Christmas observances have taken center stage and much of the world celebrates the birth of baby Jesus. The religious significance of the Nativity coexists with the universal emotion of joy surrounding the miracle of birth. Except ...
Except in the case of adoption. Certainly, there is great joy but... adoption is so emotionally complicated. Once again we enter the both/and paradigm which permeates adoption. A birth mother certainly experiences joy and sorrow, wonder and fear, awe and heartbreak-- all these emotions and more when her child is born. She also experiences, grief, uncertainty and an inability to undertake the responsibility of raising her child. And thus, she chooses adoption for her baby. (In some unfortunate cases, she is pressured into making this choice. We'll address that appalling practice in another blog.).
As adoptive parents we also experience ambivalence. Regardless of how we came to choose adoption as our pathway to parenting, we rejoice over the prospect of welcoming a child to our families. As Adoption-attuned Parents* we acknowledge that our exquisite joy is rooted in significant loss for our child and his birth parents. This awareness shapes our parenting. Yes, adoption was the event for which we prayed. But for them, adoption exacted a price which we must never deny. (We must not intensify their losses by expecting them to forget birth parents and biological roots which will always be a part of them. Just as we can love all our children, adoptees can love and value all of their relationships. Open adoption mitigates these losses but does not eliminate them.)
If we look at Christmas through our child's eyes, what will we see? belief The dazzle of glitter and glitz? The excitement of splendid gifts, holiday celebrations, and festive foods? The comfort and wonder of religious belief that reveres this birth? Probably all of these. And for an adoptee, there may be more, a lot more.
Whether or not an adoptee is Christian, Christmas may also trigger strong emotions about her own birth and may stir questions about why her birth parents chose adoption. This may awaken intense feelings, e.g., inadequacy, rejection, and perfection. If (when) these emotions arise, kids may find it difficult to discuss them. As Adoption-attuned Parents, we know it is imperative to discuss these thoughts even if we find it awkward to introduce the topic. We must find a way to raise the topic and reassure our children that we welcome ALL of their thoughts and emotions.
Amid the flurry and holiday hubbub, it isn't easy to ask our kiddos if they are wrestling with dark thoughts.
Asking them directly may result in a dead end. Most likely they'd deny it and/or resist the invitation to discuss it. This resolves nothing, only stuffs their confusion and worry about where they can fester and create emotional havoc.
So what is a parent to do? Books can offer the perfect pathway. (They need not be about adoption. In fact, some kids might be more responsive if it isn't.) Consider books about the arrival of "a" new baby. These offer an easy gateway to talking about a child's own birth story. It might also trigger conversations about their adoption story or an interest in revisiting their Life Book* (Read our earlier blog about life books.
Writing to Connect reviewed four books parents can use to recall and celebrate a child's birthday. They celebrate birth with an aura of joy, awe, and delight. Read the reviews.,
Final of a 4 part series examining the promise of faith communities as sources of healing and connection and GIFT coaches, Sally Ankerfelt and Susan David’s recent presentation at the 2015 ATTACh Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
To bring you up to speed in this 4 Part series:
Week 1 discussed the promise of faith communities as healers and connectors, perhaps even more than we think.
Week 2 noted that faith communities at their best – through worship services, rituals, community outreach, even the physical presence of the building -- are designed to improve areas of our lives and develop coherent healthy systems that foster emotional well-being.
Week 3 highlighted that despite the promise and potential of faith communities to heal and connect, it sometimes falls short because it seeks to influence its congregants. A paradigm shift from influence to integration is needed if congregants are to feel accepted and loved. This is especially true for those families dealing with inconsistency and trauma in their lives.
Today: How would it be for congregants to experience God’s love through our relationship with them, by focusing on acceptance and belonging rather than influence?
This week Susan and I offer some suggestions that can shift our faith communities away from influence and toward integration. These are specific integration adaptations that you can begin to discuss and work to implement with your own faith communities. This process may be a slow one but it need not happen overnight. Some suggestions may fit and others not but as coaches we know that even a small change can yield big results. In our opinion, continuing to educate the congregation on the need for acceptance and belonging as a way to heal and connect is vital. More importantly, a paradigm shift from influence to relationship will create a change that can take root and grow for years to come.
Faith Communities as a Source of Healing and Connection: What You Can Do list:
Examples: Confession and Forgiveness- Here we let go of our disappointments and failures of the week, trusting in God’s ability to ‘remember our sins no more’ so our here-and-now will not be clouded by our past and our future can be open to possibility.
Service of the Word – Hearing God’s love and guidance and listening to the Word, we find meaning in our experiences and move forward with faith and confidence.
Prayers- Together we lift up our joys and concerns. By doing so, we grow as a God-formed community and we are reminded that we are not alone.
Hymns- Singing Together reminds us that we all have a place in the choir; we all are important to the Body of Christ in our own, unique way. Christ’s body in this world is enhanced through our collective voices.
-Safe and healthy congregation training
-traditional Sunday school vs. relational Sunday school with an explicit emphasis on connection rather than curriculum
-base curriculum on the five Intelligences, providing a variety of learning styles (rotational Sunday school sometimes works well)
-Consider multigenerational Sunday school where children can receive more personal attention.
-Put something like a “Trauma Tidbits” article in each newsletter that begins to educate the general membership.
-Seek out as much information about a child as possible concerning learning and behavioral support needs, asking parent what is effective, what constitutes contacting them for support, etc. (i.e. screening interview)
-Have an “angel helper” or trained “floater” or “mediator” who is knowledgeable in trauma behaviors and can help.
-Special needs classes and rooms
-Have a leadership and Sunday school leader training on the basics of trauma and the congregation’s philosophy (based on the mission statement) on behaviors and responses.
-Create a plan for teachers so that they will feel both supported and equipped to respond to a behavior challenge.
Interested in speaking to Susan or Sally?
Call for a thirty-minute consultation.
Part 3 of a 4 Part series examining the promise of faith communities as sources of healing and connection and GIFT coaches’, Sally Ankerfelt and Susan David’s recent presentation at the 2015 ATTACh Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
If faith communities are sources of healing and connection, why don’t I feel that way? Sound familiar?
Something is going on between what is really happening in our faith communities and this ideal coherent integrated faith community that offers unconditional love and acceptance. It is an ongoing tension between influence on the one hand and acceptance and love on the other. To heal and connect our congregations so that they can truly be what we think and have heard others ask for in a faith community requires a paradigm shift.
Last week we talked about developing the areas of integration and promoting a healthy, coherent system that promotes well-being. And beyond that, Andrew Solomon, in his book, Far from the Tree, speaks about the need for those with extraordinary children, children who fall out of what would be considered “normal” to some, to have a community in which they belong and are loved and accepted. He identifies that many families and communities in which people live are structured vertically. They have a “passing down” structure. It is natural for us to have our children to want to have certain values, behave in certain ways, and love certain things. When this does not happen or our child is so different from us, there can be struggle and tension.
Solomon also mentions faith communities as often being primarily vertical. We seek to pass down the faith to the next generation, teach certain beliefs and instill a certain moral stance to our children. We have expectations of behavior and rites of passage to be met like confirmations and bar and bat mitzvah. In the Lutheran church, we have Luther’s catechism that we want to teach to our children. In our baptismal service, we say, we hope that the child will grow “in faith, love, and obedience to the will of God.” That is not unlike other faith communities and of course, a very natural tendency.
This natural tendency toward vertical identity creates a tension for faith communities because for families whose children fall outside of the norm, they need more of a horizontal community, one that emphasizes acceptance and belonging.
Andrew Root, seminary professor, youth director and author, in Relationships Unfiltered, admits that even though it is our best intentions, we often miss the mark because we are preoccupied with passing down the faith, getting new members, making model citizens, etc. This kind of motivation leads to a fracture or broken belonging. Root admits that the faith community might fall short because it seeks to influence first. Though it is often times relational, its primary goal is to INFLUENCE. So what Susan and I are proposing here is that similar to an individual, the faith community can think about and learn to act in such a way that understands building relationship as a source of comfort and healing as the primary focus and not simply to influence.
What we need is not the influence or the teachings but our immediate needs of wanting to be understood, accepted, and loved. In the community’s mindset, in their belief system, in their behavior there needs to be a systemic shift in the interaction of the faith community that is about integrating heart, soul, mind, brain and relationship. SO what does that look like? As members of a faith community grappling with trauma ”disturbances”, if we were connected, open, harmonious, engaged, receptive, emergent, noetic, compassionate and empathic (a COHERENT System), would we not be a community integrated in love? That sounds a little like unconditional love, doesn’t it? And we’d ask you further, does that not sound like how faith communities profess Divine love – God’s love – to be? Imagine how this would be, then for them to experienced God’s love, through our relationship with them.
How might this shift challenge us?
Join us next week as we offer some suggestions that can shift our faith communities away from influence and toward integration. We will discuss specific integration adaptations that you can begin to discuss and work to implement with your own faith communities.