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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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November features National Adoption Awareness Month (#NAAM).
One thing 2020 has taught us: truly valuable things in life have no price tag. The things that genuinely matter are priceless: family, friends, health, companionship, security. As we observe the holidays, we do well to remember it is not the gifts we purchase but what is in our hearts that matters most.
This holiday season will be unlike any we have known in our lifetimes. 2020 has proven to be a game-changer in innumerable ways and our holidays will certainly be shaped by the pandemic realities. Our connections and celebrations may be mostly digital instead of in-person. Many of us have lost loved ones to the pandemic and their absence will be keenly felt. Still, the core message of the holidays remains unaltered by circumstance, distance, or travail: live by the Golden Rule; seek peace; practice generosity, respect, goodwill, and compassion for others; and be a good neighbor.
As High AQ adoptive parents, we choose to parent with Intention so we commit to an additional tenet: Adoption Attunement. This relationship system honors the complex puzzle of adoption gains and losses. It moves beyond the proverbial “happily ever after story” and advances a more inclusive perspective; adoption creates not a completely benign solution, but one which includes real loss and challenges as well. Parents who embrace Adoption Attunement and commit to developing a high “AQ,” (Adoption Attunement quotient) know that by acknowledging the hard stuff with their kids, they can then become the safe harbor to which their children can turn for support, affirmation, security, and love. This attunement is an invaluable gift.
In the tumult of the holiday frenzy, we intentionally find ways to connect with our children. We know their expectations and emotions run high and deep and we actively engage in ways that support and reassure them.
We share important conversations that address adoption reality— no matter how awkward, uncomfortable, or difficult for us because our children need to know we are the strong shoulders on which they can lean and the source of strength on which they can draw. Such conversations cannot be forced or imposed. Our children simply must be confident that we genuinely welcome these discussions.
Although most adoptions are “open” this is not a binary experience; it is a spectrum of openness, contact, and emotional welcome. Openness is both a way of interacting and it is also a frame of mind as well as a setting of the heart. Such openness cannot be “faked.” It arises from an unconditional love for our kids that recognizes and supports their needs. Our children need to know that we are “all in”, that openness is not a burden or an obligation but an expression of our love and our awareness that openness benefits our children.
Whether their adoption is open or closed, adopted children will surely have thoughts and complex feelings about their first parents. Some children will ruminate more intently and more frequently, others perhaps less so. Parents can respond with open minds and hearts and listen to them without refutation or an effort to minimize or dismiss their words and feelings. Resist any temptation to speak ill of their birth parents. Instead, respond to the emotions our children express— sadness, regret, yearning, anger, etc. Affirm and validate their experience and remember, just like we can have strong emotions about family life that we share with friends, we don’t want our friends to speak ill of our family members. We want them to support us through the challenge of the moment. This is also what our children seek from us. Ultimately, we want to build healthy, inclusive, honest relationships and not to stockpile ammunition for shooting one another down.
Conversations like this don’t “just happen.” We must build a reality-based sense that we want to listen to them, that we are strong enough to hear hard truths, that we love our children enough to support their need for the presence of their first families in their thoughts, hearts, and conversations. We bless our children when we free them of the false belief they must choose between loving and needing us and loving and needing their first families. Meeting our children’s needs in this way builds trust, deepens connection, and nurtures attachment.
This is joy. This is grace. This is unconditional love. This is Adoption Attunement.
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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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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We’ve all experienced moments in our lives when we needed someone to be there for us. Often, we’ve had the misfortune of being let down, abandoned to face difficulty on our own. Yet when people truly s answer our call, show up and connect with us, we experience the deep grace of feeling seen, heard, and valued. As Intentional Parents, we have the power to offer that grace to our children. All it takes is that we show up— consistently, focused and attuned.
The Super Power of Showing Up--No Cape Needed!
When we commit to being fully present with our children, we give them a gift beyond price. Attentive, engaged, Adoption-attuned presence blesses our children in deep, meaningful life-shaping ways. Love, connection, healing, and resilience grow in this space. Our Presence costs nothing but our time and our commitment. Yet its impact has life-long influence on our children and families. Like many aspects of parenting, the execution of our commitment to being fully present is simple, not easy. It requires intention, repetition, and authenticity. Fortunately, success depends on consistency, not perfection!
How Parental Presence Shapes Who Our Kids Become and How Their Brains Get Wired by Daniel Siegel, M.D. has written many outstanding books that address how brain science can increase understanding and nurture connection between parent and child. While not explicitly focused on the unique challenges of adoptive parenting, Siegel does consider the influence of attachment styles—the child’s as well as the parents’— and the repercussions of trauma. When parents can discern the difference between unwillingness and inability regarding a child’s behavior a new dynamic emerges. Parents who see the difference experience a lowering of the emotional thermostat between themselves and their children, one based more on empathy and an awareness of how the body-mind connection shape behavior.
This understanding helps parents to respond their children in more effective, loving ways that strengthen bonds as well as enhancing a child’s ability to internalize family values and behavioral expectations. Imagine parent and child square off on an issue. In scenario A, parent is convinced the child deliberately misbehaved and did X. In scenario B, the parent recognizes the child misbehaved not out of defiance but due to an inability. Which is more likely to lead to connection, empathy, and skill-building? Siegel’s series of books does an excellent job of articulating this distinction. Read them to build your parenting toolbox. How do we most effectively use a given strategy or approach .
Everything comes down to relationship—attachment, emotional attunement, self-esteem, even identity, joy, contentment, insecurity—all unfold in the context of relationship. It is the channel where it all unfolds. Relationship provides feedback to both child and parent.
Once we decide that we will choose to be intentional about showing up, we search for ways to accomplish that connected, validating presence. The key factor is engagement and attunement. Be fully present. Listen. Let me repeat: listen. Place your focus on hearing their words as well as what remains unspoken. Respond in a way that conveys you heard their thoughts without rebuttal, reframing, or correcting.
Each time you listen at his level you learn more about your child, about their thoughts, fears, desires, and beliefs. This information is gold. As you grow your knowledge of who they truly are, you increase your ability to respond to them in ways that allow them to be seen and heard. How do we create initiate conversations with our kids that feed their need to feel seen, valued, and appreciated?
Consider asking one or two of these questions. If you ask too many they’ll feel like they’re being interrogated.
Tell me something you want me to know today.
What part of the day are you looking forward to?
What do you think might be hard?
How can I help you today?
What do you want to have happen today?
Who would you like to see?
How will you make yourself feel proud today?
What do you want me to know about your day?
How were you kind today?
What kindness did you receive today?
What made you feel proud today?
What made you laugh today?
What surprised you today?
What is something beautiful you saw today?
What do you wish you had done differently?
What frustrated you?
What bugged you?
What worked for you today?
Respond to their answers with curiosity and empathy, e.g., “I think I would have that felt_____ (uncomfortable, annoying, frustrating, scary…Use the appropriate emotion. I don’t like feeling like that.) Validate their experience. The goal is to exchange information in a way that deepens connection. This moment is not the time to make them feel wrong. Defer discussions of how they might have handled things differently. Simply listen, learn, validate.
How might you address these questions to yourself to help you intentionally build a focus at the beginning of your day and to debrief and decompress at the end of the day?
Dan Siegel is fond of acronyms to help parents remember important concepts and strategies. He asserts that parents need to bring PEACE into their family life:
We can all see how an increase in these factors benefits the entire family! Siegel also advocates is the need for parents to meet their children’s needs for the Four S’s
Dan Siegel has packed The Power of Showing Up: How Parental Presence Shapes Who Our Kids Become And How Their Brains Get Wired with valuable information that will inform and improve your parenting and your relationships in general. In addition to strategies, it also offers hope: our brains are plastic. We can learn new ways of perceiving and responding that can improve their lives as well as our own! Just remember that presence requires more than our bodies being in the same physical space as our loved ones. Put down the phones. Focus your attention on the moment.
As Sir Francis Bacon wrote: “We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand and melting like a snowflake...” The opportunity to connect and be fully present with our kids can be lost in a flash. Be intentional. Take advantage of every interaction. Rapport and attachment result from a continual flow of reciprocal interactions in which kids "ask" for connection and we respond accordingly and accurately. Quality, quantity, and consistency matter. Our efforts are worth it. Our families are worth it.
GIFT coaches are available to present workshops in person or on-line.
Contact us to explore this possibility.
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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