November is National Adoption Month. For those of us who have already adopted, our dreams of family have come true. We have transitioned from dwelling in the fantasy of adoption and have taken up residence in the real world of life as an adoptive family.
My grandmother (a mother of fourteen and grandmother to dozens) used to say, “Parenting will be the hardest job you will ever love.” Twenty-nine years after adopting, I’ve come to appreciate her wisdom in my heart, mind, body, and soul. Yes, parenting is demanding, constant, exhausting, wonderful, fulfilling, awesome, and COMPLICATED.
Beyond the challenges faced by all parents, adoptive parenting includes an additional layer of challenge. They must master adoption-attuned parenting. This requires parents to be proficient at shaping their parental tool kit with an awareness of how adoption might be influencing behaviors and the family dynamic. This does NOT mean faulting adoption for all problems and missteps kids make. I call this adoption-flavored approach, parenting with a high AQ (adoption-attunement Quotient.)
Specifically AQ includes:
- Adoption-sensitive parenting techniques
- Sound adoption language
- Knowledge of the attachment process
- Consideration of grief and loss issues
- Respect for birth parents
- Modeling healthy boundaries
- Educating family, friends and teachers on adoption
- Remembering that a child’s story belongs to him
- Recognizing that adoption is a family experience
- Encouraging playfulness and good humor as a family value
- Integrating a child’s birth heritage
Read more about AQ:
High AQ parents ditch the parenting template of their own childhoods in favor of approaches that support adopted children. Parents embrace strategies that are trauma-informed, encourage children and nurture relationships.
Follow Dr. Karen Purvis’ lead: “Connect before you correct.” AQ savvy parents avoid methods that threaten the security of their child in the family. (The last thing an adopted child needs is uncertainty about the permanence of the adopted family.)
AQ parents educate family and friends so they understand this shift in parenting and become part of the family’s support system. When things get tough—and they will—adoptive families need champions not critics. Parents grow a strong team of believers and avoid the doubters who weigh the entire family down.
Parents reach out for professional help sooner rather than later before becoming completely overwhelmed. They stack the odds in their favor, join support groups, to find peers that understand and won’t judge. They offer a chance to talk with others who are facing similar issues and situations.
In addition to therapy and counseling, coaching provides families another process to address problems. Coaching moves beyond empathy—the arena of friendship and peer support—and operates from the mindset of capability, possibility and accountability. Coaching works with a cyclical pattern. A coach and family confer and examine a situation with neutral curiosity.
- Families set goals/collaborate with coach to design personalized plan.
- They begin to practice parenting with Intention.
- Next, they confer with their coach to assess results, note shifts, acknowledge even the tiniest movement.
- Take an “account-able” stand – together, they identify what worked and what did not.
- They refresh their neutral approach/release blaming and fault-finding.
- Recommit to a relationship focus.
- Identify new strategies and tweak goals. Adjust the coaching plan.
- Activate the plan.
Coaches can work in concert with therapists and social workers or operate independently. Appointments may occur in person, by telephone, or via internet video. This flexibility dovetails well with busy family schedules. Typically, a coach meets with a family every week so both parties can exchange feedback and promptly make strategic adjustments. These weekly check-ins give families access to a non-judgmental sounding board who is dedicated to the family’s goals and welfare.
ALWAYS be sure the professionals with whom you work are versed in adoption. Great strides have been made in understanding the neurobiological, psychological, and emotional issues faced by adoptees and their families. Not all professionals have acquired this expertise. Work only with a professional coach or therapist who is well trained in adoption issues, trauma, and attachment.