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Consumer Mentality v. Commitment Mentality in Adoption

This blog was originally posted at MLJadoptions in 2013. It is reposted with slight updates 

I am so grateful that I was asked to speak at NACAC again this year. Attending adoption conferences makes me a better parent by providing a bit of respite (thanks to wonderfully supportive parents that my child loves spending time with), re-inspiring and refocusing me on the most important aspects of adoptive parenting and the work I do, and creating opportunities to connect with adoption professionals, adoptive parents, and adult adoptees who can all offer important insight and support. I am particularly thankful for the confirmation provided by an international adult adoptee on parenting choices I have made while I was at NACAC this year. I hope more adoptive parents consider attending adoption conferences, especially those like NACAC geared towards adoptive parents striving to be the best that they can be by seeking out new information, new resources, and different opinions.

I have met some inspiring professionals by attending adoption conferences. This year I got so much more out of Maris Blechner’s session than I had even hoped. Her emphasis was on inspiring a commitment mentality in adoptive parents rather than the consumer mentality that is rampant in our society. She reminded us that we may not realize just how self-focused we are individually because the consumer mentality is so built in to our society. We are taught that ‘the customer is always right’ and if we don’t get what we want, complaining to the manager or calling the company out on twitter is likely to get us something for free. 
Adoption is a commitment that you enter into blindly, but it is no different than adding a child by birth. It is essential that adopting parents are committed to making it work, committed to parenting this child for the rest of their lives, and committed to parenting through the tough stuff. Parenting is the most important, most difficult job you will ever have and this can be even more true in adoption. Whether you add a child to your family through birth or adoption, you cannot guarantee personality, health (in the short term or the long term), or even physical resemblance. Commitment mentality is selfless and puts aside all of what we have dreamed and envisioned our child to be to meet him or her where he or she is, to love all that he or she is and all that he or she is not, and to do the hard work of parenting when it is difficult and not what you had envisioned. Commitment mentality leaves little to no room for disruption or rehoming.
Nearly all will immediately want to state that they come from a commitment mentality rather than a consumer mentality in adoption. In general we don’t like to face our entitlement. Commitment mentality faces head-on the struggles of adoptive parenting. Commitment mentality looks for the child’s needs before being concerned with the child’s behavior. Commitment mentality accepts the potential that the child’s age may be mis-approximated, health issues may be unknown, and you may learn about siblings that also need you at a later point.
I do believe there are some expectations you can have of your agency. You can expect honesty and responsiveness. You can expect ethical practices, but please do your homework. You can also expect that there are many aspects of the process that are as out of your agency's control as they are yours. There should be customer-service from an agency, but as far as the child is concerned, Mrs. Bletchner says, "there is no room or place for consumer mentality in any successful adoption." Because consumer mentality is so built into our culture, it requires constant vigilance to remain in a committed mentality. The child that joins your family is your child. Entering into the adoption process, you have committed to parenting and committed to this child. Claiming is an important part of helping your child feel safe and integrated into your family. While it is important for my son to hear my refer to him as "my son", it is even more important for him that my heart has claimed the role of "his mom". I am his; I have given myself to him, but it is up to him if he will claim me. No matter how difficult it may get, he can count on me.

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Start Right, Stay Connected: A One-Day Premarital Workshop

While wedding planning can be stressful, there is something so fun about an engagement and that first year as newlyweds. There is hope, excitement, and often lots of heart-warming appreciation and loving gazes. It has always been fun for me as to work with premarital couples and newlyweds. Typically marriage preparation counseling and education programs are completed prior to the wedding, but research supports that the window of opportunity can last into the first year of marriage and will reduce the chances of divorce and increase marital satisfaction, both immediately and long-term. 

  • In 2003, Carroll & Doherty found 92% of couples reported premarital counseling helped during their first year of marriage. Four years later, 80% still reported premarital counseling was helping in their marriage. 
  • In 2004, the same researches found that those who participated in a premarital education program were significantly better off afterwards than 79% of those who did not participate. 
  • In 2006, Stanley, Amato, Johnson, & Markham found that premarital education increased satisfaction and commitment in marriage and reduced conflict and likelihood of divorce regardless of race, income, and education. 

I believe so strongly in premarital counseling and education, that I will not officiate a wedding unless a couple has completed a premarital counseling/education program. (Yes, I am also an ordained wedding officiant - I love weddings!) Those who participate in premarital counseling and/or premarital education programs report they are better at resolving conflict, better able to communicate effectively, feel a stronger connection, and are ore satisfied with their relationship than ever before. One thing I appreciate is that if couples do come back to work through a conflict or issue later on, it usually takes us much less time to do so than it would with other couples, primarily because they already have the knowledge and skills needed to work through conflicts; they simply need a bit of support and guidance. In so many ways, premarital counseling and education can save you money. 

In 2019, I will be offering my first premarital counseling/education workshop. Start Right Stay Connected is a program founded on the most recent research as well as the clinical experience of hundreds of marriage counselors from around the world. In this one day workshop, engaged and newly married couples will learn 

  • Powerful communication skills 
  • Practical tools for relationship “hot buttons”
  • Effective (and peaceful) conflict resolution
  • How to remove negativity from the relationship
  • How to keep romance alive, nurture, and grow your relationship
  • And we will have fun too

Start Right, Stay Connected is relationship education, not therapy, and includes lectures, demonstrations, couple’s dialogues in break out rooms, and written exercises. There are many opportunities for group sharing, but the seminar emphasizes partners’ sharing privately with one another. You are not required to share anything with the group except for a brief introduction and closing.

Saturday, March 23, 2019


447 E. 38th Street

Indianapolis, IN  46205


$300 per couple (less than two individual sessions)

Coffee, tea, water, and snacks provided


Register here and choose any date (quirk in the system)

For more information



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Inviting Your Partner to say YES to what You Want

One of my big takeaways from the 2018 Imago Conference was this quote taken from a dialogue created by Kelly Patton, LMHC. She wrote, “ask for what you need ~ in a way that invites your partner to want to give it to you”. Now Kelly was referring to sharing how you want your partner to show up when you are sharing something difficult, but I think this instruction of intention is packed with so much power and possibility. 

We all know that if you are wanting to experience some physical intimacy with your partner, there are ways that you can suggest that which are more appealing to your partner than others, ways that are more likely to get you want you want. And there are ways that you can ask for what you want that do not inspire your partner to give it to you or may even turn them off. What may be an exciting invitation to you may not be appealing to your partner. It’s not just your words, but your tone, body language, etc. The same is true for just about anything we communicate. 

When I was working in Community Mental Health as a new therapist, I also taught dance classes to reduce stress and make ends meet. I have danced with complete beginners and with professionals; I even had to learn to lead a little. I tried to teach my students that a good lead is an invitation. In dance the communication is primarily through body language. The lead should invite the dance partner to do a turn or a move, but the lead should not physically force the partner to follow. In the same way, the lead has to be clear enough that the dance partner wants to follow it. If done well, an experienced follow can “quit thinking” and simply follow the lead smoothly, sometimes even with eyes closed. Sometimes the “fancy” dancers are pushing and pulling their partner through the moves. While there will always be a few newer follows who enjoy feeling like they did something they don’t know how to do, the majority of follows don’t want to dance with that lead (it can be painful!). We also don’t want to dance with the lead who is unclear, causing all kinds of confusion. I would much rather dance with someone doing a lot fewer fancy things but leading them well, inviting me to follow. 

When you ask your partner for something, ask in a way that invites your partner to want to give it to you. You could be asking for help with the dishes, to attend a relationship workshop together, or to try something new in the bedroom. There are many ways to ask for all of these things that will not necessarily inspire your partner to want to say yes. How can you use your words, your tone, and body language in a way that truly invites your partner to want to say yes to your request? 


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Effective Listening Skills can MOVE Your Relationship Forward

Communication seems to be the #1 thing that couples want to improve in their relationships, or the lack of communication is what they see as causing problems in their relationship. Often there are lots of words exchanged, but not the kind of communication that raises consciousness, inspires empathy, and creates connection. For productive communication, I encourage couples to trade in the ping-pong style of communicating that most of us are familiar with for a style of communication that actually MOVEs things forward. You can change the conversation simply by how you respond. The acronym MOVE can help jog your memory about the steps involved.

The first skill to master is how to be an effective Mirror. When we listen to our partners, it is important that we leave behind our opinions, assessment, and perceptions, and travel into the foreign world that is our partner’s experience. I was once told a story about an American woman who traveled to China, expecting that people would speak English, and frustrated that she could not find french fries - don’t be that traveler. When visiting a foreign country a good dose of curiosity will make for a more enjoyable experience (for you and the locals). Effective communication requires that you are getting what your partner is saying. Mirroring is as simple as listen and repeat, but it is so powerful. Sometimes it is important for your brain that you say the words your partner says, and sometimes it is important for your partner’s brain to hear the words that he or she just said. Even if your partner says “the sky is purple and gravity makes trees grow up”, all you need to say is “If I’m getting you, the sky is purple and gravity makes trees grow up. Did I get it?” A curious traveler will want to know how your partner came to those conclusions; be curious. 

The next listening skill is keep doing it; listen and mirror, on and on and on until your partner has shared everything he or she can on that topic. For effective communication you want to take long turns (or extended trips into your partner’s world), taking things to a deeper level. In my office I remind couples that we don’t want to communicate like playing the card game “war” where we lay cards immediately after one another (practically at the same time), the game really does go on and on, and no one ever wins. At first people sometimes think that I am slowing down their communication, but in actuality this method is quicker because it is actually productive. Instead of playing “war”, I am reminded of playing “Phase 10” with my kiddo. “Phase 10” is a version of rummy where you have to lay down the entire phase at one time. On my turn, I may lay down the 8 cards needed for 2 runs of 4 and discard a ninth card, then on his turn, my kiddo may lay down his 8 cards for 2 runs of 4, lay a card on one of my runs, and discard his tenth card to win. Think long turns with as much information as possible. Remember to keep mirroring “on and on”. To do this, after your partner confirms that you got it, simply ask “Is there more?” (with curiosity of course!)

The third listening skill is Validation. Even if your partner believes the sky is purple and misunderstands gravity, using “on and on”, you likely were able to figure out how he or she came to those conclusions. If you are curious and willing to understand your partner’s perspective, you will be able to say “that makes sense”. Even if you do not agree, your partner really wants to hear that you understand their perspective. Beyond “that makes sense”, ideally you will be able to give your partner more detail such as ‘it makes sense that you feel scared and angry when I slam a door accidentally given the fact that your father slammed doors when he would leave and not come home for the night.’ The more you can connect to what your partner has shared with you, the more powerful your validation will be. 

Finally a good listener will Empathize. Empathy connects us to our partner’s emotional experience, and building connection in a relationship is so important. I use two phrases to help couples communicate empathy, “I imagine when that happened you felt…” and “I imagine right now you are feeling…”. Allow them to clarify (in all steps of this process), and ask if there are any other emotions that you may have missed. One important hint is that emotions are just one word (i.e. angry, sad, disgusted, nervous, excited, etc.). When people say ‘I feel that…’ what they are really sharing is how they are trying to make sense of something. With emotions, keep it simple - it can be profoundly powerful that way. 

M - Mirror
O - on and on
V - Validation
E - Empathy
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How to Talk to Your Child about School Shootings with Indy With Kids

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How To Talk with Kids about School Shootings

 A week ago, I sat in a hotel room watching news coverage breaking down the school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. My heart sank as I listened to this young lady say that she had expected it to eventually happen near her.

When Columbine occurred, I remember being horrified but I did not expect it to happen again. Besides, I was already done with high school; it wouldn’t happen to me… Columbine no longer seems like an unbelievable tragedy. School shootings are terrifyingly common, and as a parent, the terror is very real.  
Today, as I got text updates from my mom friends about the shooting at local Noblesville West Middle School, and fielded a phone call from a frightened 16 year old, in between my client appointments, I was thankful that it was also my son’s last day of school, and I was picking him up after a (planned) early dismissal. The truth is that this could happen anywhere at any time. Parents are scared, and our kids are scared as well. 
We are scared, our kids are scared, and we need to talk about it together. Indy With Kids asked me to go Live on Facebook to answer questions from parents wondering how to talk about this with their kids. In addition, I want to provide this written follow up. 

How To Talk To Your Kids About School Shootings

If at all possible, be the one to tell them the news. They need to hear it from you, not from anyone else. Present the facts as succinctly as possible in easy to understand words. I told my 11 year old “today someone took a gun to their school and shot people.” I gave him the opportunity to ask questions before proceeding. 
It is important to answer their questions simply, directly, and honestly. It is also helpful to just answer the questions asked. Now is not the time to express your agenda or to encourage ‘us v. them’ thinking. You may not understand gun rights advocates, but we cannot teach our kids that people are other, bad, or even wrong. This can be a huge risk factor in future violent behavior. 
Be honest about your emotions. They need you to model that emotions are okay, help them to identify what they are feeling, and also model how to express emotions. It is also important that you are able to have the conversation calmly to communicate to your children that they are safe with you and you are capable of handling their emotions, whatever they may be. If you are too emotional, it may increase their anxiety about the situation or create an anxiety that you will not be able to take care of them.
Don’t leave the news or radio on. Kids need their questions answered, but they do not need dramatized news. The repetition of the 24 hour news cycle has a negative impact on all of us, but especially on children. 
Most important is to listen to your kids. Giving them the space to share their thoughts and emotions can be all the therapy that your child may need. 
- Reflecting back your child’s words to them, encourages them to go deeper.
Kid: Today was really scary
Mom: Today was really scary for you, huh?
Kid: Yea, when the alarms went off, I didn’t know if I should run or hide.
Mom: Wow. You didn’t know if you should run or hide when the alarms went off?
Kid: Right, the teacher told me to….
- You can encourage your child to go deeper simply by asking “Is there more?” after your reflection.
- Tell them they make sense. “It makes sense you would be scared!” is good “Don’t be scared” is not going to help. It may shut them down or may make them question themselves. 
- As your child shares emotions, ask them where they feel it in their body. This teaches emotional awareness and can help their processing. 
Try asking your child ‘Why do you think someone might do something like this?’ You can learn a lot about your child with this question. If you have any concerns about their answer, check with a therapist. 
If you don’t already know (your kids probably do) find out and talk about emergency procedures at your child’s school and reinforce them. In a crisis, your children will be most safe following the directions of the teachers who desperately want to protect them. 
Go for a walk or a drive. Both activity and not looking directly at a parent can help kids open up. When they do start to open up, give them your full attention, including eye contact, touch if possible, and getting on their level. Only avoid eye contact if your child is struggling with opening up face to face; sometimes it feels easier looking out the window as long as you know you have the full attention of the listener. 
Don’t simply let it be, follow up with your kids and check in if there is more they want to share or ask. Another strategy is to drop sentences like pebbles into a stream to see what the ripples may be. You could say “I imagine you could be nervous heading back to school on Tuesday” or “Sometimes I think about what I would do to make sure I got to you as quickly as possible if there was an emergency at school.” Pebbles are sentence that do not require a response but allow for one and communicate that a topic is something that you are willing to discuss if the child so desires. Occasionally dropping pebbles is an indirect way of opening up a topic for conversation that allows your child to determine when they are ready for the discussion. They may not respond in that moment, but they may open up later on. 

Helping Kids Manage Anxiety after a School Shooting

Remember, you are the best therapist for your child. Your child needs you, your attention, you creating safety and reassurance, your consistency, you accepting their feelings, ideas, and questions, you attuning to their moods and their needs, you helping them regulate and soothe themselves when they have trouble doing it. 
In a crisis it is time to return to home base, and you and your home are your child’s secure base. Slow down, stick close to home, and offer them opportunities for self soothing and co-regulation. Some things that may be soothing are sweet foods (think fruit more than ice cream), tight hugs and snuggles, rocking, swinging, trampoline or other repetitive, rhythmic motions, play, a hot bath… Teach your kiddos what you do when you feel upset to help you feel better. Going to bed early and making sure everyone has predictable, healthy meals is important as you return to the secure base. 
Another important aspect to reducing anxiety around situations like this is to give them ways to feel empowered. Part of the anxiety around school shootings is that we feel helpless. If your child wants to do something, encourage that action. Any child can have a lemonade stand or bake sale. If they want to express themselves, help them write a letter to state and federal legislators. If there are rallies or demonstrations, they can attend and even make their own signs. It is most empowering for them to follow their own ideas, so let them take the lead. 

When to Seek Counseling

Remember, you are the best therapist for your child. Giving them the space to share their thoughts and emotions with you may be all the therapy that they need. In general, I think dragging a child to therapy can do more harm than good. Research tells us that kids get as much or more benefit from their parent going to counseling (working on themselves to be a better parent and learning therapeutic parenting techniques) than if the child is in counseling. If your child asks for counseling, by all means find an experienced, highly trained therapist who works with children. 
If your child is hesitant, you can offer to let them try it out. You can also tell them about Brainspotting - a power therapy where they don’t actually have to talk to the therapist. In Brainspotting, I teach children that their brains have the same self-healing power that Wolverine from the X-men has; we simply need to set up the situation for their brains to heal themselves. It is a powerful, efficient treatment method that has shown amazing benefits for kids, and it is likely to resolve these specific traumas in just a few sessions. In addition, I think it is important to note that following the Sandy Hook shooting, surveys ranked Brainspotting as the most effective treatment people experienced to help them process that school shooting
Your child may not ask for counseling verbally, but you may see other signs. Acting out is an expression of emotion. Often kids don’t know how to put the words together to express their concerns, so they throw a fit or cause trouble in other ways. Even things as extreme as enuresis may simply be the child communicating just how ‘pissed’ they are according to Dr. Wayne Duehn of the University of Texas. If you can hear the deep needs behind their behavior or words, you may be able to address them. Or you may need the help of a therapist to understand how to help your child, and that is wonderful as well. So many therapists are deeply concerned about this and truly want to help in any way that they can. 
You may notice that your child regresses or starts to act younger than their age. This is generally simply a sign that they need some additional nurturing and safety. It will very likely resolve itself if those needs are met. If your child wants to sit in your lap, rock your child, even if they seem “too big”. If your child asks for you to cut up their food, do it and even hand them the first bite on the fork. Meet your child and his or her needs wherever they are, and he or she will likely bounce back fairly quickly. 
To find a local Brainspotting therapist, visit Brainspotting Indy. Several of us want to help at a reduced cost. My office will be providing pro bono sessions with Lisa Floyd for students and staff directly impacted. (Schedule here or email us.) It can be difficult to find really experienced and well trained therapists who work with kids, but Indy Child Therapist is currently taking new clients for traditional therapy. I strongly encourage you to to consider driving or paying more to work with someone who is really good. Your child’s mental health is worth it. 


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Hope and Help from the Trenches of Foster Care and Adoption

Since this is a book review, I will start with my critique. The title of Confessions of an Adoptive Parent: Hope and Help from the Trenches of Foster Care and Adoption should have been HOPE and Help from the Trenches of Foster Care and Adoption: Confessions of an Adoptive Parent. Hope is the main theme of this book, and Mike does a wonderful job sharing that hope with his readers. In fact, I am thankful that Mike asked me to review this book because part of his message of hope hit home for me at a serendipitous time - and it had nothing to do with my child or anything about being an adoptive mother

This is the kind of book, that I want to press into the hands of adoptive parents when the tough going starts to wear them down or feels like it levels up. When I offered adoption preparation courses, even as much as I warned people that adoptive parenting is advanced parenting and often requires more of us than others, I think many believed that things would get better with time. Generally it does, but there are also moments in life that trigger adoption issues. Adolescence is tough for everyone, but with the added layers of adoption, things can get extra complicated. Other triggers are less obvious or expected; sometimes we don’t even know what has changed, but suddenly adoptive parenting seems much harder than it was just a few weeks ago. In those moments, Mike’s reminders of hope can be priceless in keeping your sanity and remaining consistent for your children. 

Confessions of an Adoptive Parent: Hope and Help from the Trenches of Foster Care and Adoption is like a dear friend bringing you a warm, fuzzy blanket and mug of hot chocolate, giving you a space to breath and re-charge. It provides comfort and reminds foster and adoptive parents that they are not the only ones who have lived through even the most shocking or devastating experiences. 

In a wholehearted way, Mike tells stories about himself and his family to assure you that his message is not pie-in-the-sky hope nor any kind of easy answer. I also very much appreciate how respectful Mike is of his children as he shares without oversharing or dramatizing. The truth may sound dramatic to some, but Mike is not striving for dramatic effect. His message of comfort, hope, and companionship is consistent throughout. 

As a former pastor, Mike skillfully explains Bible stories in a way to provide a greater understanding to his readers. I particularly appreciate the deeper dive into the story of Job. There are parts of that I will read again in the future. There is powerful and practical truth weaved throughout this book. I am so thankful that there is a Christian message on adoption that does not lead people to believe that love is all that you need and tells the truth of the pain and work and hope. Mike and Kristin Berry are the leaders on foster care and adoption that the Christian community needs. 

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