National Adoption Month: The Future of Adoption

Adoption

It’s National Adoption Month again. In honor of this “event,” I’m starting a new series called “The Future of Adoption.” In this series, I’d like to explore what adoption can and should look like in the future. I’ll also make suggestions on how we can get there. I’m not a social work, law-maker, or adult adoptee, so I certainly can’t claim to be an expert on the topic. So, if you are an expert, please feel free to kindly correct my misconceptions. And, even if you’re not an expert, I still want to hear your thoughts.

If you’re a regular reader, you may be sick of me talking about Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control by Heather Forbes and Bryan Post. One of the book’s foundations is that there are only two primary emotions: love and fear. I’d like to build on this idea for “The Future of Adoption” and use it to explain what could be changed in a very broad sense. In future posts, I’ll talk more about specific changes.

What if, in the future, those involved in adoption did not make their choices based on fear?

1. What if pregnant women did not choose adoption based on their fear of being rejected or being an inadequate mother?

2. What if adoptive parents weren’t afraid of their children’s first family?

3. What if adoptive parents and their friends and family (and society as a whole) were not afraid of those who are different? (older children, children of other races, same-sex couples).

4. What if families could stay together because the parents did not make unwise choices based on fear?

I think many people believe about adoption as others believe about abortion: both should be legal, but rare. If we addressed these fears, could we make adoption less common? Could we keep families together? Please share your thoughts in the comments, and I’ll be posting more specific ideas and action items at a later time.

Changing Choices, not Personality

Adoption

Like many adoptive parents, I’ve often wondered about the balance between nature and nurture. How much influence can parents have on their children, and how much has been predetermined?

For now, I’ve come to the following conclusion: I can’t change my children’s personalities, but I can influence their choices. I don’t believe that my children’s preferences, talents, strengths, or weaknesses would be any different if they had been raised in a different family. But, I do hope that in this environment, they will feel secure and loved enough to make choices not based on fear, but based on love. Of course, this belief is strongly influenced by my immersion in Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control (BCLC), which states that there are only two primary emotions: love and fear.

What are your beliefs about nature vs. nurture? I’d love to hear some other points of view.

Addressing Food-Related Issues

Adoption

In Heather Forbes’ latest newsletter, she answers a reader’s question about a child’s refusal to eat dinner. Here’s the question:

“My four-year-old sits down to dinner and says, ‘I don’t like that.’ He either won’t eat at all or won’t eat his vegetables. He then gets annoyed, trying to leave the table, whining and refusing to eat. This happens five out of seven nights. How do I respond without consequences?”

We’ve certainly had our share of meal/food related issues, so I paid close attention to Heather’s response. Here’s the part that resonated the most with me:

“Create new experiences around food for you and your child (and your entire family). Have your child sit in your lap to eat. Feed him as you would feed a young toddler. Emotionally your child is probably much younger than four years old. Expecting him to be able to sit down at the table during mealtime is probably well beyond his developmental capabilities … We also need to recognize that we shouldn’t eat when we are stressed anyway. Our bodies can’t digest the food properly and it can become toxic in our bodies. More importantly, forcing children to eat during this time or giving consequences around food only creates negative food related issues as adults. The refusal to eat vegetables has a direct link to being stressed out. As a human species, we gravitate towards sweets, salts, and fats when we are stressed.”

This advice made a lot of sense for our family. The kids’ food issues have certainly improved as they’ve become more secure and regulated. What works for your family at dinner time?

For more information, check out the Beyond Consequences Institute.

Chores: what a difference a year makes

Adoption

When BE was still in kindergarten, we began assigning her chores. It was a total disaster. It completely overwhelmed her and she often had meltdowns. We would get very frustrated and the whole situation would escalate. The worst chore for her was vacuuming under the dinner table.

We hadn’t yet been introduced to BCLC, so we saw her behavior as defiant, not fearful. At the end of that summer, BE broke her wrist and was in a cast for several months. Chores were suspended, and were finally reinstated a few weeks ago (about a year later).

My laziness in restarting the chores turned out to be a great idea. As BCLC points out, many traumatized children are emotionally younger than their chronological age. At age 5, it’s likely that BE was emotionally much younger, and our chores were completely unreasonable for her capabilities. Now that BE is a little bit older, both emotionally and chronologically, chores are much easier. We haven’t had one fight or tantrum over chores the last few weeks. For me, the lesson is – be sensitive to your child’s emotional age.

Sharing trauma stories

Adoption

I’ve shared many times that I get nervous when I think about explaining all the details of BC’s early life to him. So far he understands that he’s adopted and that his first mom and dad couldn’t take care of him. But I know a time will come when he (and BE) will want specifics. In her recent e-newsletter, Heather Forbes answered a similar question from a reader. The question was, “How do you give a narrative to a child that suffered neglect as an infant during the first three months of his life, especially when I don’t know the details.”

Heather responds, “The actual details of the story are not important, and in fact, should not be the focus …. The important factors are your tone of voice, facial expressions, posture, and tempo of movement and speech.”

She goes onto explain why sharing this story with a child is important. “The paradox is that in order to move forward, it takes going backwards, seeing the fullness of the trauma and experiencing it at all levels.”

Read more from Heather at http://www.beyondconsequences.com/.

A BCLC primer

Adoption

If you’re curious about Beyond Consequences, but aren’t committed enough to read the books, check out Heather Forbes’ audio interview on “Adoption Perspectives.” The interview is less than an hour, and Heather shares many of the basics of BCLC. Even though we’re not new to BCLC, I still appreciated being reminded of the essentials. If you have time, please consider listening to Heather’s interview.

Back to school, BCLC style

Adoption

In Heather Forbes’ latest e-newsletter, she answers addresses the following issue from a reader:

“My son is an angel at school but a terror at home. He was even student of the month last school year. But when he gets home, our home is absolute chaos and he is just nasty to me.

BE struggles at school just as much as she does at home, but Heather’s advice still applies. Here’s an abridged version of her response:

“Many children work to be ‘normal’ all day long at school so when they get home, they are exhausted. The result is they collapse into negative behaviors. When they are stressed at school, they hold it together all day long and then in their ‘unwinding’ of the day, they become ‘terrors.'”

She suggests looking for ways to reduce stress in the following areas:

  • Social stress
  • Transitioning from one activity to another
  • After school care
  • Teachers
  • Riding the school bus
  • Stress-inducing requirements

For Heather’s complete response, or to sign up for the newsletter, visit her Web site.

I get scared when you yell

Adoption

One thing I really like about BCLC is that much of it is about improving yourself as opposed to always trying to change your kids.

Another aspect that I’ve come to accept as true for me, is that there are really only two primary emotions – love and fear. So when I get angry because the kids are yelling, it is really fear that is being triggered.

I’ve been working on combining these two concepts, by identifying when I feel afraid/nervous and then trying to do better the next time. I’m also really conscious about being a good example for the kids. So, recently I completely over-reacted when the kids were fighting. After I calmed down, I talked to BE and confessed, “I get scared when you yell,” and I apologized for losing my temper. And, of course we talked about the importance of using our inside voices. don’t know if it meant anything to her, but I’ll keep working on it.

It’s all about relationships

Adoption

As I’ve written before, I subscribe to Heather Forbes’ e-newsletter (Heather is the co-author of “Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control”). In a recent edition, Heather answered the following question: “Could you please explain more about why I should see my child’s issues as ‘regulatory’ instead of ‘behavioral’ and the neuroscience that supports this concept?”

Here’s an excerpt of what she had to say: “The most important and most effective behavioral technique your child needs in order to move him back within the behavioral boundaries of your home is relationship. Too much emphasis has been placed on what behavioral technique should be used or which punishment should be imposed … It is the relationship that does the work…that is where real change happens because it is in the right brain-to-right brain experience that children are able to get back on course. More importantly, it is change that brings not only behavioral shifts, but deep healing that permeates to the heart and soul of a child who has experienced pain and vulnerability.”

To learn more about BCLC, please consider subscribing to Heather’s newsletter.

A Father’s Day lesson

Adoption

It’s J’s second official Father’s Day and just today, he reminded me of one reason why I appreciate him. As many of you know, J and I follow the “Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control” (BCLC) parenting theory. BCLC discourages using ultimatums, and I’ve become very adept at getting around this by using masked ultimatums.

Today, BE was not on her best behavior, and we were going to a baseball game later in the day. So, instead of giving an ultimatum like, “you’d better change your attitude, or we’re not going,” I gave her a covert one by saying, “I have a feeling we’re not going to have a very good time later today.”

Now, I’m always saying to the kids, “You get to decide if you have a good time, no one else can decide that for you.” So, after my response to BE, J repeated this line back to me – not to shame me, but to remind me that I really do have control over this. I took it seriously, and I decided to have a good time. And, it turned out better than I expected!

Me and J by BE