Never underestimate the impact that families can have one another.
By being transparent. By describing real-life challenges. By identifying their children’s strengths. By sharing hard-fought successes without gloating.
Most importantly, by offering a message of hope.
This past weekend in Atlanta, three of my six young adult children – Ashley, Andrew and Michael – and I had the opportunity to do just that at the annual Ties That Bind Adoption Conference.
Over the years we have presented in various family combinations at schools, churches, community groups, businesses, government agencies and social services conferences in a handful of states – but never an exclusive adoption gathering.
Expectations were definitely high for our opening keynote.
We hit the mark more than I ever imagined.
After an introduction by the Georgia Director of Human Services, Ashley, Andrew and Michael shared heartfelt words about outcomes for the audience.
One person can make a difference.
Second chances matters.
It’s a long road but a good road.
At that point 24-year-old Michael sang the national anthem a cappella. Very emotional from a young man who’s struggled with anxiety, abandonment and bipolar disorder for most of his life. No missed words or flat spots. Practicing with our wonderful neighbor Dana had paid off.
An extended hug between father and son – with me whispering his favorite comfort words.
With input from the audience, I followed the song with a discussion of liberty – by balancing it with equality to ensure that all families have a seat at the decision-making table. I made reference to the Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial that we visited the previous day.
His words about non-violence and the human spirit resonated with me – and the adoption crowd too.
Together our voices are stronger when spreading love unselfishly.
We then played an interactive game to allow parents to answer questions spontaneously as a group – without any hint of judgment. Initial topics focused on family make-up and shared experiences – before jumping into the daily challenges of trauma and the subsequent avalanche of emotions.
The goal was allowing parents to feel heard in a safe place, while maintaining a spirit of commitment, personal improvement and ongoing self-care.
Acknowledging frustration yet leaving anger behind – which never serves any purpose.
Many nods of affirmation. Appreciation for the testimony.
After a brief dialogue about targeting the amazing strengths of our children (and not becoming stuck on negative behaviors), 25-year-old Andrew confidently stepped forward. From memory he delivered the speech heard by 100,000 high school students.
For 15 minutes the audience hung on every word – more so with my earlier comments about Andrew comprehending reading material at the second grade level. A visual learner in every sense of the word. A young man refusing to be limited by his Fetal Alcohol Syndrome diagnosis.
I then interviewed Andrew about his love affair with running and his 2019 Boston Marathon qualification. The value of hard work when presented with realistic goals. Interestingly, his interest took off in second grade as an alternative to losing recess. For playing too rough. For misunderstanding social cues and rules of the game.
A manly handshake and another father-son hug for everyone to see.
Now onto 28-year-old Ashley – a longtime suffer of PTSD from sexual abuse. Now in recovery after consciously taking ownership of her treatment and healing. Upon joining me on stage, she talked about the teenage bumps. Her daily anxiety. The uncertainty in everything. The poor choices that didn’t seem unreasonable to her at the time.
My strong arm close at hand to lend support.
Without hesitation, she eloquently talked about my never-ending compassion and patience – absent any shame. I was her rock, even though she couldn’t verbalize that sentiment at the time. But I knew.
Getting it right took nearly two decades.
Another sincere hug between 6′ feet me and 4’8″ Ashley.
That appropriately returned Michael front and center to sing his signature song Get It Right – complete with piano music and strong PowerPoint images of past pitfalls, including his years of cutting.
I’m not sure who shed tears of joy first. Michael or the parents in the audience – who truly understood.
With our 90 minutes rapidly coming to a close, I challenged the parents to learn more about themselves. To experiment with new parenting strategies rooted in empathy. To keep venting to in a minimum – thus not making it habitual and potentially harmful.
To practice self-care instead – every day.
To further build family connections. To constantly think outside the box for solutions.
Indeed, the parenting challenges are very real. But the rewards – which might not come to fruition for years – are worth the wait.
Adult children, who become relatively stable with our unconditional support and love, are an incredible blessing.
My three children joined me on stage to thunderous applause. A group hug before acknowledging their newest admirers.
Our positive theme of hope and inspiration was exactly the message these parents needed to hear. Ashley concluded the emotionally-charged program with her rendition of Amazing Grace.
I once was lost but now am found.
Was blind but now I see.
My family had made a difference to hundreds that morning. Other families can do the same – by telling their stories with truth, compassion and empathy.
Are you ready to share a message of hope? DCP
Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE
To follow Craig’s journey in raising his six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love
To follow my son Andrew’s inspiring story, “Like” his special Facebook page Andrew Peterson Athlete & Advocate