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"
 Augsberger, David, Caring Enough to Hear and Be Heard, Regal Books, 1982
The coaches at GIFT Family Services are passionate about creating and identifying resources for adoptees and their families. We consider books an effective communication tool for adoptive families. Over the years, we have compiled an extensive collection of book reviews. Books provide an important resource to adoptees, parents, teachers, etc. They provide insight, introduce models that families can use or adapt, establish a sense of commonality and reduce feelings of isolation, reassure and offer hope. Books in the family library can be accessed by both children and adults when they feel the need or interest. Reading them together joins parent and child in a shared experience and can open important dialog. Adoption can be a tricky, sensitive and complicated topic which books can help initiate, structure, and explore.
We are pleased to introduce three brand new books written by some of our coaches. As both professionals and as adoptive parents our authors understand the topic and the needs of children and their parents. Our now-adult children offered insight, feedback, and encouragement. They helped create these books because they understand how much they are needed and how they wish that such resources had been available to them as they grappling with the ramifications of adoption. Two of these books are for children and one is for adults. Consider adding them to your family adoption bookshelf. Ask your local library to include it in their collection as well.
Reimagining Adoption: What Adoptees Seek from Families and Faith by Sally Ankerfelt, M. Div., Gayle H. Swift, CPC
As certified coaches, cofounders of GIFT family services, and as adoptive parents, the authors bring a unique blend of professional skills and personal experience with adoption to their book. Sally is a Lutheran minister and Gayle is an award-winning author. This combination of education and experience provides them with a robust perspective on the issue. They see beyond the cultural mythology and understand the practical reality that challenges adoptees, their families and the people who support them. They infuse this knowledge into an examination of adoption practice and on forging ways to improve it. "Reimagining Adoption: What Adoptees Seek from Families and Faith" aligns personal experience, trauma research, expert insights, and adoptee interviews into adoption-attuned strategies that support adoptees and their families. They infuse this knowledge into a reimagining of adoption practice inside and outside the church.
The book is intended for anyone who is interested in understanding adoption through the lens of faith as well as how congregations can grow in support of adoptees and their families. One thing that makes the book powerful is that adoptee interviews form the basis of the book. The authors heard from many adoptees how their faith has been challenged because of what people in their congregations and some family members have told them. For example: "It was God's will." "We were meant to be together." "You should feel lucky you were adopted."
Reimagining Adoption is a resource that is both practical and visionary, one that understands the history as well as the current needs of adoptees and their families. This Adoption-attuned approach will help families build a deeply connected life together, a fundamental goal of every adoptive family.
Kids need to see themselves in the books they read. We're Adopted, So What? tells the story of a diverse group of girls and the complex emotions and thoughts that often come with being adopted. Aimed at middle-schoolers, it strives to help adoptees grapple with and discuss their adoption-connected thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
Being a teenager is tough enough. When you factor in the complexities and challenges of being adopted, it is exponentially harder. This graphic-style book, "We're Adopted. So What?" features five teen girls who share a huge thing in common: each of them was adopted. This shared experience draws them together yet the distinctions between their experiences are as unique as their personalities. Feisty, fun and outspoken, the girls tackle some tough topics. They share their thoughts and feelings about adoption, how it shapes their world and relationships, creates challenges, burdens them with curiosity, frustration, anger, and grief, and shows how they strive to blend together their biological and their adoptive worlds.
Open adoption has become the norm for most contemporary domestic adoptions yet questions and complications still remain for adoptees and their families. How can all these people cooperate to create healthy, supportive relationships that best support adoptees? How does a young adoptee balance their dual loyalties and connections? How do they weave the spectrum of their feelings, challenges, and experiences into a cohesive identity?
We now recognize that connection to, and respect for, an adopted child's biological roots is integral to an adoptee's ability to successfully unify their dual heritage. Still, the concept of openness remains shrouded in apprehension, confusion, and curiosity. How is it possible for a child to have two sets of parents involved in their lives? Against this backdrop of openness, how do teens in international or "traditional closed" adoptions, feel about and deal with their lack of connection with birth families?
This book overflows with practical suggestions for how to navigate the constantly changing seas that adoptees face. The influences of DNA are forever, just as the influence of the adoptive family's nurturing will permanently shape the child worlds. The process is complicated and can be difficult to articulate. This book provides a way to spark these important conversations with families or friends. It validates and renders compassionate witness to the adoptee experience.
ABC, Adoption & Me (REVISED & REILLUSTRATED The original version of this book launched in 2013. It earned many awards and adoptive families reported that it genuinely helped them explore and discuss adoption with their littles, in a way that kids felt supported and that also deepened their connection. Using the familiar framework of an alphabet book, it introduces a range of adoption-connected concepts, from the very simple such as "B is for bellybutton. Everyone has one." to "R is for real. My birth parents and my adoptive parents are all real. I'm a real kid and we are a real family."
ABC, Adoption & Me (REVISED & REILLUSTRATED allows parents to plant seeds of understanding which they can expand over the years in age-appropriate ways. This revised version reflects the latest in professional understanding of the complexity of adoption, the challenges of young adoptees, and the conversations and strategies that draw families in support of one another. Wesley Blauvelt’s evocative illustrations are compelling. The illustrations in this revised version of ABC reflect a more nuanced emotional tone and better capture adoption complexity. We hope you agree! Includes a Parent Guide.
Listen to our podcasts on Adoption-attuned Parenting.
Read other Adoption-attuned book reviews by GIFT coach, Gayle H. Swift, on her blog "Writing to Connect"
 Named a Favorite Read of 2013 by Adoptive Families, (the award-winning national adoption magazine.) Named a Notable Picture Book for 2013 by Shelf Unbound in their Dec/Jan 2014 issue; Honorable Mention - Gittle List of 2014; Finalist; IPNE 2014 Book Awards (Independent Publishers of New England), Honorable Mention 2014 Purple Dragonfly Book Award
The 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 a 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?
Read Adoption-attuned book reviews by GIFT coach, Gayle H. Swift, on her blog "Writing to Connect.
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.
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 becomes a conflagration. Denial endangers us. It is not our friend. Action is. We can become the shield that 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!
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"
Here in Florida, the Parkland community is reeling from the recent deaths by suicide of two student survivors of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas School massacre which occurred on Feb. 14, 2018. On the heels of that double tragedy, the father of one of the first-graders murdered during the Sandy Hook Massacre succumbed to the weight of his grief and took his life this past weekend.
Such is the weight of trauma and unbounded grief.
Adoptees commit suicide at four times the rate of non-adopted persons.Such is the weight of trauma and unrecognized or invalidated adoptee grief.
For too long, adoption has been considered totally benign, a perfect solution that solved a three-sided problem (a mother unable to parent, prospective parents in search of a child, and a child in need of a family). Adoption provided a fairytale ending for all.
Except that the reality is far more complex than this idealized, sanitized version. Without exception, adoption is rooted in loss. Unless those losses are acknowledged, appreciated and voiced, great emotional harm can be inflicted on those whom adoption purports to benefit. As Intentional Parents we must have the courage and compassion to help our kids by creating space for this reality in our hearts, minds, and conversations. We must talk with our children about the dualities in adoption. Reassure them that we understand that adoption brought our greatest joy but that for them adoption is a two-edged sword. It provided them a family that loves and cherishes them but before our families could be created, their original families had to be broken. For our children adoption will always include a degree of loss and grief.
If we do not acknowledge this reality, if we expect total allegiance to us and total severance of their affection, connection, and interest in their birth families, if we live as if adoption is a fairy tale, we burden our children with the weight of unacknowledged grief. When they cannot share the weight of their grief and distribute it across the shoulders of family who love them, adoptees can be overwhelmed by it. Left to shoulder their grief, fear, loneliness, rejection, and sense of isolation many will turn to suicide as a way to achieve relief.
Adoptive parents must have the courage, compassion, and attunement to hold adoption complexity, to steep themselves in a Both/And reality that allows our children to express their emotions—all of them—not just the easy, positive ones, but also the heavier, more devastating and scary ones. We can rise to the challenge of adopted parenthood, embrace the ambiguous losses and lean on one another. The truth of adoption is not rainbows and unicorns but it can be about coming together to love one another through a complex reality that makes room for multiple connections, emotions, and truths. Denying these complexities isolates our kids and increases the likelihood that they will be crushed by the weight of their grief. That is a price too high to pay and must be avoided at all cost.
Check out these additional Adoption-attuned resources!
Listen to our podcasts on Adoption-attuned Parenting.
Read these book reviews by GIFT coach, Gayle H. Swift. They are written with an Adoption-attuned perspective.
Keyes MA, Malone SM, Sharma A, Iacono WG, McGue M. Risk of suicide attempt in adopted and nonadopted offspring. Pediatrics. 2013;132(4):639-46.
Sally: 612-203-6530 | Susan: 541-788-8001 | Joann: 312-576-5755 | Gayle: 772-285-9607