The Journey of the Adopted Self: A Quest for Wholeness
By Betty Jean Lifton
This book is a must read for adoptive parents and adoptees, especially if they have chosen to go the route of a closed or international adoption. The book starts out with a description of a closed adoption and the feelings associated with it. Some of the explicit and implicit issues that take root as a result of secrecy. These issues span the adoptees childhood into adulthood and adoptees as parents are also discussed. Lifton spends a good deal of time describing the cumulative traumas that occur in a closed adoption system and behaviors that can occur as a result. Lifton then goes into the dynamics an adoptee experiences within themselves, their relationship with their adoptive families, and in relation to both their fantasized and real birth parents.
Lifton does an amazing job of discussing the search an adoptee experiences, whether that be literal or in terms of behaviors exhibited in childhood that indicates the desire to find their birth parents. She spends a lot of time discussing the dynamics between the adoptee and birth parents, the adoptee and adoptive parents, and the birth parents and adoptive parents. The amount of detail she provides illuminates the complex emotions and vulnerabilities experienced by each set of relationships.
The third and last part of the book provides a thorough glimpse at what adoptees need to experience to fully heal themselves. It is definitely a tall order, however, actually seeing these tasks written in words somehow makes them appear more tangible and obtainable.
I really enjoyed her use of her own experience as an adoptee, as well as other anecdotes from adoptees that she has interviewed. She uses myths, stories, and excerpts from literature in ways that promotes additional empathy building as well as normalization to the experiences of adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents. They also work as wonderful and emotional metaphors for those who have not yet experienced situations the book has discussed; allowing readers to still find connection within those experiences.
A few notes:
The author is not only an adoptee herself, and a therapist, but also personally knew Erik Erikson, the famous developmental psychologist. She uses her personal experience infrequently, but only as needed to add to the understanding about adoptees in general. In no way does she make the book about just her experience. Additionally, she does not use her experiences in talking with Erikson in to give herself an air of authority. Again, it is done only to emphasize important points.
I have read about the impulse for incest between the adoptee and birth parents in other books (it is rare that this actually occurs, however, the report of a sexual attraction seems to occur with some frequency). I like the way Lifton took the time to explore the reasons behind this attraction in a way that does not stigmatize the adoptee or the birth parents, but creates a better understanding to allow the reader to drop into a place of empathy. I also appreciate that she notes all the problems that may occur should those impulses be acted upon.
I did have one issue, and that was the author’s discussion about a perceived correlation behind being adopted and being gay. All of the information she provides is anecdotal. In fact, she discusses meeting several gay adoptees at an AA meeting and notes that this is one example of the correlation that she sees between being gay and being an adoptee. She does not mention, however, that both members of the LGBTQ+ community and adoptees have higher rates of substance abuse than their heterosexual and non-adoptees. She makes several guesses as to why there may be a correlation between the being gay and being adopted, but never once discusses biological possibilities, such as stress hormones during pregnancy. I wish that the author either avoided the subject all together, or if she was going to wade into these identity waters, which has a deceptively strong undercurrent, that she provides a lot more factual information to back up some of her observations.
I do highly recommend this book. I have found it to provide amazing insights that I don’t think I would have achieved through my work as a clinician alone and has provided more depth in the conversation about adoptees from closed adoptions than any other the books I have read previously on the subject. I would definitely suggest that all adoptive parents and adoptees of closed and international adoptions to read this book as well as all mental health clinicians!
Confessions of an Adoptive Parent
By Mike Berry
I have to confess that I am struggling to write this review. Let’s start off with the critique: I surprised by how much God, Jesus, and the Bible were referenced throughout the book. (this is 100% my fault, I must admit. I bought the book via an Amazon recommendation, but a simple Google search would have made it clear by the “Christian audio” option of purchase that this was clearly a book oriented to Christians specifically). I tend to like my factual information kept separate from religious belief. I think it keeps things clearer and reduces additional bias.
The author speaks a lot about his personal journey, and if that appeals to you, that’s great. But that also opens the author’s choices up for scrutiny. To that end, what made the book a difficult one to start is the reasons for the adoption the author discusses. And I definitely recognize that many people want to adopt to “save” a child from otherwise terrible circumstances. I understand the impulse. But that does set up a dynamic of the child feeling as though s/he owes the parents for rescuing them and can likewise set up a feeling of the child owing the parents for saving the child. It’s not a dynamic I think any family should start out on. I am not saying that this was a vibe felt throughout the book, just that it lingered with me and was further aggravated by the reminder that God and Jesus save us. The concept of saving and being saved is pretty heavy in this book. If that is not something that bothers you, let the reading commence.
On the positive side, the book does provide a lot of validation to feeling and thoughts adoptive parents are afraid to feel or utter. The normalization of being human and not being saints is rather nice. Berry does a wonderful job of pointing out the importance and realities around maintaining your marriage, building a community, what to look for in support groups, self-care, how to manage inappropriate questions, and so on. What is also nice, is that much of this information stands out visually. When Berry feel like a certain sentence is important for the reader to metabolize, he puts a grey box around it so it stands out. He makes good use of lists and summary sections. He does address trauma and learning and developmental issues as it effects the adoptive parents and tries hard to instill hope in the reader.
I do think that this book is helpful. The fact that the most important and salient parts are so clearly defined makes it easier for someone to skip over the Biblical parts to find specific information.
The Spirit of Open Adoption
By James L. Gritter
Before I go into a discussion on this book, I think it is important to note that its copyright date is 1997. There is some information in this book that is timeless, while other parts may not have aged in a way that one might find useful. That said, here we go.
I really found this book to be quite helpful. Like many other books on adoption, to best utilize all the information in this book, it will be helpful to revisit it throughout the adoption process, including post-adoption. The book starts off discussing the various types of adoptions, issues with closed adoptions, and the various forms of open-adoption. Gritter does an excellent job throughout the book noting the pros and cons to each concept. He pushes for a values-based open-adoption and identifies the values that he has found to be most important in adoption to be as follows: honor the adoptee, candor, providing choices, honoring pain, being covenantal, transformation, adaptable, and community building. He then goes into each value in depth.
He also pushes for quality adoptions and discusses some of the issues that non-profits run into in regards to providing adoptions of quality. He discusses the importance of an agency’s focus needing to be on the birthmother, not the adoptive parents in order to ensure the most ethical adoptions and to provide adoptions that in the end best service the child.
Gritter takes the perspectives of the adoptive parents, birthmother, adoptee, and even the social worker in mind. I also appreciated the time he took to highlight birthfathers and the unique position they are put into and the reactions they elicit from others in the process. He discusses dynamics that occur in these relationships and tasks each party can take to overcome these barriers.
My strongest critique is his occasional assumption that the reader has a belief system that includes God. This isn’t done in a pushy way, but could turn off readers who want to keep their religious beliefs separate from gathering information about adoption. He also can become repetitive in his critiques of closed adoptions and his pushing forward his program, which utilizes a value-based open adoption model. Although I don’t disagree with his points, if you are reading the book straight through as I did, it does start to sound like a broken record. That said, if you return to this book at various points in the adoption process, the repetitive nature of some of these points may save you from having to read previous chapters and allow you to jump into the book at the chapter that is most relevant to you at the time.
Despite the books age, I do think that most of it has aged well and would strongly recommend reading it. It is the only book that I have read thus far that takes into account the actions and responsibilities of social workers (allowing the reader to have realistic expectations for social workers and understanding the emotional toll placed on them). This is also the only book I have found that acknowledges the birthfathers (again, that I have read thus far). I think these are two important perspectives to consider as you move throughout your adoption process.
The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child
By Nancy Newton Verrier
I want to start out by noting that this is one of the touchstone pieces of literature regarding adoptees. This book was first copywritten in 1993 and has had 28 reprintings. It is clear that Verrier has deep professional knowledge, personal experience, and clinical experience working with adoptees and adoptive families.
This book has been broken down into four distinct parts. In order to best convey my thoughts and opinions on this book, I find that it may be the most useful if I reflect on each part of this book separately, and then provide an overall review.
Part I: The Wound
This portion of the book is perhaps the most intense. It goes into detail about the trauma that is imposed on a child who is given up or “relinquished” by his or her birthmother. Verrier goes on to explain that bonding between mother and child happen prior to birth and that by taking away a child from its mother results in a crippling trauma that will affect the child for the rest of its life.
As someone who works with trauma and has worked with several birth mothers, adoptees, and children within the foster care system, my experience mirrors Verrier’s. The only thing that I wish was more prevalent were studies that better illustrate this. Verrier also voices this frustration. With that said, should there be another printing of this book, I think more academic studies in this area would be helpful. Without it, this section could be easily dismissed by those who believe that because a baby does not have memory of trauma, that s/he will not suffer from its effects.
I also appreciated the identification of what an infant’s grieving stages may look like. It offers adoptive parents to drop into a place of empathy and to not take this as a personal rejection or that somehow your parenting is subpar. With that said, I think it would have been useful for Verrier to identify ways in which an adoptive parent can look for attachment wounds they may still harbor so that they know that they may need to get assistance as well. I think that spending some time identifying activities to assist adoptive parents in recognizing their expectations (many of them unconscious) for their child, family, and parenting style, and then walk them through some ways to mourn to very real possibility that things may not go that direction.
Neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to rewire itself, is a subject that I don’t think Verrier spent enough time on. I think it’s important to impart the real trauma that has occurred and to not undermine its very real effects, however, to not provide and instill hope in adoptive parents leaves these adoptive parents, the only parents rearing this child, in a state of helplessness. Some more education about how neuroplastic a child’s brain is, especially between the ages of birth and two, would be helpful. This allows parents to see how they could make very real healthy, structural changes to their child’s brain to help mitigate some of the effects of the separation trauma.
Additionally, spending some time addressing how to provide more opportunities for attachment with the infant would be useful. Or maybe a conversation about attachment therapists. Such as: when should an adoptive parent seek out this type of professional?, what can what expect of this type of therapy?, what are questions one should ask of an attachment therapist to ensure a good fit? I feel like the lack of proactivity in this section leaves adoptive parents, and even clinician with a profound sense of helplessness. This may be the author’s intent in order to have adults be able to better identify and empathize with their traumatized children. However, if that is in fact the intent, that does not do much in regards to assisting parents on how to use that empathy to best provide for their child(ren).
Part II: The Manifestations
This section is focused on the behaviors that adopted children may show that illustrate the presence of the attachment trauma. This can be very helpful for therapists and adoptive parents to recognize and empathize with what these behaviors mean. It may also normalize the experiences of adopted children, who now may be adults, who acted in ways that at the time did not seem to make sense. I appreciated the time Verrier took to address not only the experiences of the adopted child, but also the dynamics that arise with other biological children in the house, the adoptive parents, and the birth mother as well (I really appreciated the way the author writes about the birth mother and the space she provides in the book to address the birth mother’s very real experiences. So far, in the books I have read, she barely ever is discussed, and she, of course, is incredibly important in this dynamic).
Part III: The Healing
It is in this section that Verrier starts to make suggestions and steps adoptive parents can take. She takes the time to address the differences one may witness in adoptees that were adopted at older ages versus infancy as well as the reunion process.
The time and care the Verrier spent on writing the importance of the reunion between the adoptee and the birth mother illustrates how pivotal this reunion is to adoptees and birth mothers. I especially appreciate the time the author spent discussing each set of people in the triad (adoptee, adoptive parents, and birth parents). She lays out the dynamics that arise within this triad, how things may play out, and the individual experience of each member within the triad. This not only normalizes the experience of each person within the dynamic, but also provide those who are “pre-reunion” with a framework of expectations.
One of the most powerful chapters was Chapter 14: “Empowering Ourselves”, where the author speaks directly to adoptees and the ways that they can address their attachment wounds. This was very powerful and an important read for everyone tied to the adoption.
Part IV: Conclusions
If there is any part that is going to rub the reader wrong, it is this section. It is here that the author is careful to not take a pro-choice or pro-life position, but also shares some strong opinions that may not be shared by the reader. She voices that life starts at conception and criticizes those who do not subscribe to this belief. She acknowledges the hard fought struggle of mothers to be able to return to work, but also voices deep concern for children whose mothers place them in childcare as opposed to taking time off to rear their children.
There were very important bits of information in this section around similarities between behaviors of a child with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and a child expressing behaviors indicative of a broken attachment. She describes the “wicked step-mother” dynamics and projections of the adoptee onto women in their lives. She even discusses the importance of recognizing the special limitations that adoptees have due to their early trauma. The issue is that due to the authors very strong opinions, I found it hard to retain the important information she was providing.
I found myself wanting to argue about the realities of today’s financial system, the amount of debt college students take on and to add raising a child on a single income seems like a pipe dream. If we add to that dynamic, the exorbitant cost of adoption within the United States, which is the only adoption system open to gay men, we set up a system in which children with attachment wounds are forced to reexperience them in child care so that his or her parents can continue to provide for him or her. The author makes all of this sound as though “one should have thought about that first”, which also rubs me wrong. If everyone took on her suggestions and advice then every generation starting with millennials would not have any children at all. If I were the author and was planning on addressing these issues at all, I would think that a better way of expressing these concerns is to zoom out and discuss how our systems have set all of our children up for attachment trauma. I would have like to see included in that conversation action steps for people to take such as contacting congressmen, or donating to organizations that do research on attachment trauma.
Another area that the author addressed, but without the depth I would have liked, was the role of fathers. Verrier does a great job illustrating how adoptive fathers are not usually the target of adoptees rage (as the primal wound was done by the mother’s perceived abandonment) and thus don’t recognize that they need to or how they need to better support their wives. I think some more action items would have been nice in this section Additionally, what of same-sex couples? What do the dynamics look like in lesbian couples? Are the relationships between child and both mothers tumultuous, or does the child seem to pick one mother at a given time to enact his or her anger towards? What of gay fathers? Do neither of them receive this anger?
Overall, I do think that this was a good book. I think that there is important information in it that is not covered in any of the other books or articles that I have read so far. With that said, I do think that if the layout were more similar to that of Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew by Sherrie Eldridge, the medicine would have gone down smoother.
On a personal note, I definitely want to thank my online friend Irene. I met her is a foster/adoption Facebook page many years ago and she has been incredibly supportive. She has reminded me that many of these books don’t just focus on the prospective adoptive parents who are researching in earnest in order to be the best adoptive parents that they can, but also those parents who already believe they know it all. The one’s that may be blind to attachment wounds and their symptoms, feel completely secure, and thus don’t see their blind spots. Keeping that in mind does help me ground myself when I start to feel overwhelmed by the need to fix everything- especially since I have no child as of yet, and my prospective future child is not yet born. (Clearly, I have a tendency to think ahead). Thanks Irene for talking me out of the proverbial tree!
Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew
By Sherrie Eldridge
Let me just start off by saying: get this book. Regardless if you are planning to adopt or not, it provides amazing insights on attachment trauma, how to support others more effectively, and how to ask people about their origins in an appropriate and caring way. With that said, I would say that it is even more imperative that if you are considering adopting, that you should start off with this book in order to ensure that you are starting off with appropriate expectations for the struggles your child, your relationship with your child, and you will face along this journey.
At first blush, I was afraid that this book was going to ask too much of parents; expecting them to be attachment therapists right out the gate. The Table of Contents was enough to make me even question my own clinical skills, and I have been working with adoptees for quite some time! With that said, the Table of Contents laid out very clearly the issues that you and your child will encounter in a way that validates the experience of the adoptee. Each chapter contains important psychological information, things to look for, and simple action items parents can engage in to provide the best care for their child.
Sherrie Eldridge also makes it abundantly clear that she is well read, providing many resources throughout the book. I even order a few myself for future reading. She also provides book and video recommendations to further your knowledge and understanding.
This is the sort of book you should read prior to adopting, but then revisit after each developmental marker, just to ensure that you are staying on the right track and to re-digest important parenting tips provided throughout the book. I highly recommend this book!
The Sh!t No One Tells You: A Guide to Surviving Your Baby’s First Year
By Dawn Dais
If you want a very down to earth point of view on literally surviving the first year of your child’s life, this book is for you. Dawn maintains a great sense of humor throughout the book and writes in a way that is very approachable and relatable. For me, some of the highlights of the book were discussions around what to take from the hospital as you head out the door, tips on changing diapers in ways that keep you from having an extra shitty experience, boundaries around internet use, and the pros and cons of having pets. Dawn does a great job of normalizing the difficult experience of being a new parent, while also assisting new and possibly pre-new parents to having realistic expectations, not only with your baby, but your partner and other relationships as well.
I will say, I was a little reactive to the section dedicated to vaccinations. I understand that the author did not want to use this book as a platform to push a certain agenda, however, I do think that at the end of the day, science has to trump emotional reasoning. Dawn does make a few good points about working with your pediatrician around concerns regarding issues your child may have regarding his/her immune system, and they were points I hadn’t considered, but what I found disappointing is how she held anti-vaxxer opinions on the same level as scientific studies.
It is important to note that this book was written pretty specifically with mothers in mind. This makes sense as you can’t have children without mothers, but there no space in the book where a father’s perspective is shared. This is not a criticism per say, but just an important facet of the book to be kept in mind. This means that there are large portions of the book dedicated to the physical and emotional experience of pregnancy, giving birth, and breastfeeding. This is a great opportunity for male readers to empathize with birth mothers and other mothers in their lives. Additionally, because this is through a birth mother’s perspective, there is no voice given to adoptive parents. Again, there is definitely great information being shared in this book, but not everything may apply. I also found that it was pretty awesome that the author is in a same-sex relationship, so if that is important for you to see the perspective of someone from the LGBTQ+ community’s voice in parenting, this book may be for you.
Raising my Rainbow
by Lori Duron
Raising My Rainbow was a refreshing new look at parenting. It is an exploration into what happens when our child does not meet our expectations. When our child does not clearly fit neatly into one box.
The book does a wonderful job of walking readers through the day-to-day struggles of raising a gender non-conforming child. In each situation you get to see Lori and her husband go through the process of surprise, questioning and exploring, reaching out, and problem-solving. The way they do this is always child-centered. They never fall into the trap of telling their child, C.J., what to do or who to be, but instead create a safe environment for their child to explore his own identity.
What was also nice to see was Lori stepping foot into how the parenting adjustments have affected her relationship with her husband. Also, how she had to take in special considerations for how C.J.’s gender expression may be affecting his older brother and how Lori tried to mediate these dynamics. You get to follow Lori as she struggles with teachers and school systems as well as when and where she finds allies.
Lori’s journey is incredibly validating for any parents who want to raise their children in an environment where the child sets the pace. These may run contrary to many more traditional approaches to raising children. It’s important to know this going in to this book so that you can actively open yourself up to being willing to see a new approach, if this parenting approach is novel to you.
In some ways, I do feel like everything was just a little too neat and tidy for me. Maybe it is my experience as a therapist that feels somewhat unsatisfied. Don’t get me wrong, I love the book and think every parent should read it to at least empathize with and follow the journey of another parent and their struggles. But, for a parent who is going through these struggles, who may be getting into fights with parents, friends, and other loved ones. For parents who find themselves deadlocked in conflict or going through the emotional roller-coaster of losing friends, it just falls a bit shallow. If Lori were to show the reader a little more of the messiness, the emotions, the grief, and the loss, it would have been much easier to feel like that process is normal. Uncomfortable as hell, but normal.
In all honesty, I have not read her blog. All of these aspects may very well be in there. But as a book, I would have liked to hear the points others made and how she refuted them. Where she felt stumped. Maybe even some of her frustrated feelings towards her son for being different. It all would have felt a little more real if these aspects had been present.
All in all, I felt like this was a good read. It was an easy read. And the nuggets of advice were hidden in the narrative, thus making them easy to digest. There was no parental mandates, just a “this is how we did it” approach. It is heart-warming to see a family overcome so much and the lengths Lori was able to go to support her sons, her marriage, her family, and even the LGBTQ+ community at large.
My Brown Baby: On the Joys and Challenges of Raising African American Children
by Denene Millner
I have to be honest. I purchased this book in an absolute panic. Over a year ago, my husband and I almost had a baby. A surprise baby. An old friend of mine had a friend who had an unwanted pregnancy. She was starting to go through a divorce, could not afford another child, nor did she want one. Her husband (ex-husband at this point, I assume), shared similar sentiments. She had put the child up for adoption, but the adoption fell through in her eighth month of pregnancy. That’s when my friend contacted me. We were in a tizzy. We dropped everything to plan for this unexpected baby that could arrive any week. We were in contact with the mother, lawyers, and adoption agencies. And then nothing. We were ghosted.
In that time of panic, I went to Barnes and Noble and purchased every baby book I could think of and pretty much cleared whole shelves. I am not sure when I thought I would have time to read all of these books three weeks before our potential child was to come home. But I was hopeful.
It has now been a few years since that time. The loss of this unexpected child was hard to bare and for a year I put everything on the back burner. A month ago, I picked up My Brown Baby by Denene Millner. I have to say, it was probably one of the wisest, impulsive book purchases I have ever made.
The book is comprised of several curated blog posts from Ms. Millner’s My Brown Baby website. So everything is clearly in her voice. This makes the book very personable. By the end, you feel like you know who Denene is as a mother, person, and wife. You know her values, and for me, personally, I am in admiration of her.
In this book she tackles all sorts of issues, from discrimination at the hospital, fears for our black boys, issues with the media, self-esteem, logistics of raising a child, and being a working mother. She discusses and unpacks each of these topics directly. There is no beating around the bush. But also respectfully. Her opinions show a balance of recognizing the desire to want the best for her children, and quite frankly, all children, while also recognizing the realities of what parents actually have control over. She sprinkles nuggets of wisdom throughout her blog posts, but does so without neon signs and flashy lights that scream “Do as I do!”
That is another aspect of this book that I like. There is no advice giving. There are no mandates. Ms. Millner seems to very intentionally only speak to her experience. This makes her wisdom much easier to digest without triggering one’s defenses. In fact, Ms. Millner has on a few occasions even qualified her statements in order to calm down fragile white readers that may be reactive to some of her statements regarding race (and I think it’s unfortunate that she felt the need to do so).
Many of the issues that Ms. Millner raises in her book, I have been well aware of. But here’s the thing, it is one thing to read about it and a completely separate thing to experience it. A good friend of mine has asked me if there is a difference between my generation’s understanding of 911 and the understanding that my teen clients have about 911. To this there is a resounding “YES!” And so too, it is different for me as a white gay male to fully understand the complexities of being an African-American mother. With that said, Ms. Millner’s approach to her writing does invite others to sit at her table, hear her experiences through her lens, and makes it almost impossible not to empathize with her and many other mother’s struggles.
One of my takeaways from this book has to do with childhood. All of my reading, lectures I’ve attended on being culturally aware, and discussions I’ve had with my friends of color did not seem to penetrate past the idea that these injustices only happen to adults. They don’t. It became clear(er) to me as to how all of the racism, sexism, and other isms may rob my future child of their childhood. I’m not sure how this will color my parenting, but it yet another aspect that I certainly need to keep in mind as a white parent trying to parent a (likely) child of color.
Pick up the book. Read it. Metabolize.
The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind
by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D.
- The book is short. 149 pages of text plus some cheat sheets and indexes in the back. This is a great length for a parent on the go!
- It does an excellent job explaining complex neuroscience in an easy to understand manner. It discusses the brain regarding it’s structure by breaking the larger components into top and bottom brain and then left and right brain. That is simpler than having to remember what each individual brain structure does.
- Each section is broken down into an introduction, strategies, and examples on implementation. The continued structure makes it really easy to reference in the future if you just need a quick reminder of a skill you want to try to execute.
- The book includes comics and diagrams to illustrate how to execute conversations with your child and to provide a visual on more complex concepts. It even comes with a “Refrigerator Sheet” so you can copy it and use it as a quick reference. There is even a table in the back to assist you on how to use the skills with children at various developmental stages!
- You can tell the book was written by psychologists. The conversations come across as a bit idealistic. This is reinforced by the comics. Perhaps if the comics were a bit more dynamic, showing the emotional reaction of the parents just before enacting the skill would have created a sense of understanding that enacting these skills in the moment, especially if parents are emotionally escalated at the time, would be useful.
- Regarding parental emotion escalation, I think it could also be useful to have several activities that parents could do on themselves to help them deescalate prior to trying to use these new skills. Trying anything new can be anxiety provoking and if your child is having a tantrum or “dug in” that can make it that much harder. I don’t believe any of these skills would be effective if the parent is emotionally escalated at the time s/he is enacting them.
All in all, I think this is a great book. I recommend having it on your shelf regardless of the age of your child. Hell, I think anyone could use these skills on anyone in their life. They are pretty practical and straight-forward and not always intuitive.
No-Drama Discipline by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph. D
I have to say, I really enjoyed this book A lot of the information is similar to that of their previous book (The Whole-Brain Child- see other review on this site), but in this one, the information seems to be organized in a manner even more user-friendly. The authors did reference the previous book once or twice, but I don’t think you need to have read the first one in order to understand this one (if you want to, please be my guest. No such thing as too much education!).
In No-Drama Discipline, the authors are asking the reader to be more reflective than in the first book. In this way, I feel like the book is more effective for parents who really want to focus on how to change their behavior in order to adjust the behavior of their children. In The Whole-Brain Child, I believe the goal was much more informational regarding the brain development of children. Because of this difference, and the fact that there is a lot of overlap, I would recommend No-Drama Discipline over The Whole-Brain Child if I could only recommend one.
In this book, the author’s make great use of simple explanations as to how the brain works. Again, they use many concrete examples, and come across more like caring parent coaches and less judgey PTA moms. The tone is one of encouragement.
I also like the way that the emphasizes important information either through diagrams, italics, or by utilizing cartoons. If you are not much of a “book-learner”, the authors clearly are making an effort to provide you with information in a manner that better matches your learning style (given that this is in fact a book, the authors are clearly limited in this regard).
What’s great about this book is that, parent or not, speaking with a child or an adult, the communication skills discussed in this book are effective for enhancing connections in all relationships, not just parent to child. I have no real criticisms about the book. In fact, I have already recommended it to three or four of my clients, with children ages 6-22. I highly encourage everyone to give it a quick read.
Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome by Dr. Joy Degruy
I first heard about this book at one of my many “Trauma Informed Care” conferences. When the speaker mentioned the book, most of the audience seemed to be aware of its existence and responded favorably to it. I pulled out my cell phone and ordered it on Amazon right then and there.
The book is based on the premise of epigenetics. The idea is that when one experiences trauma, it turns off and on certain genes in the DNA. If a woman becomes pregnant after experiencing trauma (or the father or both parents have been exposed to trauma) the altered genetics would then get passed down to her children. This is not new information to me, but I had not applied this knowledge outside of the therapy room. I hadn’t thought to apply this knowledge to African-Americans and the trauma of slavery, or to adoption (trauma of the separation from the mother and the child’s potential racial makeup).
Dr. Degruy discusses the concept of epigenetics and how this predisposes those traumatized and future generations to the symptoms of PTSD. She discusses how children also learn behaviors and beliefs through the modeling of their parent. It is possible for the child to have learned ineffective behaviors from their parents, but also may be predisposed to engage in those behaviors genetically. She goes on to discuss the effects of racist socialization and hypervigilance and their effect on African-American children.
In the summarizing of her book, Dr. Degruy discusses ways for African-Americans to combat the effects of PTSD. She emphasizes the importance of community and family; building one another up instead of tearing one-another down (she discusses the “crabs in a barrel” effect in minority communities and how slavery-related PTSD effect dynamics between couples, individuals with different hair and skin types, and those people of color in power versus those without).
I thought that this book was wonderfully written, and really emphasized some of my blind spots as a white person to the long-term effects of slavery. It also had me considering dynamics that I may need to be aware of and address with our future child and their birth parents. These are very important pieces to consider when planning for a potentially mixed-race adoption.
I did not have much critique of the book. There were only two areas that I felt needed to be addressed or better clarified. The first is Dr. Degruy’s position that relationships that focus on tearing you down should be ended. This is later contradicted when she suggests that no one leave the room until old conflicts are settled, despite how difficult it may be. There may be times where the issue is being discussed is a person that is tearing others down. How would Dr. Degruy suggest that this be handled? Are there some questions one could ask themselves to make an informed decision as to how to handle these sorts of conflicts?
The other issue I had was Dr. Degruy’s suggestion that African-Americans connect through religious institutions. She sited how communities of faith were pivotal in building supports for slaves, combating segregation, and creating safe spaces for African-Americans. I am not arguing this point, but I do become concerned with advocation that everybody seek out this specific support system. I may be especially sensitive to this, as a gay man, but what if an individual seeking these supports is a member of the LGBTQ community? Historically, African-American churches have not been welcoming to those who identify as LGBTQ. Also, what happens if the individual seeking support does not agree with the religious doctrine of the religious communities they have access to, or identify as atheist or agnostic? I get the point that creating community and supporting one another is paramount. I just would have liked more time spent on how to find and create these supportive communities in the event that one is not readily available or identifiable.
I very much recommend this book and think it offers important insights to those who are part of and not part of the African-American community. I will continue to explore how this information could be applied to my therapy practice as well as our future adoption.