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?

 

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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 on-line.

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

 

      Read these books written by our coaches.

Listen to our podcast.

 

 

Feeling short of time or finding it difficult to concentrate? You can listen to this post. Listening time: 5:49

Yearning to Belong: the Quest to Feel at Home

Winter has arrived. Even here in South Florida temperatures have plummeted! Our instinct to hunker down drives us to turn to home for shelter, warmth, and safety. Home and family provide a reassuring sense of belonging. Home is far more than the physical structure in which we live; it is the interwoven relationships that provide physical and emotional sanctuary. When life overwhelms or circumstances challenge us, we look for this safe space. This kind of unconditional belonging is a fundamental human need.

When Sally Ankerfelt and I were writing What Adoptees Seek from Families and Faith, we interviewed many adult adoptees. . If we choose to listen, the insights and wisdom of adult adoptees can help us to be better parents, reduce the adoption-connected pain and trauma that our children might experience, and nurture a comforting sense of belonging in our families.

Each of their stories described a unique, individual narrative. Collectively they revealed some consistent themes. The most common theme was their profound yearning to belong, to feel that soul-deep sense of being "at home."

This powerful need to belong was often paired with a painful awareness that they no longer “belonged” in their birth families. Most viewed their separation from their first family as rejection— one which they felt in a deeply personal way. Regardless of the justifications, pressures,  heartbreaking factors, or “valid” reasons that propelled their mothers’ decision to choose adoption, adoptees felt anguish. As youths,  they struggled to parse the painful reality that their mothers had been unable to find a way to make space for them in their lives. (Many continue to wrestle with the pain of this rejection throughout their adult lives.)

Many adoptees reported that they never quite fit in with their adoptive families. The underlying fear of precipitating a repetition of their first families’ rejections motivated adoptees to try to morph into whom they believed their adoptive parents wanted them to be.

They never quite measured up to the expectations of their adoptive parents nor could they ever quite embody the child their adoptive parents had fantasized in their imaginations. It is impossible to compete with a dream.

Sadder still, many adoptees reported that they felt obligated to suppress their true selves, to subordinate their natural interests and abilities, and instead to follow the historic family patterns, interests, and paths that their adoptive family had followed for generations. Thus, they were simultaneously not quite themselves and not quite who their parents dreamed. They did not fully feel "at home" in either their adoptive families or their birth families. Their sense of belonging remained elusive.

In this month that is often associated with love and sweetness, let us ponder some important questions:

How are we nurturing our children’s authentic selves?

How are we affirming and validating the realities of their life experiences?

How are we sharing conversations about important conversations— even if awkward or difficult?

How can we help our children to experience a secure sense of belonging in our families?

 

I saw a post on Facebook which offered a powerful suggestion: when someone comes to us, e.g., our children, ask them this question. Do you want me to listen or offer solutions? This simple question places the trajectory of the conversation firmly in the hands of the person/child who sought us out. It empowers them to define what they want from us. They set the parameters, not us. They don’t have to adjust to our instincts, they can assert their own and make a clear request. This is empowering. This sense of agency is healing and is one of the elements that build a sense of belonging. This also helps to diminish any learned helplessness and affirm their capacity to problem solve and feel capable of meeting life's challenges. When parents "come to the rescue" too quickly or too often, kids internalize a powerful belief in their own lack of capability. This diminished sense of self reinforces feelings of shame, rejection, difference, and chips away at their sense of security, belonging, and feeling at home.

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.

Feeling short of time or finding it difficult to concentrate? You can listen to this post. Listening time:  6:21

November features National Adoption Awareness Month (#NAAM).

One thing 2020 has taught us: truly valuable things in life have no price tag. The things that genuinely matter are priceless: family, friends, health, companionship, security. As we observe the holidays, we do well to remember it is not the gifts we purchase but what is in our hearts that matters most.

This holiday season will be unlike any we have known in our lifetimes. 2020 has proven to be a game-changer in innumerable ways and our holidays will certainly be shaped by the pandemic realities. Our connections and celebrations may be mostly digital instead of in-person. Many of us have lost loved ones to the pandemic and their absence will be keenly felt. Still,  the core message of the holidays remains unaltered by circumstance, distance, or travail: live by the Golden Rule; seek peace; practice generosity, respect, goodwill, and compassion for others; and be a good neighbor.

As High AQ adoptive parents, we choose to parent with Intention so we commit to an additional tenet: Adoption Attunement. This relationship system honors the complex puzzle of adoption gains and losses. It moves beyond the proverbial “happily ever after story” and advances a more inclusive perspective; adoption creates not a completely benign solution, but one which includes real loss and challenges as well. Parents who embrace Adoption Attunement and commit to developing a high “AQ,” (Adoption Attunement quotient) know that by acknowledging the hard stuff with their kids, they can then become the safe harbor to which their children can turn for support, affirmation, security, and love. This attunement is an invaluable gift.

In the tumult of the holiday frenzy, we intentionally find ways to connect with our children. We know their expectations and emotions run high and deep and we actively engage in ways that support and reassure them.

We share important conversations that address adoption reality— no matter how awkward, uncomfortable, or difficult for us because our children need to know we are the strong shoulders on which they can lean and the source of strength on which they can draw. Such conversations cannot be forced or imposed. Our children simply must be confident that we genuinely welcome these discussions.

Although most adoptions are “open” this is not a binary experience; it is a spectrum of openness, contact, and emotional welcome. Openness is both a way of interacting and it is also a frame of mind as well as a setting of the heart. Such openness cannot be “faked.” It arises from an unconditional love for our kids that recognizes and supports their needs. Our children need to know that we are “all in”, that openness is not a burden or an obligation but an expression of our love and our awareness that openness benefits our children.

Whether their adoption is open or closed, adopted children will surely have thoughts and complex feelings about their first parents. Some children will ruminate more intently and more frequently, others perhaps less so. Parents can respond with open minds and hearts and listen to them without refutation or an effort to minimize or dismiss their words and feelings. Resist any temptation to speak ill of their birth parents. Instead, respond to the emotions our children express— sadness, regret, yearning, anger, etc. Affirm and validate their experience and remember, just like we can have strong emotions about family life that we share with friends, we don’t want our friends to speak ill of our family members.  We want them to support us through the challenge of the moment. This is also what our children seek from us. Ultimately, we want to build healthy, inclusive, honest relationships and not to stockpile ammunition for shooting one another down.

Conversations like this don’t “just happen.” We must build a reality-based sense that we want to listen to them, that we are strong enough to hear hard truths, that we love our children enough to support their need for the presence of their first families in their thoughts, hearts, and conversations. We bless our children when we free them of the false belief they must choose between loving and needing us and loving and needing their first families. Meeting our children’s needs in this way builds trust, deepens connection, and nurtures attachment.

This is joy. This is grace. This is unconditional love. This is Adoption Attunement.

     
            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 podcasts.

Feeling short of time or finding it difficult to concentrate? You can listen to this post. Listen time 7:39

At the risk of sounding like Captain Obvious: our lives have been totally blown off their normal courses. Covid-19 realigned our lives, redefined our social interactions, upended our educational systems, shuttered businesses, destroyed jobs, sickened millions, and killed 190+ thousands of Americans. Of the many “costs” exacted by the virus, one of the devastating is the loss of community.

Human beings evolved as social animals. Our DNA engineered us to seek out connection. In fact, human survival depends upon it. In adoption circles, our previous interest and appreciation of the importance of building connection have focused on attachment, on healing the wounds of kids whose fear of connection outstripped their biological need for it. We recognized the tragedy of this emotional Catch-22.

We know connection is life-affirming and life-sustaining for infants and children. In fact, it is pivotal for all of us. We recognize and feel the strain that the current limitations on in-person connection and physical touch are exacting. Our bodies crave tactile and proprioceptive input. We miss it, yearn for it, and suffer from its presence.

Zoom and other similar formats of on-line gathering are valuable alternatives but they most certainly are not the Real Deal. Looking at an image of someone sending us a hug simply can’t equate to receiving that physical embrace, of inhaling the scent of a loved one, friend or simply being together in the same time and space…

Still, when it comes to social interaction, something is better than nothing. Create opportunities for everyone in the family to engage with others. Remember the joy of receiving a letter? Why not restart the habit of letter writing? Introduce kids to the practice. Have them write notes, share artwork— especially with grandparents who are especially vulnerable to isolation and social deprivation. Create videos and fiddle with apps that alter them in fun and silly ways. They’ll learn skills and have fun at the same time.

Stage puppet shows or plays and engage the family in the “production” My grandson increases his “audience” with his favorite stuffed toys. (We find they are a very patient and accepting group of fans!)

In this blog, we frequently encourage parents to be Intentional especially when it comes to initiating Difficult Conversations. The thoughts, feelings, and fears with which we are all wrestling do not disappear simply because we don’t discuss or share them. Help kids cope by opening conversations with prompts like “I-wonder-if-you-are_____(thinking, thinking, worrying, etc.) Be intentional in your efforts to attune to their thoughts, feelings, moods, fears, and unspoken fears.

In age-appropriate ways, share some of the things with which you are wrestling and then mention some of your coping strategies for dealing with these challenges.

We cannot opt for silence, blind eyes to create taboo topics. If we do not discuss these challenging topics with our kids, other sources will fill the vacuum, other voices will provide the answers, other sources will provide the moral compass. The current times call for courage in many forms— the courage to take a stand, courage to be a voice, the courage to listen. Adoptive parents must also have the courage to listen to things that might make us feel uncomfortable, inadequate, sad, or guilty. Our kids’ experience of adoption does not exactly match our experience.

As we’ve mentioned many times previously, adoption was the answer to our prayer. For our children, however, it was a double-edged sword that delivered them into a new family but first separated them from their biological family. That loss is undeniable, permanent, and a tragedy for them. Regardless of the reasons that caused/justified the adoption, it creates a traumatic interruption in the natural trajectory of their life, that transfers them from one reality into an entirely new one and that holds a lifetime of other possibilities that could have been true, echoes and ghosts of what if’s to which there is no total resolution.

In addition to the importance of parents mustering the strength to listen to our kid's struggles, to validate and not minimize, we must ensure them that they are not responsible for sheltering us from the discomfort that their revelations might stir within us. They are the children; we are the adults. We are responsible and capable of managing tough stuff, theirs, and our own. We must turn to other adult sources for our support so we can be fully available to our children as a source of loving adult support. We must absolutely ensure that we are not "dumping" any of the weight of our adult struggles on our children. This is an aspect of Adoption Attunement we must accomplish for both our own emotional needs as well as the emotional needs of our children.

I would also assert that it is vital that we help our children find a community of other adoptees with whom they can experience the healing power that emerges from connecting with others who are walking a similar journey in life as adoptees. As parents, we can not fully understand what it is to walk through life as an adoptee. One aspect of Adoption Attunement is recognizing their need for community with their adopted peers that we cannot provide. Engaging with others who are also adoptees makes them feel less alone, less different, less left out. The need to belong is deep and powerful. Finding a community where we "fit" is a great blessing for parents as well as children.

                        GIFT, Growing Intentional Families Together, adoption
 
            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 podcasts.

Feeling short of time or finding it difficult to concentrate? You can listen to this post. Listen time 7:11

Parents-need-to-handle-own-tough-stuff

Families follow a core set of values that governs their priorities, shapes their belief system, and guides their behaviors. (We’ve blogged about the process of being intentional in defining these core values.)

GIFT Family Services also has a guiding set of principles and beliefs that inform all of our coaching and writing: our Adoption Philosophy (posted on our website) and Adoption Attunement (AQ) form the 16 Core Tenets. These two pillars establish the lenses, through which we explore adoption-related topics. They inform our blogs, podcasts, webinars, and posts on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and Pinterest.

Today’s blog will focus on number 14:  “Parents handle their own stuff.” Our own  “stuff”? What might this be? (Let’s stipulate that adoptive parents love their children even while they acknowledge the lack of biological connection. This love does not erase the reality that adoption builds family through a connection of the heart affirmed by legal sanction, not through biology. (For the entire list of the Elements of Adoption Attunement (AQ), see the graphic at the end of this post. Feel free to copy and share.)

Infertility Most— but not all— adoptive parents choose adoption because of infertility issues that render pregnancy impossible.  Once we accepted this reality of infertility, we reformed our goal from pregnancy to adoption. But, adoption does not cure infertility. Nor does it erase any of the memories of monthly cycles of hope followed by crushing despair. Our minds and our bodies recall the emotions fueled by hormonal storms and other personal struggles associated with infertility. These echoes of the pain, sadness, and resentment of infertility create results that are both significant and permanent.

We cannot know the intimacy of carrying our child, ensuring that we care for them as carefully as possible until their birth. We cannot enjoy murmuring conversations with our unborn offspring, silently affirming our joy at their existence sharing our hopes and aspirations for them.

We cannot conceive a child that blends aspects of ourselves and our partners, the penultimate, tangible expression of marriage in which two become one.

We cannot create a child who shares our DNA; the flow of our family lineage is interrupted, the continuity broken.

Without doubt, these alterations evoke an emotional response within us, one which we do well to explore, understand, accept, and which we must resolve.” If we do not, emotional repercussions will reverberate through our relationships with our children. Buried and unacknowledged feelings eventually erupt— usually with damaging ferocity—and at the worst times.

This is not a relationship strategy that we want to model for our children. We want to show them that it is important to face whatever issues they find challenging. We must convey to our children that we are capable of managing our own feelings, that it is not their responsibility to hide or minimize their adoption-connected thoughts and feelings in order to shelter our hearts from sadness.

If our kids are overly focused on caretaking our emotions, they will be stuffing, denying, or minimizing their own. Instead of being able to turn to us as a sounding board to explore their own complex feelings and as a source of comfort and security, they will struggle to handle them alone. Children lack the experience skillsets and perspective that adults have. Their ability to manage complex grief and loss is not yet strong enough. They need us as parents to provide that safe harbor. They need to be able to believe that we are capable of hearing difficult stuff without falling apart emotionally ourselves.

If we feel overwhelmed or challenged by the emotions, grief, and loss connected with infertility or adoption complexity we must not burden our children with the weight of them or the shadows they cast. We must attune to our own needs with the same intentionality that we strive to attune to our children’s needs. We must find a qualified adoption-attuned professional to help us cope and to ensure that we have handled “our stuff” and thus, are fully available to our children to help them handle theirs. We will all be healthier, happier, and more authentic in our relationships with each other.

Finances— Infertility and adoption are both inextricably entangled with finances. We must be careful not to overextend our financial stability as we pursue the dream of conception and/or adoption. It is equally important that we remain true to the highest ethical standards when we engage in family-building strategies. We cannot allow our hunger to be parents to blind us to the ethics and morality of whatever paths we follow. (Our previous blog explored some of the tragic fallout of ethical and/or legal lapses.)

Our children depend on us to keep them safe. Living aligned with our ethics is important both as a model for them to follow and for the security and stability that doing right creates. How are you ensuring that you are handling your "stuff"?

                         
GIFT, Growing Intentional Families Together, adoption
            Your Adoption Attunement (AQ) Specialosts
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 podcasts.


GIFT, Growing Intentional Families Together, adoption

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