In Paula Freeman’s book, A Place I Didn’t Belong, she talks about the collisions that take place in adoptive families. Namely, a collision happens when the expectations of an adoptive parent or family bump up against the reality of a child’s past trauma or hurts. Said another way, the realities of our children’s compromised beginnings collide, oftentimes in painful and nasty ways, with our own expectations for our family and our understanding of how relationships ought to work. We expect a child to act or behave like “x” but when he or she behaves or relates to others like “y”, even though all other children in the home with the same parents bought into the “x” method, problems arise and collisions occur.
Who is wrong? What went wrong? How did this happen? How did we fail?
Inevitably, when things aren’t turning out as planned, parental insecurities are unearthed, the child’s insecurities are further exposed, and a downward spiral ensues. It is not pretty. And that is a huge understatement. It downright sucks. The worst kind of suck. The kind where you are not even sure you will come out on the other end. The good news here is that you are not alone. I know this because I have heard from so many of you:
I thought I was the only one. I am falling apart at the seams. I hate the person I have become. How did this happen? My marriage has crumbled.
And so on and so forth.
WE ARE IN THIS TOGETHER, WARRIOR PARENTS! DO NOT GIVE UP HOPE!
Here’s the reality, just in case no one has yet to tell you: collisions are normal and should be expected, but also have the potential take out all in their path and destroy hope and healing. Even when educated, armed with understanding, and surrounded by knowledgeable professionals, when trust has been harmed at such an early stage in life or in otherwise fundamental or devastating ways, there is no magic solution for healing and no promise that everything is going to be ok.
Science has not yet caught up to reality in terms of being able to identify resilience factors and/or being able to predict which children and families might overcome and which ones likely won’t ever quite make it to the normal range.
And while the aforementioned collisions are normal, I also found myself asking, “Whose trust was broken? Just my child’s? Or, did I somehow have my own trust broken along life’s way? What wounds did I bring into the process that I likely didn’t even know existed or may have even believed were completely healed?”
Parenting trauma brings out the best and worst in all of us, and if I have learned one thing it is that scabs are ripped off along the way and wounds are uncovered that most of us would rather leave buried in the past. Unfortunately, that is not an option if we desire healing, for both our children and ourselves. We must confront not only our child’s past trauma, but our own as well. We must confront our past relational hurts. We must confront our own broken connections and broken ways of doing life.
As I read this particular chapter in Freeman’s book, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was bringing my own unhealed hurt into the mix as well? Could it be possible that my child’s attachment issues were triggering my own? The fact that I didn’t even want to ask the question led me to believe I might need to circle the wagon to places and times long gone.
And it turns out that it is not only possible, but highly probably that your child’s attachment issues will trigger your own. How you have learned to attach or detach to others and situations, especially when stress levels are high, will play itself out in your home.
Joy, I know!
Did a parent hurt you or not provide a safe, nurturing space for you when you were very young?
Did your own family relationships lack warmth, trust, and compassion?
Did you lose a parent at a young age or watch a family member suffer disease, illness or death?
Was there a higher than normal level of stress in your childhood home?
Were your basic needs for clothing, food, and security met?
Did you witness a lot of arguing, fighting, or other domestic type disturbances?
When faced with a stressful situation today, are you likely to choose fight, flight, or freeze? Why?
Listen, I didn’t want to circle back, and you might not either, but it is almost nonnegotiable. We can circle back and confront some painful memories OR sink the ship. Because when we welcome trauma into our home and life, the reality is that their trauma and attachment issues WILL-WILL-WILL expose our own attachment issues, attachment styles, or unresolved relational hurt.
Attachment and connection are built-in to our very design. From the very instant a baby is conceived, that life is attached to another, utterly dependent on the trusted adult for his or her very life. And for many years after that baby is born, the same it true. Those attachments and connections are critical for our physical, mental, and emotional survival. We learn trust or mistrust, that the world is a safe or a dangerous place, and how to relate to others based on those primal connections. If your own connections were harmed along the way, you must be prepared to loop back around and do yourself and your child the justice that you both deserve. You are worth it! Your child is worth it!
Damn you, trauma!
And yet, in the quiet corners of my mind and those deep places in my heart that resonate the truth that God will never abandon or forsake us, despite the shitty conditions of this world, I am reminded of Paul’s words in his letter to the Romans. These words give me peace knowing that God is in the midst of our mess and brokenness, working all things together, and that even when we have no idea what do, what to say, where to go next, or how to pray, the Spirit is interceding and is aware of our brokenness.
But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
And while I know it doesn’t make sense to some, I DO see God’s hand at work redeeming all that is broken in this world. In my child’s life, in my family’s life, in my own life. Because while I may not have wanted to confront my own past, the truth is that I know I will be a stronger person and better parent for having done so, and those wounds that were buried under all the years, and covered with all the appropriate masks, will lose their hold on me.
And years ago when I committed to the messy and long-suffering work of helping my child and children heal from their own past hurts, little did I know that God had other and better plans as well. For me and for you. If you are willing.
So, maybe it’s both, “Damn you, trauma!” And, “Thank you, trauma!”
God is at work, making all things new. This, I believe.