Teaching our deeply-held values to our children is one of our most important parental tasks. It is a truism that our children learn more from our actions than our words. But children often remain oblivious to the values-based thinking that governs our actions. Instead, they hold their observations under an umbrella of that’s what parents do. They rarely ponder the reason which might have driven our decisions. In fact, they are often convinced that we decide out of meanness, spite or a general desire to make their lives miserable!
To ensure that kids get the lesson behind every choice we make, we must make the thoughts and choices visible to them and share our reasons for doing these things. Even if we feel silly or self-conscious, let's choose to do it anyway. Imparting our values is too important to leave to chance or the wavering attention of children. Here are just a few examples:
We visited Tom in the hospital because he’s our friend and we wanted him to know we care about him and value his friendship.
We’re attending this community fundraiser because we believe in their efforts to help provide food for people in need.
I’m taking this class because I always wanted to learn….
I’m working on behalf of this candidate because I think he/she will serve us well.
I recycle because it is good for the environment so you can grow up in a clean world.
Even if you get the biggest eye rolls, not only will they have seen your actions, they will understand the reasons that motivated you. Over the stretch of time, they will begin to observe a pattern of behaviors and choices that will serve as a template of values in action that they can follow.
I celebrated my birthday this month and my son gave me a pair of earrings, long dangly ones, exactly what I like. But what made them reallyspecial was they bore this tag: “100% Socially Reinvested to Transform the Lives of Women. One Bead. One Hope.” I took note of the tag line and my son said, “Yeah, well… I know you go for that kind of stuff.”
This tickled me because I do try to shop at businesses that make a difference. And my son noticed.
Perhaps our kids will embrace the same values or causes that we hold dear. Perhaps not. But if we allow them to become aware of how we live a values-based life, they will recognize the importance of values as our guiding compass.
One of our family values is “to be a contribution.” As I try to teach this value to my little grandson, I talk about how important it is to be a helper. He now understands that we value helpfulness. Yet he has not fully learned the many ways one can be helpful. Our job is to teach them how to be helpful:
Thank you for getting your plate out of the cabinet, that was helpful.
Thank you for getting my water shoes out of my closet. You are a helper!
It is also important and effective to point out the ways in which we help them. This further expands the ways in which helpfulness occurs and it increases their awareness and appreciation for the ways we help them. This in turn highlights the warm feelings which we/they experience when someone helps them. A win/win for all of us!
I found the toy car you lost and I put it on your shelf. I feel happy when I help you.
I fixed your bicycle tire; you can ride it again. I enjoy watching you ride it.
Another benefit of intentionally making our values visible is that it brings them to consciousness. We automatically become more aware of them andwhen we succeed or fail to live them well. Our actions become more aligned with our intentions and our children become more immersed in our values.
Choose one core value to focus on this week. How will you exemplify it? How will your children be able to experience it? How will you help them to live it within their own actions?
Listen to our podcasts on Adoption-attuned Parenting.
Read these book reviews by GIFT coach, Gayle H. Swift. They are written with an Adoption-attuned perspective.
No one accidentally adopts, right? We pursued adoption with passion. determination and single-mindedness. It required significant, time energy and commitment to become adoptive parents.
We must pursue parenting with equal intensity, one that is infused with a thorough awareness of the challenges unique to adoptive parenting. This requires a redesign of the parenting templates which our own parents used to raise us. We must replace these strategies with ones that consider our children's needs--those common to all children, plus, those which emanate from their being adopted. This requires parenting with intention.
Intentional Parenting is both an attitude of the heart as well as a well-informed, well-educated approach. It is steeped in adoption-attunement* and respects the reality of our children's needs, sensitivities and dual emotional loyalties. Intentional Parents (IPs*) understand we are not rivals with birth parents; we are teammates who love the same child and are all committed to that child's well-being, happiness and personal growth.
IPs* recognize adoption did not cure infertility nor does our child's secure attachment to us erase her connection to, or interest in her birth family. Moreover, intentional parents have a clear vision of their Purpose, Values and Goals as a parent and for their families. (Note that these terms are capitalized to indicate that these are not generalized, communal ideas. Instead, these concepts result from careful thought and discussion which distilled them to a core group, one that deeply resonates with us as individuals. These criteria then become the basis of our parental blueprint.)
In our coaching, we have frequently found parents have not paused to actively engage in a process of identifying, Purpose, Values, and Goals. Instead, they operate on intuition and "autopilot," assuming their partner agrees. This is unfortunate because it leaves mismatches between the partner's unexposed and can lead to division in parenting approach. Remember, each partner was raised in a separate family of origin. Their experiences may parallel their partner's. But it may vary--a little or a lot. Children are experts at "divide and conquer," so this Purpose, Values, and Goals defining process is a vital task for parents.
Explore these sample questions with a partner. Even if this discussion has already been held, it is worth revisiting periodically. It alerts us to where we have slipped off-course, fallen short or forgotten something entirely.
Purpose operates as one of the points of our parenting compass. It is a soul-steeped awareness that creates the reason why we chose to be parents. It goes beyond simply wanting to follow the natural cycle of life, of wanting to be equal participants in the parenting world of our friends and relatives. Purpose connects to a core spirituality.
What is it about being a parent that infuses meaning in your life? How does parenting reflect your philosophy of life? Of a child's role in the family" In the world at large? How do your faith and spiritual beliefs influence your parenting?
Create a list of values that are important to you. Keep in mind that Values go beyond a moral code. They define who we are. We suffer internal conflict when we are not upholding these Values. It is imperative to identify the values on which you and your partner align as well as those on which compromise cannot occur. Which ones actively guide your thoughts, choices and behavior? These are your core Values, the ones that infuse your parenting philosophy and goals. Identifying core Values establishes another compass point for your family life.
Intentional parents also spend time refining their parental Goals. Most parents want to raise children who are happy, healthy--both physically and emotionally-- and who grow to contribute to society. Think "roots and wings." Parents want their children to build a firm foundation which provides the launching pad that propels them into their adult lives. Intentional adoptive parents also commit to nurturing a child's natural talents and abilities even if they are different from patterns typical in the history of our family. (Highlighting the ways are kids are similar to us is a common "claiming" behavior but it is essential that this be balanced with an appreciation for the many ways our kids differ from us. We must ensure that our children believe that their differences enrich our families lest they infer that they must hide or be ashamed of their differences.)
Make an actual list of your Goals. Ask yourself how your parenting philosophy and strategies serve these goals. How fully are you living them? What blocks you from living them 100%? Which create the greatest challenge for you as a parent? For your children? Revisit the list on a regular basis to identify progress as well as opportunities for changes in strategy and priorities.
How will intentional parenting help your family? What will be the first steps you will take? How might working with a GIFT family coach assist you?
GIFT 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.
In 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.")
Last 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.
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.
For the month of March we will explore the role of boundaries in family life.
For many of us, our first experience with boundaries is the crib in which we slept as babies. It served to keep us safe, to define the limits of exploration and provided us a place that was secure, and our own.
This comfort zone is important for all children and is a need we never outgrow even as adults. While the bars of a crib are obvious both to the baby and the world that looks in, the boundaries we establish as adults often are more subtle.
We exchange the bars of the crib for the limits of a self-defined invisible fence. It falls to us to actively hold those boundaries so that people recognize and accept them. We can assert them with a confidence that invites respect or with an emotionality that invites confrontation.
Our boundaries are the expression of the values which we hold most dear, for example, respect, honesty, health, love, achievement, or intimacy. By living our values we teach others how to treat us and we reveal how much we value ourselves. When we hold our boundaries confidently, we model this skill for our children and teach them an important life lesson. How intentionally have you defined your boundaries? Which ones serve you well and which ones have you outgrown?
Next week we will explore what happens when children did not experience healthy boundaries and their invisible fence was pierced. What strategies did they learn to keep themselves safe and secure? What happened when their fence became a wall?
Sally: 612-203-6530 | Susan: 541-788-8001 | Joann: 312-576-5755 | Gayle: 772-285-9607