family-is-a-treasure-treat-them-with-careSchool is out for the summer here which draws to mind a question: How can Intentional Parents glean the best that this interlude can offer families? Released from the burden of homework, academic projects, and extracurricular activities and all the stress and time constraints that accompany them, we have a chance to create something special. All that is required is intention, a goal, and an action plan that is sufficiently compelling that following through is a given. Or, we can simply "go with the flow" and allow days to drip through our fingers like anonymous raindrops.

The idea of total freedom from schedules, agendas, and deadlines certainly is tempting. And yet, do we really want to arrive at summer's end only to discover that we frittered the days away and have nothing to show for it? Don't we really want a balance of restorative recreation and relaxed pace with a steadying rudder of purposefulness?

What purpose or goal for our life as a family inspires us? In the quiet darkness of sleepless nights, what vision of our family life occupies our attention? How will choose which one or two we will focus on?

First, we review our core family values to remind us of what is really important. This helps avoid the trap of choosing goals based on how friends and family might see and approve. With the vision of our values fresh in our mind, we can identify one or two aspects of our interrelationships as a family where a breach in those values reveals itself. For example, if respect is a core value for our family, how has it been expressed in the way we communicate with our spouse and children? Assess factors like attitude, tone, timing and authentic listening. Are we as considerate in our communication with family as we are with friends and coworkers? How well is the way we speak to, work with, and treat family modeling the best example of how to treat others? Adopted children are often prone to self-criticism and feelings of rejection. How do your communication patterns address and alleviate this sensitivity?

What are you willing to do to bring these dreams for your family to life? Here are some ideas for personal intentions. No need to announce them to the family. Our actions will form the best way to reveal them.

Check out these Adoption-attuned resources!

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.




Abc adoption

Read these book reviews by GIFT coach, Gayle H. Swift. They are written with an Adoption-attuned perspective.




the-complete-family-picture-who-is-present-who-is-absentMy GIFT colleagues and I have just returned from our annual retreat. Because we live in different states, we believe it is important to get together and reconnect. It’s one of the ways in which we invest in our relationship both as colleagues and as friends. It’s also a clear example of our practicing what we preach: important relationships need nurturing and attention. If we allow ourselves to take them for granted, even the most significant relationship will show signs of strain and unless behavior changes to reflect the importance of the relationship with congruent action, time and commitment. Without such changes eventually, even the most treasured relationship will collapse. And so, we spend our time, money and energy to gather, nurture, and enjoy our mutual relationship.

We had fun, managed some business details, handled some sticky relationship issues that cropped up, and charted the next year’s course for our business. One “detail” we addressed during our time together was a photo session so we could update our website. When we got the proofs back, each of us reviewed them and we tried to find one in which we all looked “good.” Group photos are always a challenge, right? As the number of people increases, the likelihood that someone has her eyes closed, is looking away from the camera or has an odd expression also increases. This triggered some thoughts on family photos…

Digital photography makes it easy for us to snap dozens—if not hundreds of pictures of our kids documenting almost every moment and milestone of their lives. As toddlers, they learn to pose for the cameras on mom or dad’s phones. Then eagerly and often, they repeatedly ask to see these photos. They look at the pictures delighted at their own images. Self-consciousness does not constrain them. They don’t care if their faces—or clothes—are smudged with dirt or if the camera caught them at a good angle. They do not ask us to delete the picture because it doesn’t look flattering enough. And so the entire family gets to enjoy the photographic documentation of a family’s life together. Except…

Too often moms avoid being in the pictures because they look disheveled, tired, or not quite up to par. And the photos reveal a mother’s absence, not a presence. Perhaps the dad is the family photographer and it is he who is an infrequent face in the family photo album. The result is the same. He’s missing from the picture.  Whether it is one or both parents whose face seldom appears in the family photo album, whatever the reason, it is a huge loss and significant missed opportunity. A picture is worth 1000 words they say.

As a person who has lost loved ones too soon, I can attest that it precisely the silly, less-than-perfect pictures of my husband, sister, mother… It is these photos that conjure the best memories, the most resonant emotions, and the deepest appreciation for having shared lives together. The fancy studio photos, edited and polished are fun for a Christmas card but they like the vitality and genuineness of the candid photos. Someday all that remains will be the pictures. Make sure you are part of them, being yourself and looking like yourself. That disheveled, imperfect, loving, "present" soul is the person your family knows and loves.

My son celebrated his thirty-fourth birthday recently. For the first time in several years, his birth mother was not here to join us in person although she most certainly was present in spirit, in my own heart and most assuredly in our son's. Over the years we've come to know and love one another, building bridges, sharing joys and sorrows, basically becoming family together, fellow travelers on a shared life journey. We've also come to understand that adoption includes great losses for our son and for his mother and the rest of our son's first family.

As with anything connected with adoption, relationships swirl in complex ambiguity. I believe all of us have thoughts that ponder the great "what ifs"... What if the adoption had never happened. Who would our son be? Who would we be? Of course, none of us can ever know the answer to that question. Just as assuredly as a puff of breath extinguishes the candles on a birthday cake, adoption snuffed out one version of life for all of us and replaced it with the one which we have lived for several decades. Perhaps we will never know if this was "best." At this point in time, it is simply what is and we have made peace with that fact even as we all understand the profound "cost" of that reality.

For many adopted children, birthdays can be overwhelming as it awakens powerful and conflicting emotions. What kid doesn't love to be the center of attention and the recipient of lots of presents? At the same time, for adoptees, their birthday is inextricably linked with awareness of the primal loss of their first mother and extended biological family. I suspect that many kids do not even understand why they feel so conflicted on their birthday nor do they understand what might drive them to create chaos and turmoil in the midst of all the celebrations.

When they are really little, they probably only respond to the excitement and fun. However, once they reach about ten, they begin to truly comprehend how adoption realigned their lives. It's darned complicated for adults to comprehend the tumultuous feelings of adoption-connected loss and gain which arise. No wonder kids feel overwhelmed. It is wise to remind ourselves of this complex reality so that we can respond with empathy if our children meltdown in the midst of festivities which we've arranged in their honor. We must focus on being their source of comfort and understanding so they can deal with their emotions with our support. If we get distracted by our own sense of feeling that our efforts to orchestrate a celebration have been unappreciated or even disdained, we will have missed a powerful opportunity to be the safe harbor in the midst of a storm.

So what can we Intentional Parents do to help our kids? A few days prior to their birthday, try to open conversations that invite them to discuss their thoughts and feelings. Reassure them that you understand that adoption is a Both/and world and that you understand their need to value and explore their biological relationships and heritage. Such conversations can feel awkward; still they must be broached. Try saying something like, Around their birthdays, some adopted kids think a lot about their birth mother. I'm wondering if perhaps you are. It's okay and normal for you to think about her. I'm sure she thinks about you.  Even if our children dismiss this conversation opener, we have planted a seed that roots a vital message: He does not have to hide his thoughts and feelings. We love them enough to make space for all of the people who are important to him. And because they are important to him, they are important to us.

This gift of inclusivity and openness is a birthday present to treasure.

Check out these additional Adoption-attuned resources!

Adoption Attuned Parenting

Listen to our podcasts on Adoption-attuned Parenting.

Abc adoption

Read adoption-attuned  book reviews  by GIFT coach, Gayle H. Swift. They are written with an Adoption-attuned perspective


Last week’s conversation about family traditions got me thinking about how traditions help create a thread of continuity through the generations. Adoptive families want to be intentional in finding ways to establish and nurture a sense of connection within our nuclear and our extended families. What thought have you given to the legacy you will leave for your children. Beyond any material things, how will you continue to impact your children even after you are no longer physically with them?

My grandmother had fourteen children and very little money but she sure could cook. When she died she left only bills and a family who adored and missed her deeply. She created a legacy that taught us that kindness and generosity outshone material blessings.  Although she could not spoil us with gifts, she showered us with food made with love. We absorbed two family beliefs: First, if you love or care for someone, you cook for them and second share with others. (We never knows when we might be the person in need of food, shelter, or comfort.)

Long after my aunts and uncles were grown, my grandmother continued cooking vast quantities of food which she would dole out to neighbors who were in need of a good meal. My own mother, a widow living alone followed her example. She kept a huge freezer stocked with her homemade goodies and routinely delivered meals to her neighbors in her retirement community. When Mom died, everyone missed her delicious meals. More importantly, they missed her generous spirit. Like my grandmother, she left a legacy of kindness, compassion, community, and conviviality through cooking.

I’d like to be able to say I followed their example; unfortunately, I have limited skills in the kitchen. Still, I do like to prepare food from scratch and serve it to friends and family because I do believe a special connection occurs around the dinner table. My children are both excellent cooks who enjoy cooking for friends.

In my family, cooking combines tradition and core value (health, helping others, kindness) to create an ongoing legacy through the generations.

Another of our GIFT coaches also has a special affinity for cooking as a family. For them, it is making homemade pizza. While the food ingredients are important, it is really the time, love, and effort that make it important to her and her children.

I suspect most families have food favorites that their children request for special occasions or when they need to for comfort or celebration. Food fulfills a fundamental human need; it can also serve a vital need for connection, for both the receipt and the expression of love.

What role does food serve in your family? Does it help to draw you together? How might you intentionally use positive experiences with food to create good memories? How many recipes would your personal family cookbook include? What unique twists does it reflect? How might you choose to expand your repertoire and have fun while doing it?

If food presents a stumbling block in your family, what other family traditions might help knit the generations together? What traditions capture your core values in a way that you enjoy and that is fun to share with one another?

Check out these additional Adoption-attuned resources!

Adoption Attuned Parenting

Listen to our podcasts on Adoption-attuned Parenting.





Abc adoption

Read these book reviews  by GIFT coach, Gayle H. Swift. They are written with an Adoption-attuned perspective.


Unless adoptive parents are also adoptees, we can only approximate in our minds and hearts what it must be like for our children. Adoption was the answer to our prayer; but for our children, it is far more complicated. The benefits they gained via adoption coexist with significant loss and trauma. Adoption is not an exclusively happy experience for our children.  We cannot know the silent, inner conversations they have within themselves as they strive to piece together a sense of healthy wholeness from the disparate threads of their biology and their biography.[1]The only way to know what they are thinking is share conversations that touch on these difficult subjects. We must love them enough to hold these hard conversations.

It isn’t easy for them or us kids to talk about such heavy topics.

Our earnest hope that all is okay with our kids may willingly believe that it is so. When we ask kids if they’re doing all right and they quickly assure that it is, we heave a sigh of relief. But, can we actually accept their reassurances on face value?

What do we know, within ourselves, about assurances too quickly offered, of hot topics we gladly shove under the rug? Plenty.

How many times have we told spouses, partners, friends, or colleagues that “nothing is wrong” when in fact, it was obvious that we were hurting so much? But, we were afraid to articulate it, as if speaking it aloud made it real. Denying it offered us the temporary shelter of pretending we were fine. Besides, the truth was too scary to admit even to ourselves. We’d rather be stuck than to expose our vulnerability. Being stuck was less painful than facing the issues and doing the hard work of creating any necessary changes.

How many other times have we held back because we expected our loved ones to know without our telling them what was bothering us? Mindreading never works. It’s a dangerous and false assumption to think that because people care about us they automatically know what is going on inside our heads. Nothing could be farther from the truth. To rely on mindreading is to sabotage the relationship.

Communication is a two-way street. We have to engage in conversations that safely and respectfully talk about “stuff.” For families like ours, this means we must have the hard conversations about adoption and the very complicated reality it brings for our children.

Even as we admit it is hard for us as adults to tackle the hard conversations, it is even more difficult for our kids. They depend on us for virtually all their security—emotional and physical. The possibility that they might place that security in jeopardy is very scary. At some level, they know they need us, that they can’t afford to lose us. From this vantage point, consider how scary it is for them, therefore to share thins which they think might offend, alienate or disappoint us. They may even falsely believe that we do not want to hear their thoughts and feelings. They may worry that we cannot handle the awkward, negative conversations that may echo inside them. Inner demons may tell them we are open only to happy conversations that prove the benefits of adoption.

What strategies help us initiate conversations of this topic which is vital yet so scary for all of us? Here are a few ideas:

When the news mentions family separations, comment. Mention how hard that must be for parent and child. Wait to see if your child says anything. Say that it makes you think about his being separated from his first family. If he responds to this conversation starter, great! If not, reassure him that you would want to hear about his feelings when he is ready so you could help him work through it.

Have a well-stocked family library on books that explore adoption.

Read books from your child’s school list or from their own recreational list. Look for events in the book that might serve as conversation starters.

Similarly, listen to the lyrics of his favorite songs. Talk about why they resonate with him. This does not have to be about adoption. The purpose is to establish a pattern of authentic sharing.

See the films he enjoys. Watch them together, if he’s willing. If not, watch them by yourself and then look for an opportunity to chat about it together.

Share some of your moments of struggle--being mindful of holding appropriate boundaries. Articulate how a circumstance or relationship challenges you and mention some of the specific strategies you employed. These will then serve as models for some options which they might use in the future. Sharing your experiences relieves them of the false belief that parents never have struggles, feel inadequate, or have conflicting feelings within important relationships.

Good communication depends on respect and non-judgmental listening. Start with “safe” subjects and build a pattern of loving listening. This lays down the habit of talking together. The more routine it becomes, the more likely they will talk when it topics are more difficult.

What one thing can you do to start building a habit of talking to one another?

[1]These terms originated in Lori Holden’s masterful book, The Open-hearted Way to Open Adoption. This book belongs in every adoptive family's library.

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