successful-families-take-care-build-strong-coreThe business of family is the care and protection of its members. We succeed or fail together. As Intentional Parents we strive to be purposeful in our choices and actions particularly when it comes to our children. We must always keep in mind that our relationships with our spouses and partners predated the arrival of our children. (Single parents create this space alone and therefore must be particularly sensitive to their own needs so they can remain capable, loving, and available to their children.) These relationships with one another establish the family units which our children join. So sustaining strong partnership with our spouses or partners is one of the most important things we can provide our children.

To accomplish this, we must ensure that we keep ourselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy. Yet our culture tends to laud selflessness, esteem altruism, and disdain any focus on self because it is perceived as selfish. Of course, generosity, compassion, and consideration for others are essential in society and in families. We must subordinate some individual needs for the greater good of the group. Nonetheless, self-care—of both our individual selves and our partner relationships— provides the essential foundation on which the security of our families rest.

The relationship with our spouses and partners predates the arrival of our children. It is the secure, consistent place to which our children came to be nurtured and loved. This core of emotional stability, self-awareness, and connectivity allows parents to hold themselves and their families together. It provides strength, solace, companionship, encouragement, and a shared experience. Our loving relationships with our partners and ourselves offer a model of a healthy, well-rounded adult.  This healthy regard for self and spouse/partner provides the scaffolding of security for the entire family. (It’s also the antithesis of narcissism which values and prioritizes only self.) Just as with our physical bodies, a family's core strength matters.

When we over-prioritize our children’s needs above our own, it is often to the detriment of the health of ourselves and of our spouses or partners. This actually undermines the stability of the family and it tends to give the false impression to our kids that their wants and needs are the driving force of the family. Although kids might think that being the driving force of the family sounds appealing and exciting, it is actually frightening to not have adults in charge to provide the wisdom and the security of boundaries. At some level, kids recognize that they lack the skill, experience and confidence to be the captain of the family ship. Having parents to navigate life’s challenges with confidence, love, and purpose reassures kids and deepens their sense of security.

On the other hand, always placing oneself self last, denying authentic personal needs and desires creates turmoil, unhappiness, and a pressure cooker of resentment. Chaos ensues. Parents who always place themselves last in the family priorities eventually will become so depleted they will be unable to function. Or they will react in ways that can damage relationships.

Adoption separated our children from their first families. One of the greatest blessings we can offer them is to invest in the relationship that founded the family and provides its bedrock. What steps will you take to care for yourself and your relationship with your partner?

Check out these additional Adoption-attuned resources!

Adoption Attuned Parenting

Listen to our podcasts on Adoption-attuned Parenting.

Abc adoption

Read adoption-attuned  book reviews  by GIFT coach, Gayle H. Swift. They are written with an Adoption-attuned perspective


My husband had the admirable ability to remain calm in the face of upheaval and chaos. As a person strongly influenced by emotions and with a deep need for “safety”, his equanimity was like my life raft in a storm. Ironically, this same “unflappableness” occasionally also drove me crazy.

But sometimes when I felt like our world was on fire, his equanimity felt like blindness—or idiocy—like an utter denial of the flames that were about to consume our lives. Instead of comfort, I felt that my perspective of what was happening was being ignored, dismissed, minimized, and denied. Although I craved his reassurance, in these moments, I needed to know that he saw what I saw, felt what I felt, and recognized its scale and power. Until I had that reassurance, his composure felt foolhardy. I felt angry and even more afraid. First, I wanted--needed--validation of my fears then I could trust in his ability to support, partner, and protect us.

I wonder if our children sometimes experience a similar emotional paradox around the grief, loss and identity issues that undergird adoption. Yes, they truly need our love, and they want to reciprocate, to belong and yet … There is a genuine flip side. They also wrestle with all the messiness that comes with the fracture from their first family. Regardless of any benefits which accrue to them, their losses co-exist. Too often blinded by our own perspective we need to ensure that everything within our families is all right. The world, even we parents become inured to this pain.

Do our kids share the invalidated, unsettled feelings I described when my husband’s calm seemed dissonant to our circumstances?

I suspect so.

My own experience tells me that until we acknowledge that we see the “flames,” any comfort we offer will come across as tone deaf, inappropriate, absurd, dangerous, and stupid. Firefighters know that a hot spot ignored quickly become a conflagration. Denial endangers us. It is not our friend. Action is.  We can become the shield which keeps them safe. We accomplish this by facing what is at hand and acknowledging adoption complexity. We must talk about it. Validate it. Mitigate it. In that context of truth, we can connect with our children’s reality with grace, love, and empathy and it will be grounded in reality.

Such authenticity may be difficult—even painful—but it is essential. Otherwise, our relationships devolve into role play with each of us acting our character’s assigned part. Our kids deserve so much more. We have the power to create relationships built on truth, respect, and compassion. Our children will benefit immensely from this choice. In fact, our entire families will.

Deal with the proverbial elephant in the room before everything spontaneously combusts.

Check out these additional Adoption-attuned resources!

Adoption Attuned Parenting

Listen to our podcasts on Adoption-attuned Parenting.





Abc adoption

Read these book reviews  by GIFT coach, Gayle H. Swift. They are written with an Adoption-attuned perspective






Have you ever given thought to the small yet memorable traditions which generations of your family have repeated? Pause for a moment to call your favorite to mind. Focus on the emotions which this memory evokes within you. In your mind's eye conjure an image of those with whom you typically share this tradition and notice the emotions which it evokes in them as well.

How many of these family traditions have you chosen to continue to practice with your own family? Which ones did you discard? What overlooked family traditions might you want to restore or introduce to your family? Which new ones would you like to invent?

Consider having a family meeting in which everyone brainstorms ideas. Traditions need not be elaborate, time-consuming, or expensive. For example, in my own family, we follow a regional tradition of being the first person to say "rabbit" to someone on the first day of each month. The "winner" is entitled to the other person's good luck for the month! It has to be done in person, not by text, email or any other mode of communication--although by family consensus we have agreed that phone contact is acceptable. We get very stealthy and resort to using other people's phones when calling or Face Timing other family members. It is fun, harmless, free, and something we have done since my children were tots. They are now in their thirties and we continue to practice and pass on this ritual.

Another Swift family tradition is to close letters, sign cards, etc with "Keep on Paddling." This also originated when the kids were little. We were avid canoeists, white-water rafters, and kayakers. We had to constantly remind whichever child was in our vessel that they had to contribute their effort to the trip. Hence the refrain: Keep on Paddling!

When they got older and life's challenges became overwhelming, we would encourage one another with this phrase. It was shorthand for the mutual understanding that we were all in this together, that to safely arrive at our destination, everyonehad to pull their weight.

How might a family tradition benefit your family? What values would you want it to reflect? How will you incorporate a sense of fun? What new tradition will you invent for your family? How will you involve your kids in inventing new traditions?


Please share your ideas so that other readers can benefit from your creativity.

Check out these additional Adoption-attuned resources!

Adoption Attuned Parenting

Listen to our podcasts on Adoption-attuned Parenting.





Abc adoption

Read these book reviews  by GIFT coach, Gayle H. Swift. They are written with an Adoption-attuned perspective

We are in the midst of Award Season. Media is touting favorites and making predictions for the Oscars, Emmys, etc.. The buzz is a pleasant distraction from more serious contemporary issues. Americans love winners, especially those "underdogs" who overcome stacked odds and manage to succeed. While we enjoy this entertaining diversion, as parents, we remain focused on a far more important win: raising healthy, happy, and productive children.

Let's face it, parenting is not for sissies. It demands patience, compassion, persistence, and lots and lots of love. Sometimes the ones who most need acknowledgment and understanding from us is ourselves. Yes, we want to hold ourselves to high standards. We also want to admit that we are human, make mistakes, feel tired, lose patience, and make less-than-stellar choices.

It is important to be scrupulous in the assessment of our behavior, decisions, words, silences, actions, and inactions. We must also forgive ourselves for any shortcomings and then insist on making the appropriate accountability, forge the repair, and resolve to do better. Apologizing to our children when we mess up is an important part of sustaining our relationship. It also provides a vital blueprint for our kids to follow in their own interactions with family, friends, teachers, etc.

By admitting our personal missteps, we demonstrate integrity. If we are willing to own our mistakes our children will be on the receiving end of that integrity. They will experience how good it feels when someone who has wronged them apologizes to them. This in turn, helps them learn how to make a genuine apology which is a critical life skill.

The flip side of recognizing the need for an apology is the ability to know when it is appropriate to offer acknowledgment of sincere effort. Our attention is the currency of connection. When our spouses, family members, and colleagues strive to improve their actions within the context of our mutual relationship and we notice and verbalize this spoken noticing affirms and encourages our connection with them. Any positive change, regardless of how small is still a step in the right direction. Like a tiny seedling just breaking through the soil, this change needs nurturing and encouragement. Without attention, it will wither and die. It is both wise and compassionate to be generous with our encouragement!

Our expectations serve as primary filters of what we "allow" ourselves to see. Remember the book series Where's Waldo? Each page overflowed with tiny images. Until the reader concentrated on finding dear old Waldo, he remained hidden in the cluttered imagery. Once we decided to look for Waldo, almost magically, his image emerged from the chaos.

When we engage with our children what behavior grabs our attention? How is what we see influenced by our expectation? Are we assuming Tommy is going to misbehave because he has in the past? Are we basing our mental picture on an old "box" which we have not updated to reflect his effort and any behavioral changes he has demonstrated? Have we wiped the board clean and opened ourselves to the possibility that he will have better control over his behavior--even if only slightly more? If he does make an improvement, do we take obvious note of that change and acknowledge him for it? Or, do we focus on his failure to fully meet our standards yet again.

Which response is more likely to encourage him to continue to improve? Which response is more likely to convince him it is not worth the effort? Certainly, we must love, educate, and discipline our children. We must not break their spirit or their hearts in the process. Their childhood is spent riding a steep learning curve of both social and school mores and standards. They experience far more failure than success because success is a process build on stepping stones of failure that inch them closer to mastery. Sustaining their persistence and confidence is essential. Encourage their efforts, notice their progress and nurture their belief that life is a Learning Conversation.

If we imagine ourselves in their shoes, i.e., on the receiving end of a steady stream of criticism and feedback that focused more on what we did wrong than on what we did right we develop an empathy for them. Whether a chronic negative feedback loop happens at work, between partners, or friends this tilt to a negative focus is disheartening at best and toxic at its worst. Like a hug from a porcupine, regardless of his positive intent, the experience prickles with discomfort. Understandably, the decision to bail, zone out, or give up would be mighty tempting.

To counteract this need to escape a pervasive sense of failure, concentrate on what is working, on what change is happening. Focus attention there on the incremental change. This shift will benefit you and them. It will kindle hope which in turn will fuel further change and deeper connection.

Where will you focus your attention this week? How will you adjust the setting of your personal "lens" so that it will shift what you see?


Adoption Attuned ParentingListen to our podcasts on Adoption-attuned Parenting.




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Read these book reviews  by GIFT coach, Gayle H. Swift. They are written with an Adoption-attuned perspective.


soundtrack-connectionThe Grammys aired last night to honor musicians of every stripe and genre which made me think of the power that music wields. Music evokes emotion in ways deeper than words. It unlocks memories reminding us of people, places, times, and events. This is why film producers spend small fortunes blending the perfect soundtrack for their works. Most of us compile music collections on our phones and can listen whenever we wish, to whatever we choose. We care about music and even consider certain special songs as “ours.” As Intentional Parents, music offers us an important avenue for strengthening connection with our kids.

Much of what children think and feel remains locked behind a web of reluctance, embarrassment, and insecurity. We yearn for a way to touch their hearts and their spirits. Music can connect us even when words fail.

My kids who are now in their thirties, will tell you that I have a deep preference for silence and that when I do listen to music it is on a low volume. Like many young people, they like to listen at a higher volume, especially my son who listens at decibel levels equivalent to a departing jet engine. So, finding music which we can enjoy is a bit of a challenge. But when we do, it sure is fun! Moments of intimate connection like these are precious indeed.

Look for ways to create them, e.g., ask if they had any favorites among the Grammy nominees. If you just can’t stand their music selection, study the lyrics. Look for what draws your child to a specific piece of music. Start a conversation about what you notice. Remember to refrain from any criticism; that will immediately elicit a shutdown. Ask questions that are clearly neutral. Then listen for the Golden Nugget, the peek into what they think, feel, struggle or identify with. That insight, that connection is true treasure. Handle it with heroic care. Look for ways to find commonality.  You might also ask them which musical film score is their favorite. What do they like about it? How do they think it contributed to the film?

Be open but not overly insistent if they resist. If that happens, be attentive to moments that occur spontaneously. The next time they insert their earbuds, ask them to let you take a listen. Then see what unfolds.

What songs from your own youth drove your parents crazy? What made the music appeal to you? How did you feel when/if your parents dissed or ridiculed your music? What insight does this history provide to assist you in relating to your kids now?

Adoption Attuned ParentingListen to our podcasts on Adoption-attuned Parenting.




Abc adoption

Read these book reviews by GIFT coach, Gayle H. Swift. They are written with an Adoption-attuned perspective.

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