Thursday, January 28, 2010

Commentary: A Standard of Excellence

Understanding “A Standard of Excellence” involves understanding the words “standard” and “excellence”. Words are often used with little thought given to their true meaning. We throw around the word “love” so much that it has lost its meaning. We “love” coffee, our pets, that jacket, those shoes, and even people we have barely known a minute. It stands to question whether we can have “A Standard of Excellence” with out having a true understanding of what it is.

A standard can be defined multiple ways. At one point a standard was a banner carried during times of war, it served as a rallying point, or emblem to gather the troops. It can be defined as a personal flag, one of a royal family, or organization. “Something set up and established by authority as a rule for measure,” is another definition. All of these would be appropriate to use at different times and give an idea of what a standard could be. For our purposes just about all can be applied in different aspects.

More often than not we are given standards for things by an authority. A standard ruler is twelve inches measuring a foot, a standard work day is eight hours, standard pregnancy is said to last for nine months, and your standard date is dinner and a movie. These standards were set by an authority, we do not know who yet we follow them readily. There are even standards set for what people should eat each day created for us. Someone created the standard quantity, weight, extent, duration, value, or quality and we accepted it. We accepted it unconsciously giving no thought to our own ability to create something different for ourselves. Most of us live unconsciously off of and by the standards set by others. We can raise the banner, flag, standard of our own Life. Two last definitions to take note of deal with structure, support, and stability. Standards give us those three things; the question is “to what standard do you hold yourself?” If your standard is excellence then the next step is to find out what it means to be excellent.

Excel, the root word of excellent, comes from the Latin word excellere meaning “to rise, project”. Sounds like we have passed “standard” before getting to define excel or excellent. To excel is to surpass in accomplishments or achievement, to be distinguishable by superiority. Superiority that is not arrogant or egotistical. This superiority speaks for itself, there are no words necessary, it has integrity, is confident, well put together, and moves with purpose. Excelling is going beyond a stated or implied limit set by an authority or established by a custom or tradition, and even past achievements. To excel one must push further than what is asked, transcending what is thought, moving past the norm to reach another level, outdoing your own past, and creating competition. Competition where there is only one person in the game, You. Excelling is continual. It is perpetual. There is no place called Excel City. It is a verb. Breaking through the ceiling called standard, status quo, or good enough creates excellence. It is a mindset, a place where you can live perpetually through excelling, being in motion, moving past yesterday; it takes motion to create excellence.

You are the authority which creates how you will measure the quantity and quality of the time given to tasks, people, and things. You say what a priority is, has value, and the quantity of money, time, and effort given to things in your Life. Only you can exceed standards set by authorities and yourself. Only you can push yourself past the baseline you have created. To have Life worth living, excelling must be one of the stones on which you build all aspects of your Life.

Set A Standard of Excellence in intimate relationships, with family and friends, in money management, with your health, in keeping your home, in dealing with and in your community, in communication, in your business, and see how things begin to come alive in your Life. Raise the Standard. A Standard of perpetual motion, outdoing self to the next level daily – that is the Standard of Excellence. Go beyond the norm, be distinguishable, be excellent.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Poppa's Baby. Momma's Maybe.

  We have all heard the saying, "Momma's baby. Poppa's maybe" indicating that fathers can always question paternity. And yes, that happens to be true. No one questions a Mother about maternity, sounds silly right?! One the other hand, when it comes to being a father, there are a plethora of articles, sites, blogs, and opinions which berate, belittle, and emasculate men as fathers. All too often the fingers point at fathers as a culprit of children being in poverty, in a "broken" home, or in situations which are less than ideal. These men are accused of not caring for the life of their child. They are given the label of a deadbeat Dad. And even characterized as heartless. As the mother of a son, it is hard for me to hear all of that without asking some poignant questions about the Mothers of these children? Just as having sperm fertilize the egg does not make a man a Father, logically, it follows that because your egg is fertilized does not make you a Mother.

  Plenty of mothers do not take the time to be just that, a Mother. It has nothing to do with age, culture, ethnicity, education, or socioeconomic status. A mother is not just someone who dresses up a child, but gives them direction and discipline. A mother has the ability to take herself out of the equation and do what is necessary for her child even if it means she must delay her own gratification. A mother takes time to engage in the education of her child, expose them to things that will grow their mind, and feed their potential as much as possible. All too often the finger pointing at fathers goes without looking at mothers who not prepared to take on the job of caring for Poppa's Maybe. And that makes them a maybe Momma. Read on and see why.

  If I may take a few lines to share a little about my background. My parents were married and they divorced in 1980. Prior to the divorce being final my father left. At that time, my mother was 34 with 4 children (one of which was her step daughter... get that!) ages 15, 13, 7, and 5. Along with being 35 with 4 children she was attending college, which she had put off to assist my father in completing his degrees. Following the divorce, we had visitation with him, my oldest sibling had left to live with her mother, and life went on. We were on and off welfare, sometimes had to cut grass at the home we were renting to make up for the rent shortfall, shopped at Kmart and The Goodwill, sometimes ate a local "soup kitchens", and ate "school lunch". With all that happening, there are a few things that I must get across:

1) There were few, if any, child support checks that came to my mother.
2) My Mother never spoke bad about my father in my presence.
3) We were never a ruse for her to "get him back" or  to "get back at him".
4) I wish my father had been there more often.

 With those things said, it is necessary to share that healthy fathers are an integral part of rearing healthy, well-rounded children. Girls need fathers to show them protection, give them positive self-esteem, and build them up as the princesses they are to be. How do you develop a healthy relationship with a man if you have never been shown a healthy man which to relate? It is not that it is impossible, but it make the interaction a bit difficult. The same can be said for boys. Without a healthy father figure their idea of right, wrong, how to behave and be man, the development of a work ethic, and the ability create an intimate relationship with a woman that is healthy as well. Fathermage.com has an article entitled, It's Fatherhood That Makes Childhood Possible. In that article, the following statement was made which reiterates the need for fathers in the home with boys and girls:

"A judge will try a divorce case in the morning and place the children in the mother's custody. He will try a criminal case in the afternoon and send a man to prison for robbing a liquor store. The chances are three out of four that the criminal he sends to prison grew up in a female headed household just like the one he himself created that morning when he tried the divorce case.[1] He can't see any connection between the two cases. The time lag prevents him: the kids he placed in the mother's custody were toddlers and the criminal he sent to prison was in his teens or twenties. Toddlers don't rob liquor stores.
Besides, most fatherless boys don't grow up to rob liquor stores and most fatherless girls don't grow up to breed illegitimate children. Therefore what? Therefore the legal policy of giving custody to mothers is OK? Therefore we can ignore the increased probability that fatherlessness will create delinquency?"
  There is a desperate need for men in the lives of children. Yes, preferably in the home, but when that cannot happen there is the relationship that must be maintain, fostered, and encouraged. Again, I only say if it is healthy. Now to address "healthy".

  As stated before there is a need for healthy men. That can be qualified as someone who has the interest of the child in mind, is able to keep them safe, is motivated to do something with their life or is already doing so, and is emotionally mature. With that said, the same must be said for the women. And here is comes. Too many mothers are not emotionally mature enough to have the children they want. How do we know that? Here are some signs of emotional immaturity:

1) Use child support as the bate and switch. Child support issues are separate from visitation issues. These things do not have anything to do with each other, they are mutually exclusive. In the mind of an emotionally immature mother, these two things live, breathe, eat, and sleep in the same room. Not so. Child support is to be used to support the child in clothing, food, activities, etc. It is not like paying to see a money. No pay, no child. An emotionally immature mother does not understand the separation, blames the father, and refused to allow the relationship between child and Father to grown due to a lack of child support. Again, my father was so thin on child support, there could probably tell me over the phone how much those 1-3 checks were. However, that did not prevent my mother from allowing us to develop a relationship with him.

2) "Your Daddy doesn't, can't, won't..." No matter the issues between two parents they should remain there. Children love their parents until someone tells them otherwise. Immaturity opens the door to speaking immature things, things that children do not need to hear. Yes, there are relationships that have ended terribly, had circumstance that were not ideal, yet, that remains something that need not be addressed with a child. At one point, my father was not coming to see us regularly. Did my mother run my father down because of it? No. She simply said he was busy or could not come. There was an incident in which she confronted him, but prior to that, they told us to go to our room. Now that is maturity! Yet, my memory is of my father saying he did not have the money to take us out and do the things he wanted to do with us. My mother's response has stuck with me for 28 years, she said, "these kids don't care about your money they just want you." The relationship later built between my father and I was never built on the view my mother had of him, rather the interacts or lack thereof.

3) "If you don't..." Using children as a pawn in a tit for tat game is a glaring sign of emotional immaturity. "If you don't come over here you won't be able to see your children", "if you can't buy these kids a thing you might as well not come see them", and many more statements like that damage the father and the child. There are men who want nothing more than to give their child the world, but cannot for financial or other reasons. Using a child as a ruse to get him to do something damages is will and desire to do for his child(ren). A man is designed to be a protector and provider, when they have children they want to do those things for them because there is love that grows uncontrollably in them. The love coupled with being a protector and provider is their motivation for being around. When you take the opportunity for them to do what they naturally want for those they love you are taking away the power and pride they feel. It diminishes into a helplessness that no man ever wants to feel. Emotionally mature men are not monsters, but what the emotionally immature mother must know is that everyone has their breaking point.

4) "We don't need him!" Daniel Amneus, the author of It's Fatherhood That Makes Childhood Possible, said this:

"This is the hitch, the reason we have a feminist revolution: Females dislike sexual regulation. Feminists say 'A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle,' 'A woman has a sacred right to control her own sexuality,' 'End human sacrifice! Don't get married!' Women's primary object, according to feminist Anne Donchin, is to create a society in which 'women can shape their reproductive experiences to further ends of their own choosing.' "
  All too often, emotionally immature mothers play the "we don't need him card." For some reason they include the children in this statement, when it should be a singular statement about their need only. Children need their fathers. An emotional mature mother recognizes the need for the father. Regardless of what the mother may want, how the situation might have turned out, or what is not longer desired, the man will always be a father. No you may not need him, but all children need a healthy father.

  When it comes to parenting healthy children, the uproar comes in custody. Rarely do you see cases where fathers get custody. However, it happens, and there many cases where children are obviously better off with there father. Though they may be better off with their father the mother uses them as a ploy, refuses to admit that they are better off somewhere else, or the father does not believe that he could get custody. When a woman chooses to bring a child into the world, there should be consideration given for the father. And the father ought to begin looking at what is in the best interest of their child. There are times that the hard truth should be told. That truth maybe that the father can provide better for the child than the mother. Yes, it does happen. In those cases, it should happen.

Of the 2.5 million single fathers who are custodial parents:
  • 57% are divorced or separated
  • 24% are currently married (In most cases, these numbers represent men who have remarried.)
  • 16 percent are separated
  • 38% have never married
  • 4 percent are widowed
  • 8% are raising three or more of their own children under 18 years old.
  • 42% are divorced, ,  and . (The percentages of those divorced and never married are not significantly different from one another.)
  • 16% live in the home of a relative or a non-relative.
  • 27% have an annual family income of $50,000 or more.

  Single fathers are just as capable as a single mother, in rearing children. The Journal of Marriage and Family published research by Douglas Downey, James Ainsworth Darnell, and Mikaela Dufur which looked at the possible differences between living with a single mother or father. The research concluded the following:

Some researchers have claimed that the effects of living in a single-mother or single-father household won’t show up until adulthood, Downey said. To test this claim, the researchers examined data from the General Social Surveys collected by the National Opinion Research Center. They examined 4,400 adults who reported having lived with a single parent at age 16 (750 lived with a single father and 3,650 lived with a single mother). They looked again at a variety of measures, including years of education, family income and overall happiness.
“Again, the overwhelming pattern was one of little difference between those who grew up in single-mother households compared to those who grew up in single-father households,” Downey said.
Downey said family researchers need to distinguish between family characteristics that affect children’s development and those characteristics that do not.

“People have assumed that the sex of the parent has a major effect on children’s development, but we found that isn’t the case,” he said. “Researchers need to focus on other factors, such as family resources, which seem to have a real impact.”
  Just as people love to throw fathers under the bus about being absent and sperm donors. And just as all too often the statement is said that making a baby does not make you a Dad. The same can be said about a woman. As a female, it is like being a part of a sorority. There are some things you just are not supposed to say against The Sisterhood. However, when it comes to the life of a child, in my book, all bets are off. Just because you carried the baby does not make you a Mother. Sometimes it should be Poppa's Baby and Momma's Maybe.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Closer to My Dreams: Let It Burn

 With time ticking away from 2009 to 2010, there have been many conversations about the past 12 months. Often about what has or has not happened. For me it has been bittersweet, meaning there have been highs and lows. The end of a relationship, yet new found freedom and direction. Unfortunately, for some, the past seems to linger too long causing issues in the future. While thinking about that dilemma, I was reminded of of a ceremony I wanted to perform along with a tool I was taught during my training to be a certified GriefRecovery Specialist. At times, we can be overwhemed by failures, grief, hurt, pain, and disappointments to the point of being paralyzed or depressed. I have been there too and it is a place from which you can emerge.

The song Let It Burn by Usher came to mind when I was thinking about the ceremony. It took that simple sentiment "let it burn" and applied it to the ceremony and thoughts of the past, since they are things no one can change. The only thing we can transform is our relationship to the past, the way we view it, and how much we allow it to effect our future.To make it simple, I call the ceremony, Let It Burn. The closer I get to my dreams the more stuff from the past emerges. But, if it is burned, it cannot come back. Anything that is burned cannot return.

There are things that haunt you. It may be the death of a mate, spouse, friend, relative, beloved pet, parent, sibling, or child. Some people have lost jobs, finances, health, relationships, and homes. Others have a change of life which may be hard to accept like empty nesters or grandparents who are now caring for their grandchildren. No matter what the situation it is all legitimate.

In the past year, there have been things you have said or done to yourself as well, which meant you no good. Maybe you were lazy about working out, spent little quality time with family or friends, or neglected your health. Only you know the answer to that. No better time than the present to Let It Burn. Let it go, get it off your chest. How? The following are instructions for your own LET IT BURN CEREMONY.

  1. Make a list of :
    •  people who have died in the past 12 months
    • things you regret doing or not doing
    • pains you were caused and by whom
    • pains which you have cause and to whom
    • express your disappointments
  2. Begin formulating your letter following this format:
    • Dear (YOUR NAME),  As I review the past year I have realized somethings I want to let go of to build a future of freedom.
      • LIST PEOPLE WHO HAVE DIED any apologies you want to communicate to them, thins you want to be forgiven for, things you want to forgive, and share other things you want them to know. If there are multiple deaths, repeat the same process for each. Please let whatever emotions you feel be alright both the lack of emotion and showing emotion. Know that writing this section does not mean that you will no longer think of that person, you are simply allowing yourself to move beyond the hurt and pain.
      • WRITE  ABOUT PAINS YOU WERE CAUSED by whom, what do you want them to know, and for what can you forgive them?
      • WRITE ABOUT PAINS YOU HAVE CAUSED to whom (including yourself), what were the pains/hurts, for what do you forgive yourself, for what do you want to be forgiven.
      • CLOSE THE LETTER however you feel comfortable, yet makes it clear you will no longer hold onto these things. You may use words like: Good bye, That's All, All is complete. Whatever you use should reflect you.
      • SIGN IT!
  3. Reread the letter either to yourself or aloud (to yourself).
  4. Prepare a safe place for a fire. Light the fire and place the letter in it. You may want to be silent during this time, pray, meditate, or recite the following:
    • I forever release you. I no longer hold the right to punish you or me. From this moment on there is freedom. From this moment on I  am complete.
  5. You may want to take a moment. However, following the last step, take another piece of paper and write at least 5 things you commit to being, doing, or having and by when you will accomplish these things. 
 Since you have burned the past you can create anything. While writing the letter be free with it. Have fun, make them things that will inspire and excite you. Keep it in a place where you can view it often, maybe post it on a wall or frame it. Share the letter with friends and family, those people who will support you.

 I share this because the past can be a crutch for individuals and families. My son, affectionately known as "the Boy", and I will be participating in this ceremony on December 31st together. He will have his own letter, though he is 10, which will express his feelings and thoughts. For parents, this is a great way to allow children to express their grief, upsets, disappointments, and feelings about their lives as well. It is also a phenomenal tool for parents, couples, and families to begin a new chapter. You may share the ceremony with firends and family for your New Year's celebration. If you participte together you may consider sharing what you forgive and want to be forgiven for with those in the circle. No arguing, it defeats the purpose. And then, LET IT BURN!

 Please be sure to go to www.sidneygaskins.webs.com or www.sidneygaskins.podbean.com in the New Year to get information for New Dawning, a grief recovery group beginning in the new year. Why not start a new year with a New Dawning in life too?

Goapele - Closer (Official Music Video) - Watch more top selected videos about: Goapele

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

OPEN ADOPTION: Estate Planning for the Adoptive Family

Estate Planning for the Adoptive Family

By Cheryl N. Smith, Esq.

My husband and I recently adopted a baby girl through domestic agency adoption. She is just the love of our lives and we have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of learning how to be her parents.

In addition to being a new adoptive mother, I am also an estate planning attorney, so after our daughter was born, I sat down to rewrite our Wills. I realized that the fact that we have an adopted child raised a whole host of questions which, even after nine years of practice, took on a whole new meaning to me. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there are several issues and decisions that parents in adoptive families must be educated about that do not exist in families with only biological children.

Estate Planning in General

Every parent that has a minor child needs to have an estate plan in order to ensure that child is protected and cared for, both personally and financially. An estate plan typically consists of a set of documents that set forth your wishes with respect to your person (i.e., health care decisions), your estate (i.e., financial decisions) and your children (i.e., guardianship decisions).

The documents include a Will, a Trust, a Health Care Proxy, a Durable Power of Attorney, and a Parental Appointment of Guardian for Minors. While a good estate planning attorney can walk you through what each of these documents does, there are additional issues specific to adoption that an adoptive parent must consider when establishing an estate plan. Some of these issues are discussed below.

Choice of Guardian

Choosing a guardian to care for your children in the event you become incapacitated or die is never an easy decision for any parent. But when you are an adoptive parent, it is even more complicated. The person you select to fill this role must be sensitive to the unique circumstances of your family, and it may require some extra thought and direction on your part to make sure your wishes are carried out.

Things to consider include making sure your chosen guardian has all the facts about your child’s adoption so that as appropriate, they can share this information with your child. Also, if you are in an open adoption, will the person you chose as guardian follow through with helping to maintain that open relationship? In my own Will, I specifically state that if a nominated guardian is unwilling or unable to maintain a relationship with our daughter’s birth parents, that they respectfully decline to serve as guardian, in which case the nominated alternates will step in.

I often recommend that adoptive parents prepare a letter, to be kept with their estate planning documents, spelling out the circumstances surrounding their child’s adoption and giving directions regarding continued contact with the birth family and anything else they feel is important about their child’s adoption.

Inheritance Rights

Before your adoption is finalized, your child has no legal rights to your estate. Depending on from where your child is adopted and the type of adoption you have, it can take anywhere from 6 months to a matter of years to finalize an adoption.

As soon as your child is placed with you, assuming it is intended to be a permanent placement, you should consider signing new Wills to include that child. Your will can include language that treats a child placed for adoption the same as a biological child or a child whose adoption has been finalized.


I always recommend that parents of young children leave their assets to a trust for the benefit of their child. It is never advisable to leave assets to a minor, first and foremost because legally they cannot take control of an inheritance, but also because leaving assets to a minor means continued court involvement and oversight until your child reaches the age of majority.

With adoption, and particularly open adoption, the need for a trust is magnified as there may be people other than your immediate family that have a direct interest in your child’s life and well being. Keeping assets held for your child in a Trust under the control of a Trustee that you have chosen (rather than being subject to judicial process) is the best way to protect your child’s interests and preserve your assets for their benefit.

Because a Trust is usually not a public document (as opposed to a Will which gets filed with the Probate Court), it also serves as a mechanism to privately set forth special financial considerations for your child, as further discussed below.

Special Financial Considerations

There may be costs associated with raising an adopted child that go beyond making sure they are clothed, sheltered, fed and educated. If your plan for your child includes annual visits with the birth family, or a trip to the country from where they were adopted, this is something you should spell out. If they were adopted internationally, and you want them to have exposure to the culture of their homeland, you should incorporate provisions in your Trust specifically directing your Trustee to pay for travel, cultural programs, or anything else that might be related.

Supplemental Needs Trusts

If your child has any disabilities or special needs, it will be even more important that you provide for him or her after you are gone. You should consider establishing a supplemental needs trust for your child to ensure that your child meet the financial eligibility rules for private or government assistance programs while preserving the assets you leave to him or her for needs not met by such programs.

Continued Planning

Finally, you should periodically review your estate plan with an experienced estate planning attorney. Changes in the law, your family structure or financial situation are all events that warrant a revisit of your plan as they can have a dramatic impact on your estate plan.

Cheryl N. Smith is an estate planning attorney at the law firm of Bass, Doherty and Finks, P.C. www.bassdoherty.com She is also mom to her beautiful daughter adopted at birth through domestic, open adoption. She can be reached via email at csmith@bassdoherty.com or via telephone at (617)787-8948.

Copyright (c) 2009 Cheryl N. Smith

Monday, November 23, 2009

NATIONAL ADOPTION MONTH: It Is How You Say It That Counts!

 In light of the absolutely great teleseminar with Nelson de Witt and Kevin Hofmann, I thought it would be great to address some of the language used in the adoption "world". During our teleseminar, Approaching the Search: Adoptees and Adoptive Parents Speak in which we addressed some of the issues that come up when adoptees want to begin looking for their brith family. One fo the subjects was the language used by both parties. The following is from USA Adoptions and gives some pointers and examples of the language used.


Choosing to use positive adoption language will help end the myth that adoption is second best. By using positive adoption language, you’ll reflect the true nature of adoption, free of stereotypes.
Below are some examples of positive and negative adoption language.
Positive Adoption Language
Negative Adoption Language
Birth parent
Real parents
Birth child
Own child
My child
Adopted child; own child
Make an adoption plan
Give up your child
To parent
To keep
Child placed for adoption
An Unwanted Child
Court Terminated
Child Taken Away
Child with Special Needs
Handicapped Child

Mardie Caldwell, C.O.A.P. is a Certified Open Adoption Practitioner, an award winning author of 2 adoption books AdoptingOnline.com and Adoption: Your Step-by-Step Guide.  Mardie is also the talk show host of Let's Talk Adoption.com with Mardie Caldwell and the founder of Lifetime Adoption in 1986. She travels and speaks nationwide on adoption topics, family topics, infertility and writing. She has been quoted in and consulted for Parenting and Adoption magazines and has appeared on CNN, CBS, ABC, BBC, NBC, and Fox. Featured in Parade Magazine, Caldwell is an adoptive mother living in Northern California.

NATIONAL ADOPTION MONTH: Aging Out with Music in the Background

 As a former social worker and now adoptive parent the issue of adoption for children in the United States foster care system are dear to my heart. For those who have never met me, adoption is a part of my family. It never occurred to me that I would not adopt, at some point and when I had the opportunity I did. Never did I think about the specific age of the child, but simply my desire to be a parent and provide a loving family for a child.

Working in the field of social work, specifically in child protective services, you see many things. Yes, you see children who are sexually abused by adults and other children. Yes, you will see children who are neglected educationally and emotionally. Yes, you will see children physically abused in ways the majority of society do not believe exist or does not want to think about. It would be asolutely foreign for the average adult working a 9-5 middle clas job to consider the conditions under which many childen live. When they are removed from the environments, it becomes the job of the State to provide for that child. And at the time the parents are deemed unfit, the State now becomes the "parent" and, in fact, needs to prove itself fit.

 Unfortunately, the State, often fails these children. How? In an average home, at the point a child turns eighteen they have many basic skills: washing clothes, handling money, group interaction, maybe some job skills, and basic education. Not so for many children "aging out" of State care. They have been bounced around from home to home, maybe even institution to institution, and made the victim on many cases. When they turn eighteen, the road to normalcy has long sense been covered over with a trail of homes, social workers, failed grades, and broken relationships. Yet, the State says they are prepared to be adults and make in "the World". It is my contention that they are not prepared and the State is not doing a good job of preparing their own children for the World. Here some facts:

  • According to the most current AFCARS Report (Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System Report), 19,509 children aged out of foster care during FY 2002 in the United States.
  • Young adults who stayed in care after 18 were more than twice as likely to be enrolled in a school or training program as those who had been discharged (67% vs. 31%).
  • Young adults who stayed in care after 18, who had a high school diploma or GED, were over three times as likely as those no longer in care to be enrolled in a 2- or 4-year college. (37% vs. 12%).
  • Compared to the 19 year olds still in foster care, those who left the system were more likely to have become pregnant.73
  • A study conducted with 216 emancipated foster youth attending a four-year university found that social support was an important factor in their educational success: nearly 87% had either a friend or family member to ask for help or advice if needed, 80% had contact with their birth family, and 60% still maintained relationships with their foster or kin-care parents.74
With all of the issues involved with teens, concerns about them fitting in, and even behavioral issues they are worthy of homes, families full of love, and committed to providing them with stability not just for a few months, but for life. If you are interested in adoption, please contact your local social services agency through National Child Welfare Gateway. If you are interested in facts about children in foster and out-of-home care, you may read at National Working Group on Foster Care and Education Fact Sheet.
While searching Facebook for groups or pages which address "aging out" I ran into an interesting musical. A musical about "aging out"? It is more than some silly view, but bring the feeling of a teen in care to the forefront with elegance, humor, and a candidness that I have never seen. It highlights the issues with which I have already spoken, but from the view of teens and young adults preparing to be emancipated or "aging out".

AGING OUT is a new rock musical that tells the stories of “the ones nobody wanted” - 18 year olds who are aging out of the foster care system into independent, adult life in one giant, scary leap - unlike “normal” teenagers who get to enter adulthood with baby steps and family supporting them on the way.

We meet 13 of these teenagers as they meet each other, in a one-day “Independent Living Program” class taught by a social worker who starts out trying to teach them the “basics” of checkbooks and resumes but constantly discovers more in her students than she bargained for. 

AGING OUT (book and lyrics by Tara Redepenning and Hillary Rollins, music by Darin Goulet) was developed in 2009 by UC Irvine in conjunction with the Academy for New Musical Theatre (ANMT). The UCI cast just recorded the AGING OUT cast album, which you can listen to right here (and also on Facebook).

Coming soon: video clips from the September 2009 staged reading of the show at UCI.

We also welcome your comments and questions! If you’d like to be on our mailing list, send us an email that says so, on the comments and questions page. Or become a Fan of AGING OUT on Facebook.

If you are a producer, theatre or producing organization interested in supporting the development of AGING OUT, please contact us about opportunities to become involved.

NATIONAL ADOPTION MONTH: Lifelong Issues in Adoption

Lifelong Issues in Adoption

By Deborah N. Silverstein and Sharon Kaplan
Adoption is a lifelong, intergenerational process which unites the triad of birth families, adoptees and adoptive families forever. Adoption, especially of adolescents, can lead to both great joy and tremendous pain. Recognizing the core issues in adoption is one intervention that can assist triad members and professionals working in adoption better to understand each other and the residual effects of the adoption experience.
Adoption triggers seven lifelong or core issues for all triad members, regardless of the circumstances of the adoption or the characteristics of the participants:
  • Loss
  • Rejection
  • Guilt and shame
  • Grief
  • Identity
  • Intimacy
  • Mastery/control

Clearly, the specific experiences of triad members vary, but there is a commonality of affective experiences which persists throughout the individual’s or family’s life cycle development. The recognition of these similarities permits dialogue among triad members and allows those professionals with whom they interface to intervene in proactive as well as curative ways.

The presence of these issues does not indicate, however, that either the individual or the institution of adoption is pathological or pseudopathological. Rather, these are expected issues that evolve logically out of the nature of adoption. Before the recent advent of open and cooperative practices, adoption had been practiced as a win/lose or adversarial process. In such an approach, birth families lose their child in order for the adoptive family to gain a child. The adoptee was transposed from one family to another with time-limited and, at times, short-sighted consideration of the child’s long-term needs. Indeed, the emphasis has been on the needs of the adults – on the needs of the birth family not to parent and on the needs of the adoptive family to parent. The ramifications of this attitude can be seen in the number of difficulties experienced by adoptees and their families over their lifetime.

Many of the issues inherent in the adoption experience converge when the adoptee reaches adolescence. At this time three factors intersect: an acute awareness of the significance of being adopted; a drive toward emancipation; and a biopsychosocial striving toward the development of an integrated identity.

It is not our intent here to question adoption, but rather to challenge some adoption assumptions, specifically, the persistent notion that adoption is not different from other forms of parenting and the accompanying disregard for the pain and struggles inherent in adoption.

However, identifying and integrating these core issues into pre-adoption education, post-placement supervision, and all post-legalized services, including treatment, universalizes and validates triad member’s experiences, decreasing their isolation and feelings of helplessness.


Adoption is created through loss; without loss there would be no adoption. Loss then, is at the hub of the wheel. All birthparents, adoptive parents, and adoptees share in having experienced at least one major, life-altering loss before becoming involved in adoption. In adoption, in order to gain anything, one must first lose – a family, a child, a dream. It is these losses and the way they are accepted and, hopefully, resolved which set the tone for the lifelong process of adoption.

Adoption is a fundamental, life-altering event. It transposes people from one location in the human mosaic into totally new configuration. Adoptive parents, whether through infertility, failed pregnancy, stillbirth, or the death of a child have suffered one of life’s greatest blows prior to adopting. They have lost their dream child. No matter how well resolved the loss of bearing a child appears to be, it continues to affect the adoptive family at a variety of points throughout the family'’ live cycle issues of burgeoning sexuality and impending emancipation may rekindle the loss issue.

Birthparents lose, perhaps forever, the child to whom they are genetically connected. Subsequently, they undergo multiple losses associated with the loss of role, the loss of contact, and perhaps the loss of the other birthparent, which reshape the entire course of their lives.

Adoptees suffer their first loss at the initial separation from the birth family. Awareness of their adopted status is inevitable. Even if the loss is beyond conscious awareness, recognition, or vocabulary, it affects the adoptee on a very profound level. Any subsequent loss, or the perceived threat of separation, becomes more formidable for adoptees than their non-adopted peers.

The losses in adoption and the role they play in all triad members lives have largely been ignored. The grief process in adoption, so necessary for healthy functioning, is further complicated by the fact that there is no end to the losses, no closure to the loss experience. Loss in adoption is not a single occurrence. There is the initial, identifiable loss and innumerable secondary sub-losses. Loss becomes an evolving process, creating a theme of loss in both the individual’s and family’s development. Those losses affect all subsequent development.
Loss is always a part of triad members’ lives. A loss in adoption is never totally forgotten. It remains either in conscious awareness or is pushed into the unconscious, only to be reawakened by later loss. It is crucial for triad members, their significant others, and the professional with whom they interface, to recognize these losses and the effect loss has on their lives.

Birth Parent

Adopted Person

Adoptive Parent

"I don’t know why but I always miss the supervised visits right before we go to court."

"You don’t love me anyway – I’m out of here."

"I know my son George will blow it right before his birthday party again."


Feelings of loss are exacerbated by keen feelings of rejection. One way individuals seek to cope with a loss is to personalize it. Triad members attempt to decipher what they did or did not do that let to the loss. Triad members become sensitive to the slightest hint of rejection, causing them either to avoid situation where they might be rejected in order to validate their earlier negative self-perceptions.

Adoptees seldom are able to view their placement into adoption by the birthparents as anything other than total rejection. Adoptees even at young ages grasp the concept that to be "chosen" means first that one was "un-chosen", reinforcing adoptees’ lowered self-concept. Society promulgates the idea that the "good" adoptee is the one who is not curious and accepts adoption without question. At the other extreme of the continuum is the "bad" adoptee who is constantly questioning, thereby creating feelings of rejection in the adoptive parents.

Birthparents frequently condemn themselves for being irresponsible, as does society. Adoptive parents may inadvertently create fantasies for the adoptee about the birth family which reinforce these feelings of rejection. For example, adoptive parents may block an adolescent adoptee’s interest in searching for birthparents by stating that the birthparents may have married and had other children. The implication is clear that the birthparents would consider contact with the adoptee an unwelcome intrusion.

Adoptive parents may sense that their bodies have rejected them if they are infertile. This impression may lead the infertile couple, for example, to feel betrayed or rejected by God. When they come to adoption, the adoptors, possibly unconsciously, anticipate the birthparents’ rejection and criticism of their parenting. Adoptive parents struggle with issues of entitlement, wondering if perhaps they were never meant to be parents, especially to this child. The adopting family, then, may watch for the adoptee to reject them, interpreting many benign, childish actions as rejection. To avoid that ultimate rejection, some adoptive parents expel or bind adolescent adoptees prior to the accomplishment of appropriate emancipation tasks.

Birth Parent

Adopted Person

Adoptive Parent

"I don’t tell anyone about the child I relinquished – they’d say, ‘how could you give away your own child’ and have nothing to do with me."

"I can’t imagine that no one in all of China wanted me – I must be pretty weird."

"Well, God didn’t like me very much – I could never birth a child."


The sense of deserving such rejection leads triad members to experience tremendous guilt and shame. They commonly believe that there is something intrinsically wrong with them or their deeds that caused the losses to occur. Most triad members have internalized, romantic images of the American family which remain unfulfilled because there is no positive, realistic view of the adoptive family in our society.

For many triad members, the shame of being involved in adoption per se exists passively, often without recognition. The shame of an unplanned pregnancy, or the crisis of infertility, or the shame of having been given up remains unspoken, often as the unconscious motivator.

Adoptees suggest that something about their very being caused the adoption. The self-accusation is intensified by the secrecy often present in past and present adoption practices. These factors combine to lead the adoptee to conclude that the feelings of guilt and shame are indeed valid.

Adoptive parents, when they are diagnosed as infertile, frequently believe that they must have committed a grave sin to have received such a harsh sentence. They are ashamed of themselves, of their defective bodies, of their inability to bear children.

Birthparents feel tremendous guilt and shame for having been intimate and sexual; for the very act of conception, they find themselves guilty.

Birth Parent

Adopted Person

Adoptive Parent

"My mother said I broke her heart when I got pregnant. I’m just no good."

"If I was better my birth parents would have kept me – I guess I cried too much."

"If I were good enough to be a parent, God would have given me a baby."


Every loss in adoption must be grieved. The losses in adoption, however, are difficult to mourn in a society where adoption is seen as a problem-solving event filled with joy. There are no rituals to bury the unborn children; no rites to mark off the loss of role of caretaking parents; no ceremonies for lost dreams or unknown families. Grief washes over triad members' lives, particularly at times of subsequent loss or developmental transitions.

Triad members can be assisted at any point in the adoption experience by learning about and discussing the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance (Kubler-Ross 1969).
Adoptees in their youth find it difficult to grieve their losses, although they are in many instances aware of them, even as young children. Youngsters removed from abusive homes are expected to feel only relief and gratitude, not loss and grief. Adults block children’s expressions of pain or attempt to divert them. In addition, due to developmental unfolding of cognitive processes, adoptees do not fully appreciate the total impact of their losses until their adolescence or, for many, until adulthood. This delayed grief may lead to depression or acting out through substance abuse or aggressive behaviors.

Birthparents may undergo an initial, brief, intense period of grief at the time of loss of the child, but are encouraged by well-meaning friends and family to move on in their lives and to believe that their child is better off. The grief, however, does not vanish, and, in fact, it has been reported that birth mothers may deny the experience for up to ten years (Campbell 1979).

Adoptive parents’ grief over the inability to bear children is also blocked by family and friends who encourage the couple to adopt, as if children are interchangeable. The grief of the adoptive parents continues as the child grows up since the adoptee can never fully meet the fantasies and expectations of the adoptive parents.

"As night follows day – grief follows loss."

Birth Parent

Adopted Person

Adoptive Parent

"When I had my second child, I could only think about the one I gave away."

"I feel angry and since I can’t talk about it, I’ll show you by my actions."

"I already told Andy about his adoption – he’s known about it all of his life I can’t understand why he’s acting out now that he’s 12."


Adoption may also threaten triad members’ sense of identity. Triad members often express feelings related to confused identity and identity crises, particularly at times of unrelated loss.

Identity is defined both by what one is and what one is not. In adoption, birthparents are parents and are not. Adoptive parents who were not parents suddenly become parents. Adoptees born into one family, a family probably nameless to them now, lose an identity and then borrow one from the adopting family.

Adoption, for some, precludes a complete or integrated sense of self. Triad members may experience themselves as incomplete, deficient, or unfinished. They state that they lack feelings of well-being, integration, or solidity associated with a fully developed identity.

Adoptees lacking medical, genetic, religious, and historical information are plagued by questions such as Who are they? Why were they born? Were they in fact merely a mistake, not meant to have been born, an accident? This lack of identity may lead adoptees, particularly in adolescent years, to seek out ways to belong in more extreme fashion than many of their non-adopted peers. Adolescent adoptees are overrepresented among those who join sub-cultures, run away, become pregnant, or totally reject their families.

For many couples in our society a sense of identity is tied to procreation. Adoptive parents may lose that sense of generativity, of being tied to the past and future, often created through procreation.

Adoptive parents and birthparents share a common experience of role confusion. They are handicapped by the lack of positive identity associated with being either a birthparent or adoptive parent (Kirk 1964). Neither set of parents can lay full claim to the adoptee and neither can gain distance from any problems that may arise.

"Who the hell am I?"

Birth Parent

Adopted Person

Adoptive Parent

"I’m a parent, but not a real parent – I never know how to answer when people ask, ‘do you have any children?’"

"If I can’t belong anywhere else I can belong to the Crips or the Moonies."

"I cringe when people ask, "Do you have any children of you own?"



The multiple, ongoing losses in adoption, coupled with feelings of rejection, shame, and grief as well as an incomplete sense of self, may impede the development of intimacy for triad members. One maladaptive way to avoid possible reenactment of previous losses is to avoid closeness and commitment.

Adoptive parents report that their adopted children seem to hold back a part of themselves in the relationship. Adoptive mothers indicate, for example, that even as an infant, the adoptee was "not cuddly". Many adoptees as teen state that they truly have never felt close to anyone. Some youngsters declare a lifetime emptiness related to a longing for the birthmother they may have never seen.

Due to these multiple losses for both adoptees and adoptive parents, there may also have been difficulties in early bonding and attachment. For children adopted at older ages, multiple disruptions in attachment and/or abuse may interfere with relationships in the new family (Fahlberg 1979 a, b).

The adoptee’s intimacy issues are particularly evident in relationships with members of the opposite sex and revolve around questions about the adoptee’s conception, biological and genetic concerns, and sexuality.
The adoptive parents’ couple relationship may have been irreparably harmed by the intrusive nature of medical procedures and the scapegoating and blame that may have been part of the diagnosis of infertility. These residual effects may become the hallmark of the later relationship.

Birthparents may come to equate sex, intimacy, and pregnancy with pain leading them to avoid additional loss by shunning intimate relationships. Further, birthparents may question their ability to parent a child successfully. In many instances, the birthparents fear intimacy in relationships with opposite sex partners, family or subsequent children.

Birth Parent

Adopted Person

Adoptive Parent

"It always hurts – but somehow I pick men who will hurt me again."

"The only think I know about my birthparents is they had sex at 14."

"I wonder if I love my son as much as I would if he were born to me?"


Adoption alters the course of one’s life. This shift presents triad members with additional hurdles in their development, and may hinder growth, self-actualization, and the evolution of self-control.

Birthparents, adoptive parents, and adoptees are all forced to give up control. Adoption, for most, is a second choice. Birthparents did not grow up with romantic images of becoming accidentally pregnant or abusing their children and surrendering them for adoption. In contrast, the pregnancy or abuse is a crisis situation whose resolution becomes adoption. In order to solve the predicament, birthparents must surrender not only the child but also their volition, leading to feelings of victimization and powerlessness which may become themes in birthparents’ lives.

Adoptees are keenly aware that they were not party to the decision which let to their adoption. They had no control over the loss of the birth family or the choice of the adoptive family. The adoption proceeded with adults making life-altering choices for them. This unnatural change of course impinges on growth toward self-actualization and self-control. Adolescent adoptees, attempting to master the loss of control they have experienced in adoption, frequently engage in power struggles with adoptive parents and other authority figures. They may lack internalized self-control, leading to a lowered sense of self-responsibility. These patterns, frequently passive/aggressive in nature, may continue into adulthood.

For adoptive parents, the intricacies of the adoption process lead to feelings of helplessness. These feelings sometimes cause adoptive parents to view themselves as powerless, and perhaps not entitled to be parents, leading to laxity in parenting. As an alternative response, some adoptive parents may seek to regain the lost control by becoming overprotective and controlling, leading to rigidity in the parent/adoptee relationship.

Birth Parent

Adopted Person

Adoptive Parent

"It all happened to me – I guess I was just born a victim."

"The most important decision of my life was made without my say – it doesn’t make sense so why don’t you understand that I’m no good at cause and effect thinking."

"I tried everything and still didn’t have a child – so I don’t really feel entitled to ACT like a parent."



The experience of adoption, then can be one of loss, rejection, built/shame, grief, diminished identity, thwarted intimacy, and threats to self-control and to the accomplishment of mastery. These seven core or lifelong issues permeate the lives of triad members regardless of the circumstances of the adoption. Identifying these core issues can assist triad members and professionals in establishing an open dialogue and alleviating some of the pain and isolation which so often characterize adoption. Triad members may need professional assistance in recognizing that they may have become trapped in the negative feelings generated by the adoption experience. Armed with this new awareness, they can choose to catapult themselves into growth and strength.

Triad members may repeatedly do and undo their adoption experiences in their minds and in their vacillating behaviors while striving toward mastery. They will benefit from identifying, exploring and ultimately accepting the role of the seven core issues in their lives.

The following tasks and questions will help triad members and professionals explore the seven core issues in adoption:
  • List the losses, large and small, that you have experienced in adoption.
  • Identify the feelings associated with these losses.
  • What experiences in adoption have led to feelings of rejection?
  • Do you ever see yourself rejecting others before they can reject you? When?
  • What guilt or shame do you feel about adoption? What feelings do you experience when you talk about adoption?
  • Identify your behaviors at each of the five stages of the grief process. Have you accepted your losses?
  • How has adoption impacted your sense of who you are?
This article was can be read along with other information at FAIR - Families Adopting In Response.