I Was Thinking…
You know one of the main goals of being an Intentional Parent is to meet your child where he is, both physically and psychologically. In order to do that, we need to choose to educate ourselves. We need to explore every avenue. We really need to become a walking encyclopedia about all of our child’s gifts and deficits. It is important to not only know what those gifts and deficits are, but also how they impact his daily life - how they impact his emotions, his ability to do relationships, his mindset and beliefs about himself and the world, and so much more.
When I look back on our journey, I remember when it came clear to me that in order to really help my girls heal I needed to be able to pinpoint what the struggle really was. Not what it looked like based on my past experience or what it felt like within my own ability to be clear on my “stuff” versus their “stuff.” I realized I needed to know what all the true ingredients of the struggle REALLY were. I turned it over and over in my mind….I was either too tired, too mad, or too down to consider being able to “study” for a long time. I knew I was missing pieces, I knew I had to do something to create some change because I wasn’t very happy and I felt like I wasn't being a very good mom.
I distinctly remember picking up my first attachment book, A Secure Base by John Bowlby. I ate it up! Reality is it wasn’t the beat all end all. It didn’t solve all of my problems, but I began to see our struggles in a new way. Twelve years ago there really wasn’t much out there in the way of classes for adoptive families, much less seminars and webinars I could watch or listen to at home. There weren’t really even support groups available. So I read and read. I decided to make attachment, neurology, trauma and the like the focus of my continuing education for my nursing career. It was in this arena I began to find some educational opportunities that could help me put it all together.
I am so glad things are beginning to change. It is still not perfect, but the opportunities to educate ourselves are much more prevalent. However, what remains the same is that the biggest hurdle we still have to get past is OURSELVES! The daily battle we are in to create healing for our children is a hard one, an exhausting one, and many times we feel defeated. It is hard to consider putting in more time and effort than we already do.
I just want to remind you though, as I have learned, that this information is an essential part of the healing formula. Actually, it gives strength and clarity that we can’t have without it! The effort put in to educating ourselves now makes for less work later! So, I challenge you to push ahead, explore every avenue…become a walking encyclopedia on the “whole person” you call your son or daughter!
Be an Intentional Parent!
I Was Thinking…
I have a big extended family and as a child I loved getting together with all of them. There was always laughter, music and good food. Family reunions were easily 500 people. I felt at home with them; it felt good to know we were all connected. I loved it! As I gave birth to my sons, my family all shared in the joy of the addition to our family. Likewise, after we adopted our girls, my family shared in the joy of three more additions to the family.
In a real short amount of time, it became clear that as Mom I was going to have make some very difficult choices. It was NOT really FUN for my daughters to be at these family events. Small or large numbers were difficult. Don’t get me wrong, on the outside they looked like they were having fun. They are survivors; they “understand” that a smile will get you a long way in a room full of adults. When I learned to recognize that the smile was “painted on", when I learned to look at their eyes and listen to the octave and speed of their voice, when I started realizing that, unlike my boys, they never came to me during these events… I began to watch and they were “working the crowd” so to speak. It really became painfully clear to me that I no longer existed as “Mom.” And while that was painful for ME, the absolute worst of it all was that it meant they had no mom again - they were “IN SURVIVAL” again. It was a crazy realization…the very “place” I felt the safest was a “place” that made them feel very unsafe.
I want to stop here and say that it wasn’t any fault of my family members. They are who they are and I wouldn’t want anyone to change. They are very loving and accepting people and they were simply being themselves. This “stuff” is hard to grasp, especially when you are not doing it day in and day out!
Okay, back to the story. It goes on from there to after the event—the “fall out” was terrible. My girls were now in survival mode again, which means you don’t really need a Mom! You don’t need to eat what she cooks, wear the clothes she has provided or follow her directions, even if they were to keep you safe. You become sneaky because as a survivor you don’t believe you will be provided for. And on and on!
It was decision time. Our girls did not ask to be adopted. They were thrown into a very difficult situation with very limited tools to use. It was our job to protect them and to help them heal…No Matter What! So we tried a variety of things so that we could keep attending family gatherings. We tried asking family to do it differently, we tried telling our girls they needed to do it differently, we became much more vigilant and kept boundaries much smaller, we went late and left early in an attempt to make it more doable and many times we made the choice to create our own family event.
It has been hard and I have had to grieve the expectations I had around it all. In later years, the hard work paid off though. Much to my surprise, the girls began to talk about how hard it was at those events and they had very specific memories and stories of uncomfortable moments, but also of how they felt so much better when I “made” them stay by me or when we stayed home. Today, they would tell you that they also love our big family. They would tell you that they enjoy spending time with them, but would always choose it to be in smaller doses. They know the stories, they miss their Grandma, and they feel like they belong to this family as my daughters - not as survivors that feel the need to “work the crowd.” This is ultimately what they deserve…a “place” where they feel safe and connected, a family!
I Was Thinking…
After doing this for twelve years, I wish I could give a gift to all of you who are trying to love, offer a good life to and create a family for a hurt child...
that gift would be to give you CLEAR VISION!
A clear vision of the child you are living with.
A clear vision of how they THINK & what they BELIEVE.
A clear vision of their real FEARS.
A clear vision of what they CAN and CAN'T do.
A clear vision of their HURDLES.
In the midst of hard behavior and hurtful words,
After pouring your heart out trying to be your child's parent only to be treated with disdain,
When it feels like you are getting nowhere or that maybe someone else could do "it" better,
CLEAR VISION is extremely hard to ACCOMPLISH!
So I would give you CLEAR VISION so you could see...
That those hard behaviors are not a choice, but the results of your child having to become a survivor!
That your child doesn't even know how to trust!
That he believes that the only way he is truly SAFE is if he is in control!.
That your child believes that he isn't worthy of love much less all of the goodness you have to offer him. He believes it will all end so he doesn't want to take a risk on that "good" or he ruins the "good" things himself so as not to have to feel the disappointment of the end of the goodness.
That your child's biggest fear is that he will lose you...he will be abandoned. No matter what he says or does this fear is what leads his choices.
That although your child can put on a good face because that is what he has learned to do in order to survive, he has much anxiety about life, is emotionally younger than his chronological age and has many deficits that come out looking like defiance.
CLEAR VISION allows us....
to be healing
to parent lovingly
to be kind
to meet our children where they are
to see the emotion behind the behavior
to hear what our child is really saying
to stay in it "NO MATTER WHAT"
and so much more!
So sometimes others can help us to have CLEAR VISION, but we really need to believe that things are NOT often what they seem and make a commitment to SEEK OUT the CLEAR VISION that will make a HEALING difference for our children and our families!
I Was Thinking…
As my family progresses through our days, I still see one place that, if we are not being very INTENTIONAL, we can still get tripped up! That area is that space between chronological age and emotional age. This concept is SO crucial when we are trying to be a HEALING force. Whether it was when my girls were 2, 3 and 5 or now 12 years later, there is still a gap there. The gap of the two younger girls has really gotten very minimal; however, the gap for my oldest sometimes seems even bigger. Societally, there are so many expectations of an 18 year old that her deficits are even more evident now.
Parenting via emotional age versus chronological age is one of the ways in which we are really challenged! Our kids are survivors and often that creates the illusion that they are more mature than their chronological age. They know how to rise to the occasion, fit the mold, look the part. However, this is many times just a façade. We see this “gap” affect them when they can’t hold it together anymore. We see raised anxiety, destructive behavior, constant sabotage of their closest relationships, the inability to ask for help and so much more. Inside our kids are hurting and striving to be what they believe the world wants them to be - but they are not truly equipped. They have a history of disrupted attachment, which leaves them with a core belief that they are unworthy, no foundation for self-esteem or a base for building healthy relationships. They are tripped up by missed developmental milestones and deficits in all areas of the whole human being from the impacts of trauma.
So, we have to figure out where they are emotionally and meet them there! Not where our expectations of someone of that chronological age should be and especially not where the expectations of society would have them be.
We have to be the bridge between their emotional age and their chronological age.
Oh this can be SO DIFFICULT!
The first goal is to “grow them up from zero” no matter how old they are when they come to us! They deserve to have that kind of care. Intentional. Detailed. Connected. Yes, even the 18 year olds!
The second goal is to create a life that honors both their chronological age and their emotional age. Hormones don’t wait for emotional development; they rage on no matter what! Peer pressure is real no matter how old you are. Society’s definition of successful doesn’t take into consideration one’s past!
The third goal is to adjust OUR expectations and meet our kids where they are emotionally, even if they have done it before, are “smart enough” to do it, or say they can do it. We need to know better. Use the signs we have to really help our child heal.
The REALITY of things is that parenting my kids using tools and techniques that always lean strongly towards their emotional age increases the amount of times they are SUCCESSFUL! I know that this is where HEALING happens!
So, no matter how much work it is and no matter how different I have to do it than everyone else…I’m going to INTENTIONALLY remember their emotional age!