Posts Tagged ‘boundaries’

Some Questions Don’t Deserve Answers

Wednesday, July 18, 2018 @ 05:07 PM
Author: admin

All families need healthy boundaries, especially adoptive families because we encounter rude incursions into our private business with greater frequency than non-adopted families. People are curious about us, our bonds, our children and our “stories.” They yearn to know the inside scoop. And their interest is not always out of compassion. Sometimes people’s prurient curiosity seeks “dirt” not facts. Some people may have a genuine desire to understand how adoptive families are formed and how they grow to be a loving family unit but may fail to recognize how private and personal their questions are.

Regardless of their motives, when inquisitive folks ask questions they often pose them at inopportune moments or places and/or fail to consider if we would want to share the information they seek. Equally offensive, they may ask questions in front of our kids–questions that would be inappropriate or hurtful to discuss in our children’s presence.

We must train ourselves to remember this: some questions do not deserve an answer. They deserve only a return question: Why would you want to know? If we decide we want to respond, we should first get clarity on the questioner’s motives. Are they interested in becoming adoptive parents themselves? Or are they just nosey? There are times, places and people who are available to provide the information being sought. It isn’t always us, isn’t always at the moment they ask, and isn’t always information we care to share. AND THAT IS OKAY!  We have the right to withhold an answer. In some cases, we have an obligation to hold our personal boundary and decline to answer.

We must develop well-honed skills both in defining and holding boundaries. As Intentional Parents, we must model this skill so that our children can observe the process in action. Throughout their lives, they will encounter people who feel free to ask intrusive questions and/or offer them unsolicited and inappropriate advice. They must be taught how to respond in ways that preserve their privacy and their self-esteem.

So when someone asks us a personal question within earshot of our kids, treat it as a teaching moment. Imagine being on-stage at Carnegie Hall, spotlights aimed right on us. Think carefully about how and what we say and stay conscious not only of our words but also our tone and our body language. Each of these factors is an important element in our response and helps how it will be received. And it will color what our children will infer about our reply and how it reflects on them.

Although the children may appear to be unaware of the conversation, typically they are alert observers in such a situation. Feigning preoccupation with their own activity serves as camouflage for vigilant attention that takes note of the interaction in meticulous detail. This is our moment to demonstrate how to stand up for oneself, one’s privacy, and one’s boundaries. It can be done with courtesy and still be effective,

After the encounter, it’s essential we debrief our children. Make sure they understood what happened and why we responded the way we did. Point up how the person violated a boundary of common courtesy. Teach the distinction between private and secret. We should share private information only with those whom we trust and whom we know will respect and honor our trust. We don’t give personal information to strangers or casual acquaintances. Share details only with those who meet both the trustworthy test and who also have a genuine need to know. Our children’s information belongs to them; be very, very certain that this person needs to know it. Once shared, the information cannot ever be “unheard.”

Avoid telling children information is secret. This suggests it must be hidden because it is shameful. Adoptees are predisposed to feel shame about being adopted; they don’t need another reason to feel it. Labelling information as secret also teaches kids that it is okay to keep secrets. We don’t want either of these outcomes.

Children tend to think from a self-oriented point of view. In adopted children, this commonly results in their falsely believe that somehow they caused their adoption. So it is vital to ensure that children realize that any annoyance we displayed toward a rude questioner was aimed at that person and that it is not the children’s fault in any way.

It is vital that we never allow our need to please others or avoid awkwardness and confrontations to bully us into answering inappropriate answers. Rude questions deserve a response that clearly holds our personal boundaries. We can be pleasant and still be assertive, confident caretakers of our family’s boundaries and personal information.

Teaching our children how and why they should stand up for themselves is an important life skill. It molds them into compassionate people who respect others and who are capable of standing up for right instead of remaining mute in the face of bullying of themselves or others. Courage is something that benefits from practice. Acting with courage in the small moments of life help prepare and strengthen us for life’s big challenges.

Coping with Transitions …

Thursday, August 3, 2017 @ 12:08 AM
Author: admin

Coping with transitions: the adoption connectionAnyone connected with adoption knows that transitions tend to unsettle adoptees. Some posit that it echoes the primal loss of their being separated from their birth families. Regardless of how they connect to this profound loss, transitions do operate as trigger points for many (most) adoptees. Transitions tend to trigger uncertainty which in turn connects to fear, insecurity and, a sense of amorphic threat or danger. As Intentional parents, we work to be mindful of this hot-button and we use strategies to help our kiddos cope. Let’s face it, nobody enjoys a meltdownnot even the kids. These emotional events leave everyone shaken by the intensity and depth of the feelings which undergird them.

They also tend to trigger visceral responses within us. A combination of irritation, frustration, overwhelm, helplessness, impotence, confusion and, even fear all vibratein a symphony of dissonance that leaves all feeling spent. What are some steps that help families to move forward? Attunement offers one excellent path.

Acknowledge: Keep it neutral! Resist the temptation to match their drama with our own responses. Stay factual. I can see you’ve got big feelings about this.

Witness: Move beyond the act of observing and choose to give witness. Just like in a courtroom, our words offer a perspectiveourswhich informs how others understand the situation. Our testimony gives kids the language to express, describe and, capture their experience. Once kids have words to express their feelings and needs, they can begin to step off the hamster wheel of what Daniel Goleman calls an “emotional hijacking.

Language helps them label their thoughts, feelings and, needs. Words offer us a way to express their inner turmoil. This provides us some sense of being able to manage the “overwhelm”. What happens when there are no words?

Think about it. When adopted as infants and toddlers, children have not yet mastered language. This means the trauma which adoptees experienced by being separated from their birth mothers is held as pre-verbal memory. This means it is not encoded in words. They experience the memory as a feeling without a script. Although “non-verbal,” the memory holds a deeply entrenched, consuming sense of danger, fear and, abandonment on a sensate, cellular level. Without words to recapture and revisit the memory, it is experienced as unbounded, ongoing and unending. And, because it lacks a perceived beginning or end, these undefined, unlimited feelings are easily triggered throughout life.

They need us to provide tools to cope. A broad “emotional vocabulary” empowers them to transform the misperception that stressors are infinite, unlimited and permanent. Language imposes some boundaries. It provides them a way to package it so they can examine, assess and manage it.

Affirm: Adult adoptees frequently report that some of their most painful memories center around feeling invalidated and invisible. This happens when their feelings and concerns are dismissed, trivialized or ignored. Many report that they received powerful messageseither overtly or subtlythat adoption conversation could include only positives; that they were expected to choose undivided loyalty to the adoptive family and never refer to, or seek information about their birth families; that they needed to sublimate their natural talents and inclinations and follow the traditional patterns of the adoptive family; that discussing adoption distressed their parents. They chose to sacrifice themselves and learned to ignore their need for support in order to protect their adoptive parents.

Intentional parents have the opportunity to choose a healthier and more honest approach.

Adoption-attuned*Coping with Transitions ...Set boundaries: One thing parents fear is that if they try to “connect before correct” kids will grab the upper hand and the family will devolve into chaos. In reality, if we try to yell, persuade or punish a child who is in the stranglehold of an emotional hijacking, we engage in a lose/lose situation.

So yes, connect. Connect so you can correct but delay the educating part of correcting until calm has been restored. Then correct. Reiterate the boundaries. Rehearse the better choices. 

For more on the concept of Emotional Intelligence and emotional hijackings read Daniel Goleman’s seminal work, Emotional Intelligence. At GIFT, we move beyond the common idea that intelligence equates with Intellectual capability as measured by a high IQ and consider the concept of multiple intelligences. In addition to Intellectual Intelligence (IQ), we embrace Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence, (EQ,) and it led us to develop the idea of Adoption-attunement™–our theory of Adoption Intelligence (AQ.)

No Bohns About It

Protecting Our Kids from Abuse

Wednesday, April 27, 2016 @ 05:04 PM
Author: admin

protecting kids at homeWe love our kids unconditionally. To us, the absence of a biological link to them does not matter. Our children are the offspring of our hearts and souls though not of our bodies. We would do anything–everything–to keep them safe. When we hear that April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, we sigh with relief: our kids have landed in a family where they are safe, loved and protected. We need not worry about abuse. “It happens to other families, not ours.”

However, from the personal experience of now-adult adoptees, we’ve learned this isn’t always true. Abuse can take many forms: physical, mental, emotional. Sometimes it occurs at the hands of relatives who appear loving and accepting on the surface but who actually relate to our kids as “less than” or “different from” their other [biological] relatives.

Imagine what happens when extended family is not fully accepting of adoption. How does this impact the child? How does it affect us and how we relate to relatives who are cool, aloof or distant from our children?

What happens when “family” appears to accept our children but in their hearts they relate to our children as “less than”? What about those who are outright rude and intolerant? That happens too.

How does a child feel when we allow “family” to treat our kids poorly/differently or when we dismiss it as untrue or unintentional?

Nat. Child Abuse Prev GraphicWhen we make excuses for Nana’s prejudices, (That’s just Nana …”) we may think this softens or neutralizes the hurt. But consider how our children feel about Uncle John’s distance, or Aunt Sarah’s judgmentalism. The experience is real. And it is remembered.  Not acknowledging the truth, does not remove the hurt.  It is our responsibility to protect kids from such injury.

Yes, we hope  that eventually our extended family will come to fully accept our kids. But it may never happen. In the interim, we must ensure that we protect our children.

Our core strategy must be truthfulness. First with ourselves, then with our kids. When we candy-coat or deny  our children’s experiences, we damage the fundamental relationship between us. Instead of looking to us for safety and honesty, and validation, they receive mixed messages. “Grandpop doesn’t mean to …”  When we don’t acknowledge that bio-grandkids receive more attention, better presents, more time and attention than our adopted kids we deny their reality, their intuition, and their judgment. Even at a young age, kids sense when they are not being accepted. They may not have the vocabulary but they do experience the pain. We cannot pretend it away. Covering a cow patty with frosting doesn’t make it dessert. Such wishful thinking only makes it worse for our kids.

Imagine how painful it is when kids realize that we expect them to subordinate their feelings, that we have chosen kin relationships over them. Without being told in direct words, they understand that we expect them to tolerate comments and interactions that demean them for the sake of maintaining extended family harmony. That is quite a price for us to ask our kids to pay. It is, in fact, a form of child abuse.

Intentional parents will be honest with their kids when relatives  fail to treat their kids with the respect, acceptance and affection they deserve. This means holding a firm boundary and avoiding certain people until they change their attitudes. Educate relatives on how they can become adoption-attuned and support you and your children. Give family a chance to change but shelter children from hurt until that change has occurred.  In your own family, what have you experienced regarding less than 100% acceptance of your kids? How did you handle it? With this new level of awareness, what, if anything, would you do differently?

Finally, to reflect back to our two prior blogs, consider those whom you have chosen to be part of your family emergency support system. How adoption-attuned are they? Are they completely accepting of your kids? If not, who will you choose instead? . Any prospective resource must authentically respect and accept your child as “family.”

Fielding Intrusive Questions

Wednesday, January 27, 2016 @ 04:01 PM
Author: admin

What Do I Say NowLet’s face it, as adoptive families we frequently must field intrusive/offensive questions about our family, children and adoption.   What Do I Say Now?  by Carol Bick and M. C. Baker, illustrated by Sophie Meyer helps us address this issue. The book uses a question and answer format. Many include several alternative responses–a Quick Fix, often humorous reply, one that Raises Awareness and a Take Home choice that speaks to the parent

What Do I Say Now? includes an introduction to guide parents on how to use it effectively. Adoptive families will welcome this resource as a way to prepare themselves and their children on how to confront or deflect inappropriate and intrusive questions.

Such dress rehearsal benefits both parent and child, first, as a way of discussing these points as a family. This will help uncover misunderstandings that the child might have. It will allow parent and child to define boundaries about what they want to share and what they choose to keep private within the family.

One of the most important lessons parents can impart to their children is that it is appropriate and encouraged for children to refuse to answer rude questions–even those posed by adults.  By rehearsing some responses, kids can answer with intention instead of blindsided reactions. Plus, it demonstrates that such discussions are welcome and encouraged within the family. This fosters a family atmosphere of openness and approachability.

In the absence of a clear invitation and because they want to shelter parents from these kind of offensive conversations, kids will often assume that they must handle rude questions without parental support or input. Kids keep experiences and feelings locked inside themselves where they fester and distress them. Many of them mistakenly believe their parents want them to only acknowledge the positive aspects of adoption. Parents must consistently convey their willingness to acknowledge both the gains and losses which adoption accrues to their children.

Another important benefit of sharing a book like What Do I Say Now? is to remind parents of the critical need to define the conversation boundaries about adoption so they can reduce–even better, eliminate, the incidences of children suffering these toxic conversation encounters. It is a parent’s worst nightmare when people ask questions like, “How much did you pay for your Susie?” within earshot of your child. Learn how to anticipate, deflect and shut down questioners in a way that respects and protects the children and does not leave them feeling diminished or depersonalized. Be assertive.

We explored this in an earlier blog: “Consider the effect such hurtful comments have on our children. Be assertive in setting boundaries with others. Step in immediately to cut short any conversation that is inappropriate or hurtful. While our natural inclination is to be polite and avoid a confrontation with a rude, unthinking, or judgmental person, we must be vigorous in holding safe boundaries for our children. Vigilance is essential. Hurtful words, once spoken cannot be erased. They take an especially raw toll on kids with trauma histories.” Read more “Little Ears Have Sensitive Hearts.


Perspectives on National Adoption Month

Wednesday, November 18, 2015 @ 06:11 PM
Author: admin

Happy family together, parents with their little child at sunset.


Adoptive parents had a soul-deep desire for their adopted children. It is important that we help our children understand that we benefited as much as they did when we became a family.

The previous statement is point number thirteen from GIFT’s  Adoption Philosophy, a document posted on our Growing Intentional Families Together website. This entry highlights an important balancing point in the parent/child relationship that is often overlooked in how others (and sometimes ourselves, families or friends,) perceive as a positive result that is created by adoption.

Virtually everyone can recognize that adoption provides a family for a child in need of one. Equally true, it grafts a child to a family. Often the adults’ desire for a child is intense–even consuming. Thus, when the adoption occurs, the parental dream is fulfilled. Clearly the parents benefit as much as the child.


Parents must not diminish or invalidate the reality of our childrens’ losses in adoption. Adopted children should know that they were not the only one who had a need for family. This is a fine line on which to tread. The intention of this philosophical point is to balance the relationship between parent and child so that one party is not viewed as the “needy” one and the other seen as the rescuer. Instead, parent and child are simultaneously giver and receiver. We expanded our family song and together became a symphony.

How does this distinction matter? How will you simultaneously acknowledge your need while affirming your ability to be able to meet their needs, hold their pain and affirm their spirits?

Please review the entire document. Adoption Philosophy has twenty-five specific points. Mull them over. With which ones do you agree? Are there any with which you would quibble? We invite you to sit down and hammer out your family adoption philosophy. Understand how these beliefs influence your parenting. How does bringing these beliefs to conscious awareness assist you in attuning to your child’s needs as well as your own? How does this scrutiny reveal both similarities and differences between you and your partner?

Consider broadening this discussion with your extended family. What benefits might accrue? What pot holes might it bring to light? (Review your boundaries and remember to hold them lovingly and strong.)