Making Sense of Your Past and the Six Risk Factors

Why It Matters

What you bring to the parent-child relationship matters.

I thought my past would automatically help me empathize and understand my kids from hard places. It was a book I could keep safely on the shelf. I could just say, “Been there. Done that.” As if that would cover it all.

There was one huge problem with that sort of thinking. My triggers and their triggers were often the same. I struggled with being the adult in the situation when all chaos broke loose. I wanted the right to react. Plus, I often didn’t know what my triggers were, and they didn’t know what theirs were. It was a recipe for disaster. Knowing all the scientific facts in the world couldn’t bring peace in that situation.

“Don’t change yourselves to be like the people of this world, but let God change you inside with a new way of thinking. Then you will be able to understand and accept what God wants for you. You will be able to know what is good and pleasing to him and what is perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

Just to be clear, we can’t make peace with our past in a day, or a month, or even year. What we can do is examine it and see where we had trauma. We can start paying attention to our reactions and then start reacting differently. 

When we have had trauma, we often take things personally. When our kids behave badly, we automatically think they are doing it on purpose. When we get trapped in this sort of thinking, it’s an us-against-them mentality. 

Once you begin to make sense of your past, then you can learn and apply the science. When we can look at the science with a new perspective, we can see our kiddos’ behaviors for what they are: needs, however inappropriately expressed.

The great thing about this particular article is the built-in dual purpose. You may even want to go over the material twice. Once with you in mind, and then again with your kiddos in mind. You’ll see what I mean in a moment.

As we say on The Whole House podcast, “Are you ready?”

Six Risk Factors

In an article for Psychology Today, Andrea Brandht, Ph.d., wrote, “Whether you witnessed or experienced violence as a child or your caretakers emotionally or physically neglected you, when you grow up in a traumatizing environment you are likely to still show signs of that trauma as an adult.” 

There are six types of early trauma that make children more likely to experience behavioral issues, mental health problems, and physical issues, such as cancer, depression, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, COPD, and more (see npr.org for more info). They are:

  •  Prenatal stress and harm.
  • Difficult labor or birth.
  •  Early medical trauma.
  •  Trauma.
  • Neglect.
  •  Abuse.

As you read the list, did you start thinking about your childhood? Good. Can you think of a specific story or incident about any of these risk factors? Good. Take a moment to reflect.  Maybe write it down or talk to someone about it. Maybe you never thought about these as being risk factors. Below, we’ll go over each risk factor individually.

Again, I recommend going through this material twice. Think about yourself and your childhood first, then your kid/kiddos. In the next chapter, we’ll go deeper into the effects of your child’s past. So, don’t stress about getting it all down pat right now. 

Prenatal Stress and Harm

Over 80% of children adopted/foster care have been exposed to drugs or alcohol. Cortisol crosses the placenta alters the structure of the brain and damages the immune system. Remember:

“We are all shaped by our genetic birthright and by the environment in which we live. To a developing fetus, the mother’s womb is an entire universe. If the mother has a healthful lifestyle, her uterus will share that with the growing child. But if the mom suffers from chronic stress, consumes such toxins such as alcohol and drugs, or doesn’t eat properly, the fetus is exposed to those dangers right along with the mother. An infant’s neurochemistry reflects his or her very first home-the uterus.” – The Connected Child

Difficult Labor or Birth

Modern medicine is a marvel. It can save babies who would have been lost fifty years ago. I went into preterm labor at 28 weeks with one of my pregnancies, and with medication and bedrest, the birth was held off until he was only a month early. C-sections, preeclampsia, prolonged labor, breech position, and other complications are trauma — not only for the mother, but for the baby.

Early Medical Trauma 

We usually associate medical treatment with healing instead of hurting. Medical professionals are trained and skilled in saving lives. This is probably why it has taken us so long to understand that interventions and interactions with medical professionals are traumatic in the scientific sense.  Now social workers, researchers, and other health care professionals are saying medical treatments can result in post traumatic stress.

“According to Barbara Ganzel, PhD, MSW, of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research at Cornell University, “Medical traumas are psychological traumas that result from medical diagnosis and/or medical intervention. Threat of serious injury or threat to life due to illness is now encompassed within the DSM definition of psychological trauma. This means that medical patients can be evaluated as having illness-related trauma disorders.” – Socialworktoday.com

I’ve seen this firsthand in my kiddos. When my four came “home” from Poland, the sight of a white lab coat would send them into a severe meltdown. It wasn’t until a few years after they joined the family that we understood how severely they had been affected by the prolonged hospital stays they had each experienced.

I didn’t know of my early medical trauma until I was in high school and asked about my birth. Maybe you don’t know yours or haven’t thought about the trauma side of it. If so, that’s something you can do right now: Ask about your story.

Trauma

According to the “Early Childhood Mental Health” website put together by the Missouri Department of Mental Health, there are three main types of trauma:  acute, chronic, or complex.

  • Acute trauma is the result of a single incident, such as a car accident or house fire.
  • Chronic trauma is prolonged and repeated. Neglect and abuse fall in this category.
  • Complex trauma involves exposure to multiple, varied traumatic events. Often, the trauma is relational and therefore more invasive in nature.

Neglect

Neglect is one of the worst sorts of trauma. Almost all victims of neglect are children or invalids. The reason is simple: in order to be a victim of neglect, you must be dependent on a parent or caregiver for your physical and emotional wellbeing. 

Neglect can be a precursor to PSTD and other trauma later in life. 

Abuse

Although the consequences of neglect are far more devastating long-term, abuse has its own set of consequences. Living in an abusive environment sends a mixed message to the brain. One moment, a parent is loving, apologetic, and showering a kiddo with gifts. The next moment, the kiddo is being thrown across the room. This makes it difficult for the brain to form cohesive neural pathways. Abuse or maltreatment of any kind shapes the way we develop. Trauma affects how we interact with, perceive, and attach to others. Abuse interrupts the attachment cycle, causing breaks in attachment.

“It’s important to remember that abuse fosters the belief ‘I don’t deserve to exist.’ When you grow up with that belief, it will affect your relationships with your children. You may suffer from low self-esteem, depression, PTSD, learning disabilities, an eating disorder, suicide attempts or any number of issues.”- www.psychologytoday.com

Change Begins With Us

The change we desire for our children must begin with us.

“If we’re willing to piece together our stories and see the relationship between what happened then and what’s happening now, we get to make choices about what happens next.”- Tell Me a Story

It’s difficult to make choices in the heat of the moment. This is why it is important to take some time and revisit our past, make sense of it, and begin healing. 

While we are healing, we can put some proactive responses into place. In other words, you can decide how you are going to respond ahead of time. If you know that when your child steals candy out of the secret stash, it triggers a memory in you of your Aunt Verna whipping you with a switch until your behind was raw, develop a pre-planned, go-to response. 

Separate yourself from the situation. Avoid saying things like, “If I had done that, my mother would have…” Instead, tend to the situation at hand logically. The child took the candy; therefore, he can’t have any after dinner — or whatever you decide is a natural consequence. 

As Andy Stanley writes in Deep & Wide, “the past is only the past for a time. It has a way of clawing its way into our future. And if you don’t recognize it for what it is, the results can be devastating.” If we don’t recognize our past and its overwhelming power to invade our “now,” we will remain stuck. If we come to terms with our past and work through it, we can gain a new outlook on it.

Your Past Can Be a Gift

I honestly never thought I would view the trauma in my past as a gift. I had years of anger, bitterness, and a reoccuring theme of “Why me?” 

I don’t feel that way anymore. I realized a long time ago that empathy is a superpower that is only earned by going through trauma. Sympathy can only reaches the boundaries of understanding someone else’s pain. Empathy feels that pain. 

I’m not saying you should be grateful that someone molested you or did horrible things to you. But you can be grateful for the gift of empathy.

“We are assured and know that [God being a partner in their labor] all things work together and are [fitting into a plan] for good to and for those who love God and are called according to [His] design and purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

God takes our pain, our past, and our experiences and fits them into a plan to help others. I’ve spoken with a multitude of adoptive/foster parents over the years. They all seem to have a common denominator: at least one half of the couple experienced early trauma. 

I’ve talked to foster parents who spent years in and out of group homes, were raised in a foster home, were raised by alcoholics or drug addicts, or had moms who worked as prostitutes. I’m not mentioning these things to shame their past or their parents, but to let you know that if you experienced early trauma, you are not alone.

Maybe you identify. Maybe you didn’t have the greatest childhood. Maybe this whole chapter has been excruciatingly painful for you. I get it. So let’s not end on the trauma — let’s end on the gift it has given to you.

*This is an excerpt from How to Have Peace When Your Kids are in Chaos.

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The Spiritual and Missional Aspects of Adoption/Foster Care

*This is an excerpt from How to Have Peace When Your Kids are in Chaos for Adoptive/Foster Parents by Kathleen Guire

A few months ago, I wrote an article titled “What If We Treated Foster/Adoptive Parents as Missionaries?” I got lots of flack from non-Christians (which is understandable, to an extent), but I was shocked to also get some negative comments from Christians. So I started asking adoptive/foster parents what they thought about the subject. Then I took it a step further and created a survey that asked all the questions I was curious about. I shared it with my adoption/foster care support group, and several friends did the same. I’ll be sharing the results throughout this article along with some of the feedback via quotes.

Your Home as a Mission Field

Before I began the season of homeschooling in my life, I hadn’t thought of my home as my mission field or considered the far-reaching implications of family to the third and fourth generation. I pretty much thought about whatever seemed to be going on at the moment or what the church was putting on the calendar that I needed to attend to. 

When Jerry and I were married, we were just getting our sea legs when it came to Christianity. We were both sorting through the theology and doctrines handed to us by our parents. (You can read the whole scoop in A Positive Adoption Story.) I had a general sort of doctrine — don’t get divorced, don’t commit adultery, go to church regularly.  My beliefs about family were muddled somewhere in the middle of all that, but I had taken my cues mostly from the culture around me. These are just a few of the assumptions I picked up:

  • Having children is a choice and sometimes (even in the church) viewed as an impediment to true ministry. 
  • Ministry happens at the church, out in the community, or in some third-world country. 
  • If you have children, you can’t (or shouldn’t) bring them along to things that are holy or have the word “ministry” attached to them. You farm them out or wait until they are grown before you do anything of real value. 

I followed the church culture like it was the Pied Piper of Hamelin. I filled my schedule with church ministry activities and shooed my kids out of the way. I needed to do holy work, and they were obstacles to that — until Denny Kenaston planted a seed in that set of tapes, A Godly Home. That seed grew into the vague, unsettling idea that I was growing the wrong sort of ministry. In response, I began researching other authors, listening to other teachers, reading the Bible, and questioning everything I knew about family. 

Although I’m the type of person who likes systems, facts, and formulas, I have learned the hard way that without a foundation, these things aren’t effective. I was that way with family. I thought if someone could just give me the general formula — stay married, don’t commit adultery, feed the kids, etc. — then everything would be alright. But the how alone doesn’t work. There has to be a why. The Bible puts it this way: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). Families are destroyed because we don’t fully understand their importance. 

The Stay-at-Home Missionary

I sat on a comfy couch in the Chi Alpha room at Trinity. The smell of rich, brewed coffee permeated the air as the Keurig hissed for the tenth time. Women filed over and filled couches, chairs, and the floor. Soon, coffees were abandoned on end tables in favor of pillows to hug. Women cried as they poured out their woes, insecurities, and failings. This wasn’t a group therapy session. It was a Mom’s Tea I led every Friday at our homeschool co-op, THESIS. These women were my friends. 

The overarching theme was “I’m just a mom.” Some of these women had left nursing, accounting, teaching (in a public school), and other careers outside the home. The message culture was hissing at them was toxic: “The job you are doing is not important.” 

And we were not alone in that belief. As I mentioned earlier, only 56.9% of people I surveyed said they think of family as a mission or ministry. Meanwhile, 25.9% said family is not a ministry or mission, and 17.2% said maybe. I shouldn’t be surprised at the results, but I was!

But this idea of family not being a ministry couldn’t be further from the truth. The acts of raising, teaching, praying for, and attaching to our children are among the most important things we will ever do. Moms are stay-at-home missionaries. One survey-taker noted: “I believe God created our family to be together to minister to other families and our community — both with our own gifts and with our experiences. Plus, as a mom, raising my kids to know God is my greatest ministry.”

I agree. That’s why I love the movie Marley and Me. Jen, who has decided to leave her career as a journalist and stay home to raise her kiddos, says something like, “No one told me it would be this hard.”  Her husband John agrees and gives her an out, saying she can go back to work, but she won’t bite. She wants to raise her own children. 

Jen alluded to the fact that her career outside the home was easier than raising kids. I cry every time I watch that scene because it resonates with me so much. It’s as if the culture tells us women that we bring no value to the world if we “just stay home.” The world wants us to raise children who are well-rounded, emotionally stable, educated, and contributing members of society — but often looks down on those who leave a career outside the home to focus on that responsibility. 

Our society is full of therapies, counselors, and facilities designed to help people heal from childhood trauma and its long-term effects. We have an army of women willing to stay at home and raise kiddos so they don’t have trauma or help them heal from past trauma, and the voice they hear is, “You aren’t worth. You aren’t doing anything of value.” In Parenting is Your Highest Calling and 8 Other Myths that Keep us Trapped in Guilt and Worry, Leslie Leyland Fields shares:

“The intense spotlight on the home comes to us at this point in our history for good reason. All of us know, the traditional family is under serious attack. Family units now include same sex couples and three parent families in which children’s needs are sometimes less important than the rights and whims of adults. Child abuse is rising so fast that it is described as an epidemic by the Child Welfare League of America. As families fracture and states scramble to fill the gap, more and more children are entering foster care. Against the backdrop of such moral fragmentation, surely we can assert that our highest call is our families!”

Leslie goes on to say our highest calling is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27). While I wholeheartedly agree with her, we cannot overstate how important raising your family is. This mission is a big part of our highest calling. I point this out because the feminist pendulum has swung so far to the left that it can actually damage and divide women. It often leaves the impression that being a stay-at-home mom is an second-class, almost subhuman role.

Foster Care as a Ministry or Mission

Out of the families surveyed:

  • 70.7% said that yes, foster care/adoption is a ministry.
  • 17.2% said no.
  • 12.1% said maybe.

If your family is a mission, isn’t it a natural progression that foster/care and adoption is? If we categorize being a mom as a mission, why wouldn’t we include foster care and adoption? 

Let’s be clear: We don’t adopt or foster to create a ministry. We don’t have children to create a ministry, either. God puts us in ministry. Often, we’re not even aware of it until we look back and see His handiwork. Our job isn’t to create a ministry; our job is to be obedient. Ministry exists in every area of our lives when we are obedient to Christ.

Ministry draws us closer to God. When we walk in obedience, our relationship with Jesus is fuller, more dependent, and more intertwined. Our relationships are affected and enhanced. That is true ministry. It’s not a plaque on the wall or a saying on a tee shirt — it’s relationship. Through our relationship with Christ, we become new creatures. Our old habits and ways have passed away, and we live with His light shining through us. That is the ministry we engage in and that the world longs to see. This sort of ministry isn’t planned in your Google calendar or written into a mission statement. It’s found in your everyday life with Christ, led by the Holy Spirit. 

As foster or adoptive parents, our home is a long-term (forever) mission base. We bring these kids who have been discarded by the culture, hurt by their parents, and harmed by trauma into our homes. There is rarely a respite.

I talked to Elizabeth King, a full-time missionary with twenty-two years under her belt. When she and her husband were presented with the opportunity to adopt two girls, they said, “More ministry? Yes!” They were up for it. Hadn’t they been practicing this for years? She says:

“But we were not really ready for the total onslaught of doing ministry right from the very core of who we were. Always before we had ministered outside of our home or had temporary visitors in our home. Our residence was a place of refuge from the rigors of ministry. But now, by accepting these broken girls into our lives – there was nowhere left to retreat to. Nowhere to relax. No escape from the desperate needs and destructive behaviors of the two hurting souls. We found that all our weaknesses, which we could hide pretty well in the course of normal ministry, were now staring us in the face every day.”

Rachel Judd, another adoptive parent, said this:

“I didn’t have that mentality when we started adopting, but when we brought home two from Ethiopia from traumatic backgrounds, my views shifted. I could no longer be involved in certain things as I needed to keep my focus on these children and the rest of our family. I knew our family was different from most and people didn’t understand. I didn’t even have the energy to help with VBS most years or simple volunteer work at church. I was burned out. I had to shift my thinking and see that we were parents and caretakers to some very traumatized children and that one day our season would be different.”

Another said: 

“I believe anytime that you walk with the Lord in your calling, it is a ministry. Google defines ministry as ‘the spiritual work or service of any Christian.’ Foster care and adoption is a beautiful display of bringing one into the home and trusting the Lord with the process.”

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t include some of the opposition: 

“No, it is not for us, and it irks me when I hear it referred to as such by other foster parents. With all the faith-based agencies I see that for the majority of foster parents it is a ministry. I feel like calling it a ministry or mission makes it less about the children and more about the foster parents’ religious commitment. Calling it a mission sounds like it’s an obligation and the foster parents are checking off a box to ‘get into heaven.’”

I kind of get her point. I might agree if I were only fostering/adopting to have a mission. Like I said earlier, it was in hindsight that I saw it as a mission. I didn’t set out to adopt so I could have a mission. I became a Christian, and then everything became a mission, because as the Word says, “Whatever you do [whatever your task may be], work from the soul [that is, put in your very best effort], as [something done] for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23).

I love what Rich Mullins said in an interview with 20 The Countdown Magazine: “A spiritual thing is folding your clothes at the end of the day. A spiritual thing is making your bed. A spiritual thing is taking cookies to your neighbor that is shut in or raking their front lawn because they are too old to do it. That is spirituality.”

Whatever we do for God and others is ministry, whether it is making peanut butter sandwiches, reading a Magic School Bus book to a child, singing a nursery rhyme with a toddler, cleaning up the kitchen, or adopting an orphan. It’s all ministry. 

To address the last point of the survey-taker, I would add that Christians don’t earn their way into heaven. The only way to heaven is through Jesus — it’s by grace alone that we are saved. No ministry work we do will secure a place in heaven.  

And as far as it not being about the child, raising a child is about the child. It has to be, because anything else is unsustainable. Fostering or adopting can’t be about some lofty ideal, checking something off your to-do list, or making yourself feel good or important. None of those motivations will survive the everyday realities of parenting kids from hard places. I can’t imagine telling my kiddos — as I serve up the third batch of chocolate chip pancakes on a Saturday morning before spending the rest of the day at swim meets, birthday parties, or whatever else they have on the agenda — that it isn’t about them. Raising children is about children. There’s no other way around it unless you are the worst-case scenario in the system: an abuser, neglecter, child molester, or pedophile. 

One survey respondent summed it up well: “The Bible says religion that is pure is caring for the orphans. Children in foster care are modern day orphans [with] parents that are absent in their lives. Providing a safe and loving home for these kids to enjoy their childhood with their basic needs (and beyond) met is fulfilling Scripture!”

Want to hear more about the Spiritual and missional Aspects of Adoption?

Listen to the podcast interview with Sandra Flach of Orphans No More Podcast.


When You Have to Disrupt the Adoption

People always say life never happens the way we envision. Despite our best efforts, things turn out differently than we anticipate. 

When we felt the Lord calling us to adopt, we didn’t even know dissolved adoptions were a thing. Yet we ended up living out our worst nightmare. We had to educate ourselves about mental illness, therapies, medications, doctors, lawyers, how to document every little detail, and eventually the ins-and-outs of the CPS system. Weekly therapy sessions, constantly changing medications, and researching the options available to us became our new normal. It was most definitely the furthest thing from how we envisioned our life would be. 

In 2010, along with our 13-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son, we embarked on a journey to bring a brother and sister sibling group home from Ethiopia. By the end of 2011, the time had come to travel across the world so that they could join our family. At the time of the adoption, they were 5 and almost 9. 

All we knew was that their biological mother had passed away, and there was no one available to care for them. We would later discover that the youngest, our Ethiopian son, had severe PTSD and anxiety among other mental illnesses that would take years to sort through. 

Our Judd clan had grown overnight to include an almost 15-year-old, an almost 9-year-old, a 6-year-old, and a 5-year-old. Our newest two children spoke no English and were reeling from some deep loss and trauma. It was overwhelming and exhausting. Before we knew it, we were operating in survival mode.

I would be remiss to go any further without pointing to Jesus. Each chapter of our family’s story has God’s fingerprints on every page. Even the darkest days were illuminated by Jesus’ love for us. No twist or turn was traveled alone. He promises in Scripture to never leave us or forsake us, and I am here to testify to that truth. 

Between the years of 2011 and 2016, our family walked roads that were almost unbearable. We noticed from the beginning that our Ethiopian son (whom I will refer to as H) was carrying the scars of trauma. He would have meltdowns that lasted hours. 

Although his meltdowns finally calmed down after a few months of being home, the PTSD and anxiety were still in full swing. He could not take a shower with the curtain drawn and could not use the restroom with the door closed. He was terrified of the dark and wasn’t sleeping well. He would walk with his back against the wall because he was afraid of who might come up behind him. He refused to be in a room with a closed door and often struggled with paranoid or irrational thoughts. 

Over time, other behaviors came to the forefront. He was very jealous of our other son (whom I will call C) — to the point of trying to hurt him in retaliation for things C was doing well. Fun time spent burning off energy on the trampoline became a time to try and injure C. H began showing signs of very dangerous behavior. We found hidden shanks he had made by whittling wood and throwing stars cut from old CDs that were sharp as glass. 

The overtly violent behavior started with little things, like putting thumbtacks in C’s doorway “so they would go through his foot when he got out of bed” and sleeping with items that could be used as weapons “to hurt C if he comes in my room.” We managed these behaviors as best we could, but our home was no longer a safe haven. It had become a war zone as we tried to keep things to a manageable level. 

Our oldest daughter (whom I will call A) was developing severe depression and anxiety as a result of the constant chaos. She was a competitive swimmer, and we were thankful she had an outlet outside of the turmoil that was our home. However, no matter the temporary distraction, our home life was having a negative impact on her mental health. 

By 2015, H was in and out of short-term psychiatric hospitals. We had exhausted every avenue available to us. We had tried 5 different types of therapies that were unsuccessful — including TBRI (trust-based relational intervention) and equine therapy, multiple psychiatrists, multiple medications, and a couple of months in a residential treatment center. 

We had EMS sedate him to safely transport him to a hospital after an hours-long fit of rage that included hitting police and EMS officers. H had told us that he had plans to kill us and proceeded to give me a very detailed description of how he would do it. At one point, he even came up with plans A and B to kill us in ways he thought he would not get caught. 

His rages were in full force by this point and would last 3 to 5 hours. He was extremely violent and would hit, kick, bite, and spit. We had to monitor his every move and keep him constantly in our line of sight to  protect the other children. We had alarms on doors and video monitors in rooms. No one was safe, and everyone had to be protected and watched at all times. 

Thankfully, the only ones to actually get hurt physically were my husband and me. Between the two of us, we experienced cracked ribs, kicks to the jaw, and an ER visit for lower back trauma from being repeatedly kicked by H while trying to restrain him. Our lives had turned into a nightmare beyond nightmares. 

While we struggled to keep everyone safe, our oldest daughter (by now an older teenager) began self-medicating in an attempt to mask the helplessness. We were so overwhelmed that we kept chalking it up to curiosity. No parent wants to come to terms with the fact that their daughter is struggling to cope. Her drug use eventually ended with a stint in rehab — yet another word I never envisioned having in our family vocabulary. 

Our goal during the beginning of 2016 was just to survive until the end of the school year. Once school ended, we would try to figure out what our next steps would be. 

June rolled around, and all hell broke loose. After an extremely long and violent rage with H, we knew we could no longer keep our other children safe while simultaneously parenting him. He had begun hitting the other children while making known his plans to kill us all. We would have to hide the other children in a bedroom with the door closed and a noise machine running in an effort to minimize the trauma they were enduring on the sidelines. 

As our saga continued to unfold, the Lord orchestrated every detail so that we knew we were never alone. He placed just the right people in our lives at just the right moments. He opened doors for us that we didn’t even know existed. What we thought were obstacles, He used to strengthen our faith and trust in Him. He paved a way where there was no path. 

The following days, weeks, and months following that last violent rage with H were a whirlwind. In June 2016, we had H admitted to yet another psychiatric hospital (sadly, we knew the packing list by heart at this point) and proceeded to call CPS to turn in our own child. We told CPS that our family was in danger and that we would not be picking him up from the hospital. They opened a case on our family and interviewed all of us. We were told they would file charges against us for failure to take responsibility for H. 

Within weeks, we found ourselves staring at a stack of documents in a mediation room full of lawyers and case workers. We were given instructions on all the various times we would be expected to be in court over the next 12 months. It was overwhelming. We were encouraged to hire our own lawyer and informed that one had been appointed to represent H. Due to God’s faithfulness, we found an amazing lawyer with whom we formed an instant bond. She had compassion for our family and kept us informed every step of the way. 

A year later, we chose to terminate our rights in the hope that he would get the treatment he so desperately needed — treatment we sought over and over again, in the face of every imaginable obstacle. 

During the year H was in CPS care, he had to be removed from his foster family due to violent behaviors. After bouncing from placement to placement, he was finally adopted out of foster care, though we know his problems continue and likely always will, even with ongoing treatment. The damage was done long before he made his way out of Ethiopia. There are some things that love, no matter how strong, cannot “fix” on its own.

Our hearts will never be the same. We fought with every fiber of our beings for H. We loved him then and will always carry love in our hearts for him. But the point of this story is not us — or our children, or even “the system.” 

The point is that, in the short-term, there is help. You can and must keep your family safe. In the midst of the storm, that may seem impossible, but it isn’t. And in the long-term, there is healing — through therapy (individual and family), counselors, and the grace of God. In the midst of the storm, this too seems impossible, but it isn’t. The fact that you’re reading this is a testament to both of these truths.

We wanted to let others who find themselves traveling this difficult journey how we knew it was time to let go. We found ourselves caught in the cycle of “surely there is something we haven’t tried yet.” We allowed ourselves to feed into H’s cycles of rages and manipulated kindness. 

As he got older, the rages became more and more violent and dangerous. Because of my husband’s job, sometimes he wasn’t able to drop everything and head home to help with a rage. It was very difficult to protect the other children while keeping the destruction at H’s hands as minimal as possible. H had begun throwing things during rages, especially things he knew would shatter. Sometimes these episodes would end with glass all over the floor.

The immense amount of stress we were under had also begun to take a toll on our health. I had PTSD/secondary trauma that resulted in extended periods of heart palpitations, rapid breathing, anxiety attacks, hair loss, and a year of suffering from gallbladder attacks that led to gallbladder removal. My husband also had a miserable case of shingles that his doctor said was likely triggered by stress.

The last straw with the final rage we endured was that H started to turn his violence towards the other children. That last night, he hit and kicked one child and punched the other in the back. This would have continued had we not immediately intervened. We were unable to maintain a good quality of life for anyone in our home, nor was our home safe for anyone at that point. The mental health of two of our children was also rapidly declining as a result of H’s violence. 

In order to protect our family, we had to come to terms with the reality that we were all in danger. If you find yourself in a similar situation, please do not hesitate to reach out.  


About the Author: I am Rachel Judd — Jesus follower, wife to my wonderful husband of 23 years, and mother of 3 through birth and international adoption (Ukraine and Ethiopia). We also do foster care relief work through a local children’s home.

I am a stay-at-home homeschooling mom. I am also on the leadership team for a foster/adoptive mom retreat called Together in the Trenches Texas. My husband is an Air National Guard chaplain and engineer for NASA, so I also help with marriage and family retreats for military families when the opportunity arises.

We LOVE to travel. We are always on the lookout for our next adventure.

We have had a lot of experience with reactive attachment disorder and many other challenges along our journey. It has given me a heart for reaching out to others in similar situations. I help run a small Facebook group of “trauma mamas” here in the Houston area.

You can find me on Facebook and Instagram.

How to Help Your Adopted/Foster Child Feel Welcome in Your Home

Have you brought a child home through foster care or adoption?

Or are you just beginning the foster/adopt journey and want to make sure kiddos feel welcome in your home?

On The Whole House Podcast episode 77, How to Help Your Adopted/Foster Child Feel Welcome in Your Home, Kathleen and Kristin share some quotes from crowd-sourcing and some from experience.

What are some things you do to make your adopted/foster child feel at home?

“Top of it:Schedules.

Their own stuffed animal bought by us the day they arrive.

A light on at night.

An anthem.” – Paige Bowser

I asked Paige to explain the anthem, and she said, “A song. Let the older child pick a song that expresses what he feels. This becomes their anthem.”

“I’m not sure how to answer this. We have only had a couple of placements and they have been babies. We give hugs and talk softly. We give them a new blanket. We try to get to know them as soon as we can by watching carefully so they have a chance to teach us who they are, and then we meet them there.” – Rachel Eubank

“ I agree with Rachel. We first have to see how traumatized a child is. Comfort comes from different things for each child. I think the first thing we give each one is Space enough to catch their breath. An overwhelmed child can’t make healthy trusting connections. Honestly, You have to trickle your love and comfort Into their lives. They gradually begin to trust You. The second thing is a smile and words of comfort.” – Bob Eubank

Smiling is super important because kids will mirror you. Everyone feels stress when a kid is first coming into your home. Don’t let it show on your face. Smile.

Some things to consider when welcoming a child:

  • Toys. Some kiddos (mine included) have none when they come “home.”
  • Ownership. Having their own stuff when they come to your home is big deal.
  • A comfortable bed. Some kiddos have never had their own bed.
  • A backpack. We got L.L.Bean backpacks embroidered with the kids’ names when they came home through adoption.
  • Words of reassurance. We need to give words of reassurance such as, “So-and-so loved you so much that they bought you this gift.”

Consider the perspective of the child. Older kids are more aware of what is going on in the adoption/foster care arena, so they may be able to communicate their thoughts, feelings, needs, and wants. Either way, it’s important to put yourself in their shoes as much as possible. Consider what they need and do it for them instead of for yourself.

Ten Practices to help your adopted/foster Kiddo feel welcome:

1. Calm fears. If kids don’t feel safe, they will act out in survival mode. Be aware of their past, and keep an eye out for triggers. You’re not always going to know why a child is afraid, but they almost always have a reason.

We all have fears, and even as adults, we sometimes can’t figure out where they came from. One of my fears is riding in the back of a car. It took me a long time to trace the fear back to after my parents’ divorce, when my dad would come to pick us up, load us into the back seat of his car, and start driving without giving us any information about where we were going.

2. Adjust the surroundings. You may have to adjust your surroundings for a season to help your new kiddos feel more comfortable. To them, you are weird, and your house is weird.

Even if a child was removed from an unsafe home, that doesn’t mean his home of origin didn’t feel normal to him. He’s still connected to it. Be more flexible than you are used to being. It will be chaotic for a while, and that’s ok. Helping your child achieve felt safety is worth it.

3. Be aware the child may have never been alone. My college roommate adopted a sibling group of three who had never been alone. For the first few years, they refused to sleep in their own rooms, opting instead to all share the same bed.

In cases of neglect, on the other hand, a child may be a little too used to being alone. It’s important to be aware of this and gently coax them into family time together.

4. Be prepared to adjust your menu. When we brought our four home, the youngest had a cleft palate. Getting nutrients into him became my second career. He was underweight, and because of his limited food choices in the orphanage, he wasn’t interested in eating anything new. I bought a food processor and pureed a variety of foods to meet his nutritional needs. It was a challenge.

After his cleft-palate surgery, he lost the ground we had gained in eating new foods after his month of liquids. One day at lunch, I stayed at the table with him, trying to get him to eat. All the other kids had left the table. I was so frustrated, I cried. I called a friend for prayer. Her husband answered the phone, listened, and prayed with me. Food challenges are real.

Yours might not be that extreme, but you still have to be flexible. You may find out your new kiddos refuse to anything spicy or that they hate peanut butter sandwiches or something else that’s a staple in your house.

5. Your child may miss friends (as well as family, which is a given). Be sensitive to that. Let them talk, and don’t take it personally. Missing their bio family, their old friends, and other parts of their past is natural. It’s not a comment on your abilities or value as a foster/adoptive parent. It’s not even necessarily a reflection of their thoughts or feelings about you.

6. Make sure your kiddos have plenty of snacks they can get to. In the orphanage, my kids didn’t always have the food they needed when they needed it. Kids from neglectful homes may have had a similar experience. You can alleviate the fear by having a snack basket within easy reach that they can access whenever they want.

7. Be sensitive to the clothing needs and the types of clothes your kids want/need. My kids had never owned a pair of jeans, so jeans were the item they wanted first.

8. Understand that their belongings have meaning, but they may not understand the value of things. Our kid came with nothing. Some kids come with a blanket or stuffed animal. Those belongings are important to them, even if they seem insignificant to you.

Keep in mind that kids who have never owned anything may not know how to take care of things. They may let something float downstream because they lack cause-and-effect thinking and don’t think about the fact that the item cost money.

Also, understand that if you put a high value on things, that will be tested by these kiddos. Remind yourself: “People are more important than things.” I reminded myself of this aloud so much that my kids repeated it to back me when something got broken.

9. Remember that your kiddos may need extra supervision, online and otherwise. In The Case of the Missing Person (more on that below), Sera is messaging people without her parents’ supervision or permission. All kids need supervision, but kids from hard places can get into trouble quickly and have trouble spotting dangerous situations.

One of my kids, for instance, started a forest fire out of a simple lack of understanding that lighting a fire in the woods is dangerous. The orphanage didn’t give them much practical experience with the great outdoors.

10. Schedules are security. They let kids know what will happen next, which is especially important to kids who find themselves suddenly in unfamiliar surroundings with complete strangers, as foster kids do.

If you’re not a schedule type of person, don’t worry! You don’t have to break your day into inflexible half-hour increments with every second account for. Instead, you can implement a general “first this, then that” routine. For instance, “after breakfast, we do chores” or “after lunch, we take a nap.”

The video below is an advertisement but paints a realistic picture of what happens when foster children come into your home.

Remember the weird things you had to tell your kids?

If you had biological children before you fostered or adopted, then you know you have to tell kids things you never thought you would have to say — like “Don’t lick the bathroom floor” or “Don’t lick your sister.”

Remember that, and apply it to foster kids. You don’t know what they have been taught about hygiene or whether they know the stove is hot. They may have been taught things that are not acceptable in your family culture. Don’t blame and shame the child for where they came from. Grace. We all have our perceptions of good and bad.

Assume that they know nothing — not as though they are stupid, but in the sense that they weren’t raised in your family culture. The first few times they do something “wrong,” assume they really didn’t know any better. Don’t assume they are being intentionally defiant or trying to push your buttons. They may just not know that something is annoying, generally frowned upon, “gross,” or “bad.”

Also, be specific in your instruction. Remember that it’s easier for kids to process positive instructions (“Do this”) than negative ones (“Don’t do that”). Instead of saying what you don’t want them to do, take some of the guesswork out and let them know that they should do. For example, you could say, “Use your inside voice” instead of “Don’t yell!”

Excerpts From The Case of the Missing Person

In the podcast, we mentioned The Case of the Missing Person — a book I wrote about a girl named Sera who is adopted through the Colombian hosting program (more info about that program here). The following scene describes her thoughts on coming “home.”


“Let me show you your room, Sera,” Clare said. I mean Mom. I couldn’t get used to that. I had spent my first eleven years in Colombia without a mother. I had come to the Craven family as part of the Colombian hosting program. Through that program, I had stayed with the  Cravens for three weeks. The Cravens had decided to adopt me. I was glad. Most of the time.

Right now, I was scared out of my wits. There was no going back to Colombia now. It wasn’t perfect there, but it was all I had ever known. Now I was here in the U.S. in a home I would be in forever. FOREVER.

The house was nice. Clare liked white. A lot. White walls. White cabinets. White furniture. There were a few colors in pictures on the walls. Totally different from the bright colors in the orphanage. Sunshiny yellows. Oranges. Terracotta tile floors. My room was white too. White bunk beds. Those were new.

“What do you think?” Clare, I mean Mom, asked.

“It’s very white,” I said quietly.”


You can listen to the first chapter of The Case of the Missing Person below:

A Few Responses to some Flack we received on What If We Treated Foster/Adoptive Parents as Missionaries?

Kristin and I take a few random moments in this week’s podcast episode and respond to some of the criticism we recieved about this article. One theme was that we shouldn’t see our adopted/foster kiddos as a ministry. Our response?

Whatever we put our hands to is a ministry.

We aren’t running around John 3:16 ing everyone. I didn’t  to adopt to have a ministry. I love my kids. They are a priority to me. I’m very protective of them. I don’t share their stories. Those are there own.

Another theme was – all parents need support to an extent.

All parents need support to an extent. Fostering is different. It’s harder. You can’t plan a vacation. You can’t take them to get a haircut. There is so much added stress. The visitation is planned according to the the availbility of bio family, not foster family or the child. Saturday-

Another theme was -Reunification should be the goal.

Culturally, that is not always a good goal anymore. Drugs, alcohol abuse is prevalent and our culture has changed.  There has been a moral downward shift in our culture

It is not always in the best interest of the child to be reunified. Keep children in mind first.

Changing How We Think About Adopted/Foster Kids

Often our society treats foster kids — and by extension adopted kids — as somehow less. Less important than adults. Less valuable than their peers. Less lovable because of their background, their biological family, or their behavior. Almost less than human. Different. Other. Less.

We would never say any of that out loud, of course. But some of the most insidious lies we believe are the ones we never put into words. Among them are some very harmful and mistaken beliefs we may subconsciously hold about kids from hard places.

Unfortunately, even subconscious beliefs will affect how we think about and treat others. In order to consistently live out pro-life values, we need to recognize the lies we believe about foster and adopted kids and replace them with the truth.

In order to consistently live out pro-life values, we need to recognize the lies we believe about foster and adopted kids and replace them with the truth.

Kids Are Valuable. Period.

As beings created in the image of God, all kids — including foster and adopted kids — have inherent and inalienable worth. I think all Christians would say they believe that. The problem is, we sometimes don’t act like it.

Instead, we act as if somehow a child’s worth can rise or fall based on what has been done to or for them. A child that we may have overlooked last week might suddenly seem more precious to us once we know they are a foster or adopted kid. Or we might act as though these kids are somehow second-class citizens because of their past or present situation.

It’s important to remember that adopted kids aren’t valuable *because* of what their adoptive families have done for them or even *despite* what they’ve been through. They’re just valuable. Period. No qualifiers.

Foster Kids Aren’t Broken.

I don’t think many people would look at a three-year-old foster child and say, “That kid is broken.” But that’s exactly what our actions often imply. Foster kids often behave differently than we would expect a “normal” child to behave. They act out, and it isn’t pleasant for their foster parents or for anyone else around them —  from teachers dealing with classroom disruptions to random strangers witnessing a grocery store meltdown.

It’s easy to look at these kids and see bad behavior in need of correction rather than a hurting child in need of love. But it’s important to remember that foster kids aren’t broken. They don’t need to be fixed. Like any child, they need to be loved. They need to be guided, disciplined, protected, and provided for. They need us to look past their behavior, see their hurt, and meet their needs.

Foster and Adopted Kids Are Not Their Past.

If you have watched any videos or read any articles about the long-term effects of childhood trauma, you understand that a child’s past — especially their earliest experiences — will leave a lasting impact. (If you haven’t, this TED talk is a good place to start.) We are all affected by what we’ve been through.

However, we must remember that while foster and adopted kids will certainly be affected by their past, they are not defined by it. Childhood trauma, foster care, and adoption will forever be part of their story — but it’s only one part. It’s not the beginning, the end, or even the climax. Just another chapter in a story still being written.

None of us would like to be forever known first and foremost for something that happened to us in the past. Neither do kids from hard places. We should interact with them in a trauma-informed way, but we should not equate them with their trauma, its effects, or their response to it. Beneath all the hurt is a real person with real feelings and a real future, and we need to treat them accordingly.

Adopted Kids Belong. So Do Foster Kids.

It would be almost unthinkable to look at a newly adopted child and say, “You don’t belong here.” But isn’t that the impression we give when we constantly tack on the word “adopted?” When we differentiate between adopted and biological children? When we ask which of a person’s children are their “real kids” or which of a child’s siblings are their “real” brothers and sisters?

Adopted kids belong, just as much as biological children. A family grows and stretches to accommodate those who become part of it — whether by birth or adoption. Adopted kids aren’t the last resort, a charity case, or a pet project. They are part of the family. They belong, fully and forever.

The same is true for foster kids. A foster family is a “real” family in every sense of the word, and foster kids belong. Although their physical presence within the family may be temporary, for as long as they are there, they belong. When they leave, the family grieves as they would the loss of a biological child. Their absence leaves a hole because they were — and still are, in a sense — part of the family.

Kids Are Just as Important as Adults.

Not only are foster and adopted kids just as important and valuable as other kids, but they are just as valuable and important as adults. When we treat kids as though they are important, we aren’t indulging them — we’re aligning ourselves with God’s view of children. Over and over again, Scripture emphasizes the value of children.

Both Matthew and Mark relate Jesus’ teaching that “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” When he caught his disciples rebuking children who wanted to be near Him, Jesus went on to say,

“Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” (See Matthew 18:2-6; Matthew 18-10-14; Mark 9:36-37, 42; Mark 10:13-16.)

We need to treat children as though they are valuable and worth our time, love, and respect, even when we don’t understand them, because that’s how Jesus treated them. Their needs and feelings are just as important and valid as any adult’s. Little voices aren’t any less important, and their feelings aren’t any less real.

We all know foster and adopted kids are people, too. We know they matter. We know they’re precious in God’s sight and made in His image. We just need to act like it — starting with rooting out any subconscious beliefs that undermine their value.

Want to hear more about this topic?

Grab a cup of coffee and join us on this week’s podcast:

Episode 68


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My name is Kristin Peters. I married my husband, Robert, in 2010, and we had our baby girl 5 years later, right after he graduated from law school. In fall of 2016, we became certified to foster and soon after received our first placement — an adorable little boy who is 2 years older than our daughter. He felt like part of the family from day one, but we were able to (finally!) make it official in February of this year. In addition to being a wife and mother, I work as a writer, an editor, and the content developer for SHIELD Task Force. You can follow us on Facebook (facebook.com/SHIELDWV), or check out our website at www.shieldwv.com.​