Disclaimer: This article provides a framework for setting boundaries in an adoptee and birthmother or birthfather reunion. So, both parties decide together how the relationship will be and have set goals and expectations entering into the reunion with empathy, understanding and compassion, have an open mind, and respect they will have different narratives entering the reunion. You can’t contract behavior but you can create respectful experiences.
Why do 70% of adoption reunions break down?
Because there’s no roadmap.
The 5 agreements:
Everyone has been victimized.
Everyone has experienced loss.
Each person’s loss incomparable.
Everyone will make mistakes.
Practice forgiveness over, and over and over again.
THE 8 PACTS
- GET TO KNOW EACH OTHER: Try to walk a mile in the other person’s shoes before thinking you know why something happened. Respect each other’s experience. We don’t assume we know the other person’s story. Get to know the person first, not focus only on the answers.
- ASK PERMISSION: Ask each other permission before sharing important adoption information, regarding photos, letters or birth documents to build trust and control. Respect each other’s emotional bandwidth and emotional vulnerabilities. Write questions down to provide to each other, only answer what you feel comfortable with. As you grow stronger, you can answer more in-depth questions. Ask each other permission first before inviting more people into the relationship.
- CREATE LEVEL OF CONTACT: Neither party has the right to control the contact. You get to negotiate the relationship together. It will be hard, but it’s worth it. Ask each other the following questions: How do we connect after reunion? What do we feel comfortable with phone, Facetime, text, email, letters? How about on birthdays and holidays? Gifts or no gifts?
- SHARE YOUR STORIES: Provide space for each other to share your individual stories. The retelling can feel re-traumatizing especially for mothers. Use I statements when sharing each other’s pain towards the other “I feel…. I want… because….” Refrain from blaming to lessen re-shaming. No one’s pain is worse than the other.
- BE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR OWN HEALING: You are not responsible for each other’s wounds. You are self-responsible for your own emotional and psychological pain. You can’t fill each other’s voids. You will regress to the age of relinquishment. It’s ok to attend therapy separately and together at times, and join support groups. You can’t rescue each other from their pain.
- RESPECT THE RELATIONSHIP: Commit to the relationship, do not abandon each other or threaten each other. Because both the birthmother and adoptee are fearful of losing each other again. Ghosting is another form of betrayal. Stay in communication, hold regard together that this relationship matters. Take your time.
- SHARING WITH OTHERS: Secrets don’t help people, they hurt. Plan together how or when to tell extended family members of your reunion. Come “out of the fog” to support each other if the fear is being “found out”. If you want to have relationships with extended family members- ask each other permission to do so.
- RECOGNITION OF YOUR TRUST TREE: Respect the loved ones closest to you, and the other relationships on your trust tree.
E = What is your expectation?
M = What is your motivation?
B = Make room to Breathe
R = Respect
A = Accept
C = Choose to be present and available
E = Embrace the experience
Adoption is not the end of the process; it is, in fact, the beginning of one! Post-adoption care and services play an integral role in making any adoption successful.
Being personally acquainted with the situation, I had long recognized the importance of high-quality post-adoption and foster care services to ensure permanency, stability, and well-being for children. But that’s not all; certain other aspects demand our attention.
Post-adoption services help address sensitive aspects such as trauma (young children, adults, and even parents can suffer from it), loss, separation, sense of familiarity or belonging, etc. Such services can also help children and their families address their specific needs and help family members strengthen their bond and deepen their attachment to sustain the relationship.
Previously for many years, post-adoption services were only viewed as services provided after the legalization (finalized process) of the adoption – and in some cases, only for very short intervals.
However, now adoption professionals and families have recognized that a comprehensive continuum of multiple forms of support that vary in intensity levels is necessary to ensure well-being, long-term stability, and true permanency for adopted children and the families.
Post-adoption services are a vital support to the families raising the children in cases where they suffer from severe emotional, behavioral, or psychological challenges. With the help of support groups and sessions offered at the Celia Center, families can remain committed and effective. Our services help parents nurture children while catering to their special needs. As well as providing adoption competent therapy to children, teens and parents offered at Yoffe Therapy.
“There is evidence of a strong relationship between providing support to adoptive families as a matter of course or in the form of preventive services and positive outcomes in terms of the health, well-being, and stability of the family (Groze 1996a; Smith & Howard 1994)”
At Celia Center, we work to serve the goal of:
- Support understanding of adoption by removing confusions surrounding the adoption process.
- Improve parenting skills so they are able to deal with their new family dynamics.
- Help parents and children cope with their traumas associated with adoption or foster care.
- Improve child functioning.
- Bridging gaps between the relational bands.
- Prevention of adoption disruptions.
The importance of post-adoption services and support groups can be viewed in a survey of parents receiving post-adoption services. 80% of the respondents reported betterment in their households. Some excerpts from the survey are as followed:
“Research has shown that adoptive families’ needs are multidimensional and may arise at each developmental stage for the family and the adopted person. From a program development perspective, the research makes clear the need for flexible programming that permits families to return for services when needed and does not limit the extent to which they may receive services.”
“Adoptive families have a need for an array of education, support and therapeutic community services. And they need to be able to access this array episodically. This mix of services must be provided by service providers and therapists with an adoption-competent knowledge base and core values, who can see child and family strength amidst complex circumstances and concerning diagnoses.”
“For moral, social, and economic reasons, it is in the public interest to assure that families remain intact and strong. The pendulum has swung and society again recognizes the importance of strong family systems in combating society’s ills. Adoption support and preservation services help build strong foundations for families created by adoption. By developing and implementing these services, families involved in adoption, service providers and policy makers are assuring adopted children of every opportunity to become useful, productive citizens.”
Some concepts behind the support groups of Celia Center are:
- Parental education
- Respite care and child care
- Services for children and parents, including groups of people from every age group
- Adoption assistance
- Support services including support groups and informal contact with other similar families
Celia Center was not my goal as I started, but it eventually became one. As I kept progressing, it became the highlight of my life as I could see my efforts bringing positive results.
Being a foster child myself who also went through adoption, I was aware of the miseries one can experience in this process. These were not the miseries that life caused me but the miseries which developed from my detachment from the world.
We need to realize that there is a ‘need to heal.’ There is a need to break the ice for the people who never get the chance to speak about how they feel. Even when they do speak, they are either shut down or not understood. They are received in a way that pushes them deeper into their shells, where they develop several traumas and social dilemmas.
To heal is to recover, to be at peace. It means to overcome the inner demons holding you back from moving forward. To heal is to set one’s soul and mind at peace. Healing cannot be achieved overnight. You have to go through a process, or sometimes a series of processes, to reach that state of mind where you are no longer bothered by what used to haunt you.
In order to heal, you need to stand tall in front of your fears and deal with them. You need to be reminded that you are loved, cared for, valued, and that you cannot be suppressed any longer. In order to heal, we need to break the chains of quietness, desolation, and life of fears. We need to come out clean to the greener side of life. The journey to healing could be challenging, but it’s not impossible.
People who have been through traumatizing events tend to experience heavy emotional burdens. It’s as if, over the years, the time has chipped away a significant part of them. This fear and struggle, if nurtured over a longer period, breed physical and mental disorders. These diseases devour the person slowly and gradually, leaving behind nothing but a hollow shell.
I can understand that after going through severe trauma in your life, it is difficult to grow from it. But for how long? For how long are you going to sit in that dark room? For how long are you going to absorb the pain? We have all experienced one of those dreaded days where you don’t want to get out of your bed. You just lie down, contemplating life and past events – it’s relatable.
Speak up! Talk about the things that are bothering you. Don’t just sit there taking it all in. Don’t empathize with your misery. Be the master of your senses; don’t let anyone else control it or take hold of it. Healing is the process that will lead you toward recovery. Eventually, you will be able to break through the chains of depression, fear, and anxiety, and breathe freely once again!
When we don’t talk about these things, they grow bigger inside us. If they are not dealt with at the right time and with the right guidance, they explode in the form of anger, violence, traumas, and other such issues. To understand this better, consider a human being like a spring.
You keep pressing and pressing the spring so it will absorb all the pressure and reduce in size (getting oppressed), but when you reach the contraction limit, it will pop up. The spring will jump up even higher using the energy that compressed it, directed in the opposite direction. The same is with human feelings and emotions.
Don’t let your stored emotions burst into some kind of retaliation or anger. Don’t let it corrode your body and soul from inside. Don’t live with your fears. Value the life that you have been granted, and make the most of it by making it better every day. Believe in the power of healing, and believe that in observing your struggle you will surely be rewarded with something great.
For a free mental health consultation please visit Yoffe Therapy an adoption competent mental health center in the state of California.
 “Research on Postadoption Services: Implications for Practice, Program Development, and Policy” in The Postadoption Experience p. 295.
 “Perspectives on the Need for Adoption-Competent Mental Health Services,” Casey Family Services, October 2003, p. 72.
 “Adoption Support and Preservation Services: A Public Interest,” Spaulding for Children, revised May 2005
I am always thinking of ways “out of the box” and “practical tools” to help families understand the “inner world” of foster and adopted children. Because this inner world is an invisible wound that is hard to put into words for any child, due to the implicit pre-verbal experience of loss and separation. Children don’t have the developmental capacity to express the feelings, thoughts, and sensations. So, I have gone to great lengths via trainings, private psychotherapy, support groups every month, one on one coaching, and showing films to help families so they “get it.”
In 2014, Celia Center spnosored a training for foster and adoptive families in Los Angeles, from a child’s point of view in the first person, Truly, Madly Deeply Understanding Your Foster and Adopted Child. I tapped into my own inner child, as a foster youth and adoptee with the inspiration to help parents “truly, madly, deeply” feel their child’s inner life. Watch a clip HERE.
In this article, I want to share 8 pieces of parenting that I have mended, nurtured, and savored in my practice working with families today that are helpful for parenting a child with attachment trauma where the repair needs to be focused on building relationship and trust.
#1- I need you to maintain a positive affective tone that influences me, rather than letting my negative tone influence you. If you react to my “big hurt feelings”, then I will feel more powerful and want to be in control. By remaining calm… time, time, and time again, I will eventually see you as strong enough to deal with me, and my pain and I will stop testing you. Trust me!
How do you develop a positive affective tone? Rather than asking a question and expecting an answer, have an attitude of curiosity? Your tone of voice, will be higher, lighter, and calm and inviting. I will feel better and I will do better! #askanadoptee #askafosteryouth
#2- Try getting below eye level, in a relaxed posture, have empathy and tell me “I’m right here with you.” The science behind brain and behavior, says this activates an adaptive neural network and builds the executive function of the brain! -Tina Payne Bryson talks about this, she’s the Author of The Whole Brain Child.
#3- Please be aware of your non-verbal cues and how you “look to me” – eye contact, posture, tone of voice, and your timing/intensity of response. And pay attention to mine, because all my behaviors are ways of communicating unmet needs. Even if I am manipulating? That means, I don’t know how to get my needs met in a healthy way. Please show me how, rather than making me feel ashamed about this.
What’s hysterical, is historical!
#4- When you see me “act out” step back (literally take a step back!), assess- look at me and ask yourself “What is he/she trying to tell me?”, then go inside and ask yourself the following acronym, P.A.C.E. first to yourself, and then guide me with them. You do not have to do it this order, they are interchangeable ;0)
An attachment based acronym of “attitudes” “ways of being with” your child when they have big feelings!
P3 – 1. Be Playful with U & Me- Humor is very important to create a quality of lightness an openness. Laughter builds memories of unconditional acceptance of US.
2. Be Present with U & Me. Go inside and see how you are feeling, then see if you can feel what I am feeling and ask me “I’m sensing you are feeling _________. Is that correct?” “How can I help you feel better?”
3. Be Patient with U & Me. This was not meant to be easy, my feelings are messy and the clean up isn’t always neat. It will feel bumpy, at times and then the road will feel smoother. Do this intervention to learn how to Hold Onto My Feelings
A – Have an Acceptance of U & Me, and an understanding of my behavior. My behavior represents my best effort at that time. “I am doing the best that I can.” Please accept, if you don’t this will cause you more suffering. I still need limits for unsafe situations, and direct my behavior by focusing the “teaching on the behavior,” not on me or I’ll develop shame, which won’t help either of us get along better. Trust me.
C – BE Curious. Have a nonjudgmental, “not knowing” stance to inquire about my inner life that led to my behaviors so I feel safe, that my inner life will not be criticized. If I sense your judgment, I will go hide my motives and not be able to modify my behavior. So ask me with open ended questions like …“What do you think about that?” “ “Tell me about that?” “That looks, seems difficult, tell me how does that feel for you?”
E – HAVE Empathy. Empathy must be conveyed both verbally and non verbally. 95% of communication IS NON-VERBAL. I’ve been through a lot, I know! but you don’t have to rescue me from the event or solve the problem for me. Say, “That must be SO hard for you!” “It is really hard, and you’re doing it and struggling with it.” “I’m so sorry you feel so sorry about _________.” And let me cry, I sometimes have a lot to cry about.
Adapted From the Daniel Hughe’s book, Attachment Focused Parenting
#5- I need your connection, not correction. Lectures are not effective with me because they are actually educating me to comply with “big people” rather than to develop my own meaning about a something.
“ It’s like giving a prosecuting attorney more information to work with!!!” Please do “storytelling” with me which conveys an “attitude of acceptance of the listener”, rather than evaluation/criticism & encourages a non-reactive response in me. Trust me, I know.”
#6- I need to know the truth of my story….even if it is hard for you, it will be healing for me… trust me. I need to know you are strong enough to be WITH me in my pain, and still be loved.
#7- Please set expectations, chores, to-do’s based on my developmental emotional age, not chronological age, I will do better and feel better! I heard that children with attachment trauma have at least 2 years delay? So minus 2 years from my age!
#8- I need you to accept responsibility for initiating repair with me when I have my “big feelings”. If you insist I “apologize”, you are communicating that I’m responsible for the continuity of the relationship. I will then think “the relationship is not important to you and it will be highly unlikely that I will have the confidence to take the first step which will lead to a downward spiral of negative distancing and possibly ‘Take FOREVER” or…
…if I do initiate repair, I’m going to experience resentment that I had to be “a good foster kid or good adoptee” and be “sorry first” beforemy parent would welcome me back again into their mind and heart. This will effect my ability to be receptive to love. I need to be taught how to love and forgive.
When I feel love, I learn to feel my loss. When I feel forgiveness, I learn to feel empathy.
#9- I will say “I can’t” alot sometimes for my performance in school, my behaviors, or sports. This can stem from fear, worry, shame or from not knowing how to do it so I may avoid. Please reframe this “I can’t” as “I haven’t learned how yet” or “I haven’t done it yet” or “A part of me is afraid right now, in time I will grow a new part that will learn how to.” The word “scared” is vulnerable” for me, use the word “WORRIED.” “I see you are worried about this…”
#10- Please don’t withhold the following activities for discipline – Family Time, Sports, Hobbies & One-on-One time with Parents…these activities help me feel good about myself, accomplished, successful, and get me out of the “black hole of the primal wound.”
One last thing, I know “MY HURT PART” in my heart is a a part of me that is overdoing its job of protecting me from trusting a new relationship… “it keeps love away from me…”
Please accept and be curious of all of my parts so I can help organize who I am…Provide permission for emoting and externalizing. “Did you want to have your fit now about going to bed to get it out of the way?” Have me punch a pillow, rip up paper, pop bubble wrap.”
More interventions for emoting my big feelings HERE.
Thank you for being there for me. I need you more than you know!