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Healing Through Music: Songs for Adoptive Families by Lissa Schneckenburger

Here are three things about music that developmental psychologist Gordon Neufeld, PhD, pointed out in a recent interview:

  • music helps us access feelings for which we have no words;
  • music enables us to feel the shape of a hole;
  • music joins people together.

In other words, music can be an especially magical force for people affected by adoption.

Shortly thereafter, musician Lissa Schneckenburger wrote asking Why isn’t there music for adoptive parents? — and letting me know she is filling that gap in her own creative way. So I watched and enjoyed some of her music videos and invited her to talk here about the same thing Dr Neufeld highlighted: healing through music.

I hope you, too, enjoy the music and thoughts of guest poster Lissa Schneckenburger.

War Zone

It’s pretty common to hear snippets of song at our house, and not just because I’m a  musician by trade. You might hear strains of made-up-on-the spot hits like “oh my sweet  child, please pick up your shoes” or “go brush your teeth teeth, go brush your teeth” or  my son’s favorite, “Mama is so proud of you.”

Fiddler Lissa Schneckenburger

It didn’t always sound like a quirky Disney soundtrack around here. When I first became  a foster parent I felt like I was in a war zone. My child was explosive, aggressive,  rightfully furious about what had happened to him in his short life, and developmentally delayed without an appropriate way to communicate. I didn’t know where to turn for  support, but having an album to put on at the end of the day always made me feel  better.

Beyond Words

Music was my solace. I also learned that it was extremely easy to trigger my  child’s sense of shame with praise, critique, or sometimes even something as subtle as  a shift in vocal tone. But somehow singing was different, and he was able to receive  compliments or requests when they came in the form of a little jingle. We used lots of  story telling, art, and music in combination to help him process his early childhood  experiences and what he was worried about, which was more accessible than talking  about it directly. 

There is a tremendous amount to learn about developmental trauma, for both  caregivers and community members. There are plenty of books and workshops to help  us gain a better understanding of early brain development and how it responds to  adverse situations, but no matter how hard I searched I could never find any music to address these issues and help me sympathize with a trauma survivor on an emotional  level.

Not everyone is a verbal learner, and few parents have time to read in the chaos  of their daily lives. Parenting is already hard, and many foster/adoptive children have  special needs that require full time care and attention. I personally am able to digest and  integrate information much more completely when music is the vehicle. It was only a  matter of time before I realized that I was going to have to write some songs myself, as  a way of processing everything that I was learning, and as a much needed creative  outlet. 

Thunder in My Arms by Lissa Schneckenburger

That’s how my album, Thunder in My Arms, was born. It is a song cycle of original music  on the topics of attachment, developmental trauma, and resiliency. The songs are a  patchwork quilt of my own experiences, and stories of the many families we met on our  adoption journey, with input from the Children and Parents Project (a team of therapists  specializing in developmental trauma). CAPP was instrumental in helping me craft songs that would address some of the issues that I was dealing with in my own home,  and that would resonate with other families like mine. They gave me musical  suggestions, lyric ideas, and feedback on the material as it progressed.  

I asked my son’s therapist, “what is the one thing you wish you could say to every  parent?” and made up the song When My Baby Cries after hearing his answer. At first  I thought the song was too saccharin or obvious, but on a long car ride I discovered that  my son really responded to it. There was a part of him deep inside that was still a small  baby, needing to hear that I would take care of him no matter what. That if he cried, I  would pick him up, if he was sad, I would soothe him, and if he laughed, it would bring  me joy. In the course of that trip, we wrote several more verses together and finished  the song, which in turn ended up completing the album.  

In Tune with Lissa Schneckenburger

I don’t know what challenges we’ll face tomorrow, or what songs we’ll end up singing  along the way. We might be a little ragged or tired, we might sing out of tune, and we  won’t always find the perfect rhyme or rhythm for every situation, but we’ll be singing  together none the less. If you’re ever driving along the road in southern Vermont and  you hear the faint strains of “go brush your teeth teeth” on the wind, I hope you’ll think of  us and know that no matter where you are in your parenting journey, you’re not alone. 

Thunder in My Arms by Lissa Schneckenburger

Lissa Schneckenburger is a musician, adoptive parent, and activist in Vermont. Her  album Thunder in My Arms, is a collection of original songs inspired by foster and  adoptive families on the topics of developmental trauma, attachment, and resiliency.  More information at

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Lori Holden, mom of a young adult daughter and a young adult son, writes from Denver. She was honored as an Angel in Adoption® by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

Find Lori’s books on her Amazon Author page, and catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.

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