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In the beginning, we dream of pregnancy and then discover it is unachievable. That dream ends. Still, we continue to dream and choose to focus on our core desire: parenthood. This leads us to consider adoption. We begin a period of discernment. We investigate the adoption process and begin to determine if we want to become adoptive parents. We attune to the parenting perspectives of our partners. Finally, we end the goal of pregnancy and start the adoption process. Beginnings and endings.
With joy and gratitude, we cherish these precious children who are entrusted to us and begin our journeys as adoptive parents. Awed by their arrival, we delight in them, love them, and nurture them. We experience unbounded joy. And then because life always includes challenges and heartaches, the simple, easy days of parenting end. The parenting journey travels a rocky path with blind curves, perilous twists, and turns. The happily-ever-after bubble pops. The fairytale ends and we begin to realize we are parenting kids with trauma. We yearn for useful and informed help and support.
As our naivete ends, we long for a handbook that will apply to this unique journey. We realize we must begin our education as Adoption Attuned parents. This is when we come to understand that adoptive parenting differs in many ways from parenting children born of our bodies—children who share our DNA, our lineage, our story. Our Learning continues. Parenting is messy, difficult, unpredictable, different from our expectations to a degree that is far more challenging than the parenting experiences of friends and relatives who were parenting their own biological children.
Let me pause here to make a stipulation: every child placed for adoption experiences trauma because of their separation from their birth mothers and their birth families; this is an undeniable trauma faced by all adoptees. Prospective adoptive parents, parents awaiting the placement of their child as well as those currently parenting adopted children all must accept and deal with this truth. Adoption is not a fairy tale. It is not entirely benign.
In fact, it comes at a great emotional—and sometimes physical—cost to adoptees. For them, adoption is more complex, rife with benefits as well as losses. Parents must take great care to acknowledge that while adoption was the answer to their dreams it cost adoptees their place in their biological family. That loss is profound, permanent, and painful. Before they joined our families, our children’s lives with their first families had to end. Gain and loss. Both And. Endings and Beginnings. A new reality unfolds braiding and blending aspects of nature and nurture …
For most of their formative years, our children will attend school. It forms a major part of their life that provides a structure to their lives. As Intentional, Adoption Attuned parents we recognize that we have additional tasks to handle to help our kids cope with school. Here in Florida school opens next week. The relaxed leisurely pace of summer ends and the busy, scheduled school year begins. Once again schools and families are struggling to determine how to educate our children well while keeping them healthy. For many of our kids, the structure of school will serve them well. For others, school imposes performance pressures, social awkwardness, and behavioral challenges.
Parents will want to be intentional and organized. Be prepared to help your children’s teachers know how to best relate to your child. Inform them about Adoption Attunement. Help them understand how adoption complexity can make it hard for adopted kids to focus. Alert them to the pitfalls relative to assignments like family trees, sharing baby photos, or tracing family inherited traits, etc.—all of these can be painful for our kids.
In a year heavy with additional challenges, help support our kids by attuning to them in loving and intentional ways. Dr. Dan Siegel (a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and the founding co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center) writes that “interpersonal attunement… is crucial for people in relationships to feel vibrant and alive, to feel understood, and to feel at peace. Professor of Psychiatry Dr. Steven Porges adds, “attunement builds a context of safety, that frees people to ‘love without fear.’” With this understanding that all human beings benefit from attuned relationships, we realize that this need for attunement is especially vital to our children who came to us via adoption. They need to “know” with all their senses that we see, hear, accept, and love them for who they are — not as we dreamed or imagined they would be but as their authentic, marvelous selves.
In the book Reimagining Adoption: What Adoptees Seek from Families and Faith, which I wrote with Sally Ankerfelt, we explore in detail how Adoption Attunement is an essential approach to parenting adopted children well. We look at attunement from many angles and offer practical tips and insights on how to parent our children well. Transitions can be hard for adopted children. Be aware, attuned, and ready. I think I hear the schoolbus!
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 online. Contact us : 1-800-653-9445
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