Posts Tagged ‘Adoptive Parenting’

281 Voices: Adult Adoptees Describe Contact with Birth Family Members

December 10, 2012

281 voicesAs we release the 2ND SNEAK PEEK  into the information gathered in our survey of 281 adult adoptees about open adoption, once again I am reminded that there is no cookie cutter formula for open adoption.  Open adoptions are as different as all the people involved in them.

While the top three words used by our survey group were the same whether their adoptions had always been open or were closed and later became open, we also found that the majority of these folks used a mix of positive, negative and neutral words to describe contact. For example:

One participant who was adopted at birth and whose adoption was closed but became open when they were a young adult chose, “enjoyable, easy, difficult, interesting, safe, exciting, informative, healthy, stressful, fun, loving, respectful and a pleasure”  to describe contact.

Another individual who had contact with birth family members while growing up described it as, “enjoyable, difficult, interesting, exciting, sporadic, uncomfortable, normal, unusual, strained, stressful and fun”.

This shouldn’t be surprising.  After all, how many people can you describe in only positives or negatives?  In fact,  it’s hard to imagine that one would even bother to have a relationship with a person if there were only neutral feelings about them!

The question is, what does this mean for adoptive parents who have the opportunity to facilitate an open adoption with their child’s birth family members?

It helps set realistic expectations.  As parents our natural inclination is (or should be!) to jump to protect our kids from negative things.  However, if adoptive parents know that there are likely to also be positives to be gained, then they can weigh those positives and negatives to make a more informed, measured decision as to what is best for their child.

It’s a reminder that birthparents/birth family members are real people.  I believe that the adoption community and our society tends to paint birth parents in extremes.  Angel or devil… hero or villain… saint or sinner…?  But, at the end of the day “birthparent” is only a person just like the rest of us and I suspect that if they were given a list like this one and asked to describe the adoptive parents they would have a mixed response, too!  Furthermore, if we are really talking in a real way, let’s remember that not all adoptees are perfect, either!  🙂

It reminds us that relationships ebb and flow.  I don’t think it’s an accident that both “normal” and “unusual” were selected by the same person.  The quality of relationships can change.  Beyond that, an adoptee may describe their contact with different family members in different ways.

Next, we will look at what benefits they see in open adoption.

 

www.heartofthematterseminars.com

 

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The Day After Mother’s Day

May 14, 2012

Mother’s Day can be one of the hardest holidays to get through while waiting to adopt. I remember crying my way through many holidays during the years of infertility and then waiting for my son to come home.

If you are a woman waiting for motherhood, how did you get through the day?

For those of you who waited and are finally mothering, what advice can you give those who are still waiting? What helped you through the hard days?

LWB’s Realistic Expectations Series: Potty Training

May 1, 2012

Love Without Boundaries’ Amy Eldridge has been writing a series on her blog about “Realistic Expectations”. While it is geared toward families adopting from China, many of the issues are common in other countries as well. Today I read her post on toilet training and thought that there were many, many good points for any families adopting internationally! You can find it here: http://www.lwbcommunity.org/realistic-expectations-potty-training

I’d like to highlight a few of the issues she raises that are common to many other countries as well as China.

“Today we would like to continue with the “bathroom” subject, as one of the most common questions asked by parents is whether or not their child-to-be is potty trained.  Well…… define potty trained. And if the definition is “Western style toilet trained,” then the answer is probably not….  In orphanages that do use potty chairs or ceramic pots for toilet training, many staff will say that a child is “potty trained” when what they mean is that all the children are lined up on potties several times a day. They might sit there for an hour at a time starting at a very young age, and during that time they happen to “go.” Scheduled potty time in Chinese orphanages is common, but that doesn’t always equate to a toddler being able to tell a new parent when he or she needs to use the bathroom, and so don’t get frustrated when there are accidents.”  (underlines are mine)

This practice is certainly not limited to China.  For example, it’s the usual for children being adopted from East European countries, India and some African countries as well.

India

East Europe

Africa

Aside from the short-term issues (like helping a child acclimate to Western style toilets or managing parental expectations) there are sometimes long-term effects as well.   In some cases this type of “toilet training” causes the child to fear elimination and toileting.  Aside from the obvious signs of fear related to toileting, children will sometimes withhold urine or feces which can lead to physical complications, which in turn can start a cycle of fear, withholding and physical impact that can be hard to break.

Children who have spent time in less than optimal care (like and orphanage) often have a great need to control their environment.  And, what better area of life to control than pottying?  I mean, no one can truly make a child put their potty in the toilet short of abuse!

Add to these potential issues the fact that children who have spent time in less than optimal care also usually lag behind in one or more areas of development and there is huge potential for potty problems!

So, how do you know if you’re dealing with short term potty training issues or more long-term concerns?  That’s a big question and we’ve started to address it in our course Transitions, Developmental Challenges or Just Regular Kid Stuff???   Although this is a recorded course now, it was given in a webinar format a couple of years ago.  While many different behaviors were addressed, toilet training was one that was always raised in these live webinars!

Whether potty problems are stemming from fear, uncertainty, transitions, a need to control or a lag in development, special parenting is needed.  Traditional toilet training strategies have the potential to backfire in a big way.  Parenting that gets at the underlying issue rather than the symptom is called for and discussed at length in Because They Waited and in Discipline: Managing Your Child’s Bid for Power.

Open Adoption: Capturing the Voice of the Adoptee

April 18, 2012

Katie and I are deep in work on our newest project, an online course for prospective parents considering an open adoption.  As part of our work we have launched a research project to try and capture adult adoptees’ voices.  We’re specifically looking for adults 18+ who had some degree of contact with birth family members while growing up.  Please share this link with those you know who might want to participate.  The participants may remain anonymous.  Results will be published on our website and used in our course.  The survey takes only a few minutes to complete.

http://app.fluidsurveys.com/s/openadopt/

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Can Zip-a -Dee-Doo-Dah Change Eeyore? Using music to chip away at your child’s negative worldview.

April 2, 2012

Which is more powerful, a negative worldview or music?   Don’t count music out too fast.  Research has long shown that music can have a dramatic impact on body and mind.  While I can’t say that music  is capable alone of changing a negative worldview, I do know that for my family it makes a big difference for children and parents alike.

One of the effects of a neglectful, abusive, and/or traumatic beginning in life is that it often leaves a child with a darkened worldview.  We interpret and make sense of our world through our experiences, and when our experiences are largely negative it only makes sense that our view of the world in general would be negative as well.

Parenting  a child who looks at the world like the Winnie the Pooh character Eeyore can be  frustrating and depressing.  It can seem as if no matter what you do your child is still unhappy and gloomy.  That’s because worldviews are not changed with motivational speeches, lecturing, nagging, or  reminding a child how lucky he or she is.  Worldviews do not change instantly just because the child is placed in a better situation. Worldviews are changed slowly and methodically over long periods of  time.  Only after millions and millions of cycles of need are completed for the child  can  these new more positive experiences begin to also impact that  child’s worldview.  Even then, a child’s worldview doesn’t often change dramatically.  I think it is more common to see a subtle lightening of a child’s worldview and hopefully  a continued lightening over time.

Years ago music became a sanity saver in terms of helping me stay upbeat while battling my oldest child’s sometimes gloomy outlook.  I took to singing her rousing choruses of  “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” and “Zip- a -Dee- Do -Dah” as we were waking up each morning.  These off key silly moments were as much for my sanity and centering as they were for her.  But I really do believe now that they also helped  to chip away at that Eeyore-like outlook.  She is in her 20’s  now and when she was home visiting recently she gave me a morning hug and broke into our “Oh What a Beautiful Morning.” song.  So if nothing else, it is a fond memory for her.

My two youngest kids are teens now and reminding  me indirectly  that just  being a teenager can weigh heavily on one’s worldview.  Sometimes it’s hard to stay positive and upbeat as a teen in our society.  So I’ve decided to break out some morning music again.  I made a morning play list and this weekend  happy wake up music became part  the Drew family breakfast again.  I do believe over time  it will chip away just a bit at those challenging teen worldviews and if nothing else, it will help me to start each day off on the right foot instead of getting sucked into their grumpy.

Thought you might enjoy a peek at my list.  I’d love to hear what music  inspires your family.

I think this first song started everyday of my oldest child’s first grade year:

My mom and dad used to sing this one to me when I was  small and this is the one my daughter most remembers us singing in the mornings:

Good Day Sunshine, Beatles

A Beautiful Morning, The Rascals

Three Little Birds, Bob Marley

Ok I admit it, my kids were kind of rolling their eyes at my breakfast music this weekend UNTIL this one came on and then they burst out laughing!

Because of James Brown I was given a reprieve on eye rolling for John Denver.  And I’m sorry but who can’t feel just a little happy listening to this….

More Beatles.  You can’t really go wrong there.

Classic….Cat Stevens

Classic ….James Taylor

Feeling Good, Nina Simone

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Sending Parental Messages of Unconditional Love

February 14, 2012

I  thought this day was a perfect chance to remind ourselves  about the importance of sending messages of unconditional love to our children.   In my house we like to say, “Good days, bad days, happy days, sad days, I will always love you.”

Obviously each of us benefits from the security generated when we really know that despite our imperfections we are truly  loved.  For children who began life in less than optimal care and who waited for a  family the message of unconditional love is even more crucial.

Unfortunately, sometimes kids behaviors, especially the  behaviors that can stem from trauma, loss, attachment strain, etc.  are challenging to manage.  It is not uncommon for adoptive parents (and all parents for that matter) to struggle to address negative behaviors while still sending messages of unconditional love.   Take the following example for instance.

Mom says,  “Bad boy!  We don’t throw toys!  Go to your room this instant!”

Message received by child:   I am  bad.  Mom  wants me to get away from her.  I am not lovable.

In order to send messages of unconditional love we have to be very conscious of the language we choose.  Let’s tweak the above example just a bit.

Mom says, “Bad choice!  Throwing toys is dangerous!    I’m going to put this up until you’ve calmed down.  Now come and sit by Mom.”

Message received by child:  Throwing toys is dangerous.  Mom won’t let me throw toys without interceding.  Mom helps  me when I’m upset.    Mom loves me even when I screw up.

Sounds simple but we all know how challenging it can be in the heat of parenting moments to choose the correct words and deliver them with a loving spirit.  I personally motivate myself by reminding myself regularly that I’m not doing this just to be nice or just to be positive.  I’m doing it because the science tells me that this is the kind of parenting that promotes attachment and nurtures emotional health.  One way I remind myself is by continuing to learn and read on the subject.  One author that particularly speaks to me on this subject is Gordon Neufeld.  He  writes,

 “Unconditional parental love is the indispensable nutrient for the child’s healthy emotional growth.   The first task is to create space in that child’s heart of the certainty that she is precisely the person the parents want and love.  She does not have to do anything or be any different to earn that love- in fact, she cannot do anything, since that love cannot be won or lost.  It is not conditional.  It is just there regardless of which side the child is acting from – ‘good’ or ‘bad.’  The child can be ornery, unpleasant, whiny , uncooperative, and plain rude and the parent still lets her feel loved.  Ways have to be found to convey the unacceptability of certain behaviors without making the child herself feel unaccepted.  She has to be able to bring her unrest, her least likable characteristics to the parent and still receive the parent’s absolutely satisfying, security –inducing unconditional love.”

Here’s hoping that this Valentine’s Day finds you enjoying the warmth of unconditional love yourself and inspired to keep sending that message to your kiddos.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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From Our Inbox: Are We Creating Bad Behavior By Meeting Too Many Needs?

September 21, 2011

Ever worry that meeting your child’s needs might be spoiling her?  Check out the below question we received by email and read our response to learn more about needs, wants, trust and control.

From Our Inbox:

Dear Ladies,

I was discussing the behavior of my adopted 4 year old with a friend, and she was describing what was going on in her house.  It seems we have the same child, she the female version! We realized that each of these children (in addition to coming from the same overseas orphanage) experienced trauma in the first months of life.  Now, both children are loving and continuing to show signs of attachment, but are the most strong willed, stubborn, and at times inflexibe children you’ve ever seen. My husband and I say, we all (including his biological adopted sister) go with the flow and our son directs the flow. I have taken your course on power struggle or adoptive behavior, and I either need to take it again, or need some techniques to use and share with my friend.  We were thinking maybe their behavior is a result of answering that cycle of need one to many times.   Have we created this behavior? Anyway, whatever you can suggest, we are listening and eager to hear. You are always my go-to gals on all things adoption, so thanks for all the work you do.

Signed,

Eager to Hear

Our Response:

Dear Eager to Hear,

First, let me assure you that you cannot spoil or overindulge a child by meeting their needs.  Having needs met over and over again in a timely, consistent, nurturing fashion creates positive brain based skills.  You can, however, spoil or overindulge a child by granting them every one of their desires, wishes, or wants.  There is a big difference between consistently meeting needs and always granting wants.

The Difference Between Meeting Needs and Granting Wants:
You could never become spoiled just because your partner or significant other interacted with you everyday, smiled at you, helped you fix a problem with a broken appliance, attended your child’s school meeting with you, kissed you and hugged you daily, and remembered that you are allergic to peanuts whenever he or she cooked.  That’s because these are just examples of meeting your needs as a spouse or partner.

You could however become “spoiled” if your spouse did all the cooking, cleaning and car and appliance repair with no need for input or help from you, rubbed your feet every single night, routinely brought home lavish gifts , made you breakfast in bed daily,  let you choose the menu always,  never raised his or her voice or demanded their own way, and basically gave in to anything and everything you ever WANTED.

It’s the same with children.  Since I’m not able to see into your home you will have to discern for yourself if you are simply meeting needs (food, comfort, support, boundaries, guidance, etc.) or if you are acquiescing to every want.  And remember, choosing to indulge in some of your child’s wants is perfectly fine as long as it is on your own terms and you understand the difference between needs and wants.

Trust and Control:But beyond the needs and wants conversation there lies an even more important topic to consider in your question.  That is the topic of controlling behavior and why so many children who waited in orphanages before their adoption exhibit such a strong need to control their environment even after they are safe at home with needs meeting parents.  When you say that you have the ability to “go with the flow” but your son “directs the flow” and when you use adjectives like “stubborn, strong willed and inflexible” you describe what I imagine to be a child struggling to remain in control. And given the history it makes a lot of sense.

Remember that even as you meet your child’s many needs over and over again now, you are still battling against the fact that prior to coming to you those needs were likely not met in a timely and nurturing fashion and so it makes sense that skills learned from having one’s needs met,  skills like cause and effect thinking, impulse control, self regulation , empathy and the most important of all ….trust, might be lacking.

You mention that your child shows positive signs of attachment, and that’s great, but remember that attachment is more than just love.  It also encompasses all of those brain based skills….especially trust.  A child who is still developing healthy levels of trust is much more likely to act in controlling ways.  Because of this it isn’t surprising to me at all that both your child and your friend’s child are exhibiting similar controlling behaviors.  I’m just more inclined to point to a lack of needs meeting early in life as the culprit.

So what’s a parent to do?  More of the same.  Keep up that needs meeting parenting and enjoy spending time with your friend who is parenting in the same way.  Help each other by chatting about needs and wants and discerning if you are striking a balance on delivering some wants and meeting most needs.     You mentioned taking some of our shorter courses but if you haven’t taken Because They Waited we strongly suggest it.   It really helps to answer some of the why’s as well as the “what to do’s” in a more comprehensive way than some of our shorter courses.

Hope that helps! Keep us posted on your progress and thoughts.

Julie

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Advice for “the church ladies” who want to help adoptive families….

September 19, 2011

So much of this is great advice, I had to share: Helping a Family Who Recently Adopted

Adoption and School: Why the classroom discipline plan often fails for our kids.

August 27, 2011

If you have seen the inside of an elementary classroom in the past 20 years you have probably seen this classroom management chart or some version of it.   You might be curious as to why this simple chart is the topic of today’s post.   What could it possibly have to do with adoptive families?  The truth is this chart (and other behavior modification tools) can have a large and sometimes negative  impact on our kids school experience.  So with school starting back up we wanted to take time to  talk about how these charts are used, why they can be a problem particularly for our kids, and what to do about it.

How the chart system works:
The  way this classroom management system works  is very simple.  Each child has a set of cards in the pocket chart.  Usually the cards are green, yellow and red symbolizing the go, warning, and stop signals of a traffic light.  Some teachers add an additional  black card.  Every day each child starts with their green card on top.  As the class moves through the day the teacher asks students who show undesirable behaviors or make poor choices to change their card color.

So seven year old Johnny starts the day with a green card on top,  but when he shouts out an answer without raising his hand the teacher asks him to change his top card to yellow.  Later when he turns in his math paper partially incomplete the teacher asks him to turn his card to red.   And finally when he pokes Sally in the arm with a freshly sharpened pencil she sends him to change the card to black.  Of course, landing on red or black usually means a note is sent home or a phone call is made to inform parents and to plan for better behavior.

Each school and individual teacher puts their own spin on the system.  For example, sometimes cards are only changed after several warnings.  Sometimes teachers have children fill out “think sheets” about their behavior when they change a card. Some teachers make individual plans with the parents of struggling students to give daily reports, and on and on.

So what is the problem with these charts and other behavior modification systems?
Sounds like a pretty simple system and I know a lot of teachers use it very successfully with typical kids.  So why would it be any different for a child who joined their family through adoption?  The key to the struggle is not actually about adoption, but instead about less than optimal care in the beginning of a child’s life, and how that care impacts the child’s ability to successfully navigate a behavior modification system like the color chart.

Many of our children waited in an orphanage, an abusive or neglectful birth home or were bounced from foster home to foster home prior to their adoption.  Research tells us that not having needs met in a timely, effective, and nurturing fashion over and over again early in life has an impact on a child’s brain development.   Often these children lag behind their peers in the development of brain based skills like cause and effect thinking, impulse control, self regulation, empathy and trust.

So lets go back to Johnny.  Let’s say his development of these skills is not that of a typical 7 year old because he spent the first 2 and ½ years of his life in an orphanage.  Does he have the impulse control to not shout out the answer?  Does he have the self regulation necessary to complete the math assignment without assistance?  Has empathy developed enough to think about how Sally will feel when she is poked?  Probably not.

But even more concerning is that our children who have experienced repeated cycles of unmet need are often lacking in trust, and children who lack trust usually have a strong need to control their environment.  When this is the case behavior modification systems like the color chart are almost certain to fail because the child is more motivated to control the environment than to get any reward that is offered.  In some cases children even seem to purposefully choose behaviors opposite of expectations;  their lack of trust and need to control leading them  to test the competency of their teacher.   It is as if they are saying, “Am I safe in this place?”  “Can you handle me?”  The behaviors are not usually  malicious but instead a sort of desperate  grasp at control.  Not surprisingly this type of  behavior is often misunderstood by teachers and school administrators, and sometimes results in a series of punishments that increase in intensity over time but never really seem to fix the behaviors.

What’s a parent to do?
So what as parents can we or should we do if this type of system is in place in our child’s classroom?   If behavior modification is being used in your child’s classroom and your child is successfully navigating it, obviously nothing needs to be done.  But if your child is struggling to behave in the classroom, is showing poor self regulation or impulse control, has to change their color over and over again for similar behaviors, or is showing signs of controlling the classroom through his or her misbehavior then it’s time  to advocate for your child and  her real  needs.  This means sitting down with the teacher and talking about why your child is struggling, and coming up with a plan to manage your child’s behaviors that will prove more successful.   To get ready for that talk check out this article with tips for talking to your child’s teacher.

And if you have completed the Because They Waited education system you will remember making a parenting plan that included discipline techniques that made sense given the science and research surrounding the adopted child.  We encourage techniques like pull close parenting, time in not time out, and more.  These techniques can be helpful to teachers too.   I’m reminded here of of one of Katie’s posts about time in at school.  Share examples like these with your child’s teacher.

The bottom line is that in order for our kids to be successful at school we need to continue to turn that cycle of need to completion at home thus building and shoring up those brain based skills.  We also need to help teachers understand why color charts (and other behavior mod techniques)   that work perfectly  for so many children, can be problematic  for the child who comes from a background of less than optimal care.  And finally, we need to partner with our child’s teacher to come up with effective ways to manage the sometimes difficult behaviors that kids struggling in these areas bring to the classroom.

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Aunts vs Mothers and a Sneaky Way to Get a Cupcake

June 30, 2011

Yesterday I read a post by Rage Against the Mini Van blogger Kristen Howerton in which she bemused the fact that she is a better aunt than mother.  Her post REALLY hit home for me.  I have long known (and felt guilty about) the reality that the children in my life who call me Aunt Ju Ju get a far better version of myself than the children who call me Mom.  Aunt Ju Ju is fun, interested,  energetic, always supportive, and somewhat spontaneous.    Mom on the other hand is often busy, tired, a stickler for “the way things should be done,” and practical about activities and timing.

Like Kristen I know that there are some natural reasons for this but even so her post really called me to consciousness.   So I decided to do for my kids yesterday what I would have done for my nieces or nephews had they been with me.  Just for a little while I put work aside.  I had an extra long snuggle fest with one child, helped another child with a project he’s been working on, and when they talked I really  focused on exactly what they were saying.   I removed the distracted sounding  mmmmhhhmm’s and uh huh’s from my response repertoire.   I learned  I really CAN live through  a long winded story about Pokemon and can even find intelligent questions to ask about it.  After all, I would have done that for my nephew!!

Then I paused aunt mode to go to a work meeting and returned to find my son staring at the television.  I snapped it off and asked him what he REALLY wanted to be doing with his time.  (Aunt Ju Ju would NEVER use the TV to entertain a niece or nephew.) Without missing a beat he replied, “Let’s go to the shopping center and walk around.”   I was suspicious of this request as he hates shopping, but I conjured my spontaneity (usually reserved for nieces and nephews) and hopped in the car with him.  When we arrived I asked him where he wanted to go and was confused with his “I don’t know” response.  But when he added “we can go to places you like AND places I like” and then threw in a mischievous smile  I was on to him.  We were parked directly across from the specialty cupcake store and my son has a notorious sweet tooth.  Shopping had never been his intention at all.   He knew Mom probably wouldn’t have said yes to driving across town for an overpriced cupcake piled with delicious frosting but he had been pretty sure (and correct) that I would go for shopping.   We had a good laugh together when I called him on his plotting and then since Aunt Ju Ju definitely would have bought a niece or a nephew a ridiculously priced cupcake in we went.

I know Aunt Ju Ju can not come out to play everyday for my children and I don’t think they would really want her to anyway, but for yesterday it was a pretty good thing for everyone, even me.

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