luck & gratitude

During this month folks who are Irish—literally or metaphorically—celebrate St. Patrick's Day. Like many holidays, a non-sectarian sense of fun has overtaken the religious aspects of the day's origins. So what does St. Patrick's Day have to do with adoption? The "luck of the Irish" comes to mind. Luck...a term easily tossed around. And often hurled in the face of adoptees. They routinely hear, "You are so lucky you were adopted."

Regardless of the reasons that caused their adoption, the loss of their first family is significant, painful, tragic. Many have written eloquently on this absurd and painfully invalidating notion.

This expectation of gratitude is often coupled with equally offensive "Shoulds." Adoptees are told they should:

From the day our first child was placed in my arms thirty-five years ago, I believed I understood the tragedy at the roots of our joy. As the years have unfolded, however, I realize that the enormity of this life-long loss cannot be parsed by anyone who is not actually an adoptee or birth parent. When cancer destroyed my ability to conceive, no one ever suggested to fifteen-year-old me that I should feel lucky for having cancer or lucky for being rendered sterile. The very notion is ridiculous.

I did/do, however, frequently hear that I should feel grateful that I didn't have to experience pregnancy or childbirth. I do not. I grieve that loss of not having that nine months of shared intimacy. Yes, it rearranged my life and ultimately led to my cherished children entering my life. But the benefits do not erase the losses;  they coexist. Yet this expectation of gratitude for the cruel factors that shaped our lives is often flung in our faces. It feels deeply invalidating to have our personal tragedies dismissed as trivial or as a blessing. When we connect to our own individual experiences of painful incidents, we can glean a small appreciation for what our (adopted) children encounter. Still, we are adults and benefit from an adult's perspective, experience, and skillsets to help us cope. So how do we best support our children and free them from the crushing weight of such societal expectations?

Most of us--unless we ourselves are also adopted--can not truly understand their emotional reality. The closest we can come is probably connecting to our own infertility losses, miscarriages, or stillbirths, etc. and imagining how we would feel if people regularly expected us to be grateful. We ache when we're told how lucky we are to have avoided the discomfort of pregnancy or when we hear, after a miscarriage, that we'll probably conceive another. I suspect most of us have felt gut-punched by such callous remarks. I believe it is hard for people to see their loved ones and friends suffer. They feel discomforted by our pain or struggle. For their sake as well as ours, they seek a quick resolution. However, moving too quickly to fix-it mode ignores the genuine reality of the pain of the present moment. It must be worked through not denied.

To some extent, I suppose we can appreciate such emotional hand grenades as it is a way of nurturing empathy for our children's plight.  Like our children, we too, hold a Both/And reality with our own emotions because while adoption provided us our children to love and graft into our families it did not cure infertility or cause us to forget our stillborn babies or the monthly rollercoaster of grief when pregnancy failed to happen. We must resist the need to apply emotional band-aids and instead to sit with them offering empathy, validation, and a safe harbor in which they can be 100% honest about any pain and angst they feel about adoption. This kind of presence, compassionate witness, and honesty are at the heart of Adoption-attunement.

Intentional families are lucky in one way: we exist in a level of awareness committed to thinking deeply about our choices, language, methods, and emotions and therefore, raise our consciousness to a level often missed by those who operate on auto-pilot because life rocked us out of our comfort zone and into a world of hard-won empathy. What will you do this week to reshape the connection between luck, gratitude, and adoption?

GIFT Family Services -- Growing Intentional Families Together

"Your Adoption-attunement℠ specialists
providing coaching and support before, during, and after adoption."   

GIFT coaches are available to present workshops in person or on-line.

Contact us to explore this possibility.

*Adapted from our blog originally published in March, 2016

An adult adoptee I know described a recent conversation she had with the eight-year-old daughter of a coworker. Somehow the child learned that my friend was adopted. This shocked the little girl because my friend didn’t “look adopted.” In her child's mind, she assumed that adoptees would exhibit an identifiable appearance that would be instantly recognizable by all observers. At first, the child thought the revelation of my friend’s adoptive status was a joke or a trick. Once reassured that it was neither, the youngster tried to wrestle with her thoughts.

She had questions. The first one began as follows: “So when your real mom got rid of you…”

My friend is a middle-aged adult, well-adjusted, with a life that is proceeding well. She has come to terms with adoption, has reconnected with her birth mother, writes and speaks publicly on adoption complexity. Nonetheless, my friend felt gut-punched by the innocent comment and called me ASAP to help her work through her reaction.

Words spoken so innocently had cut deeply on two main points. The first was “got rid of you.” Intellectually, my friend understood that the child lacked the vocabulary to express her thoughts more tactfully. Viscerally, in the recesses of her own insecurities, the words echoed a deep-seated fear that plagues her—and I think most adoptees— that somehow my friend caused herself to be adopted. A mental laundry list of personal failures that she had compiled during a lifetime of adoption grief, self-recrimination, and doubt immediately came to mind. Her baby self had been “too needy, too plain, cried too much, or wasn’t good enough, etc, etc. etc.…

My friend is familiar with the words of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Carl Sandburg: “A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on…” In that conversation with the little girl, however, she didn’t feel like a miracle to be celebrated. The only thought which she could hold was “your real mom had gotten rid of her” like trash.

Inside her adult self, a Rejected Child still lived, anguished, ashamed, and convinced she had caused her adoption. She had to be at fault because, in her Inner Child’s eyes, mothers are Good.

A Good Mother would only reject a Bad Baby. My friend recognizes the irrationality of these thoughts and yet…they still burn like battery acid and persist like the belly button that reminds her they were once united.

She has worked hard to develop resiliency, confidence, and competency. Yet this Inner Child awakens easily and for a micro-second she automatically accepts blame, feels at fault, and unworthy in the face of life’s challenges. Intentionality, self-awareness, and a strong commitment to Adoption-attunement has helped her overcome this negativity. Her learning and resiliency have been hard-won.

The second big trigger in this conversation centers on the child’s use of the word real. My friend knew that the child lacked the appropriate language with which to refer to a birth mother. However, because of the unique circumstances of my friend’s life, she dislikes it when anyone suggests that her adoptive mom is not real. (In her mind she experienced mothering only from her adoptive mom. From her first mother, she received only on-going distance and rejection.

She accepts that both are real, but only her adoptive mother has filled her needs for mothering. If anyone minimizes her adoptive mother, my friend fiercely comes to her mom’s defense.)

As intensely as her Inner Child feels emotions connected to being placed for adoption, she feels equally impassioned about the importance of the parents who loved and raised her and whom she loves and treasures in return. Fortunately, her adult self can hold a medley of emotions and beliefs about adoption complexity. But that requires higher-order thinking and sometimes that more cerebral thinking lags behind the immediate responses of her emotions.

Why did I detail so much of this single conversation? Because it offers a peek into the emotional vortex that lies beneath the observable surface of an adoptee’s daily life. It’s complicated, not always visible, and occasionally understandably reactionary. This is where the skills and empathy of Adoption-attunement help us to be the parents our children need. AQ is helpful from infancy through adulthood. That is why we encourage all our client families to grow a High AQ!

At GIFT Family Services we know and encourage clients who work with us to accept that birth and adoptive parents are all real and are all forever, permanent parts of an adopted person’s whether their presence is physical or only emotional.

Our coaches are available to present workshops in person or online or to speak at your organization or conference. Contact us to explore this possibility.

For additional insight into the adult adoptee experience read “You Don’t Look Adopted” by Anne Heffron. We interviewed her in a past blog. Her book is raw, unvarnished and well worth the read.

 

 

 

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.[1] 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.

I'm certainly not trying to vilify adoptive parents nor to place all the responsibility on their shoulders. Other factors contribute to mental health issues, e.g., biological predispositions, trauma, pre-natal environment, etc.  My intent is to awaken parents to the danger of not attuning and thus leaving kids to make sense of adoption complexity with a loving support person. Attunement is something we can do that helps counterbalance the risk factors. As Intentional Parents, we endeavor to insert as many positive elements in our family dynamics as possible. At GIFT we are firmly committed to education, empathy, and AQ to help ease the challenges of life as an adoptive family. One of our fundamental beliefs is to approach parenting strategies from a working/not working and not from a right/wrong stance.

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"

 

 

 

So far this month this blog has examined several priorities for parenting success in 2020. At the risk of being overly obvious, we must consider ourselves and the relationship with our spouses/partners one of our first priorities. It is this key relationship we build between us that becomes the hub around which family relationships revolve. If this keystone weakens or fractures, families fall apart.

The strength and health of our parental partnership steadies the family throughout the vagaries of life. Our relationship as partners creates the template for our children to follow. It will shape the kind of person whom they will choose when searching for their own. It will define what is appropriate, desirable and meaningful as well as what is not.

As our children observe our interactions with our spouse/partner, they will learn about respect, mutual support, reciprocal attachment, appropriate touch, the power of values lived in day to day actions as well as the respecting, setting, and honoring personal boundaries. Children will observe the way we speak of our life-partner when they are not present. We have the chance to demonstrate integrity and respect as it lives within a relationship. We get to choose how we live and thus, we determine what our children will observe and learn.

For example, consider the concept of “loyalty to the absent.” This is revealed in how we speak about one another when our spouse/partner is not present. Are we respectful, appreciative, and supportive? Or do we demean, belittle, or invalidate them? Do we take any “cheap shots” or highlight their shortcomings as a way to make ourselves look better in our children’s eyes? Do we hold a unified team that supports one another or undermine and divide our partnership in an effort to endear ourselves to our children at the expense of our spouse/partner?

As our kids watch us, they will add to their how-to-be-a-partner template. Each observed interaction will flesh out their template with greater detail.

It will also shape their expectations of other kinds of relationships. For example, if they see us hold high standards of respect and integrity towards our partner, they can easily transfer this blueprint to other relationships.

The corollary is true as well. If they observe us being demeaning, sarcastic, or unsupportive toward our absent partner, children may also wonder if we talk and think about them as duplicitously as well. Such doubt and uncertainty do not make a steady and healthy foundation for connection and trust. In this type of two-faced model, our children may also wonder whether “nice” words we espouse towards and about their birth families are genuine or only empty lines uttered out of obligation.

If we choose to live integrity in our relationships with our partners, our family reaps great dividends: security, trust, stability, and consistency. They’ll accumulate a healthy, resilient, and steadying template for partnership and human interactions. That is a tremendous blessing and a wonderful foundation on which they can build emotional intelligence and healthy personal identity.

As you walk with your partner through 2020, how intentional, loyal, and integrous will you choose to be? How will you sustain this priority with your partner/spouse? What conversations might you choose to hold with them? With your children?

Keep in mind that while modeling healthy relationships and behaviors and living aligned with our deeply held values does not guarantee that our children will embrace them. Other influences may distract them. Previous relationship experiences and self-protecting behavior that evolved in reaction to trauma will also affect their responses as well. Keep in mind that many trauma survivors have a firmly-wired need for protection that takes priority over their need for connection. Presenting a healthy blueprint does guarantee they will follow our example. However, at the very least, our model will be in their memory banks.

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.

Adoption Attuned Parenting

 

Listen to our podcasts on Adoption-attuned Parenting.

 

 

 

Read Adoption-attuned book reviews 

by GIFT coach, Gayle H. Swift,

on her blog, "Writing to Connect"

 

 

 

 

it-takes-a-village“It takes a village.” Typically, we hear this truism in reference to raising children; it might equally apply to being a community or country. When it comes to confronting disasters, it is overwhelmingly true. In fact, it takes many villages. The most recent disaster, hurricane Dorian has leveled much of the Bahamas and left more than 70,00 people homeless and their neighborhoods uninhabitable. Our guts clench as we watch in horror. We are moved to do something.

What draws us to assist others in times of crisis? Is it simply the hard knowledge that “There but for the grace of God go I?” Is it empathy? Religious conviction? Or simply fundamental human compassion? Regardless of the why, human beings are drawn to assist others when they are in trouble. We put our collective shoulders to the obstacle and press a collaborative shove.

As adoptive families, we possess unique knowledge of how to forge forward in the face of traumatic grief and loss.

We know platitudes do NOT help; they trivialize grief and loss.

Cliched phrases feel empty and invalidating. Express genuine sorrow that they are facing a crisis. Do not presume to know what they need. Ask them how you can help. Listen. Listen. Listen. Learn what they want from you and then strive to provide it.

We understand that informed and appropriate action serves best.

In a mass disaster, be sure that your efforts actually help. Verify that any person, group or agency is legitimate. (Scammers know how to tug at your heartstrings and open your wallet— for their own benefit.) Typically, the best resource you can provide is monetary. Cash donations enable aid groups to buy supplies wholesale and to distribute them where they are needed. Too often donations of material— clothing, etc—become a burden and logistical nightmare. (Read this article about how well-intended donations end up rotting, unused and impeding the delivery of aid that is desperately needed.)

Seek ways within your own family to reach out to one another with affirmation, empathy, and kindness--some of the deeply held values we yearn to instill in our children and live in our lives. As we attune better to one another, we strengthen our mutual connection and bring forth the spirit of kindness and compassion. We can expand our outreach in our local communities. Not only do we benefit personally, but also we will create ripples within our community and beyond. We can always find ways to extend a helping hand in the global community as well. There can never be too much kindness!

adoption-attuned-bboks

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.

Adoption Attuned Parenting

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"

 

[1] The original version of "ABC, Adoption & Me" was 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 

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