Dad’s Retreat from a Coordinator’s Perspective

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This weekend I was honored to be a fly on the wall during our first annual virtual Dad’s Retreat, led by the infamous Mike Berry with Honestly Adoption Co. I have to admit; it took me a minute to feel like I wasn’t invading this sacred safe space for Dads.  “Would my presence deter them from feeling comfortable enough to share openly?”  Despite my concerns, the dads didn’t seem to be phased by my presence.  Here are a few takeaways I gained from being a part of the retreat.

Men are not emotionless as society often encourages them to be.  Some may be more in tune with their emotions than some women if given a safe, supportive forum such as the retreat.  It was genuinely heartwarming watching the men “raising their glasses” to each other, relating to each other, exchanging contact information, and lifting each other up.

Men often feel the pressure to “fix” their family problems, which is an unrealistic role for them to take on.  This doesn’t mean their instincts are to be hard on their struggling or traumatized children or spouse, but more often hard on themselves.  Some may take on responsibility for their family as a whole, which is too much pressure to take on.  A very crucial point Mike would address throughout the retreat was the importance of not only self-care but self-compassion.

Mike connected this “fixer” mentality with a book he referenced called The Gardener and the Carpenter by Alison Gopnik.  A carpenter is representative of all parents who do all they can to maintain their family.  Although their heart is in the right place, “fixing” may not be what their family needs from them.  Rather than be a fixer, Mike encouraged the dads to be a gardener instead.  Nurture your spouse and children, and do your best to model morals and values.  Accept the fact that things aren’t always going to go your way, especially if you have traumatized children in your home.  Your spouse doesn’t need things fixed, sometimes all they want is for you to listen.

Dads, be kind to yourselves.  You are enough and just what your family needs.

Disclaimer:  These thoughts and ideas are not consistent across the board with all family units, simply observations based on retreat attendees.

This blog post was written by Post Adopt Coordinator, Brittney Engelhard, LBSW

5 Parenting Tips When You Have a Challenging Child

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When you have a challenging child, sometimes it feels like you are slogging through mud in the trenches of life. It’s hard to see your way out of the struggle or to remember that there are days that you feel like you are succeeding at this thing called parenting.

However, we all have those days when success in parenting feels like an impossible goal. Maybe you are parenting an adopted, guardianship or foster child who has experienced trauma or abuse. Perhaps they have brain damage caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol or drugs. Maybe they are not sleeping most nights because they still don’t feel entirely safe enough just yet – no matter how gentle and predictable you’ve crafted your nighttime routine to be. Whatever the reason, some kids are simply more challenging to parent.

When you are in the trenches of parenting a challenging child, it’s hard to see a way out of the struggle. In those hard times, you need some “quick” tips and tricks to help you cope. Read over these tips every week until you start to climb your way out of the parenting depths.

  1. Practice self-care.

Our number one recommendation before you do anything else is to take care of yourself. You’ve heard the airplane analogy, but it’s true. “You have to put on your air mask before you can help someone else.” Your sanity and energy are the most important thing you bring your family and to your challenging child, so you must find a way regularly to recharge.

Take an afternoon to walk in a local park. Go window shopping (or actual shopping) at the mall by yourself. Spend a Saturday morning at Starbucks. Schedule a monthly massage, plan for a regular exercise class. Sing in the church choir. Block out your calendar for a daily run. Whatever feeds your soul and brings you joy qualifies as self-care, and should be a priority in your calendar.

Your sanity and energy are the most important thing you bring to your family and your challenging child, therefore you must find a way regularly to recharge.

  1. Find your person.

Finding your person is similar to self-care, with a similar analogy: When your battery is dead, you need to connect with a live cell to recharge. Who is your live battery? Who can you connect with when you are in the trenches? Who will understand and support you? It would help if you had an online or in-person friend who’s been where you’re at, a therapist, your spouse, or all three. Find your person and let them know that you are struggling and will need to lean on them to help you through the hard days.

  1. Educate yourself about the impacts of trauma.

The more you learn about the forces that shaped this child, the better equipped you can be to cope and parent this child. Read or listen to interviews about the impact of trauma on a child. Learn about how alcohol and drug exposure during pregnancy can leave their mark. Begin to understand how your temperament, personality, and attachment style influence how you respond to this child.

  1. Cut your challenging child — and yourself — some slack.

Cultivate empathy for your child. When you are in the thick of the struggles, that might feel like a tall order, once they are asleep (and looking angelic), remind yourself of what happened to them that brought them to this place. Focus on the fact that your child is not purposely trying to drive you crazy and make you feel like a failure.

While you are thinking compassionately about your child, direct some empathetic thoughts inward. What issues from your past are you bringing to this interaction? Do you hate conflict because of your own family of origin? Do you crave order and structure in your life to feel secure? Does your love language conflict with your child’s? For example, do you want physical affection, but this child expresses love through being helpful? Be kind to yourself while teaching yourself to be compassionate for your child’s path.

  1. Play together!

Never underestimate the power of having fun as a person and family to help you through the dark times. Allison Douglas, Family Advocate with the Harmony Center, said it well in a Creating a Family course:

“The more difficult the child, the more fun you should be having with them.”

Find one thing that you and your challenging child enjoy and make a point of doing it together frequently. Once you find one thing, look for something else. Please keep it simple, easily accessible, and inexpensive: bike riding, playing catch, making silly TikToks together, reading books aloud, or baking cookies.

Make the Changes

These five tips can help you parent your challenging child. These are not one and done tips that you can check off a list and then move forward. Instead, they will help you focus on healthy routines and planning for YOU if you are like most parents juggling real life. These tips might need to be tweaked and re-calibrated as the current pandemic-living evolves. It’s worth it because these lifestyle changes can open up opportunities to grow and succeed as a parent by any definition of the word!

Reference: Credits: by Tracy Whitney  


This blog post was written by Post Adopt Coordinator, Kim Waswick, LBSW

Identifying Parental Stress and The Circle of Support

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It is undeniable North Dakota adoption agencies have made so many progressions when preparing all prospective adoptive parents.  Ten years ago, there was very little training for parents to understand the unique task of parenting adopted youth.  It’s common for newly adoptive parents to say things like, “we want to adopt because it’s the right thing to do” or “adoption is our calling.”  Although this perspective is well-intentioned, adoptive parents need understand love just isn’t enough, especially when adopting special need children or adolescents.

According to Jayne Schooler, new adoptive parents and well-versed adoptive parents need to recognize and understand their expectations for their adoptive kiddos.  Here are 10 common unrealistic parental expectations parents hold that need to be acknowledged at adoptive placement and addressed on-going after adoption finalization.

  1. Your ability to love this child is or should be enough.
  2. You will feel the love from this child easily and immediately
  3. Your child will or should have become a part of your family and learned how to function within your rules, goals, and ambitions.
  4. Your child’s needs will be just like those of non-adoptive children in the family.
  5. Your child will fit in well with extended family; the family will welcome or are welcoming them into the family.
  6. Your family and friends will respect your role as a parent and support you through the journey of raising an adoptive child.
  7. Your child sees or will see you as family and forget their birth family and the past.
  8. You can do for this child what was not done for you.
  9. You will not do or are not doing for this child what was done to you.
  10. You will never feel any regrets or resentment about adopting your child from a traumatic past.

Do you find yourself identifying very strongly with one or more of these expectations?  As much as any parent would hold the desire to feel very strongly about all of these statements and also be validated well after finalization, the reality is these expectations are unrealistic and may set the family up for failure.

The repercussions of holding unrealistic expectations can put parents at risk of stress or depression.  It’s essential to continue to check-in with yourself and/or your significant other regularly.  Signs of stress may include headaches, stomach problems, procrastination, overly critical, isolation, irritability, forgetfulness, and anxious thoughts.  If you have concerns of being stressed and depressed, don’t be afraid to reach out to a mental health professional.

One of the most essential things for adoptive parents is having a strong support system.  Heather Bench, an adoptive mom, created the Circle of Support.  This circle includes: The Rock: A person(s) who will remain in your life during the difficult times and continue to love you unconditionally, The Wise:  A person(s) who will always tell the truth even when it is not what you want to hear, The Learner:  A person(s) who will learn alongside you, The Helping Hand: A person(s) who understands and is aware when you may need a break and steps in to assist, and The Advocate: A person(s) who will always stand up for you and continue to support you.  If you feel burnout, unsupported, or lack supports, please contact your local Post Adopt Coordinator for support and assistance.  We’re here for you!

This blog post was written by Post Adopt Coordinator, Brittney Engelhard, LBSW

The Importance of Respite Care

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Do you feel that you are in need of a break or time alone? While some families have the support of extended family and friends to provide respite care, not every family has a support system in place. Respite care is when families are able to have their children spend time with outside care providers, while parents take a break and the provider can get paid. Respite care can be very beneficial for a variety of reasons. Respite care can help caregivers recharge, rest, attend vacations or different activities that may be difficult for children to attend, or just spend time relaxing by yourself. Families and caregivers should not feel guilty for utilizing respite care. Respite can be utilized for preplanned activities or used in an emergency situation. Respite is not used for ongoing daycare services.

Did you know ND Post Adopt Network now offers a respite program for adoptive and guardianship families? Here is some background information on the respite program. Once you have decided you want to move forward and partake in the respite program that ND Post Adopt Network offers, it is the caregiver’s responsibility to find a respite care provider. Once a respite care provider has been identified and has agreed to provide respite care, your ND Post Adopt coordinator will provide you and the care provider with forms that will need to be completed and returned to your coordinator. ND Post Adopt Network will directly pay the parent and the parent will pay the caregiver once respite has occurred.

If you feel your family would benefit from the ND Post Adopt Network respite grant, contact your Post Adopt coordinator today!

This blog post was written by Post Adopt Coordinator, Jaclyn Stroehl, LBSW