I’m happy to recommend the resources that I’ve found most helpful in learning to understand our teenage daughters. Look for regular updates to this list. (Affiliate links in the titles help support the purchase and review of new resources for this blog.)
Unexpected Blessings: The Joys and Possibilities of Life in a Special Needs Family
Sandra Peoples, Bethany House Publishers, 2018
As a blogger for adoptive parents I have the privilege and blessing to participate on launch teams when new parenting books come on the market. Sometimes the teams I join are obvious, like Katie Davis’ Daring to Hope or Gary Morland’s A Family Shaped by Grace, other times the connection is somewhat fuzzy, that is, until I start reading the book.
Raising adopted teens is a season of special-needs parenting: adolescence, hormones, social pressures, and journeys of self-discovery with pre-adoption histories that may be hard or lacking critical details. Sandra People’s book Unexpected Blessings: The Joys and Possibilities of Life in a Special-Needs Family (Bethany House, 2018) spoke to me in ways I was hoping it would. As a leading voice in the disability community and executive editor for Key Ministry (helping the church minister to special needs families), Sandra takes us through her family’s journey with her son’s autism diagnosis and how she’s learning to trust God for each day and for her son’s future. As I read through her book, I kept replacing her son’s diagnosis with my daughters’ adoptions. Different lives, different challenges, different needs, all under the same umbrella: Special.
Sandra shares openly about her cycles of grief and hope and how she came to accept the Plan B life God chose for her and her family as really a Plan A life. Her self-care and family-care routines are practical and helpful, and how she and her husband accept and respond to family and friends who “just don’t get it” is encouraging. She offers her solutions for addressing the loneliness and isolation that can come from being a special-needs parent. A special-needs sibling herself, Sandra shares ways that she and her husband make sure their other son doesn’t feel left out of the equation. As a Christian, she challenges the reader to be a “conduit for comfort” to other families with similar Plan B lives and challenges the church to reach out to families like hers:
“Special-needs parents are the exact type of people Jesus ministered to when He was on earth. The hurting, the desperate, the weak, the angry, and so often, the hopeless.”
In this book I found comfort, encouragement, and inspiration. There are lots of different special-needs families in our communities and across our countries. If you’re reading this you either are one yourself, or know one. This book will help you with your journey.
Unexpected Blessings will be a treasured gift for you or someone you know.
The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children (Revised and Updated)
Ross W. Greene, Ph.D., Harper, 2014
Now in its fifth edition, this best-seller by Ross Greene begins with the admission that he doesn’t like the term “explosive,” and honestly, neither did my daughter when she saw it on my nightstand. Explosive is a descriptive term for kids who become frustrated far more easily and more often, and communicate their frustration in ways that are far more extreme than “ordinary” kids. In layman’s terms, it’s kids who go “kaboom.” If you’re raising an adopted teen, I suspect you’ve experienced an explosion here or there as well. I kept seeing this title being recommended in several Facebook parenting groups, and for good reason.
Green explains that kids do well because they can. If your child is not behaving the way you’d like, it’s because they have a developmental delay in the skills of flexibility, frustration tolerance, and problem solving. According to Greene, “The reasons reward and punishment strategies haven’t helped is because they won’t teach your child the skills he’s lacking or solve the problems that are contributing to challenging episodes.” (p. 13). With the trauma history that most adopted kids have, developmental delays such as these are to be expected.
He urges parents to forgo the reward/punishment style of parenting and opt for Plan B, which focuses on identifying and solving the problems that lead to the behavior. In essence, he advises parents to be in crisis prevention mode, not crisis management mode. It’s a 3 step process:
Empathy: Here parents gather information from their child to understand the child’s concern or perspective about a given unsolved problem. These conversations go like this: “I’ve noticed that it’s been difficult for you to (state problem), what’s up?” Oh, how I love the phrasing here, acknowledge that the child is having difficulty with something, not that he/she is a problem.
During this conversation, parents are encouraged to drill down to find out what the essence of the problem is. Drilling down involves reflective listening, asking questions (who, what, where, when), asking the child what they are thinking when the problem arises, and breaking the problem into its component parts. A child not wanting to do any of her homework boils down to difficulty with just the paragraph assignments in science class.
Define the Problem: In this second component of Plan B, parents communicate their own concern or perspective about the same problem. Why it’s important to get all the homework done, etc.
In the final step, the Invitation, the parent and child agree on a realistic solution that is mutually satisfactory. Instead of imposing a solution, the parent can start with “I wonder if there’s a way…. ” and “Do you have any ideas?” When they reach agreement, they put the plan in place to see if it works; if, after a few days, they discover that the plan doesn’t work, they then return to the invitation to see if a different plan might succeed.
Of course, this brief summation does not do justice to Greene’s book. Readers follow along with case studies and see the progression of how this approach works for children of different ages. There’s comfort in recognizing that your child’s difficulties are not unique and other parents share your struggle. Greene also offers a mock Q&A for parents reading the book, answering all the questions and arguments he’s received from parents over the years. He even offers a free assessment tool that parents can download off his website.
Truly, this book is a gift to parents. Applying Plan B to my teenage daughters has led to quicker and smoother resolutions to the difficulties that challenge them. This book should be on every parent’s bookshelf, with the spine cracked and the pages dog-eared.
A Family Shaped by Grace: How to Get Along with the People Who Matter Most
Gary Morland, Revell, 2017
When your children hit the teen years, the parental clock starts ticking louder. You feel it in your temples. You tell yourself they’re not ready, you’re not ready. Suddenly every parenting mistake you’ve ever made is manifest ten-fold in their behavior and you have to fix it. Maybe they’re eyeing the wrong path. Maybe they’re already a step or two down the way. There’s still behavior to correct, attitudes to adjust, things to get into their thick skulls.
Stop, breathe deeply, and let the wisdom of Gary Morland bring relief to your parenting anxieties. Morland’s debut book, A Family Shaped by Grace, comes out today. Get it.
The beauty of this book is that it’s intended for anyone in a challenging family relationship, but it speaks loud and clear to parents, especially this one. There’s barely a page where I haven’t highlighted or underlined at least one sentence. It is full of wisdom and freedom. As a parent raising two adopted teens, I find Morland’s insight and advice encouraging, reaffirming, and liberating.
This book has taught me to be God’s influencer in my family. To encourage and woo them, not scold and criticize. It’s taught me to model the behavior that I want to see in them, to trust God’s plan for them, and to turn the results over to Him. It’s taught me to realize the blessing of having a front row seat to God’s work in their lives.
And parent, grandparent, child, uncle, aunt, or cousin, who doesn’t need that kind of truth spoken into them?
Let’s stop using our families for something they were not intended to be for us so that we can be what we were intended to be for them. Let’s live more for them and less from them. This is the heart and soul of the gift of accepting our families and each member. It’s the beginning of our ability to be patient and to be God’s access to our families. It’s the hinge on the door of grace into the room of wooing more and scolding less. Getting our peace right gets us out of the way and simultaneously puts is in place so that instead of a barrier we’re a blessing.
A Family Shaped by Grace:
How to Get Along with the People Who Matter Most
Debbie Riley, LCMFT, and John Meeks, M.D.
C.A.S.E. Publications, 2006
This book of “Case Studies and Treatment Considerations” is written for both therapists and parents. As a parent, I found it easy to comprehend, incredibly enlightening, and remarkably empowering. Riley and Meeks put into perspective how adolescence affects an adopted child, detailing issues of loss, relinquishment sensitivities, transracial and transcultural adoptions, and the adopted teen’s search for identity. The case studies provided are both reassuring (my kid’s not the only one dealing with this) and instructional. Six major hurdles for the adopted adolescent are discussed: Reason for Adoption, Missing or Difficult Information, Difference (in appearance and culture, peer differences), Permanence, Identity, and Loyalty. The parent reader is guided on how to deal with each one. There is much, much to be gleaned here. After reading this book, and highlighting much of it, I felt that I had a more solid understanding of what my daughters are going through, and more confidence in how to help them. This is a book that I have already referred to over and over.
Gordon Neufeld, Ph.D. and Gabor Mate, M.D.
Ballantine Books, 2004
I discovered this book when my daughters were pre-adolescents and I’ve since seen its concepts play out over and over again. The basic premise is that there must be an attachment between the adult and child for the parenting to succeed. It’s not what a parent does, but who a parent is to their child. Sadly, the authors argue, the peer group is replacing the role of parent in many teen’s lives; teens are literally raising each other. Think Lord of the Flies.
The good news is that there are practical steps we can take to prevent peer pressure from absconding with our teens, and things we can do to reverse it if it’s happened. Shifting our focus from behavior to relationship is key. Restricting things that take them away from us, including screen time and extra-curricular activities, and protecting family outings, holidays, the dinner table, help us give our teens the moral compass they need during this stage of their lives. No where is this more important than when raising adopted teens. Every concept and suggestion in this book is dead on.
Queen Bees and Wannabes, 3rd Edition: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boys, and the New Realities of Girl World” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>Queen Bees & Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends & Other Realities of Adolescence
Three Rivers Press, 2002
Wiseman’s research takes us inside the world of teenage girls, cliques, peer pressure, boyfriends, and much more. It’s a brutal world they navigate through each day. Regardless of how much you personally do or don’t remember about middle and high school, this book brings it back in living color. The power of the book comes from the words of the girls themselves and I for one, listened carefully.
Timothy E. Wilens, M.D.
Guilford Press, 2009
Now in its 4th edition, this book is an excellent reference tool for any parent who is unsure of whether or not to seek medication for their child’s mental health. Wilens provides clear and easy-to-understand information on psychiatric diagnoses and presents the pros and cons of different medications a doctor might prescribe. Of critical importance is for parents to understand that with any medication, or change in medication, a child will go through a trial phase to see if and how it’s working. This book will help you advocate for your child, it will give you the information you need to make a knowledgeable decision with your doctor on what medication(s) to consider and prescribe.
Karyn B. Purvis, Ph.D., David R. Cross, Ph.D. and Wendy Lyons Sunshine
McGraw Hill, 2007
This best-seller by the late Dr. Karyn Purvis is a must read for all adoptive parents, the earlier in the adoption journey the better. Even if you’re picking it up for the first time, it’ll go a long way in helping you understand what may be going on underneath the surface of your adopted teen’s behavior. Prenatal development, attachment, and trauma all need to be taken into account as you parent your child, regardless of age. Purvis and colleagues shed light on these and other issues and offer practical guidance for adoptive parents. Also check out the videos on the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development on YouTube.
The Year of Small Things
Sarah Arthur and Erin Wasinger
Brazos Press, 2017
I really appreciated Sarah Arthur and Erin Wasinger’s honesty as they shared how they spent a year trying to discern how God wanted them to live a lifestyle of radical Christianity when they were situated in suburbia with little children at their knees. The covenantal friendship their two families developed is inspiring and enviable. Their suggestions for keeping the Sabbath present many ideas for the rest of us. No social media on Sundays? We can do that! Their approach for radical finances – especially in terms of gift giving, are freeing. “The anticipation and joy of giving someone a gift should bring us closer to the One who gives good gifts. If we’re focused only on the deliverables, we miss the chance to see gift giving as a process of our ongoing sanctification.” Teaching children, and ourselves how to ask for forgiveness and how to give it, were especially insightful, no matter what age your children are. We’re implementing their ideas even now with our teenagers.
What especially spoke to me was their approach to sustainability, which is often thought of in much larger, planet-wide terms; it’s often easy to forget the responsibility to care for the patch of earth God has given each of us. Sarah’s points out that “God, the people, and the land form a triangle of interconnected relationships.” God made Adam from the earth and placed him in a garden; Jesus goes into the earthen tomb and emerges victorious. “Indeed, it’s no wonder that Mary Magdelene mistook her risen Lord for a gardener, the same Lord, the original Gardener, who walked in Eden in the cool of the day, now stood before her.” Mind blown. And so, there are small steps we can take to redeem the earth, steps that require intentionality on our part. Less plastic, more walking/bike riding, eliminating pesticides in our yards, maximizing our errands to use less fuel. It all adds up.
Parents of small children can glean some great ideas to implement in their households, especially since their kids are young and pliable and have no say in the matter. If you’re raising teenagers like I am, it gets a bit trickier, having to undo some of the family habits that have taken hold. But it’s not impossible. One small step at a time. (Reviewed 5/8/17)
The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared
Grand Central Publishing, 2012
This is a delightful account of Alice Ozma’s adolescent years shared with her school librarian father and their promise to read together every night. Their initial goal of 100 consecutive days extended from 4th grade until the day Alice left for college, and provided the context for her college admission essay, which later developed into this book. A wonderful inside seat to the father-daughter relationship, life’s struggles, and the love of books. A partial reading list provides a place for others to get started. This story proves that it’s not too late to start reading to your child, and it’s way too early to stop. I loved every word of it.
Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self
David M. Brodzinsky, Ph.D., Marshall D. Schechter, M.D., Robin Marantz Henig, Random House, 1993
Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew
Sherrie Eldridge, Delta Trade Paperbacks, 1999
Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through Seven Transitions into Adulthood
Lisa Damour, P.hD., Ballantine Books, 2016
Reset Your Child’s Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time
Victoria L. Dunckley, M.D., New World Library, 2015
Praying Circles Around the Lives of Your Children
Mark Batterson, Zondervan, 2014
Perfectly Unique: Praising God from Head to Foot
Annie F. Downs, Zondervan, 2010