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.
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.”
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.
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.
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 www.lissafiddle.com.
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Lori Holden, mom of a teen son and a young adult daughter, writes from Denver. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, is available through your favorite online bookseller and makes a thoughtful anytime gift for the adoptive families in your life. Catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.
Lori was honored as an Angel in Adoption® in 2018 by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.