Welcome back to Adopted, Now What?
In this episode, Becky Walker shares more information about herself and her background, as well as the company that she founded to provide coaching and support for adoptive parents, Beyond Adoptions. She also talks about communication and how the right resources will help prepare you to understand your adopted child’s behavior better.
Listen to the Episode here:
Beyond Adoptions – Support and Resource for Adoptive Parents
I start and end all podcasts with a moment of gratitude. Here is a quote from Tony Robbins in which he says, “When you are grateful, fear disappears and abundance appears.” Let me say that I am immensely grateful to be alive today when the power of social media allows me to share my story with you so easily.
In my first podcast, I told you the beginning of my story of adoption. Over ten years ago, I adopted a six year old girl from Russia and that our journey together had a very, very difficult start. Today, I want to share more information about me and the company that I founded to provide coaching and support for adoptive parents like myself.
I had a long, over 35 years, very rewarding career in the pharmaceutical and medical device industry. I spent my career doing regulatory compliance and ethics work. One of the great perks of my job was that I had the privilege to spend a lot of time in various parts of the world, the US, Canada, Mexico, South America, the Caribbean and almost every country in Western Europe. I represented my company in hundreds of interactions with regulatory agencies in the US and around the globe.
I enjoyed the work, especially the fact that no two days were the same. I was consistently presented with new interesting and complex problems to be solved. A lot of these problems resulted from less than optimum decisions that people made and actions that they took. I spent a lot of time over that 35 years interviewing people, getting an understanding of what they had said and done, and very importantly, discovering the whys behind their actions.
This required an ability to see beyond the surface actions, an ability to untangle conflicting and confusing information, to hear various perspectives, and oftentimes, to mediate arguments, calm ruffled feathers and to provide reassurance when people were unsure or were afraid. I can tell you, I loved it. I had a great time doing that work. I also served as a counselor and mentor to many, many young colleagues particularly women during that career. I really loved that too.
When I made my decision to end that career, I knew I wanted to direct my talents to the field of personal coaching. A natural transition it seemed to me after so many years of providing mentoring, guidance, and counseling to colleagues. As I initiated my personal coaching practice, it became clear to me that besides providing coaching to individuals in their careers, to individuals in their private lives and to couples in their relationships, I had a great desire, and in fact what I believe was a clear calling to focus on providing support for parents of adopted children. This is not surprising, I guess, given that I am an adoptive mother myself and because when I adopted my daughter over ten years ago, we had a very difficult situation in our home for a very long time.
The things I tried as a parent didn’t seem to work. My daughter who was six years old when she was adopted seemed to reject every bit of love that we tried to provide. We were advised by a Russian-speaking helper shortly after we brought our daughter home that she had total disdain for us. She didn’t see us as her family. She didn’t want to be there and that she did not accept me as her mother. This was incredibly painful. I knew that I had to get help. I began with my adoption agency, then a local child study clinic, a local university, our pediatrician. I consulted with and brought my daughter to therapists and counselors. I sought advice from my minister and other parents. I tried to get information to help me understand what I needed to do to improve the situation. I couldn’t find the help that I needed. Extended family told me that I should just relax and love her. Christian friends scolded me for insufficient faith.
When I finished the career that I mentioned earlier and decided to go into personal coaching, I was really moved to try to provide support for adoptive parents. Because I could see by looking at chat rooms online, by talking to other adoptive parents, by reading articles and seeing news reports, that many parents and families were still experiencing what I had experienced at the beginning of my own adoption journey. I was also highly motivated because of the kids. This is not painful just for the parents, because as in all relationships, it’s a two-way street. There is often great pain and suffering for these kids who are adopted. All adopted children have experienced some kind of trauma. If that trauma has not been met with a sufficient amount of internal resilience, or has not been met with a nurturing environment that helped them to adapt, or if they have been left to their own devices and have created coping mechanisms to help themselves feel safe in the world because they don’t feel safe, then there’s a high likelihood that there’s going to be trouble for the kids and for their adoptive parents.
I want to pause here and be very clear about something. Many, many adoption stories are happy from the beginning and follow a trajectory that is as good or even better than that of families formed through biological birth. I am so grateful for those successes. But my care and concern is for those families who are experiencing what my family experienced.
The really wonderful news is that over the past ten years, a lot of research by many very dedicated practitioners has resulted in a lot of understanding of the causes and impact of early childhood trauma. The adoption and foster care industry have changed dramatically in what’s available to parents in terms of understanding the impact of trauma. Therapies and strategies that can be used to address trauma, understanding of things like Reactive Attachment Disorder or RAD, PTSD, ADHD, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Fetal Drug Syndrome and other modalities that are the signs and symptoms of the traumas that adopted and foster cared children have experienced or are experiencing.
Back to my story. I knew I wanted to help parents, so I approached my daughter and told her that I felt called to do this. I asked her, “What if out of the pain that you and I experienced all of those years ago, what if we can do something to help other adopted kids and adoptive parents have an easier and perhaps quicker path to reaching the sort of really connected relationship we enjoy today?” She liked that idea, so with her support, I founded the company called Beyond Adoptions.
Beyond Adoptions was started as a way to make it as easy as possible for parents to find help, ideas, information and strategies when they are preparing to adopt. Especially after the adoption is final and they are in the midst of dealing with the reality of the challenges that often are presented by children who have experienced early childhood trauma. We love to have the opportunity to educate prospective adoptive parents about what they might experience after they bring their child home. Of course, prospective parents in their enthusiasm and belief that their love will conquer all difficulties are sometimes not in a place that they can hear or readily understand the challenges that might come up.
This makes perfect sense. I felt this way myself, so I completely understand being in this place. The reality is that the behaviors of adoptive children, those behaviors that provide us with clues to their fears and unmet needs are often extremely subtle. Don’t get me wrong. Some of those behaviors are right in your face and very, very hard to miss. But if we’re unprepared, we may not recognize that the behavior is really about an unmet need and has little to do with what it may, on the surface, seem to be about in the present moment.
We really like to provide this information beforehand knowing that parents may not recognize it right off. We want them to have the best chance at recognizing these behaviors for what they are, rather than falling into the unfortunate trap of believing that the kids do disruptive things for the sole purpose of being malicious, because it can certainly feel that way if you are uninformed and unprepared. Other all too frequent traps are the decisions by uninformed and unprepared parents that their adopted kid just doesn’t like them, or worse, hates them, or that they are just failures as parents.
We love to educate beforehand to help minimize the chances of parents falling into these traps. It helps these parents know that there is a resource that they can turn to for empathy and support when and if they need it after their adoption is complete. Most often though, we get the opportunity to educate parents only after disruptive behaviors have destroyed the harmony in the home. We sometimes help by educating members of the extended family. This is especially important because traumatized children will sometimes present a very different set of behaviors to persons outside the home than they do to their primary caregivers inside the home. Why?
The theory is that if they can hold that primary caregiver at arm’s length or reject them first, then they can protect themselves from being rejected again in their own lives. This can feel very disconcerting to an adoptive parent if they don’t understand what’s going on. It can be extremely disconcerting even when you do know what’s going on. It can be completely overwhelming if you don’t understand what’s going on. Therefore, we educate extended members of the family so that they can understand what is going on, so that they can have empathy for the adoptive parents, so that they can be part of a unified team of love, compassion and understanding for the true needs of the adopted child in their family.
No two adoption stories are alike because none of us are alike. No two adopted children are the same. But there are similarities in how traumatized children behave, how they seek to get their needs met. There are similarities in the coping strategies that they develop in order to feel safe in their world because these children often do not feel safe. Everything about them, their genetic makeup, their inherent resilience, traumas that their birth mothers experienced, their brain’s ability to adapt, the coping strategies that they develop in order to survive, lots of things impact how they behave, how they respond when they are put in a loving and nurturing home. We want to join the parents on their journey and provide them with the support that they need to then provide the nurturing and support that their children need in order to mature emotionally and develop healthy connected relationships.
At Beyond Adoptions, we intentionally focus the bulk of our efforts on the support of the adoptive parents. We focus first on the parent, parents if it’s a couple, because there needs to be a strong unified base so that the parents and home can feel secure and stable to the child. It has to be unified because one tactic that adopted children often try is to divide and conquer the parental relationship. Also, with the parents, we work on the ability of the parents to have self-empathy and to provide empathy for each other. Empathy is the basis for compassionate, constructive communication.
We teach a communication technique called Non-Violent Communication or Compassionate Communication which was developed by Marshall Rosenberg over 40 years ago. We help parents learn to communicate compassionately with each other and with their child. This technique has proven to reduce or calm emotions in a contentious interaction. It helps one to observe rather than judge a behavior and see it as a clue to a met or unmet need. By using this technique in their interactions with their child, the parents will help the child develop the ability to identify their own feelings and the needs that are underlying those feelings.
This is pivotal to helping a child develop age-appropriate emotional maturity, which is often delayed in children that have experienced early childhood trauma. We also help parents understand their own and their child’s thinking styles and communication preferences. An understanding of these can be especially helpful. In fact, it can be almost magical for a teenager. We help parents examine and understand their beliefs about parenting and to understand common beliefs of adopted children that may be fuelling unreal or unhelpful expectations about the relationship.
This is why Beyond Adoptions has been created. I hope you will let us know how we can support you in your adoption journey. As I end today, I feel so grateful for the love of my adopted daughter and her support of what we do at Beyond Adoptions to help others.
- Beyond Adoptions
- Marshall Rosenberg
- Non-Violent Communication or Compassionate Communication
- Tony Robbins