How to Be a Therapeutic Parent and Make Your Home a Therapeutic Home

Have you ever wondered how to be a more adoption-competent or trauma-informed parent? Today’s guest, adoptive mom Adi Tilford, shares with you how she works to be a therapeutic parent and create for her children a therapeutic home. She has 3 questions that can get you thinking along the same lines.

heart and home therapeutic parenting

Adi Tilford on Therapeutic Parenting

The evening started out like most: kids playing, and a feeling of weekend welcome enveloping the house.

Adrea Tilford on therapeutic parenting
Adi Tilford of

Then our usual babysitter cancelled, cascading our children into chaos. Tired, my husband and I canceled our outing. Instead, we used our COVID date-night trick: the children watched a movie in one room, we had dinner outside and joined them after dinner.

As bedtime approached, one of our children became dysregulated. The child’s concern — ill-timed, unexpected, yet familiar to us — had the potential to escalate into fight or freeze or flight, any of which would shut down communication and connection entirely. In the past I might have spent the night arguing, ignoring or lecturing, locked in an unwinnable battle, failing to read the underlying need.

This time, though, I got intentional about being a therapeutic parent.

What is Therapeutic Parenting?

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What an Adoption-Competent Therapist Thinks You Need to Know

Turn on the lights. If things are in the dark, you are reinforcing that Shame Core. So have a practice of “Hey, we have the lights on about this. We’re turning on the lights for you. We’re turning on the lights for me. We’re all looking at our stuff because this is just part of being a person and it’s definitely part of being a family built by adoption.”

Jen Winkelmann, MA, LPC, NCC,
in Ep 207 of Adoption: The Long View

Not every adoptive family will need an adoption-competent therapist on hand, but many will at some point. This is not to pathologize adoption; lots of non-adoptive families also end up also seeking therapy for various struggles. But adoptive families are statistically more likely to reach out for help. There are many possible reasons why, and those are beyond the scope of this episode. Instead, we’re coming at the topic of Adoption-Competent Therapy from this stance: you might one day need it, and when you do, you’ll want to already know about it.

In truth, parents themselves need to become adoption-competent, and it goes without saying, you don’t do that just by adopting a baby. So how DOES an adoptive parent become more adoption competent? For one thing, listen | to | adoptee | voices. Another thing you can do is to learn about adoption-competent therapy, which you’ll want to access long before you are in the throes of needing it.

Let’s take this first step by talking with a highly-regarded adoption-competent therapist, Jen Winkelmann, MA, LPC, NCC, about what you need to know and do for your beloved child.

↑ Listen right here! ↑

I attended a session a few years ago at the annual conference of the National Council For Adoption when it was in Denver, and I was blown away by the presentation of Jen Winkelmann and her colleagues at Inward Bound. I have also come to know Jen in other capacities, and I’m so excited to welcome her for Episode 207 of Adoption: The Long View.

Do Adoptive Families Really NEED an Adoption-Competent Therapist?

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Cringey! Midpoint of the Adoptive Parenting Feedback Loop

Ten years ago I attempted both a time warp and a mind meld when I tried to see how things looked from inside my children’s heads. I imagined, at the suggestion of a group called the Open Adoption Bloggers, what I’d like my grown children to say about the way I felt to them, adoption-wise, in 20 years. They were then 10 and 8 years old.

We are now halfway there, and my children are adults. Baby adults, but adults nonetheless. What were my open adoption goals then, and how well has our parenting aligned with them?

When I lead workshops or consult with adoptive families, I often ask parents to do this very same exercise, which is to imagine what their end zone looks like and feels like. I ask them to write this same letter, based on the prompt given to Open Adoption Bloggers all those years ago:

Imagine your child as an adult describing their open adoption experience. What do you hope they will be able to say about you? How did you view their other parents? In what ways did you support their relationship with them?

Perspective & Clarity

In writing this letter, parents not only practice seeing through their children’s eyes, but they also clarify what they want of their own parenting in the long run. (Aside: every single parent I’ve worked with wants an enduring, loving, connected relationship with their child over time, and they want their son or daughter to have everything they need to be happy and successful in their lives).

Continue reading Cringey! Midpoint of the Adoptive Parenting Feedback Loop

adoption, parenting, mindfulness, open adoption