I’m in the midst of a 30-day session wearing a heart monitor. It is minimally uncomfortable yet singularly dedicated to its purpose. Always operating. Never off duty. Never distracted. It periodically zings an alert or vibrates to catch my attention.

Imagine that our families have a collective pulse. Like the human heart, a family is subject to changes in rhythm—some benign, some dangerous, and worrisome, possibly fatal. If Imagine if we had a similar device dedicated to monitoring our family’s emotional health. This backup system would ensure that we notice how relationships in the family are working—or not—as individuals, between siblings, and between parent and child as well as a family unit as a whole. The monitor would provide valuable failsafe attention.  Insistent. Persistent. Always on duty. Never distracted

Because, it is easy—too easy—to get distracted by life and take our relationships for granted. When we are not paying attention, things happen. Things get overlooked, stuffed, ignored, delayed, and even denied. Relationships wither.

Pause now to remember how passionate, zealous, perhaps even obsessed you were when you pursued adoption in the first place. You allowed NOTHING to get in the way of our effort to build a family.

Of course, life is not that straightforward. Things are always happening. Events, experiences, relationships, the unexpected assail us on a daily basis. The responses, emotions, actions, and experiences that touch our families are complex and not necessarily easily accessed, measured, or processed. Sometimes it is easier to engage in denial or distraction because we are afraid to admit that something isn’t quite right. We know that once something is seen, named, and acknowledged, it becomes real. True.  The idealized picture is fractured and reality seeps through the cracks. It needs attention. And attention requires energy. Anything we cherish requires attention and effort. Family relationships are no exception.

When we have the courage to notice and cope with problems and challenges, we are dealing with Truth. This is the space where authentic love and acceptance flourish. By admitting our frailties and limitations we reconfirm our commitment to make things work. Truly work. We disavow the shallow charade of staying on the surface. We refuse to gloss things over as if everything were “fine”.

Instead, we address our missteps, oversights, shortcomings. We apologize for errors, omissions, and skewed priorities, ask for forgiveness, and work to reconcile and heal. These moments of honest seeing, of openness and vulnerability, actually weave a robust tapestry of family connection and history. We are not role-playing. We are rolling up our sleeves and doing the hard work of truly being family loving and beings loved as OURSELVES, not a hollowed-out guestimate of what we think others wish we would be.

Child and parent voices are heard. Our individual experiences are validated. Our individual needs are met. Our individual truth is valued. This is what all human beings desire. As healthy, whole human beings we come together to create healthy, loving, attuned families.

Questions to consider:

If you did a gut check right now and listened to it, what would it alert you to?

Where are you being less than fully truthful with your spouse/partner?

How long has it been since you shared a meaningful conversation with each of your children?

What is getting in your way?

What is getting in their way?

If you took a pulse check of each of the relationships within your family, what do you notice?

Who is faring the best?

Who needs more attention, interaction, validation, or assistance?

After answering these questions, what would be your best first step?

 

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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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Preparing for the unexpectedIf you are an adopted parent, you have probably experienced many encounters with the unexpected. For most of us, the first “surprise” was infertility. We expected we would become pregnant fairly easily. But that is not what happened. Instead, our children joined our families via adoption. We attune to and love the children whom we adopted and value the unique notes that they infuse into our family symphony. When families are composed of so many different elements, the unexpected becomes the norm. We need to become pros at handling and preparing for the unexpected. Curveballs arrive from many sources.

Sometimes the surprises unfold through our child’s unique interests and talents. A family who can’t carry a tune in a bucket finds delight in the talent of their musically gifted child. An athletic clan is stunned by the artistry of their child who builds with Lego, wood, or recycled materials skillfully and effortlessly.

Surprises are not always pleasant. Sometimes unexpected factors are more challenging, like a child’s medical issues that were unforeseen because of incomplete medical histories.

Sometimes it is the world that delivers the unexpected, e.g., the pandemic which we are all currently facing. Sometimes it is Mother Nature who drops a fair share of the unexpected on our doorstep in the form of floods, hurricanes, fires, and tornados. As Intentional Parents, it is imperative that we plan ahead to predetermine our responses. Create a well-stocked Adoption Attuned emergency preparedness kit. This means that it will include some atypical elements which I will list further in the blog post.

Being proactive telegraphs to our children a message of preparation. It makes visible and exemplifies our ability to meet any unexpected challenges. This reassures our children and helps reduce their anxiety and concerns. An additional bonus is that we will be better prepared to meet whatever comes our way. We will avoid the chaos that occurs when danger is predicted and everyone rushes to make last-minute preparations. . Instead, we can spend time reassuring our kids that we have done our best to prepare the family to face and survive an impending danger.
Because our children joined our families through adoption, they’ve already experienced the loss of one family. It is understandable that they will be especially concerned about the safety and permanence of their adopted family. Family fracture is absolutely something that they do not want to experience again. This danger feels quite real to them. Completing observable preparations offer our children tangible and visible evidence that we have things in hand.

Covid-19 currently dominates the headlines. Reports of folks dying occur daily and they are no longer concentrated in the elderly, now folks of every age are endangered and dying. And it is not just the vulnerable and ailing. This means it is important that we commit to ensuring that we have prepared properly for the possibility that a disaster might strike us down. It could be a health crisis, a car accident, or a weather event that might turn our lives upside down. A dire event could come out of the blue and cause a permanent disability or even death. Our home could be destroyed in a natural disaster.

We want to be sure that we have prepared for this. Make sure we have current wills, Advanced Directives, and guardianship plans on file. Guarantee that the people you have named for this role agree to take on this immense responsibility. Do not assume that they would be willing to take on this responsibility. Be certain that they are educated on Adoption Complexity, Adoption Trauma, and understand what it would mean to parent with an  Adoption Attunement approach.

Be sure to write down your Emergency Preparedness Plan. Keep it with your wills. Clearly label it with the names of the people you have designated to care for your children. Inform the guardians where they will be able to find it if disaster should befall your family. Some of the things Emergency Preparedness Plan should include:

How might your family benefit from talking about disaster preparedness? In my own family, my grandson has known since he was four who would care for him if anything ever happened to his mom and dad. Because he’d known several people who had unexpectedly died, we felt it was important to talk about this. He could recite the succession of caregivers. Periodically he would confirm with me the names of who would care for him. Clearly, it provided him with a degree of comfort.

Like my grandson, all kids live in the world. They hear about tragedies happening like car accidents, house fires, hurricanes, etc. Bringing the topic into the open creates the opportunity to reassure them. Letting them know that you’ve planned ahead will increase their sense of safety. This is especially important to adopted children because they have already experienced significant losses in their lives.

Plan for the unexpected. An Emergency Plan is something that you hope you never need to use. You don’t want to discover in the face of disaster or tragedy for which you need a guardian or an Emergency Plan and do not have one.

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

Listen to our podcast.

Read these books written by our coaches.

Feeling short of time or finding it difficult to concentrate? You can listen to this post. Listening time: 3:28

Being Cassandra: Sharing an Unwelcome Truth

August 20, 2021

I have been an adoptive parent for 35 years. I have learned a great deal in these intervening years. One of my biggest shifts has been embracing the realization that adoption is not entirely benign for adoptees. Adoption brings deep losses as well as gains. It creates life-long challenges that spiral throughout their lives. Until my husband and I learned to understand how adoption created unique needs which had to be met, we relied on old parenting techniques. If we knew at the beginning, what we knew decades later, we could have been better parents to our kids. They would have felt more authentically seen, heard, and nurtured.

This awareness sparked a passion to help other adoptive parents and children avoid some of the heartache and chaos that our family endured. We couldn’t change our family’s past. However, we could help other families extract benefits from our Hard Knock experiences. With this shared vision, in 2010, my colleagues and I founded Growing Intentional Families Together, a coaching company dedicated to providing Adoption Attuned education and Adoption Competent support. Naively we anticipated that folks would be hungry to learn this more empathic, authentic, understanding of adoption, one that affirms the realities of adoptees’ experiences and let go of the desire to paint a happily-ever-after fairy tale.

I’ve co-written three books on adoption, all of which have won awards, and yet… the message they advance is often met with a rebuttal (Oh, I don’t think that’s true for most adopted kids… Or responses that pit adoptive family against birth family in a contest to decide which one is real. Meanwhile, our kids lose out when adoptive families remain locked in the old Either/Or paradigm. Like Cassandra, the Greek goddess doomed to speak the truth and never be believed, we bring an unwelcome truth: adoption is complicated, messy, and not a fairytale.

We can do adoption better than we did 30+ years ago. We can preserve more families. We can acknowledge the truth of adoption complexity. We can and we must.

 

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

 

Listen to our podcast.

Read these books written by our coaches.

Feeling short of time or finding it difficult to concentrate? You can listen to this post. Listening time: 6:44

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

 

Listen to our podcast.

Read these books written by our coaches.

Feeling short of time or finding it difficult to concentrate? You can listen to this post. Listen time 5:23

This month we celebrate the “birthday” and independence of the United States. Many folks observe the Fourth of July as an extended family. Holidays become enmeshed with warm memories of the important people in our family, delicious food, fun activities, and great company.

Since we are part of an adopted family, we have some “extra steps” to consider while planning our holiday. We need to include a generous dose of Adoption Attunement along with all our good intentions. As parents, we can look back over decades of holidays and enjoy the memories they conjure. Drawing on our history, we strive to continue longstanding traditions and to establish family traditions with our own children, family, and friends.

Mindful of our commitment to ensuring that our children have the support they need, we recognize that as an adoptive family we have a few extra boxes to tick off on the planning list.  The top priority is ensuring that our kids feel safe and comfortable enough to enjoy themselves. While this seems like a given, for many adoptees, several factors can make it a bit harder for them to relax and enjoy the festivities.

Remember that many adoptees feel most alone and “out of sync” during large gatherings of extended family. Their experience of the holiday may be quite different from ours. Our kids may actually feel the full weight of their differences instead of the ease of many decades of feeling at home with family, loved, accepted, "seen", and appreciated. This means they may need an escape from this explosion of family tradition.

Create a plan ahead of time that outlines what your child—and you—can do to help them enjoy the day. Agree on options they can choose if they need to access a bit of calm or solitude in the midst of all the fun and chaos. Our personal enjoyment of the day must take a back seat to ensure that our kids feel safe and secure. This attunement to their needs will benefit our children, ourselves, and everyone else in attendance.

Kids adopted from foster care may have uncomfortable, painful, bittersweet, special, or treasured memories of holidays that they shared with their birth families. They will almost certainly have some sense of reawakened loss and heartache. Be mindful of this reality. Discuss it ahead of time. Be aware that certain sights, sounds, music, foods, etc., may trigger some challenging emotions. Create a list of strategies that they can use. Set a code word they can say to you that alerts you to their need for prompt support—or perhaps a respite from the chaos and noise. Reassure them that their reaching out for help will be met with your understanding. Promise that you will not be angry or annoyed if they have to call on your support. Be sure they know that you want them to seek you out if they are struggling, that keeping them safe is more important than the fun you are having yourself.

Kids adopted at infancy won’t have any previous holiday memories that are unknown to you that could unexpectedly "trigger" them but they may still feel a sense of “not belonging” in gatherings of extended family. They can look around and see family commonalities play out live—in the moment—gestures, patterns, physical attributes all convey a message of family identity. Our kids can see these attributes and judge them both as familiar and reassuring and as qualities which they clearly lack. Once again, High AQ families will note the presence of Both/And in the reality that is adoption.

Share conversations ahead of time that explore the complicated and ambiguous emotions that they might feel during the holiday events. Discussing things ahead of time provides an opportunity to build resiliency, predetermine the support needed and wanted, and to set exit strategies if necessary. Try some conversation starters like:

I wonder how you feel when everyone talks about all the past family holidays ...

You look obviously different from the family; how do you feel about that when we are all together?

Since you dislike sports, what will you do during the family softball game?

What agreements and plans will you want in place so you can enjoy yourself, have fun and feel safe?

Highly attuned adoptive parents regularly remind themselves of the need to steep their parenting in the fifteen elements of Adoption Attunement. It takes years of practice before the High AQ approach becomes the default. Keep practicing. Our kids are worth it!

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

 

Listen to our podcast.

Read these books written by our coaches.


GIFT, Growing Intentional Families Together, adoption

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