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At the risk of sounding like Captain Obvious: our lives have been totally blown off their normal courses. Covid-19 realigned our lives, redefined our social interactions, upended our educational systems, shuttered businesses, destroyed jobs, sickened millions, and killed 190+ thousands of Americans. Of the many “costs” exacted by the virus, one of the devastating is the loss of community.
Human beings evolved as social animals. Our DNA engineered us to seek out connection. In fact, human survival depends upon it. In adoption circles, our previous interest and appreciation of the importance of building connection have focused on attachment, on healing the wounds of kids whose fear of connection outstripped their biological need for it. We recognized the tragedy of this emotional Catch-22.
We know connection is life-affirming and life-sustaining for infants and children. In fact, it is pivotal for all of us. We recognize and feel the strain that the current limitations on in-person connection and physical touch are exacting. Our bodies crave tactile and proprioceptive input. We miss it, yearn for it, and suffer from its presence.
Zoom and other similar formats of on-line gathering are valuable alternatives but they most certainly are not the Real Deal. Looking at an image of someone sending us a hug simply can’t equate to receiving that physical embrace, of inhaling the scent of a loved one, friend or simply being together in the same time and space…
Still, when it comes to social interaction, something is better than nothing. Create opportunities for everyone in the family to engage with others. Remember the joy of receiving a letter? Why not restart the habit of letter writing? Introduce kids to the practice. Have them write notes, share artwork— especially with grandparents who are especially vulnerable to isolation and social deprivation. Create videos and fiddle with apps that alter them in fun and silly ways. They’ll learn skills and have fun at the same time.
Stage puppet shows or plays and engage the family in the “production” My grandson increases his “audience” with his favorite stuffed toys. (We find they are a very patient and accepting group of fans!)
In this blog, we frequently encourage parents to be Intentional especially when it comes to initiating Difficult Conversations. The thoughts, feelings, and fears with which we are all wrestling do not disappear simply because we don’t discuss or share them. Help kids cope by opening conversations with prompts like “I-wonder-if-you-are_____(thinking, thinking, worrying, etc.) Be intentional in your efforts to attune to their thoughts, feelings, moods, fears, and unspoken fears.
In age-appropriate ways, share some of the things with which you are wrestling and then mention some of your coping strategies for dealing with these challenges.
We cannot opt for silence, blind eyes to create taboo topics. If we do not discuss these challenging topics with our kids, other sources will fill the vacuum, other voices will provide the answers, other sources will provide the moral compass. The current times call for courage in many forms— the courage to take a stand, courage to be a voice, the courage to listen. Adoptive parents must also have the courage to listen to things that might make us feel uncomfortable, inadequate, sad, or guilty. Our kids’ experience of adoption does not exactly match our experience.
As we’ve mentioned many times previously, adoption was the answer to our prayer. For our children, however, it was a double-edged sword that delivered them into a new family but first separated them from their biological family. That loss is undeniable, permanent, and a tragedy for them. Regardless of the reasons that caused/justified the adoption, it creates a traumatic interruption in the natural trajectory of their life, that transfers them from one reality into an entirely new one and that holds a lifetime of other possibilities that could have been true, echoes and ghosts of what if’s to which there is no total resolution.
In addition to the importance of parents mustering the strength to listen to our kid's struggles, to validate and not minimize, we must ensure them that they are not responsible for sheltering us from the discomfort that their revelations might stir within us. They are the children; we are the adults. We are responsible and capable of managing tough stuff, theirs, and our own. We must turn to other adult sources for our support so we can be fully available to our children as a source of loving adult support. We must absolutely ensure that we are not "dumping" any of the weight of our adult struggles on our children. This is an aspect of Adoption Attunement we must accomplish for both our own emotional needs as well as the emotional needs of our children.
I would also assert that it is vital that we help our children find a community of other adoptees with whom they can experience the healing power that emerges from connecting with others who are walking a similar journey in life as adoptees. As parents, we can not fully understand what it is to walk through life as an adoptee. One aspect of Adoption Attunement is recognizing their need for community with their adopted peers that we cannot provide. Engaging with others who are also adoptees makes them feel less alone, less different, less left out. The need to belong is deep and powerful. Finding a community where we "fit" is a great blessing for parents as well as children.
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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Recently I've been providing full-time day-care for my four-year-old grandson and will be homeschooling him when school restarts. The words of my grandmother have been on my mind: Parenting is the hardest job you will ever love. She was the mother of fourteen— eight boys and six girls— so her belief sprouted from reality. When one has that many children, family life covers the gamut of heartbreak and joy, of good times and tragedy. She had faced it all and deemed it worth every heartache. “Ma” celebrated the birth of every child, grandchild, and great-grandchild.
Adoptive parenting includes the same joys and challenges of “bio” parenting overlaid with the repercussions of fractured biological bonds. Our children need additional support and guidance to help them cope with feelings of grief and rejection, identity and intimacy issues, bonding and attachment, and the collision of nurture with nature. This sets up a dynamic and emotion-filled world. Adoptive families ride the white water in the River of Life. Its forces ebb and flow in an unending stream of challenges and thrills, joys and sorrows, highs and lows.
If we focus and pause, we can extract the learning, see and appreciate the gift of every obstacle, and muster the determination to continue. This requires our intention, determination, commitment, empathy, and courage. (These presuppositions led us at GIFT to develop the concept of growing High AQ families based on the fifteen-point strategy which we named Adoption Attunement.)
We’ve frequently explored most aspects of Adoption Attunement (AQ) yet one has received less emphasis: Follows ethical practices. On the surface, it feels like an obvious premise. Surely none of us would engage in unethical methods to accomplish an adoption. However, the truth about adoption practice includes a regrettable and unconscionable history of black and grey market policies: Baby Scoop Era coercion, outright baby-selling, falsified documents, private adoption that lacked legal oversight, etc. The consequences of unethical, incomplete, falsified, and/or defective paperwork are profound and can become the stuff of nightmares for the adoptees and the families who love them.
Recently, such paperwork errors have caused several adult international adoptees to be deported to the countries of their birth even though they have lived in the US since they were adopted as babies or youngsters. Without resources, language skills, and or family, they have been dumped unceremoniously at airports like unwanted and unclaimed baggage. In despair, some have committed suicide.
Imagine an adoptee's shock and terror at discovering themselves no longer welcome in the country they call home.
“The agony of growing up in the United States with American parents, only to find out decades later that you’re not an American citizen, is the reality for an estimated 35,000 people who were internationally adopted. Between 75 and 150 adoptees in the District and up to 1,700 Virginians are now adults without U.S. citizenship.”
Because of failure to file and/or incorrectly filed adoption paperwork, many international adoptees are stunned to learn they are not actually citizens. Secure in the belief that they were adopted and American citizens, they fully participated in American life. They attended American schools, secured jobs, and created families of their own. In short, they were living the proverbial American Dream and they enjoyed their rights as Americans which included voting in American elections. They were shocked to discover that their exercise of this right to vote made them criminals, even though they did not know that because of faulty paperwork issues they were not citizens. The consequences were devastating. Any non-citizen who votes in an American election is subject to prosecution and deportation.
“In 2000, Congress passed a law to close the gap and give automatic citizenship to adoptees from other countries, but it only protected children under 18.
Those born before 1983, like Tom and Joy Kim-Alessi, were left out…
The Adoptee Citizenship Act, introduced in 2015 and 2018, would have fixed the problem and granted adult adoptees automatic citizenship as well, but the bills never made it out of committee.”
As adoptive parents, we have both a moral obligation as well as a commitment of the heart to ensure that we complete all paperwork, follow all legal formalities, and work only with entities that subscribe to the highest ethical policies and practices. We should advocate for policy changes that will benefit adult adoptees facing deportation because of errors of adults that were acting on their behalf when they were being adopted and brought to the US. Many international adoptees are persons of color, so this is yet another aspect of racial justice for which we as an adoption community have a vested interest and an obligation to ensure that these children are treated fairly.
Adoptees for Justice is an organization that is working on this agenda. This is their mission statement: Adoptees for Justice is an intercountry adoptee-led organization whose mission is to educate, empower, and organize transracial and transnational adoptee communities to achieve just and humane adoption, immigration, and restorative justice systems. We believe in a world where every person thrives in a safe and supportive environment in which communities of color, immigrants, and adoptees are liberated from all forces of injustice, with full citizenship for all. Our first project is to educate, organize and advocate for an Adoptee Citizenship Act that is inclusive of all adoptees.
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.
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During this month folks who are Irish—literally or metaphorically—celebrate St. Patrick's Day. Like many holidays, a non-sectarian sense of fun has overtaken the religious aspects of the day's origins. So what does St. Patrick's Day have to do with adoption? The "luck of the Irish" comes to mind. Luck...a term easily tossed around. And often hurled in the face of adoptees. They routinely hear, "You are so lucky you were adopted."
Regardless of the reasons that caused their adoption, the loss of their first family is significant, painful, tragic. Many have written eloquently on this absurd and painfully invalidating notion.
This expectation of gratitude is often coupled with equally offensive "Shoulds." Adoptees are told they should:
From the day our first child was placed in my arms thirty-five years ago, I believed I understood the tragedy at the roots of our joy. As the years have unfolded, however, I realize that the enormity of this life-long loss cannot be parsed by anyone who is not actually an adoptee or birth parent. When cancer destroyed my ability to conceive, no one ever suggested to fifteen-year-old me that I should feel lucky for having cancer or lucky for being rendered sterile. The very notion is ridiculous.
I did/do, however, frequently hear that I should feel grateful that I didn't have to experience pregnancy or childbirth. I do not. I grieve that loss of not having that nine months of shared intimacy. Yes, it rearranged my life and ultimately led to my cherished children entering my life. But the benefits do not erase the losses; they coexist. Yet this expectation of gratitude for the cruel factors that shaped our lives is often flung in our faces. It feels deeply invalidating to have our personal tragedies dismissed as trivial or as a blessing. When we connect to our own individual experiences of painful incidents, we can glean a small appreciation for what our (adopted) children encounter. Still, we are adults and benefit from an adult's perspective, experience, and skillsets to help us cope. So how do we best support our children and free them from the crushing weight of such societal expectations?
Most of us--unless we ourselves are also adopted--can not truly understand their emotional reality. The closest we can come is probably connecting to our own infertility losses, miscarriages, or stillbirths, etc. and imagining how we would feel if people regularly expected us to be grateful. We ache when we're told how lucky we are to have avoided the discomfort of pregnancy or when we hear, after a miscarriage, that we'll probably conceive another. I suspect most of us have felt gut-punched by such callous remarks. I believe it is hard for people to see their loved ones and friends suffer. They feel discomforted by our pain or struggle. For their sake as well as ours, they seek a quick resolution. However, moving too quickly to fix-it mode ignores the genuine reality of the pain of the present moment. It must be worked through not denied.
To some extent, I suppose we can appreciate such emotional hand grenades as it is a way of nurturing empathy for our children's plight. Like our children, we too, hold a Both/And reality with our own emotions because while adoption provided us our children to love and graft into our families it did not cure infertility or cause us to forget our stillborn babies or the monthly rollercoaster of grief when pregnancy failed to happen. We must resist the need to apply emotional band-aids and instead to sit with them offering empathy, validation, and a safe harbor in which they can be 100% honest about any pain and angst they feel about adoption. This kind of presence, compassionate witness, and honesty are at the heart of Adoption-attunement.℠
Intentional families are lucky in one way: we exist in a level of awareness committed to thinking deeply about our choices, language, methods, and emotions and therefore, raise our consciousness to a level often missed by those who operate on auto-pilot because life rocked us out of our comfort zone and into a world of hard-won empathy. What will you do this week to reshape the connection between luck, gratitude, and adoption?
GIFT coaches are available to present workshops in person or on-line.
Contact us to explore this possibility.
*Adapted from our blog originally published in March, 2016
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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
During this month folks who are Irish --literally or metaphorically-- celebrate St. Patrick's Day. Like many holidays, a non-sectarian sense of fun has overtaken the religious aspects of the day's origins. So what does St. Patrick's Day have to do with adoption? The "luck of the Irish" comes to mind. Luck...a term easily tossed around. And often hurled in the face of adoptees.
Luck is also something which adoptees are expected to feel about being adopted. Many have written eloquently on this absurd and painfully invalidating notion. This is often coupled with the equally offensive idea that they ought to "get over it," quit whining about being adopted, "be glad they weren't aborted," and relinquish any interest in and/or connection with their birth parents and first families, etc.
From the day our first child was placed in my arms thirty-one years ago, I believed I understood the tragedy at the roots of our joy. As the years have unfolded, however, I realize that the enormity of this life-long loss cannot be parsed by anyone who is not actually an adoptee or birth parent. When cancer destroyed my ability to conceive, no one ever suggested to fifteen-year-old me that I should feel lucky for having cancer or lucky for being rendered sterile. The very notion is ridiculous. But isn't this (to be "grateful" for being adopted) the expectation that is often flung in the faces of our children? So how do we best support our children and free them from the crushing weight of such societal expectations?
As parents committed to intentionality, we understand the pivotal role of relationship. It is the key to attachment, the conduit to connection, family building and the establishment of unified family values. Relationship requires mutual trust, respect, empathy and genuine caring about each other's needs both physical and emotional. How can we best empathize with our children's adoption-shaped emotions? We must recognize that there is a profound "conflict of interest" around their being adopted. Adoption created one of our greatest joys: we received a child into our hearts and families but it also caused a primal loss of our children's first families. These two factors do not cancel each other out; they coexist. As with so much about adoption, we are called upon to hold a both/and mentality. We can be joy-filled because our children are part of our lives and simultaneously be heart-broken "for" them because of their huge loss.
Most of us--unless we ourselves are also adopted--can not truly understand their emotional reality. The closest we can come is probably connecting to our own infertility losses and imagining how we would feel if people regularly expected us to be grateful for our infertility. Or how we might force a smile in the face of being told how lucky we are to have avoided the discomfort of pregnancy when in fact we grieve the loss of not having that nine months of shared intimacy. I believe most of us have felt gut-punched by such callous remarks. To some extent, I suppose we can be grateful for such emotional hand grenades as it is a way of nurturing empathy for our children's plight. Like our children, we too, hold a both/and reality with our own emotions because while adoption provided us children to love and graft into our families it did not cure infertility.
Intentional families are lucky in one way: they exist in a level of awareness committed to thinking deeply about their choices, language, methods and emotions and who, therefore, raise their consciousness to a level often missed by those who operate on auto-pilot because life hasn't rocked them out of this comfort zone.
GIFT coaches are available to present workshops in person or on-line.
Contact us to explore this possibility.