Archive for the ‘Strengthening Family Relationships’ Category

Navigating the School Year with Intention

Wednesday, August 15, 2018 @ 01:08 PM
Author: admin

navigating-the-school-year-with-intentionSchools have already reopened in my community which reminds me of the need for intentionality in how we guide our children through the school year. Parents and students all hope for a good year, one that is filled with learning–both academic and relational–and grows their ability to be in the driver’s seat of their lives. (After all, the point of parenting is to put ourselves out of a job: to raise kids that can succeed on their own.) So, how do we accomplish this vital goal? Operating purely on intuition is not enough; we need a plan–a map–that shows the route we intend to take.

To design any functional map, we must know two facts: the departure point and the destination. The shortest route would simply draw a straight line from point A to point B. But life is never that linear, that free from unexpected obstacles and delays. We must plan for contingencies, pack supplies for “emergencies”, and draw out alternate routes “just in case.” What landmarks (benchmarks) do we want our kids to achieve? Keep in mind that our actions make a broader impact than our words. “Do as I say, not as I do,” never works. Our actions must reflect and embody our words and expectations. Make a list of possible goals.

We must exemplify whatever is on our “wish” list. This provides the model and the proof of our commitment to it. What behaviors do we wish to see? How do we encourage/reinforce these behaviors when our children demonstrate them? How are we modeling the same behaviors? How do we extinguish undesirable behaviors? Remember the distinction between discipline and consequences. The first aims to teach; the second aims to punish.

What skills do our children want to develop?

It’s important that they participate in goal defining and setting. This is an important mindset and is a skill that benefits from practice. Clarity helps to focus their choices and it strengthens their commitment and desire. We must validate and understand their goals, dreams and motivations, then discern how we can help them define, refine, and accomplish them. 

What skills do we want them to develop?

Timeliness

Getting self up in the morning

Completing homework

Putting forth full effort

Learning from mistakes

Playing a sport

Being physically active

Managing tech time

Expanding their circle of friends

Being compassionate

Helping others

Showing respect for teachers

Create a work/life balance

Be accountable

Admit errors

Identifying their personal strengths as well as growth points

Seeing school as a tool that helps them accomplish their life goals

 

What values do we want them to embrace?

Confidence, competence, courage, resilience,

persistence, compassion, service, open-mindedness,

curiosity, conviction, self-discipline, delayed gratification,

 emotional balance, joy, conscience, morality, humor,

awareness, creativity, forgiveness of others and self,

respect for self and others, truth telling and truth seeking

What habits do we want them to internalize?

Good nutrition,

Adequate rest,

Recreation

Make time for self-reflection

       Exercise

When we demonstrate intentionality about our personal and family goals we show our children not only that planning is essential for success but also we prove it is a priority for us, it’s part of our approach to goal accomplishment. It also reduces the chaos of living with a seat-of-the-pants, handling brush fires as they come. Having a life blueprint alerts us to digressions that lure us off track; we can then decide if it is a welcome diversion or a distraction we choose to avoid. It’s important to note that our expectations may get “in the way” if they are not developmentally ready to achieve at the level we would like them to be. Staying “attuned” and in communication with our kids at all times is our ultimate goal. We must nurture the child before us and not expect him to be the embodiment of a “fantasy child.” that exists only in our imagination.

https://wp.me/p4r2GC-21H

 

 

 

 

Admitting Hard Realities and Holding Difficult Conversations

Wednesday, May 30, 2018 @ 07:05 PM
Author: admin

Admitting Hard Realities and Holding Difficult ConversationsThose of us touched by adoption understand what it is like to feel “othered” or different. Many of us have adopted transracially and therefore, have a particular interest in ensuring equality for all. We get a closer look at the impact of racism, bias, micro-aggressions, and invalidation that happen to our families. Current events awaken us to the tragic inequities and actual dangers which threaten our kids. We recognize another sad but very real truth:, our children experience a more intimate relationship with the consequences of racism when they are outside of the sheltering protection of being with their white families.

We want to support, prepare and protect our children. To do that, we need to know what is happening in their lives and we need to talk about it. Yet for a variety of reasons, they may not be entirely forthcoming about the challenges they face in this arena. Perhaps it makes the ugliness too real. Perhaps, they want to forestall our worrying, perhaps they feel diminished by even giving the topic voice, perhaps they fear we won’t “get” it–some, or all of these factors may be true.

It is absolutely essential that we have the difficult conversation, talk about the dangers, the unfairness, the cruelty and the small-mindedness that drive bigotry. We cannot afford to wait for our kids to raise the subject. It’s too vital and too dangerous to postpone or ignore. Yet, as parents, we know how notoriously difficult it can be to get kids to open up. So, what can we do?

Our children are products of the internet era. Why not

Use kids’ preference for, & comfort with, all things tech? Suggest watching this video together (Hey, I saw this on Facebook and wondered what you thought of it?) Then talk about it. 

Click To Tweet

Read this companion article by Erin Canty who “grew up black in a very white neighborhood in a very white city in a very white state.” Erin says it captures her experience quite well. Titled, 7 Things Black People Want Their Well-meaning White Friends to Know to Know posted on UpWorthy. I don’t know if she is an adoptee. Perhaps she is. Perhaps she isn’t. However, her post is very relevant in any racially-diverse family whether formed through biology or adoption.

https://wp.me/p4r2GC-1Zh

Roots and Wings, Questions and Answers, Building Connections

Wednesday, March 21, 2018 @ 02:03 PM
Author: admin

Roots and Wings, Questions and Answers Love connects families across time and distanceBy the very fact that you chose to take the time to open this blog, you have demonstrated a commitment to being the best parent you can. Posts like this one help us identify leverage points from which we can better guide and connect with our children. Today as I write this blog, tragically, another school shooting has occurred. This is another reminder of the fragility of life. In recent weeks we’ve concentrated nurturing our relationships within our family context. Strong, connected relationships form the foundational bedrock of healthy families. They do not happen by accident. They grow from a consistent commitment of words and aligned actions.

As Intentional Parents we have committed to a goal: to parent in a way that reflects our deeply held values and which helps children grow into happy, healthy adults with strong “roots” and sturdy “wings.”

So, let’s consider a few questions.

(First, identify one specific attempt you actually made to reinforce your relationship connection members of your family. Then repeat this series of questions regarding at least one attempt you made to connect with each of the remaining members of your family.) Let’s explore what you can “data mine” about your efforts.

Roots and Wings, Questions and Answers Keep reaching until you connectHow well was it received? What did it accomplish?  How did their response affect your emotions?

How have you reminded yourself each day to ensure you fulfilled your intention to make a daily connection?

Did you think to consider taking advantage of each family member’s “love language?” (If you need a refresher, reread this blog.)

What did you notice within yourself as the interactions occur?

 What happened when those efforts “landed”?

If your effort was rebuffed, how did you respond? (Think of both your external reactions and your internal emotions and thoughts.)

What can you do to help identify additional ways of connecting? How can you make them more effective?

How did timing, location, and the presence–or absence–of others influence whether or not connection successfully occurred?

Now run an instant replay in your mind WITHOUT any soundtrack.

What role did body language play—yours and theirs? How did they play off one another?

Now run ONLY the soundtrack. How did word choice influence the result? How does your wording influence the communication, for example, when you speak saying “you” versus “I”?

What have you learned about yourself? What have you learned about individual members of your family?  Decide what actions you want to repeat and which ones need further revision or a totally new strategy. When unable to connect “in person” what other ways might you try? Notes? Text messages? Get creative. Instagram? Letters? (the snail mail kind!) The bottom line:

Sustain the intention and

Develop the effective strategies

Implement systems that remind you to follow through.

Approach this effort one day at a time. What will you do today?

Walking in Our Children’s Shoes

Wednesday, March 7, 2018 @ 01:03 PM
Author: admin
Walking in Our Children’s Shoes.hunger to knowDuring the previous two weeks, we focused on building relationships by intentionally scheduling conversations with the sole purpose of speaking the deep feelings in our hearts. Instead of relying on the assumption that our families “know” how we feel about them, we committed to speaking those feelings aloud.
This week let’s take a different angle on relationship building. We challenge you to stroll down Adoption Lane with one twist: Answer 7 “trigger” questions from “curious” (rude) people as if YOU were an adoptee. Consider only one question per day. Sit with the question; Do not give an autoresponse reply. Really think about it throughout the day. Determine how fully you can answer each one. What is known/unknown? What is knowable/unknowable?
Answer “trigger” questions as if YOU were an adoptee. Consider only one question per day. Sit with the question; Do not give an autoresponse reply. Really think about it throughout the day. Determine how fully you can answer each one. What is known/unknown? What is knowable/unknowable?
What kind of parental support would you want? What might you be tempted to conceal from your folks? Determine what else would you need to now. What else would you want to know? What else would you fear to know? What would you want your parents to know about your attempt to reply to the “trigger” questions?
What kind of parental support would you want? What might you be tempted to conceal from your folks? What would you want your parents to know about your attempt to reply to the “trigger” questions? What would tempt you to hide your struggle?
What will you do with the insight you gain through this exercise? What actions will you take? What conversations will you initiate? How did this exercise deepen your understanding of your child’s need for information and empathy?
Daily Question
Day One: A friend tells you her mom has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Her grandmother died of breast cancer at age fifty. You’re sixteen and were adopted after being abandoned as a newborn. What is your response to her? Within yourself? How does it make you feel about yourself?
Day Two: A new teammate asked if you have any brothers and sisters. In your adoptive family, you are an only child.
Day Three A “friend” comments that you look enough like your boyfriend that you could be brother and sister. How do you reply? How does it make you feel?
Day Four: You were adopted internationally. During a discussion about immigration policy in your Civics, someone asks, “What are you?”
Day Five: An acquaintance asks how you would know if you might be dating a relative.
Day Six:  Your Health class teacher assigned your class their turn with the “Robot Baby.” (A mechanical doll that simulates the behavior of an infant. Students are graded on the quality of parental care they deliver over an entire weekend.)  A classmate asks what you know about your birth parents and why they didn’t want you.
Day Seven:  Your adoptive parents and your brothers (their biological children) are all exceptionally tall. You barely reach five feet. You are their only daughter. You overhear someone “joke” to your parents about how they had to “resort” to adoption to get a girl. How do you feel? What do you say?

Believing Hearts, Hurtful Words, Healing Words

Friday, February 16, 2018 @ 11:02 PM
Author: admin

Believing Hearts, Hurtful Words, Healing WordsLife-affirming people make us feel better after being with them. The way they speak and interact resonates, refreshes & supports us. Through their words and demeanor, we feel heard, seen and, validated. They listen attentively and respectfully. We feel the difference. They believe in us and thus remind us to believe in ourselves. They roll up their shirtsleeves and then dig in and help. We blossom within this type of rare and blessed relationship.

As adoptive parents, we have the opportunity—the obligation—to create this level of communication within our families. Since adoption is the most significant factors that make our families unique, the way we communicate around adoption occupies center stage in our family dynamics and family cohesion. Our silences have as much if not more, impact than our words.

Believing Hearts, Hurtful Words, Healing Words

It is a truism that adoption brings together disparate individuals and grafts them into a family. Unlike a cake mix where simple stirring blends the ingredients sufficiently, adoption requires a unique, life-long commitment to understanding how to best fulfill the needs of adoptees. It also mandates that we maintain an understanding about how our own grief and loss issues contribute to the complexity. We cannot afford to deny that these raw spots exist. To do so would require that we build a false façade that dooms the entire family to role-playing instead of genuinely connecting.

Both parents and children have emotional hot spots—triggers—which can be easily detonated and lead to hurt feelings and damaged relationships. This blog will focus on only one of the many contributing elements: the role language plays in shaping family relationships. We cannot afford to be cavalier or haphazard with our words, nor can we default to cultural phrases and assumptions about adoption. We must dig deeper, be intentional, and use language in a positive, almost therapeutic way.  We must maintain a scrupulous awareness of how we use language.

Believing Hearts, Hurtful Words, Healing Words

Nature/Nurture Conundrum

The push/pull between the influences of nature and nurture is undeniable in adoptive families. Both forces operate in a constantly changing balance. The differences that exist between ourselves and our children contribute as much as our commonalities to shape who we are as individuals and as a family.

All families have differences. We are, after all, not clones but individuals. Adoptive families are even more likely to have areas where preferences and inclinations don’t quite synchronize. The way we talk about—or ignore this challenge—impacts our relationships and the attachment-building process.

Most of the time we appreciate the zest and spice that our children’s differences add to our families. Sometimes, however, their aptitudes and inclinations challenge us. A family of sports nuts, for example, may be utterly confounded by their child’s total disinterest in things athletic. Or, a family whose generations have been steeped in the arts, music, and dance may be frustrated with their child’s refusal to engage while they prefer to focus their complete attention on sports.

As Intentional Parents, we strive to respect the entire spectrum of the family’s aptitudes, successes, and struggles with mutual respect. We choose to consciously honor, nurture and encourage their unique—and different—interests and abilities. We scrupulously avoid sending a message that we wish they were different—code for “more like us.” It is essential to release our children from the straitjacket of expectations limited to historical family patterns. Language counts in this regard. So does silence.

Believing Hearts, Hurtful Words, Healing WordsOnce we adopted, we entered a new world, one that includes substantial differences. We must embrace this infusion of difference and never convey disappointment or resentment or imply that who their DNA has designed them to be is not quite good enough. Most especially, we must not imply that our children should stifle their natural talents and subjugate them to our family’s “traditional” patterns as the unspoken cost for acceptance into our families.

Our children struggle with the weight and challenge of the inevitable differences they feel as they walk through life and accomplish the task of becoming themselves within the context of our families. This is not an easy job. They must in essence, “build the bridge as they are walking across it,”[1] and figure out how to straddle their dual identity of biology and biography.* They need our guidance and encouragement and the words we use to express our support matters.

When our child pursues an activity which we find dull, uninteresting, or not “worthwhile,” the judgmental part of our consciousness may undermine our best intentions to convery neutrality and acceptance. For example, a sports nut mom may find it excruciating to listen to her child drone in minute detail about a piece of music or favorite film. She might make an auto-pilot comment like, “That’s interesting.” That phrase commonly operates as code for BORING. At best it damns with “faint praise.”  

Often our body language conveys our authentic feelings in direct contradiction to our spoken words: eyes roll or avoid contact, mouth gapes open or we remain focused on our own task rather than fully engage with our child.

(The message is clear whether vocalized or not.) Although the adage says, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” we all know the truth that contradicts this old saw. Some words cut to the core, flay the spirit, and destroy self-esteem.

Believing Hearts, Hurtful Words, Healing Words, toxic wordsOnce spoken and heard, such toxic words cannot be taken back, “unheard” or forgotten. Forgiveness may follow, but the memory of such verbal poison and the emotional message they convey will linger. The scar will remain as a memory of a painful experience and a permanent part of their inner audiotape.

The quicksand of harsh words can damage our children. Adoption has its roots in loss–for parent and child–and this reality can leave us vulnerable to feelings of shame, self-doubt and, inadequacy. As the saying goes, “Hurt people hurt people.” In other words, when people feel hurt, they tend to lash out in response. It is helpful to remind ourselves of this when our kids dish out hurtful or rejecting comments. The heat of the moment is not the time for a rational discussion.

Prepare for these conversations ahead of time and remember though the words are directed at us–and may be intentionally hurtful–they’re usually our child’s effort to unload pain and to offload it to parents. The reality is that their words can land on very raw and tender emotional hot spots within us. (We’re human after all.) At some unconscious level, most adoptive parents wrestle with fears that their children might never fully bond with them. Many adoptive parents unconsciously fear that their children might prefer their biological parents. Others worry that their children might not have enough room for both their adoptive parents and their biological parents. (Kids fear the corollary.) These That’s a lot of fear on both sides of the equation.

Regardless of the buttons kids may push, or the emotional hand grenades they lobby parents must remain solid in their commitment to respectful, compassionate language. There is NEVER justification for the use of such “Black Box” phrases as:

“I wish we’d never adopted you.”

“You’re just like your mother (or father) [An insult is clearly implied]

“My biological children would never be like you.”

“Adopting you was a big mistake”

“You should be grateful we adopted you.”

“Maybe I’m not your real mom/dad but you’re not my real kid either.”

“You’re so puny, or such a big Amazon, or ____ (insert a phrase that attacks your child’s being.”

“You’re stuck with us; your parents didn’t want you.”

The preceding words do irreparable harm to the fragile bonds of attachment which require so much effort, time and intention to foster and strengthen and are, unfortunately, so easy to undermine an damage.

Here a few questions to consider.

What other toxic talk might be fatal to your relationships as a family?

When your kids say deeply hurtful things to you, how do you remain calm and “adult” and resist the urge to retaliate?

How might you model ways of “off-loading” pain in a way that does not hurt others?

Take the time to develop an arsenal of responses that support your child and your child who is experiencing an “emotional hijacking.” (This is when they are so inflamed with emotion, their thinking brain is shut down. They’re not thinking; they are downing in a tsunami of overwhelming and frightening emotions. Logic is useless. Reasoning and logic are futile. The time for discussion, problem-solving and consequences will come later, after the firestorm subsides.)

Here are some ways to respond.

It must be scary to feel angry enough to hate me. It sounds like “x” is really important to you.

I bet that feeling like I’m not your “real” mom (dad) must leave you feeling alone and unprotected.

I’ve never had to wonder who my real parents are; I think it must be both scary and painful.

Don’t expect miracles. Notice that these responses focus on meeting the child where he is, not in yelling at them to calm down, not in screaming back a laundry list of escalating consequences and not in trying to impose parental control. They focus on conveying empathy, not winning the argument. This response is about salvaging the relationship and reminding them that it is something valuable. Bridge cross the crisis to connect and nurture the seeds of attachment. Remember when our kids are behaving in their must “unloveable” and unpleasant ways, it is usually when they need our love and reassurance the most.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Building-Bridge-As-You-Walk/dp/078797112X