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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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So far this month this blog has examined several priorities for parenting success in 2020. At the risk of being overly obvious, we must consider ourselves and the relationship with our spouses/partners one of our first priorities. It is this key relationship we build between us that becomes the hub around which family relationships revolve. If this keystone weakens or fractures, families fall apart.
The strength and health of our parental partnership steadies the family throughout the vagaries of life. Our relationship as partners creates the template for our children to follow. It will shape the kind of person whom they will choose when searching for their own. It will define what is appropriate, desirable and meaningful as well as what is not.
As our children observe our interactions with our spouse/partner, they will learn about respect, mutual support, reciprocal attachment, appropriate touch, the power of values lived in day to day actions as well as the respecting, setting, and honoring personal boundaries. Children will observe the way we speak of our life-partner when they are not present. We have the chance to demonstrate integrity and respect as it lives within a relationship. We get to choose how we live and thus, we determine what our children will observe and learn.
For example, consider the concept of “loyalty to the absent.” This is revealed in how we speak about one another when our spouse/partner is not present. Are we respectful, appreciative, and supportive? Or do we demean, belittle, or invalidate them? Do we take any “cheap shots” or highlight their shortcomings as a way to make ourselves look better in our children’s eyes? Do we hold a unified team that supports one another or undermine and divide our partnership in an effort to endear ourselves to our children at the expense of our spouse/partner?
As our kids watch us, they will add to their how-to-be-a-partner template. Each observed interaction will flesh out their template with greater detail.
It will also shape their expectations of other kinds of relationships. For example, if they see us hold high standards of respect and integrity towards our partner, they can easily transfer this blueprint to other relationships.
The corollary is true as well. If they observe us being demeaning, sarcastic, or unsupportive toward our absent partner, children may also wonder if we talk and think about them as duplicitously as well. Such doubt and uncertainty do not make a steady and healthy foundation for connection and trust. In this type of two-faced model, our children may also wonder whether “nice” words we espouse towards and about their birth families are genuine or only empty lines uttered out of obligation.
If we choose to live integrity in our relationships with our partners, our family reaps great dividends: security, trust, stability, and consistency. They’ll accumulate a healthy, resilient, and steadying template for partnership and human interactions. That is a tremendous blessing and a wonderful foundation on which they can build emotional intelligence and healthy personal identity.
As you walk with your partner through 2020, how intentional, loyal, and integrous will you choose to be? How will you sustain this priority with your partner/spouse? What conversations might you choose to hold with them? With your children?
Keep in mind that while modeling healthy relationships and behaviors and living aligned with our deeply held values does not guarantee that our children will embrace them. Other influences may distract them. Previous relationship experiences and self-protecting behavior that evolved in reaction to trauma will also affect their responses as well. Keep in mind that many trauma survivors have a firmly-wired need for protection that takes priority over their need for connection. Presenting a healthy blueprint does guarantee they will follow our example. However, at the very least, our model will be in their memory banks.
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.
Read Adoption-attuned book reviews by GIFT coach, Gayle H. Swift, on her blog.
“It takes a village.” Typically, we hear this truism in reference to raising children; it might equally apply to being a community or country. When it comes to confronting disasters, it is overwhelmingly true. In fact, it takes many villages. The most recent disaster, hurricane Dorian has leveled much of the Bahamas and left more than 70,00 people homeless and their neighborhoods uninhabitable. Our guts clench as we watch in horror. We are moved to do something.
What draws us to assist others in times of crisis? Is it simply the hard knowledge that “There but for the grace of God go I?” Is it empathy? Religious conviction? Or simply fundamental human compassion? Regardless of the why, human beings are drawn to assist others when they are in trouble. We put our collective shoulders to the obstacle and press a collaborative shove.
As adoptive families, we possess unique knowledge of how to forge forward in the face of traumatic grief and loss.
We know platitudes do NOT help; they trivialize grief and loss.
Cliched phrases feel empty and invalidating. Express genuine sorrow that they are facing a crisis. Do not presume to know what they need. Ask them how you can help. Listen. Listen. Listen. Learn what they want from you and then strive to provide it.
We understand that informed and appropriate action serves best.
In a mass disaster, be sure that your efforts actually help. Verify that any person, group or agency is legitimate. (Scammers know how to tug at your heartstrings and open your wallet— for their own benefit.) Typically, the best resource you can provide is monetary. Cash donations enable aid groups to buy supplies wholesale and to distribute them where they are needed. Too often donations of material— clothing, etc—become a burden and logistical nightmare. (Read this article about how well-intended donations end up rotting, unused and impeding the delivery of aid that is desperately needed.)
Seek ways within your own family to reach out to one another with affirmation, empathy, and kindness--some of the deeply held values we yearn to instill in our children and live in our lives. As we attune better to one another, we strengthen our mutual connection and bring forth the spirit of kindness and compassion. We can expand our outreach in our local communities. Not only do we benefit personally, but also we will create ripples within our community and beyond. We can always find ways to extend a helping hand in the global community as well. There can never be too much kindness!
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"
 The original version of "ABC, Adoption & Me" was 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 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
Teaching our deeply-held values to our children is one of our most important parental tasks. It is a truism that our children learn more from our actions than our words. But children often remain oblivious to the values-based thinking that governs our actions. Instead, they hold their observations under an umbrella of that’s what parents do. They rarely ponder the reason which might have driven our decisions. In fact, they are often convinced that we decide out of meanness, spite or a general desire to make their lives miserable!
To ensure that kids get the lesson behind every choice we make, we must make the thoughts and choices visible to them and share our reasons for doing these things. Even if we feel silly or self-conscious, let's choose to do it anyway. Imparting our values is too important to leave to chance or the wavering attention of children. Here are just a few examples:
We visited Tom in the hospital because he’s our friend and we wanted him to know we care about him and value his friendship.
We’re attending this community fundraiser because we believe in their efforts to help provide food for people in need.
I’m taking this class because I always wanted to learn….
I’m working on behalf of this candidate because I think he/she will serve us well.
I recycle because it is good for the environment so you can grow up in a clean world.
Even if you get the biggest eye rolls, not only will they have seen your actions, they will understand the reasons that motivated you. Over the stretch of time, they will begin to observe a pattern of behaviors and choices that will serve as a template of values in action that they can follow.
I celebrated my birthday this month and my son gave me a pair of earrings, long dangly ones, exactly what I like. But what made them really special was they bore this tag: “100% Socially Reinvested to Transform the Lives of Women. One Bead. One Hope.” I took note of the tag line and my son said, “Yeah, well… I know you go for that kind of stuff.”
This tickled me because I do try to shop at businesses that make a difference. And my son noticed.
Perhaps our kids will embrace the same values or causes that we hold dear. Perhaps not. But if we allow them to become aware of how we live a values-based life, they will recognize the importance of values as our guiding compass.
One of our family values is “to be a contribution.” As I try to teach this value to my little grandson, I talk about how important it is to be a helper. He now understands that we value helpfulness. Yet he has not fully learned the many ways one can be helpful. Our job is to teach them how to be helpful:
Thank you for getting your plate out of the cabinet, that was helpful.
Thank you for getting my water shoes out of my closet. You are a helper!
It is also important and effective to point out the ways in which we help them. This further expands the ways in which helpfulness occurs and it increases their awareness and appreciation for the ways we help them. This in turn highlights the warm feelings which we/they experience when someone helps them. A win/win for all of us!
I found the toy car you lost and I put it on your shelf. I feel happy when I help you.
I fixed your bicycle tire; you can ride it again. I enjoy watching you ride it.
Another benefit of intentionally making our values visible is that it brings them to consciousness. We automatically become more aware of them andwhen we succeed or fail to live them well. Our actions become more aligned with our intentions and our children become more immersed in our values.
Choose one core value to focus on this week. How will you exemplify it? How will your children be able to experience it? How will you help them to live it within their own actions?
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.