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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.
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.
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So far this month this blog has examined several priorities for parenting success in 2020. At the risk of being overly obvious, we must consider ourselves and the relationship with our spouses/partners one of our first priorities. It is this key relationship we build between us that becomes the hub around which family relationships revolve. If this keystone weakens or fractures, families fall apart.
The strength and health of our parental partnership steadies the family throughout the vagaries of life. Our relationship as partners creates the template for our children to follow. It will shape the kind of person whom they will choose when searching for their own. It will define what is appropriate, desirable and meaningful as well as what is not.
As our children observe our interactions with our spouse/partner, they will learn about respect, mutual support, reciprocal attachment, appropriate touch, the power of values lived in day to day actions as well as the respecting, setting, and honoring personal boundaries. Children will observe the way we speak of our life-partner when they are not present. We have the chance to demonstrate integrity and respect as it lives within a relationship. We get to choose how we live and thus, we determine what our children will observe and learn.
For example, consider the concept of “loyalty to the absent.” This is revealed in how we speak about one another when our spouse/partner is not present. Are we respectful, appreciative, and supportive? Or do we demean, belittle, or invalidate them? Do we take any “cheap shots” or highlight their shortcomings as a way to make ourselves look better in our children’s eyes? Do we hold a unified team that supports one another or undermine and divide our partnership in an effort to endear ourselves to our children at the expense of our spouse/partner?
As our kids watch us, they will add to their how-to-be-a-partner template. Each observed interaction will flesh out their template with greater detail.
It will also shape their expectations of other kinds of relationships. For example, if they see us hold high standards of respect and integrity towards our partner, they can easily transfer this blueprint to other relationships.
The corollary is true as well. If they observe us being demeaning, sarcastic, or unsupportive toward our absent partner, children may also wonder if we talk and think about them as duplicitously as well. Such doubt and uncertainty do not make a steady and healthy foundation for connection and trust. In this type of two-faced model, our children may also wonder whether “nice” words we espouse towards and about their birth families are genuine or only empty lines uttered out of obligation.
If we choose to live integrity in our relationships with our partners, our family reaps great dividends: security, trust, stability, and consistency. They’ll accumulate a healthy, resilient, and steadying template for partnership and human interactions. That is a tremendous blessing and a wonderful foundation on which they can build emotional intelligence and healthy personal identity.
As you walk with your partner through 2020, how intentional, loyal, and integrous will you choose to be? How will you sustain this priority with your partner/spouse? What conversations might you choose to hold with them? With your children?
Keep in mind that while modeling healthy relationships and behaviors and living aligned with our deeply held values does not guarantee that our children will embrace them. Other influences may distract them. Previous relationship experiences and self-protecting behavior that evolved in reaction to trauma will also affect their responses as well. Keep in mind that many trauma survivors have a firmly-wired need for protection that takes priority over their need for connection. Presenting a healthy blueprint does guarantee they will follow our example. However, at the very least, our model will be in their memory banks.
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.
Read Adoption-attuned book reviews by GIFT coach, Gayle H. Swift, on her blog.
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During this month of promoting awareness of adoption, we adoptive parents have a unique opportunity to immerse ourselves in listening, learning and validating what our children tell us about what it is like to be adopted. Listening and loving are inextricably connected. Remember David Augsberger's words: "Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are indistinguishable." Listening and loving pave a path to mutual knowledge and understanding and discovering who we are as individuals and as family members. This awareness is an appropriate goal because it leads to understanding and empathy both of which are desirable in a parent/child relationship. It enables us to see and validate our children's experiences.
Validation of our children’s experience is respectful and loving. Dr. Christian Conte asserts that the goal of validation is to connect. I repeat: the goal of validation is to connect. As adoptive parents, we value connection and attachment.
As adoptive parents, we value connection and attachment. As Intentional Parents we recognize that validation, connection, and attachment result from intention, commit, and persistence, not happenstance. We recognize that this deep connection grows from repeated serve-and-return interactions in which our children experience and feel validated, seen, and heard. The daily interactions and conversations which we share build a history together and create an emotional and relational sweet spot, a sense that we “get them” and accept their true selves. On this basis, our kids determine what and when they feel they can safely discuss with us. They ask themselves what they can safely share about being adopted.
As parents, we have a chance to create a sense of security and openness that convinces them that we are capable and want to know all their thoughts, that we are strong enough and have enough love, not just the pretty but also the bittersweet, the hard to hear, the awkward and the agonizing. These conversations are not idle time-passers, they are the channel by which we connect deeply with our children, hearing their truth in all its complicated glory. To grow genuine, healthy, and resilient bonds, our mutual exchanges must reflect truth. Love flourishes in the rich soil of truth.
We consciously avoid playing “911 Fix It” and resist the inclination to minimize or counterbalance any of their challenges with “yes buts.” Knowledge comes through awareness. To become aware, we must listen. Truly listen. If they tell us they feel like their world is falling apart or that nobody likes them or any number of ways in which they judge themselves as coming up short, they want to believe that we heard what they shared. An appropriate response might be, “Wow, that must feel pretty horrible — or scary or hopeless… The specific words will vary just ensure to acknowledge their words, even if our perception is the opposite of theirs, at this point this difference is irrelevant. The message we want to make convey is, “We hear you. We see the picture you are painting and how it is making you feel. And we want to stand with you.”
Adopted persons have a life-long, soul-shaking awareness that family fracture can occur. This awareness is based on personal experience. Their personal experience. It already happened once to them. Many adult adoptees reveal that as children, they stuffed their worries and concerns deep within themselves. They resisted talking about it because they couldn’t take a chance that they could be rejected by their adoptive family as well. This fear and reluctance denied them the support of loving and understanding parents to help them work through their issues. It meant that their relationship was a roleplay based on a shared agreement they could only “accent the positive and eliminate the negative.” By placing a mask of everything is all right over their inner turmoil, they averted rejection. It robbed them of an intimate truth-based, relationship that could accommodate the spectrum of adoption complexity. Safe but insolated…isolated.
Intentional parents recognize the effort required to build intimacy and to dare to be vulnerable. We see the courage our kids demonstrate when they share their complete truth. We honor and appreciate it. As Intentional Parents, we see their honesty as the gift that it is and therefore, we encourage this kind of intimacy not shy away from it. Our children’s confidences are sacred; it costs them a lot to share them with us and they depend on us to honor that trust with the gravity and respect it deserves. This is their hope. Even if it is hard for us, we can see that it is even harder for them and so we extend our arms, open our minds, and enfold them with our love. We made a promise to our kids when they joined our families to be a safe, loving, permanent family is to embody the elements of Adoption-attunement. One of the best ways we can honor that promise is to immerse ourselves in the elements of Adoption Attunement.
What will you do this week, this month to nurture this awareness and to strengthen attunement with your kids?
So, for the remainder of National Adoption Awareness Month let us focus on strengthening our relationship with our kids. Listen. Learn. Love.
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.
Listen to our podcasts on Adoption-attuned Parenting.
Read Adoption-attuned book reviews
by GIFT coach, Gayle H. Swift,
on her blog, "Writing to Connect"