Racial Reconciliation and Adoption

 

Reconciliation is at the center of the gospel. 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 says, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”

Jesus Christ was sent to this world to reconcile our sinful selves to God and call us to the ministry of reconciliation. Reconciliation means “to restore to friendship or harmony.” Christ first restored our relationship and harmony with God and now offers this same act as a ministry for us to participate in with others. Reconciliation is the very act of adoption – we were brought into God’s family after our brokenness was restored through Christ.

We see much division across our nation due to differences in perspectives and experiences. This spans across values, politics, faith, and racial issues, just to name a few. God calls us to walk in harmony with others and seek reconciliation. He calls us to see value in those that may look, act, or believe differently than us and not to separate ourselves. One of those areas is racial reconciliation, which has come to the forefront of our nation’s attention. For transracial adoptive families, you have been confronted with many feelings, fears, and concerns as racial tensions now confront us. As a world, we are challenged to consider what it means to seek harmony when any of our community is hurting and in need. What should reconciliation look like?

The process of reconciliation should first look like opening and evaluating your heart, mind, emotions, and actions, through guidance by the Holy Spirit. Laying yourself before God and praying along with David in Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” As God reveals sin in our thoughts, words, and deeds, we can ask Him first for forgiveness and then turn to seek forgiveness and harmony from any that we have hurt. How might this look in a racial reconciliation context? We can allow God to examine our hearts for any judgments, prejudices, or racist thoughts, words, or deeds.

Being surrounded by our culture that has been permeated with racism, these thoughts can creep inside us, often without our realization. God can reveal these to us through prayer, reading books that address racism, listening to the voices of people of color around us, and examining our hearts. When we as individuals can do this, it plays into the greater movement of our society seeking harmony and restoration with others that have been wronged. We can seek harmony with our brothers and sisters of color around us and speak to others through our ministry of reconciliation.

Where does adoption fit into the narrative of racial reconciliation? Adoption can move us in the right direction, but this is done through changes in our hearts: not simply through the act of adoption. Transracial adoption does not fix underlying problems. A family adopting a child of a different race or ethnicity into their family will not automatically rid them or others of prejudice. When the adoptive parents open their hearts to reconciliation as they consider adopting a child of another race, He can show you any places of racial prejudice inside you to rid from your heart and mind, as discussed above. Adopting a child from another race or culture will naturally bring up conversations and comments from friends and family that will allow you an opportunity to speak the truth and confront any of their prejudicial beliefs, whether conscious or subconscious. These conversations allow others to learn about someone else’s experience that differs from their own and challenges them to understand. These are changes that can come from our experiences in adoption and can impact the greater sins of racism around us if you are mindful to do so.

Recognizing the joys and true challenges of bringing a child from another race into your home is imperative. Our desire at Nightlight is to help guide our adoptive families in this journey through education and support. We are growing the resources we have available to transracial adoptive families and hope you keep checking back on the blog for more information in parenting your adopted child.

–Heather McAnear Sloan, Director of Post Adoption Connection Center

The Importance of Honoring Communication Wishes of Birth Parents

 

We all know, keeping an agreement, any agreement, is important for the simple sake that it’s a measure of your integrity and moral character. Another helpful question to explore maybe this, “How do I establish a post adoption communication agreement with birth parents that will allow me to act in the highest degree of integrity and honor and is most beneficial to my child?

 

Your child, as they grow, will learn your true character through how you treat others. Additionally, your child is an extension of both you and their birth family. How you treat their birth family may be interpreted by your child as, “this is how they feel about me.”

 

Here are a 7 few tips that will help put you on the right path.

 

Examine yourself. Long before the matching process you need to ask yourself, “What are my feelings towards open adoption and continued contact with birth parents?” If feelings of fear or anxiety begin stirring in your heart, it is time to take a pause and look at the root of these feels. Maybe you have unaddressed fears of being rejected by your child or your child favoring their birth parents over you.  Don’t be afraid to discuss these fears with your adoption social worker. They welcome these questions and will help you work through them. Once these fears and anxieties are addressed you’ll be better prepared to have beneficial conversations about openness with birth parents.

 

Start the conversation about openness as early as possible. It’s important to talk about the level of openness you are all comfortable with during and after the adoption even before you are in an official match.  Talking openly and truthfully about everything lays the foundation of an open communication. This may feel stressful and awkward at first, but it is the best way to establish boundaries and expectations from the beginning.

 

Continue ongoing communication throughout the pregnancy to build a level of comfort with the birth parents. The Doors stated it well in their song lyric “People are strange when you’re a stranger”. The strangeness and awkwardness you may feel towards a birth parent (and they feel towards you) only has a chance to subside with time spent communicating and getting to know each other. Hopefully during this time parties are building a mutual respect. This doesn’t mean asking them personal intrusive questions but instead getting got to know their likes and interests. Just having more exposure to each other over time is likely to make you both feel more comfortable.

 

Know your limits. Don’t promise to more contact than what you are really ready to commit to, just to have the birth parents like you more. You are making a commitment for 18 plus years.

 

Understand the post adoption contact can and will change. One of the key characteristics to a successful adoptive parent is the ability to be flexible. Understand that during the course of your child’s life the communication from the birth parent may ebb and flow, depending on several variables.  If they haven’t had contact with you in a few years and then return, don’t scold them but welcome them back and begin a conversation. (

Additionally, if a birth parent hasn’t been able to commit to their communication agreement, it doesn’t mean you have a pass to break your terms of the agreement. Try to be as consistent as you can. Again, your child is watching you J)

 

Know not to take things personally. You may have established what you thought was a great open relationship with your child’s birth parents only to have them discontinue communication with you or they ask for more contact then what you both originally established. If you are abiding to the communication guidelines clearly established in the beginning, you should not fear that a birth parents’ absence is about you or that you need to abide to their wishes for increased contact.

 

Never hesitate to reach out to your adoption agency for advice. Lastly, if communication between birth parents and adoptive parents become contentious, it’s never too early for either party to reach out to an adoption professional or the adoption agency to ask for help and mediation. It’s much better to involve a third party when the conflict first arises then wait until it escalates.

 

 

These are simple and basic tips to assure that a post adoption communication agreement with your child’s birth parents can be established and sustained throughout your child’s life. Although it seems to be the exception and not the rule, I have spoken to birth parents who had signed an agreement of an open adoption, but then the adoptive parents cut off communication. This is heartbreaking. Remember, a birth parent’s decision was not made from a lack of love. She chose you because she felt that you would raise her child better than she could at that point in her life.

 

Written by Michelle Alabran

 

*For more information about why Nightlight believes that open adoption is in most cases the healthiest choice for all involved in the adoption triad, click here.

Meeting the Needs of Birth Moms Facing Crisis

 

A crisis is defined as a time of intense difficulty or trouble, or a time when a difficult or important decision must be made. With expectant parents facing a difficult or important decision, we can see that many, if not all of our birthmoms can experience a time of crisis. A large portion of this crisis can be amplified by the addition of grief and loss. Grief can be a form of trauma and crisis as well. Therefore, as a professional working in this field, part of our jobs is to meet the needs of expectant parents in the midst of crisis. Not only professionals, but also other people can take on a supportive role in the birthmother’s life, during the adoption process and after.

 

Family and Friends

Family and friends can be extremely helpful in supporting a birthmother during and after the adoption process:

  • Be open-minded and ready to listen
  • Help with day-to-day tasks
  • Stay connected and available
  • Respect the birthmom’s way of grieving
  • Accept mood swings

 

It is a complex role of being a friend or family member of a birthmother who is making an adoption plan. However, by showing up and being there for a birthmom, you can make a large impact of letting this birthmom know that she will not have to face this time alone.

 

Professionals Working in Adoption

As professionals, expectant parents come to you during their time of crisis for guidance and understanding. To meet the needs for expectant mothers, you can do the following:

  • Be empathetic
  • Create a safe-place for the expectant mother to express her emotions
  • Listen to her wishes and work to meet and support these needs
  • Work together to identify healthy coping skills

 

Working professionals are in the midst of a very sensitive setting for most of our expectant mothers. Many of our birthmoms come to us to learn more about the adoption process, and how we can meet their needs that others may not be able to. Because of this, we want to respect the birthmom’s space for processing, and be able to show support in any way we can.

 

 

Adoptive Family

After placement, adoptive families have a very sensitive role in a birthmom’s life. In order to meet the needs of the birthmom facing crisis, they can be supportive in these ways:

  • Respecting the agreed upon openness agreement- whether closed or open adoption
  • Write her letters of encouragement
  • Practice clear communication
  • Treat her with respect and dignity

 

After placement, there is still a tremendous amount of grief and healing that can occur for birthmoms. This phase of the adoption process is a great place for adoptive parents to be appropriately open and willing to support their birthmom during these high’s and low’s along with the adoption agency.

 

Birthmoms facing crisis is inevitable throughout the adoption process. It is a part of the decision-making and grieving process. Therefore, it is important that professionals, friends, family, and adoptive families are aware of ways to meet their birthmom’s needs during this time. Support and open-mindedness are crucial tasks of people that are in a birthmother’s life to meet her needs in the midst of crisis. Just a few of these actions can open the gates of moving forward from a crisis into a place of healing.

 

Written by Mimi Jackson.

Mimi is currently our TX office’s MSW intern. She will graduate in May of 2020 with her master’s in social work from Baylor University.

It’s 2020: Why Are We Still Afraid of Adoption Telling?

 

This blog was originally published on LavenderLuz.com.

How do I tell my child he’s adopted? And when?

Rant: I’m frustrated that these questions still come up (and surprised because my readers are adoption-savvy, so I start thinking everyone is). Who is preparing adoptive parents for adoption telling? And who should be preparing them? What can we do for the current and next generation of adoptees to help them own their story from their very beginning?

The move toward openness in adoption started in the 1980s, which means for more than 40 years we have been morphing from shame, secrecy, and walls of closed adoption => to => truth, disclosure, and doors of open adoption.

But time alone doesn’t mean all adoptive parents and hopeful adoptive parents have gotten the message of dealing in truth and openness. The adoption professionals who are launching these moms and dads into the world of adoptive parenting are not, as a group, doing a good enough job preparing their paying clients to parent with openness and disclosure (there are definitely some exceptions).

adoption telling from a wall to a door

Prospective parents, though, may bear the ultimate responsibility for learning about current best practices in adoptive parenting. But how can they know what they don’t know? A blind spot is, by definition, a thing you can’t see is there.

Recurring Evidence That Parents Don’t Know When & How to Disclose

A few times a month, someone will ask in a social media adoption group WHEN is the best time to tell their child they were adopted. And WHEN to disclose information about that child’s birth family. We’re not talking about an advanced course in “open adoption” — facilitating actual contact — but merely the basic disclosure that the child’s origin story has an extra element in it: adoption. That the child has first parents.

And that we can talk about it all.

Why Can’t Parents Talk About Adoption?

Time and time again, I hear this from well-meaning parents: We’re waiting until our child is ready to hear.

What I hear behind the words, though, is this: We’re waiting until we’re ready to tell.

But becoming ready doesn’t necessarily happen automatically, which creates a big problem for the whole family, not least of all the adoptive parents.

Sorites: A Paradox

Relevant here is the concept of sorites, a term I learned a few years ago from a New York Times‘ Ethicist column headlined “Should a Sibling Be Told She’s Adopted?”

‘Sorites’ (saw- RAHY-teez)’ — from the Greek for ‘‘heap’’ — is the name of a philosophical paradox. A grain of sand isn’t a heap, and adding one more grain can’t make it a heap, and as you add grains of sand, you reason that another grain can’t turn your pile into a heap. Yet at some point, a heap is what you have. In the temporal realm, there’s an analogous problem. Very often, it won’t do any harm to wait one more day to do something. So you put the deed off until, at some point, you’ve waited too long.

Sorites sins can creep up on well-intentioned people. Maybe your wife meant to tell you, when you first started dating, that she once had a fling with your brother, but the time never seemed right. There was no particular moment when she crossed the line from permissible deferral to culpable silence. A decade later, though, a spiny eel wriggles in her stomach whenever she thinks about it. She prays you never find out.

Sorites sins can rock relationships.

— Kwame Anthony Appiah, NYT Ethicist columnist in 2016

The Effect of Not Telling

Never mind the causes of why some parents can’t (or won’t) talk about adoption. They are numerous, individualized, and because they are in the past, they can’t be changed.

But the effects can be known and mitigated. And this leads to a deeper point than merely figuring out when and how to tell:

Whatever is keeping adoptive parents from telling is probably hindering their ability to parent effectively in other ways.

Because when parents are not disclosing something so big and integral to a child, they are not able to build a fully trusting relationship with him/her. Lies of commission and omission are likely to be devastating to the person they care about, once they realize that parents knew and did not/could not tell.

Not being able/willing to tell can also mean parents are having a difficult time dealing in What Is, in accepting the whole story of how the child came into the family, of the existence and validity of another set of parents — all in an effort to keep their own fears and insecurities at bay. If there is denial going on in one place, there may be denial going on in others (see the 1956 study listed in Resources, below). This compromises the ability to be truthful, which hinders the ability to build trust.

Adoption Telling is in the Best Interest of Parents!

When children sense they cannot trust their parents, they are more susceptible to looking for connections elsewhere. This can manifest in so many nightmarish ways, and as you can imagine can lead to lots of problems for the child and parents.

As I’ve said before, as the tween/teen years approach, parents are going to want to have a clear and trusting channel of communication between them and their adolescent. There really is no other true power in parenting during this stage. Grounding and withholding things can only go so far. Trust and connection are vital for making it through the turbulent tween/teen years in a trusting and connected way (adoptive parents: if you’re not already in this Facebook group, consider joining).

As one wise and experienced parent said in an online group, disclosing early and fully is “so much EASIER. No big reveal, no nervousness, no confusion, no sense of betrayal, no lies. Just the truth.”

What do you think? How should adopting parents find out best practices, and who should be tasked to make sure they do? With a focus on a solution (and not just on placing blame), please offer your ideas for progress for better adoption telling in the comments.

Relevant Resources

Thanks to TAO for those last two.

Lori Holden, mom of a teen son and a teen daughter, blogs from Denver. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, is available through your favorite online bookseller and makes a thoughtful anytime gift for the adoptive families in your life. Lori was honored as an Angel in Adoption® in 2018 by the Congressional Coalition of Adoption Institute.

Tackling the Holidays as a Birth Parent

 

 

 

 

 

 

While the holidays can be filled with fun times spent with family and friends, they can also be a very difficult time for birthparents, especially if you placed your child for adoption around the holidays. In these seasons, it can be hard to find healthy ways to cope with those feelings. While everyone’s experience is unique, the following strategies may help if you find yourself feeling down this holiday season.

 

Reach Out to Your Child’s Adoptive Family

For many birthparents, hearing from their child’s adoptive family can bring encouragement and peace in difficult times. Send a card or a holiday gift to your child’s adoptive family. Consider making a gift or sharing some of your family holiday traditions with them. Ask your child’s adoptive family if they could send you a photo of your child around Christmas or share a bit about their holiday plans. If you have a closed adoption, you could write a letter to your child that you can keep in a journal or place under your Christmas tree as a way to honor them.

 

Express Your Feelings with Others Who Support You

Identify family or friends that you can talk to about the difficult feelings that may arise during holiday seasons. Reach out to one of Nightlight’s pregnancy counselors in your state and talk about things with her. Connecting with other birthparents is a great way to process your shared experiences and learn what has helped others cope. If you are a birthmother who placed a child through Nightlight, reach out to your pregnancy counselor about joining our private Facebook group for birthmoms!

 

Find Ways to Honor your Child

Whether you have an open or closed adoption, there are many things you can do to honor your child during the holiday season. Try creating an ornament with a picture of your child or your child’s birthday. You can hang this on the Christmas tree as a remembrance of your child during the holidays. Some birthparents light a candle in honor of their child. Giving back is another way to honor your child and help with sadness during the holidays. Look into different organizations where you might be able to volunteer during the holidays. Volunteering could be even more meaningful if you find an organization that reminds you of your child or serves people that have had similar experiences as you.

 

Take Care of Yourself

Make sure you continue to take care of yourself physically and emotionally even in difficult seasons. Spending time outside and getting physical activity have been shown to benefit mental health. Make sure you get plenty of rest and find things that refresh you. Consider taking a weekend away by yourself or with a friend. Try reading a book, learning a new skill or hobby, or setting goals for the next year.

 

Remember that you are not alone if you are grieving this holiday season. Find healthy ways to express your emotions and talk about them with others. It is our prayer that you would be filled with love and comfort this holiday season.

 

written by Lindsay Belus | Pregnancy Counselor

Adoptive Family to Adoption Social Worker: My Story

I grew up in a family where my mom, dad, and stepmom were all social workers. They worked with children and families and it was their job to provide better lives to others. Throughout my entire life, my family had instilled basic values of compassion, empathy, and benevolence. When I was in middle school, my dad and stepmom decided to enroll in a program of fostering to adopt. We took newborn babies into our home and cared for them as our own. Unfortunately, none of those placements ended in a permanent adoption that my parents were hoping for. They knew our family was not complete yet, so they made the joyful decision to adopt internationally from the Philippines

 

I remember being fourteen years old and taking part in the home study process. I answered the social worker’s questions to the best of my ability, and enjoyed talking to her about my family. I remember the social worker inspecting our house, my room, and our yard, all while asking my parents about the adoption process. I remember the deep conversations with my dad and stepmom about getting a new brother or sister and I was ecstatic for our family’s newest addition. Time continued to pass and weeks turned into months as my family anxiously awaited the paperwork to be completed. Sometimes, the wait seemed like it would last forever, and that a placement would never happen. Whenever I felt anxious about it, they encouraged me that the time would come, and that we just had to be patient. Then out of the blue when we were least expecting it, my parents got “the call”. I had a new baby brother! They booked plane tickets to the Philippines that night and left as soon as they could.

 

A couple of weeks later, I met my brother Joshua. He was a year and a half old, and as precious as I could imagine. However, because he grew up in an orphanage overseas, he was not used to the environment and new stimuli in my home of Hawaii. There was a period of adjustment for him as he got used to my family and this new place that he had never been. Joshua had never really been outside before, so he was not used to grass, trees, and nature. He was frightened during bath times since he had only received those on rare occasions. Although there were some challenges to overcome, Joshua loved the attention and love that my parents gave him, and seemed to bond quickly with them. He had never experienced such care and consideration before since he often had to compete with the other children in the orphanage. My family’s consistent love, recognition, and affection helped baby Joshua to thrive, as he grew from shy, uncommunicative, and resistant to boisterous, giggly, and friendly. With the help of a speech therapist, play therapy, and support groups for my parents; my family was able to conquer that hurdle of transition and adjustment to this new life. It wasn’t always easy—that’s for sure, but it was definitely worth it. This process and journey of adoption led me to grow a deep passion for the field. I knew that this was what I wanted to do in my future as well.

 

Fast forward to now, and I am currently getting my Master’s degree in Social Work while interning at Nightlight Christian Adoptions. I am so unbelievably blessed and grateful to be able to learn what adoption looks like on this side of things. Getting to serve birth mothers, adoptive families, and adopted children has been incredible as I get to give back to others. When families may be having a difficult time during the waiting period, I can relate with them and help them process their thoughts and emotions through it all since I have been in their shoes. If a family is having a difficult post-placement period while trying to transition and adjust to their newest addition, I can help walk them through those challenges since I have been there before as well. Sharing the same experience of adopting a child internationally has truly helped me to empathize with my clients better, and be able to see things from multiple perspectives. My family had a wonderful experience and great caseworkers through our adoption journey, and I am honored to have a chance to share the same with Nightlight clients as well.

 

If you are an adoptive family, whether international or domestic, and are in the “waiting period”- don’t hesitate to reach out to your caseworker and utilize your agency for additional support, as this period can be a trying and difficult time for your family.

written by Lindsey Nishimiya

Lindsey was our agency’s MSW intern fall 2018-spring 2019. She graduated with her masters in social work and is now an LMSW working in Waxahachie, Texas as a Child and Family Specialist for Presbyterian Children’s Homes & Services

How Can I Love My Child’s Birth Mother Through Her Grief?

 

“I can’t imagine how you’re feeling right now.”

“What a hard decision you are making.”

“Thank you for trusting us with your baby.”

“You are so brave.”

“I admire your strength.”

 

These are all statements that one might hear being said to a birth mother in the hospital or at placement. How many of us have stood in that moment and wished we had something better to say than the typical “thank you” or “I can’t imagine”? How many birth mothers have wished there was something that could be said that would make the whole situation hurt just a little bit less? As I have had the opportunity to walk alongside birth mothers throughout their pregnancy and placement experiences, I have learned that you can just never be fully prepared for how differently each and every birth mother will feel during the placement process. Some cry, others rejoice, some are disengaged, and others decide that adoption is no longer the choice they wish to make. No matter what emotions are being shown on the birth mother’s face, there is grief involved. This grief feeling may not hit immediately, but it will.

 

As adoptive families and adoption caseworkers, we have the incredible opportunity to support birth mothers through this grief. While all of the above statements are true and the birth mother is strong, brave, selfless, and worthy of admiration, what are some things we can remember about her and ways we can support her through her grieving? Remember that she just went through the 9-month experience of carrying your baby inside of her body and loved that baby enough to choose life. Remember that she just spent “X” number of hours giving birth to a baby that she is choosing not to bring home with her. Remember that this experience is painful and remember that she is incredible.

 

No one has all of the answers in regard to making the pain of adoption go away. No one can pinpoint exactly how each birth mother and adoptive family will feel and respond to the placement of a child, but here are some pieces of advice I would give to adoptive families during all phases of the adoption process:

 

  • Respect your birth mother’s wishes. She is trusting you to care for her child for the rest of his or her life, and while you have the tremendous joy and responsibility of being the baby’s parents, she will also ALWAYS be his or her parent too. The power of DNA is strong and respecting a birth mother’s tie to her child is necessary for both the child’s growth and the birth mother’s growth. Send the pictures that you promised, post or mail the update that you said you would write, make that visit happen even if it is not the most convenient for your schedule. Your birth mom/birth family is worth it!
  • Encourage her to seek support. If your birth mother has a wonderful support system or if she has no one, encourage her to continue healthily processing her emotions and feelings toward the placement of your baby.
  • Tell her you are thinking of her. Even if you do not have the most open of relationships, she wants to feel special, known and remembered (we all do!) so keep trying. Just because your birth mother is not comfortable with contact or gifts right now, that does not mean the door is closed forever. Send your letters and pictures to the agency for the day that she does decide she is ready to know your family and build a relationship with you and your child.
  • Build a genuine relationship with healthy boundaries. While this is easier said than done, be open and honest with each other about your desires for this relationship and do not promise more than you can provide. Set a schedule for picture updates, texting, visits, etc. This relationship is ongoing, so make a plan with your caseworker and your birth mom regarding how everyone’s voices can be heard and how you can ensure that all involved know what to expect for the days ahead.

 

Enjoy your baby and enjoy building a relationship with their birth mother. You have embarked on one of the sweetest and difficult journeys a family can choose to take, and it will be worth it! It will not always be easy, and you will not always be comfortable, but listen to your birth mother, think about her, respect her, and love her- no matter what! She will grieve and you will grieve for her. Continue to pray for her every day and speak highly of the incredible woman that gave your baby life.

 

written by Phoebe Stanford | MSW intern

Learning the Attachment “Dance”

 

 

Attachment is the secure bond that is created initially between an infant and their caregiver. This attachment process will begin in utero with a child’s birthmother and then be formed again with other caregivers, specifically their adoptive parents. Children have the capacity to form several attachment relationships, the important thing is those are formed with adults who will remain consistently, and lovingly, in the child’s life. Even for children adopted in infancy, there is an element of loss that the child will feel when receiving new caregivers after their birthmother. In order to have healthy, intimate attachments later in life with family, friends, and spouses, an individual has to learn healthy attachment as a child.

 

This article discusses the styles, or ways, an infant attaches to a parent as well as the ways that a parent attaches to their child. Attachment is often called a dance, corresponding movements and counter-movements between both the child and parent. Both have to participate and move in order to make this a real dance. When the child is securely attached and the parent is securely attached, this dance moves as it is supposed to. Often times because of our own difficult childhoods and the experiences your child has had with caregivers in his life, one or both parties may not have the ability to attach in a healthy and secure way. Below is an outline of secure and insecure attachments and how those impact us as adults.

Attachment Styles – Children

There are four identified attachment styles in children that predict the way they attach to their caregiver. In observational experiments in children age 18 months, called The Strange Experiment, these four styles are demonstrated and can be matched with a corresponding attachment style in their caregiver. We will first examine the four styles in children to understand these attachment styles and how that impacts the child as an adult and their attachment style.

Secure

A child who is securely attached has a caregiver that consistently responds to the needs/cries of their child. This child regularly has their physical and emotional needs met and they are confident when they have a need (hungry, upset, tired, diaper change), crying will result in their needs being met.

Anxious – Avoidant

A child with anxious-avoidant attachment has a caregiver who does not respond when the infant is upset. The parent may shush their child to stop crying without meeting their needs (the reason for the crying in the first place). This child learns not to cry to get needs met and that they have to meet their needs themselves.

Anxious-Ambivalent

A child with anxious-ambivalent attachment has a caregiver who inconsistently responds when the infant is upset. This parent sometimes responds to the cries and needs of their child and other times does not. This can be for a variety of reasons, but some may be mental health issues or substance abuse in the parent. When the parent is in a good place, they respond well to their child, but they do not respond well when they are in a bad place. This child cries and is difficult to soothe in an effort to stay in the caregiver’s direct attention.

Disorganized

A child with disorganized attachment has a caregiver who is frightening/traumatic. This typically happens in situations where a child is in an abusive home. The person who is supposed to be their source of comfort when they have a need or are upset is also the person that is hurting them. The child has no clear strategy when upset and you will see very erratic behavior from them when they are upset.

Attachment Styles – Adults

It is important to understand the attachment style that we developed as children because this will directly impact our attachment relationship with our children. The duty to attach is not placed solely on a child’s attachment to you, but it is also your ability to attach to them. In studies done on attachment styles, 81% of the time a mother’s Adult Attachment Inventory (AAI) classification (listed below) predicted their classification as children. This shows a direct correlation with your childhood attachment style and your corresponding adult attachment style. When looking back through generations, 75% of the time the mother’s classification predicted their grandmother’s classification. Attachment styles can be passed down from caregiver to child to caregiver to child through a generation. You usually parent your children the way your parents parented you, good or bad. If that generational line of descendants are not securely attached, then they are passing on insecure attachment relationships to their children.

Secure

A secure adult is 1) able to give care, 2) able to receive care, 3) able to negotiate their needs, and 4) able to be autonomous. These skills are developed as infants/children in healthy attachment relationships with our caregivers. For example, if our cries were appropriately attended to, then we learned that when we speak a need, a loved one will meet that need and we can trust them to do so. If we learned that our needs are not met, then as adults we will not voice our needs or trust anyone will meet them if we do.

Avoidant – Dismissing

A dismissive adult is closed off emotionally. They are able to give physical care to a child (feed, clothe, bathe, etc.) but do not connect emotionally. They can be described as not a “huggy, touchy, or feely” person, as physical affection does not come naturally. These adults put energy/interest into objects/things rather than people.

Ambivalent – Entangled

An entangled adult can be described as intrusive with care and in relationships or they get emotionally close to someone very quickly. They do not have good and healthy boundaries in their relationships and can be seen as controlling or overbearing. They may carry anger or resentment toward their own parents that is unresolved as an adult.

Unresolved – Disorganized

A disorganized adult may engage in mental “checking out” behaviors/disassociation. They commonly have behavioral or emotional disorders or another mental health diagnosis. Their personal relationships are chaotic/confusing.

 

In the general population, among adults you will find that 60% are categorized as Secure, 18% Avoidant, 12% Ambivalent, and 10% Unresolved. Interestingly, among the foster/adoptive parent population, you will find that 15% are categorized as Secure, 40% Avoidant, 15% Ambivalent, and 30% Unresolved. There is a much higher percentage of Avoidant and Unresolved adults among foster/adoptive parents. Reasons for this could be that these adults grew up in homes where their parents did not connect/attach with them emotionally (Avoidant attachment style) or were abusive/unstable (Unresolved) and their attachment style corresponds to their parents (remember, 81% have the same attachment style as their parents.) These parents want to provide a different experience for a child that has been orphaned or placed for adoption, so they are drawn to serve and love this population of children. However, without intervention, these adoptive parents will struggle in attaching with their child, especially if their child has their own attachment insecurities, and perpetuate the cycle.

Intervention

Dr. Karyn Purvis says that we cannot take a child to a place of healing if we have not gone there ourselves. Even with children adopted at infancy, impacts of stress, substance use/abuse, or traumatic experiences in utero or during delivery will leave lasting impacts on a child in development and attachment. There are great resources to read and digest in the areas of child and adult attachment and impacts of trauma on the brain to children, especially in adoption. Three authors we highly recommend are:

 

If you would like to have an evaluation done of your adult attachment style, you can get an Adult Attachment Inventory (AAI) completed by a trained and licensed counselor or psychologist. One professional we recommend is Jim Harlow (http://www.jimharlowlpc.com/) but there are other counselors around Texas that can complete this evaluation. There are online inventories you can do, but the best results will be received by an in-person interview.

 

We encourage you to seek a path to healing for yourself if you grew up with a difficult childhood or relationship with either of your parents. Any impacts or wounds from your childhood will have lasting results that will be brought up in you as you become a parent. A child knows exactly how to find the right buttons to push in you, especially if your child has any struggles. The best thing you can do for your child is to seek healing for yourself. Our staff are here to support you and your path to healing. Everyone has some negative impacts from their childhood and openly admitting these will not disqualify you from adoption. We know counseling is used by the Lord to make you the best individual, spouse, and parent you can be and we encourage you to seek this as needed while you are adopting.

 

written by Heather McAnear, LBSW | Inquiry Specialist | Post Adoption Connection Center Coordinator 

Abounding Opportunities for Children with Down Syndrome

 

In case you didn’t know, October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. As a mother to a child with Down Syndrome it’s one of my favorite months as it gives me a good excuse to talk about my child to anyone who will listen! But every year at least one person asks me why we need an awareness month because, “Everyone knows about Down Syndrome” they claim. The truth is, while people know DS exists, most of the perceptions about people with DS and their lives are largely outdated and inaccurate. This is partially because the educational and social opportunities available for children like my son are growing and increasing every year in communities all across the world. These new opportunities help people with DS reach their full potential and bring a new sense of community among special needs families.

If you have a new child with Down Syndrome or are considering adopting a child with Down Syndrome you probably want to take advantage of these types of opportunities, but you may not know where to look for them. While every community is different and I can’t tell you exactly what’s in your area, there are some things that should be available no matter where you live and other programs that are common in most cities.

Therapies and special education are a HUGE part of life when you have a child with DS, and every child with DS is provided certain things through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Depending on your child’s age they will be provided services such as therapies (sometimes in-home or at school), play groups, pre-school, early intervention services, service coordinators, and employment services (for teens and adults). A good early interventionist or service coordinator can be extremely helpful in getting you connected to other services available in your state such as respite care funding, diaper programs (for older children), community support waivers, free medical equipment programs, and information about Medicaid eligibility. For more information about the IDEA, you can visit their official website here: https://sites.ed.gov/idea/

Community is vitally important to everyone but especially for families and individuals with special needs. When you are not part of a community, it’s easy to feel so alone, like no one understands your life or your child. But when you get connected… It’s hard to describe the kind of instant connection you can have with someone when you realize that you both have a child with DS. Thankfully, most communities have some type of special needs family support, and the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) has over 375 local affiliates all over the US. These organizations can provide emotional support, advice, and socialization for the whole family! Our local Down Syndrome Association is very active and has multiple events every month. With opportunities like mothers’ night out, private events at the local children’s museum, summer camps, and the annual Buddy Walk… there really is something for everyone! Your child’s service coordinator or early interventionist can help get you connected to one of these associations, or you can check the NDSS website here: https://sites.ed.gov/idea/ . Another great community can be found in online groups. I’m a member of a special mom’s support group on Facebook which has been very helpful for me. Besides just the emotional support and information on local events, the ladies in the group offer amazing advice on everything from potty training kids with special needs, to toys, to which movie theaters are the most “sensory friendly”.

Before I had a child with Down Syndrome I had NO IDEA about all the local events and opportunities available to people with special needs. There are so many that it would take me weeks to compile an accurate list of events in just the upstate of SC, but here’s my quick list of popular other opportunities to check for in your area:

– County Rec camps and swim lessons for special needs individuals
– Special Needs day or Sensory Friendly day at your local children’s museum or zoo
– Sensory friendly events at your county library
– Date night or respite night at your local church
– Kid’s gyms or playgrounds with inclusive equipment for kids with all abilities
– Sensory friendly movie times at the movie theater

– “Wings for All” program at your local airport to help older child practice before they travel
– Sports teams, dance groups, and horseback riding programs that are inclusive
– Holiday events like egg hunts, parades, or Santa encounters that have special needs areas or times

The point is, opportunities abound if you know where to look for them. And if something doesn’t exist yet, maybe you can help start it! Almost every event or opportunity for our kids exists because of a parent and a community. A parent who said “my kid needs this” and a community who helped make it happen!

If you have a child with special needs, tell me what’s your favorite event or opportunity in your community? I love hearing new ideas and discovering new programs!

 

written by Jennifer P | Adoptive Momma

Understanding Birthmother Grief

In my career as a licensed clinical social worker, I have been honored to counsel women walking through the process of grief after placing a baby for adoption.  One such woman, Mary (name and information used with permission) captured her journey in a heartfelt essay entitled “The Beautiful Side of Grief,” which she wrote shortly after the adoption of her daughter:

 

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

 

“Grief. Mourning. Bereavement. There are countless different words to try and describe something that is utterly indescribable, and none of them really pinpoint exactly what grief is. Grief is not the movies. Grief is not Hollywood, where you hold a black umbrella and shed a few tears in the rain at a funeral. It’s not walking around donned head to toe in dark colors. It is not a simple psychological process of five clean-cut stages.

 

“Grief is waking up every single morning and asking yourself if you’re in a dream. Grief is hearing people talk, but you find yourself not really listening anymore. It’s walking into a grocery store completely fine, and leaving barely holding your tears in. Grief is the constant stream of “would haves,” “should haves,” and “could haves” playing through your thoughts. It’s getting to the end of the day and realizing that you’re not really living, you’re just going through the motions. Grief is that ever-present indefinable ache in the bottom of your heart. It is the constant feeling of exhaustion that no amount of sleep can alleviate. Grief is the time when tears take the place of words.

 

“But grief, in a sense, is beautiful.

 

“There is beauty in the process of grief. It comes after the shock, after the initial sting to your heart. It might take months, it might take years, but the beauty will reveal itself. The beautiful side of grief is found in the reassurance and understanding in the words you can now lend to those who are walking the path you once walked. The comfort of, “I know how you feel,” or “I understand what you’re going through,” now replace the blind guesses of, “I’m sure this is hard,” and “I can’t imagine how heartbreaking this is.” The beautiful side of grief is found in the supportive friendships that have risen from the ashes of tragedy. The beautiful side of grief is seen in the ability of those who have traveled an unbearable path to hold the hands of those who are being forced down the same lonely road.

 

“When you are faced with a heartbreak so unbearable it brings you to your knees, you are also faced with two choices: to let that heartbreak consume your every thought and action until it kills you, or to act in the same love that you had for that person and use your experience to be the guiding lamp for those now embarking on that dark journey.

 

“If you have ever grieved over the loss of someone, consider yourself lucky. Yes, read that line again. Consider yourself lucky. You are lucky to have had something so precious, so special, a type of love so genuine, that you have a reason to grieve. Without that kind of raw love, there would be no grief.

 

“In my eyes, the best way to pay that type of love forward is to show it to those who need it the most, and coming from firsthand experience, those who are grieving need understanding and genuine acts of love more than anyone else. Those acts of warmth and affection from those who have mourned the same loss as you, who have carried the same burden as you, are the very stepping stones that lead you from the suffocating depths of grief into the joyful light of remembrance. If you have the rare chance to pave these stepping stones for someone, why wouldn’t you?

 

“I was once told that grief is like treading water in the ocean. Sometimes you’re doing just fine, and you can handle the waves that come at you. It takes effort, but you’re getting by. Then other times, a wave will come out of nowhere, catch you off guard, and you’re pulled under into the dark and cold depths once again. What is so important is that we keep treading, we keep fighting, and we come back to the surface no matter how hard or exhausting it might be. What is important is that we don’t give up on our own life in remembrance of someone else’s. All we can do is to take grief one wave at a time, and, if given the opportunity, help others stay afloat along the way.”

 

Mary put her experience and the words she wrote into action by counseling and mentoring birthmothers who were considering adoption, including Taylor, the birthmother in the Nightlight video entitled “Journey’s Story.”  Mary states she was propelled to help others because of the love she had for her daughter and the experience she gained in processing her adoption decision. As Mary faced her pain and reached out to others, she emerged stronger.  Like many brave birthmothers, she has journeyed to the beautiful side of grief.

 

If you know a woman considering adoption or struggling with the inevitable grief that comes when we say goodbye to someone we love, please consider referring her to one of the talented counselors and social workers at Nightlight. Processing emotions, negative thoughts, and unhealthy or ineffective behaviors can be extremely helpful within the therapeutic process. Nightlight can also connect birthmothers with others, like Mary, who have walked this path before them. Research has demonstrated that having a support system is crucial for grief work and emotional health. Nightlight is committed to the care of the brave women and men who are choosing adoption for their child.

 

written by Megan White, MSW, LCSW | Executive Director, Florida