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

Listen to our podcast.

Read these books written by our coaches.

While waiting to become a parent, I spent some time ruminating on the way my own parents raised me. After I became a parent the challenges of parenting became real. I developed some empathy for them and an appreciation of their motives and intentions. I realized how complicated parenting is and that enabled me to now see my parents with grace and insight. I could forgive them for not being perfect.

I hoped that my children, once they became adults, would grant me a similar grace, understanding, and acceptance.

Now that you are an adult, you realize that your parents’ choices influenced how you bonded to them and whether or not you enjoyed—or continue to share— a good relationship.

Parenting choices matter through the lens of time. They create a legacy between parent and child. If you felt seen, heard, understood, and valued, they succeeded as parents. Your connection with them is likely one of mutual respect, trust, and affection. Or perhaps, their parenting choices left you feeling invalidated, controlled, judged, and inadequate. If that is the case, it probably has led you to maintain a distant relationship based on obligation and duty. Or sadly, you may have felt it necessary to cut all ties with them.

As I’ve written many times, in this blog, adoptive parenting is like bio parenting but in the dark while hurtling along at a hundred miles an hour. There are more factors to blend, more relationships to juggle, and more wounds to heal. One thing we share with other parents is an intention to build a life-long loving attachment as a family. We hope—we trust—that once they achieve adulthood, our children will choose to stay in a relationship with us. This will happen if that parent/child relationship enriches the quality of their lives.

Adopted kids are exactly like kids raised by their biological parents in one significant way: once they are adults, they make their own life decisions. They will choose what to do, where to go, and whom to include along the way.

Once an adoptee achieves adulthood, they take the reins of their lives. They will decide whom to hold close, whom to hold at arm’s length, and whom they need to remove from their lives. If adoptive parents have attuned well to their child, recognized adoption complexity, validated their child’s balancing of nature and nurture, and encouraged them to be genuinely themselves, their child is likely going to cherish their relationship with their adoptive family and choose to be invested in it. When all is said and done, will they choose to include us in their adult lives?

If we have expected them to get comfortable with the idea that they can erase their birth family out of their lives without a backward glance, do not be surprised if sometime in the future they decide to reverse that decision. You may be the ones left out of the picture.

As an adoption coach, it is essential that I listen with an open mind and heart to many perspectives. The central and most knowledgeable source of information on adoption is that of adult adoptees. After all, they live adoption 24/7. One of the persistent and saddest themes that reverberate in adoptee forums is that the adoptive parents never saw the real them. Instead, their parents—by subtle and overt expectation —required the adoptee to suppress their own aptitudes, personalities, and interests and subordinate them to the adoptive family’s vision of who they ought to be.

Many adoptees report that their adoptive parents required them to stuff their real selves to conform to the established pattern of their adoptive family—whether it suited the adoptee or not. Adulthood provided them their first opportunity to be genuinely themselves—to be who they felt drawn to be, to pursue their own interests, and explore their innate identity.

Too often, the only way adult adoptees can find the freedom and breathing space to become their genuine selves is by terminating their relationship with their adoptive parents. This decision to opt for a repeat of the fracture of family ties is not taken lightly. Yet adult adoptees say sometimes cutting ties is essential to their mental and physical health. Adoptees that opt for estrangement do not do so cavalierly; they see this extreme choice as their only option.

Estrangement can happen because the adoptive family chose not to make space —at least emotionally and psychically, if not physically — to support their child’s need, desire to embrace both their adoptive family relationships along with their birth family relationships. Sometimes an adoptive family insists/insisted that the adoptee holds the adoptive family as their only Real family. While the adoptive family may not express this expectation in literal words, they convey their demand in powerful ways which the adult adoptee clearly receives: Us or Them. Not both.

Adoptive parents who try to parent as if they are the sole significant force in their child’s growth and development will find this approach imperils healthy relationships and impedes genuine connection.

Parents who viewed their child’s connection to their birth family as unimportant and dispensable may be surprised to discover that their adult child may choose this same strategy to eliminate the adoptive family from their adult lives. On the other hand, if adoptive parents carved space for Both/And regarding their child’s two families, they may reasonably expect that this inclusiveness will continue once the adopted adult controls whom they will include in their lives.

Research has clearly demonstrated that adopted persons need all the pieces of their story—from conception through birth, adoption, and throughout their lives. They also need all their significant relationships both birth and adoptive. It is unreasonable and unhealthy for adoptive parents to live as if birth relationships don’t matter: They do. DNA is real, influential, and potent. Its influence cannot be erased by an adoption decree.

As you hold your child in your arms, consider how your validation of your whole child now will influence how they value their relationship with you in the future. When you make your parenting decisions, they will form an important part of the legacy you leave them.

As parents, we strive for our children to know that we had their best interests at heart. A healthy relationship is reciprocal, mutually enriching, and respectful. We want to build a relationship that will allow our children to welcome us with open arms and value us as an important part of their lives." Be intentional. Parent in a way that your children will want you in their adult lives.

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 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 

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 6:04

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.


GIFT, Growing Intentional Families Together, adoption

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