Posts Tagged ‘validation’

Gifts That Endure: Time, Attention and Validation

Wednesday, November 29, 2017 @ 08:11 PM
Author: admin

Gifts That Endure: Time, Attention and ValidationAlong with the joys of family celebrations, parties and, charitable efforts, the holiday crush creates stress and pressure. Expectations soar into the stratosphere. Parents seek to create magical moments with our kids by buying their dream gift. We want to make our family and friends happy. We yearn to feel that warm thrum of pleasure when our gift brings joy to them.

(Feel a tinge of pressure in your gut?)

We want to show them that we care and know enough about them to pick the perfect gift for them. I suspect that as adoptive parents, there is often a subtle yet potent pressure to “prove” ourselves to our kids, perhaps an unconscious sense that we must make their childhoods glorious to compensate for any adoption-connected loss and grief.

(Feeling more pressure?)

We know we must balance finances with our desire to buy the perfect gift. Often this pushes us to stretch the budget. Perhaps even to the point where it bursts and we create real financial pain for ourselves. Before buying an item, ask three questions: Can we afford it? Is this gift purchase about me feeling good or about the recipient? In six months will this still be valued?

(Feeling the burn now?)

How do we walk back expectations, defuse the stress and make healthier choices?

Let’s step back from the ingrained pattern and consider something our hearts all know: the best presents are not “stuff.” This is not to deny the hardcore realities of our culture.  Yes kids dream of the “in” toy of the season or, the trendy clothing that will help them fit in with their chosen social group. They’ll get some pleasure from having their Christmas wish list fulfilled. But they don’t need everything they want. Help kids learn this life lesson.

Time and attention

By spending less time shopping, we can spend more time with our children and our partners. Make an opportunity to connect with each of them individually as well as collectively as a family. Be sure it is focused, undivided and connected. It does not have to be lengthy. Concentrate on truly being with one another. Here are just a few ideas.

  • Make cookies. (To save time even more time, buy the pre-made rolls of cookie dough.)
  • Walk—or drive—through the neighborhood to view the holiday lights. Enjoy hot chocolate—with marshmallows, of course. Bring it with you in insulated cups or share it when you get home.
  • Decorate the house together. Make it about the fun not about creating a perfect look. When the kids are older, those photos of the tree with most of the ornaments hung on the bottom will bring laughter. Resist the temptation to redo the children’s work to bring it up to adult standards. Kids will remember—and cherish—the experience if they feel like their contribution was accepted and didn’t need to be “fixed.” Conversely, they will feel diminished if everything they contribute is edited or redone by an adult. (Some families compromise and have a children’s tree and an adult’s tree.)
  • Participate in local holiday events like parades, tree lightings, community, school or, church music shows.
  • Find a charitable activity to do as a family
  • Have the children help you select an item to donate to a toy drive.
  • Watch a holiday movie together. Serve popcorn or holiday cookies.

Gifts That Endure: Time, Attention and ValidationValidation

One of the greatest gifts we can provide our children is validation. For adoptees the holidays can be complicated. Along with the excitement and anticipation which all kids feel, they can experience conflicting and distressing emotions. They can feel great longing and curiosity about their birth parents—even children adopted as infants. Validate that. Create a family tradition like burning a candle in honor of their birth parents or a special mention in the holiday blessings. (If the adoption is open, share an activity with the birth parents, perhaps replicating a tradition from the birth family. Keep it private without other family or friends. )

Ensure that you’ve created a space for children to be honest about their feelings. Be sure they know they can find support from you to help them cope, that you won’t be angry or hurt.

For children adopted through foster care, memories of other Christmases will be on their mind. At best it will increase their grief and loss issues; at worst it will remind them of painful memories, abuse and neglect, and a tangle of mixed emotions. Sadness, longing, regret, anger and, love will all swirl in their minds. Do not wait for kids to raise the subject themselves. Open the space for talking about these hard things. Let them know that it is okay to have mixed feelings about the holidays, Reassure them that you understand if they are missing their first families. Identify a signal for when they are feeling overwhelmed and need an exit. Try to learn the triggers that might distress them, for example, songs, foods, smells, activities, sounds, even locations. Do not force them to participate in large, extended family gathering where they may feel out of place. This only reinforces feelings of not belonging. Give them the time and space they need. You and they will feel better in the long run.


Family dynamics are complicated, often unpredictable and highly charged. As intentional parents we recognize that the emotional health of our nuclear family must be at the center of any celebrations. Sometimes the emotional needs of our children will require us to skip the chaotic extended family gathering because it is too much for them to handle. Our guts can sense this. Listen to them. Being the safety net for our children is the best gift we can give them.

Acceptance is a two-way street. We must also give ourselves the grace we need. Admit when it is too much pressure, then maybe just do a minimal holiday –something that could be added to each year.  Have no expectations, and if you feel you are heading for breakdown, take the cues from your child, and slow down the festivities to what can be tolerated–for them and you. Default to the lowest level of excitement–the one at which everyone can cope. Stay present and focus on what your intuition senses your family needs.

Blessings and peace.

Prevent Suicide–Talk about It

Thursday, May 19, 2016 @ 02:05 AM
Author: admin

Toe tag feet.cropped.Fotolia_87156069_XS

In adoption, great joy  and many blessings coexist with grief, sadness, curiosity, regret and  other complicated but very real and profound emotions. We’ve focused several recent blogs on proactively establishing an adoption-attuned safety net for our children. Comprehensive and open communication. is one essential ingredient of any family system. For adoptive families this means we talk about 360° of emotion surrounding adoption. The entire range of feelings are acknowledged, validated and respected.  Children need regular reassurances that all topics are “open” for discussion, even–perhaps especially–those which may be difficult for adoptive parents to hear.

When kids  feel hopeless, overwhelmed by their challenges, or believe they are unable to broach issues, whether their belief is grounded in reality or their imagination, they flounder emotionally and suffer greatly. In some extreme cases it leads them to consider, or tragically, to choose suicide. (The suicide rate is higher among adoptees than non-adoptees.)

No parent wants their child to feel that desperate. No parent wants their child to choose suicide. But it happens. This is why it is essential to talk about suicide before it is too late. Parents cannot afford to sugar coat their child’s struggles or to live in denial about the depth, intensity and reality of their child’s traumas.

Portrait of little girl crying with tears rolling down her cheek

This dad, unable to find the proper resources,  learned to understand his daughter’s adoption losses too late. Now he speaks out so other families will not face the same excruciating emotional tragedy. Yes, it is hard to listen to this interview, but it is also too important not to do so. ‪#‎ThePainIsReal‬ None of us want to learn too late that our child is contemplating suicide. #TalkAboutTheHardStuff

In some situations, our children are not contemplating such drastic measures for themselves but it exists in their family background. We must resist the urge to protect them from the information and instead prepare them gradually to learn, process and accept their history. Read our earlier post that addressed how to reveal and discuss issues like rape, abuse, suicide, etc., when they are part of a child’s biological history. Although these topics are emotional, traumatizing and difficult to discuss, we cannot afford to stuff them under the rug.

Obviously, there are no guarantees, Sometimes a child’s problems, traumas, depression, etc., are too much for them to bear and they may still consider suicide as a possible solution. Be sure to seek professional help.

Here are two links to click. The first is a Mother’s Day video letter from an adoptee to his birth mother back in Africa.  It dramatically demonstrates how children remain viscerally connected to their birth parents.

The second link is an article by adoptee, Joanne Bennett. Her brutally honest post about her childhood in a family plagued by mental illness, alcoholism, divorce and denial deserves our attention.



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.”

Admitting Others into Your Post-adoption Life

Wednesday, September 9, 2015 @ 05:09 PM
Author: admin

joy.ordinary.3Anyone who will be involved in your post-adoption life must be a fully enrolled part of your team. (This does NOT mean they are entitled to the details of your childrens’ stories. It DOES mean that they must have a commitment of the heart that becomes their admission ticket to your family’s post-adoption life.)

When a garden is planned, preparation must occur before the harvest. This is true a hundred-fold when you decide to become an adoptive family. Not only must you prepare and educate yourselves, but also, extended family, friends, community, etc. This task is the most critical thing you do to ready your lives for your child/ren. Think “nesting” on an epic scale!

adoption is a family affairAdoption Is A Family Affair by Patricia Irwin Johnston is an excellent resource for this job, particularly for extended family but also for yourselves. (My Amazon review) Just as it took time for you to embrace the idea of adoption, it will probably take time for your family to become fully on board. There is a difference between steady progress, however, and an inhospitable heart.

Occasionally, extended families will appear to accept your child –but only on the surface. In the unfortunate circumstances where extended family hold themselves emotionally aloof, you have important work to do. Your child deserves a family that is fully committed.

If this task has not been fully accomplished before they join your family, you must protect your children from additional hurt. They’ve already experienced the loss of one family and should not be subjected to feeling less than by their adopted family. Time to pull out the Tiger Heart and insist that your children be treated and welcomed the way they deserve.

Most painful of all, some families will overtly reject your child. Your first loyalty must be with your child/ren; they did not ask to join your family. If you cannot succeed in opening your extended family’s hearts, you face difficult decisions on how to remove relationships that are damaging or toxic to your children. It is particularly unhealthy to white-wash or make excuses for poor behavior or ill-treatment delivered by callous family or friends. This lack of honesty adds insult to the original pain and undermines a child’s natural intuition about people. It adds another layer of hurt and rejection on an already wounded heart.

Adult adoptees repeatedly inform us that this invalidation is especially hurtful–emotionally, spiritually and even physically. As parents we seek to help our children grow to be happy, healthy and to come to terms with the realities of their lives’ challenges. Living in Truth is a key element to success, the foundation to healthy, authentic relationships. The Holy Grail of family life is to nurture a tapestry of emotional attachment that can weather all of the storms of life. Truth is essential. And respect. And joy…liberal amounts of joy.

My sister understood joy. Monday would have been her birthday, which is what made me think of her and what a comforting presence she was to me and my children. After an eight-year struggle with early-onset Alzheimer’s, she died in 2008; She was sixty-five. I still miss her dearly as do my children. They remember her as the legendary “Auntie Mame,” whose zest for life was equaled by the ferocity of her love for them. They never once doubted her acceptance of them. She fully embraced her role as their aunt. Adoption did not weaken her feelings of attachment to them. They knew she loved them/

The kids considered sleeping over at Auntie’s house a huge treat, not because they were “Disney-esque,” or involved spending a lot of money. Nancy treated them to her undivided attention and time, not her cash. They knew they were important to her. She understood and taught them that real value in life lies in creating connection and appreciating the magic in an ordinary day–simple things… having dessert first, staying in your pjs all day…transforming the family room furniture into a fort… piling whipped cream, marshmallow and hot fudge sauce on ice cream… playing pretend…spending undistracted time…simply BEing together. The kids intuitively recognized, this was the stuff that counted in life.

My children were blessed with extended family relationships which reassured, accepted and nourished them. Our extended families were “all in” on the grafted family tree of adoption.

How are you ensuring that your children feel welcome, secure, accepted and loved by their extended adoptive family? What might you do differently, to improve these relationships?

Gift of an Ordinary Day(Indulge yourself in a bit of self-care; consider reading, Gift of an Ordinary Day: A Mother’s Memoir by Katrina Kenison. YouTube video)




Fingerprints: More than a Picture Book, a Unique Identifier and Genetic Link

Thursday, October 9, 2014 @ 11:10 PM
Author: admin

Forever fingerprint.EldridgeThe wonderful adoption classic, Forever Fingerprints by Sherrie Eldridge is being reissued by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. An adoptee and a staunch advocate for adoptive families writes, who LIVES the adoption journey, Sherrie connects with adoptees’ hearts and validates their experience. Forever Fingerprints, a picture book serves a younger audience than Sherrie’s other books.

Behind its simple story line, Forever Fingerprints models adoption-attuned* relationships. It speaks to child and parent. As an adoption coach as well as an adoptive parent, I know it is important for parents to clearly establish that adoption is a suitable topic for family discussion. While this may seem obvious, to children it is not. In the absence of expressed permission, kids will assume that adoptions conversations are off limits. They will fear that it might hurt their (adoptive) parents if they talk about their concerns, mixed feelings and sharing their thoughts about their birth parents. And so, many wrestle with heavy worries weighing down their hearts. Forever Fingerprints is an easy and enjoyable way for parents to talk about some of the “hard stuff” of adoption.

Forever Fingerprints, captures a common moment in an adoptee’s life—being blindsided by a routine event that triggers a young girl’s awareness of loss or difference which results from being adopted. Specifically, Lucy discovers that her aunt is pregnant. Lucy is tickled to discover she can feel the baby move when she taps her aunt’s stomach. It is easy to see how this leads Lucy to wonder about her own birth mother.

This story helps reassure Lucy that like all children, she too, was nurtured inside her birth mother’s body. And, just like other babies, she was born. Research has shown that many adoptees experience confusion around their origins. Some even imagine they were “hatched” or arrived by airplane. Forever Fingerprints presents offers a teaching moment that helps normalizes Lucy’s own origins. Parents can ask their children to share their ideas of their own birth. (Be prepared to be surprised by what they think!)

I like how Eldridge has used fingerprints to establish both the child’s uniqueness as well as her connection to her birth parents. I have shared this book with children who have no information about their birth parents and no possibility of communicating with them at adulthood. These children still have curiosity about and longing for connecting with their roots. They feel the weight of this void. Having the fingerprint link assisted them in feeling that they had a permanent reflection of their birth parents.

In Forever Fingerprints, Lucy’s mother is attuned to her daughter’s roller-coaster emotions. Mom validates Lucy’s feelings and helps her to see several ways in which her birth parents exist within Lucy. This serves as a wonderful model for both parent and child readers. Parents have an example of how to handle the situations. Children have an example that it is both safe and reasonable to have questions and feelings.

fingerprint treeI recommend this book because it helps both parent and child. Families can easily replicate the fingerprinting activity. On one of our GIFT Family Services retreats, we completed a similar project—a fingerprint tree. (View our creation at left.) Although very simple, we were all touched by the experience as we could see how each of our fingerprints enhanced the beauty of the tree.

This is a wonderful metaphor for the value of difference. How boring life would be if we were all the same! Even the “finger paint” cover art supports the metaphor. Remember how much fun it was to slide your fingers through the cool, squishy colors? Why not join your children in creating a fingerpaint drawing? Perhaps it can be the cover for your child’s life book.

“Forever Fingerprints” is available for preorder. Jessica Kingsley Publishers officially launches this new issue on Oct. 21, 2014. It will be available in both hardcover and Kindle formats.

sherry EldridgeSherrie Eldridge    Amazon Author page      Sherrie’s Website



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*Adoption-attunement—AQ—considers how adoption influences a child and includes:

  • Adoption-sensitive parenting techniques
  • Sound adoption language
  • Knowledge of the attachment process
  • Consideration of grief and loss issues
  • Respect for birth parents
  • Modeling healthy boundaries
  • Educating family, friends and teachers on adoption
  • Remembering that a child’s story belongs to him
  • Recognizing that adoption is a family experience
  • Encouraging playfulness and good humor as a family value
  • Integrating a child’s birth heritage