All Posts By

Dr. Kris Kittle

When Adult Children Struggle

By | Blog, Challenges, Parenting, Wisdom | No Comments

I’ve noticed a common theme on social media lately: Our adult children are struggling. But parents are struggling, too. I do not have all the answers, but I’ve learned a few things in the last two years since my daughter launched.

Kids from hard places struggle more than kids with little trauma in their background.

All parents desire the very best for their children. We often want to make our children’s lives easier. It is why we’ve invested in a variety of extracurricular activities to help them discover their passions. It is why we encouraged years of therapy to help them heal. And it’s why we attend conferences and read books to better parent our children through their past trauma.

All of those are great tools. But I’ve realized something else, too.

Our kids have to choose.

Whether it is hard for them to choose healing because they can’t or because they won’t, they still have to choose. They have to choose to do the hard work to heal. They have to choose to attend therapy. They have to choose to face the past trauma. They have to choose to practice the techniques and use the tools. We cannot do the work for them (although don’t we wish we could?). It is their work to do.

So what can we do?

Pray. It seems the least active, but it truly is the most powerful. Pray for their healing. Pray for their protection. Pray they will make right choices. Pray that God would correct any wrong thinking (in them and in you). Pray that you will have the wisdom to know how best to help them.

Support. It means listening when they are sharing their hardship. It means saying “Wow. That sounds hard.” Or “Gosh, I’m sorry you experienced ___ (a difficulty in a relationship; losing your job; a hard day at work, etc.).” It means offering them a home cooked meal or bringing them a bag of groceries when they have little to eat. It may mean helping them pay their rent. But it might not mean giving them money. It might not mean letting them move back home. It might not mean solving their problems for them. And sometimes it may even mean not giving them advice.

Accept. It means accepting that there is only so much you can do to help your child heal. It means accepting your child may not change today, in the near future or ever. It means accepting that your child is not where you dream or desire them to be. It means accepting that when you have done your best your child’s behavior may still be embarrassing and bring judgment from others. It means accepting you cannot fix them; their behavior is not a reflection of your parenting. It means accepting them where they are, although it is hard to accept that they are not making different choices.

It is incredibly difficult to see our children make poor choices. It is hard to see them continue to make the same choices that cause them to struggle. It is hard not to want to fix it for them. But once our children become adults, our role has changed to one of acceptance and emotional support.

An Interview with Christa

By | Blog, Resources | No Comments

In honor of National Adoption month, we interviewed Christa Jordan from Spoonful of Jordan. We met Christa and her husband, Jonathan, at Tapestry Conference. Christa has written a workbook to help prospective adoptive families determine which type of adoption is best for their family. We hope you find this interview helpful.

Please tell us about yourself, and what experience you have with adoption or the adoption community?

Jonathan and I have been married for 9 years. I’m mama to our 6 year old son who came to our family through international adoption from Japan in 2014. Aside from being adoptive parents, we both have backgrounds in social work: I hold a BSW and Jonathan worked in foster care for 8 years. I’ve served the foster and adoption community in a variety of ways from mentoring to leading support groups for waiting families. My favorite job, however, is being stay-at-home mom and homeschooling our son! I love to write and process life through words so I started blogging before we began our adoption process. You’ll pretty much always find me with a cup of coffee in my hand and likely quoting something from Mary Poppins.

What led you to write the workbook Before You Adopt: A Guide to the Questions You Should Be Asking?

The workbook was born out of many conversations and what we wished we would have considered before adopting. Personally, we were the first in our circle who decided to grow our family through adoption. After we came home, I began getting connected to those interested in adoption or foster care through friends, my blog or social media. I started meeting with people and began asking the kinds of questions I included in the workbook. Over and over as I asked the hard questions, I would hear “I’ve never thought about that.” Additionally, I noticed a lack of practical education and preparation for families in the process. While trainings offered great stories, rarely did I see a holistic view or practical tools. Even though we that were really prepared for adoption, there were many things we struggled with or simply were not prepared for. I’ve watch many families walk through incredibly difficult things and feel some could have been prevented or less difficult with conversations had beforehand. But, you don’t know what you don’t know! I searched for a resource like this. When I could not find one, I decided to write it!

What would you like your readers to get from reading and utilizing this workbook?

I want readers to learn how to think holistically and outside of the box. Often people come to adoption or foster care without previous knowledge or experience. They don’t even know what they should be thinking about and working through, or asking professionals and preparing for. My goal was not to give all the answers. I believe there are ethical practices and general guidelines that everyone should know and follow, but there are so many variables on the journey. The journey is going to look different based on your past, preferences, beliefs and worldview. My hope is that people will feel more empowered and less overwhelmed by working through the workbook.

What do you think is most important for those considering the journey of adoption?

There are several things. First, if you are married, it is essential that your decision is 100 percent unified. I have seen so many couples come into this with one being passionate while the other is dragged along. That will not work. It won’t be good for the child or children who may be coming into your family, and it is certainly not good for your marriage either. I intentionally designed the workbook for each person to have a copy to work through the questions as individuals, then come back together to talk about your answers. You will quickly identify areas you need to discuss, do more research and ask for help. If you’re single, I encourage you to find someone you fully trust who will be an essential part of your support to be your sounding board on questions. Secondly, I think every prospective adoptive parents need to closely examine at their expectations and motivations. I believe it so important that I dedicated an entire section of the workbook about that.

What do you think makes a good book on adoption?

I think one that encourages you to look at the complexity of adoption and foster care. Carissa Woodwyk calls it the “both/and” which is my favorite phrase. If a book only gives the beauty and doesn’t address any of the loss or pain in adoption and foster care, that’s a problem. Likewise, if it’s addressing only the pain and not the beauty, healing and restoration, that’s also a problem. Both can be held together, simultaneously, and I think that is incredibly important. Another big thing to look for: is it honoring to all members of the triad (birth parents, adoptees, and adoptive parents)? It is important to know how the book is centered as it impacts the narrative.

Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share?

I’m working on my second book which is scheduled to publish in January 2020! It is very different from my workbook. It is our story of how God has moved so many mountains in our lives from our marriage, to finances, and adoption. I’ve entitled it Moving Mountains, and I hope others will find it encouraging when in a difficult season.

If you are considering adoption (or know someone who is), we hope that you consider getting a copy of her workbook! You can find it here. It is a helpful resource.

Resources about Trauma for Teachers

By | Blog, Parenting, Resources, Wisdom

As parents we often struggle to help our child’s teacher understand the impact of trauma in the classroom. We try to share information we have learned. So we try to share articles and resources from professionals “with credentials” with teachers and administrators.

Some teachers and administrators gladly accept the knowledge we share while others are less enthusiastic. I always struggle walking the fine line between being forceful and strongly encouraging their understanding.

Last month on Facebook, I posted a variety of resources that can be shared with teachers about the impact of trauma on the classroom. Here are a few of my favorites:

How Trauma Affects Kids in School

Helping Traumatized Children Learn (includes video lectures from a professor about the impact of trauma)

This is a Student’s Brain on Trauma

10 Things about Childhood Trauma Every Teachers Needs to Know

Hopefully, the teachers and administrators you share these resources with will be receptive to the research and become aware of students’ needs! Tell us how your teachers and administrators responded! We’d love to hear from you.

Improving Your Support Network

By | Blog, Conferences, Resources, Wisdom

We are excited to be leading a breakout session at the 2019 Tapestry Conference which will be held October 18-19 in Irving, Texas. As we considered what to present, we consistently went back to the importance (yet challenge) of support. In preparing to grow their family, parents often focus on the paperwork and preparation aspects of bringing their new child home. However, too often we forget about the support we need after our child comes home.

When the new child is older, we fall into the trap of believing the addition of the new child will not significantly impact our daily routine of cooking and chores. What parents frequently find, however, is while the child does not have the needs of an infant, the stress of getting to know the child is exhausting. You are learning your new child’s non-verbal responses and personality. You are attempting to connect with your child as well. The emotional toll can be unexpected and exhausting.

What kind of support do you need to gather? Here a few we will talk about in our session.

  • Social Needs. This blog post can provide ideas on how to strengthen your support network. Don’t forget about the social needs of your kids, too!
  • Physical Needs. Help with meals, household chores and maintenance.
  • Emotional Needs. Find people you can honestly share your fears, frustrations and joys.

What support do you still need? Do not be afraid to be vulnerable and ask for help. Having a good support network can help create a smoother transition for you and your entire family.

You can find out more about the conference and the other speakers here. We hope to see you there!

What I wish I had known…in Older Child Adoption

By | Blog, Parenting, Wisdom

When I talk to families who have chosen to adopt an older child, I often wonder what were things they wished they had known about before adopting their child.

Here are a few I hear most often:

“I wish families who have already adopted an older child would be honest with how hard it is.” So often parents talk about the joys (and there are many), but rarely do they share with raw honesty the intense difficulties. Many agencies have prospective parents talk to other parents who have already brought their child home (which is GREAT!). Except these parents minimize the challenges and emphasize the blessings. While admirable, it does an injustice to prospective parents. A family cannot truly determine whether older child adoption is a good fit for them if they only hear the good. So if you are considering older child adoption, search out those who have adopted an older child. In fact, I would suggest that you reach out those who have been home OVER two years. Why? I don’t know what it is about two years, but things shift. Truth surfaces. Eyes are opened. Patterns are identified. Things start clicking. This was true for the majority of the forty families we talked to and it was true for us.

“I wish I had realized how important finding a support group was before we adopted.” Find social media groups. Find area support groups. Get connected. This group will be your lifeline. Or maybe you will find one or two people who you reach out to when you are challenged. Or empty. Or need encouragement. Find them. Before you bring your child home (if possible).

“I wish I had realized how absolutely consuming this journey would be.” Yes. 100% yes. One mom advised that you plan to set everything else aside for the first year, perhaps two. Maybe giving up everything is not realistic for you, but please consider reducing your involvement. You truly cannot understand the demands your new child is going to place on you (some purposely, but a lot to simply meet needs). And you truly cannot anticipate the how one person’s trauma impacts an entire household. Everyone will be impacted. Expect to make your world small for you and your family. I would also follow that up with find coping strategies that work for you. And do not feel guilty about TAKING time for yourself doing something you enjoy.

“I wish I had known how much un-teaching would be necessary before I would re-teach appropriate behaviors.” One mom commented their household appeared to have absolutely no rules and completely out of control children that first year. Remember, you cannot focus on everything your child needs to work on from day one. It is not possible. Another mom suggested focusing on issues of safety at the beginning. Once those have been unlearned, then relearned, you can focus on other issues (such as manners, grooming, etc.). It is a long journey marked by small successes that lead to larger ones.

These are only a few of the things families wish they had known before they adopted their older child. But I hope these help you—if you are considering older child adoption—to make an informed decision on whether it is the best fit for you. For those of you already home, I hope these help you know what to share with other prospective adoptive families who ask you about your experiences.

Strengthening your Support System

By | Blog

Are you struggling to parent? Do you feel alone on your parenting journey? You are not alone! This may be one of the loneliest journeys you could walk. However, finding other families to walk beside you is vital.

But where can you find a support network?

Social Media. There are a number of groups on social media where you can connect with other families who are parenting adopted children. Groups on parenting with connection, older child adoption, parenting adopted teens, and adopting out of birth order are just a few groups you could search. Many other groups focus on families who adopted from a specific country. Get creative in coming up with key words that fit what you are looking for. Request to join a group, but if you find it is not what you expected or you find it bringing more heaviness instead of helping lift your heaviness, do not be afraid to exit the group. Thankfully, it does not have to be a long-term commitment if it is not a good fit!

Area Support Groups. While groups on social media can be fulfilling, there is NOTHING quite like meeting people in real life. (And it is possible to meet via social media yet become real life friends!) But people in your community you can meet one-on-one or as a small group can be helpful as well. Many churches have begun to create adoption support groups. Several larger churches have groups, but even some smaller churches have responded to the call to fill this void. Agencies often have support groups for their families as well so if your agency is local, get involved in their support group. If your agency is not local, contact some of the local agencies to inquire whether they have a support group you could join. Most agencies have a desire for ALL adoptive families to be successful (regardless of what agency helped you adopt) and would welcome families seeking to connect with others.

Adoption-educated Friends. Ok, so maybe social media isn’t your thing. And maybe you have tried to find a support group and have been unsuccessful. Create your own! Select friends (or find new ones) who are willing to become educated about the unique challenges of adoption. Those who are willing to not pass judgement when you share some of the hard aspects of your journey. They may be the people you least expect! However, they can serve as a great listener and a great encourager to you.

I hope that you will commit to strengthening your support system to help you through the bumps guaranteed to occur in parenting.

Overcoming Exhaustion

By | Blog, Parenting

Are you exhausted? Maybe the holidays have taken what little bit you had left right out of you. Perhaps spending time with extended family was simply too much. Or maybe your children’s behavior over the holidays simply drained your last drop of strength.

If you are experiencing parenting challenges, it is easy to fall into the mindset of “I just need to get through today.” You wake up the next day with the same thought on your mind. I have been there. Sometimes I still struggle to think that way.

How can you get off the hamster wheel of exhaustion? Purposefulness.

There really is no other way to do it than to be purposeful. We often tell our kids to make good choices even when it is hard. Yet, we often forget that sometimes we also need to make the hard choice to get rest despite the many demands on us.

What are some ways that you can purposefully rest without spending several thousand dollars on a vacation? Here are a few ideas you could implement today!

Have “Must-Go” dinner night. What is that, you ask? Whatever-in-the-fridge-that-must-go is for dinner! When I was growing up, every Sunday night was must-go. You could also serve cereal (if your family will go for that, but mine won’t). Pick up a ready-made meal that could easily been cooked in the oven. Make it a night with little work or preparation for you.

Leave the mess. Let go of the need to have your house looking perfect. The toys can be picked up tomorrow morning (with your kids help!). The messy kitchen and dirty dishes can be washed tomorrow. Just leave it and go to bed early. There will be more dirty dishes tomorrow and maybe you can garner help to wash them.

Is that hard? YES! Who wants to wake up to a messy house? But, getting more sleep will help change your outlook on your circumstances so you can face the mess.

Call for an “early” night. If you have older kids, give them the option to read, listen to soft music, or work on a quiet activity in their room until lights out. Then you do the same. Avoid blue light (light from electronics). Instead chose to participate in relaxing activities such as taking a bath or hot shower, reading a fun book, listening to calming music, or practicing mindfulness activities. If you enjoy essential oils, select one a calming one (like lavender, a relaxing blend, or a grounding blend) and put it in a diffuser or place a small amount in your palms and breathe it deeply. You may also want to safely apply it to your neck and shoulders or to the bottoms of your feet.

Maybe you want to do all of these on the same night or maybe you want to pick just one. Perhaps consider working on your personal bedtime routine to incorporate more relaxing activities that promote restful sleep.

It is easy to keep pushing when you are exhausted. However, being exhausted can diminish your immune system and lead to illness. Be purposeful in finding ways to rest even when it is hard.

Adopting Out of Birth Order

By | Blog, Parenting, Wisdom

No matter how you grow your family, your family experiences many changes. Of course, it changes in number, but the atmosphere also changes. The dynamics are different. Everyone is finding their place in the new normal. When you add a child younger than any existing children, every family member adjusts to cater to the youngest member of the family. And the family finds their new rhythm.

However, when the new child who joins the family changes the birth order, finding the rhythm is often more difficult. Not only does your new child have to figure out their place in their new family, but the existing children whose placement in the family changed also have to find their place.

For some children, a birth order displacement is minor. They may have a more flexible personality and can easily go with the flow of life. They will still have to learn how to respond or act to their newest sibling. They may need to figure out how to respond to a child who is chronologically older but acts younger than them. The parents may also need to figure out how to navigate that as well.

For other children, a change in birth order causes them to feel “demoted” in family “rank” which can incredibly difficult for some to accept. These children tend to be more competitive or often are identified as “natural leaders.” They may feel resentment toward the new child. They also may be confused on how to respond to a child chronologically older who acts younger than them. It can be especially difficult if the new child is now the oldest but is unable to fulfill the required responsibilities.

Before you decide to adopt out of birth order, consider these questions:

  • How will your existing child respond to a child who is chronologically older, but acts younger than they do?
  • How will your existing child handle the change of their place in the family?
  • How does your child handle change?
  • Will they struggle no longer being the oldest boy or oldest girl?

Perhaps ask others who know your child well for their thoughts as well.

Adopting out of birth order can work, but it does not always work. The unknown variable is how your new child is going to respond to their place in the family. Some adjust well while others want to be in charge of every family member. Some struggle to simply fit. Most will feel sad about family experiences they missed before joining the family. Often, this sadness is expressed as jealousy toward existing children. Then parents need to determine the best way to address that jealousy.

The Role of Parents

By | Blog, Challenges, Parenting, Wisdom

One area of research that I cover in the college course I teach is the study of Information Processing. Information Processing looks at how people process information and experiences which determines behavior. In my class, we discuss the implications on leader behavior. If you are unfamiliar with the concept (especially if you are an information junkie like me), I encourage you to research it.

I remember teaching a class several years ago when the implication on older child adoption hit me in middle of my lecture. I view one aspect of information processing as a mental box where we store information in our mind based on research or personal experience. In my class, we talk about the impact on leadership. The type of leader you are depends upon things you have learned, read, and experienced. If you have only experienced a leader who “hides” in the office while leaving the team to do whatever they think is best, then chances are when it is your turn to lead, you will lead in a similar manner. However, perhaps you have studied about leaders who gather input from their followers. What you learn will also go you’re your mental leadership “box.” When it is your turn to lead or manage, you will look into the leadership box, reflect on the contents, and lead from your knowledge and experience.

So what was my lightbulb parenting moment? At that time, our daughter had not been home for very long and we were struggling with her accepting our role as parent. It was in that moment I realized the application of this theory in our life. She had no frame of reference for the concept of “parent” since she had never truly had a parent before. Her “box” marked parent was empty. Since she hadn’t experienced having a parent before, she did not know how to respond. And she did not know what role parents play in their child’s life. Further, her “box” for “teacher” was distorted. The teachers she had experienced before coming home acted in many ways like a parent by teaching things parents generally taught and providing care and concern. In those first few years, she would say she did not want us to teach her various life skills, she wanted her teachers to do that. It did finally click that teachers taught academics, not necessarily relationship or various life skills.

Since becoming an adult, she has had to readjust her expectations of parents. We do not live close to our extended family, so she had limited opportunities to see me interact with my parents. Consequently, she has had to learn what role parents play in the lives of their independent, adult children. And to be honest, so have I.

How do you think your child views parents based on their past experiences? What information do they have in their mental “parenting box”? How can you contribute positive things to their perspective? And further, how can you not take their inappropriate responses to you (as their parent) personally? Really, that may be the most important question to ask yourself.

Education Challenges

By | Blog, Challenges, Wisdom

In our research, the majority of older adopted children struggle in some area of education regardless of their home country. Honestly, this finding was surprising. I assumed those children adopted from other countries would struggle due to the language and educational differences. And they do. However, we found kids adopted through foster care struggled as well. Many experienced a variety of moves and school changes. Since every school tailors their curriculum to their school (within state and federal requirements), kids may have missed concepts when they change schools. Perhaps one school introduces multiplication in second grade while another waits until third grade. If a child changes schools between these years, they miss out on vital teaching.

In no way am I advocating that every school teach exactly the same curriculum at the same time, each school has its unique culture. They should have the freedom and flexibility to reflect their school’s community. However, changing schools can bring interruptions in learning for kids.

Kids in care tend to have holes in their education. It may be in social studies, math, science, reading, or writing. Really, it can be in more areas than academics. My daughter had been home almost two years and in high school when I discovered she had never been taught the order of the months of the year. She knew the month names, but she never knew what order they came in. I assumed she knew since it was something often taught in preschool or kindergarten, but she had never been exposed to it before.

Often kids in care “slip through the cracks.” Perhaps the child never had appropriate educational support at home and entered care at an older age. Maybe the child was not at one school long enough (or often enough) for teachers to discover a learning disability. Consequently, the child can go years without diagnosis and intervention causing further educational delays.

Difficulty or lack of understanding can often lead to lack of interest in learning. Some kids refuse to learn because they are embarrassed they do not understand. No one likes to feel dumb and sometimes a refusal has more to do with feeling inadequate than being unwilling.

How can parents help their kids?

  • Ask yourself if this is “can’t” or “won’t”. Sometimes it is hard to differentiate between (and do not be surprised if it is a little of both). Assuming “can’t” will help you have more understanding and patience for your child. Then remind yourself often that they cannot.
  • Talk with their teachers. Ask if they suspect learning challenges. Ask what areas where they believe your child needs the most help. Select a place to begin. Do not try to address everything at once. It will simply overwhelm you and your child which can lead to more frustration for everyone.
  • Encourage your child. They are probably as frustrated with their educational experience as you are. If they put forth the best effort they can do right now, celebrate that. Tell them you notice they are trying. Acknowledge the extra time they spent studying whether the grade reflects it or not. Encourage even small progress.
  • Breathe deep. Probably the best advice shared with me was from a mom who had adopted several older children. She learned early on in older child adoption to repeat: “my child’s behavior is not a reflection of me.” When we do not take on our child’s behavior as ours, we do not respond in embarrassment and frustration. We can want the very best for our kids, but they still have to do their part. And sometimes we need to adjust our expectations for ourselves and our kids.

Staying calm is key to helping our kids push through educational challenges to find a solution.