality is that their words can land on very raw and tender emotional hot spots within us. (We're human after all.) At some unconscious level, most adoptive parents wrestle with fears that their children might never fully bond with them. Many adoptive parents unconsciously fear that their children might prefer their biological parents. Others worry that their children might not have enough room for both their adoptive parents and their biological parents. (Kids fear the corollary.) These That’s a lot of fear on both sides of the equation.

Regardless of the buttons kids may push, or the emotional hand grenades they lobby parents must remain solid in their commitment to respectful, compassionate language. There is NEVER justification for the use of such “Black Box” phrases as:

“I wish we’d never adopted you.”

“You’re just like your mother (or father) [An insult is clearly implied]

“My biological children would never be like you.”

“Adopting you was a big mistake”

“You should be grateful we adopted you.”

“Maybe I’m not your real mom/dad but you’re not my real kid either.”

“You’re so puny, or such a big Amazon, or ____ (insert a phrase that attacks your child’s being.”

“You’re stuck with us; your parents didn’t want you.”

The preceding words do irreparable harm to the fragile bonds of attachment which require so much effort, time and intention to foster and strengthen and are, unfortunately, so easy to undermine an damage.

Here a few questions to consider.

What other toxic talk might be fatal to your relationships as a family?

When your kids say deeply hurtful things to you, how do you remain calm and “adult” and resist the urge to retaliate?

How might you model ways of “off-loading” pain in a way that does not hurt others?

Take the time to develop an arsenal of responses that support your child and your child who is experiencing an "emotional hijacking." (This is when they are so inflamed with emotion, their thinking brain is shut down. They're not thinking; they are downing in a tsunami of overwhelming and frightening emotions. Logic is useless. Reasoning and logic are futile. The time for discussion, problem-solving and consequences will come later, after the firestorm subsides.)

Here are some ways to respond.

It must be scary to feel angry enough to hate me. It sounds like "x" is really important to you.

I bet that feeling like I'm not your "real" mom (dad) must leave you feeling alone and unprotected.

I've never had to wonder who my real parents are; I think it must be both scary and painful.

Don't expect miracles. Notice that these responses focus on meeting the child where he is, not in yelling at them to calm down, not in screaming back a laundry list of escalating consequences and not in trying to impose parental control. They focus on conveying empathy, not winning the argument. This response is about salvaging the relationship and reminding them that it is something valuable. Bridge cross the crisis to connect and nurture the seeds of attachment. Remember when our kids are behaving in their must "unloveable" and unpleasant ways, it is usually when they need our love and reassurance the most.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Building-Bridge-As-You-Walk/dp/078797112X

 

 

family differences captionedAll families have differences. We are after all, not clones but individuals. Adoptive families are even more likely to have areas where preferences and inclinations don't quite synchronize. Most of the time we can appreciate the zest and spice that our children's differences add to our families.

Sometimes, however, their aptitudes and inclinations challenge us. A family of sports nuts, for example, may be utterly confounded by their child's total disinterest in things athletic. Or, a family whose generations have been steeped in the arts, music and dance may be frustrated with their child's refusal to engage while they focus their complete attention on sports.

As Intentional Parents we make an effort to nurture our children's talents and interests. We strive to respect the spectrum of the entire  family's aptitudes, successes and struggles with mutual respect. Sometimes we utter language that undermines our good intentions.

Little girl having a temper tantrum with her desperate mother in background

What happens then? Words have power, convey emotion and often carry unspoken judgment hidden between the lines. Consider the distinction between these pairs of words: slender or scrawny; lazy or easily distracted; assertive or bossy, confident or arrogant. Each conveys a different emotional tone--one accepts, the other criticizes. The listener is sure to feel the distinction. At best they receive a mixed message; at worst they understand and absorb the implied criticism.

Although the old adage says, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” we all know the truth that contradicts this old saw. Some words cut to the core, flay the spirit, and destroy self-esteem. Once spoken and heard, such toxic words cannot be taken back, “unheard” or forgotten. Forgiveness may follow, but the memory of such verbal poison and the emotional message they convey, will linger. The scar will remain as a permanent memory of a painful experience.

When our child pursues an activity which we find dull, uninteresting or even not "worthwhile,"  the judgmental part of our consciousness may undermine our best intentions. For example, a sports nut mom, may find it excruciating to listen to her child drone in minute detail about a piece of music or favorite film. She might make an auto-pilot comment like, "That's interesting." That phrase commonly operates as code for BORING. At best it damns with "faint praise." Often our body language conveys our authentic feelings: eyes roll or avoid contact, mouth gapes open or we continue to focus on our own task rather than fully engage with our child.

Why is this important? In our families, we dedicate ourselves to s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g our family culture to include not only our generational patterns but also those which our children introduced. We commit to a higher standard of connection and communication with our children. This requires a conscious awareness of both the literal and emotional meaning to the words we share and a strict dedication to avoid outright toxic words and phrases. Adoption World is rife with potential hand grenade words.

toxic talk croppedIn an earlier blog about Toxic Talk we explored the quicksand of harsh words and the damage they can inflict on our children. Adoption has its roots in loss--for parent and child--and this reality can leave us vulnerable to feelings of shame, self-doubt and, inadequacy. As the saying goes, "Hurt people hurt people." In other words, when people feel hurt, they tend to lash out in response. It is helpful to remind ourselves of this when our kids dish out hurtful or rejecting comments. The heat of the moment is not time for a rational discussion.

We prepare for these conversations ahead of time and remind ourselves that though the words are directed at us--and may be intentionally hurtful--they're usually  our child's effort to unload pain and to shift it to parents.

 

From GIFT coach, Sally Ankerfelt: “Slipping up” is bound to happen. Hopefully, the negative phrases mentioned in the blog  will not be part of the slip-up. But, our slip-ups can be an opportunity to model How to make an effective apology:
Effective apology.cf4ddf8a327ea4b93474122cf9b135e81. State specifically what was said or done that was wrong. (i.e. “I called you a name and that was very wrong.)
2. State the hurt you caused. (“I see by your reaction how that hurt you.”)
3. State how your actions made you feel. ( i.e. “I feel sick that I said that because that is not how I truly feel about you.”)
4. Explain how you will act in the future. (i.e. “Next time I get so angry, I am going to count to five and take five deep breaths. If I need
to, I am going to take a short walk around the house to calm down before we talk it out.”)
5. Be good on your word and follow through with the plan.
6. The final step is for us as parents not to dwell on or continue to beat ourselves up for what we have said or done. We have to forgive ourselves, too, so that we can move forward with confidence and be the parents we seek to be. This step, too, is very important for our children to witness so that they can learn self-forgiveness and moving on when they falter in their own lives.

 

 

 

 

What Do I Say NowLet's face it, as adoptive families we frequently must field intrusive/offensive questions about our family, children and adoption.   What Do I Say Now?  by Carol Bick and M. C. Baker, illustrated by Sophie Meyer helps us address this issue. The book uses a question and answer format. Many include several alternative responses--a Quick Fix, often humorous reply, one that Raises Awareness and a Take Home choice that speaks to the parent

What Do I Say Now? includes an introduction to guide parents on how to use it effectively. Adoptive families will welcome this resource as a way to prepare themselves and their children on how to confront or deflect inappropriate and intrusive questions.

Such dress rehearsal benefits both parent and child, first, as a way of discussing these points as a family. This will help uncover misunderstandings that the child might have. It will allow parent and child to define boundaries about what they want to share and what they choose to keep private within the family.

One of the most important lessons parents can impart to their children is that it is appropriate and encouraged for children to refuse to answer rude questions--even those posed by adults.  By rehearsing some responses, kids can answer with intention instead of blindsided reactions. Plus, it demonstrates that such discussions are welcome and encouraged within the family. This fosters a family atmosphere of openness and approachability.

In the absence of a clear invitation and because they want to shelter parents from these kind of offensive conversations, kids will often assume that they must handle rude questions without parental support or input. Kids keep experiences and feelings locked inside themselves where they fester and distress them. Many of them mistakenly believe their parents want them to only acknowledge the positive aspects of adoption. Parents must consistently convey their willingness to acknowledge both the gains and losses which adoption accrues to their children.

Another important benefit of sharing a book like What Do I Say Now? is to remind parents of the critical need to define the conversation boundaries about adoption so they can reduce--even better, eliminate, the incidences of children suffering these toxic conversation encounters. It is a parent's worst nightmare when people ask questions like, "How much did you pay for your Susie?" within earshot of your child. Learn how to anticipate, deflect and shut down questioners in a way that respects and protects the children and does not leave them feeling diminished or depersonalized. Be assertive.

We explored this in an earlier blog: "Consider the effect such hurtful comments have on our children. Be assertive in setting boundaries with others. Step in immediately to cut short any conversation that is inappropriate or hurtful. While our natural inclination is to be polite and avoid a confrontation with a rude, unthinking, or judgmental person, we must be vigorous in holding safe boundaries for our children. Vigilance is essential. Hurtful words, once spoken cannot be erased. They take an especially raw toll on kids with trauma histories." Read more "Little Ears Have Sensitive Hearts.

 

Call today!
Sally: 612-203-6530 |  Susan: 541-788-8001 |  Joann: 312-576-5755 |  Gayle: 772-285-9607