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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

 

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Feeling short of time or finding it difficult to concentrate? You can listen to this post. Listen time 6:04

Father’s Day dominates our thoughts this month. Big Holidays like this are freighted with extra emotional baggage in the world of adoption. The importance of fathers tends to be underappreciated and be overshadowed by the intense emotional focus on mothers.
Whether it is accurate or fair, mothers are the ones by whom adoptees feel most "rejected." Mothers are seen as the ones most responsible for choosing adoption.
Yet the true importance of fathers is no small thing. It is from their fathers that our sons learn how to be good, loving men of character and courage. Our daughters' relationships with their dads teach them how to recognize good men as possible partners, colleagues, and friends. When children lack the presence of a loving involved father, it leaves a deficit in their emotional experiences. That absence matters.
In the adoption community, we tend to focus predominantly on the powerful emotional and psychic reverberations of the separation of mother and child. Search and reunion efforts emphasize the mother/child link.
But adoption also separates adoptees from their birth fathers as well. This fracture has significant consequences too. Beyond the contribution of his DNA, a birth father's influence matters to adoptees. Dad's genes constitute half of his biological makeup and thus helps shape who the adoptee will become even if they never meet. The quest to find, reunite, and build a connection with first dads gets less press than the quest for birth mothers. Still, for many adoptees, their yearning for birth father information and their hope for a relationship is not a secondary desire. Whether the desire to learn about and or contact a birth father is an unquenchable need or simply a need for the basic desire for knowledge, or some position in between these polarities, the importance of birth fathers is gaining importance and appreciation by adoptees and professionals as well.
Recently, I spoke with a young man I’ll call “Michael.” He was “found” by his birth father last year. The emotional upheaval he experienced from this unexpected event covers every imaginable feeling: joy, relief, acceptance, validation, sadness, shock, and even a tinge of anger. Michael now in his 30’s, has been in reunion with his birth mother for over 10 years.
He'd been dismissive of any need to find his birth father--at least in conversations with friends and family. Perhaps this was because he and his adoptive family had tried to find Mike's birth father years earlier with no luck. When Mike was "found" his joy was transformative. Startling. Definitive. Connecting with his birth father provided an additional kind of completion. His father filled in many blanks. They have shared many Difficult conversations. Obviously, this was a deeply emotional time and dredged up many additional "what ifs". Their conversations triggered many more questions—the least of which is how will they proceed? What kind of ongoing relationship will they build? How can they pick up the pieces after 35 years?
Ironically though Michael was adopted thousands of miles from his current home, it was a shocking and pleasant discovery to learn that he and his birth father now live less than 20 minutes apart. The surprises did not end there. Mike also learned that he has seven siblings--  most of whom also live locally and they were delighted to meet him. Their welcome has been healing and exciting for him. These new relationships enrich his life and the life of his young son who is delighted to discover all these new relatives.
Figuring out how to incorporate all these new relationships takes energy, attention, and an emotional— toll too. For now, he is enjoying the “honeymoon” stage and looks ahead with optimism to becoming better acquainted and more intimately connected with his large paternal biological family.
*Michael/Mike is a pseudonym
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Your Adoption Attunement (AQ) Specialists
      providing coaching and support before, during, and after adoption

Learn how the coaches at GIFT Family Services can help you and your family navigate your adoption journey. We've faced our share of family challenges and crises, ridden the metaphorical rollercoaster, and our families have not only survived; they have thrived. We offer experience, neutrality, and understanding. GIFT coaches are available to present workshops online.

Contact us : 1-800-653-9445 

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The month of May, rich with burgeoning life after winter’s severity, brings motherhood to mind . The observance of an official holiday further nudges our awareness!  So, a question comes to mind: What does it mean to mother?

Like the iconic, multi-tasking mother herself, the word holds several jobs: noun, adjective, and verb. Each category has nuanced sub-definitions. Mothering is complex—both passive and active—we can be a mother to someone and we can be mothered by someone.  We can have a mother and lose a mother to death or life circumstance.

In adoption, the word Mother holds additional unique subtexts: Expectant, Hopeful, Real, Birth, First, Adoptive, Foster… Mothers—and fathers—are described as Permanent, Temporary, Terminated, or Forever

As so often happens, language is freighted with emotional weight. Like a fence, words mark who or what is in or out. Too often, we use language as a leveraging tool in an adversarial, either/or power play. Language influences who or what has value and/or power.

One of the most enduring realities in adoption is that family life is complicated, messy, crowded, and necessitates a Both/And approach. Our children depend on us to be inclusive. We can love with courage and verve. The choice is ours. We can resist our fears and insecurities and not allow them to limit and distress us. We can embrace the Both/And approach and harvest the advantages of inclusion. Not only will our children benefit; we will as well.

We parents love all of our children whether we adopted them or gave birth to them. If someone insisted that we choose one child and forsake another, we would adamantly refuse. We would insist that the request was impossible! Unreasonable! Cruel!

Yet, too often, this expectation of exclusivity and undivided loyalty is imposed on adopted children, not only by society but also by their adoptive parents. Adoptees are told—overtly or subtly—that they must choose their adoptive parents over their birth parents. Whether out of insecurity or fear, some adoptive parents cannot, or choose not to make room in the family circle to include all of their child’s relationships. Instead, they insist: Choose us or them.

From this limited, polarized vantage point, only one set of parents are held as real. Adopted children whose families believe this either/or point of view, suffer tremendous emotional upheaval. Mother Love becomes a knife that cleaves them instead of a sanctuary that enfolds and nurtures them.

As adoptive parents, we can refuse to ask our children to split themselves in two. Instead, we can offer them a great grace and not insist that our children be exclusively loyal and emotionally connected only to us. We can offer our children an inclusive, unconditional love that genuinely appreciates their need for all of their significant relationships. We want to forge ways to sustain emotional, intellectual, psychic, and—as long as it is safe—physical openness with birth parents. (When physical connection is not possible or is unsafe, we can still  nurture the other aspects of openness.)

Before we know it, our children will be autonomous adults no longer under our control. They will decide for themselves with whom to engage or not. Will they experience us as having been their champions, mentors, and best advocates as well as their beloved parents? Their decision will be partially based on how well they feel we met their needs and that they felt safe, seen, validated, and supported, and loved in ways that touched their hearts' core.

When we are able to create that connection, they will have experienced belonging in a way that they felt in their hearts, minds, and spirits.

Sometimes our emotions run so deep that the only way we can begin to express them is through poetry. This poem is dedicated to all those who mother...

On Mothering, Part II

For all who mother,

            We wish you blessings and joy, memories and connection.

For mothers who mourn,

            We wish you comfort and peace.

For mothers who grieve,

We wish you solace.

For those who yearn to mother,

We wish you hope and fulfillment.

For mothers who wonder,

We wish you answers and reassurance.

For mothers who suffer,

We wish you healing and understanding.

For all who seek to Mother,

We wish your dream fulfilled.

For those who love with a mother’s soul,

We wish you love returned in full measure.

Feeling short of time or finding it difficult to concentrate? You can listen to this post. Listen time 5:32

Babies are the most determined learners. Their survival depends on their ability to learn. Even in the face of persistent failure, they pick themselves up and try again and again until they achieve mastery. Whether it is learning to walk, talk, or grab an out-of-reach object, if they want something, they go for it. As adults, we can learn a lot from their determination.

They build memories of the joy and satisfaction of success and the discomfort and frustration, of expended effort that was not quickly rewarded with success. With their acquired knowledge and increased prowess, their memory understanding of how failure “feels” also increases. The brain has a decided preference for pain avoidance and pleasure-seeking. So, their unflappable, dogged determination eventually weakens and is replaced with a decision to stop trying earlier, to give up, to see things as “too hard.”

How can we as parents nurture their willingness to persist even in the face of failure or minimal success and help override the inclination to avoid the pain of failure by giving up—or even by not trying in the first place?

Set a Good Example

The most obvious strategy is to model persistence and resilience in our own actions. We can let our kids see us moving through the process of learning. We can allow them to see us struggle, to unmask our own cycling through failure and continued attempts. Let them see our persistence. Share our own inner mental wrestling matches so our kids can see that we too have to defeat thoughts that tell us:

      It’s too hard or I’m too tired or
     I will never be able to do this or
     I will just let someone else do it because it is easy for them.

Permit Failure

When observing our children’s efforts—and our own—remember that mastery takes time. Expertise comes through practice. Failure is essential. Failure builds a staircase to mastery and knowledge. Instead of commenting that their effort was “wrong” describe it as not having worked. Help them to appreciate the distinction between right/wrong thinking and working/not working.

Encourage a Growth Mindset

Ask questions like:

What else could you try?
What could you do differently?
What might happen if you broke it down into smaller steps?

Acknowledge Effort

Children thrive on focused parental attention and validation. When commenting on their attempts, avoid saying things like You’re so smart. Instead, mention how hard they worked. Nurturing the ability to try is far more important than telling them they are smart. Over-emphasizing their being smart can backfire. Kids can fall into a pattern of not trying because they inaccurately infer that means everything should be easy, that trying should not be necessary.

Value Persistence

Success almost always takes time and persistence. Notice and affirm effort over achievement. Being able to persist through the learning process until success occurs builds resilience and is more important than quick results.  When our comments connect to our family values, they are doubly powerful.

     Wow, I can see you are still trying! In this family, we think trying is really important.

Appreciate the joy of the Journey

We experience most of life as a journey from one experience to the next. If we hyper-focus on the destination or goal achievement, we miss the joy of the present moment, the thrill and joy of incremental success, and the satisfaction of learning for its own sake. This registers as a subtle yet persistent sense of dissatisfaction, lack of contentment, and inadequacy. This mindset is not healthy for our kids or ourselves.

Be Intentional and Adoption Attuned

These strategies are not complicated or difficult, yet they are not usually the typical default response of most parents. Remembering to use these new approaches requires intention, practice, and persistence. We get to model our own learning process for our children to see, then follow and internalize our example.

Which of these suggested steps come easily for you? How can you make them even more instinctual and automatic? Which of the steps do you find harder to follow? How will you begin to internalize them?

 

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

Learn how the coaches at GIFT Family Services can help you and your family navigate your adoption journey. We've faced our share of family challenges and crises, ridden the metaphorical rollercoaster, and our families have not only survived; they have thrived. We offer experience, neutrality, and understanding. GIFT coaches are available to present workshops 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: 5:31

 

After a long winter of confinement and challenging weather, most folks are glad to add a bit of festivity to their lives. I suspect this explains why so many people who aren’t actually Irish enjoy celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. For just one day—March 17th, everyone wants to be Irish. If not via genetics, at least by way of declaration, desire, and intent. This reflects a dual yearning: the quest for joy and happiness as well as the need for belonging and community. We’ve pondered both of these topics in previous blogs this year.

This got me thinking about how we define ourselves, our nationalities, ethnicities, and how we decide in which groups we feel as if we genuinely belong and those to which we yearn to gain entry but feel marginalized or excluded.

It is one thing to casually imagine for a holiday that we are part of an “in“ group. The quest for genuine belonging, however, is more complicated and significant. This sense of feeling welcome, being known intimately, and accepted unconditionally is more valuable than the proverbial leprechaun’s pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. As adoptive parents, we must help our children develop a healthy and integrated sense of self, enjoy membership in our families, and identify a place in their biological family story as well. We can validate their efforts to embrace an arc of connection from their roots to their current selves.

As adoptive families, we are—by definition—a blended group. We must all learn to appreciate and integrate the various strains of personality, culture, language, and race, that converge to make each of us who we are.

Unique, irreplaceable, and worthy of unconditional love.

Each of us must accomplish this as both an individual task as well as a communal family journey. The legacies passed on by our families of origin matter to each of us. Whether we are adoptive parents or adoptees. our ancestries help to shape us.

Adoption allows—compels —us to be more inclusive, more open to the enrichment that our children’s differences infuse into our family stories and legacies. Every “ingredient,” has value, influence, and significance. Our children are entitled to know —at appropriate ages — all their information and relationships.

I believe that my children—and all adult adoptees need access to their Original Birth Certificates (OBCs) and the truth which these documents can reveal to them.  My belief was reinforced by the specific experiences of both of my children. Reconnecting with their birth parents had profoundly beneficial effects on them.

In this spirit, I recently had my DNA tested via Ancestry.com, opening myself to possible contact with unknown or “unexpected” relatives. My mother was one of fourteen children and all but one of them had children of their own, so I  think the possibility is likely.

No one has “found” me, knocked on my door, sent me a letter, or forwarded an email,  yet...

On St. Patrick’s Day as we all enjoy wearing a bit of green, a festive beverage, and COVID-savvy partying, let’s also pause to consider the importance of rootedness, belonging, culture and biology. Let’s challenge ourselves to intensify our efforts to honor these influences, to notice, nurture, celebrate, and validate them for our children.

What three actions can you take to strengthen your child’s comfort, knowledge, and enjoyment of their family history and culture?

Join us in a thought experiment. When you look at this image from an Australian grower, what do you see? Look closely at its bounty of fruit. It depicts a Fruit Cocktail tree–a delightful display of the bounty that diversity creates. Each of the grafted branches remains the full expression of its own unique DNA blueprint even though it has been engrafted to a single plant. The new plant –reinvented, reconfigured, and reflecting diversity simultaneously reveals the individual truth of each component.

How might this image serve as a metaphor that offers insights to us as adoptive parents?

 

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

Learn how the coaches at GIFT Family Services can help you and your family navigate your adoption journey. We've faced our share of family challenges and crises, ridden the metaphorical rollercoaster, and our families have not only survived; they have thrived. We offer experience, neutrality, and understanding. GIFT coaches are available to present workshops on-line.

Contact us to explore this possibility: 1-800-653-9445 

 

      Read these books written by our coaches.

Listen to our podcast.

 

 


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