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Thursday, July 31, 2014

SOMEONE ELSE’S RELATIONSHIP WITH MY CHILD


 
It is nice when friends or professionals take notice of how special our children are.  When parts of their personality connect with another adult, it can be some relief to parents.  On the flip side of that, I have had ‘friends’,  ‘professionals’, and even family-members subtly cross that line.  You know, when you just have that nagging gut feeling that something isn’t right.  As I process those times, I realize that I am starting to realize some very important lessons.  My child cannot afford for me to ignored these lessons.

I have noticed that some individuals are drawn to children that seem to need extra help of some sort.  The children sometimes have struggling relationship with their parents or other adults.  The children may have a challenging personality.  These adults may feel a connection to the child that reminds them of an unmet need from their childhood. Their intentions may be benign, but if not kept in check, there are potential for problems.   The non-parent might feel they are better equipped to meet the child’s need even more than the parent.   Unfortunately, I do not know a way to measure this but it becomes dangerous when the need they are longing to meet is their own. 

Of course, these situations can be placed on a spectrum- small problems to major problems.  Not all of these situations cross over the line to some sort of abuse.  So, what are we worried about?  One thing that is very important to keep in mind is that not everyone who is building a relationship with your child is a potential problem.   Mentoring has a very powerful place in a child/youth’s life, as long as it is safe. 

Two of my children have had adults in their lives that have crossed the line.  Once all was taken care of, one of the realities that I learned was that my child really did want me.  They did not want secrets, even though there were fun things that came with secrets.  They were so relieved and I watched the stress leave their bodies, when I took control of the situations.

The number rule is to follow your gut.  Is it concern or fear?  If it is fear, it might be your own ‘stuff’ bubbling up.  If it is concern, talk to a trusted balanced person in your life; talk through it.  More than likely, clarity will come.

Is your child young?  Does your child have attachment struggles?  They need you.   Do you like your child and spend quantity and quality time with them?  Other people can pick up on these subtleties too.  If you find out there are secrets being kept, or ‘special’ things between an adult friend and your child, this is a huge warning sign.  It is not usually the overt signs that we have a hard time seeing, but the subtle signs.

For me, one of the important lessons in these situations is not just to know what to watch for, but to ask where my relationship with my child is.  Does my child experience daily acceptance, enjoyment, and love from a relationship with me? 

I can easily live in fear of the lurking ‘Boogey Man/Woman’.  I can spend a lot of energy in being angry and resentful at those adults who cross those lines. 

The greatest reminder for me is me!  Where is my responsibility in all of this?  Am I easy for my child to approach?  Am I too busy?  Is my resentment building up towards a difficult child?    These are all great things to be mindful of.

The other point to remember is our children that we have adopted come from a place of brokenness and neediness.  They give off signals that, more than likely, they do not recognize.  Be sensitive to those you surround yourself with.  Be aware of who is around your kids.  Do not down-play when they are uncomfortable or really drawn to certain adults. It is always our job to keep them safe and to teach along the way to be aware.

YOU are who and what, your child needs.
Monica Cohu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Parenting and Family Fun

When our kids are difficult, snarky, super challenging or - dare I say it?- raging, about the last thing we want to do is have fun with them. Fun- what's that? In our heart-of-hearts we'd probably rather be about a million miles away.

But does that solve the problem? No. As their parents, we still have to work through their behaviors and their acting-out, and at the same time that we're raising our "children of trauma," re-build their childhoods with memory-making fun activities.

It's up to us to show our children what CAN be, what fun is.
They need us to build memories with them. Memories of camping and Wet 'N Wild, and blowing bubbles in the back yard, wrestling with the dog, planting tomatoes, and smearing icing all over the counter when we make those chocolate cupcakes.

I've got seven kids- six adopted- and heaven knows I've made my fair share of mistakes while raising them. I learned as I want along, so I didn't usually make the same mistake twice. But the mistake that I truly grieve is letting my snarkiest kid get away with "killing" the family fun. That was SO unfair to him.

(Yes, I said to Him)

If I had it to do over, I would have drug him along on the usual family outings, and if he needed to be on the periphery, scowling, while the rest of the family had fun, so be it. At least he would have had the OPPORTUNITY for fun, would have seen what fun looks like; the rest of the family would have had fun : and with his flair for editing and re-writing the past, I can imagine that by now, as a 20+ year old he will have written himself into the memories.

We aim- during Fiesta training child care- to give your child fun, educational experiences. Our trained therapeutic child care providers will do their best to make the hours together pleasant and memory making. You will have fun, too. Join us for our next fun event!

Phyllis Wood Radtke

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Regulation Deficit


 
We talk much about trauma being a “developmental disorder” because it is.  It is important to recognize in our children the deficit of being able to regulate themselves (keep their thinking, emotions and behavior under control).  One of the biggest arguments that I hear against practicing therapeutic, or attachment parenting is, “My child can control himself when he wants to or when he wants something”.  Looking at a child’s behavior from a purely external view shows the statement to appear correct.  This sets the stage for uses of punishment and consequences, which in turn sets the relationship up for failure. Why do traditional techniques and strategies seem to work with some children?  Some do for a temporary fix.  Are they really training our children and youth to calm themselves in healthy ways, for the long-term?   Science has taught us that if a child is not experiencing consistent calm peace, their neurochemistry of chaos cannot change. 

 For years, sometimes longer than we parents realize, we are to be containment for our children’s feelings.  It is our job to be their “internal regulator.” With relationship comes the ability to speak into their lives. At specific times we begin to teach them how to regulate their own feelings.  We step into sharing the containing, then eventually we hand the job over to them.

If you are at the store and your child begins to be disruptive (in any way) you usually give a verbal warning or a look.  Stop it!”   As moments continue, the child begins the behaviors again. Your frustration increases, along with feeling the lack of control flowing away.  After several times, you may give a threat, “If you don’t stop that, you will lose TV tonight”.  Or you might try bribery, “If you can control yourself until we get to the car, I’ll buy you a candy bar”.  These techniques can work for a period of time. That is why we use them again and again.   Unfortunately, they only work for short spurts.  They are not teaching internal regulation skills and they are not building a mutual relationship between you and your child.  It actually places pressure between the two of you.

First of all, the use of punitive consequences can come from a feeling of losing control.  The parent cannot get her child to behave the way the parent is comfortable with.  Then, as the behaviors continue to come up, bribes and threats continue, the parent begins to feel like a failure, and possibly resentful of the child.  In turn, the child’s anxiety increases and he experiences hurt and anger.

Now, let us take a look what is going inside the brain.  Our children that come from compromised beginnings measure dangerously high levels of cortisol (stress hormone) and their oxytocin (love hormone) is measured dangerously in deficit levels. 

Look at how the technique of bribery works.  The child is stressed (negative behavior). The parent gives into the candy.  There is a short oxytocin release (the child feels good) but the child has not learned how to regulate her emotions.  When the sugar kicks in, behaviors begin to increase. Then the sugar drops, and behaviors continue to increase.  Now, a bigger-better external means of regulation is needed, and so on and so on.   When this calming wears off, it met by the release of more cortisol.  The child begins to see external means as regulation (very similar to how addictions work), instead of increasing oxytocin through relationship.  Points and rewards work this way also.  Sometimes when we use these traditional techniques, they work for a while.  A child may hold it together as long as she can, then out of exhaustion, she cannot anymore. 

Consequences work in a similar neurological way.  A negative behavior occurs. More cortisol is released.  A consequence is given, more cortisol floods the brain.  We take away or send away (time out), even more cortisol is produces.  The use of relationship to regulate is not happening or being taught.  Cortisol is now rushing through our child. Survival is in control.

 Relationship is not about techniques.  It is about being in-tune to where you are emotionally and where your child is emotionally.  This is how a child will learn regulation.   Regulation through relationship only counteracts cortisol by releasing oxytocin, but builds up reserves of oxytocin.  That is self-regulation. We cannot just look at what we see externally, but understand what is internal.

Monica Cohu                                                                                                                                                                                              

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Food Issues, Mommy Glasses, and the Movies


We went to the movies today. I was excited because I only had the two little kids with me- everything is easier with two kids instead of five. Frankly, over these last few years, attending the theatre with two toddlers with attachment issues has been a battle. The tension oozing from my youngest was tangible and lasted from the second we entered the theatre until long after we had left. They have been in our home for 4 ½ years now, and as I waited in the concession line for the lady in front of me to order 97 separate items, I had time to analyze how my parenting approach had changed.

I choose to take the kids out to the movies because most of us enjoy it immensely, but to keep within the budget we go to the dollar theatres and we share popcorn and drinks.  It is simple, efficient, affordable and fun. If we stay within these guidelines we can go to the movies regularly. The family has talked this through and the kids are happy to share if it means getting to attend more frequently! Happy Kids + Happy Mom=Win/Win

 Enter into the scenario a traumatized toddler with food and anxiety issues. As we settled into our first movie three or so years ago, I had all the kids seated. I had explained to the kids that as soon as the movie started I would go stand in line and bring back popcorn and soda. I was the only adult, so I wanted to be gone in the concession line for the least amount of time possible. My little man started in, “I want a drink, I want popcorn, I want coke, where is the coke, why can’t I have popcorn?” And for the next 10 minutes it felt like he was standing there with a fire hose drowning me with his verbal demands. He was so insistent and worked up that he was crying, sobbing, completely unable to regulate himself. We were already in melt-down mode so I left him with an older sibling and sprinted to the line and came back with 2 sodas and a large popcorn- crisis averted. Right? Oh no! If someone dared ask for the soda to be passed down for a sip he would be sobbing and obsessed with holding it AND the popcorn.

 Let’s pause this story for a moment. This is emotional tension on steroids. This emotional tension was exhausting for me. I wasn’t used to living in an environment where there was so much chaos, and especially over something so simple. For the first few years of parenting our traumatized (post-orphanage) kids, I was convinced that they were the reasons for the disconnect. Obviously right? Healthy, normal kids don’t often act like their life is in danger at the thought of sharing a soda at a theatre.

 I have since learned to change my expectations and movie strategies. I already know in advance that all my kids have strengths and weaknesses. Food is a tender area for this little man. I could have had him share a soda today and he would have survived. But survival sucks. I don’t want my kids doing the minimum, I want them to thrive. So I bought that boy his very own large soda AND I let him hold the popcorn. Because it isn’t about the soda at all. It is about loss. And he has allowed me to look into his little heart, and what he is capable of saying to me at this time is, “I need more- more time, more hugs, more love, more attention, more structure, more food, more snacks, more, more, more.” This used to drive me crazy, and it still does sometimes. But I can look at his cries for soda and put on my special super-duper-Mommy glasses and see that what he is really saying is that he is still scared. And I’m truly thankful for the fact that he is voicing his needs. Emotions and fear are hard to process, even for adults. If I shut him down, I’m never going to get to that next layer, because I guarantee you there is more coming. Grief and loss can be an invisible wave that washes slowly into your psyche or it can be a tidal wave that rocks you so hard your head is spinning. The waves of grief that surround our traumatized kids are always there and it is up to us as parents to look past the behaviors and realize that these kids have different needs than the ones who were rocked and cooed at during infancy. Sometimes it is a simple fix like plopping $6 for a large soda. But it is bridging the gaps in his brain. As we continually meet these demands, his little brain is forming new pathways, he is learning to relax, and he is learning to trust. Not bad for 6 bucks!

 Just to test my little experiment, I asked if his sister could have a sip of his orange soda about 30 minutes into the movie. And while he complied, I could see his fear filled eyes reengage instantly. That is where he is; it makes me sad for him. Bryan Post says that “trauma has the ability to impact us for the rest of our lives.” It is completely true. Do not be fooled, time does not heal all wounds. Relationship, eye contact, routine, consistency, can begin to heal some losses- but only if we are mindful of what is driving the behavior. -Sarah Sanchez

Friday, March 21, 2014

Top 10 Things to Do When Your Child is Out of Control

Alamogordo Training 3/23/14, 2pm at the Alameda Park Zoo in Alamogordo NM
If you have an out of control child, then you need to be at the Alameda Park Zoo at 2 pm this Sunday, the 23rd of March.  Serena Talamentes will be presenting a class on things to do when you have an out of control child.  Come join us and bring your out of control child with you.  Our well qualified childcare attendants will entertain them while Serena gives you precious nuggets of instruction on how to deal with out of control behavior without pulling your hair out or pulling their hair out!  We will provide a light lunch for you and your child.  CE hours will be awarded, also.  While Serena instructs us in the AFOTZ (Alamogordo Friends of the Zoo) classroom, your children will be allowed to go into the zoo with our childcare attendants.  They will enjoy games, exercise and seeing the zoo animals - and maybe come back with some awesome feathers!  So, if you're like me and need help with out of control behavior, run - don't walk - to the Alameda Park Zoo this Sunday and get some helpful tidbits from Serena.  You can RSVP to me, "T.", at 575-491-7246 to save your space in the class.  Hurry and get there, but don't speed because if you get a ticket, we may see an out of control adult!  C'Ya Soon......."T."

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome


Alcohol and trauma are a bad combination, but all too often kids who have suffered prenatal trauma due to their mother’s stressful circumstances also suffer neurological damage because of the way she used alcohol to cope with the stress. Dr. Kodi and Dr. Kodi, neurobehavioral psychologists from UNM, (and married tag-team instructors) explained to a group of adoptive parents in Albuquerque that the consumption of alcohol by women who are pregnant is still happening in spite of public education, service announcements and media attention. Most women know that drinking alcohol when they’re pregnant is a bad thing. Often instead of this knowledge resulting in changed behavior however, it results in denial. The doctors said that many women will readily admit to using a variety of drugs while pregnant, but few will admit to using alcohol. That was one surprising fact among many- binge drinking is worse than daily intake, thinner drinkers pass on more alcohol to their babies than heavier ones, younger moms are at less risk than older moms for having a child with FAS, alcohol is by far the most dangerous of drugs to use when pregnant and a child can have FAS without the facial features that accompany it, depending on when in the pregnancy the mother was drinking.

But this wasn’t just a training on neurology and interesting facts, even though there were plenty of pictures of the brain, charts and graphs and real science, and those things are important to know about. The best thing about the training was the hope available to parents who are raising kids with alcohol issues. Kids with FAS need their environments to be quiet and calm, not stimulating. Their brains cannot take in too much at a time, so a parent needs to slow down and give a child a chance to process a request. Social stories and visual schedules are good techniques for these kids. They may have a hard time understanding cause and effect, so teaching these things as early as possible can prevent them from becoming a problem in the teen years. It’s good to know that resources are available through UNM to get a good diagnosis, behavioral strategies and gain better understanding of the condition. Please call me if you want to learn more… (505) 270-6219

Thursday, February 27, 2014

VALENCIA COUNTY SUPPORT GROUP

 Sometimes it's good to get together and just talk!  We may laugh, we might cry - heck we could find ourselves  laughing and crying at the same time!  Parenting kids with trauma backgrounds is not for the weak of heart!  Please join us for dinner around 5:30 @ the LaFamilia/Namaste building - 40 Hob Rd in Los Lunas.   (FREE child care).  Check out the NMFIESTAPROJECT.ORG calendar for more information.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Gallup Adoptive Parents: Eat, Meet & Greet!!

On Saturday, March 1, Gallup Adoptive Parents will meet at Camielle's sidewalk
Cafe for a time to share, support and relax together.  Camielles is offering 50%
off in support of adoptive families.  If you want to join the group, call Brian
and Sheila Kruis at 505-863-2645.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

But I Never Said I Wanted to Be a Foster Parent


Many people contact the state when they come to the decision to adopt. Primarily, they want to add a child to their family- they anticipate the fun, the snuggles, the pride in having a son or daughter, the challenges of raising a child into an adult. They have probably looked at their options and have come to the conclusion that they want to give a kid from their own community a chance to have a stable, loving family. Maybe they’ve seen a Heart Gallery portrait that touched them, maybe searched out a child online, but usually they just have a general idea of the kind of child that would best fit with their family. Then they make the call and go to an orientation or Raft training and learn that CYFD only issues foster care licenses- not “adoption licenses.” This can be confusing, (“Don’t we hear all of the time about all of the kids that need to be adopted?”) or even infuriating (“I said that I don’t want to be a foster parent!”)

But here’s the deal- social workers aren’t trying to find the right kid for your family, they are trying to find the right family for a child. Adopting a child is not like buying a used car where you find the right model, low mileage, upgraded options, and then negotiate the best price. Kids in state custody are actual people with ideas, specific talents and gifts and always, always a lot of hurt. You can’t order one with the characteristics you want, like a sci-fi movie. They are already assembled and already there. One way to find them homes is to put them in temporary care with a family that doesn’t want to adopt and wait until a “forever family” comes forward. In storybooks, this process takes a couple of weeks. In reality, and more so in the past, this process has caused further damage for the child because they were inevitably moved many times before they ended up in a family that wanted to adopt them. New Mexico joined many other states in deciding that they would find a better way to find a child permanent parents. “Concurrent placement” is the strategy they have chosen to help kids find stability with the least amount of system-inflicted pain.

Being a foster/adopt/concurrent parent in this plan involves a paradigm shift (one of many in the life of an adoptive parent). The question changes from, “How can I find the child that I’ve dreamed of?” to, “What do I need to change in myself and my circumstances to help a child heal and thrive?” These changes can be difficult. They may involve becoming vulnerable and open to establishing a relationship with the child’s first family. (That may be as large as welcoming them into your home or as small as sending pictures a few times a year- it’s important to a kid to know where they are from.) They probably mean that you need to learn some very different ways of parenting than the ones you grew up with. (The trauma experienced by many children requires closer supervision and a priority of connection instead of perfect behavior.) They could mean that you have to take on the risk of loving a child as your own and letting go. (Even though CYFD tries to place children who are legally free with families who want to adopt, they don’t always know if Aunt Mary will step forward at the last minute.) Or not loving a child right away and taking your time to nurture a small flame of caring. (Kids with so much hurt can be slow to trust and to attach to you as their parent.) There is sacrifice in this lifestyle, but there is joy. You think you’re signing up for a sprint, but it becomes a marathon. This is not for the faint of heart. But for that one child, it is worth it.

 

 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Awesome!!



Gallup families and professionals learned much about Truama behaviors 
with Traci Trippett on Feb 1.  We learned about what kinds of trauma
behaviors affect people who have suffered trauma and how we can respond to
help children with trauma behaviors.  Thanks for the equipping!!!
>>> Brian Kruis

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Recommended!

We had a great training this last weekend on "Healing Research" by Karen Purvis.  TCU has been great collecting research and sharing the most effective ways that we can help children with trauma!  This is a great DVD training.  Brian Kruis, Galllup

Monday, January 13, 2014

Quiet Defiance


One of my children is not always compliant. I know. You thought they were all perfect. Those subtle, little, annoying not-quite-doing-what-you-ask kind of mini-behaviors can set me on edge. Here’s how my evening went- I noticed that one of my sweet ones was sitting on the couch playing video games and I obviously didn’t think before I said, “Are you playing video games? Did you get permission?” (Silly me.) “Yes!” Sweet One replied emphatically. “I asked you if I could play Words With Friends and you said Yes!” Oh, the sincerity of children! Except that she was lying. Now, this particular child is fairly stable and doesn’t often lie, cheat or steal. Except that a sister just had a birthday and received a tablet. Sweet One does not own a tablet. But wants one. Badly. (Silly me) So I sent her into my room to wait while I decided that she needed an extra chore. After a little talk, she was asked to clean some spots off the kitchen floor. (I know, that consequence makes no sense at all- silly me.) So she laid crossways on the kitchen floor while spraying Fantastic on random places and watching it dry. So my husband, logical thinker, sent her outside to seek and destroy the dog poop in the front yard. Easy job. Not much poop there. So she went- because she is sweet and quiet and has never in her life said a disrespectful word. But she left all of the doors open on her way out. And when she got to the front yard you could hear her wailing for blocks. Let’s just say that, because she in inherently sweet,  eventually we got through it, she paid her ridiculously sentenced debt to society and we had another little talk and moved on to dinner. (Where is Bryan Post when you need him?) I have proven, once again, that no matter how many books you read, no matter how many tools in your parenting toolbox, sometimes you just lapse into the “old  ways” and do some pretty mindless things.  And I have determined to never be quietly defiant ever again. Lesson learned. Silly me.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Chronic Illness and Therapeutic Parenting


My name is Sarah Sanchez and I’m the Family Contact for Rio Rancho. Intentional parenting in general is a lot of work; parenting kids with attachment issues or troubled pasts requires you to function at a level most parents can’t comprehend. When my husband and I decided to add adoption into our house we were ready- physically, emotionally, and financially. We had three biological kids and knew we had more resources to share. During our two-year adoption period, I was involved in an auto accident that I was struggling to get over. We brought home two toddlers from Ethiopia and were thrilled to have them in our family. Two months after they came home, I was rear ended once again, but this time I wouldn’t recover. Here I was with five young kids, two with attachment issues, one with severe dyslexia, and one with gluten intolerance. And I was ill, not often, ALWAYS. Not only were we doing attachment therapy, speech, and OT but I had to be at the doctor or chiropractor a couple of times a week for my issues. It destroyed our plans to keep the kids in the house as much as possible because I had to take them to these appointments, which caused chaos when we returned home. This year I was fortunate enough to get a diagnosis of Lyme’s Disease and undergo treatment. It had been masked by the accidents, but it had been there for years, causing chronic pain, and fatigue- morning, noon and night.

I continue to meet parents who are in a similar situation as I am. They are struggling to meet the needs of their “hurt” kids, but with the added intensity of their own chronic illnesses. This lays the foundation for a potential disaster.  For myself and so many others with chronic illnesses, we have spent a fortune on medical care. Many families find themselves unable to hire help for cleaning, sitters, and tutors because so much of the available resources each month are going into dr appointments, therapy, etc.  The following points are the things that I’ve found essential to parent hurt kids while living in physical pain:

1.      Ask for help.   I struggled to ask for help early on because I felt like this was something “we” got ourselves into, and “we” needed to handle it. I eventually realized that I needed help from healthy people in our lives to get through this time. Another strategy was doing bedtime dates- put kids down early, and try to stay up and enjoy the quiet. Again, for sick people this is tough.

  1. Self Care- Do it.  Taking care of yourself and your relationships is difficult when you have lots of kids, because their needs are endless. I’m  now better at giving myself permission to shut the door, go to bed early, or rest. My limitations as a sick-parent are real and hard to swallow some days. But here is the thing- even healthy parents have limitations, ours are just greater. Grieve the loss and then form a plan- what is realistic for you to accomplish today, this week, this month, etc. Consider having an understanding friend help you sort out a plan. Consider joining the child-care swap available through FIESTA. That way if you are having a bad week, you have another pool of folks to help.

  1. Grieving.  Parents living with chronic issues face a lot of losses. It is hard to acknowledge the “huge loss” of “this is not the life I planned for my kids”. Because you face losses everyday with your kids- I can’t take you to the park today, I don’t have the strength, or you have to go with me to this appointment because I can’t afford a sitter, I can’t do laundry and dishes today. I felt like I was failing on so many levels. But I needed to form new expectations as a sick/disabled Mom, and ditch the “high” expectations I had for myself. That process is grievous, I felt like I was always “compromising” which also felt like a loss. I learned that there are therapists who specialize in working with families who live with chronic illness.

  1. The NEW Normal??? Whatever that means. For years I had Doctors tell me to focus on a “new normal.” For us, this meant our kids couldn’t (currently) be involved in extra curricular activities. This breaks my Mama heart regularly, but it is necessary. We have learned to play more games at home, host more movie nights and do home-based activities. They do have a mom who, even if I’m on the couch, can provide emotional love and support. It also means my home and my car almost never look the way I want,  because I can’t keep up. I can be upset about it and disrupt the emotional atmosphere of the house (we all know how well our hurt kids respond to that), or use the opportunity to teach my kids many, many lessons. For example:
                  *We care about people more than possessions. If someone among us is weak or sick, we must care for them-it is easy to do this FOR our kids but much harder to let it be us that needs the care.
                  *We try to focus on the many things we have, and not dwell on the things we want.
                  *Growing up in a household with special needs teaches kids to be empathetic and caring. It has taught all of us to be generous with our time and resources for people in need, and they would all agreeJ

In closing, if you too are living with a chronic illness and trying to be an intentional parent in spite of things, you have my sympathies. It is beyond difficult and often lonely. Many people will not understand, and you have to be ok with it. Let me leave you with a quote that I think of almost daily.
ATTITUDE   by Charles Swindoll
“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company... a church... a home.

The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past... we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude... I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.”

Sarah Sanchez





Friday, December 13, 2013

Avoiding the Holiday Blues


December can be a stressful time of year, not only for our kids, but also for us. Planning too many things to do can create anxiety on our families with too little sleep and loss of routine.  Envisioning your kids delight while opening a hundred presents with shiny eyes and a grateful heart can cause us to resent them when they can't measure up. Not taking care of ourselves can make the whole month take on an ugly tarnish. Here's some tips for making it easier:

1. Scale back- only do those things that will bring your whole family joy. Don't get carried away with the feeling of obligation to friends and extended family. If you can't attend every event or party, send apologies and carry on without guilt- your child may not be able to hande every get-together.

2. Schedule in plenty of down-time and quiet time. Make crafts together if your child enjoys it, read holiday books, eat by candlelight. Take advantage of the quietness and sensory parts of the holidays with nice smells and tastes, playing in the snow, playing soft music. Avoid busyness.

3. Think about gifts as things that will benefit your child instead of only things on their lists. Remember that whatever you buy may get broken, so expect it. Don't buy expensive things that your child is not ready to take care of. Don't over-do it with numbers of presents either. Think of things that will help your child connect with you- for example, you could go ahead and buy that video game system, but commit to playing together and buy a timer to go with it :) Lay down ground rules from the beginning to avoid power struggles. Think of gifts that you can build together, read together, listen to together.

4. You may dream of taking your child to a special concert or program, you may have wonderful warm, fuzzy expectations of going to grandma's and letting the cousins all play quietly in the other room while the adults visit. But. Your child may not be there yet. And if your plans are ruined by a meltdown or power struggle, your disappointment may cause a problem in your relationship. Think about your expectations and dreams and modify them. It's not your child's fault that you have unrealistic expectations.

5. Pay attention. It's easy to get distracted during this season and not notice signs that your child is starting to get stressed or anxious. Make sure that you're mindful of the clues that something may not be exactly right, and take a few minutes to pull your child aside to make sure everything is fine with them. If it helps, make up a secret sign or code so that your child knows he/she can have your attention when they need it. In our family, if one of our kids says, "I need to talk to you in your office," it's code for, "Something's up and I need you alone." I always respond when they say those words and we find a quiet place to talk.

6. Schedule time to re-charge. Write it on your calendar- "sit on front of the fire with a glass of wine," "get a massage today," "get respite to have coffee with a friend." Not letting yourself get burned out can make all the difference between enjoying the holidays or seeing them as a burden.

Scaling back, re-thinking your expectations and focusing on your child's emotional temperature are three ways to keep the "Happy" in "Holidays." I hope that your family has a fun one this year with plenty of time to play and connect!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Join the Book Club!!

We have just started the discussion on "The Whole Brain Child," by Daniel Siegel...

"I haven't read this book before now. So I just finished chapter one and I'm reflecting on my evening. I'm paddling down a lazy river on a nice calm evening when I realize that B, who was reminded to finish the dishes (maybe 40 times?) is talking on the phone, dishes undone. The other sweet littles are munching on cookies and generally being silly. Fast forward down the river. Bedtime and we notice that the rooms are a total (insert cliche) Pigpen and the closet floors are nowhere to be seen under layers of clothes. I would like to know how things can get so bad when they were just cleaned last night under the same circumstances. (Did I mention that the dishes still aren't done? And we used paper plates!) My lazy river has turned into raging rapids and I am slamming against the shores of chaos and rigidity as I become dis-integrated. My heart rate goes up and my voice gets mean and (sorry Dr Purvis) my eyes are not soft. There is a little voice in my head that tells me that it is my fault that I was preoccupied when there was cookie munching and phone-call-talking and that I need to be more aware of the state of the responsibilites before it gets this late. Again. So, I look forward to learning how this book can help me gain some mental health so that I can teach my kids to integrate their own brains.  So what do you think? Is there a river? Are the banks called Chaos and Rigidity? Does this ring true with you? On to chapter two...."

Interested? Does this book sound like something that would give you more parenting tools by understanding the right-brain, left-brain, top-brain, bottom-brain integration? I know that I, for one, can always use new ways to see my child- new ways to improve myself and learn, or even review, information that can bring hope and healing. Pick up the book, order it on Amazon, or grab a copy from the Fiesta library and log on to the Facebook group page,  NM Fiesta Book Club to discuss it with the rest of us.


Sunday, August 25, 2013


Perceptions

The other day a family friend dropped by. He’s one of those people who has strong political opinions and shares them without filter. I would guess that we all have friends or family members like that. He’s a kind, Latino man in his mid-forties, who has never been married or had children. He walked into the kitchen where my husband and I were assembling plates of granola pancakes and melon for dinner (because, once again, neither of us had given dinner much thought until it was time to eat). Four or five kids were already at the table, anticipating and maybe listening, but probably strategizing the many ways that they could arrange to include sugar into the meal. So. Our friend says in his loud voice, “I heard on the radio that there were some black extremists who decided to blah, blah, and caused all kinds of trouble by blah blah, Trayvon Martain, blah blah…” when I held up my hand and stopped him by reminding him that there were kids listening and he needed to be careful what he said in our house. He looked in the direction of the table and seemed to be surprised to see kids of many shades looking at him. He sheepishly changed the topic of conversation and behaved himself the rest of the night.

Later, I was replaying the event in my mind, deciding if I handled it right. Should I have said more, said it differently, let it slide? Would talking with the kids about it now make it a bigger deal since they may not have even heard what he said? Is it a teaching opportunity to explain how some people, even friends, can have opinions that we find offensive or should I let it go? I wondered why, so often, people forget that the kids are different races, when it dawned on me- maybe they think of my kids as white. Maybe they noticed and thought about race when some of our kids moved into our family, but maybe now, after time, they simply think of them as Gloetzners- white people. Would he have been so free with his words if we were all black? (And really, please don’t categorize people in subtle negative ways to anyone in my family- no matter what color they are.)

I was talking to another adoptive mom a few months ago when this subject came up. She has a black teen son and lives in a tiny NM town. They don’t talk about race at all and every one of his friends is white, I asked her if she thought he considered himself black and if he thought about it much. What would happen when he left the small town and schoolmates for college or work where no one would see him as part of a white family and treat him like the black man that he is becoming? She hadn’t really ever thought about it. The entire community sees him as white. Ignoring race is not doing this teen any favors. Because it isn’t freely discussed in his house, doesn’t mean it isn’t on his mind. A lot. Seeing the kids at my table as part of a white family and not as part of the black community is not doing them any favors. Assuming that being in a white family makes you white is insulting and harmful to kids. I think it’s time to have a heart-to-heart talk with my friend.









Thursday, August 8, 2013

Question

I recently attended a training at The Attachment Healing Center with director, Michelle Coleman. (I highly recommend it.) In speaking about neurology and why we don't want to parent out of our reptilian brain (think about how reptiles parent), she suggested that there is another coping mechanism to add to "fight, flight or freeze." A fourth survival response can also be, "mend and be-friend." It reminded me of a story of a lady who was kidnapped and forced into a car with a creepy bad guy. Over the course of a couple of hours, he drove and she talked. In be-friending him, even mothering him to some extent, she won her freedom, unharmed. Do you think this is a valid idea and, if so, how can we use it as parents?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A Little Word on Subsidies



Aodopting some of my kids felt like winning a new car. “You mean I get to keep it? Forever? It’s mine? No payments?” But a couple of the adoption packages have come with a financial piece. It’s like winning the car and then finding out that you get free gas, as well. Talking about money makes me uncomfortable. The fact that when I adopted some of my kids, they came with a stipend, makes me uncomfortable. But here’s the truth for many of us- “I didn’t adopt them for the money, but I couldn’t have managed without it.” I wouldn’t have been able to stay home as much; I have no idea how I would have attended all of the doctor/therapy/school/clinic appointments; going on vacation, even a low-budget one would have been impossible. I would have adopted them anyway- we would have managed somehow. But I’m thankful that the money is there to give them more of my time and energy. After all, this isn’t a new car that I’ve won. This one has gone a long time without an oil-change and it’s been in a crash or two.

So here I am. I’m grateful for the stipend, but I really don’t think about it much. I get a statement in the mail and file it with the others in case I need to take out a loan. Otherwise, it’s just in the budget and it will be there forever. Right? Not so much. These children of mine are growing up at their own pace. While my bio’s hit 18 ready to fly, these youngsters will take their time. I know this. I’m fine with it. I understand that they will need my continued support in many ways when they hit adulthood. As their needs may increase (college, cars, apartments, mistakes) the subsidy will not and I will still be the parent. Someone in Santa Fe told me once that they were amazed at the number of people who call and say, “My kid turns 18 next month! What am I going to do? How am I going to do this without the money? My kid isn’t even out of high school yet!” It’s like they look at the calendar one day and realize that they may be in trouble. The person on the other end of the phone isn’t going to listen to the story and say, “Oh, I see. Let’s just keep your subsidy coming for another year or two. You let us know when you don’t need it anymore.” As parents, we need to realize that and plan ahead for it. It’s our kids’ money, after all, and we need to make sure we budget it wisely. Because this isn’t a car at all, is it?


Saturday, July 20, 2013

The “Problem” with Teen Attitudes


 I’ve been reading the book, Nurture Shock, by Bronson and Merryman, and I was fascinated by a chapter entitled, “The Science of Teen Rebellion.” The book was written to shed some light on commonly held beliefs about parenting that have been proven completely untrue. (Did you know that telling a child that he/she is smart usually leads to lower cognitive test scores?) A few things got my attention in regard to teen behavior. Interestingly, the symptoms that we associate with difficult teen years (rebellion, moodiness, and sulkiness) are exactly parallel to the symptoms of sleep deprivation. While we are stepping back in requiring early bedtimes when our kids hit twelve to thirteen, their bodies need even more sleep than they did when they were younger. The simple solutions of protein-rich snacks and plenty of sleep still hold true as our children grow. For our kids who have more-than-average vulnerabilities, the meeting of these physical needs can make a huge difference in their ability to cope with other stressors in their lives.

Another interesting section of the book dealt with teen lying. Even teens who have secure attachments lie regularly to their parents. Two of the reasons given, (through hours of interviews with teens themselves) are to keep their privacy and independence and to keep from disappointing their parents. For example, if you ask your daughter if she “likes” a particular boy (especially one she knows you wouldn’t approve of) her false negative answer will not only give her more freedom and less lecturing, but it will also protect you from worry and disappointment. As an adoptive parent, it helps me have a clearer perspective about my kids to know what “normal” looks like. Behaviors that I find objectionable are not always caused by trauma. Even though a child with a difficult past or insecure attachment can magnify these behaviors, they are not only “adoption issues.”

But the section of the book that made me say, “Ah-ha!” was on teen arguing. Parents see it as a problem, a challenge to authority, and proof that their child is trying to manipulate and control. But teens don’t see it that way. (Teens who have overly permissive parents don’t bother to argue. Teens who have overly controlling parents don’t dare- but they are depressed.)  From a teen’s perspective, arguing is more like negotiation. Think of curfew. If I tell my son to be in by 11, but I never follow through and don’t really care when he comes home, he’ll just agree and then do what he wants. But if he is going to a movie that gets out late and wants to extend his regular curfew, it is actually a respectful thing to negotiate. Arguing about it proves that he is actually planning on obeying the rule and that he respects your fairness in allowing flexibility. Arguing (negotiating) can be a good skill and there can be mutual respect expected in stating a case and coming to a compromise. The thing that can “drive us nuts” can help him when he is making a purchase, asking for a raise or living with a life partner. When you think about it, there are plenty of opportunities to allow a child this freedom when she is younger, as well. (Score another point for Dr. Purvis.)


Saturday, July 13, 2013


Got Ice Cream?
As my motley, sweaty family packed up our camper this morning to head back toward home, an older, overall-clad man approached me with a twinkle in his eye and said, “How many kids you got there?”
“Oh, we lost track a long time ago.” I laughed.
“Can I buy you all some ice cream?” he said and handed me $40 before I could answer. Walking away, he said quietly, “I wish I’d had more kids…”
            So often we trade stories about the rude and crazy things that people say to our families, especially those who are obviously not biologically related. But the opposite is also true. People can also be incredibly kind and generous.
            Yesterday, to break up the long car ride, we stopped at a tourist trap cave. It had been raining and hot for days. Walking up the ramp toward the glittering lights and promises of  “World’s Best Attraction” (or something like that) a 40ish man with an employee badge and a twinkle in his eye said, “Are all of these kids yours?”
             “Yes.” I said.
            “What a bunch of little blessings,” he said. “How many kids do you have?”
            “Fifteen,” I said.  “But they’re not all with us. Some of them are grown.” We continued to chat as we paid a small fortune to see the amazing sights and then we continued on our tour. It was amazing. Ok. It was a reprieve from the heat and driving.
            Coming out of the main attraction into the gift/fudge/snack/can-I-please-buy-useless-stuff-mom area, the man asked if we liked the cave. “Can I buy you some ice cream?”  he asked, and handed us a business card with a note scribbled on it. “Just give this to the ladies at the counter,” he said, “And they’ll give you what you want.” Thanks, Mister!!!
            What a great opportunity to show our kids that the world can be a friendly place! What a conversation starter to wonder how we can follow the example of kind strangers.
            Ok. So maybe my kids look a little on the under-fed side, because a couple of weeks ago, my husband had the crew at a pizza place after going to the lake and the waitress walked up with a twinkle in her eye. “A couple just left and paid for all of you to have milk shakes,” she said. “Let me know when you’re ready to order.”
            

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

International Adoption- Back to the Motherland


The decision to take our live-in granddaughter to India, the country of her origin, was made without an incredible amount of research or thought. My husband, Ron, and I often make decisions this way (although I don’t recommend it.) The planets just seemed to align, starting with an innocent comment by an adoption professional friend that “they say” that the age of ten is the best time to make the trip. After thinking it through, it rang true with us. Pre-teens are still looking at life through their parents eyes, they feel safe as long as their parents are close by, and they haven’t really processed deep thoughts yet on heavy issues such as poverty or crazy traffic. (On top of that, they are not yet worried about their makeup and clothes being the top priority.) We decided that the best way to go back, considering our circumstances, was for me to take Somi with a group.  After asking around, we found that a program called “India Ties” had a trip scheduled in two months, so we signed on. Easy, peasy, right? Let me just say that getting Somi’s passport and visa should be made into a scary movie…ending in the fact that both came by FedEx to our home at exactly the time that our flight was due to take off, two days after Christmas. I’m sure you can imagine the stress…and the relief when we were able to arrange our flights to get there in time to join the group. We were literally waiting in the driveway for the delivery truck to bring the documents.

The Ties program has offered adoption travel plans for eighteen years to sixteen different countries, so they have this stuff down. We saw the typical tourist highlights like the Taj Mahal, rickshaw rides, and elephants, along with out-of-the-way stops to see organizations that are helping India solve it’s long-standing problems of poverty, homelessness and orphan care. At one street-kid shelter about fifty homeless kids sat in rows in a small room when we entered. We were able to interact with them, but it was awkward. Until. One of them turned on the music of “Gangnum Style” and everybody- American teens and parents and Indian street gang kids all started to dance. Crazy-fun! One afternoon we all went to have saris made and then wore them out on New Year’s Eve. One evening we were matched with a middle class family and had dinner with them. Our family had a daughter Somi’s age. She was happy to practice her English by telling us all about her life, school, and future plans, including an arranged marriage. She and Somi exchanged email addresses. We saw monkeys and elephants on the streets, camels being walked along, myriads of women dressed in bright saris, people wrapped in thin blankets sleeping on the streets in the cold, and candlelight vigils protesting the treatment of women. We had amazing Indian food.

During the first four days and the last four days we were with the group and during the middle we were on our own. There were ten families of various sizes and stages, two Ties staff members and an Indian guide. One staff member was a thirty-ish Indian adoptee who has his social work degree and moved to India to start a foster care organization. He led the kids and young adults in groups designed to help them process what they were experiencing and spent downtime with them playing soccer and eating at a New Delhi McDonalds. The parents had a group as well. During the middle days of the trip, Somi and I traveled to the city of her birth in the south. Arrangements were made for us to visit the place that she spent the first four years of her life and we met with the doctor who cared for her during that time. Nothing earth-shattering happened there, but I have confidence that the experience will have a positive effect on Somi both in the present and in the future- it was well worth the investment, the stress and the time away. For now, I am happy to report that she absolutely fell in love with India and can’t wait to go back.


Friday, December 7, 2012

Holiday Stress

"Bah humbug!"
"The holidays are just for kids."
"This time of year is always so stressful."
Have you heard these comments before? Have you said these comments before? I know I have. But really, what a waste of great opportunities for attachment and fun memory making. We have to be aware of creating the atmosphere. Here are a few ideas to help make this more of a reality-

1. Set a realistic budget and stick to it. Spending more than you have sets you up for stress and frustration.

2.  Remember we parent to the emotional stage and not the chronological age. So with that in mind, are the gifts you buy your children/youth appropriate for their 'STAGE'? A question to ask yourself, "If I spend $100 on a gift and they don't have the capabilities to take care of it and it gets broken in five minutes, who is going to be upset? Will I be upset that my child couldn't care less?

3.  Carl Jung said, "Our society is psychotic with business." Psychosis has extreme emotions and unfounded fears. The holidays can get crazy with wonderful and busy activities. What is it doing tho not only your child, but you too? What would it be like to slow down? Watch a holiday show, pop popcorn, and snuggle.

Sit and make ornaments together. One of my favorite times was when my mom and I cut ornaments out of card board and painted them. Buy a gingerbread house and put it together. Play a board game.

Are you kids overstimulated by all the business?
Are you overstimulated?'

Think ouside the box! What can you do to take the stress out and the fun and connection time in?

Monica Cohu



    

Friday, November 30, 2012

New Training from Dr. Purvis


I love Dr. Purvis and all of the great training that comes out of TCU.  I watch as many as I can get my hands on, as many times as I can. I learn something every time and I know that putting her wisdom and research into practice in my own family has made a huge difference in the health of our relationships. Even though I admit to being a Purvis groupie, I was not prepared to be blown away by the latest release from TCU, “Attachment- Why it Matters.”   It is two dvd’s worth of information that brought the three of us in the room to tears and there were constant choruses of, “Ohhhh…” and “Wow…” You Have Got To See These DVDs!

Packed full of inspiring quotes, neurological research, and explanations by T. Berry Brazelton, Dr. Joshua Sparrow, Dr. Purvis, Dr. David Cross, and Dr Dan Siegel, this training is now my all-time favorite and I can’t wait to watch it again and share it with families I know. Here are a few things that stood out to me-

The four different types of attachment that we learn about in babies and children are the same types of attachment that stay with us through life. If we had early experiences that compromised our attachment, those same experiences flavor all of our future relationships.  The really good news about that is that we have the ability to change it in ourselves and in our kids. It takes work, intention and the courage to look within ourselves, but when we make the decision to take on our past hurts and take the responsibility to change- we can!

And not only can we change our own style of attachment and relationships, but by doing so, we automatically change our kids.  And listen- this is so cool- we are not only changing their behavior, we are changing their biology! We are actually bringing their brains into alignment with our own and actually, truly changing their brains, making them, in effect, our “biological children.” Not children we have given birth to, but children who are ours biologically through neurology that is in synch with ours.

There is a whole section on reading our kids’ cues, ruptures and repairs, and mindfulness. When we blow it and say or do something that damages our relationship with our child, we need to apologize and repair the harm. The thing is- this actually makes the relationship stronger than it was! So “mistakes are not terminal, failure to make a repair is terminal.” This is huge for me, because I sure make a lot of mistakes. Mindfulness can help us tune in to our child’s cues. According to research, a really good parent catches about 50% of their child’s cues. Being aware of what our child is communicating through behavior and subtleties is how we help them. Teaching ourselves to be calm when our child is “going primal,” is life changing.

We, at Fiesta, are so excited about this series, we ordered enough to show it throughout the state. Watch the calendar to make sure you catch it when it comes near you. I can’t wait for you to see it!






Monday, October 22, 2012

White Privilege...

Since I posted about the upcoming workshop on white privilege sponsored by the NM FIESTA project, many people have been asking (many in hushed tones) "what's that?".  I thought I would share an article by Peggy McIntosh that helped me understand the issue in a different way...



White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack
•Daily effects of white privilege
•Elusive and fugitive
•Earned strength, unearned power

"I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group"
by Peggy McIntosh

Through work to bring materials from women's studies into the rest of the curriculum, I have often noticed men's unwillingness to grant that they are overprivileged, even though they may grant that women are disadvantaged. They may say they will work to women's statues, in the society, the university, or the curriculum, but they can't or won't support the idea of lessening men's. Denials that amount to taboos surround the subject of advantages that men gain from women's disadvantages. These denials protect male privilege from being fully acknowledged, lessened, or ended.
Thinking through unacknowledged male privilege as a phenomenon, I realized that, since hierarchies in our society are interlocking, there was most likely a phenomenon of while privilege that was similarly denied and protected. As a white person, I realized I had been taught about racism as something that puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage.

I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege. So I have begun in an untutored way to ask what it is like to have white privilege. I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was "meant" to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools , and blank checks.

Describing white privilege makes one newly accountable. As we in women's studies work to reveal male privilege and ask men to give up some of their power, so one who writes about having white privilege must ask, "having described it, what will I do to lessen or end it?"
After I realized the extent to which men work from a base of unacknowledged privilege, I understood that much of their oppressiveness was unconscious. Then I remembered the frequent charges from women of color that white women whom they encounter are oppressive. I began to understand why we are just seen as oppressive, even when we don't see ourselves that way. I began to count the ways in which I enjoy unearned skin privilege and have been conditioned into oblivion about its existence.
My schooling gave me no training in seeing myself as an oppressor, as an unfairly advantaged person, or as a participant in a damaged culture. I was taught to see myself as an individual whose moral state depended on her individual moral will. My schooling followed the pattern my colleague Elizabeth Minnich has pointed out: whites are taught to think of their lives as morally neutral, normative, and average, and also ideal, so that when we work to benefit others, this is seen as work that will allow "them" to be more like "us."

Daily effects of white privilege
I decided to try to work on myself at least by identifying some of the daily effects of white privilege in my life. I have chosen those conditions that I think in my case attach somewhat more to skin-color privilege than to class, religion, ethnic status, or geographic location, though of course all these other factors are intricately intertwined. As far as I can tell, my African American coworkers, friends, and acquaintances with whom I come into daily or frequent contact in this particular time, place and time of work cannot count on most of these conditions.
1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.

2. I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me.

3. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.

4. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.

7. When I am told about our national heritage or about "civilization," I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.

8. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
9. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.
10. I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race.
11. I can be casual about whether or not to listen to another person's voice in a group in which s/he is the only member of his/her race.

12. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser's shop and find someone who can cut my hair.
13. Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.
14. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.
15. I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.

16. I can be pretty sure that my children's teachers and employers will tolerate them if they fit school and workplace norms; my chief worries about them do not concern others' attitudes toward their race.
17. I can talk with my mouth full and not have people put this down to my color.
18. I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty or the illiteracy of my race.
19. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.
20. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.
21. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.

22. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world's majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.
23. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.

24. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the "person in charge", I will be facing a person of my race.

25. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven't been singled out because of my race.
26. I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children's magazines featuring people of my race.
27. I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance or feared.
28. I can be pretty sure that an argument with a colleague of another race is more likely to jeopardize her/his chances for advancement than to jeopardize mine.

29. I can be pretty sure that if I argue for the promotion of a person of another race, or a program centering on race, this is not likely to cost me heavily within my present setting, even if my colleagues disagree with me.

30. If I declare there is a racial issue at hand, or there isn't a racial issue at hand, my race will lend me more credibility for either position than a person of color will have.
31. I can choose to ignore developments in minority writing and minority activist programs, or disparage them, or learn from them, but in any case, I can find ways to be more or less protected from negative consequences of any of these choices.
32. My culture gives me little fear about ignoring the perspectives and powers of people of other races.

33. I am not made acutely aware that my shape, bearing or body odor will be taken as a reflection on my race.
34. I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.
35. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.
36. If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it had racial overtones.
37. I can be pretty sure of finding people who would be willing to talk with me and advise me about my next steps, professionally.
38. I can think over many options, social, political, imaginative or professional, without asking whether a person of my race would be accepted or allowed to do what I want to do.
39. I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race.
40. I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.
41. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.
42. I can arrange my activities so that I will never have to experience feelings of rejection owing to my race.
43. If I have low credibility as a leader I can be sure that my race is not the problem.
44. I can easily find academic courses and institutions which give attention only to people of my race.
45. I can expect figurative language and imagery in all of the arts to testify to experiences of my race.
46. I can chose blemish cover or bandages in "flesh" color and have them more or less match my skin.
47. I can travel alone or with my spouse without expecting embarrassment or hostility in those who deal with us.
48. I have no difficulty finding neighborhoods where people approve of our household.
49. My children are given texts and classes which implicitly support our kind of family unit and do not turn them against my choice of domestic partnership.
50. I will feel welcomed and "normal" in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.
Elusive and fugitive
I repeatedly forgot each of the realizations on this list until I wrote it down. For me white privilege has turned out to be an elusive and fugitive subject. The pressure to avoid it is great, for in facing it I must give up the myth of meritocracy. If these things are true, this is not such a free country; one's life is not what one makes it; many doors open for certain people through no virtues of their own.
In unpacking this invisible knapsack of white privilege, I have listed conditions of daily experience that I once took for granted. Nor did I think of any of these perquisites as bad for the holder. I now think that we need a more finely differentiated taxonomy of privilege, for some of these varieties are only what one would want for everyone in a just society, and others give license to be ignorant, oblivious, arrogant, and destructive.
I see a pattern running through the matrix of white privilege, a patter of assumptions that were passed on to me as a white person. There was one main piece of cultural turf; it was my own turn, and I was among those who could control the turf. My skin color was an asset for any move I was educated to want to make. I could think of myself as belonging in major ways and of making social systems work for me. I could freely disparage, fear, neglect, or be oblivious to anything outside of the dominant cultural forms. Being of the main culture, I could also criticize it fairly freely.
In proportion as my racial group was being made confident, comfortable, and oblivious, other groups were likely being made unconfident, uncomfortable, and alienated. Whiteness protected me from many kinds of hostility, distress, and violence, which I was being subtly trained to visit, in turn, upon people of color.
For this reason, the word "privilege" now seems to me misleading. We usually think of privilege as being a favored state, whether earned or conferred by birth or luck. Yet some of the conditions I have described here work systematically to over empower certain groups. Such privilege simply confers dominance because of one's race or sex.
Earned strength, unearned power
I want, then, to distinguish between earned strength and unearned power conferred privilege can look like strength when it is in fact permission to escape or to dominate. But not all of the privileges on my list are inevitably damaging. Some, like the expectation that neighbors will be decent to you, or that your race will not count against you in court, should be the norm in a just society. Others, like the privilege to ignore less powerful people, distort the humanity of the holders as well as the ignored groups.
We might at least start by distinguishing between positive advantages, which we can work to spread, and negative types of advantage, which unless rejected will always reinforce our present hierarchies. For example, the feeling that one belongs within the human circle, as Native Americans say, should not be seen as privilege for a few. Ideally it is an unearned entitlement. At present, since only a few have it, it is an unearned advantage for them. This paper results from a process of coming to see that some of the power that I originally say as attendant on being a human being in the United States consisted in unearned advantage and conferred dominance.
I have met very few men who truly distressed about systemic, unearned male advantage and conferred dominance. And so one question for me and others like me is whether we will be like them, or whether we will get truly distressed, even outraged, about unearned race advantage and conferred dominance, and, if so, what we will do to lessen them. In any case, we need to do more work in identifying how they actually affect our daily lives. Many, perhaps most, of our white students in the United States think that racism doesn't affect them because they are not people of color; they do not see "whiteness" as a racial identity. In addition, since race and sex are not the only advantaging systems at work, we need similarly to examine the daily experience of having age advantage, or ethnic advantage, or physical ability, or advantage related to nationality, religion, or sexual orientation.
Difficulties and angers surrounding the task of finding parallels are many. Since racism, sexism, and heterosexism are not the same, the advantages associated with them should not be seen as the same. In addition, it is hard to disentangle aspects of unearned advantage that rest more on social class, economic class, race, religion, sex, and ethnic identity that on other factors. Still, all of the oppressions are interlocking, as the members of the Combahee River Collective pointed out in their "Black Feminist Statement" of 1977.
One factor seems clear about all of the interlocking oppressions. They take both active forms, which we can see, and embedded forms, which as a member of the dominant groups one is taught not to see. In my class and place, I did not see myself as a racist because I was taught to recognize racism only in individual acts of meanness by members of my group, never in invisible systems conferring unsought racial dominance on my group from birth.
Disapproving of the system won't be enough to change them. I was taught to think that racism could end if white individuals changed their attitude. But a "white" skin in the United States opens many doors for whites whether or not we approve of the way dominance has been conferred on us. Individual acts can palliate but cannot end, these problems.
To redesign social systems we need first to acknowledge their colossal unseen dimensions. The silences and denials surrounding privilege are the key political surrounding privilege are the key political tool here. They keep the thinking about equality or equity incomplete, protecting unearned advantage and conferred dominance by making these subject taboo. Most talk by whites about equal opportunity seems to me now to be about equal opportunity to try to get into a position of dominance while denying that systems of dominance exist.
It seems to me that obliviousness about white advantage, like obliviousness about male advantage, is kept strongly inculturated in the United States so as to maintain the myth of meritocracy, the myth that democratic choice is equally available to all. Keeping most people unaware that freedom of confident action is there for just a small number of people props up those in power and serves to keep power in the hands of the same groups that have most of it already.
Although systemic change takes many decades, there are pressing questions for me and, I imagine, for some others like me if we raise our daily consciousness on the perquisites of being light-skinned. What will we do with such knowledge? As we know from watching men, it is an open question whether we will choose to use unearned advantage, and whether we will use any of our arbitrarily awarded power to try to reconstruct power systems on a broader base.

Peggy McIntosh is associate director of the Wellesley Collage Center for Research on Women. This essay is excerpted from Working Paper 189. "White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming To See Correspondences through Work in Women's Studies" (1988), by Peggy McIntosh; available for $10.00 from the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, Wellesley MA 02181 The working paper contains a longer list of privileges.



This excerpted essay is reprinted from the Winter 1990 issue of Independent School.