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No shame in giving child for adoption – Chicago Sun-Times

No shame in giving child for adoption


August 31, 2011 6:34PM

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  • Updated: September 1, 2011 2:16AM

    We recently heard from Harper who had a baby when she was 16 that she put up for adoption. When she was 28 and dating “a wonderful man” she told him.

    “He said he could have accepted a child of mine as his own. He said he could have understood if I would have had an abortion. But he could never be with anyone who coldbloodedly gave up her own child. He broke up with me, and I’ve been heart-broken ever since.”

    Here’s what you had to say.

    NORA: I’m an adoptive mother. Ever since my children became old enough to understand, I’ve stressed the bravery and courage of their birth mothers and the pain they endured by relinquishing their child.

    To all the birth mothers and fathers, please know we adoptive parents are forever grateful. To Harper, do not be heartbroken over this heartless loser. Also, do not keep this secret again. Adult adoptees don’t want to be treated like they were some shameful skeleton to be forever hidden away.

    LISA: Harper is well rid of that jerk. I, too, am a birth mother. Making the decision to allow my baby to be adopted was one of the most difficult in my life.

    I told very few people for fear I’d face the same kind of judgment she did. I only revealed it when I was in a relationship that had gotten serious. Not one person ever thought badly of me, and, in most cases, I went up in people’s estimation by recognizing the fact I had done a difficult and loving thing.

    Fast-forward 26 years. My daughter found me! The night I found out she was looking for me, I totally blew the lid off my deepest, darkest secret and blogged about the entire wonderful experience. My family fully embraced my daughter. My friends all embraced the joyous news. I didn’t get to see my daughter get married, but I got to see her graduate from law school. I got to be there when my grandson was born. I get to be in their lives.

    I can’t imagine what it would have been like revealing everything to a spouse or significant other after my daughter found me. That would have been unfair and hurtful to an intimate, trusting relationship.

    I send Harper a great big hug, and I hope she finds someone who will value her for the difficult choices she faced long ago, and for her courage in sharing that information. She deserves nothing less.

    TAYLOR: Before Harper ever gets engaged, she has to let her fiance know. For starters, a pregnancy is an important medical condition that becomes significant if she gets pregnant again. Then there’s always the possibility that she may want to resume contact with the child at some point. Any man who loves her would be OK with that.

    I have a friend who went through something similar. She found a husband who loved and accepted her. She was eventually happily reconnected to her son, who had been raised in a loving home. She said the worst thing about her experience was that she had been told never to talk about it. She said she wished she had been more open about it with everybody.

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    There is a tremendous amount of social shame on mothers who “give up” their children for adoption. Often they do not “give up” on their own volition as they do so based on family and financial pressures. Couldn’t this be a best choice scenario for the child versus a “cold blooded act” as the man in the article states? What about the birth dad? Does he have feelings of shame? Much more to this frequent situation than we are willing to look at…

    Attachment Disordered Children – Radio Show Interview with Ron Huxley


    If you didn’t catch my radio show interview this morning you can listen to the archived mp3 at Brenda Nixon, host of the Parents Plate radio show, invited me to chat about the controversial diagnosis of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) and the current state of mental health treatment of traumatized children today. I shared some great ideas in our hour long discussion that you will want to listen in on…everything from how children are diagnosed to attachment neuroscience to practical parenting tools. I even shared on why children with attachment impairments “Monster Up!” – a phrase I coined. Take a moment to download or stream the show at


    How can you punish an abused child?

    I recently watched a movie called “Unthinkable” (CAUTION: Movie spoilers ahead) and was shocked by the intensity of the violence. At first I turned it off then later went back to finish watching the movie. There was something about the plot line that drew me back in. The subject matter was simple: A terrorist sets up nuclear bombs throughout America, is captured, and then tortured to tell their locations. Yes, tortured. Aside from the more obvious political messages here, there was a subtler, frightening psychological message.

    No matter how much the terrorist was tortured physically or mentally he never broke. He suffered but he continued to play mind games with this capturers till the very end. What would hold a person together despite such horrific punishments? I realized what the answer to this question was when the terrorist stated that “he deserved this” for all the bad things he had done. The movie never really described what these “bad things” were but it was enough of a mindset for him to endure unbelievable torture. His captors tried everything to break him: reason, empathy, brutality, mind games, more brutality and finally more brutality. They just kept upping the ante on the terrorist with the belief that eventually everyone breaks. He didn’t.

    What struck such a cord in me was that many of the children I work with, who have been mistreated,  have this “terrorist” mindset. Their behavior says: “What can you possibly do to me that I have not already endured in a much younger, more vulnerable state as an infant or young child?” So many of the children who adopt this “defiant” attitude have a deeper narrative that they deserve the punishments they are getting. Children internalize their abuse and believe that they are responsible for what happened to them. In fact, they often believe that they are “damaged goods” unworthy of love or kindness or anything good. They may set up caregivers to make them angry and want to punish them. It is easy for an adult caregiver to play right into this narrative and reinforce the very thing they want to change in the child. They may not beat them or leave them in a closet for days but we do use other punishment-based techniques (lock them up, move them from home to home, shame them with words or actions, make them carry out sentences, etc) all with the hopes that they will express their guilt and shame and change their behaviors.

    I think the end goal is a worthy one. We want to help the child see things differently but our methods need some updating. Hope for this is coming from the field of neuroscience which is why you will see so much of this in this blog. It may not be the final answer but it is allowing us to see the small, hurting child behind the big terrorist mask. It is telling us that children’s brains and minds are affected by their mistreatment and we must go back and redo attachment-based treatments to help them rebuild the mental and physical capacity for love and affection and moral reasoning too.

    I know it sounds like I am hard on the adult caregivers. I guess I am but we are the ones who have to do something different. We can’t expect the child to “get it” and explain it to us. We have to look deeper to see the alternative narratives for the child to live out. That will take time and patience. Unfortunately, we caregivers are products of our own culture and parenting narratives. A shame-based approach to parenting is how many of us were raised and so, it is the only approach we  know how to use. If time out for an hour in a child’s room doesn’t work, what else is there? More time in the room? Perhaps we should yell louder or threaten more? Obviously not. The answer to my title: How can you punish an abused child, is simple. You can’t.

    The mission of the Parenting Toolbox blog is to give parents more tools. I used to teach a lot of court-ordered parenting classes where parents where referred to learn non-punitive parenting skills. I quickly learned that you got no where trying to debate the punishment mindset. I realized that I couldn’t really win the “spank/no spank” argument. I might get some compliance from the parent but there was no change in insight. My focus became teaching other things the parent could do by giving lots of parenting tools. This worked. It is my vision to see parents better equipped and hurt children healed with this blog as well.

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