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Intent Versus Impact: Why It Matters
It is easy--and naive--to expect that our good intent guarantees a positive result. Even the purest intentions can still yield negative consequences. Negative results--even if unintended--are no less consequential. Most folks do not deliberately behave in a way that will hurt, undermine, and discourage. Yet, some of our actions and words do just that. We are after all, human. Mistakes will inevitably be made. As Intentional Parents, we work to be the best parents we can and we strive to avoid repeating the errors our own parents made. Nonetheless. we will certainly make missteps. They will be different mistakes, errors in judgments, oversights, etc. but still they will happen.
Regardless of the goodness of our intent, the defining importance derives from the impact of our words and actions.
When the result contradicts our intentions, we must effect repairs and take responsibility as quickly as possible. By being accountable for our errors, we provide a model for our children to follow. More importantly, we demonstrate through our actions that we value the relationship MORE than we value being right. We show them that even if words or actions were not intended to be hurtful, we can acknowledge that others did experience them as hurtful. We must not expect our lack of malice to excuse any damage caused by our actions, inactions, words, or our silence.
Our apology must be heartfelt, sincere, and genuine. (The real measure of our sincerity is a commitment to not repeat the mistake. Our subsequent actions will reveal the veracity of our remorse and the genuineness of our promise to change.) When we nurture relationship, vulnerability, and have the courage to share difficult conversations, we deepen the relationship. Breakdowns will happen and the repair/accountability process is integral to healing, respect, and to the health of relationships. (Revisit our blog on apologies.)
As adoptive parents, we have additional complexities and obstacles to overcome and often we face them without the reassurance of a familiar parenting template from our own experience. Our intuition and inclinations must be informed by education. Instead, we depend on our dogged dedication to becoming High AQ parents who understand, embrace, and practice Adoption-attunement (AQ).
We understand that adoption is not a single event and realize that it is a lifetime journey for us as parents and especially for our children. They are the ones who do the heavy lifting emotionally as they strive to braid their dual identities into a healthy, cohesive, identity. Last month we referred to the Seven Core Issues of Adoption (Loss, Rejection, Guilt and Shame, Identity, Intimacy, Mastery and Self-control, and Grief.) These issues are not minor. Working through them is a hero's journey and our children must be able to rely on us for comfort, validation, and truth.
The distinction between intent versus impact is especially powerful when we allow ourselves to see adoption through rose-colored glasses this places a hyper-focus on the benefits and minimizes the complexity. Adoption is not totally benign. While adoption was the answer to our prayers for family, it exacts a high cost from adoptees. The trajectory of their lives is permanently changed. They are severed from their family tree and lose their place in the flow of their ancestral lineage. Even in open adoptions, the original relationships are realigned, subordinated, and reshaped. There is an "intactness" that can never be reestablished. Not through openness. Not through reunion. That primal link is cut. A new connection results--whether tenuous or robust, it will never be the same as the original bond.
The current headlines bring to the forefront issues of race. Families who have adopted transracially or transculturally are particularly concerned. And all adoptive families have a special stake in the outcome. We know the pain and stigma of people devaluing our families. The pain of being seen as inferior simply because of the color of one's skin is far more destructive and crushingly personal. For a long time, the dominant belief regarding race in adoption circles has espoused "color blindness." Buried in the phrase is the precise reason why it is not the best solution to achieve family harmony and to support our children who do not share the same race as our own. Blindness indicates that we are not seeing something. To deny a factor as integral to our children's identity and to the way they experience the world is not only folly, it denies them the validation and support they need so they can learn to cope and survive, and thrive.
All adoptive families have a vested interest in seeing their children as they genuinely are. We must be mindful of the chasm that exists between any fantasy child we imagined while we dreamed of becoming parents and the living, breathing human being that joined our family. we must see, affirm, and nurture their true selves as the fruit of their DNA as encouraged by our loving nurture. Their differences enhance and invigorate our families. Enjoy any similarities and commonalities while ensuring that we are equally appreciative of their uniqueness.
A new awareness of racial inequity in this country has dawned. As Intentional Parents, we must commit to having Difficult Conversations about race, of living a commitment to equity and respect. of "seeing" all aspects of our children including their race. We must teach our kids to be "I-standers" instead of "bystanders." The best way we can do that I by living it ourselves, within our families, friendships, workplaces, and communities.
This blog has frequently quoted the words of David Augsberger: "Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are indistinguishable." This is a powerful statement! Pause and ruminate on it. Take it to heart; it will inform your relationships in a deep way. We must ensure that our children feel seen and heard if we wish to build loving, attached, and healthy families. Wishful thinking and Good Intentions will not accomplish it. Genuinely hearing and seeing our kids in this deeply profound way is the bridge that transports us from Intention to Impact and ensures our Intention becomes a result that occurs in reality not just in our minds.
Episode 1: If Only We Knew Then What We Know Now--Adoption-attunement and Transracial AdoptionEpisode 2: As Adoptive Parents and Adoption Coaches: What parents can do to help their children be part of the solution to racial inequities and nurture tolerance?Episode 3: Special guest Lola Adebara, Founder and CEO of Minneapolis based Partnerships for Permanence shares some insights into adoption/fostering/ and racial justice.Episode 4: Sharon Obazee adoption coach, and adoptee, will discuss transracial adoption and how we can make a difference in our actions, words, families & communities with a lens particulalrly focused on the intersection of race and adoption.
Adoptees tell us that they frequently feel like they don't quite fit in either their adoptive or birth families. This is not to say that they don't feel attached, loved and welcomed. Rather it speaks to their challenge of living with the influences of their dual heritage. Not 100% of either family, they are a rich blend of both. This distinction sets them apart from their non-adopted peers and from families who are not touched by adoption.
Adoptive families are inherently different--not less than, yet definitely different. Our culture constantly reminds us of this distinction as they attempt to box us in as either the real parent, the real sibling, the real child, etc. We know that our relationship bonds and the love that we feel for our relatives through adoption are genuine. DNA isn't essential to love, care about and be attached/bonded to another. We recognize that we are not in competition with our childrens' birth families; they want, need and care about both! ALL of us are real!
It is easy to become defensive when our families and the love that bonds us are dismissed as less than if we were connected through biology. Our greater opportunity is to educate whenever the chance presents itself. Yes, our families are not the "norm" however, they are normal. We are uniquely situated to be a voice--a confident, respectful and outspoken voice--of diversity.
Jan. 27, 2016 marks the observance of Multicultural Children's Book Day. As families committed to intentionality, it makes sense for us to support this event and the values which it upholds. Read and buy books that feature multicultural characters. Support multicultural authors and illustrators. Such choices might begin in the spirit of mutual self-interest (expanding cultural understanding and acceptance of how a normal "real" family looks and whom they include.) Ultimately, by increasing tolerance and understanding, it also benefits all who might otherwise be marginalized and or excluded. #ReadYourWorld
GIFT coach, Gayle H. Swift is proud to be both an author/sponsor and a participating reviewer in this important event. The mission of Multicultural Children's Book Day is:
The world currently faces significant problems as we are divided into a them-against-us-mentality which asserts that my family, community, country or faith is better than yours. Ignorance breeds suspicion and hatred. It feeds intolerance, bigotry and mistrust. As adoptive families we can choose to nurture cultural attitudes based on tolerance, respect and understanding. This is a huge task which we undertake one interaction, one book, one conversation at a time.
Mention November and most folks think of Thanksgiving. For us here at GIFT—Growing Intentional Families Together—November brings thoughts of National Adoption Month and our gratitude for the blessing of family. Here are some ways to celebrate adoption.
“National Adoption Day is a collective national effort to raise awareness of the more than 100,000 children in foster care waiting to find permanent, loving families. This annual, one-day event has made the dreams of thousands of children come true by working with policymakers, practitioners and advocates to finalize adoptions and create and celebrate adoptive families.
In total, National Adoption Day helped nearly 50,000 children move from foster care to a forever family. Communities across the county celebrate the This year the National Adoption Day Coalition expects 4,500 children in foster care to be adopted on National Adoption Day, on November 22, 2014.” They are sponsoring various events
FIRST EVER WORLDWIDE CELEBRATION OF ADOPTION
On Nov.9, 2014 post a photo of yourself, your family and your friends with the hands up smiley face with the hashtag:
It is appropriate that we celebrate National Adoption Month during this season of Thanksgiving. As parents, we have been entrusted with the privilege to raise children born to other women. We love and nurture them with an awareness that our greatest joy: their presence in our families--began in significant loss for them. This year while giving thanks for your many blessings, remember the birth parents who made such a commitment of faith in us. Continue your education as high AQ--Adoption-attuned--families. Deepen your understanding of the unique needs that adoption creates in a family. Live and love with an eye to the joy of the present moment and a heart filled with empathy, kindness and respect. Books offer a great resource to adoptive families for strategies, a sense of community or a great read for the children. These authors write about the journey that is adoption and as a National Adoption Month Special, the kindle versions will be available for $.99. We invite you to explore these books. (Excerpts from Amazon)
Finalist, 2014 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, Parenting/Family
In this week’s blog, we continue last week's exploration of Difficult Conversations in the context of adoption. GIFT—Growing Intentional Families Together—is pleased to include another important voice from the wider adoption community. Beth O’Malley M.Ed. She is a lifebook expert. Her life experience as both adoptee and adoptive parent infuses her writings with compassion, and understanding of the adoption journey . Sign up for her free newsletter at www.adoptionlifebooks.com copyright 2014 Beth has written three books. (See the links at the end of this post.)
How to Talk about Difficult Topics
Whether it's rape, suicide, drug abuse, mental health, prostitution, or robbing banks--- if it involved the birth parent, then it's part of the child's story. So do you create a lifebook page detailing the grown up situation and read?
You may have known about “this part” of the birth parents' history. Ugh. How to tell your child or a child on your caseload?
At what age to tell them and what words to use ?
Take a deep breath.
Step 1. Start with age appropriate discussion outside of the lifebook. You build the foundation by helping them understanding the topic. Just not in relation to them.
The topic is raised impersonally. Maybe there is a teaching moment that occurs. Maybe a bank was robbed in a nearby town. Great news.(Your son's bio dad was a bank robber)
This gives you an organic opening to talk about "ta da” —robbing banks. You can wonder out loud "Gee, I wonder what would make someone decide to do something like that?" Perhaps think out loud if there is some grown up problem like drug abuse or gambling that might bring a person to do something so dangerous.
Step 2. Talk about the bank robber as a person. That person made a really bad decision that could change his life or his family's life. But making a bad decision doesn't make him a bad person. (It doesn't make him Mother Teresa either) Maybe his parents didn't teach him about right and wrong. Maybe they taught him how to steal.
You can stop at whatever point feels right and you have planted the seed.
If your child was placed at a young age, then you'll have a number of years to build and work the foundation. By the time, you feel the child is ready and able to hear this on a more personal level----- you are not trying to explain suicide/criminal activities/drug abuse etc all in one breath.
Then you can add the lifebook page in more detail (assuming you child is older and not planning to share with the general public.)
Let’s review: The best way to start discussion on tough topics is by
1. Fact Check
Before you go ahead and present a situation as the child's truth, make sure you investigate. Locate other sources (for example if only the birth mother reported the situation). Can you talk with other birth relatives to verify? Is there a social worker or court official who might know some unwritten details? What about a police report?
2. Google It.
Google your child's birth name. Google the bio parents and sibling names, if known. If it was a front-page-news story, locate what is on the internet. Assume your child or their friend is an avid Googler.
3. Who else knows what?
If you want your child to trust you, the last thing you want is for them to learn important history from someone else. If the adoptees' birth circumstances are well known (for whatever reason) in your family or the community, then you want to stay ahead of the information. You might be sharing information younger than you had planned.
4. What is the right age?
My simple, not knowing your child answer, is that you lay the foundation starting when they enter school--- around 1st grade.
It's time to get specific around age 9 or 10. Even as young as 8. This is not easy. I started tough talks with my daughter when she was around 8. The topic had to be revisited and eventually became just another piece of life. I repeat it is not easy, but there are huge benefits to avoiding secrets!
5. For US Fost-Adopt Families
At age 18, they can read their own case records. Yes, parts are redacted, but they will have enough information to clearly see what happened. A lonely way to learn about one's life's beginnings.
In summary, I recommend make sure what you say is true, as much as possible. Google relevant names and events on a regular basis. Rethink who in your family might have information that could leak to the younger generation. Does everyone you know, or the child knows, already have this part of their story? Then arm your child with information.
As for age, I told my child hard truths around age 8 and then reworked and revisited the conversation over time. I recommend no later than age 9 or 10. I don't think it's a good idea to wait until they are about to turn 13, even 12.
Kids know more than we think.
Here are links to buy Beth’s books.
Adoption is a journey for all involved. #adoptionblogcarnival
GIFT is collaborating this week with fellow travelers on their journey of adoptive life. Enjoy reading the various perspectives. Tell us how their message connected with your experience of life in an adoptive family. Please let us bloggers hear from you. What posts connect, hit a nerve or miss the mark?
The Weinrich Family Adoption Blog page highlights how a single word can shape us. Single Word:
The film Closure is a “documentary about a trans-racial adoptee who finds her birth mother, and meets the rest of a family who didn't know she existed, including her birth father. A story about identity, the complexities of trans-racial adoption, and most importantly, CLOSURE.” Read the review by Bumber's Bumblings
This Rad Mom shared her thoughts on viewing a classic family movie (Swiss Family Robinson) with her son whose life has been touched by trauma. Her insights remind us to be vigilant in monitoring how our kids respond to seemingly innocent experiences. Be a perpetual detective when it comes to identifying triggers that reactivate trauma for our kids.
GIFT’s blog post was selected for inclusion in the Adoption Blog Carnival. It focused on the complex and often conflicted emotions that adopted kids feel about holidays and other life celebrations. Revisit When Holidays Are Marred by Memories of Past Pain
Made in China, with Loveshares an honest recounting of her return trip from China, two new babies in tow. Good thing she packed her sense of humor and positive outlook. She needed it—almost as much as she needs a bit of sleep now as she juggles two new babies in addition to her other two kids.
Thanks to Weinrich Family Adoption Blog for organizing this exchange. Like what you read? Use #adoptionblogcarnival when sharing via Facebook and Twitter.