Category

Wisdom

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.

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.

Things to Consider when Looking for a Therapist

By | Blog, Challenges, Parenting, Resources, Wisdom

Finding a therapist with adoption experience – specifically older child adoption experience – who is trauma- or attachment-focused can seem nearly impossible. We have some recommendations for finding a therapist or counselor who uses a developmentally appropriate approach.

Seek Recommendations

  • Look for recommendations of therapists or counselors who work with children and families. Check with other adoptive families, professionals (such as pediatrician, family lawyer, social worker, pediatric occupational therapist, audiologist, school counselor), family and friends, your employer, or your insurance company.

Search Online

  • There are online services like GoodTherapy.org, PsychologyToday.com, and others that can be helpful in locating therapists in your area; however, keep in mind that listed therapists pay a fee for membership to be included on these lists. There are some great therapists listed, but there will be some great ones not listed, and others may be listed but not so great.
  • There are many professional organizations, institutes, and networks that contain directories of therapists and other support that may assist in your search (such as Attachment & Trauma Network, Inc; Association for Training on Trauma and Attachments in Children (ATTACh); The Theraplay® Institute; The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN); TF-CBT National Therapist Certification Program).

Travel Distance

  • Good and convenient often do not go hand-in-hand. You can probably find a therapist 10 minutes from your house, but you might find a better one who is worth a longer dive. A longer drive home can provide time to process feelings and thoughts from the therapy session.

One or More Therapists?

  • There are no easy answers to the question of should we have one therapist or multiple therapists. Discussing the pros and cons with the therapist will be helpful in avoiding potential pitfalls in your therapeutic work.

Therapist’s Gender

  • You will want to choose the gender you or your child prefer to work with. However, your reasons may be something you need to discuss with the counselor.

Things to Ask Therapists

  • Are you a licensed counselor or therapist?
  • Are you a registered therapist, or do you have any additional certifications?
  • What is your training or educational background?
  • What percentage of clients are adolescents (if you are seeking counseling for your teen)? …families? …foster, adoption, or attachment related issues? …trauma related?
  • How much of your work involves the use of art, play, or team building exercises with adolescents and with families?
  • What do you believe is required for healing?
  • Do you work with other professionals in your clients’ lives, such as medical doctors, psychiatrists, schools, or other interventionists?
  • Are you willing to work with both our family and our child individually, or do you suggest we have different therapists?
  • If you will be seeing our child individually, how involved or informed will we be?
  • Do you make referrals if you identify my child or family needs additional or different services?
  • Do you provide psychoeducational assessments* or do you have someone you recommend who does?  

*A variety of psychoeducational assessments are available to assess individual aptitudes, attitudes, abilities, achievements, interests, personal characteristics, disabilities, and mental, emotional and behavioral disorders.

Ask About Their Fees

  • If you cannot afford them, tell them what you can afford because this could be a long-term process. Some may be willing to reduce their fees.
  • Many community clinics can provide counseling on a sliding scale fee.
  • Some universities have clinics where students-in-training provide counseling at a lower cost. However, they are students, and therefore they will not have the training and experience of a fully-trained therapist.   

Listen to Your Intuition

  • Is the person you are talking to trying to sell themselves or are they really telling you about how they work?
  • Who makes you feel the most relaxed and encouraged?

It is our belief that it is essential for therapists or counselors to network with caregivers, school personnel, and sometimes other professionals to obtain a complete and accurate picture of the child and his or her needs. We also like the use of assessments that are up-to-date, valid, and reliable. If you struggle to find a therapist or counselor who fits our suggested criteria, you may find one who is willing to research and learn. Remember, counseling is an investment that often brings great returns. 

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!

Being Fully Present & Connecting with Your Loved Ones

By | Blog, Parenting, Wisdom

What would your child or significant other say if you asked, “Do you think I use my phone (iPad, laptop) too much?”

What do they see? Perhaps they see you on your phone and think your phone is more important than them.

What do they hear? You might not realize that they hear your adult conversations or videos. Perhaps they hear you, your friends, or other family members gossiping or complaining – not things you want them to learn or think are okay.

To be that young vulnerable person ignored behind the phone held in a parent’s hand is far worse than we can describe. It has become a disturbing problem in our society. One that is shaping who are children are today and the people they will become.

Are your online communications more important than your child? No one wants to think their child feels forgotten or neglected because of a phone or electronic device.

Are you distracted and disconnected by your phone while your family is present? The truth hurts, but the truth can also heal. There is hope for changing from distracted to present, from not truly living to living, from disconnected to connected.

I want to share Rachel Macy Stafford’s article, “How to miss a childhood: The dangers of paying more attention to your cell phone than your children.” I enjoyed how she laid out the things we might do that are sacrificing our children’s childhoods and our own lives as well as her suggestions of things to focus on instead, so that we can grasp their childhood rather than miss it.

Maybe you will find this article difficult to read as I did. Maybe you will feel “mom guilt” like I did. But your child and society thank you as you try to get back to what really matters – connecting with our loved ones and being fully present.

I recently made a few adjustments to my phone use. I have turned off most notifications on my phone. I can control when I check email rather than letting my email disrupt me and my time with my family. I know 95% of those social media notifications are not worth the distractions. If I want to know what’s going on with friends before getting together with them, then I can browse their pages after my kids have gone to bed. I stopped exploring the Internet in the morning before the kids got up because they would see me on my phone or computer when they got up. I did not want them to think the Internet was the most important thing to me. This past year, I also found myself becoming a little resentful of how some of my phone conversations were taking time away from my family. I want to support others, but now I schedule time with friends twice a month where I can be fully present for them. Communicating my desire and goals with friends and family has helped them to better understand my need for change and my good intentions of a better childhood for my kids. Further, I can be a friend who can be fully present instead of half listening while also trying to parent kids.

What about you? Do you need to make changes in your electronic use to be present with your kids to grasp their childhood?

Please comment and share your experiences with us.

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.

Adjusting Your Expectations

By | Blog, Challenges, Parenting, Wisdom

The beginning of a new year provides us the opportunity to reflect and look at our own expectations.

Unrealistic expectations put too much unnecessary pressure on you, your adopted child, your existing children, your spouse, and others. Unrealistic expectations can harm your relationships and leave you working toward false goals. They can, will, and most often do lead to disappointment. If you want your relationships to be successful, work on being aware of what is going on with you, with others, and within your relationships and set realistic expectations.

Do not expect others to be able to read your mind and always act according to your wishes. You do not share one mind, and they are different from you. Good communication is vital to a healthy family. Your family (existing children, spouse, and others) will likely need to adjust their expectations as well. Most families we spoke to found that their existing children had difficulty adjusting to their adopted sibling’s behaviors and the attention their adopted older sibling received. Make sure you check in with your family members to learn how they are doing. Have frequent, purposeful discussions with them acknowledging the successes and difficulties they are experiencing. Give them opportunities to express frustration that their expectations are not being met. Provide them with potential reasons why things are going the way they are. Have family members try to look at things from other family members’ perspectives.

Equally important, your expectations cannot change people. One of the biggest challenges people face in life is learning to accept people as they are. You can accept people while not accepting their behavior. People who do not feel accepted feel rejected, which is a form of identity destruction and can lead to many negative outcomes. Your older adopted child will be required to do a lot of work to adjust and change. You cannot change people, but you can help facilitate their process toward positive, healthy change. Life does not always work the way we imagined or planned and working hard to adjust accordingly to where everyone is at and what they are capable of may be beneficial. Adjustments can be long-term or moment-to-moment as needed.

Though we tend to set our expectations unconsciously, it does not prevent us from consciously adjusting them up or down. If you observe yourself repeatedly disappointed by experiences you feel you should be able to enjoy, you may benefit from consciously lowering your expectations somewhat. Similarly, if your expectations are continually low, your pessimism may prevent you (and possibly others) from enjoying the anticipation of good things, and you may want to work on allowing yourself to expect a little more. Going into situations with an open mind, not expecting certain things, allows you to fully engage without the pressure of living up to preconceived notions.

Consider taking a few moments to reflect on your expectations for yourself and for others.

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.

Creating Moments of Connection

By | Blog, Resources, Wisdom

Family bonding can be healing for a multitude of reasons including, but not limited to: helping to navigate change; enhancing communication; building teamwork; enhancing social, emotional and intellectual success; problem solving; improving concentration; improving decision making; providing comfort and security; building self-esteem; teaching practical skills; increasing physical ability; teaching values; increasing curiosity; building self-discovery; creating a sense of identity; increasing playfulness; improving kindness; and generating wonderful memories.

Thus, it is important for your family to establish a regular time to bond. Attitudes are contagious, so try not to see this as another thing on your to-do list. Try to be positive about family times. When the family is involved in an activity, they are more apt to open up about things they might not normally discuss.

It might be difficult finding activities that help facilitate family bonding. Everyone might not want to be involved. To help facilitate involvement, you can try asking those most resistant to pick the movie, activity (game, craft, etc.), or snack. However, that may not work well for those who are anxious, since they might feel they are being put in the hot seat. If you notice someone is anxious or struggling with making a decision, you might suggest they select three choices and ask another family member to make the final decision, or for the family to take a vote. You may need to give some incentives to participate such as not having to do a chore, getting an extra half hour or hour of TV time, a bonus bedtime story, or getting to stay up an extra half hour on Friday night. However, if the family activity becomes too competitive and there are some who never win, you might change the prize to a family reward earned after everyone participates. Some families may benefit most from cooperative games rather than competitive games. The ultimate reward is connecting as a family, having fun, and creating lasting memories.

The Reed and Kittle families enjoy playing Rory’s Story Cubes where a story is created round robin style with each family member adding an aspect to the story. This type of activity creates connection and conversation. If someone is struggling to come up with an idea of what to add to the story, then another family member could provide a suggestion. This type of activity also emphasizes the importance of taking turns. Some of the stories can also be pretty funny, and laughter is a great way to facilitate bonding! (There are many ideas on Pinterest for printing pictures to use to tell stories as well).

Another fun activity is to work in pairs or teams to write step-by-step instructions on how to do something (e.g., how to make a PB&J sandwich). Select one set of instructions and see if the family can accomplish the task using ONLY the steps provided such as: 1) Locate the bread; 2) Untwist the tie and open the bag of bread; 3) Remove two slices of bread; (You cannot use a plate if it did not say to open the cabinet door and get a plate!) All family members can help monitor whether the task can be completed correctly or not. If that task cannot be completed because steps are missing, start over with another set of instructions. You might want the entire family to collaborate in writing step-by-step instructions and then see if the task can be completed effectively together.

Mementos from family get togethers that highlight the family’s laughter can be saved and displayed to encourage positive reflection on family time. For example, save a funny family drawing from Pictionary and display it in a prominent place, or display the answer sheet from Scattergories with a note that says, “Do you remember all the creative answers Mitch came up with for the letter ‘z’?” Perhaps, you can decoupage and frame a puzzle you finished together or display a mosaic or artwork the family created. Maybe create silly captions for family photos and display the favorite.

Families with younger children might enjoy blowing up a balloon and hitting it back and forth to one another. You could even make paddles out of paper plates and hit the balloons to one another with those. Yoga might be an activity everyone can try and encourage one another to do different poses.

Remember laughter is a great way to facilitate family bonding.

Our book contains many other ideas to facilitate family connection, including lists broken down into Doing Tasks, Artistic Tasks, Writing or Verbal Tasks, Family Outings, and Games You Can Play.

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.