Turn Key in Adoption: Forgiveness

So, I’ve written about turn key’s in adoption, specifically in adoption adjustment and attachment.  If you’ve read my blog  you know that I talk now and then about various keys or concepts in the adjustment process; the turn keys are the ones that seem to really matter.  At least they do ’round here.  If I was really organized, I’d  have them all on a separate page about adjustment  in adoption.  But I’m not that good a housekeeper, even on blog.  In the meantime, if you want to check out the other posts in this series, go here, go here, go here, here, here, here, here, and here.  Whew.  I didn’t realize I’d written all those posts over the past few years.  Guess this is something we just keep dealing with and I keep processing.  Um, yup, yup it is.  If you are parenting an older adopted child and/or a child with hard history or issues,  you might well be in the trenches too.  If you are, read on.  I’ve been thinking and that means I gotta write.

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about attachment lately, due to the awesome Empowered to Connect Conference and ongoing discussions with Coffeedoc.  But also, just the intensity of parenting these past few months has been kind of insane.  I’ve also had some great conversations with friends lately, one more recently got me thinking out loud and hence, this post.

Anyhow, attachment in adoption is a long, nuanced process.  Adjustment to a new family for a child is a long, nuanced process.  It takes much much longer than most folks realize.  Indeed, it’s a lifetime, isn’t it?  Well, yes, of course it is.  And, to stay thematic, there are turnkeys to that process. These are some critical components that can help the process along.  These keys can open doors, to the heart of a new child, to the blending of a family.  But one of the keys, one of the most important keys to attachment in the whole adoption process is a key that is for the mom.  Ok, it’s for the new child and for the sibs and the dad, the whole family.  But, the blingy diamond studded key to this is maybe, especially,  for the mom.  That key is FORGIVENESS.

Ok, set down those flame throwers.  Hang on. Now, attachment is a two way street.  And it’s so SO SO easy to forget that.  We adoptive parents turn cartwheels trying to heal and help our new kids, to check off the copious list of attachment markers and tools.  Are we nurturing, feeding, tutoring, clothing, rocking, walking, singing, playing, holding (and on and on) this new child?  Can we sit out the storm and hold them through their grief, weather their rage, calm the fury, be present through it all?  Can we help them feel safe, can we help them feel heard, can we help them trust?  Yeah, it’s a big list, in more ways than one!  And each and every one of those items on that list is so big, so important.  And each one is critical in helping these kids attach to us, to their new family, their new lives – to bridge from their past to the future in the now.

But the one factor that doesn’t get talked about too much is the attachment flip side.  It’s the dark side of attachment when you’re adjusting to an older child or a child from hard places or with tough behaviors.  It’s so easy to have the best motives and intentions.  It’s so easy to get caught up in the honeymoon of a baby or toddler or new older kid and the romance of it all.  But you know, that honeymoon ends and the romance fades and real life  happens.  Sometimes after, oh, twenty minutes.  Some of you might get a little more lead time.  But sooner (20 mins) or later (20 months), real life hits ya.  And you realize, maybe this isn’t exactly what you expected.  Sure, sure, you read the books.  You took the classes.  You heard the experts and knew the possibilities.  But, a raging storming angry grieving child in a textbook is quite a very different thing than a raging storming LOUD angry crashing grieving child that is turning YOUR ACTUAL household upside down.  And who continues to suck the time and attention and sometimes very air out of a room with their need and the seeming impossibility  of meeting it.

That’s precisely when you need to go looking for your keys.  Take a deep breath, look at your key ring.  Remember, touch that kid, tears are ok, food and dinner is safety.  But, look closer.  There is a small but shiny, flashy diamond key on your key ring.  See it? Grab tight.  Look at it again.  It’s the key of FORGIVING.  Because, ya know….that’s YOUR key.  For you.

You have to forgive that kid.

It’s easy to forget that, though it sounds shocking to say it out loud.  (And don’t flame me, ok? Try to understand where I’m coming from, read the blog backwards if you must).  But that hurt scared little kid, or big teen, didn’t ASK to have this change, this adoption, this move, those hurts, those losses, those disabilities, that complicated brain chemistry, that rage, this new family…you.  I don’t think anyone stands in a cosmic line asking to be handed a big bag of trauma and loss, please, and then “Please, sir, can I have some more?” discombobulation, dislocation, and grief.  Even so, those things are no picnic to be instantly parenting either.  Thus, there is a chasm.  And the only way to cross it is to bridge it….with forgiving.  You, for YOU, have to forgive that kid for the uproar and commotion that is happening in your family.  You have to forgive her for her lack of ability to cope.  You have to forgive him for the tailspin that you are in, due to the dance you two are slamming.

You have to forgive him, not because he needs forgiveness, but because YOU need forgiveness.  You need to lift that burden of responsibility OFF your new child.  And off of you.  Neither one of  you would choose this tough path.  I betcha you’d both rather just instantly fall madly in love with each other and go have ice cream as you feed the ducks in the park.  Well, that’s for Spielberg and  the movies.  What’s true is that you cannot love what or who you cannot forgive.  And you can’t like the one you can’t forgive.  That’s how it’s set up.  That’s the deal.

But ah, forgiveness….?

It heals.


That’s how it’s set up.  That’s the deal.  So, if you can’t intellectually do it, pray for the grace to do it.  It’ll come.  You may have to do it over and over and over.  I hope and pray that my family forgives me over and over and over.  I need it that often.  And, because they are my family, I expect them to try.  And because this new little (or bigger) one is your new family, because you COMMITTED to them, then you need to try too.  That’s how it’s set up.  That’s the deal.

We forgive each other.  And if we turn that key, then the door to healing and love and even like…and maybe even attachment…it opens wide.

>Turn-Keys in Adoption: Family Dinner

> Ah, the family dinner.
A subject that greater minds and bigger hearts than mine have explored and pondered for many years. Indeed, it’s  a fixation of modern shelter magazines and cable shows; how to cook and create a wonderland of fantasy meals. 

I’m not gonna attempt to lay down new paths or thoughts; that’s above my pay grade.
This post is my ongoing consideration of dinner, supper, and what it means to the family, especially one built through the often messy process of adoption. 

In fact, I have come to believe that the seemingly simple concept of dinner is really, for us at least, a turn key in attachment.
Yep, this is another one of those posts.  I have a series of them, sporadically put up as I need to process things or I start stewing about stuff {go here:trust, touch, transitions, schedules, Christmas, prayer}.

I think that the whole idea of family dinner is one that is super easy to brush off.  We’ve heard it all before, from our own parents to the modern beta parents on tv: Oprah, Dr. Phil, Dr. Spock, Judge Judy…heck, everybody’s got an opinion.  But this forum is mine and thus this blog post is about my meandering musings down the dinner table.

Now, I’d love to say that our family has beautiful Rockwell quality dinners.  That we all sit down in a calm and mannered fashion to an elegant and/or chic table every night and linger easily over interesting and savory local, foodie creative meals that nourish our bodies and souls.  Right.  But if I did, I’d be lying.

Ramare Bearden, Color Screenprint, 1993

 Our dinners are often a jumble; kids needing to be called to the table, fetched from outside,  hollered for repeatedly (yes, we/I holler, it’s not my proudest moment).  Kids race to snag the primo chair; which designation will ever remain an unfathomable mystery to us parents.  {Sometimes it’s a mystery to the racers too, but the race is on, nightly, nevertheless.}  This frequently leads to some sulking about not claiming said spot and  having to sit in the “stupid” spot.  Dinner is considered and often declared “gross” or “yuk” and the sulk extended.  We parental types try to regain calm by lighting a candle or two and then beginning with prayer, going around the table to nudge each kid to come up with something, anything, to be thankful for this day…all the while reminding the wild small boys to sit on their chair, hands off their legos, cars off the table, sshh, with significant looks and the not infrequent verbal cue.  After that, we try to have real conversation as we dine (ok, we eat).  This effort rarely succeeds; what with two teenage girls and two preteen girls, any variation thereof who can often be found nursing some level of mood. Occasionally, one of the girls might be working an angle to get some yet unknown advantage and thus launch a bright and superficially charming conversational gambit.  Those nights the repartee is especially exciting for the unknown results and volatility.  Otherwise the conversation can be rather stilted attempts at extracting details of the day at school (yes, much like pulling teeth, actually) and continuing to referee sulking players; all the while leaving us two over forty craving scintillating discussion of current events or politics or heck, number theory…anything at all to change it up. (I lied, I will never crave discussion of number theory, evah.)

 Jean Foss, “Family Dinner”

Often enough one or three kids will thank me for the cooking, signaling the end of the meal; a truly lovely and appreciated gesture (always Marta, sweet habit) and then bolt to the beyond of upstairs to escape the ensuing chaos that erupts after dinner.  Then the dishes are clattered to the counters and sinks, reminders of dish night assignments handed out, and the dinner comes to a close as I try to scoot/race the little boys up to the bedtime routine.

Thus we have three phases to our dinners: preparation, partaking, and cleanup.   All of them are key to our family dinner and to the foundation that is laid.  It is the whole of the process that makes the family dinner so important, and yes, a turn-key to adjustment.
I want to say that again: I think the whole of the process: the prep, the sitting/eating, and the aftermath, is important to the bonding and attachment found in the family dinner.

The importance of this meal, it’s function as a key for us, is coming more and more clear to me; especially over these past few months of our adjustment to our newest daughter Marta.  She has a need for a very defined order to her days, she counts on it, it is her safety zone.  And the dinner routine, as close to ‘no  matter what’ we can get, is key to her sense of well being, and thus, attachment.
I daresay it is the same for our other children, young and old, bio or adopted. 

Family dinner counts.

The time to prepare it shows our newest daughter, without words, that this time is important to us as family.  She sees me, as do all  my kids, thinking about it in advance, shopping, preparing it, prepping the table for it.  If it wasn’t important I wouldn’t bother.  They all know it.
If I can get it together during the day, I try to have the table set and dinner planned and begun to prep as she/they arrive home from school….yes, it’s very Donna Reed, but it’s very very comforting and secure.  All of my kids, each and every one, ask me, every day within minutes of seeing me after school: “What’s for dinner?”  Each one of them need that answer, sometimes I say “I don’t know!” But, if I name a meal,  it’s an almost visible sigh out of them to hear the answer – even if it’s not their favorite.  Because it signifies that I am on it and life is secure.  Now, they won’t say it that way, but I see it that way now…because of my newest daughter.  Her life was not secure and dinner wasn’t a guarantee or even always an option.  So, yeah, this is important stuff…for all of them, but absolutely critical for her. 
It is a turnkey on so many levels: food, primal sustenance, comfort, family, routine.

Peter Blume, Vegetable Dinner, 1927

The sitting down together is a coming together, a pause in the day to nourish our bodies and us as a group together, to nourish our sense of family.  The kids can’t see that, sometimes it’s just a chore…for me too.  (I can easily, if I were to choose, skip the eating of dinner, most any day…..)
But beyond that obligation and duty lies great unspoken meaning: family, it’s important and this is ours.
And happily enough, that meaning is not reliant on the context of perfection or glossy fantasies of “should be” or “looks like.”
I will go out on a cyber limb and even say that the very chaotic mess of our dinners, and it’s own particular kind of standard chaos, defines our own family culture and is a feature of this key to attaching into our family. 

The cleanup, well, its not nearly the pretty part.  Not that any part of our dinners every really are so much…but cleanup is a mess and a job.  But by having the kids all take part (they rotate dish duty) and their dad usually giving them a boost of help…they learn that they too are contributors to the family. They don’t only take…they too give to each other and the family.  Giving back is part of the key to attachment.  Unless you are invested in something or someone, by serving them in some form (time, attention, effort), it’s very hard to have a two way attachment. Now, that’s just my opinion…but I hold it close.  I think you love by doing.  I think the best way to help a child learn that they are an integral part of the family is to  have them pitch in and help that family, just the same as the other kids (or to their ability).  

So, who’da thunk it?
Family dinner, be it vichyssoise or burgers, means ever so much more than the calorie count.  And really, it’s not even about the actual food or the quality of it; be it fancy french or sub sandwiches.
It’s about the whole process of the dinner, as a family.
I think it’s one of the better keys in your tool belt as a parent.  
I think that so much of what we do, we feel we have to follow the perfect script or recipe or rules or recommendations.  But the beauty in the messy chaos and routine of the family dinner is that it allows for our unique seasonings and tweaks and settings.  It is our own. 
It is in the very making and prepping and sitting and tastings of it, we find our own selves and each other. 
This is a turn key to attachment for each of us, adopted or not, for healing and blending together as a family.  It is a key that is not a hard metal bit to be clanged about…rather this one is as a red ripe tomato, bursting with goodness, begging to be savored.

Jos van Riswick, Tomato 15×15