Making Room for Good Messages
A ritual of renewal for older adopted children
Older adoptees, adoptive parents
In their new book, "Creating Ceremonies: Innovative Ways to Meet Adoption Challenges," Cheryl A. Lieberman and Rhea Bufferd also address issues of the older adopted child. They note that adoption rituals can be useful long beyond the initial welcoming phase.
Lieberman developed one of her favorite rituals when her older son was having behavior problems soon after he came to live with her at age 7. She calls it "Making Room for Good Messages." Lieberman told her son she was going to help get rid of "bad messages" he had heard in the past. On index cards, she had written negative messages he might have heard before he came to her, including one she knew his family used regularly -- "You're a monster." One by one, he tore up messages like, "You'll be the death of me" and "You're driving me crazy." When he got to "You're a monster," Lieberman recalled, "he told me 'I can't tear this one up.' I said, 'OK, but you'll have less room for good messages.'"
The boy hesitated a moment, "Then he picked it up and tore it to shreds. Then he put it in a baggie, sealed it up, stomped on it, and threw it in the trash." Next, Lieberman presented him with a set of index cards containing "good messages," like "You have a nice smile" and "You have a kind heart." The two of them symbolically pressed them "into" his body. The high point for Lieberman came a few minutes later. "About halfway through, he looked at me, threw open his arms, and said, 'I am getting so filled up with good messages!'"
"Ceremonies don't handle long-term problems," Lieberman said, "but they can reframe a situation."
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