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Yearning to Belong: the Quest to Feel at Home

Winter has arrived. Even here in South Florida temperatures have plummeted! Our instinct to hunker down drives us to turn to home for shelter, warmth, and safety. Home and family provide a reassuring sense of belonging. Home is far more than the physical structure in which we live; it is the interwoven relationships that provide physical and emotional sanctuary. When life overwhelms or circumstances challenge us, we look for this safe space. This kind of unconditional belonging is a fundamental human need.

When Sally Ankerfelt and I were writing What Adoptees Seek from Families and Faith, we interviewed many adult adoptees. . If we choose to listen, the insights and wisdom of adult adoptees can help us to be better parents, reduce the adoption-connected pain and trauma that our children might experience, and nurture a comforting sense of belonging in our families.

Each of their stories described a unique, individual narrative. Collectively they revealed some consistent themes. The most common theme was their profound yearning to belong, to feel that soul-deep sense of being "at home."

This powerful need to belong was often paired with a painful awareness that they no longer “belonged” in their birth families. Most viewed their separation from their first family as rejection— one which they felt in a deeply personal way. Regardless of the justifications, pressures,  heartbreaking factors, or “valid” reasons that propelled their mothers’ decision to choose adoption, adoptees felt anguish. As youths,  they struggled to parse the painful reality that their mothers had been unable to find a way to make space for them in their lives. (Many continue to wrestle with the pain of this rejection throughout their adult lives.)

Many adoptees reported that they never quite fit in with their adoptive families. The underlying fear of precipitating a repetition of their first families’ rejections motivated adoptees to try to morph into whom they believed their adoptive parents wanted them to be.

They never quite measured up to the expectations of their adoptive parents nor could they ever quite embody the child their adoptive parents had fantasized in their imaginations. It is impossible to compete with a dream.

Sadder still, many adoptees reported that they felt obligated to suppress their true selves, to subordinate their natural interests and abilities, and instead to follow the historic family patterns, interests, and paths that their adoptive family had followed for generations. Thus, they were simultaneously not quite themselves and not quite who their parents dreamed. They did not fully feel "at home" in either their adoptive families or their birth families. Their sense of belonging remained elusive.

In this month that is often associated with love and sweetness, let us ponder some important questions:

How are we nurturing our children’s authentic selves?

How are we affirming and validating the realities of their life experiences?

How are we sharing conversations about important conversations— even if awkward or difficult?

How can we help our children to experience a secure sense of belonging in our families?

 

I saw a post on Facebook which offered a powerful suggestion: when someone comes to us, e.g., our children, ask them this question. Do you want me to listen or offer solutions? This simple question places the trajectory of the conversation firmly in the hands of the person/child who sought us out. It empowers them to define what they want from us. They set the parameters, not us. They don’t have to adjust to our instincts, they can assert their own and make a clear request. This is empowering. This sense of agency is healing and is one of the elements that build a sense of belonging. This also helps to diminish any learned helplessness and affirm their capacity to problem solve and feel capable of meeting life's challenges. When parents "come to the rescue" too quickly or too often, kids internalize a powerful belief in their own lack of capability. This diminished sense of self reinforces feelings of shame, rejection, difference, and chips away at their sense of security, belonging, and feeling at home.

GIFT logo yearning to belong                         
            Your Adoption Attunement (AQ) Specialists
providing coaching and support before, during, and after adoption

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 

      Read these books written by our coaches.

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Lessons from 2020

The past year taught us we must learn to discuss hard things, listen to multiple voices with respect, and complete attention. We must strive to understand all sides of the conversation. Adoption is no different. People have very strong feelings about it.

Who are the experts? Is it therapists, social workers, adoptive parents? While each has a degree of expertise, they also tend to have a particular point of view that reflects their role in adoption. Their roles form the lenses through which they experience and interpret adoption

The real experts are adult adoptees. Parents— adoptive and birth— siblings, extended family, adoption professionals are all secondary voices.

Typically, adoptive parents have the most enthusiastic voice in any conversation about adoption. Professionals form the next tier. The main cultural belief holds adoption as a totally benign win/win solution in which all participants land on their feet with a smile on their faces and gratitude in their hearts.

The reality is more nuanced. Adoption Attunement affirms a more nuanced concept that sets aside the fairytale and validates the grief and loss in which all adoptions are rooted. It recognizes that before the adopted family comes together, the birth family is fractured. When speaking about adoption we must not lose sight of that painful reality.

As parents, we have an understandably positive bias about adoption. After all, it brought our children into our families and our hearts; adoption made our parenting dreams come true. We willingly take the stage and speak of the blessings of adoption. Our impassioned voices dominate the conversation.

But what about our children? Who hears their voices? Who listens to their perspective? Who witnesses their losses as well as their gains? Who affirms their need to know about and connect to their birth families and their roots? When we do listen, are we listening with empathy,  open minds, and hearts?

Or when we listen, are we listening through the filter of our positive bias? Is our body language sending a subtle— or not so subtle— message that we want to hear our children “accent the positive” when they discuss adoption. Have we telegraphed a silent message to our children that we are uncomfortable or unwilling to hear about the darker thoughts and feelings that adoption might elicit? Is this our Pandora’s box that we secretly want to keep padlocked?

Who is hurting?

Parents suffer when we see our kids in pain whether it is physical or emotional. We leap to comfort them and to cure the cause of their distress as quickly as possible. While our eagerness is primarily motivated by genuine concern for them, part of us is also eager to relieve our own discomfort. But sometimes the only way to handle tough stuff is to face it not to stuff it under the rug or to slap on a Band-Aid of positivity and denial. Be “with” them as they work through their discomfort. Lift their voices. Encourage them to speak their truth— their whole truth. Listen as an act of love.

How do we help our children use their voices?

Start when they are young. It need not be a Big Deal conversation along the lines of, I think we should talk about how you feel about being adopted. We all know how it feels when someone approaches us and says,  We need to talk.  Our stomach drops, hearts pound, and thoughts race. Our whole being is on the alert. This is not exactly the best scenario for a heart-to-heart convo with our children. A direct invitation like Want to talk about adoption?  is likely to be unwelcome and rebuffed.

Instead, learn how to routinely drop “seeds” in your everyday conversations.

     Wow, you are so… I wonder if that talent runs in your birth family? (Fill in the blank with the appropriate talent or quality.)

     Your birth mom would be so proud of you.

     I bet (Name) thinks of you in a special way on your birthday.

If your child wants to pursue the conversation, follow their lead. If not, just leave the question to linger in their minds. If you do it frequently and with genuine curiosity, the kids will feel that when they are ready, you will be receptive to talking about adoption. That’s the first step.

Avoid these surefire ways to get children to “clam up”.

Minimize
Dismiss
Make excuses
Rationalize the behavior, conversation, and attitudes of others.
Deny or invalidate their experience.
Jump to Fix It mode
Shut down any “negative” thoughts about adoption
Be blind to their adoption-connected grief and loss
Appear sad, hurt, or angry when they share
Expect 100% of their “loyalty”

None of these responses leave space for empathy, affirmation, or curiosity about how they are feeling, or what ideas they have on how to handle the issue at hand. Attune. Attune. Attune. Validate their experience. Thank them for trusting you enough to share. Ask them what they would like you to do. Allow them to take the lead while reaffirming your willingness to assist, if necessary.

Initiating Difficult conversations is a skill that takes practice

Start when they are young. How? Books are a superb way of raising conversations about adoption. With them snuggled beside us sharing the same book, we create moments of “togetherness” that goes beyond the words and the physical closeness. It creates a moment of intimacy, of shared interest, and focused attention. Kids need that.

Be sure your family library includes books that reflect the total adoption experience, not exclusively the positives. (Think of how you feel when people dismiss or minimize the challenges you’ve experienced like miscarriage, infertility, or the death of a child.)

Start Early

As always, it is important that you provide your children with truthful, age-appropriate information even in your very earliest conversations when they are very young. This way you can add information and provide detail and context as they are mature enough to learn it. For example, the picture book  ABC, Adoption & Me uses the simple alphabet format to introduce adoptees to many complex aspects of adoption in a way that is appropriate even for very young children. The format is one with which they are familiar and comfortable so it provides an easy framework on which to build.

The letter A page says A is for adoption. Some families come together through adoption. Mine did. Seems pretty simple. And yet… inherent in the statement is that adoption is not the norm, something the child will eventually have to come to grips with: most people raise the children to whom they gave birth.

The groundwork is laid for exploring the causes of adoption and eventually your child’s specific circumstances when they are older.

No spoiler alert needed: the book continues with the letter B. B is for bellybuttons and birthdays. Everyone has them. Again, seems very obvious, basic. And… it begins a path to why we all have bellybuttons: we all grew inside our mothers. We were born on a particular date. For adoptees, this day predates the time they joined our adoptive families.

How are you making sure your children know that you want to hear their voice? What books are on your family shelf? Do they reflect a balanced perspective about the gains and losses of adoption? How well do they lift up both the parental experience and the child’s?

Photo credit: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/

 

                         
GIFT, Growing Intentional Families Together, adoption
            Your Adoption Attunement (AQ) Specialists
providing coaching and support before, during, and after adoption

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 

      Read these books written by our coaches.

Listen to our podcasts.

 

 

Feeling short of time or finding it difficult to concentrate? You can listen to this post. Listening time:  4:07

November features National Adoption Awareness Month (#NAAM). This has gained enthusiastic support from adoptive parents who wish to declare the benefits of adoption. Adoption provided them children to love and parent and they eagerly share their joy. We must contextualize our enthusiasm and admit that adoption is an imperfect solution. It brings grief as well as joy, loss as well as gain, family fracture as well as family creation. Because we embrace and align with Adoption Attunement, we understand and validate this truth. Our acknowledgment of adoption complexity becomes an act of love.

Note that adult adoptees have initiated a movement in response to #NAAM. #AdopteeVoices strives to counterbalance the societal narrative of adoption as a totally benign arrangement so that conversations also validate #AdoptionComplexity, #AdopteeLoss, #AdoptionReality and strives to create a picture that includes all aspects of adoption, not solely the benefits. We ask that you keep the focus of #NAAM on the need to find families for foster children with any memes that you create, post, or repost. Keep mind, heart, and ears open when listening to #AdopteeVoices, and do not try to refute, counter, dismiss, or invalidate their experiences. Simply listen and glean insight into #AdoptionComplexity,

We uplift the purpose of #NAAM: to be laser-focused on the thousands of children who languish in foster care. Life without a family is lonely, uncertain, and difficult. Foster children need and deserve permanent families. Yet for too many, family remains only a dream, out of reach. Every year, thousands of teens age out of foster care without having been adopted into safe, loving, permanent families. Consider becoming the family they dream of having.

This year in observance of National Adoption Awareness Month, GIFT has created many memes reminding people of this need to find homes for children in foster care. Several are posted in this blog. We encourage you to copy and share them. Help build a movement that finds families for these children. That would be a blessing worth celebrating. The lives of many fosterees could be changed for the better and a blessing that will echo through successive generations.

How will you help raise awareness of all of these important adoption-connected initiatives?

Check out this article that GIFT coach Gayle H. Swift wrote for America Adopts for National Adoption Awareness Month.

            

         

 

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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.

                        GIFT, Growing Intentional Families Together, adoption
 
            Your Adoption Attunement (AQ) specialists
providing coaching and support before, during, and after adoption.

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 

      Read these books written by our coaches.

Listen to our podcasts.

Feeling short of time or finding it difficult to concentrate? You can listen to this post. Listen time 7:11

Parents-need-to-handle-own-tough-stuff

Families follow a core set of values that governs their priorities, shapes their belief system, and guides their behaviors. (We’ve blogged about the process of being intentional in defining these core values.)

GIFT Family Services also has a guiding set of principles and beliefs that inform all of our coaching and writing: our Adoption Philosophy (posted on our website) and Adoption Attunement (AQ) form the 16 Core Tenets. These two pillars establish the lenses, through which we explore adoption-related topics. They inform our blogs, podcasts, webinars, and posts on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and Pinterest.

Today’s blog will focus on number 14:  “Parents handle their own stuff.” Our own  “stuff”? What might this be? (Let’s stipulate that adoptive parents love their children even while they acknowledge the lack of biological connection. This love does not erase the reality that adoption builds family through a connection of the heart affirmed by legal sanction, not through biology. (For the entire list of the Elements of Adoption Attunement (AQ), see the graphic at the end of this post. Feel free to copy and share.)

Infertility Most— but not all— adoptive parents choose adoption because of infertility issues that render pregnancy impossible.  Once we accepted this reality of infertility, we reformed our goal from pregnancy to adoption. But, adoption does not cure infertility. Nor does it erase any of the memories of monthly cycles of hope followed by crushing despair. Our minds and our bodies recall the emotions fueled by hormonal storms and other personal struggles associated with infertility. These echoes of the pain, sadness, and resentment of infertility create results that are both significant and permanent.

We cannot know the intimacy of carrying our child, ensuring that we care for them as carefully as possible until their birth. We cannot enjoy murmuring conversations with our unborn offspring, silently affirming our joy at their existence sharing our hopes and aspirations for them.

We cannot conceive a child that blends aspects of ourselves and our partners, the penultimate, tangible expression of marriage in which two become one.

We cannot create a child who shares our DNA; the flow of our family lineage is interrupted, the continuity broken.

Without doubt, these alterations evoke an emotional response within us, one which we do well to explore, understand, accept, and which we must resolve.” If we do not, emotional repercussions will reverberate through our relationships with our children. Buried and unacknowledged feelings eventually erupt— usually with damaging ferocity—and at the worst times.

This is not a relationship strategy that we want to model for our children. We want to show them that it is important to face whatever issues they find challenging. We must convey to our children that we are capable of managing our own feelings, that it is not their responsibility to hide or minimize their adoption-connected thoughts and feelings in order to shelter our hearts from sadness.

If our kids are overly focused on caretaking our emotions, they will be stuffing, denying, or minimizing their own. Instead of being able to turn to us as a sounding board to explore their own complex feelings and as a source of comfort and security, they will struggle to handle them alone. Children lack the experience skillsets and perspective that adults have. Their ability to manage complex grief and loss is not yet strong enough. They need us as parents to provide that safe harbor. They need to be able to believe that we are capable of hearing difficult stuff without falling apart emotionally ourselves.

If we feel overwhelmed or challenged by the emotions, grief, and loss connected with infertility or adoption complexity we must not burden our children with the weight of them or the shadows they cast. We must attune to our own needs with the same intentionality that we strive to attune to our children’s needs. We must find a qualified adoption-attuned professional to help us cope and to ensure that we have handled “our stuff” and thus, are fully available to our children to help them handle theirs. We will all be healthier, happier, and more authentic in our relationships with each other.

Finances— Infertility and adoption are both inextricably entangled with finances. We must be careful not to overextend our financial stability as we pursue the dream of conception and/or adoption. It is equally important that we remain true to the highest ethical standards when we engage in family-building strategies. We cannot allow our hunger to be parents to blind us to the ethics and morality of whatever paths we follow. (Our previous blog explored some of the tragic fallout of ethical and/or legal lapses.)

Our children depend on us to keep them safe. Living aligned with our ethics is important both as a model for them to follow and for the security and stability that doing right creates. How are you ensuring that you are handling your "stuff"?

                         
GIFT, Growing Intentional Families Together, adoption
            Your Adoption Attunement (AQ) Specialosts
providing coaching and support before, during, and after adoption."

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 

      Read these books written by our coaches.

Listen to our podcasts.


GIFT, Growing Intentional Families Together, adoption

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