Creating Holiday Joy Imagine strolling alone through a park, savoring the brisk winter air and enjoying a much-needed respite from work and family responsibilities. Overhead a picture-perfect sky arcs. You release a deep sigh and then ... behind you a branch snaps. Your reverie breaks and reality crashes back on to the forefront of your consciousness.

Daily life overflows with this kind of distraction which draws our attention away from our intended destination, mission or, goal. At this time of year, many of us feel both the joy and the burden of the holiday season. It weighs on our minds and hearts. We get caught up in the cultural effort to create a "Hallmark" holiday.

As we explored in last week's blog, the real meaning of Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, etc cannot be found in a box or gift shop. It lies in the steadiness of connection, the joy of shared laughter, the balm of troubles divided. We all know this in our heart yet, we still find ourselves pulled in other directions striving to fill cultural expectations. Imagine being able to interrupt this entrenched pattern of subordinating your Intentions. How might this refresh your family life?

To help you stay on track with your highest intentions, ponder these questions about the last week.

Use your answers to guide you to a richer fulfillment of your goals next week. Strive to approach this without judging or criticising yourself. For this week, the goal is simply to notice. Before we can change, eliminate or, tweak patterns, we have to first become aware of them.

  1. How did I connect with each member of my family?
  2. When did we share a laugh?
  3. How fully did I immerse in the moment and resist the urge to get back to "doing" stuff?
  4. When my kids needed help regulating themselves, what alerted me?
  5. When I needed a break, how did my body let me know? How did I respond?
  6. How and when did I ask for help?
  7. When the kids needed help, how did they ask for it?
  8. What was the highlight of the week?
  9. What presented the biggest challenge? How did I handle it?
  10. What do I want to create with my family during the upcoming week?

GIFT logoGIFT Family Services chose the tree as our logo because it offers an apt and frequently-used metaphor for adoption. The common interpretation sees the roots representing the birth parents/birth family, the trunk as the extended adoptive family, the branches represent the nuclear adoptive family, and a grafted limb represents the adoptee. In horticulture a limb is grafted onto a healthy trunk; it relies on the strength of the parent plant. It’s survival  depends on it. Directed by its DNA, each grafted branch remains true to its nature. For example, a “cocktail” tree grafts multiple kinds of citrus fruit onto a single trunk. This makes it possible for one “parent” plant to produce lemons, limes, oranges and tangerines on a single trunk. Similarly, one “fruit salad” tree bears several variety of apples.




Gift for Little TreeIn both cases, a colorful, startling beauty emerges.  Each grafted branch retains its unique identity and together, they become a glorious bouquet of variety. Similarly, adoption merges children into our families. We nurture them to adulthood, value their differences as well as their similarities to us and appreciate that they must be allowed to become whom their DNA prepared them to be.

A Gift for Little Tree by Colleen D.C. Marquez “A beautiful adoption parable about a fruitless apple tree, an abundant apple orchard, one wise farmer, and the greatest gift of all,” is a lovely picture book which captures this concept in exquisite watercolor drawings that are paired with gentle text. (Amazon includes this description: "A parable about adoption, this charming story tells of an apple tree who is unable to bear fruit—no matter how hard she tries—until a wise farmer finds a way. He grafts a bud onto Little Tree's limb, and in time she becomes the most colorful tree in the orchard. All those who have experienced the bonds of family in more ways than one will share in Little Tree’s delight when she discovers that it does not matter if her apples came from another tree; she loves them as her very own. Existing adoptive parents, as well as those exploring the possibility of adoption for the first time, will find Little Tree's story especially touching. The book also honors the birth mother in a unique way, helping children understand how love is the motivation for her actions.")



Retelling the stories of our livesLast week we considered the challenges that face our newly-minted high school graduates. The tree can also illustrate how our children might navigate this transition in their identity as they design the path to their future.

(These ideas are based on the work of  David Denborough and his book Retelling the Stories of our Lives.)

Bruce Lipton, author of The Biology of Beliefs and The Honeymoon Effect, uses the metaphor of an architect’s blueprint to describe our DNA.  Like a blueprint, our DNA is just a sketch of all that it is imprinted upon us. We determine what the final result will be.  The adoptee will make the final decision as to how his identity will unfold.  Like the tree, his identity is fluid and will continue to unfold as the tree blossoms and grows and as he responds to “environmental” factors which affect growth and adaptations.

perspectives on a grafted tree


For further angles on the grafted tree metaphor, look to one of the classic books for adopted families, published in 1983,  is a collection of poems titled Perspective on a Grafted Tree by Patricia Irwin Johnston.


university graduatesJune brings to mind Brides, grads and dads. All are well worth celebrating. This week our blog will focus on graduations in the adoptive family context. Many grads finish school and turn eighteen in the same year. That creates a double whammy of stress. For kids with loss and separation histories, these changes and pressures resonate within the family and can create substantial dissonance.

Many factors impinge on this powder keg. By nature, parents are loathe to see their child hurt. They may find it difficult to let go, to trust that their child can survive and learn from their inevitable mistakes. Part of them may mourn the loss of their central role in their child’s life. Having had to fight so hard to become parents, it became the consuming desire of our hearts and the highlight of our lives. This commitment defined us for so long, we wonder who we will be now that the “active” period of our parenting is complete. We are simultaneously thrilled to be out of a job and in need of a new compass by which to set our sails. Another part of us may fear, suspect or even be convinced that our child is not ready to be the captain of his own ship.

Teens themselves may be plagued with both self-doubt and bravado which makes for a seesaw ride of emotions. They yearn for freedom but still need the security of structure and boundaries. Like all teens, our children share the same ache for independence and separation from parental oversight. At the same they must face the subconscious noise of separation anxiety. They insist on the independence for which they worked and to which they feel fully entitled. And simultaneously fear it. Graduation unfolds against an emotional backdrop that becomes dysregulated by resistance and fear of these changes. Increasingly, they look to peers for acceptance, guidance and connection. This creates potential conflict within themselves and within the family. Child and parent push and pull. Both are eager for the teen to become successfully independent, to fledge the family nest and soar. And both have their own doubts, fears, hesitations and needs.

AQ* (Adoption-attuned awareness) provides a compass to guide decisions and responses. They remember to view behavior as communication and become conscious of any conflicted emotions that may color interactions. Notice when any of your own “stuff” gets triggered by their words or choices. Put on an “emotional flak jacket" that allows you to stay out of reaction and remain supportive of their struggles.

Trauma, grief and loss issues may mean many of our kids’ emotional ages do not match their chronological ages. Hang on to that awareness so that you can remain the stabilizing anchor that keeps them from crashing on the hidden rocks of life. Find ways to support and reinforce competency in your child. Help them and yourself to update your internal views so that it reflects who they have grown to be. Our belief in them inspires their belief in themselves.

What do your children see reflected in your eyes?


Adoptee survival guideI recently read Adoptee Survival Guide by Lynn Grubb. This collection opens a window into the actual experiences of adoptees who are now adults. Each shares their personal truth and offers insight into how we can support adoptees as their parents, partners and peers. Much of their message is painful to hear because it shines a light on the dark underbelly of adoption that is grounded in loss, grief and pain. Truth is often difficult to confront and it is important that we acknowledge and deal with it. Living with or in a lie is far more detrimental for all.

The message this book delivers is clear: Tell the truth; share it with respect and compassion; honor the reality of adoption—not only the benefits, but also the co-existing grief, loss, pain, identity confusion and ambivalence. While it may be tempting to hold back difficult information or to skew the truth through omission or actual untruths, the damage such falsehoods generates are devastating to the parent/child relationship.

Although these stories belong to adoptees who were placed before open adoption and the inauguration of healthier adoption practices, they provide an invaluable window into the adoptee experience through the lens of individuals who actually live/d it. The authors write from the heart to reveal how their adoptive families succeeded and/or fell short in supporting them through childhood and as adults. Parents often unwittingly missed the mark in providing the support their children needed. Sometimes parents undervalue the differences/unique talents which their child brought to the family tree and longed instead, for their child to be the embodiment of parental fantasies.

Adoptee Survival Guide presents parents a chance to learn what adoptees need. The changes in adoption practice may be different from much of the experienced referenced in these stories, however, the message is fundamentally constant: accept your child for who she is; validate her truth; respect her biological family and understand that you are not in competition with them.


akaDanFor an additional insight from a younger adult adoptee check out (a korean adoptee.) He has a website as well as a series of videos documenting his homeland visit and reconnection with his birth family. This video series offers an authentic and raw insight into his experience. Prior to being adopted from Korea, he was well cared for as an infant, with a loving foster mother in Korea. He was adopted by a loving, supportive family in the United States, who were there for him during his journey toward meeting his adoptive family. Still he struggles with emotional conflicts, identity issues, mourns the loss of what-might-have-been. As the twin placed for adoption while his siblings were not he faces why-me questions.

Rap music provided him an outlet for his turmoil. (And coincidentally, is a passion shared by his twin that his parents raised.) His videos witness "acceptance" of the life he had and the life he had lost, and even though he does not know how the future will enfold, he believes it will include all "the above" that makes him who he is.

Both Adoptee Survival Guide and Dan’s work offer  an honest and raw look into adoption as a lived experience. There is hard won wisdom here.


Little girl sitting apart - feeling excluded by the others In last week’s blog we explored the Mirroring and Belonging level of the Relationship Pyramid and discussed how important it is for a child to learn an extensive Emotional Vocabulary. Having the ability to name and recognize various emotions in oneself allows a child to recognize similar feelings in others. This is the basis for congruent and harmonious interactions.

Mastering the subtle, non-verbal social cues is a daunting task. For kids with a less than smooth start in life, often this skill is poorly developed or is overwhelmed by hyper-vigilance. Unless children are taught how to read the “secret” messages of body language, some kids will never learn it. This will leave them confused and often can lead to social isolation.


relationship pramid.MirrorWhen they don’t speak the language of behavioral cues children remain on the outside of the emotional/social conversation. The subtle hints other kids give may quickly become far less kind and patient and become mean and lead to bullying. A growing gap will arise.

Without adequate social skills, a child will struggle to mirror the emotional states of others and may respond inappropriately to the overtures of other children and adults. Instead of feeling “mirrored” they may misinterpret other people’s responses and feel mocked and unsupported. Even worse, they may feel threatened which might trigger a complete meltdown, and/or a flight/flight/freeze response. This creates a disconnect in the Mirroring & Belonging level.

How can you assist your child in mastering the complex task of emotional literacy and the language of social cues?


Personal Space CampOne excellent resource is a marvelous book by Julia Cook titled, “Personal Space Camp.” With a deft sense of humor and zany illustrations by Carrie Hartman, this book tackles the complicated concept of personal space. Louis, the confused main character loves the world of outer space. But when it comes to personal boundaries, Louis is clueless. His frustrated teacher arranges for him to attend “Personal Space Camp.” This thrills Louis. He is surprised to learn that he will not be an astronaut exploring.

Louis is, however, entering unexplored territory: the world of personal space boundaries. "Personal Space Camp” is entertaining and informative without being preachy. It conveys important information that will assist kids that lack an understanding of social cues.


I Can't BelieveJulia Cook has written several other books that delve into the confusing world of social cues and interaction. One that is also quite helpful is, “I Can’t Believe You Said That.” (Illustrated by Kelsey De Weerd, it features multicultural characters.) The story helps kids discern the difference between saying something true:  ”You are fat,” versus something that is appropriate: “You are a good cook.”

Photo © Ilike -

For many additional book reviews from an AQ* perspective visit GIFT coach Gayle H. Swift's website "Writing to Connect." She is the author of the award-winning book "ABC, Adoption & Me."


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Sally: 612-203-6530 |  Susan: 541-788-8001 |  Joann: 312-576-5755 |  Gayle: 772-285-9607