The Stories That Bind Us

In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future. -- Alex Haley

I hit the breaking point as a parent a few years ago. It was the week of my extended family’s annual gathering in August, and we were struggling with assorted crises. My parents were aging; my wife and I were straining under the chaos of young children; my sister was bracing to prepare her preteens for bullying, sex and cyberstalking.

Sure enough, one night all the tensions boiled over. At dinner, I noticed my nephew texting under the table. I knew I shouldn’t say anything, but I couldn’t help myself and asked him to stop.

Ka-boom! My sister snapped at me to not discipline her child. My dad pointed out that my girls were the ones balancing spoons on their noses. My mom said none of the grandchildren had manners. Within minutes, everyone had fled to separate corners.

Later, my dad called me to his bedside. There was a palpable sense of fear I couldn’t remember hearing before.

“Our family’s falling apart,” he said.

“No it’s not,” I said instinctively. “It’s stronger than ever.”But lying in bed afterward, I began to wonder: Was he right? What is the secret sauce that holds a family together? What are the ingredients that make some families effective, resilient, happy?

It turns out to be an astonishingly good time to ask that question. The last few years have seen stunning breakthroughs in knowledge about how to make families, along with other groups, work more effectively.

Myth-shattering research has reshaped our understanding of dinnertime, discipline and difficult conversations. Trendsetting programs from Silicon Valley and the military have introduced techniques for making teams function better.

The only problem: most of that knowledge remains ghettoized in these subcultures, hidden from the parents who need it most. I spent the last few years trying to uncover that information, meeting families, scholars and experts ranging from peace negotiators to online game designers to Warren Buffett’s bankers.

After a while, a surprising theme emerged. The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.

I first heard this idea from Marshall Duke, a colorful psychologist at Emory University. In the mid-1990s, Dr. Duke was asked to help explore myth and ritual in American families.

“There was a lot of research at the time into the dissipation of the family,” he told me at his home in suburban Atlanta. “But we were more interested in what families could do to counteract those forces.”

Around that time, Dr. Duke’s wife, Sara, a psychologist who works with children with learning disabilities, noticed something about her students.

“The ones who know a lot about their families tend to do better when they face challenges,” she said.

Her husband was intrigued, and along with a colleague, Robyn Fivush, set out to test her hypothesis. They developed a measure called the “Do You Know?” scale that asked children to answer 20 questions.

Examples included: Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school? Do you know where your parents met? Do you know an illness or something really terrible that happened in your family? Do you know the story of your birth?

Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush asked those questions of four dozen families in the summer of 2001, and taped several of their dinner table conversations. They then compared the children’s results to a battery of psychological tests the children had taken, and reached an overwhelming conclusion. The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned. The “Do You Know?” scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.

“We were blown away,” Dr. Duke said.

And then something unexpected happened. Two months later was Sept. 11. As citizens, Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush were horrified like everyone else, but as psychologists, they knew they had been given a rare opportunity: though the families they studied had not been directly affected by the events, all the children had experienced the same national trauma at the same time. The researchers went back and reassessed the children.

“Once again,” Dr. Duke said, “the ones who knew more about their families proved to be more resilient, meaning they could moderate the effects of stress.”

Why does knowing where your grandmother went to school help a child overcome something as minor as a skinned knee or as major as a terrorist attack?

“The answers have to do with a child’s sense of being part of a larger family,” Dr. Duke said.

Psychologists have found that every family has a unifying narrative, he explained, and those narratives take one of three shapes.

First, the ascending family narrative: “Son, when we came to this country, we had nothing. Our family worked. We opened a store. Your grandfather went to high school. Your father went to college. And now you. …”

Second is the descending narrative: “Sweetheart, we used to have it all. Then we lost everything.”

“The most healthful narrative,” Dr. Duke continued, “is the third one. It’s called the oscillating family narrative: ‘Dear, let me tell you, we’ve had ups and downs in our family. We built a family business. Your grandfather was a pillar of the community. Your mother was on the board of the hospital. But we also had setbacks. You had an uncle who was once arrested. We had a house burn down. Your father lost a job. But no matter what happened, we always stuck together as a family.’ ”

Dr. Duke said that children who have the most self-confidence have what he and Dr. Fivush call a strong “intergenerational self.” They know they belong to something bigger than themselves.

Leaders in other fields have found similar results. Many groups use what sociologists call sense-making, the building of a narrative that explains what the group is about.

Jim Collins, a management expert and author of “Good to Great,” told me that successful human enterprises of any kind, from companies to countries, go out of their way to capture their core identity. In Mr. Collins’s terms, they “preserve core, while stimulating progress.” The same applies to families, he said.

Mr. Collins recommended that families create a mission statement similar to the ones companies and other organizations use to identify their core values.

The military has also found that teaching recruits about the history of their service increases their camaraderie and ability to bond more closely with their unit.

Cmdr. David G. Smith is the chairman of the department of leadership, ethics and law at the Naval Academy and an expert in unit cohesion, the Pentagon’s term for group morale. Until recently, the military taught unit cohesion by “dehumanizing” individuals, Commander Smith said. Think of the bullying drill sergeants in “Full Metal Jacket” or “An Officer and a Gentleman.”

But these days the military spends more time building up identity through communal activities. At the Naval Academy, Commander Smith advises graduating seniors to take incoming freshmen (or plebes) on history-building exercises, like going to the cemetery to pay tribute to the first naval aviator or visiting the original B-1 aircraft on display on campus.

Dr. Duke recommended that parents pursue similar activities with their children. Any number of occasions work to convey this sense of history: holidays, vacations, big family get-togethers, even a ride to the mall. The hokier the family’s tradition, he said, the more likely it is to be passed down. He mentioned his family’s custom of hiding frozen turkeys and canned pumpkin in the bushes during Thanksgiving so grandchildren would have to “hunt for their supper,” like the Pilgrims.

“These traditions become part of your family,” Dr. Duke said.

Decades of research have shown that most happy families communicate effectively. But talking doesn’t mean simply “talking through problems,” as important as that is. Talking also means telling a positive story about yourselves. When faced with a challenge, happy families, like happy people, just add a new chapter to their life story that shows them overcoming the hardship. This skill is particularly important for children, whose identity tends to get locked in during adolescence.

The bottom line: if you want a happier family, create, refine and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones. That act alone may increase the odds that your family will thrive for many generations to come.

Today’s article was written by Bruce Feiler and is shared from the following website: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/17/fashion/the-family-stories-that-bind-us-this-life.html

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Love…Does it Make the World Go Round?

Love doesn’t make the  world go round; love is  what makes the  ride worthwhile   Franklin Jones

Today I am sharing a lengthy story. I hope you will take time to read it. I have two children with attachment issues. Over the next few months, I will be addressing some of the issues that children with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) and their families deal with.

Some believe that love overcomes everything. I truly wish it did. What I do know is that love is essential and needs to be sought. However, with the knowledge that love alone cannot help children with RAD, more knowledge needs to be shared with the world about the needs and care that an infant needs and the life long issues that lack of appropriate care creates.

I hope you enjoy today’s story!

My Battle with Attachment After Adoption

Over the years, I’ve written many articles about adoption. Those articles have often taken a passionate stance for the orphan, especially those whom experts dub the “functional orphan,” ones who may technically have a parent somewhere but remain unparented and empty. My passion is  twofold. The first is practical, in that if we as pro-lifers are successful, we will be left with 3500 orphans a day. I’m not okay with that.

But my second reason is personal, a story I only shared publicly for the first time on Orphan Sunday, and which I share here now because I am learning my story is less uncommon than I thought, despite my unique circumstances. I’m learning that as a group of pro-lifers, unless we are prepared to deal with the reality of the problems that may come our way, we will have little reason to argue against abortion, for we must be willing to nurture and love, at personal sacrifice, what we claim should not die.

My story begins in a manger in Bethlehem, but that’s where most of the similarity with a more famous Bethlehem manger birth ends. I was an orphan, abandoned on the city streets. There I was found and taken to the Holy Family Hospital, which calls itself The Crèche, another word for manger.  When I would speak publicly about my story, saying I was born in a manger in Bethlehem was a captivating opening line– a lighthearted quip, masking the darkness on the other side of that adoption, my dark secret.

It’s that side people today need to understand, both to reduce the fear of adopting “unknown” kids as well as to empower them to deal with it and eschew the internet horror stories, which are often written by people who overgeneralize.

My mom died with the secret of how she acquired me, the lies on my adoption papers, and her real reasons for taking me.  I was likely a child to an unwed Palestinian woman. I was found in the West Bank/Gaza Strip, the wrong side of the tracks from birth. I don’t know if I was left literally on the street or left on the doorstep of the hospital/orphanage like a cheesy orphan movie, but Fr. Emil, the head of the court that facilitated my adoption simply said in 2011, “you were collected from the street.”

My adoption papers, which call me “Catherine,” say, “The name and whereabouts of Catherine’s father are completely unknown.” I didn’t believe that for a long time. In 2011 the court officials, the Latin Patriarchate in Jordan, told me they likely lied to push the adoption through. At 6 months old my adoption was complete and I went home with her, in Jerusalem.

And never, ever in my life, not one day, did I feel loved.

If you have children, you know what happens with newborns. They cry: they get fed; they get held. You stare in each other’s eyes and fall in love. Parents bond. Children attach. The first few months of  babies lives with their parents are probably some of the most precious. That bonding/attachment happens at the deepest level then.

The first 6 months of my life my mom apparently came to visit me, but not enough to establish a primary connection. Whether or not the frequency of her visits was her fault or not is irrelevant; the only question was, to whom did I attach? I wasn’t abused that I know of. I have no information on my in-utero development. Science tells us that matters. Palestinian culture tells us a woman pregnant out of wedlock may be killed to avenge family honor. All I know is I never attached to a primary caregiver, and it made life difficult.

Usually the stories are about crack addicts and promiscuity. Kids with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) who never get a family, never get to attach in the right ways, seeking all the wrong ways, doomed to destruction. Your local prison population houses many poorly attached folks. Few adults really live well enough to analyze it, to overcome it. Some of us make it, but the ache lingers, indescribable.

My life was a tale of trying to fill a hole. I grew up wild and free, did anything I wanted to, dropped out of almost every year of school and conned my way into the next year (except 7th grade where they had truant officers). I shoplifted from Sears at 14, got arrested, thrown in juvenile hall because no one could come get me from the police station, started smoking then—a habit which continued to over a decade until I had a vision of Jesus and never smoked again.

In between were a couple homeless shelters and drug overdoses, not because I wanted to die, but I wanted to live and didn’t know how. I was kicked out of my conservative church at 13 for being too wild, and took a proficiency test at 15 to get done with high school so I would stop getting beat up by bullies. In college at 15, I dabbled in everything that looked interesting. It’s how I lived all of my life. I floated until something looked good, then honed in like a hunter finding her prey. I’d take anything that would satisfy for a season, whether school or work or friends or food. But if that something looked like a mom, then my life was reordered because maybe she would love me, want me, emotionally adopt me. Maybe then, the torment would end. Maybe then I would be safe.

I’m not unlike many adopted late or to families who didn’t know how to love them. Most of us never had words for it; no one would talk about it. When I was growing up, people said adoption screws you up. Lots of adoptees I knew were a mess in all the ways we describe someone as messy, from anger to rebellion to drug abuse to promiscuity.

I grew up with the idea that adoption was bad. At 15, I was against adoption. I just knew a bunch a screwed up kids. We were adopted; we were a mess. Therefore, adoption was bad. As a syllogism it failed. In my broken mind, it was the only answer I had. My own adoption had cost me a family, something from which I never recovered. I wanted to, but my brain and my heart could never connect. Attachment, the joy of the parent-child relationship, seemed my curse. The truth is, adoption is good, adopting kids with attachment issues is really good, but it must be informed and deliberate because adoptive parents need to address the holes. The prognosis is good when it’s addressed, even in older adoptees.

When you aren’t attached to anyone you never feel safe. I could handle not having a family like all the kids I knew, but I couldn’t handle the hole that seemed to be hollowed out inside me. It’s the worst kind of orphan mentality because it feels floundering, detached from everything, a state of living so vulnerably that the only survival mode is to erect permanent walls because anything that flies by might hit you. Might kill you.

And ironically, while I couldn’t attach, detaching was easy. I could make anything disappear if it was out of sight.  With attachment disorders the actual part of the brain affected is the orbital prefrontal cortex That is the part that regulates images. Faces. There is a phrase I use a lot: Faces and voices. Without consistent faces and voices, it was easy to make things go away. Unfortunately, that also meant I could never internalize the good. Later I met people who loved me, who expressed it, but unless they were reminding me often, it faded. Every time I saw them again, I needed them to speak first, needed to be sure they had not changed their mind. Internalization was my greatest desire and more elusive than a unicorn.

Nothing I could ever explain helped anyone to understand. I am highly educated; I spent years writing and speaking publicly, but I couldn’t explain what it felt like to be in a prison of RAD. I got a lot of canned answers the few times I did tell. “You need to attach to Jesus,” some said, conveniently ignoring the part of the Bible where God says it’s not good for man to be alone—before there was any record of sin. So the religious comments didn’t work. “You need to make a decision to act in spite of your feelings” said the amateur psychologists. They didn’t understand it was beyond feelings. It was more like cancer, destroying cells that give life; it was like telling me to out-will cancer.

Theoretically, a child at 6 months could pretty easily attach to a single caregiver once adopted. Why that didn’t happen is not clear, but my mom wasn’t affectionate or loving, not ever; she simply didn’t know how to be, and we had no resources. I have no memories of her looking me in the eyes with love, of embracing me, of tenderness. So the only conclusion I can offer as grown-up-Susan is that I went from multiple caregivers in the orphanage setting, who probably were very good to me, helping my mind stabilize to some degree as an infant, to one caregiver who didn’t give care. This happens often with foster children who arrive to homes this way.

At first when I learned more about attachment and even had a professional confirm it, I told others thinking that this would help them understand. What ensued was one of two things. I’m still not sure which was worse. Either people got scared and suddenly pulled away and/or passed me along—or they tried to deliver me from some demonic power. And because I wanted to be wanted, I didn’t chase the former—and I always gave into the latter. A friend once likened me to an abused wife, who kept going back for more out of a desperate need to be loved. He was probably accurate in his assessment, and my intelligence told me to stop. But my heart I was captive to a curse. I knew nothing else.

This is the (preventable) story of so many orphans, unidentified, labeled as difficult, and research tells us, often mistaken for having ADHD. It’s the story of the somewhat trendy phase of adoption that glamorizes the sweet baby, but forgets the older child. And it’s probably the story of many of the 100,000 plus kids in foster care today who need to be adopted. It’s a hard story. We like simple answers. Pithy tweets make us feel profound. But the fact is that there isn’t an easy answer for these kids, whether they are victims in the womb, or they are traumatized by life after that, from badly screened adoptions, bumping from foster home to foster home, or simply from those who don’t understand.

If being pro-life is being pro-child, then we have to recognize that in a fractured society where thousands exist as at least functional orphans that many will have issues with attachment and their lives matter. Some will have problems with it, and some, like me, will have RAD and believe they are not worth fighting for. For multitudes of kids, they are aware they are not the first choice, not the one people want because maybe they have a notation of “Reactive Attachment Disorder” in their files. Or perhaps worse, there is no notion since it often goes undiagnosed, and then stunned parents feel trapped, or worse yet, send a child back. None of this furthers the reality of being pro-life. We must walk out of fear and into the hearts of these children.

I don’t know what it feels like to be connected in a familial way, though I have some dear friends. It’s an odd, unanchored feeling, but beyond that it is a feeling, a mission, if you will, that I must help fight for others who can be rescued as children. If we are pro-life, we must stop passing around children, stop rejecting the ones with problems too difficult for us, stop valuing our lives over theirs and jump in with our eyes wide open. Thousands of kids need us–they need to attach to us so they can see the value of their lives, and, in turn, see the value of life so one day we will have an answer to the classic pro-choice question:

Story shared from the following website :https://www.liveaction.org/news/my-battle-with-attachment-after-adoption/

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The Greatest Gifts You Can Give Your Children…

I have learned that there are things that can be given to children that are invaluable; none of which cost a dime.

The most valuable gift is the gift of God in their lives. When parents give this gift to children, they enable their children to have a mentor and an ally with them for the rest of their lives – through thick and thin and through highs and lows.

The next most important gift is the gift of two solid, dependable parents who love each other and who blatantly and boldly are committed to each other and their relationship.

The third most valuable gift is the gift of knowing how to work. Most children balk at this gift at some time in their lives. Yet, a child who knows how to work will be an adult who is not afraid of work or responsibility.

The fourth most valuable gift is the gift of independence and/or self-responsibility. A parent is responsible for their initial guidance but it is the child who will ultimately become responsible for his/her actions and for their life.

One of the most amazing examples I have ever witnessed was a man who was new to a congregation I attended. He was a professional man and clearly very capable. At the time, I was only a young teenager. This man was asked to be a door greeter on Sundays. Everyone else that had been asked to be a door greeter had considered it to be such a trivial and insignificant task that they ignored the task and left it undone – considering it to be beneath them. Not this man. He made sure that everyone was greeted with a warm smile and a hand shake. Within just a few weeks, he had learned the names of everyone who regularly attended and he addressed each of us by name with sincere questions about how we were doing. Little did he know the keen eye that I kept on him as he welcomed members each week. Little did he know what a remarkable example he set for me. From him, I learned that there is no insignificant task and that one person addressing a seemingly trivial task with love and devotion can change the world (at least my world!).

I love the following quote by Gordon B. Hinckley:

“I do not mean to say this with egotism. But I believe in my capacity and in your capacity to do good, to make some contribution to the society of which we are a part, to grow and develop, and to do things that we may now think impossible.

I believe that I am a child of God, endowed with a divine birthright. I believe that there is something of divinity within me and within each of you. I believe that we have a godly inheritance and that it is our responsibility, our obligation, and our opportunity to cultivate and nurture the very best of these qualities within us.

Though my work may be menial, though my contribution may be small, I can perform it with dignity and offer it with unselfishness. My talents may not be great, but I can use them to bless the lives of others. I can be one who does his work with pride in that which comes from hand and mind. I can be one who works with respect for my associates, for their opinions, for their beliefs, with appreciation for their problems and with a desire to help them should they stumble. I believe in the principle that I can make a difference in this world. It may be ever so small. But it will count for the greater good. The goodness of the world in which we live is the accumulated goodness of many small and seemingly inconsequential acts.

This quote sums up well for me all that I know and believe to be true about work, addressing insignificant tasks and the importance of strong, positive examples for children. I think today’s story does a great job of teaching the same precept! I hope you enjoy!

An Insignificant Task

The day when the jobs were handed out was one of the most exciting for all the children in the class. It took place during the first week of the term. On that day, every boy and girl was given a job for which they would be responsible for the rest of that school year.

As with everything, some jobs were more interesting than others, and the children were eager to be given one of the best ones. When giving them out, the teacher took into account which pupils had been most responsible during the previous year, and those children were the ones who most looked forward to this day. Among them Rita stood out. She was a kind and quiet girl; and during the previous year she had carried out the teacher’s instructions perfectly. All the children knew Rita was the favorite to be given the best job of all: to look after the class dog.

But that year there was a big surprise. Each child received one of the normal jobs, like preparing the books or the radio for the lessons, telling the time, cleaning the blackboard, or looking after one of the pets. But Rita’s job was very different. She was given a little box containing some sand and one ant. And even though the teacher insisted that this ant was a very special ant, Rita could not help feeling disappointed. Most of her classmates felt sorry for her. They sympathized with her, and remarked at how unfair it was that she had been given that job. Even her father became very angry with the teacher, and, as an act of protest, he encouraged Rita to pay no attention to this insignificant pet. However, Rita, who liked her teacher very much, preferred to show the teacher her error by doing something special with that job of such little interest.

“I will turn this little task into something great,” Rita said to herself.

So it was that Rita started investigating all about her little ant. She learned about the different species, and studied everything about their habitats and behavior. She modified the little box to make it perfect for the ant. Rita gave the ant the very best food, and it ended up growing quite a bit bigger than anyone had expected…

One day in spring, when they were in the classroom, the door opened, revealing a man who looked rather important. The teacher interrupted the class with great joy, and said,

“This is Doctor Martinez. He has come to tell us a wonderful piece of news, isn’t that right?”  “Exactly”. said the Doctor. “Today they have published the results of the competition, and this class has been chosen to accompany me, this summer, on a journey to the tropical rain forest, where we will be investigating all kinds of insects. Among all the schools of this region, without doubt it is this one which has best cared for the delicate little ant given to you. Congratulations! You will be wonderful assistants!”

That day the school was filled with joy and celebration. Everyone congratulated the teacher for thinking of entering them in the competition, and they thanked Rita for having been so patient and responsible. And so it was that many children learned that to be given the most important tasks you have to know how to be responsible even in what are apparently the smallest tasks. And without doubt, it was Rita who was most pleased at this, having said to herself so many times “I will turn this little job into something really great”.

Pedro Pablo Sacristán
Story shared from the following website: https://freestoriesforkids.com/children/stories-and-tales/insignificant-task

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