Children who have been traumatized in infancy and early childhood cannot be expected to behave or respond to stimuli in the same way as children who have not.
Key to remember– As Dr. Purvis reminds us, our children were harmed in and through relationships, and they will find healing in and through nurturing relationships.
Trauma is much more far-reaching than we assumed in the past. We have always been told that children are resilient and they are, but there are effects that trauma leaves behind. It affects every area of life for a child.
Trauma harms the brain. Its footprint can be seen in these areas: Social, learning, behavior problems (regulation), physical development
Dr. Purvis calls children who have had trauma in their lives “children from hard places.”
“The passage of time for these little ones does not in itself reduce trauma’s impact to a bearable level. The trauma contaminates the meaning of life and is part of early personality formation. Neurobiologically, trauma shapes the developing brain.”
-Deborah Gray, Nurturing Adoptions
Did your child have early trauma? If you aren’t sure, read the “Six Risk Factors” and listen to the podcast on the subject (linked in the article). Also, you can find a handy printable resource here.
Today, take some time to think about your child’s history. This will help you begin to recognize the triggers. Write down the risk factors she encountered before coming home to you. Take some time to pray and process how these things can be affecting her behavior.
We’ll cover more on this topic tomorrow. Feel free to comment, share, or ask a question!
Twenty years ago today, four kiddos got off a plane with Grandude, and my hubby, Jerry, to come to their new home. They had flown from Warsaw, Poland to Chicago, and then to Pittsburgh.
In a hospital, thirty minutes away, my stepfather, Bud was slowly, silently, slipping away – going on to glory (as he would say). As Dickens so poetically pointed out:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
Today, twenty years later, I reflect, rejoice, celebrate, and grieve. Those early days after the adoption were the season of light and the season of darkness all rolled into one. Today I celebrate the addition of my four kiddos, as well as grieve the loss of Bud. It was during this season I learned through experience how joy and sorrow could co-exist.
Joy and Sorrow
I experienced the joy of my kiddos in their firsts:
Living in a house for the first time
Having enough to eat at EVERY meal
Sleeping in beds with relative safety (not being beat up or molested in the middle of the night)
If there was any night time activity it was night terror which we tried our best to comfort. We prayed long and hard because we were out of our depth. Or it was Gregory jumping on a sibling, just because he could.
Grieving and Growing
We were all grieving and growing. My kiddos were grieving their old life. Letting go of the past is difficult no matter what sort of past it is. I was grieving because I felt Bud slipping away. He had been my first link to unconditional love. He died a week after the kiddos came home.
Despite our grief, we were growing together, meals at the table, putting on puppet shows, playing with dolls, tea sets, Legos, and race car sets. Playing, reading, and shared family meal times knit us together even though frayed ends stretched and pulled, trying to unravel us. Hateful words. Meltdowns. Night terrors. Hoarding. Medical issues. Survival mode. Disorganized attachment. Before you think I’m only talking about the kiddos, don’t. It was me too. Totally raising my hand.
If you are reading this and thinking, I can’t adopt. It’s too hard. What if I enter a Job syndrome? May I ask you a question? Did you come into the family of God kicking and screaming? Were (or are) old beliefs still hanging on for dear life? Beliefs that tell you:
You don’t matter.
You are not chosen.
God doesn’t love YOU.
If so, you are worth fighting for. Aren’t you? If you’re not sure, the answer is YES! And so is every orphaned, abandoned, and neglected child. As Jesus said, let the children come to me, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 9:14 paraphrase). Just as you are worth it, so are those children who need a home. Jesus came to heal the brokenhearted, to set the captives (physical and spiritual) free, to open the eyes of the blind, to bind up wounds, and give gladness instead of mourning. We are anointed to do the same. Don’t let the thought of doing hard things stop you from pursuing adoption.
If I had a time machine and I could go back to pre-adoption me, would I still adopt? Yes. I’m so proud of my kiddos, who they have become and all the life lessons they have taught me along the way.
Years ago when I was a young parent with only three children (pre-adoption), I joined a friend, Kelley, for a talk she was giving. The talk was held at a low-income housing development full of Moms who were desperately trying to keep their families together. They had endured all sorts of difficult life circumstances and needed some friendly encouragement. I’m glad my friend was there to give it. I was just tagging along.
Kelley began her talk with, “Some times I don’t like my kids.” There were audible gasps in the room. That’s just generally a statement Moms are not allowed to say. As she continued her talk, she explained the difference between loving her kids unconditionally and liking them (or not sometimes). I’m sure every woman in that room breathed an inward and a much-needed sigh of relief (including me).
If you really think about this, it’s true of all relationships even our relationship with God. Sometimes we don’t feel “liked” by God. It’s just a feeling but we try to get back in His good graces. We like being liked. So when I began to have children, I assumed I should like them and love them all the time. As my image of God changed, so did my understanding. God loves us unconditionally but He doesn’t like it when we sin because sin separates us from Him.
The burden of Mom guilt.
If you’re a Mom, you know that you can love your child unconditionally and still not like some of their behaviors just like God. As Moms, we carry an extra load of Mom-guilt. I’m not sure where we got it. Maybe we all picked it up at Target by mistake. It seems to be a universal item we carry on our shoulders. We feel bad when we’re mad. (I rhymed). Right?
Do you know who has an extra load of guilt? Foster parents. Adoptive parents. I’m not sure why. Maybe when we were signing all of those papers, we accidentally signed one for an extra bag of guilt with some fine print that said, I will always like this child no matter what he does. That’s just not realistic. In one day, I witnessed two foster Moms feeling guilty because they didn’t like their child that day.
Guess what? I love my husband but sometimes I don’t like him. I don’t like him when we leave the house to run two errands and he turns it into ten and I don’t get Starbucks. We don’t like our children when they don’t do the right thing, have a fit, steal, lie, or fill in the blank. It’s a given. It’s what we do with the dislike that matters.
What to do with the dislike.
I’ve watched Moms in the grocery store telling little tiny kiddos, “You’re getting on my nerves! Stop it!” I don’t think that’s the way to handle dislike. There are no clear directives for the kiddo to make amends or change the behavior. Does a three-year-old even know what a nerve is?
The best practice is if a child needs to change the behavior, give him clear short concise instruction. Much shorter than that sentence. If the dislike is super strong and lasts for a long period of time -get some space. Be still before the Lord. Examine yourself. What’s causing your frustration? Is it your unrealistic expectation? Is it the child’s past trauma causing mayhem? Is it your lack of planning? Lack of consequences? Lack of sleep? Or it a more serious issue that you need extra help overcoming.
Ask God for wisdom and be honest with yourself about how you are feeling.
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
–James 1: 5
Have you experienced a season of dislike for one of your kiddos? How did you handle it? Feel free to share! Want to here more on this topic? Check out Podcast Episode 120 here.
Foster/adoptive parents take all the classes and hear all the reports about how the kiddos were neglected/abused, etc.
Then we willingly sign on the dotted line and say, “Yep, I’m in.”
Adoptive/foster parents are not saints or superheroes.
Adoptive/Foster parents are just regular people who want to part of the solution. We want to build safe/secure/family oriented environments for kiddos who have had trauma.
We are called special, saints, have patience, etc… when we bring the kiddos home. When they start exhibiting behaviors as a result of the trauma, suddenly we are bad parents. I’ve been there, along with the multitude of foster/adoptive parents who contact me.
I was on the phone with an adoptive/foster parent the other day. One of her seven kiddos exhibiting some violent and destructive behavior. It was evident that she was beating herself up, i.e. blaming herself. I asked her a question that I ask all parents in this scenario – How are your other kids doing? Have you successfully parented them? Every time the answer is slow to come, almost as if it’s something the parents haven’t thought about. “Yes,” she said haltingly. I knew the answer before I asked the question. It’s a question to change the focus. We adopted/foster parents are not responsible for the trauma kids experienced before they entered the home or the effects of it. We try to be. We want hope and healing for these kiddos more than anyone else.
Trauma doesn’t always exhibit after effects right away.
Here’s a key point. Trauma doesn’t always show the effects right away. There sometimes seems to be a delayed reaction.
When I was eight, I had a serious bicycle accident. I flew over the handlebars and landed on my head after sailing over a speed bump. I woke up on in the ER to a doctor pulling rocks out of my face with a tweezer-like tool. I got off the table and said, “This is a dream.” It was pretty horrific. I was placed in a room with another young girl. She was hooked up to wires and monitors. She was in a coma. I overheard the doctor and parents talking about the car accident she had been in a year earlier. Her body was exhibiting the after-effects of the trauma now. A year later, her body was shutting down. (This really freaked me out!)
This is a physical example of what the body may do. In the book, The Body Keeps Score, Van Der Kolk, M.D. says:
“There have in fact been hundreds of scientific publications spanning well over a century documenting how the memory of trauma can be repressed only to resurface years or decades later.”
The Honeymoon Phase
Adoptive/foster parents go through a honeymoon phase with kiddos similar to what young couples go through after the wedding. Everyone is polite, kind, trying to please and be accepted. Then it gets too exhausting. We wives wipe off the makeup and put on our yoga pants because now we feel comfortable enough to be our real selves. Yes, sometimes we take it too far (raising my hand here).
The adopted/foster kiddos version of this is – I feel secure enough to go back to who I was. I don’t have to perform anymore. Or, the opposite end of the spectrum, they’re going to harm me, just like everyone else did, so I’m going to control my environment. I’m not saying these kiddos are doing this consciously or planning it out in their journal. It’s just the survival mode response. We all have it to varying degrees. Parenting the Hurt Child explains it this way:
“The struggle, however, represents something completely different for parents than it does for children. While the parents are simply trying to get the child to accomplish a simple task — such as dressing for school, getting ready for dinner or picking up his toys — the child is involved in a struggle to survive. He resists the intrusion and direction by others and perceives it as a fight for his life. As a result, his behavior becomes stubborn, tenacious, and intense. Think about it — how hard would you struggle if you thought that giving up or giving in would mean certain death?”
Be kind to Foster/Adoptive Parents
On a final note, be kind to adoptive/foster parents. You really have no idea what they are going through (unless you are one). Even if you are an advocate or therapist, you’re still behind a veil. You may know more than others, but you haven’t truly experienced the after-effects of trauma.
We foster/adoptive parents are doing the best we can. We need cheerleaders and prayer warriors more than we need judgement for our kiddos’ behaviors.
My parents had just enrolled me in a Catholic school after the move from Colorado to WV. I had completed some of the science homework ahead of time since I didn’t enter the school at the beginning of the school year. My first day there, I was chosen to go to the blackboard. I was wretched. I felt as if my answers were wrong. I was wrong. I stuck out like a sore thumb among all these kids who had been going to the school since kindergarten. I was the smallest kid in my class and in the class a grade below mine. I wrote the answer to the question in large loopy letters on the chalkboard with fear and trembling. The teacher, Mr. Brummage, commented, “That’s exactly right, Kathleen. If this new student can get this right, you all should.” I felt a tiny bit less wretched.
There have been some social media posts going around about popular preachers saying they are “chosen” with a comparison to Paul, author of 3/4 of the New Testament saying “I am wretched.” Something about these posts didn’t sit right with me. So, I did some studying and thinking.
Here’s something to think about – can you be wretched and chosen at the same time?
Even as [in His love] He chose us [actually picked us out for Himself as His own] in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy (consecrated and set apart for Him) and blameless in His sight, even above reproach, before Him in love. – Ephesians 1: 4
We can’t take credit for being chosen. Even if we wanted to chosen like those days we waited to see if we made the team, got the part, were chosen to be adopted. It’s not something we can do in our own strength or is based on our merit or good works. Before God put the earth on its axis, he chose us. He chose you. He chose me. We are chosen. (If you want to read some more verses about “chosen,” check out the list at the bottom.)
Wretched and miserable man that I am! Who will [rescue me and] set me free from this body of death [this corrupt, mortal existence]?
Thanks be to God [for my deliverance] through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind serve the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh [my human nature, my worldliness, my sinful capacity—I serve] the law of sin. – Romans 7: 24, 25
While Paul describes himself as wretched because of his corrupt, moral existence. He is still chosen. That condition of his existence did not change his “chosen” status. His fight with himself is well documented in Chapter 7. It’s the same sort of fight we all have with ourselves and our desire to do right, yet we end up doing the thing we don’t want .
For I do not understand my own actions [I am baffled and bewildered by them]. I do not practice what I want to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate [and yielding to my human nature, my worldliness—my sinful capacity]. – Romans 7: 15
That’s exactly how I feel! When I hold onto bitter feelings, watch too much tv, don’t use my time wisely, or fill in the blank. How about you? Are you bewildered by your reactions? Do you often practice what you don’t want to? Eat the donut, skip the workout, yell at your kids, come apart at the seams when you have too much to do? I’m preaching to the Guire here.
Adopted, Chosen, and Wretched.
You knew it was coming didn’t you? What about adopted/foster kids? Are they chosen? Of course. We choose to adopt and foster. Sometimes we expect the children not to be wretched. We want them to feel loved, secure, whole, and free of fear.
I remember when we were still in Poland, after a visit to some psychologists, Damian was wretched. Because of something his brother said after the evaluation, Damian thought we would change our minds about choosing him. He said to his brother, “Now you’ve ruined it. They won’t want us anymore.” Of course that wasn’t true. We did choose them from the first time we heard of them.
When our kids come “home” or are part of our family temporarily, they may begin to feel secure and then will be baffled by their own actions. So, will we. Those triggers will make some ugly feelings rear their heads. It may feel as if they don’t feel chosen. Isn’t that just human nature though? We have a place at the table of the family of God, but we tend to slip off our chair and have a fit when circumstances don’t line up with what we want or think theyshould be.
Why talk about Being “Chosen” verses “Wretched” during the holidays?
Now more than any other time during the year will we have to understand that we can feel wretched even when we are chosen. This is the time of year triggers of past memories, good or bad, are present in abundance. Same for our kiddos from hard places. When we tell our kiddos to be on their best behavior when Aunt and Uncle so and so show up and they CAN’T, these kiddos will feel wretched. It’s our job as parents to connect and correct. It’s our job to reaffirm their chosen-ness and value. It’s our job to structure the environment to make them feel safe.
Want to hear more about this topic? Want to thrive this holiday season?
Some of us are parenting hurt children who have come from hard places and have no foundation of celebration. Holiday activities may seem strange or act as triggers for their past. Grab a cup of coffee and join Kathleen as she shares some tips for thriving this holiday season!
Join our free e- course:
Welcome to your twenty-five day countdown and survival guide. Raising children from hard places is challenging. Surviving the holidays with a smile on your face while parenting is even more challenging, that’s whyI wrote this handy little Advent book and created this course. Don’t stress. It’s not a huge to-do, not more than a paragraph or two each day. Easy peasy and encouraging. So, take a minute each morning and read. This year, let’s not just survive the Christmas season, let’s thrive!
Chosen: John 15:16, Romans 11: 5, Ephesians 1: 4, I Thessalonians 1: 4, I Peter 1: 2, I Peter 2: 9, Jude 1:1, Revelation 17: 4