Hard-conversations“Hard” conversations can benefit & strengthen relationships

After interviewing Isaac Etter, the recipient of our 2024 Shaping the Future Award, my colleagues and I gathered to share reflections on community and powerful conversations. Isaac mentioned the importance of allowing an adopted child to have the power of their voice. He encouraged parents to listen to their children talk about their feelings, thoughts, yearnings, and concerns regarding their adoption. Before that can happen meaningfully, however, parents need to encourage their children to speak freely. This will happen only if the children know that parents are willing and able to hear the complete picture—the hard stuff as well as the rosy and the sweet.

Sit in the discomfort

We must be strong enough to hold the space for these conversations without breaking down or shutting down. We must step beyond our experience to make space to hear their story.  He called us to be compassionate witnesses to our child’s experience, to listen without trying to fix or minimize it. When we listen deeply, with empathy and attentiveness, we let adoptees know that we see, hear, and value their truth, their point of view, and their experience.

Encourage community to counter isolation

Research reveals that healing occurs more easily in community. Isaac encouraged parents to find and participate in groups with people who share the adoption experience. Adoptees benefit from being in relationship with other adoptees. Adoptive parents benefit from being in relationship with other adoptive parents. Birth parents benefit from being in relationship with other birth parents. These may be official support groups or informal gatherings.

Groups can be a source of belonging and feeling seen and heard. These people face what we are facing. They see beyond cultural myths. They know the daily reality of living as part of an adopted family. This commonality and community counters isolation, bolsters resilience, and encourages a sense of hopefulness.

Find Adoption Attuned, adoption-competent guides

Participate in groups that are genuinely helpful. Avoid those who simply spin the hamster wheel of negativity. Also work with knowledgeable, Adoption Attuned, adoption-competent trained coaches and therapists. They can help you move beyond the complaining stage to the coping and thriving stage.

Handle our own stuff

Part of coping is owning our piece of the puzzle. We want to cope with our own baggage. For example, deal with any feelings about infertility, educate ourselves on the Seven Core Issues of Adoption, understand the attachment process, and identify our own attachment styles. Of course, this takes effort, energy,  and commitment. If this does not happen and our “issues” remain unresolved, it will impact our children negatively.

Revisiting themes, issues, and questions

Two things are constant in adoption: ambiguity and repetition. We typically refer to ambiguity as the Both/and of adoption: both loss and gain, nature and nurture, birth and adoptive, benefit and cost. Repetition refers to the fact that adoption is an experience lived over the entire lifetimes of those involved—adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents.

Adoption is not a once-and-done event. It is an ongoing experience. Its impact spirals in intensity of impact. Every developmental milestone and stage will evoke a new understanding of how being part of an adoption impacts us. Issues, challenges, perspectives, thoughts, and presuppositions must be reexamined and reprocessed. New triggers can activate old wounds. Everyone benefits when these revisions can be explored and shared in dialog with empathy and open hearts.

Generally, growth occurs in spurts. Each family member will grow at different rates. Be patient with one another. Just be sure you are doing the work and not stuffing things down. Offer grace to everyone, including yourself. Be vigilant about your words. Toxic, cutting words can damage relationships and destroy a person’s spirit. Once spoken, they cannot be unheard. They might be forgiven. However, they will never be forgotten.

Some Questions

  • Where are you finding community for yourself and your children?
  • What current obstacles get in the way of sharing important conversations about the hard issues weighing on your family?
  • How will you address these obstacles?
  • On whom are you relying for guidance and support?
  • Are they adoption-competent and Adoption Attuned?

     Consider reading this “adoptee-focused anthology project intended to comfort those who fear the desire for information and connection is any kind of judgment on themselves. ” By the way, coach Gayle Swift wrote the first chapter.

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