Archive for the ‘General Discussion’ Category

Planting Relationship Success

Wednesday, January 23, 2019 @ 04:01 PM
Author: admin

I took a class this weekend to learn about native plants for the garden in my new house. The most basic rule the instructor stated was to choose the right plant for the given location. Consider the weeping willow and the cactus. While each plant is lovely, they could not be more different. One requires a very wet soil; the other thrives in extremely dry conditions. Each is beautiful in its own right. But neither could do well in the other’s preferred habitat.

Yet, most of us have heard the expression, “Bloom where you are planted.” It intends to convey a willingness to live in the now and appreciate what we have at the moment instead of pining for what we don’t have. Of course, we benefit from living through a spirit of gratitude and grace but we can also dig deeper to discover a presupposition which lurks behind the expression: that we can bloom anywhere regardless of circumstances. While it makes sense to appreciate what we’ve got and to live with contentment instead dissatisfaction, sometimes we must admit that we need a new set of circumstances in which we can truly bloom.

Consider our precious and beloved children, on some level, we could describe adoption as having transplanted them from their family to our. (Although it is certainly for more complicated.) Like plants in a garden, they have unique needs which must be met. It is folly to ask a willow to thrive in a desert or the cactus to thrive in a lily pond.

In our earnestness to meld our children into our families, we can unwittingly pressure them to fit our family mold. 
We may have unconsciously asked them to be like us so that they can belong to us. How might we determine this?

Consider these questions.

Have we scrupulously considered who their biology prepared them to be? Have we provided the appropriate environment and resources so that they can bloom into their best selves?

We want to embrace and nurture and value their differences as much as we treasure the ways in which they are like us. We also want to help them to be proud of their uniqueness and to find value in these differences instead of failure and a sense of not measuring up. We must provide them with the freedom to be their true selves. This is a powerful and loving gift which allows our children to be happy and healthy.

Yes, we want to honor and respect our family traditions and patterns,AND we want to expand the family template to include our children’s natural inclinations so they’re equally valued by us and by our extended families.

Children notice what we value, what triggers our enthusiastic appreciation and what fails to generate much of our attention. If they sense that we need them to fit the family mold, they will twist themselves into knots trying to be who they think we want them to be. They’ll also absorb the negative judgment of their differences. Often, their inner voice will repeat these internalized messages. This can cause them great distress and crush them between their genuine identity and an idealized version of their parents’ fantasy child.

So, how do we accomplish this message that our children are loved and accepted for who they are so they have the freed om to pursue their dreams?

*Notice the things that naturally interest your children, especially if it differs from traditional family patterns. Provide opportunities to nurture their talent or interest.

*Stay aware of your emotional response. Keep your encouragement genuine. Remember too, that kids notice family patterns. They’re aware if they “fit” or “measure up.” They may add their own sense of failure and fault to any hints of their being a “disappointment” which they sense from their adoptive parents and extended family. Make intentional efforts to reassure that you love and accept them just as they are.

*Choose to engage in the activities to which they are drawn–even if it isn’t quite your cup of tea. Your response models mutuality and shows that you’re willing to engage in their “world.”

* Verbalize your support of their differences. When they engage in their pursuit of “off-family-pattern” activities, give them genuine, enthusiastic attention. Because you value them, be interested in what interests them. This gives them tangible “proof” of your acceptance of them. Children crave that recognition. Being seen in this way is a powerful channel to connection and validation.

*Keep an attitude of enthusiasm and humor. Your shared participation is an important thread in weaving a bond of love and mutual respect. On the other hand, coming across as bored or annoyed undermines your relationship and conveys a message that says their place in the family depends on doing it the traditional way.

Imagine how your family might benefit from this commitment to one another. How will you begin this practice today?

Families: Building Bridges over Troubled Waters

Wednesday, January 16, 2019 @ 03:01 PM
Author: admin

The push-pull of modern life keeps us and our families under pressure and on edge. This tends to drive us apart into isolated cells delimited by our social media networks and devices. Often we turn to our cyber worlds for assistance, distraction and relief.

Through social media we identify resources, engage with like-minded people and access “witnesses” to share our stories. We tolerate nasty and unwelcome trolls as the “cost of doing business” because those elusive witnesses hold tremendous —and seductive—power.

Witnessing holds transformational power that is frequently underappreciated. Feeling witnessed can provide validation of one’s experience, hope in the face of devastating circumstances, and can fuel persistence when commitment flags. Is it any wonder that we turn to our devices to access this resource?


Instead of depending on our tech devices for this sort of validation and witness, imagine the benefit that might accrue if we created a healthy sense of witness and validation for one another within our families.

Hold that thought.

Imagine building a family-based sense of connection, validation, and witness. So how might we accomplish that?

Step 1: Listen. Listen with absolute neutrality and total attention. Resist the temptation to fix it—whatever “it” is. Simply be present, like a camera recording yet not intervening.


Step 2: To ensure accuracy, capture the essence of what they said using their words.

Step 3: Confirm that you got it right. Repeat the process until you do have an accurate restatement of their words and experience.

Step 4: Ask them, “How would you like me to support you?” Note that you are not assuming they need you to solve the problem for them. You are offering to work with them if they want it. They may not; they may prefer to handle it on their own

Step 5: Affirm three things: first, that you appreciate their opening up to you, second, that you know they can handle it, and third, you remain willing to help.

Intentional parenting depends on having goals, designing strategies and implementing action plans which we refine as we go along. Take time to consider how you can bear powerful witness to each member of your family.

What will be the first step you’ll take, the first change you’ll make to ensure that your family provides a safe harbor for one another?

Childhood Transitions: Endings Hold the Seeds of the Next Beginning

Wednesday, January 2, 2019 @ 03:01 PM
Author: admin

On Friday my three-and-a-half-year-old grandson begins “school” for the first time. Toddlerhood will give way to childhood. My heart clutches a bit at the thought of losing the joy of spending our days together. I have cared for him since he was only a few months old and it has been a lovely experience for me. His presence brought a counterpoint of joy even as our family walked the long, sad journey of my husband’s slow decline from Lewy Body Dementia. Seeing life through the eyes of a child reminded us of the miracle in the ordinary, the often overlooked magic in the mundane.

Spending time in the company of older folks has helped PJ develop empathy and an awareness of human fragility. Many of his first steps were taken while pushing delightedly against Grampa’s wheelchair. While PJ gradually learned to feed himself, to walk, to talk, and become increasingly self-reliant, he watched a reverse progression as George needed more and more assistance, and finally became completely dependent on others. The yin/yang of the Circle of Life…

The days on the calendar flip inexorably to PJ’s Big Day.  Friday aptly marks the duality that typifies January. Endings transition into beginnings. Days free from fixed schedules will end; the rhythm of our lives will now be governed by the school calendar. Structure will replace spontaneity. New friendships will be forged, new activities explored, new skills acquired. While I may shed a bittersweet tear or two, I recognize that “To every thing there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

As we release the familiar, we embrace the possibilities of the unknown. PJ bubbles with anticipation and he’s counting the days until he goes to school. Some idealized expectations have already been clarified: Mommy will drive him. School bus rides remain a future experience.

Since PJ is not an adoptee, how does this moment from our lives shed light on the adoptive parenting experience?

It has been enlightening to observe the differences between PJ’s reactions and my own children’s childhood responses to transitions and breaks in routines. The unsteadying trauma of relinquishment via adoption sensitized them to change, to unpredictability and to the unknown. When my son started pre-school, the staff had to peel his tiny fingers from my arms so I could leave. I would stand behind the fence with silent tears staining my face, steeling myself against the urge to re-enter and scoop him up in my arms. Instead, I adhered  to conventional wisdom and waited for him to “tough it out.” I held my ground and listened while his teacher calmed his fears and he happily joined his peers. Just as they had reassured me, it did not take long. He quickly began playing with the other children. And yet … the experience felt deeply painful for both of us.

How had I persuaded myself to ignore my intuition that his anxiety ran deeper than typical toddler separation anxiety? Why had I succumbed to the pressure to follow the parenting norms instead of that ache in my gut that sensed somehow this was different, that additional adoption-connected factors demanded a different response. Sometimes it is difficult to question conventional wisdom, to break with norms and to carve a new approach. Just as much as children yearn to fit in, parents want to be seen as competent and accepted by their fellow parents.

Now that I know so much more about adoption complexity, I cringe and regret our eagerness to rush him from the security of being home with mom. But adoption-attunement and adoption fallout were concepts I had yet to discover or consider. Sadly, I had no awareness that his meltdown was probably being triggered by loss and abandonment issues. At the time, I thought I was providing him with much needed socializing and opportunities to grow his independence and self-confidence. With hindsight, I can recognize that it triggered his fear of separation and abandonment. Obviously, I cannot change the past. However, I can share the insights that emerged from our parenting years to help today’s adoptive parents to prevent avoidable trauma. Yes, we want our children to become independent; we also want them to feel securely rooted before they stretch their wings and fly.

This is why adoption-attuned sensitivity is so vital. Armed with knowledge, we can support our children better. We have the benefit of awareness and understanding that adopted children have been shaped by the hard realities of adoption and how they are predisposed to triggers, transitions, rejection, etc. Through the grace of Intentional Parenting, instead of ignorance or invalidation, we can knowledgeably meet our children’s needs and prepare them for independence in a way that respects their unique circumstances. Roots and Wings…

Through the grace of Intentional Parenting, we can knowledgeably meet our children’s needs and prepare them for independence in a way that respects their unique circumstances.

How will Adoption-attuned Intentional Parenting help make you a better parent in 2019?

Visit to vote.

Check out “Writing to Connect,” a book review site that evaluates books through an Adoption-attuned lens. GIFT coach Gayle H. Swift writes the reviews.

The Gift of Trust & the Courage to Admit Vulnerability

Wednesday, December 12, 2018 @ 04:12 PM
Author: admin

the-gift-of-trust-the-courage-to-admit-vulnerabilityLast Friday while returning to our car after attending our local Christmas parade, I tripped and fell. While this is never great for one’s pride, it turned out it was a lot worse for my knee too. Not wanting to put a damper on the festive mood, I sucked up the pain and continued to the car, reassuring my son that I was fine which was not accurate or honest. I was embarrassed and didn’t want to look old or fragile. I prefer to convey independence, self-reliance, and strength—or at least the appearance of strength.

Ironically, my lack of honesty reveals a greater inadequacy; lack of courage and trust. I didn’t want to reveal my weakness, admit my vulnerability, and neediness. Long story short, I wasn’t fine. After an excruciating night, I ended up at the ER anyway.  Much to my surprise, it turned out that my knee wasn’t broken. Yay! I couldn’t believe it could hurt that much and not be fractured but I did require stitches

What has this anecdote got to do with Intentional Parenting?

More than you might think.

In a fairly common “mom” move, I had minimized my situation, denied my need for help and suppressed the expression of my pain. At first glance this may appear selfless—a much-lauded standard in American culture. But this kind of ‘selflessness’ can be dangerous and destructive because it denies the truth. It invalidates the perceptions of those with whom we share the situation, sets up an unhealthy model that suggests we must suppress our needs so we don’t inconvenience others, that the desired response is to handle challenges on our own and not impose on others with a request for help.

This minor incident goes far beyond an effort to salvage one’s pride or not wanting to spoil a family event and is especially damaging in families formed through adoption. It reinforces a paradigm that values maintaining the appearance that all is okay EVEN IF IT ISN’T. It implies that neediness might be a dealbreaker in the relationship, that only as long as one appears stable and independent, the relationship remains secure. The unsettling corollary of this suggests that neediness or vulnerability might break the relationship connection and exposes a fundamental mistrust. The inference that might easily be drawn is: choose role-playing over truth-telling. A sad lesson indeed.

Back to Friday night…

the-gift-of-trust-the-courage-to-admit-vulnerability-lady-fallsIn actuality, I had seriously injured my knee; this was much more than road rash and damaged pride. My knee was bleeding profusely and it took until well after midnight until we got it under control. I rebuffed my daughter’s repeated requests that we go to the hospital. Instead, I faked a “wellness” I didn’t feel and insisted she should go home. (In spite of the fact that I take blood thinners and I live alone.) This was not only dishonest but also risky.

How can they feel safe to share their truth?

My insistence on preserving face invalidated and undermined her accurate assessment of the situation. I had contravened the truth of my children’s experience. While this is a small incident, we actually shared a very emotionally intense experience. They were both frightened and concerned. Since their dad died, they have been hyper-vigilant about my safety. (Sensitivity to loss is a well-documented trigger point for adoptees.)

Consider how often we parents may have engaged in this kind of reality-denying interaction. The cumulative effect can be very powerful. As Adoption-attuned parents, we are aware of the many layers of complexity, ambiguity, grief, and loss which accompany adoption. Our children can easily infer that they must keep these painful wounds under wraps and act as if all is okay, as if they are not in pain, as if they do not need our assistance or the help of more skilled professionals.

This soul-destroying, heart-breaking message of denial, invalidation and self-neglect is certainly not what we intend, however it may be the message we have taught.

Take the time this holiday season to clearly assess how you care for yourself. Modeling this important practice may just be one of the most important gifts you provide your family. Equally important, strive for emotional integrity. For example, if you or your partner are angry or emotionally overwhelmed and your kids observe it, don’t whitewash it as fatigue. Own it. Kids don’t need the adult-appropriate details, but they do deserve the truth which they can plainly observe. This is an important part of teaching them to trust their instincts and that it is okay to have emotions it’s all part of learning how to handle them and how to develop relationships built of honesty and openness. Be conscious of how you model permission to be vulnerable or to need help. It might be one of the best gifts you give your children this holiday season.


The Grace of Both/and during the Holidays

Wednesday, December 5, 2018 @ 02:12 PM
Author: admin


Although the calendar clearly indicates that winter has arrived, here in south Florida we continue to swelter. I’ve lived in Florida since the late ’80s, my brain still finds it difficult to equate palm trees and sun lotion as part of the holiday ambiance.

Holiday music helps, but Christmas shopping in shorts and a t-shirt still feels like an oxymoron. My senses say, “Hit the beach, ” instead of “Put up the lights and decorate the tree.” My brain must override this conflicting message which contrasts so starkly with the personal experience of my youth.

I  was born and raised in Massachusetts where icy temperatures and drifting snow characterize winter events. My holiday memories sit clearly in a frame of cold weather factors: red cheeks, numb fingers, snow-encrusted mittens and the pleasure of hot chocolate after romping in the snow with friends and family.


the-grace-of-both-and-during-the-holidays-tropical-tropical-treeOn the other hand, I have a friend—a Florida native—who rejects any decorations that include depictions of snow. For her, Christmas has always meant sunny skies, sandy feet, and a plunge into the surf. Many of her prized ornaments feature Santa driving a sleigh pulled by flamingos!

Our two traditions contrast dramatically.

Which experience is right? Which is the “real” one?

Our world tends to favor the tidiness of either/or thinking.

Of course not. Our individual experiences of reality do not nullify each other; they coexist. We can easily see that our beliefs about holiday décor emerge from our personal experience. Each is valid. Each is “real”.  Each is treasured and connects us to important memories and relationships.

We feel no need to insist that one of us must relinquish or invalidate her experience. We do not feel threatened by the other’s point of view and easily accommodate both.


Such an inclusive attitude. Powerful.

During the holiday season, we will often hear the phrase “no room at the inn.” We judge the failure of the innkeeper who delivered that message and we like to believe that we would choose better if given the opportunity.

As adoptive families, we also have a choice to make. Will we exemplify welcome and openness in our families and embrace both/and in a profoundly significant way. Or, will we slam the door shut? For the sake of our children, we must make space for their birth families. (In cases where adoptions are not open or physical contact cannot occur, we can at least hold open the emotional space.)

At this time of year, most adoptees spend time thinking about their birth families. Many also struggle with feelings of guilt about his thoughts. Others say these thoughts make them feel disloyal to their adoptive parents. Imagine the relief they might feel if we open conversations that both acknowledge the likelihood they have such thoughts and that we are neither threatened or angry. Imagine the powerful reassurance we can offer them when we assert that their thoughts and feelings are normal, understandable and appropriate.