Safe Haven Laws: Why Adoptions Together Opposes Safe Haven Laws

The Safe Haven law allows for anonymous surrender of a newborn up to 7 days old. These laws were conceived to prevent the abandonment, or worse, of infants by desperate parents. Once these newborns are in state foster care, it can take up to 12 months in an anonymous surrender before the infants are permanently adopted, as opposed to voluntary adoption where an infant can be in a permanent home within days.  If a mother surrenders her newborn under Safe Haven, she will have three days (varies by jurisdiction) to revoke this surrender. If she signs a Voluntary Consent to Adoption, she has 15 days in Washington, DC, 10 days in Virginia, and 30 days in Maryland to revoke her consent.


1.      A biological mother utilizing Safe Haven may not be getting the critical counseling she needs to help her process her relinquishment.

2.      A biological mother using Safe Haven may not be notifying the father of the baby of his rights and responsibilities.

3.      A biological mother using Safe Haven will not have the options a voluntary adoption will give her such as choosing a family or the level of contact she may want with her child over the years.  She may not be able to provide important medical updates to her child’s adoptive family, or be available throughout the years to assist with medical questions.

4.      A biological mother using Safe Haven will not be providing comprehensive and ongoing genetic history, social history, anecdotal or generational details to her child.  The child will literally be starting with a “blank slate”. 

5.      A biological mother using Safe Haven may be depriving her child of the right to grow up in his or her biological family, since other relatives may step forward to raise the child.  This is often the case with our clients who consider adoption.

6.      A biological mother using Safe Haven will not get the counseling, support and resource assistance she needs if she ultimately decides to parent her child, as is the case with the vast majority of women who consider adoption.     


1.      A child will always know her birth mother made a plan for her, and did not simply abandon her.

2.      A child has her background information available, and medical updates throughout her life. This can be life saving for children whose biological relatives develop life threatening genetically-based issues and need their children tested. (As a repository of that information, adoption agencies are routinely contacted by both birth and adoptive families for ongoing medical and psychological information exchange.)

3.      A child can have contact with her biological family, and the benefit of knowing both of her families and their mutually developing a respectful relationship on her behalf.

4.      A mother who is suffering post-partum depression or other mental health challenges can receive referrals to counseling and other resources that may help her.

5.      Agency social workers and counselors are available indefinitely to help mothers cope with their adoption decision which can have lifelong implications.

We want to hear your thoughts.  What is your position on Safe Haven laws? 
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Tags: Safe Haven Laws
Category: Foster Care
Category: Adoption

When Your Adolescent Prepares to Leave Home

When Your Adolescent Prepares To Leave Home

Carol Edelstein, Director of AdoptionWorks

In some ways it is especially hard for adoptive parents when their adolescent children are preparing to leave home, whether it is to go to college, into the military, or because they have decided to move someplace away from home.  For many parents who adopted their children at an older age, they may feel like they are not ready for them to leave so soon, while others may feel that their child is not yet developmentally ready for that level of independence.  While this can be a time of inner conflict for all parents, it can be especially challenging for many adoptive parents.

Some Tips for Parents To Ease the Transition:

  • Keep the Lines of Communication Open – Always strive for open communication with your child!    Although he or she may be showing you how much they are looking forward to leaving, they may also be having many concerns and fears about leaving all that is comfortable and familiar to them.  Assure them that it is perfectly normal to have apprehensions and yet be excited at the same time.  Create an environment in which your child feels heard and supported.  Remind them that you are there for them when they need to talk with you about anything at all that they may be concerned about.
  • Be Clear About Your Expectations – Also share with your child what your expectations are about the level of responsibility they take for their own safety and wellbeing, their finances, and their academics if they are attending college.  
  • Continue Educating – As your child leaves the nest, they will face a combination of an increase in social pressures and little to no adult supervision.  Speak with your child in advance about the risk associated with sex, drugs and alcohol, and the consequences of risk-taking behaviors, which will apply whether they are attending college or just moving away from home. 
  • Be Proactive – Create a safety plan with your child to have just in case of an emergency.  Help your child create a list of emergency contacts and nearby supports.  If your child is going to college, this should include the phone numbers for the counseling center on campus, campus security, and the campus health center.  Identify any friends or family members who may live closer than you are to where your child will be in case of an emergenc
  • Make Sure Your Child Knows That Help is Always Available – If your child has a specific need, research available resources ahead of time that are available in the area that your child will be living.  If your child is heading to college, and requires special services and accommodations for a physical disability, a learning disability or a psychological challenge, plan ahead to ensure that the necessary services are in place for your child when he or she gets to school.  Always include your child in any decisions made regarding his or her treatment and special accommodations.
  • Communicate With Your Child On a Regular Basis – Be sure to have some form of communication with your child on a regular basis, whether it is talking on the phone, texting, emailing, Skype, face time, etc.  Your communications do not have to be long, but they should be regular, and enough for you to have a sense of how they are doing and to remind them that you are thinking about them and are always there if they need you. 

As difficult as it may be, remember that your child leaving home is an important milestone and something to be celebrated and supported. 

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Tags: Adolescents,Leaving Home; Empty Nest
Category: Foster Care
Category: Adoption

What’s Empathy Got To Do With It?

Written By:  Erica Moltz, MA, NCC, Clinical Director

In a previous blog about mindfulness, we highlighted “Stop, Drop, and Roll” , an effective strategy to use when your child presents with challenging behaviors.  The first step is to “stop” the action, bring yourself into the present moment and de-escalate any big thoughts or feelings you may have .  The next step is to “drop” inside by breathing into a more regulated and calmer place so that you are in the present moment and not worrying about your child’s previous behaviors or what she may do next.  When you are mindful and in the present moment,  your thinking brain is in control and you will have  the option to  “roll” out from a more thoughtful, intentional and less reactive place. 


When a child is acting out with challenging behaviors, it is likely that he/she is in the amygdala, or the survival part of the brain.  At these times of acute stress, the “downstairs” part of the brain is in charge and reacting, while the “upstairs”  thinking brain is essentially off-line.  When a child’s amygdala is in charge, a seven year old may have a tantrum and refuse to listen, a ten year old may walk away when a parent confronts him about lying, and a teen may yell that she hates her adoptive mom and wants to live with her real mom.


At times like this, using empathy is an effective strategy for dealing with challenging behaviors  and developing and maintaining a strong parent- child connection.  Dan Siegel, an expert in child psychology, says that, “empathy is the capacity to have some sense of the internal mental stance of another person”.   When parents use mindfulness to be more aware of their own triggers, they will have an easier time using empathy to help their child “feel felt”, which will enhance the attachment between the child and the parent.  Although “feeling felt” is important for all children, it is essential for a child who has had a history of trauma and insecure attachment.


Let’s see how this can work with real life scenarios.  Take the example of a seven year old who won’t get up and dressed during the first week of camp to make her car pool ride on time.  She not only stalls, but has a full blown tantrum when her father tries to hurry her along.  The “Stopping” and “Dropping” parts for the father may entail awakening earlier to calm himself down and get his “upstairs” brain on-line so that he may have the time and energy to lie down in bed with his child and gently and more slowly wake her up with a song or soft touch.  Then, once this connection with his child is established, he can “roll out” with a plan about what needs to happen to get ready for camp.  If, however,  even the mention of camp triggers a huge reaction, he can gently and curiously wonder if she may feel worried and scared about camp.  Dan Siegel talks about this strategy, “naming to tame”, which means naming the feeling for a child to help her understand that her behavior may be related to the feeling she has inside.  The challenge for this father is then is to allow his daughter to talk about what is bothering her without feeling that he needs to rush in and problem solve.  First, she has to “feel felt” and her amygdala has to be quieted down before problem solving will have any meaning.  The father and daughter are speaking two different languages if his “upstairs” thinking brain is trying to communicate with her “downstairs” reactive/survival brain.  Empathizing will help her “feel felt” so that she may stop anticipating camp with dread, and Dad will remember that when he picks her up from camp each day, she seems happy and tells him she is making friends and is having a good time.

Or take the example of a 10 year old whose mother directs him not to have any cookies before dinner.  When the mother starts preparing dinner, she realizes that all the cookies are gone and her son has been the only one home.  The mom asks him “why he ate the cookies” and he denies it.  She has explained her value to him many times – that lying is even worse than committing the “offense” in the first place, and that he will get in more trouble if he lies than if he tells the truth.  He continues to say he didn’t do it, accuses his mother of not trusting him, and angrily leaves the room. This is a perfect time for this mom to “stop” and “drop inside” to get her upstairs/ thinking brain on-line so that she won’t be tempted to yell at him and start to consequence him for lying.  Instead, from a place of mindfulness, she could begin by apologizing to him because asking him if he ate the cookies didn’t make sense since no one else was at home and she knew it had to be him.  With an empathetic, curious, and accepting tone, she could wonder if he is not telling her that he ate the cookies because he is too ashamed and scared to tell the truth, and that this must be a really hard position to be in.  Perhaps, in his previous foster home, it was very scary for him to tell the truth and he still feels that way. Then, the challenge for this parent is to wait and allow her son to be with whatever feelings he is having.  If he still denies eating the cookies, then maybe the parent could share that she hopes at some point he will feel comfortable telling the truth. 


Another common and challenging scenario is when a 16 year old gets furious with her adoptive mother when told that she cannot go to a party with all her friends because there will be no adult chaperone there.  “Stopping” may mean that this mother has to quiet her inner voice down and “drop” inside so that she does not take personally her daughter’s comment that she wants to live with her “real” mother because she would trust her and understand how important the party is to her.  This mother’s challenge is to not be ruled by her own “downstairs” brain, and remind herself instead that she is her “real” mom and that her daughter is just very angry right now.  The empathetic “rolling” out may be this mom saying to her daughter that she understands how furious she is and how incredibly hard it is that she doesn’t have control over whether she can go to this party.  The parent can further explain that this is what good parents do in situations like these.   Then, the parent has to allow this teen to have her reaction, trusting that this is part of the separation and individuation process.  It may not be until that night or the next day, when the teen and her mom can watch a movie together and share a bowl of popcorn, repairing their relationship.


Do you have a challenging parenting situation you would like to share?  Please respond with questions, comments, and other ideas about this blog.   


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Tags: Empathy,Mindfulness
Category: Foster Care
Category: Adoption

Open Letter to the Community

Open Letter to the Community

Adoptions Together has spent the last 23 years working  to bring families together with children who are unable to be raised in their first families. Our work has effectively served over 3000 children to date, and we know that isn’t enough. With over 15,000 children in our region spending their lives in foster care, the need to do much more is immediate.  With your support, we can change the future. We are setting a stretch goal: By 2020, we will double the impact we have had in the community, and we need your help to do it.

During 2013 and 2014, Adoptions Together will work hard to prepare for our first ever financial campaign to push for this change. We are working with the Maryland Nonprofit Association through the help of dedicated funders to look at every program, every relationship, every system and to deepen and strengthen each and every one. Our Board of Directors and staff are receiving comprehensive training, our technology is being built to be stronger and more reliable, and each program is planning the ways they can push their outcomes to maximize our reach. We are replicating successful programs from DC into Baltimore City-an area that has the largest number of children in foster care in the region, and reaching out to more hospitals, clinics and departments of social services to serve more children and families.

At the end of our planning and preparation phase, we will be ready and willing to reach our goals more than ever before.

Over the next year, you will see a campaign page outlining the ways you can join in this mission to ensure every child has a loving connection to call their own.

In the meantime, please send us your comments, your suggestions, your well wishes and your partnership.

We look forward to updating you, our community, as this journey unfolds. Thank you for your commitment to joining us in our drive to make change.


The Adoptions Together team

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Tags: financial campaign,community change
Category: Foster Care
Category: Adoption

Immigration Bill would Extend Citizenship to All Foreign Adoptees

Irene Jordan, Assessments and International Program Director

The U. S. Senate passed an immigration reform bill on June 27, 2013. Included in this bill is an amendment that would extend automatic citizenship to all persons born outside the U.S. who were adopted by U.S. citizens. This is a very important benefit and protection to those foreign adoptees who are not currently citizens of the U.S.  Adoptees who do not have citizenship risk deportation, loss of rights such as voting, and ineligibility for certain college scholarships


The Citizenship for Lawful Adoptees Amendment was sponsored by Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La). Senator Landrieu is an adoptive mother, and an advocate for adoption.

Under current law, the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 ensures automatic U.S. citizenship for most but not all adoptees.

The Citizenship for Lawful Adoptees Amendment to the new immigration bill would extend citizenship to adoptees who are not covered by the Child Citizenship Act.  This includes:

§   Those adoptees who were over 18 years old on February 27, 2001;

§   Those adoptees who entered the U.S. with a visa issued for an adoption in which the sole adoptive parent or both parents did not visit the child in the foreign country during the adoption process. Currently those adoptees do not become citizens until the adoption is re-finalized in the U.S.


In order for the Citizenship for Lawful Adoptees Amendment to become law, the immigration reform bill must first be passed by the House of Representatives, and signed by President Obama. Contact your representative to encourage support for the Citizenship for Lawful Adoptees Amendment.

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Tags: Citizenship,immigration bill,foreign adoption
Category: Adoption

Lessons on Adoption from the Supreme Court

Dawn Musgrave, Associate Director/General Counsel

The Supreme Court decision released recently interpreting the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) is too complex to synthesize in just a few paragraphs.  (For the full opinion see, Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl,  It’s hard to see who the winners are in this case, too.  Certainly, the child who is at the center of this controversy has already suffered and will continue to do so.  When she was 2 years old, she was removed from her adoptive parents and placed with her biological father whom she had never met.  Now, she will almost certainly be removed from her father and returned to her adoptive family, facing yet another loss that cannot possibly be understood by any 3 ½ year old.

Based on the facts recounted by the Court, it’s easy to sympathize with all of the adults involved in this case as well.  The child’s mother, facing the disintegration of her relationship with her unborn child’s father, turned to adoption as the best option to give her baby a good life.  By all accounts, the adoptive parents acted responsibly and worked with professionals to ensure that the adoption was completed properly, including a good faith, albeit flawed, attempt to comply with the requirements of ICWA.  And the child’s father seems equally motivated by a genuine desire to raise his child.

Faced with a choice rivaling that of King Solomon, the Supreme Court in a closely divided opinion overturned the decisions of the South Carolina courts, holding that their reliance on ICWA was incorrect.  In justifying this result, the Court greatly eroded the applicability of ICWA in voluntary infant adoption cases.  Simply put, the Court ruled that ICWA applied only to the break-up of an existing custodial relationship between an Indian child and his Indian parent.  Given that the father of this child had never held custody of the child before the state court’s decision to follow ICWA, the court determined that ICWA did not apply. 

The opinion raises many questions that still need to be answered.  For example, in determining that the father did not have custody of the child, the court relied on statutes in South Carolina and Oklahoma that give a presumption of custody to an unmarried mother.  Many states’ laws are silent about presumptions of child custody when parents are unmarried.  Other states have laws that presume both parents are equally entitled to custody of a child.  Would the result in this case be different had the father resided in a state where the law favored joint custody?

Further, the majority seems bothered by the minimal blood connection of this child to her Indian heritage.  In the first sentence of the decision, Justice Alito writes, “This case is about a little girl (Baby Girl) who is classified as Indian because she is 1.2% (3/256) Cherokee,” and subsequently makes 3 more references to the 3/256 blood line.  Would the case have been decided differently if the child were 50% Cherokee?  Did the Court make its far-reaching decision limiting the applicability of ICWA because it believed the connection of the child to her Indian heritage was too tenuous?

Another question is whether this case signals the weakening of long-settled case law about the rights of biological parents to raise their children.  In a series of Supreme Court decisions from the early 1980’s, the Court recognized that the interest of parents in raising their children is precious, and that there must be a significant State interest at stake before a court may interfere with such a cherished bond.  Justice Sotomayor, writing for the dissent, and Justice Breyer, in a separate opinion that while supporting the result reached by the majority questioned its analysis, both challenged the breadth of the majority opinion.  For example, should ICWA apply in a case where a father was obstructed from involvement with his child because he was falsely told the pregnancy ended in miscarriage or abortion?

And, what should a Court do when faced with deciding the fate of a child whose adoption is contested?  It’s easy to spout rhetoric about the best interest of the child in cases like this, but what does that really mean?  Can any judge truly predict whether it is better for a child to be raised by an adoptive family who will love, cherish and provide the child with stability and resources that are lacking in many birth parents’ lives or whether the child will thrive and grow stronger in his biological family where he will likely have more challenges and thus more opportunities to learn the importance of perseverance and overcoming obstacles?

Hopefully, these questions and others will be addressed by courts across the country in the years to come.  Yet, there is one clear lesson to take home from this complicated and difficult case.  Let there be no doubt… adoption is complicated.  All parents, biological and adoptive, need to be fully informed about their rights and responsibilities when making an adoption plan.  Qualified caring professionals need to help all parties reach agreement in planning an adoption.   When disputes arise and agreement is not possible, all of the adults who care about the child must be willing to put the child’s interests above their own desires.

How do we do this?  We, adoption agencies and professionals, prospective adoptive parents and parents who are contemplating placing a child for adoption, must take the time to carefully consider what we will do in contested adoption situations before they occur.  We must decide, as individuals and organizations, the point at which we will bow out of a contested case and spare an innocent child the risk of additional grief and loss that will result from another forced disrupted placement.  Adoption agencies and professionals must make these decisions within the context of the codes of ethics and legal regulations that govern our practice.  And, we need to raise these issues with parents and prospective parents who seek our help.  Waiting to consider these questions when our judgment is clouded by the joy of holding a baby in our arms or with the pain of relinquishment will only cause further harm to the children we seek to protect.

As adopted children move toward adulthood, most seek to learn more about their biological families and many chose to establish ongoing relationship with the birth relatives.  In deciding which contested adoption situations require aggressive advocacy and which are best served by compromise and concession, we must recognize that someday we will likely have to explain to an adult adoptee how he came to be part of his adoptive family.  The actions we take today when our children are young may well look quite different in 20 years when we explain them to an adopted adult who is seeking to create a meaningful relationship with his biological family.

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Tags: Legal,Supreme Court,ICWA
Category: Foster Care
Category: Adoption

Adoption Search and Reunion: A Biological Father’s Story

Adoptions Together was founded in 1990, and therefore the infants we placed 20 years ago are becoming adults and thinking about searching for birth parents.  Search and reunion are complicated, myth-ful, and can be fraught for everyone involved. At the Rudd Adoption Conference at UMASS in April, we heard a 75 year old birth father tell  his story. While in college, he and his girlfriend became pregnant. They placed the baby for adoption and went their separate ways.  When his birth son turned 50, he searched for and met his son. He had never told anyone in his current family about the adoption. Today, his family relationship includes his birth son, his son’s adoptive parents and his wife and son. He  has been an engineer, professional, musician, community member and  husband and father for many years of his adult life. When he was confronted with this long ago dilemma, he said: “All the feelings, emotions, fears and sadness of my 20 year old self came back as if I were being faced with the decision today. I was a confused kid again. And this story I had hidden for a long time caused a lot of disruption in my current family”.


As adoption professionals, we are usually  focused on the wellbeing of the adoptee and the complexities of integrating the birth identity with the adoptive identity.

What are some of the ongoing challenges for biological parents as they meet the children they placed years ago? How can we support them as they face their long ago decision and their now-grown child?

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Tags: Search and Reunion,Birth Fathers

Take a Hike!

Written By:  Laura Duvelius, Director of Development

In 2005, Richard Louv coined an interesting term, Nature Deficit Disorder in his book, “The Last Child in the Woods”.  As an avid family hiker, (that is, active hiking in the woods with husband, two kids, and three dogs) I read up on this term and began to think about the possible implications for families like mine in the busy, heavily populated Washington, D.C. region.

I found some interesting research that points to the benefits of hiking and outdoor time that, incidentally, I had already noticed with my own children:

1.    When my child with ADHD returns from our hikes or simply spending time running around outdoors, she is more focused, more regulated, and more likely to complete tasks.

2.    For several days after dedicated outdoor time, my child is better able to sleep through the night without awakening or sleep disturbances. 

3.    As my children get older (10 and 12, respectively), allowing them more leadership in choosing our paths and deciding what we stop to investigate has gradually built a level of confidence that has carried over into their school, social and family lives.

There is an emerging body of research that clearly reinforces the link between time in the natural environment and overall wellness, particularly with children.   For example, Cheryl Charles writes in her article, “Reconnecting Children to Nature”

Nature Can Improve Mental Health and Cognition

Children’s cognitive flexibility and creativity are enhanced if they learn to problem-solve in natural settings rather than in highly controlled, human-dominated settings like concrete playgrounds and manicured playing fields with little ecological diversity. There are also mental health benefits to being outside. There is now a substantial body of work that indicates the simple act of going outdoors reduces stress, anxiety, depression, and attention-deficit disorders. The results are dramatic for people of all ages.

So families, as you begin another summer, consider adding hiking to your busy schedule-even if it’s just around the block or to a neighborhood park.  You and your kids may thank you for it! 

Here are some great resources for adding outdoor time to your family culture:

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Is Summer Vacation a Good Time to Take a Vacation from ADHD Medication?

If you are parenting a child who has been diagnosed with ADHD, you may be wondering if the summer is a good time to take a break from ADHD medications.  Stimulants are commonly considered the treatment of choice for ADHD, and when combined with behavioral interventions and supports, can be highly effective in managing core ADHD symptoms.  Generally, stimulants are quick acting, there are minimal side effects, and there are no withdrawal symptoms, so starting and stopping the medication is not harmful.   By managing troubling symptoms, ADHD meds help children to navigate many situations and settings with greater confidence and success. During the school year, when the ability to pay attention, sustain focus and control impulses is necessary for academic and social success, the argument for taking ADHD medications is clear.    But are meds really necessary when school is out for the summer?   The decision to take a vacation from ADHD medication is a personal one, with compelling arguments on both sides of the issue. 

In making the decision to discontinue meds over the summer, it is important to consider your child’s symptoms and ability to function in a variety of settings with and without medication.  If hyperactivity is a significant issue that impairs your child’s relationships, then staying on the medication may be advisable.  Children who are participating in structured camp or recreational programs over the summer will be expected to stay on task, follow directions, and interact appropriately with peers.  Taking them off ADHD medication may be a set-up for frustration and failure.  Some professionals believe discontinuing medication can also cause a child to revert back to previous undesirable patterns of behavior, resulting in stress for both the child and the family.  This can be the case, even when the home environment is structured, the daily schedule is consistent, and parents are supportive and understanding,  

Many parents decide to reduce or discontinue their child’s ADHD medication over the summer, believing that it is detrimental for their child to take medication year round, or that controlling ADHD symptoms is only critical in the school setting.  Parents may also worry about over-medicating their child, or may be concerned that reliance on medication could prevent their child from learning and practicing important coping skills.  As a child matures and learns new ways of managing symptoms, it is possible that ADHD medication can be stopped or at least reduced.  Therefore, some physicians recommend taking an occasional break from these medications to determine if they are in fact still necessary.  Because ADHD medication can decrease appetite and affect sleeping patterns, taking a break for the summer would also temporarily eliminate these concerns.  This may be particularly important for children who are lagging behind in height and weight and could benefit from some catch up time.    

The decision to discontinue ADHD medication over the summer depends on a number of factors including the individual child, his/her core symptoms, the family environment, and the types of activities planned for the summer months.  Before making a decision, it is advisable to consult with your child’s doctor.   Every child is different, and there is no “right” or “wrong” answer.        

If you have struggled with this decision, or have advice to share, we want to hear from you!   

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Mindful Parenting and Family Life Expectations

Written By:  Erica Moltz, MA, NCC, Clinical Director

This is another in the series about using mindful parenting practices to create and maintain a more peaceful and calm family life.   Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, for my family of four, occur at the same time as our birthdays.  In anticipation of one of these special gatherings with our two adult children, I came to the realization that my images and expectations of what family life “should” have looked like interfered with our celebrations.  Although sometimes my images and expectations were helpful because they provided me with a road map for what I wanted to cultivate and grow in our family, at other times they were a set up for disappointment when the reality collided with the ideal.  Holding onto some perfect image of what these celebrations “should” have looked like often kept me from being mindful and delighting in the present moment.

Perhaps you have also had those moments that do not live up to the way you think they are supposed to play out.  Do the following scenarios sound familiar? You take your teen shopping to the mall, eat lunch out, spend money on several articles of clothing and have a very enjoyable day together. During the car ride home you expect that she will be appreciative and cooperative.  Instead, she begins to speak to you disrespectfully when you set a limit about her going out that night.   You yell at her and tell her she is ungrateful.  By the time you arrive at home, you are furious with each other and not talking.  Or, perhaps you have had the experience of taking the day off from your very demanding  job and volunteering to go on a school field trip with your nine year old son’s class.  He is a very well behaved child in school, and you are looking forward to a special day with him. During the field trip, he and five of his class mates are in your group.  None of them acts up except your son who either totally ignores you or doesn’t listen when you “call him out” on his disruptive behaviors.  It was an embarrassing and exhausting day and you wish you had gone to work instead.

Although it is a normal part of parenthood to have these expectations and images of how things are supposed to be with our kids, we often get disappointed and angry when things don’t turn out the way we envisioned.  When we react with upset and dysregulation at these times, it keeps us from mindfully thinking about what might be really going on with our child.   We get in our own way so that it is difficult to shift our awareness to observe ourselves and achieve enough emotional distance to be curious about what is behind our child’s behaviors.  Dr. Placone, in her book Mindful Parent, Happy Child,  suggests that in order to stay emotionally regulated, it is helpful to imagine standing on the viewing deck of the Empire State Building in wintertime, getting a totally different perspective on all that is below.  From this vantage point, it is easier to notice many things from up high that you would be unable to experience while walking along the noisy, bustling and sometimes overwhelmingly crowded city streets below.  Although things may seem a bit unsettling from this point of view, the important thing is that you can hang onto the railing and open yourself up to what the sights have to teach you. Using this example as a metaphor, when you step outside the customary flow of immediate experience and strengthen your skills of self-observation through being mindful, the possibilities exist for you to shift your perspective more fluidly. 

From this place of observation, you are more likely to practice the mindful techniques of Stopping (the thoughts, images and expectations), Dropping (going inside to a calm place by following your breath) and then Rolling (out with a more thoughtful and less reactive response). Once we move to the “observation deck” and practice Stop, Drop and Roll our curiosity and empathy are much more likely to kick in.  When we give ourselves the mental space to compassionately be aware of our own unrealistic images, then we are more likely to consider what it is that our child is actually communicating to us. The teen who is not acting appreciative may be in the process of normal adolescent separation from her mother  and feels threatened by the closeness of being together all day, so has to push her mother away again.  The boy on the field trip may be acting out because he is confused about how to behave when his father is around and may have some difficulty sharing him with a group of other children.

Being mindful about our own images and expectations will help us better regulate our emotional states and deliberately respond to our children rather than react unconsciously.  It allows us to be more available to our children when we are mindful and regulating our emotions more effectively.  Being mindful and nonreactive promote good feelings and deepen the parent-child relationship. 

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