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Parenting the Older Adopted Child… the Later Years

For children adopted at an older age, adolescence rears its ugly head that much faster for the unprepared adoptive parent! To make the rather normal adolescent task of questioning who he/she is and where he/she belongs even more challenging, older adopted kids come to their new families with a harsh background, inevitably characterized by some kind of abuse, loss, instability, and rejection. Attachment-related issues, disruptive behavior problems, and low self-esteem subsequently intensifies the adolescent stage for older adopted children. So, where are you on the parenting continuum … with kids still too young and relatively innocent, knee deep into the emotional turmoil of their very existence, or past their adolescent prime?

Whether it be to prepare for, defend against, or reflect back, consider these 3 questions:

1) Will a sense of abandonment and rejection replace feelings of security and comfort? Or, is it the other way around?

2) Is my child behaving in a way that reflects inner turmoil about the past?

3) Will being adopted make adolescence harder for my child?

So, that being said, how do you listen, support, and affirm your child (i.e., allowing the expression of their feelings, acknowledging their feelings/uncertainties no matter how strong they are expressed, and maintaining open communication with them)?

What kinds of positive disciplinary techniques are used (rather than the old-fashioned control-oriented techniques that interfere with the building of a trusting relationship between parent and child)?
What kinds of professional help is being/has been recruited (to help the child effectively work through memories and emotions from the past that block the ability to behave adaptively and develop and maintain emotionally healthy relationships)?

Check out these web-based articles in full:




Discovering the Emotional Implications in Exercising One’s Parental Authority


For my son’s recent bar mitzvah, there was the task of delivering the Dvar Torah speech during the ceremony. Although it can be given by anyone, it often is traditionally the parent(s) who stands at the bema and imparts a “word of Torah”, a lesson or sermon that interprets a particular text from the Torah. Relative to the boy’s bar mitzvah, it is common for the Dvar Torah to focus on that week’s Torah portion. Being a single parent to Davi and his brother, it was pretty much a given that I would be doing the deed, and I wanted to make the absolute most of it. The italicized text is the actual Dvar Torah that I had prepared for the occasion, in its verbatim which is weaved in with the added introductory, clarifying, and concluding texts below.

When I first learned that Davi’s Torah portion was about the importance of respecting authority in one’s life, I couldn’t help but take a look up above and say, “Really? Are you serious? How did you know?!” Being a writer, I expected it to be rather straightforward to write about “authority”, especially given how much energy I spend encouraging, if not demanding my sons’ respect for my parental authority. In my writing I struggled with just how to establish a common ground between my thoughts about the text and what I wanted to convey to family and friends, and even more important, the meaningful impression I wanted to make on Davi, and his brother. I did not just want “to teach,” the literal meaning of the word “Torah,” but I wanted to “inspire.”

With a rough draft in hand, I recruited the rabbi for his perspective. He rather wisely surmised my restraint, steeped in my fears of stoking my own ego as an often embattled parent, and subsequently losing out on fostering a connection between the respect for authority and its relevance in both my sons’ lives. The rabbi essentially gave me permission to let loose a bit, and not be so afraid to get more into the heart of the matter. I came away feeling that it was okay to open up more frankly about the often too emotionally heavy-handed task of exercising one’s parental authority. This is especially so for adoptive parent(s) of older children, who take over in the raising of those who had started out in life with less than favorable influences. Their very best of intentions can abruptly be derailed by the kind of mistrust in persons of authority that is deeply ingrained, and not easily resolved.

Feeling a challenge being thrown my way, I began to think more deeply for myself, and took a look out there at the fuss we parents tend to (and still should) make about respecting authority, and its place in raising our children. I saw how the parent-child relationship teaches us about our relationship with G-d, who essentially gives us this earthly parallel relationship that enables us to learn about who He is, how He relates to us, and how we relate to Him.

At this too early point in my delivery of the Dvar Torah, I felt myself inexplicably becoming emotionally overwhelmed. I had to stop, having become too choked up to continue. When I felt that I had gained back enough of my composure I started up again, yet it turned out to be a false start. I barely made it past three more words before having to stop again. I even tried sputtering out a joke to the congregation, in how I didn’t “know what’s wrong with me.” And, that I hadn’t “even gotten to the emotional part, yet!” Although mindful of my starting focus on the ultimate higher authority Himself, I was pretty sure it wasn’t because I was experiencing some kind of a powerful spiritual connection with G-d that moment. Still unsure as to what was happening with me, I felt I had pulled enough of myself together to plod along, yet I still didn’t get very far.

Our Sages say that when children honor their parents it is considered as if they honor G-d Himself (Talmud, Kiddushin 30 b). As we learn, over time to revere G-d’s authority, and look to Him for guidance and safety, children first learn from their parents what it means to depend on someone’s love and protection, in spite of those annoying rules that are doled out for their eventual benefit.

I had to stop again. I just couldn’t understand what it was that was getting to me. Being the consummate perfectionist when I write, with my need for just the right word that most clearly expresses my thoughts, ideas, and feelings, I had probably read through my Dvar Torah at least a hundred times in my writings. And, each time I had read it through, I never felt the slightest stirring of any sentiment. Subconsciously, up there at the bema I knew well the territory I was about to enter, where I had gone before too many times to count. But, doing so out there in public for all to hear and see, I felt especially vulnerable. Tears started to well up, and my voice cracked, at times it became muffled that made it hard for many to hear me. I felt insecure, not unlike so many of those times when I struggle to withstand the heat of yet another backlash of misguided hostility… all because of having to assert my authority, and discipline as it was warranted, or attempt to “teach” in a way that would continue to foster my sons’ emotional growth, and bonding with me as their father.

Too often I feel that I have to be “strong”, and reflect outward the kind of inner strength readily translated as that someone with whom my sons are able to feel safe and secure. That wasn’t happening so fast up there on the bema. As I was connecting more directly with the hidden emotional agenda of my Dvar Torah, I was in danger of folding like a house of cards. Davi might even have sensed this, as he seemed ever so sensitive to and touched by my genuineness in emotional expression. I spotted a speckle of tears in his eyes as he placed a hand on my arm, and in his offering of strength said, “You got this, father.” I took a deep breath, and carried on.
Children also first learn from their parents about love and compassion, and how it is unconditional no matter the context. Their parents love them no matter what, even when their children have made them so angry that it threatens the abandonment of logic and reason, even when their children made them feel as though they don’t deserve to share the same breathing space, even when there is in your face mistreatment, or disrespect, even when there are hurt feelings inside… their parents still love.

But, it is not only children who need authority. We all do. We all need to feel that the right people are in charge so that we feel safe and secure, and that there is order in our life. And yet, when we believe that we can’t trust the people in charge, we become anxious, fearful even, in a world where there is no authority to respect or trust, and that our best interests are not kept at heart. From the start, I had wanted to be the type of parent whose authority deserves respect and is listened to. Yes, I know… I have teenagers in my charge. I’ve learned the hard way to take what I can get! I know I am far from the perfect parent, but I work hard to provide the kind of loving care that is buffered by clear limits and fair consequences in order for which to grow from, and which honor and integrity prevail.

As I have always stressed, parenting is not for the faint of heart, as we are continuously pushed out of our personal comfort zones. As such, we are constantly being challenged and made uncomfortable in ways that are unimaginable. It especially can be exceedingly challenging to find the merit in the task of parenting when our own sense of balance and strength indefensibly feels under attack. Yet, if we are able to retain some semblance of our mature adult selves, parenting also can be the most profoundly meaningful endeavor of our lives.

Davi, I look at you today with a great deal of pride and joy in my heart as you stand on the threshold of becoming that kind of young man. From the start, you bowled me over with not just the brilliant sparkle of your intellect and humor, but how you can carry yourself with the kind of wisdom few adults are able to attain after a lifetime. I have learned more than a thing or two from you over the past four years, where I have often found myself justly, if not also humbled by the sharpness of your insight and warmth of your affection on more than one occasion. So why might I come down on you a little harder than maybe you think I should… well, humility takes practice, so what kind of loving father would I be if I didn’t knock you down a few pegs now and then? It is to remind you that there always is a higher authority, and that we must be mindful and respectful of His presence. But also, and just as worthy is the importance of being true to oneself as you forge ahead in life, being mindful of one’s need to maintain a humble sense of oneself, that one is not necessarily right all the time, and that one should always hold himself accountable because that is what makes him honorable, and trustworthy.

I truly believe that asserting one’s parental authority has nothing to do with perfection, or even control for that matter. That isn’t even a goal for me, nor do I expect perfection from you or your brother. Rather, I am most content when we learn together to respect each other and live well in an imperfect world, loving each other despite or even because of our imperfections. Especially then, at the end of the day, I find myself not asking if I had done everything right, but what I had learned and how well I had loved. I also hope that even at times when feeling as though it might have gotten lost in the translation, at the end of the day, you come away feeling just how much I very deeply love you, and your brother, how I am grateful for every day we have with each other, and how I wake up every morning looking to make each day we are together count.

As they say, “there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.” I had succeeded beyond what I initially thought I had intended to achieve. I realize that at the end f the day, parenting should be approached as a partnership rather than as an exercise in seeking to dominate and control, the very antithesis of raising children who learn to become accountable for themselves. As this holds special relevance for the single parent, I often find myself saying to my sons, “I can’t do it by myself. We need to work together as a team.” After all, each one of us wakes up every morning with hopes for how the day will transpire; each one of us holds a stake in the day’s outcome. So long as I carry out my parental authority as it is meant—to protect, nurture, and guide, my perspective remains lucid, and the better I am able to keep my emotions in check that best reflects my inner strength.

Presenting at the Florida Association of School Social Workers annual state conference

Where: Broward County, South Florida

When:  October 23 – 24, 2014

Preserving Connections in the Midst of a Closing Door


It was that time of year again… for LIMIAR’s reunion weekend for Brazilian adoptive families. It had been two years since we were at the last reunion, with last year’s reunion having been cancelled when there was not enough interest for it to have been financially sustainable. This year’s reunion, our third, was being heralded as LIMIAR’s last as the organization was getting ready to shut down its operations completely. It already had ceased its involvement with Brazilian adoptions more than a year ago. The number of international adoptions from Brazil had been on the decline for several years now, and the Brazilian government was initiating changes in the way agencies would need to apply for official sanctions to provide adoption services. Sadly, LIMIAR’s closing of its doors somehow seems rather ironic in its imminent departure from the word’s Portuguese reference to the threshold of a doorway, and the symbolic act of crossing over to a new beginning.

Davi was very content in taking center stage and regaling me with (and Matheus, who really did appear to be listening to) his experiences at sleep away camp thus far, having been away for ten days with another ten days to go after the reunion. Matheus was simply content in having his brother “back.” Even though he would not give us direct satisfaction of this fact about the deepening bond he was forming with his brother, he had indelibly put it out there on his Instagram, and claimed that he “gotta hang with him more.”

The four hour car ride was rather swift, and upon arrival to Bradford, we grabbed pizza at our usual place, hit the same grocery store for Davi to get snacks to bring back with him to camp, and the boys spent a little time at the hotel’s pool after dinner. Sean wasn’t with us this time around, as he had moved back to his hometown a few months before, and he couldn’t afford to fly in to meet us. Still, though, there was that same familiar feel in the air for us as we readied ourselves for the initial gathering of everyone for the reunion at the university campus the next day.

Straightaway when we walked into the university center the next morning, however, I did not feel the same sense of anticipation as I had for the first two reunions we had attended. There were no Brazilian flag decorations strewn about as there had been before, and there was not going to be a loja, or store that would sell fun Brazilian related trinkets. A small collection of items were hastily put together for a silent auction later in the day. There also were no activities scheduled until after lunch, and very few families had even arrived yet—many were not expected to arrive until later in the day or not even until the next day. It was very quiet throughout the morning. There also were some families who weren’t able to bring everyone due to other commitments and/or issues; there were even a few families that had dropped out at the last minute from coming at all. We already knew that Lino, our trusty Brazilian caseworker was not able to come as he had in years past, but at least as a group we were scheduled to have contact with him via a pre-arranged live video chat. There seemed somewhat of a void in the implication that the commitment to the families’ need for their connectedness with each other already was rapidly diminishing.

Especially throughout most of that first day, it was difficult for both Matheus and Davi to connect with their peers, as there were only a few kids on hand, and even fewer kids that were within the scope of their ages. Several times Matheus had retreated alone upstairs in a room that had a piano he happened to have come across. He delighted in trying out his knowledge of scales and using his iphone as an instructional tool to play some music. He gained a great deal of satisfaction in having been able to play pieces of music on his own. However, relative to the reunion’s purpose, on two occasions I had to rather firmly remind Matheus that we were not here for him to isolate himself with his phone, and that he was expected to at least make himself accessible and amenable to his peers. Davi, who was usually the social butterfly, hardly extended himself to anyone, often preferring to play games of ping pong with me in the game room, or hanging with me elsewhere. As for me, other than a few, “Hello, how are you doing?” catch ups with a couple of familiar parents, I also felt somewhat disconnected most of the day. Still, though, with the next day’s full roster of familiar activities in mind, and a livelier atmosphere expected with all of the families to be accounted for, I was looking forward to starting out the next morning.

Although it had been two years since the last reunion, no “new” families were present; only two of the families were newer than us by about two years. These children seemed settled, adjusted, and interacted warmly with their parents. Yet, I couldn’t help but notice somewhat of a still crispy newness around the edges in the children’s bonding and relations with their parents. There wasn’t anything specific, or glaring that grabbed my attention. It just felt strangely similar to how it must have appeared for us as a still bonding family when we were last at the reunion, only a couple of months past our two year mark. The children were lovely—very respectful, mostly calm and well behaved, engageable, and content. They seemed no different than Matheus and Davi had appeared only just two years ago; indeed, we had been progressing well in our bonding as a family unit. But, despite the obvious strength in our family’s evolution at the time, there certainly was a lot more beneath the surface than what met the casual eye of an outsider—yet, these parents might have been guarded, as they did not openly share any such struggles in the day’s parenting groups.

As had been typical for me, I most enjoyed sitting in on the first parenting support group that morning. These groups have been one of the very few places and times I have felt most comfortable with how I am faring in my parenting, and basic survival in the face of my boys’ sometimes still rather challenging behavior and attitudes. It’s the sincerity and honesty in the way these parents share of themselves and their experiences, and offer their support that lends itself to the authenticity of the interactions between us. The more that is shared around the table, the more incredibly normative is this particular game of parenting we all are solidly invested in playing—where the rules seem to be forever changing, and with stress being an all too common experience that bonds us. Parents appearing to fare well reported how they played by the simplest of rules in deferring judgment, keeping expectations realistic, and retaining unconditional, positive regard for their children… even now, especially now for those parents whose children are young adults.

As I felt last time, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat discouraged, even a bit skeptical in wondering what “happened” to many of these now young twenty something youngsters. Albeit rather superficial in context, in addition to their apparent commitment to and love for them, many of these parents obviously had the financial means to provide the kind of advantages and resources that could practically guarantee their children’s success in life. Still though, relative to societal-related hopes and expectations, there didn’t seem to be a shining star in the bunch. Too many of these young adults seemed to be floating from one menial job to the next, dodging responsibility and personal accountability, and/or making life choices for themselves that defied sensibility and logic.

The young adults at the reunion seemed very sweet, personable, and somewhat humble in how they projected themselves. Nevertheless, their parents offered many examples as to how immature they still were in their social and emotional development, and how they tended to behave impulsively and carelessly—forethought often seemed to be lacking in how they went about their daily lives. Apart from whether or not these kids are more vulnerable because of the harshness of their earlier life experiences, the frontal lobe of the brain still does not appear to become fully formed until one reaches their mid twenties. Hence, difficulties properly managing impulse control, making sound judgments, utilizing insight, and controlling emotions still can be problematic for the young adult—it’s not that they lack the life experiences to know better, their brains still have difficulty assessing consequences for their actions. Yet, it still is unclear as to the extent their earlier life experiences might further complicate these matters of brain development, delaying even further the normal maturation process for these young adults.

Aside from those stories that only left us slowly shaking our heads in suspended disbelief, what I did not hear was the flagrant existence of problems with substance abuse, delinquency, and/or social alienation. And, even with the hard road many of these young adults were on, success was not as fleeting as one might suppose. There was the boy with cognitive limitations who recently passed all of his state’s series of standardized tests to graduate high school thanks to his parents unrelenting emotional and tutoring support that got him through; when his mother tearfully told of how he broke down and cried when first hearing the news that he had passed the final test, tears dotted my own eyes. He was working now in a job that did not necessarily require great skill, yet he was learning and gaining the respect of his employers and fellow workers. His twin brother also was working, taking post secondary classes, and committed to his girlfriend/fiancé in a long-term relationship. In spite of the twins’ sometimes crass attempts at humor that implied a sometimes weakened sense of appropriate social boundaries, it was noticeably toned down in comparison to two years ago. And, they exuded endearing sincerity in their relations with others that was a rather direct reflection of their parents’ genuineness in their own relations with everyone.

I softened even more from my initial reaction of wanting to shake some sense in a single mother for letting her son just go on a whim to leave home and hit the road with his guitar and a few friends to make it as musicians. His mother rather simply explained that he was of legal age and she had no choice but to let him discover the world for himself; he was not interested in the benefit of his mother’s experience and wisdom simply because of his own narrow-minded sense of what he felt he needed to do. Not only did he learn how closed-minded and unforgiving the world was in return, he also learned to appreciate even more the robustness of the bond that had been developing between he and his mother—she remained there for him, unlike any other relationship he probably has ever truly experienced in his life. He seemed to now be more receptive to his mother’s loving, yet still very nonjudgmental guidance—according to his mother’s account, he seemed to be gradually taking the task of living responsibly more seriously since his series of very hard lessons learned. These “baby steps” would not likely have been possible if he, as well as so many of the others had been left behind in their former lives. They are learning their way… slowly, but surely. They are finding their place in this world, thanks to their family’s unwavering love and support.

Most of the parents congregated again later in the afternoon for the second (and last) parenting support group. Although I was to take leadership of the group, as I had for one of the groups at the previous reunion, more pressing at the moment was to brainstorm how to preserve the purpose for these reunions. For both the adoptees and their adoptive families, the special meaning that was intimated with these reunions is how solidarity, support, and connectedness is infused in a way that is very different than what can be achieved elsewhere. With the benefit of having attended numerous reunions over the years as they were growing up, there especially were many reports of how troubled the young adults were with the get-togethers coming to an end. A sense of loss pervaded the room as parents struggled to come up with a sound consensus, and commitment to an alternative means of being able to continue coming together. Most important was seeking to preserve for the adoptees the sanctity of this unique connection to their Brazilian identity, support of their fellow Brazilian adoptee peers, and having fun without concern of being made to feel different, or insignificant. Albeit without the designation of clear leadership, promises were made to explore locations within the context of different venues and reunion possibilities. Still, I couldn’t help but leave the group feeling a bit deflated, and not very reassured about the prospect of future reunions.

Later that afternoon, most of the reunion’s attendees came together in one of the university’s classrooms the size of a small auditorium to interact with Lino in Brazil via Skype. We gathered as a collective group in front of a large screen, with more than ten years having passed since having adopted for some of the families. Rather similar to the premise of how former students were brought back together for a tribute in the climactic ending of Mr. Holland’s Opus, we shared a common bond because of the good fortune of having had Lino as our caseworker while we were in Brazil. He was there to support our first meeting with our children, guide us through court proceedings, negotiate Brazilian customs and the Portuguese language, and work through initial adjustment issues in the first stages of our becoming a family. To simply say that the six week or so during the co-habitation stay in Brazil was emotionally challenging for the newly forming families would be an understatement, yet Lino was there right by each of our sides, bolstering our often heavily battered sense of our selves. It was difficult for Lino to hear us, and the camera had limited range for him to really be able to address the families individually, which made it difficult for there to be the kind of intimacy that many of us really wanted with him. Still, though, his familiar, benevolent face and comforting manner loomed large on the screen. Numerous Facebook friend requests were rather instantaneously sent out to him that afternoon.

The reunion ended as simply as it had begun. Families sort of disappeared without my having the chance to say good bye to some. It also struck me that I didn’t even have a contact sheet of names, with any source of contact for anyone. At least by the end, even without as much of the frills that had added to the enchantment of reunions past, the boys did leave seemingly connected with a few of their peers. They exchanged their contact information, even though there wasn’t anyone in particular they had indicated that they’d strive to stay in contact with. I also still enjoyed the bonding moments with other parents, and again left feeling a bit more normalized relative to my parenting and sense of myself as a human being. I had a chance to step back, trade notes, and ease up a bit on some of the tension I sometimes have difficulty tempering relative to what should be expected in favor of what is more important… establishing and preserving the kind of bond with my two sons that further bolsters their place and sense of themselves in this world. With that firmly in place, the rest apparently does eventually sort itself out.

(*) If I had not yet published See You Tomorrow… Reclaiming the Beacon of Hope, a year ago now, this piece would have followed the epilogue that detailed our experiences at the second LIMIAR reunion two years earlier.

Presenting at the Fathers & Families Coalition of America’s Annual Conference – The Wait is Over

Where: Los Angeles, CA

When:  February 17 – 20, 2015

Brazil’s Crushing World Cup Defeat & its Congruence with Playing the Parenting Game


We rushed home to take in the World Cup semifinal game between Brazil and Germany. “Germany made a goal,” Matheus impassively said, momentarily looking up from his iphone as we negotiated the traffic on the highway. Germany then scored their second goal just as we had turned on the television at home. Matheus and I were speechless as we watched Germany score another goal, and then another, and then another… Brazil had conceded four goals in six minutes. In passing, Davi simply proclaimed, “you know that in another minute, everyone in the stadium is going to be crying.” Indeed, the fans had already begun to shed bucket loads of tears, and the discerning eyes of the television cameras repeatedly exposed their looks of shock, disbelief, and anguish.

Brazilian national pride had overtaken our family over the past few weeks as Brazil steadily advanced its way into the semi-finals. We had just returned from our family cruise on the Mediterranean, where the fervor over the World Cup in Europe seemed bigger, more emotional, and more exciting than we are generally used to in the states. Both boys, yet Matheus more so, had kept up with Brazil’s progress, and exhibited a greater sense of personal pride in association with their own cultural heritage. It was nice to see, as they had become too comfortable over the years in assimilating their focus onto the American ideal. Or, rather, they had become too used to exploiting their newer Americanized selves, thereby keeping a comfortable distance from all that was negative in their past Brazilian lives.

Apart from the boys’ own personal interests, this loss was particularly crushing not only in the context of Brazil’s proud, fabled history as a soccer giant, but with the controversy regarding the debt and corruption soiling the country’s social consciousness, Brazil needed this win. To be so humiliated in their own country only deepened the nation’s wounds. I had later read that on Brazilian TV, David Luiz, that frizzy haired, endearingly G-d fearing frontrunner, and team’s acting captain thanks to Thiago Silva being sidelined for his second yellow card, broke down in tears when interviewed after the game. “I just wanted to give some happiness to my people,” David murmured. “To my people who suffer so much already. Unfortunately we couldn’t do it. I’m sorry, everyone. Sorry to all Brazilians. I wanted to see my people smiling.”

Well, it’s only a game. Or, is it? Not to soccer-crazed Brazil, a country that truly epitomizes what it means to live and breathe a sport. And, metaphorically speaking, not to parents who live and breathe in the raising of their children, whereby the parenting game often rivals the emotionally charged back-and-forth kicking of a soccer ball. Parenting any child, albeit especially the older adopted child is not for the faint of heart. Just when I think I figured out how to maneuver my way through to something that “works,” it only seems to work the one time. To stay ahead of the game, I am forever having to enact a new strategy out there on the field. And, yes, luck does play at least some part in the triumph of my next move. It’s different with older adopted children—different from raising children from the start, where they learn early on the game plan for life as it could be… should be. In parenting the older adopted child, not unlike soccer, the game plan seems forever to be shifting, usually to accommodate even the slightest rumblings of insecurity and/or anxiety that influence their defensive instincts.

I adopted my two sons from Brazil at the cusp of 9- and 12-years old, four years ago now. Perhaps mirroring their native country’s travails, I had plucked them out from a life of poverty, instability, and insecurity. So, given their earlier life’s experiences, why would I dare expect them to trust straightaway, and even now, still, what worked once for them should work a second time? Eventually, though, “it” does happen. They begin to trust that the ground beneath their feet won’t necessarily quiver, crack, or open up and swallow them whole. Yet, even with a securer worldview, it does seem that they have to sometimes test my authority that much harder to ensure it stays as such. And, all too often when I should exercise my authority as their team captain, it invariably seems to them to be without justifiable merit, without logic or sensibility, or that it’s just “not fair!” As their “fearless” leader, I find myself having to pull rank now and again more than I might be comfortable with. This sometimes leaves me feeling vulnerable on the inside as I struggle to rally my troops past their sullen, disagreeable, and/or uncooperative spirits with some semblance of the right decisions and moves.

Even when there is the pain of past oversights, missteps, and misguided self-interests that still are fresh in our memory banks, like on the soccer field, I always get another turn at this so-called parenting game. When it’s my turn, I take stock in my next kick of the ball, whether it’s to buy myself more time in defending against another opposing behavioral insult, take a shot toward a goal for the win that puts them in their proper place, or sets up a play that better positions one of them to save face and make the better decision for proper behavior. This game of parenting can be exhausting to the say the least, with foul moves often leaving me feeling dejected, demoralized, and/or unappreciated… not much different than how David Luiz was likely feeling about his game performance. It took a 9-year old girl’s simplistic, yet very meaningful words of encouragement in a letter she wrote to him after the game that he had posted on his Instagram to put back into perspective what it’s really all about. “I think that you don’t need to be sad because you played well and did the best you could,” she wrote. “You were a great captain.” With a philosophical twist, she added, “Life is like this, sometimes people lose and sometimes people win but people only need to be happy. David Luiz, you are my champion.”

I, too, sometimes find myself getting stopped in my tracks by my own two number one fans, who often remind me that the parenting game is not necessarily about winning or losing. Rather, it’s about the effort that goes into playing the game. Even more important to them is that I do not give up—they see that I am in the parenting game for keeps, and their fearless captain is here to stay. It sometimes can become difficult for me to see the bigger picture after experiencing a parenting setback—that I’m always out there trying my hardest. I know they understand those times when I see how they cooperate with me, work together with each other as dutiful teammates, and use good judgment that parallels my teachings. There are even times they excuse me for a bad call, and are trusting and patient enough to allow me to regain my better sense of judgment. Although a single parent, I am not alone in this parenting game. We are bonded together as a family, traversing the field of life as teammates who belong together. That alone is a win-win for all of us.

Dr. Gary Matloff is a licensed psychologist, and a proud single, adoptive father to a pair of brothers, now thirteen and sixteen years-old. He is the author of See You Tomorrow… Reclaiming the Beacon of Hope— A true story about resilience, and the journey of a lifetime for this pair of brothers and their new father against the sometimes all too uncompromising reality of adopting older children and international adoption.


Roseanne & the Next Generation… Cultivating Trust for the Older Adopted Child in the New Age of Social Media

With the television on for background noise while I was working at my computer, I happened to catch an episode of the television show, Roseanne the other day. It only took a few minutes before I became completely distracted by the episode’s focus on the unrelenting conflict between Roseanne’s dumbfounded parent and her fast-emerging teen daughter, Becky. Roseanne might as well have been a single parent for this episode, as her husband, Dan, felt compelled to maintain a neutral position—”Just like Switzerland!” an exasperated Roseanne shouted at him. In its day, Roseanne frequently was touted for its wit and realism in the portrayal of the all-too often vexing task of parenting in this fast paced world we live in. This particular episode’s well-orchestrated storyline brought the viewer in on a glimpse of the turbulence surrounding one parent’s difficulties coming to terms with the abrupt changes that accompany the emerging teen—complete with bad attitudes, angry retorts, slamming doors, the silent treatment, pulling away from the parent’s influence, and the push for greater independence… and privacy.

One of the more poignant scenes transpired when Roseanne was conducting a spring cleaning of sorts in Becky’s bedroom, a rather thin disguise for her ulterior motive: she had hoped to come across any clue as to what was going on that might be causing her daughter’s unseemly behavior. The episode hit its climax when Roseanne spotted Becky’s diary, and had to be convinced it was only right to put it back, unread, so that she’d protect her daughter’s privacy. However, only after she had put it back did she find another diary stowed underneath the mattress. Realizing that the first diary, seen in plain sight was a decoy, the temptation to crack open the “real” diary was even more so. This “real” diary surely held the kind of clues that Roseanne thought would help her best support her daughter. Once again, Roseanne’s sister convinced her that Becky had her right to privacy, and there were some things she simply did not need to know.

Mother and daughter were able to reach a ceasefire after Roseanne admitted to Becky that she had found her diary, but she had held back from reading it out of respect for her privacy. Although this initiated the closure of the episode’s premise, something still did not sit right with me, and then I inadvertently came across its original broadcast date: 1989. Twenty-five years ago! Computers were not widely available and/or utilized as they are now, there was no Internet, and there were no cell phones. Really, the only source of interface teens had with their peers, or anybody else outside of school or at live, social gatherings was the landline phone… at home. It was a completely different world back then.

Teens’ issues surrounding their natural push for independence are the same, and still play out in much the same explosive ways between them and their parents. Yet, the potential for how others today might negatively influence the vulnerable teen is overwhelming for even the more knowledgeable parent to wrestle with. Social media—cell phones, texting, instant messaging, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, FaceTime… all compete for the way a teen may immediately gratify their rather normative need to socialize, and connect with others. Even the most conscientious parent cannot effectively monitor it all, let alone begin to impose the most fundamental limits still needed by even the most grounded teen.

Although privacy was the overt subject being explored in this episode, the actual driving force behind the struggle between Roseanne and Becky was the matter of “trust.” Could Roseanne really trust her normally sensible, loving daughter to use good judgment, and make responsible decisions in the face of those ready to harmfully influence her? Or, can Becky really trust her mother to respect her enough by “letting go” rather than getting into her business, even if it meant letting her make mistakes, and still being supportive? For my purposes as a (single) parent raising a pair of brothers I had adopted from Brazil when they were older, with the eldest at the threshold of his teen years at the time, the prospect of “trust” was a sticky, multi-faceted unknown from the start of our father-son relations. Even today, four years later, I still find myself at odds, forgetting that their trust still often needs to be earned in the face of an unforgiveable past. I have to lean heavily on disciplinary practices that foster open communication, even if it means forsaking old-fashioned punishments designed to set limits and reinforce boundaries.

It did not take long before both my sons had adapted to the mainstream of the American way of life, with its emphasis on immediate gratification and self-absorption famously exploited by our teens today. I watched helplessly as my eldest fast became overtaken by his first cell phone, and then later fall deeper into the abyss of the “new” social mainstream with his first iphone. I had set the precedent from the beginning, and still remind them every so often that it is my right as a parent to instill boundaries and monitor their social media actions to ensure they’d remain safe, respectful, and with at least the semblance of a foothold on reality.

Phones remain out of sight during “family time”, and they “park” their phones at night in my office at bedtime, keeping at bay any temptation that would disturb their much needed rest. If an inordinate amount of time should go by during the day, and my eldest hasn’t moved from his perch, transfixed by the constant shuffling between texting, games, videos, and his music, he is simply told it’s time to “take a break.” He puts away the phone for the time being (if he doesn’t want me to take it away from him, only to get it back at my convenience rather than his), unless he should be called to answer the odd text. I also randomly go into their phones and run through whatever texts, pictures, Facebook rants, etc. that are available, enabling me to ensure their good judgment. Even so, on the surface, I keep to myself most anything I’d come across, as it would likely be considered only mildly “inappropriate” by the most sanest of adults, even if it happened to concern an unflattering comment about me. As such, perhaps as a function of denial on their part, for the most part, I have still managed to maintain an acceptable level of discretion between us.

I am careful not to hound them on whatever tidbits I’d come across for more than what they are willing to tell me about their personal social lives on their own. Still, it doesn’t stop me from casually broaching an issue linked with a particular string of texts that bears relevance to what normally should be discussed between parent and child—incognito, of course. Self-respect and respect for others has tended to underlie much of what I’d emphasize when attempting to use my information to circumvent potentially acrimonious, very misguided influences. When that’s not enough, and I should happen upon something more serious, such as the girl talking about her cutting habits, or the string of explicit sexting that could have come straight out of a porno movie, I’d command a more direct, open discussion. Even if I seem to be doing most of the talking, at the very least, they usually seem receptive and do listen while I responsibly carry out my parental duty. It’s a delicate balance, but along the way, the greater has been their confidence in being treated more as a partner in the making of adaptive social choices.

The conclusion of the Roseanne episode was simple, yet oh so fitting as Roseanne sat down with her daughter to clear the embittered air between them. “So, here’s my peace offering,” Roseanne proposed as she handed over the screws to Becky for assistance in putting the bedroom door back on its hinges; its removal had glaringly symbolized the breakdown in confidence between them. “You know,” she continued, as she started to hoist the door back upright from the floor, “I guess I don’t understand everything you’re going through, but then again I don’t think you understand everything I’m going through, either. So, I’m giving you back your door because that’s the way I’d want to be treated… So, here’s your door.” That final affirmation seemed to shake Becky out of her dazed disregard for her mother, as she tentatively got up to help with the door. As they worked together to replace the door on its hinges, Roseanne continued, “You can keep it closed whenever you want to. Sometimes, I hope you will open it up and let me in. But no pressure.” Becky could only stare back at Roseanne, as she apparently was fighting back tears that would betray the kind of intense vulnerability teens today still struggle to contend with, and that still justly commands their parents’ prudence.

Dr. Gary Matloff is a licensed psychologist, and a proud single, adoptive father to a pair of brothers, now thirteen and sixteen years-old. He is the author of See You Tomorrow… Reclaiming the Beacon of Hope— A true story about resilience, and the journey of a lifetime for this pair of brothers and their new father against the sometimes all too uncompromising reality of adopting older children and international adoption.


LIMIARS Brazilian Adoptive Family Weekend Picnic Retreat
Where: University of Pittsburgh/Bradford – Pennsylvania
When:  August 1 – 3, 2014

Kramer vs. Who?


I happened to have caught the movie, Kramer vs. Kramer, the other day. I had first seen this movie when I was a young teen, too young to really understand its significance at the time. As a single, adoptive father now deep in the throes of parenthood, I found Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of having to abruptly handle the single parenting of his only son particularly riveting. That early scene in the movie, the morning after his wife had left him, where he botched the normally ordinary task of getting breakfast together for he and his son was a tribute to the then pervading societal views of a father’s ineptness in caretaking. Although entirely my desire and choice, and with much preparation beforehand, it too was a shock for me to essentially have woken up that first morning suddenly a single father, who was solely responsible for the life of a child—although make that a pair of brothers for me.

The movie came out in 1979… thirty-five years ago. It was interesting to see Dustin’s Ted having to repeatedly face society’s narrow-minded perceptions of a father’s place in caring for his children. In many ways, all these years later, such perceptions have not necessarily changed all that much, as I had first encountered on my own in seeking to adopt a child as a single prospective father. Even now, four years into life as a single father, although perhaps more so in reaction to my own self-consciousness than what I actually experience, my role as nurturer still sometimes leaves me feeling a bit in doubt in comparison to societal stereotypes that favor the motherly role in child rearing.

The most poignant scene for me was where Ted threw, I mean tossed his son into bed out of frustration over his unrelenting defiance, and unabashedly answering, “I’m all you’ve got!” to his son’s pleas for his mother. Good, bad, or indifferent, I too am all my two sons have. As depicted in the movie, over the better part of a year, it was enthralling to watch Ted transform from an insecure, uncertain, forced upon full-time single parent to one who was in charge, secure, confident, and absolutely committed to his son. This could not have been played out more beautifully than in the scene on the morning his son was supposed to return to live with his mother, as ruled by the courts nearly a year later. Seeing Ted and his son preparing breakfast together, and how father and son now seamlessly worked together in a way that conveyed their sense of belonging with each other was a sight to behold.

I vividly recall, for our first anniversary together as a family, being in awe as I compared myself to how I’d evolve from where I started. Like Ted, I became much more open to life as it was, rather than what I thought it should be. And in so doing, I have become a better adoptive parent… one who is more in tune to my sons’ needs, and subsequently, better able to meet their needs. Our relationship together as father and sons continues to deepen over the years. Fatherhood encompasses my every being in ways I had never really thought about before; parenting single handedly actually enhances my fatherly role exponentially. In actuality, I am all I’ve got; yet, along the way, I found out even more just how much there is of me to give. Society, in turn, also has been recognizing and supporting my ability to parent and nurture my sons’ innate goodness, as they mature and set out to make their mark in this world, when previously for them, there wasn’t even the thought of a possibility for that chance.

Dr. Gary Matloff is a licensed psychologist, and a proud single, adoptive father to a pair of brothers, now thirteen and sixteen years-old. He is the author of See You Tomorrow… Reclaiming the Beacon of Hope— A true story about resilience, and the journey of a lifetime for a pair of brothers and their new father against the sometimes all too uncompromising reality of adopting older children and international adoption.


Presenting Who’s in Charge Here? Understanding the Needs of Older Adopted Children; Responding Strategically at the National Council for Adoption’s 2014 National Adoption Conference’s Charting a New Path: Creativity vs. Reactivity.
Where: Buena Vista Palace, Orlando, Florida
When:  June 19 – 20, 2014