Posts Tagged ‘grief’

Muscle Cramps, Triggers & Traumaversaries. Oh My!

Wednesday, January 30, 2019 @ 01:01 PM
Author: admin
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In the world of adoption, we hear a lot about grief, loss, trauma, and emotional triggers. As parents how do we deal with this complicated emotional stew? How do we support our kids, help move them through to the other side, back to a place of calm and security? How do we manage our own emotion during and after raw emotional exchanges?

This anecdote from my own life may be a useful metaphor and might offer a bit of insight. My loud yelping puzzled my mini schnauzer the other night. Leg cramps jerked me awake with excruciating, unrelenting intensity. It felt as if the muscle might tear completely away from the bone. The pain left me breathless and momentarily paralyzed.

I knew that standing offered the only way to release the cramp. A tangle of sheets held me in place. I struggled to activate my ability to move by intention instead of reaction. But the pain held me in its grip. Intellectually I knew how to end the cramp. Yet in that moment I was completely out of my logical, executive-functioning brain locked ticht in the GRIP of the primitive response of my reptilian brain.

We’ve all been in similar situations where we had pertinent knowledge and a viable option but instead chose a different, response because that resonated with our emotions at that moment. Perhaps we picked a fight with our spouse or piled consequence on top of consequence, on top of consequence to a defiant, unrepentant teenager. All of us can remember an example of such emotional upheaval. Truth is toddlers aren’t the only ones who fall prisoner to the meltdown.

Tune in to an example of your own personal melt down. (Doesn’t have to be recent, just memorable.) Not your proudest moment, right? Dive into the memory and recall how you felt, what you said and the emotional fallout that ensued. Clearly, it left a mark because you can still recall it. Imagine how this same event might be stored in the memories of the people with whom you shared the moment.

My point is this: in the throes of an emotional hijacking, self-control is not easily accessed. Children like ours who have experienced trauma can find themselves caught in one of these emotional maelstroms. Begun not by intent, but by something that rockets out of the periphery and then slams like a foul ball into their guts. Like the unexpected and unwelcome cramp that jerked me awake, our kids can be caught unaware, yanked from the present moment by triggers they never saw coming. Paralyzed. Haunted. Paniced. Perhaps it is a smell, a song, a gesture, a trauma-versary recognized only by their subconscious memory.

They don’t see it coming. We don’t see it coming. But like when a comet strikes the earth, the devastation spreads deep and wide. Nothing nearby survives unscathed.

Now that we have some insight about meltdowns, we can see that often it is not a matter of their unwillingness to comply and more a matter of their inability to comply at that moment. How do we help them in the moment?

We must bring our calm to the fore. Avoid responding with matching emotional intensity. (That simply adds fuel to an already overwrought situation.) Resist the temptation to debate or rationalize. Their thinking brain is off-line. We must keep ours engaged. Save the discussion until calm has been restored. Hold off on deciding consequences too. Take the time to decide what is appropriate, proportionate, and effective. Remember the goal of discipline is to teach not to punish. Delay the conversation, but do definitely have it.

To come full circle, I did manage to claw my way out of bed and onto my feet. The cramp released. I was deeply grateful. Ww all know how good it feels to walk through pain and get through it. As parents we have a chance to help our children master the process.

Adoptive Families and the “REAL” Factor, part 2

Wednesday, October 26, 2016 @ 01:10 PM
Author: admin

Adoptive families and the Real factor.real-graphic-2As we discussed in a recent blog, adoptive families are often questioned in one way or another about who the “REAL” relationship figures are in their lives. These questions land like a sucker punch to the chest. Sometimes we can quickly recenter ourselves and decide how we want to respond. At other times, their verbal assault knocks us off balance and leaves us reeling. Let me offer you a personal insight.

As I’ve mentioned several times during the last year, my husband is in the end stages of a terminal disease and I am caring for him at home. My children have been stalwart throughout this process.  Their bond with their dad is very REAL. They visit regularly and make an earnest effort to cheer their dad on and to enjoy time with him while they are able. They perform many kindnesses, bring him his favorite food treats and spend time with him.

When I need help, they respond promptly and gladly. This makes me proud and appreciative. We are so lucky that they live nearby and are able/willing to help.

pinterest-real-griefTerminal illness is a challenge for any family but the long slow, decline of a degenerative neurological disease is especially heartbreaking. The physical and cognitive  losses are so difficult to watch. Seeing their robust and intelligent father decline so precipitously grieves me and my children in a viscerally painful way. I assure you their emotions and their attachments are very genuine. They love their dad and speak of how he parented and loved them well–humanly,  imperfectly, deeply–and in a way they experienced as very REAL. Their best–and most REAL–expression of their bond with their dad is their actions.

Since the 1980’s when they were placed with us as infants, we’ve made a conscious and consistent effort to speak about their birth parents positively. We followed through on our promise to help them reconnect with their birth parents. (Years ago, they both took us up on our promise.) We consistently reassure them that we are NOT in competition with their birth families, that we consider their birth family relationships a vital and important part of their lives and, therefore, an integral and valued part of ours.

Adoptive families real factor AQAs their parent, I am concerned for their emotional well being as we face this next chapter in our lives. How will they handle their anguish? Will it tear away the scab from the pain of their adoption-connected losses? Exacerbate their pain? How can I best support them?

For adoptive families who have not embraced openness in adoption and who are facing an adoptive parent’s death, children may experience an ambivalent, unsettling sense of profound grief and simultaneously feel that they now finally have the freedom to search out their biological family connections. That pairing of grief, guilt and relief make a painful emotional soup.

I encourage families to commit to seeing both adoptive and birth families as REAL and important relationships in their children’s lives. Make absolutely sure your kids know your  adoption-attuned position. Reiterate your stance until you are certain they believe your inclusivity is genuine. Do not ask your children to choose between one or the other. Adoptees need all of their “parts.” We must not expect them to choose between us. That kind of monolithic loyalty oath is too high a price to pay for a loving family.

The Open-hearted Way to Open Adoption, Adoptive Families and the Real FactorAs Lori Holden asserts in her landmark book, The Open-hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole  openness does not directly equate with visitation; it is first and foremost an attitude of the heart. (Lori’s book is essential reading for adoptive families and we have previously reviewed it.) Even if your adoption is not fully open, the underlying respect and value that you hold for your children’s birth family is a foundational pillar of your attachment. To explore this concept further, read Lori’s book.

In conclusion, adoptive families and their bonds are authentic, REAL and significant. Don’t let anyone imply otherwise.

Welcome Home Sweet Baby!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015 @ 01:07 AM
Author: admin
Mom dad Parker AshleyI’ve mentioned earlier this year that our first grandchild will be born any day. I’ve been caught up in the tidal wave of excitement along with other family members and friends. A wide swath of support and joy have surrounded the delighted expectant parents. At every level this baby is immersed in a community that oozes happiness at the prospect of his existence.
When the baby is born, he will enter a world filled with familiarity because he’s heard the voices of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends during these past months.The music and even the clatter of daily life will enfold him in a sense of continuity and safety.




Newborn baby inside incubator

I simultaneously ponder how an adopted child’s gestation differs dramatically.  His conception is startling, unplanned. A crisis. Emotions swing from joy to panic as the expectant parents frantically struggle to determine how to gather the resources necessary to parent their unexpected baby, or make an adoption plan for this precious life they’ve conceived. This emotional, dramatic and chaotic prenatal environment stresses the baby. The overwhelmed mother and father struggle with intense emotions, difficult decisions, advice from family, friends, counselors, social workers. Imagine for a moment what it is like for an expectant mother who is making an adoption plan when strangers notice, comment on and enthuse about how thrilled/excited, etc. she must be. Can you feel the razor blades of grief? The unborn baby does. And it shapes him.


Family to Family.square 3How can we adoptive parents prepare ourselves to be ready to meet this child’s unique needs? We must immerse ourselves in the world of Adoption-attuned Parenting. Skip Lamaze classes and learn about attachment styles and how they affect parent/child relationships. Learn about grief and loss issues–the child’s and your own–so that their responses do not trigger your own hot buttons. Read widely.   Listen to podcasts like this one from Family to Family in which Brina, a young birth mother, recounts her experience with open adoption. She shares how she made her decision, selected prospective adoptive parents, her labor and delivery experience and her life since placing her son. Very powerful and enlightening.




ALP with Tag lineTake classes. Adoption Learning Partners offers a wide selection of excellent ones on-line. They are offered on demand so you can fit them into your busy schedule. 




ABC cover with badges - CopyRead up on adoption. Choose books that recognize adoption-attuned concepts and strategies, that acknowledge grief and loss issues and prepare you for the unique experience of adoptive parenting.  Be sure to include some that address the more difficult parts of adoption so that your child knows it is acceptable to discuss. Provide books that explore adoption from the child’s point of view.  This will help him see how other children think about their adoptions and will help him express his feelings to you. It will help frame his complicated feelings into words. Plus, it will demonstrate that you are open to talking about them and  are strong enough to hold both his joy and his sorrow. 
open adoptionAdvances in neuro-biology have deepened our understanding of infant and childhood grief.  Open Adoption, while not a panacea, does eradicate secrecy and reduce the shame that infused closed adoptions; it is worth exploring  or pursuing. (Check out Lori Holden’s book,  The Open-hearted Way to Open Adoption. Gayle’s review: Please refer to our website for an additional list of suggested resources and books that are some of our favorites. Educate yourself, your family and friends.
adoption is a family affairRemember that “It takes a village to raise a child,” so help your family and friends become adoption-attuned so they can support you and a child. Let them see that your decision is well thought, heartfelt and firm. Bring them into your vision and onto your family’s team. Address their questions. Just as adoption was a decision that took time to explore and choose, it may also take them time to accclimate to the idea.  Let them know, that you want them to be a part of your child’s life. One excellent book is, Patricia Irwin Johnston’s,  “Adoption is a Family Affair  What Relatives and Friends Must Know. 
Read Gayle’s review.

Adoption is an important way to grow a family AND it comes with an additional level of responsibility.  Our joy must not ignore the genuine struggles and challenges our children must work through as they braid their birth and adoptive heritages into a healthy identity. Parents often say they would do anything for their kids. Becoming adequately savvy about adoption is one thing all adoptive parents must do. Our kids need this. They deserve the best prepared parents, ones who love them enough to do the hard work, to hear the difficult truths and to commit that extra level of time and effort so they we can become the parents they need as well as the parents they want.