As of February 3, 2020, eleven cases of Coronavirus have been diagnosed in the United States. Thousands in China have fallen ill and 361 have died. As responsible parents, we worry about the risk to our own children and ponder how we should respond. Statistics reveal that the current risk to our children is small. Flu presents a far higher danger to our children as do traffic fatalities, gun violence, and drugs. Keeping our kids safe means thinking beyond vaccines, car seats, and safety equipment.
While the Coronavirus, the flu, etc., lead in many headlines, our children face a far more potent hazard: adoptee suicide. Adoptees commit suicide at four times the rate of non-adopted persons. We cannot afford to assume that our children are not contemplating such deadly choices; their lives may depend on it. As Intentional Parents, we certainly want to do whatever is in our power to reduce this risk, address the root causes, and bring counterbalancing influences into play. We dare not assume that our children are free from suicidal thoughts. We cannot afford to hope that all is well. We must intentionally work to ensure that our kids' mental, physical, and emotional health.
When it comes to adoptee mental health there are some strategies that we CAN bring to bear. One important action parents can take is to talk about difficult topics. Encourage our kids to share all their thoughts and feelings around adoption and reassure them that our love for them and their membership in our families is totally secure. Permanent. It is not conditional on their pretending that all is rosy, totally free of conflict, ambivalence, anger, and grief. Adoption is not a totally benign experience; all is not roses, rainbows, and happily-ever-afters. We must ensure that our children feel seen and heard for who they genuinely are as distinct from whom they think we might “wish” them to be.
Unless our children “know” that we want to hear their struggles and painful thoughts, that we do not want them to hide or deny these feelings and ideas, our children will falsely assume that such communication is taboo. They will assume that we want them to cover up their struggles, don a mask that obscures their true feelings and suffer in silence. They will believe that this suppression of their anxieties and fears is the cost of membership in the family.
Everyone will be negatively impacted. Instead of an authentic relationship built on truth, trust, mutual support and, interdependence, all will be roleplaying. Everyone will miss out on the joy of being loved as themselves. This is a great tragedy that happens too frequently.
Adult adoptees tell us in huge numbers that one of the most significant contributing factors to their mental health issues is the communication gap between themselves and their families regarding parents’ tendency to gloss over, minimize, and invalidate adoptee loss, grief and the trauma of losing their first families. Blinded by their delight at being able to adopt a child, adoptive parents often lose sight of the fact that for him, adoption is not totally benign. In fact, it is quite painful.
(Even if adoption was the best choice in a very difficult circumstance, it is still life-changing. It uproots the child from his place in his ancestral lineage and burdens him with a life-long legacy that results from his separation from his first family.) Adoption is not the result they prayed for. In fact, the “blessing” they fantasize about is to have remained in their first families, safe, rooted and healthy.
We must work to ensure that our children do not become a statistic. What action will you take to discuss these hard issues with your child? Watch a movie or read a book together which highlights some of these awkward and painful complexities. Attend an adoptive family support meeting. Partner with a coach who understands the journey, the issues and has been tried to assist you.
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.
Read Adoption-attuned book reviews by GIFT coach, Gayle H. Swift, on her blog, "Writing to Connect"
We are privileged this week to have this guest blog written by Lynn Grubb. She is both an adoptee and an adoptive parent. She lives adoption from both sides of the relationship equation! Enjoy, listen, and learn! Lynn Grubb is an Illinois born adoptee, and a 50-year resident of Dayton, Ohio. She is President of the Adoptee Rights Coalition, a grass roots 501(c)(4) Ohio non-profit advocating for all adoptees to have equal access to their original birth certificates. She is employed by and facilitates a kinship support group through the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA). When she is not advocating in the adoption and kinship communities, you can find her at home with her family and pets, reading a good book. She blogs at http://noapologiesforbeingme.blogspot.com/.
My husband, Mark and I, got married in 1991 – he was 34 and I was 25. I became an instant stepmother to his 3-year old daughter, and so began my adventure into parenting.
When I was 27, and found out I was pregnant with our son, I began reading all sorts of parenting books. I turned to books because my own mother was not a place I could turn to learn and understand about pregnancy and birth, since she had not experienced it. I did what most of us do as parents whether conscience or not: I took what I liked about my own childhood and repeated that and tried to filter out what I didn’t like and didn’t do that.
In trying to determine how to label our parenting, I guess you could say in some ways we are part “free range” parents, in that our kids can have privacy in their rooms, walk to stores and home from school and do things without one of us being present and part “overprotective” (their words) in that we insist on rules, respect, personal hygiene, phone numbers and conversations with parents before overnights happen.
I am definitely not a helicopter mom. Both of our kids have chores, earn their own money, and know how to take care of everything, like cooking and laundry, themselves. My own mother was at one time what was called in the 70’s and 80’s a “supermom” which meant I was fortunate to be involved in every extra-curricular activity known to man, but I didn’t learn a lot of grown up things like how to pay bills until I was out on my own, struggling to learn them later.
Now that the kids are older, I am a full-time working mom and our daughter, at age 14, is almost completely self-sufficient (our son moved out on his own several years ago). I am truly amazed that I don’t have to wake her up in the morning, tell her to make her lunch or remind her to do homework. She does all these things on her own. (I’m probably just fortunate that she has a conscientious personality). When I cook a meal, our daughter sees it as a treat – not an expectation. (Lucky for me, her dad is now retired and can keep an eye on her after school and bonus: cook dinner!).
We do not ascribe to materialism at our house – we are minimalists with a clutter problem (I know, it makes no sense). My husband and I grew up on opposite sides of the tracks, and we have lived in both the city limits and in the suburbs throughout our years of marriage. One thing we can both agree on is that time with family is more important than stuff.
Here are a few specific areas that my being adopted has helped to inform parenting our daughter (also adopted):
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
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
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 implement 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?
Parenting has an evolutionary endpoint: at some point, our children will leave the family nest and fly out into the world to carve their path in life. Even as we change diapers, read bedtime stories, or tuck them in, we know someday, they'll be on their own. When that time comes we want them to be ready. How do we prepare them for this independence? Strong family values provide them with a secure foundation. They'll need confidence, competence and courage. Confidence grows from competence. Competence emerges from practice. We know directly from personal experience that these emerge only through persistence and the ability to learn through failure. We also recognize that it takes courage to learn anything new.
With this awareness in mind, we want to help our kids experience life as a learning conversation, to survive the process. They'll need to develop a strong sense of resilience. No one begins as an expert, so they must be willing to try new things and keep on trying until mastery is achieved. Encourage their persistence by setting an example. Let them see how you handle the rocky, uphill road to success. Share your strategies for coping through the hard times.
Most importantly, when they struggle or falter, be supportive. Be their cheerleader; let them know you believe in them. Be their confidante; listen to their struggles and allow them to figure out the solution. Be a resource: offer help only after they request it. (Language counts here. Ask if they want help instead of asking if they need help. "Want" reinforces their sense of agency and self-determination. "Need" reinforces their lack of sufficient capability; over time this mindset can lead to a sense of learned, chronic helplessness. Be a coach; Stay mindful of the distinction between critique and criticism and always wait for their invitation to offer your perspective.
Take note of their effort and highlight their incremental progress. Connect to your Family Values, e.g., In our family ...
We respect hard work.
We recognize success doesn't just happen; it takes effort and time.
We keep trying.
We learn through trial and error.
It's okay to ask for help.
We value teamwork and persistence.
No goal is worth sacrificing your integrity.
Of course, we hope to raise children who are happy, healthy and, successful. each family envisions a unique version of success. Keep in mind we spend most of our time pursuing a goal than in achieving them. How do we treat others and ourselves as we advance toward success? Remember to nurture their spirits. Value relationships more than being "right" or successful. Make time for joy. Long after we are gone, our words will linger in their minds; speak with compassion, respect, and love.
Attention is the currency of human connection. We all yearn to be noticed, to be seen for our authentic selves. It's human nature. As parents, we regularly experience our children's desire for us to look their way. Watch me, Mommy! Look at me, Daddy! Sometimes their need for attention can feel like an insatiable hunger. Effective parents recognize attention-giving as an effective parenting tool. They utilize their children's need for attention by heaping attention on desirable behaviors and by ignoring behaviors they wish to extinguish.
Unfortunately, the need for attention can devolve into a desperate need for approval. Kids can fall into the habit of excessive approval-seeking. Self-satisfaction, the pride of accomplishment, the pleasure of learning all can fall victim to the over-weaning need for approval. How can Intentional Parents avert this undesirable result?
Consider one of the most common ways American parents deliver attention: through comments steeped in praise. Great job! Good effort! We enjoy giving praise; they enjoy hearing it. Sounds like a win/win. But is it? Let's look deeper and see.
Imagine our child calls out for our attention. This requires us to pause what we've been doing, note their action and make them the focus of our attention. If we do this, we'll fulfill their need to be seen. This will enable us to make a connection by spending something far more valuable than money: our extremely valuable "undivided-attention currency." Their goal to feel "seen" will be filled.
What results accrue to our side of the equation? What benefit will we get? Is it the one we truly want?
If we constantly offer attention that has a judgment attached--either positive or negative--we'll vest our kids on obtaining our approval and/or avoiding our disapproval. They will perform for us. But is that the true goal of our parenting?
Don't we really want them to mature into self-motivated thinkers, who will follow family values, make choices and engage in action because it is what they perceive as the "right" thing to do based on their own internalized, moral compass?
We believe there's a better way of expressing our attention, a way that helps kids feel noticed without "addicting" them to praise. Dr. Becky Bailey, originator of the Conscious Discipline theory and author of several books offers many practical and emotionally positive strategies. Although her main focus is the classroom, parents and caregivers can learn a lot from her strategies. She suggests that adults notice or narrate without adding an element of judgment or praise.
Instead of I think you did a great job!
say, You worked and worked until you finished it!
Instead of, I love it! It's an amazing Lego© construction!
say, You spent a lot of time working on that!
Instead of, That's a terrific drawing! It's a...house, right?
say, You used lots of color in that drawing; tell me about it.
Instead of, I'm proud that you helped Michael."
say, You noticed Michael needed help and you helped him. In our family, we all try to help.
Feel the difference between the two sets of comments. Notice that the focus is on the child not on adult opinion or evaluation. The narrator-style comments still provided the child with the attention he sought. They centered on traits the adult wishes to nurture or help the child notice about themselves. Each time they have a noticing experience, these values and traits become more deeply internalized.
Over time, narrational comments help build up a sense of the child's identity as a "tryer," "completor," creator, thinker etc.
Psychotherapist Linda Graham, MFT., reminds us that,
“The brain learns from experience always and it learns best when those experiences are little and often.”
With this method, our attention focuses on reinforcing their skill sets and inner qualities. It's about what we see and what they think. And we do want them to be thinkers. And tryers, creators, practitioners of our family values. Big distinction. Kids who are overly invested in praise and approval, fall into a pattern of doing things only when they have an audience. Or, the corollary of this, they become sneaky and only observe the rules when they think they might get caught. Some develop an inability to make decisions because they're overly focused on approval or other people's opinions instead of their own inner moral compass.
Being able to trust themselves, to learn good decision-making skills and to engage in life as a "learning Conversation." It helps kids build internal resilience because they know parental approval and acceptance are not conditional.
As a grandmother who has the opportunity to care for my grandson several days each week, I have had the opportunity to observe the power of this shift in adult/child interaction. It is stunning. I can also say, that turning off the autopilot of praise is challenging but so worth the effort. Changing deeply ingrained habits takes effort and persistence.
I love it when I ask him, "Who's a tryer? A helper? A hard worker?" and he names himself in reply followed by the names of the rest of our family. Barely three and he has internalized the belief that he belongs to a family that values effort and compassion!
Intentional narration offers another teaching strategy: add a soundtrack to your own efforts. It's a great way to correct a common misconception that kids have about adults: that life is effortless for their parents, that they don't have to work hard at things, that they are magically proficient at stuff, etc. So how might this sound? Here are some examples:
Daddy is going to school tonight. Even though he's tired, he's going to learn how to do his job better.
I don't know how to do that, so I'm reading this book to learn.
I want to feel healthy, so I'm doing my yoga practice every day.
I'm learning ______, so I need to practice it every day.
This task is hard. I'm going to keep working at it until I figure it out.
In this family, we help other so I'm watching Susan while her mother goes to the doctor.
In this family, we always try, so I'm going to try again.
Those are just a few ideas. When we allow kids a peek into the times that we are being persistent, determined, tackling stuff even though it is hard, we offer them an observable model from which they can learn.
Sally: 612-203-6530 | Susan: 541-788-8001 | Joann: 312-576-5755 | Gayle: 772-285-9607