Parenting kids who have experienced trauma is a unique and often very challenging journey. It will challenge even the most steady of mind, gentle of heart, and seasoned of parent. It will challenge all relationships you have, down to the core. And no, I’m not exaggerating; it is that hard and there are often no answers. And while it is true that I have learned and grown more through parenting in the midst of brokenness than practically every other life experience, this can be an incredibly painful journey.
There are some things that parents of kids who have experienced trauma know all too well. I share this information and these experiences not to elicit sympathy or proclaim that my role as a parent is an any way more challenging than yours. That is not my intent. Rather, my intent is to educate a little and draw more people into the brokenness, either directly by being willing to foster or adopt, or indirectly by supporting those in your life who may be walking this road. My intent is to shed some light into these ugly places and to continue to grow a genuine, open community. They need you. We need you! We are so extremely grateful for those who walk beside us on this journey; those who love us. Your friendship means more than you know.
- Rages. Oh my heavens! This is probably the most challenging aspect of our current parenting chapter, and the most isolating. It is about zero percent fun to have a child screaming, hitting, kicking, scratching, thrashing, throwing things, and foaming at the mouth for (sometimes) hours at a time. When speaking of rages or trying to explain what one of these episodes looks like, I have heard parents drawing parallels to a normal temper tantrum. I just want to say there is absolutely nothing “normal” about these episodes, except for the fact that it is normal for kids who have experienced trauma in their life to have them. Other than that, rages ≠ tantrums. Rages are like tantrums on crack and steroids. They are detached from present emotion and instead filled with embedded emotions containing all past hurts, fears, anxieties and trauma. A four year old can become the Incredible Hulk in 10 seconds flat. She can scale walls and plow through adults. She will do all of this with a blank stare, no tears, and a body full of adrenaline. It is horrible to watch your child go through this and horrible to have to parent through it. You feel helpless, you feel sad, you feel angry. You want it to stop, but don’t know when it will.
- Lies, Lies, and more Lies. Who likes to be lied to? It is never fun to have a child look into your face and tell you a bold face lie. I would imagine lying probably ranks at the top of the list for parental dislikes. Now, imagine that lying and deception were part of your child’s survival skills and that they and are so ingrained in her or his physiological make-up that it comes as second nature to simply lie anytime and every time she feels threatened. Imagine that because this was part of how she survived in the past that survival instincts override other emotions such as remorse, empathy and self control. Imagine that this happens daily in your house, over the tinniest of issues and the biggest. This is the mountain of a challenge that many parents are up against. It is frustrating, isolating and completely exhausting. I can’t even put words around how much I dislike this reality. It is a daily uphill battle to align the metaphorical stars just right so that anxiety is kept at bay and truth has a chance to reveal itself.
- Marital Stress. All parenting will test a marriage’s strength and staying power. Marriage tests all marriage, to be more accurate. It is hard to get and stay on the same page about simple things in life, like whether or not keep the heat on 68 degrees or 70 degrees. (I turn it up, he turns it down.) Yet, when a marriage welcomes trauma into its home and livelihood, the marriage often experiences secondary trauma. I often say that my children’s trauma has traumatized me. I am not exaggerating or being overly-dramatic. The trauma that they have experienced in the past is not something that simply goes away once they are in a safe and secure family, and environment. It is part of who they are and therefore trauma has become part of our home and our marriage. The entire family is affected by the past trauma; all relationships are affected in unique and diverse ways. Yet, considering parents are the ones who must “run the show,” the impact trauma has on the marriage can not be understated. I wish someone would have told me, begged me, warned me to begin seeing a counselor immediately after adopting. I truly wish that because we learned the hard way. My husband and I now meet with a Christian counselor each week, who helps us manage the stress, stay connected, and remain committed. It’s that serious.
- We would do it all again. The odd thing about this entire journey is not that it has been the most devastating, challenging and isolating experience we’ve ever been through. Yes, it has been all of those things, and there are some days we are not sure we have what it takes. The odd thing, the paradox, is that even knowing everything we know now, we would do it all again. While my stomach drops every time I see a rage coming on, my blood pressure rises every time I know I am being lied to, and my heart hurts or wants to harden every time my husband says or does something unloving due to the stress we are under, I wouldn’t change anything about this road. In fact, I am convinced now more than ever about the importance of living out our Christian faith. The gospel is not words on a page from long, long ago. The gospel plays out in our lives and in our world this very moment. I am convinced more than ever that the role of the church is to enter into the dark places of the world and proclaim light, healing and redemption. I am convinced more than ever that a spiritual battle rages on. I am convinced more than ever that we are called to run with perseverance into every dark crevasse, unjust system, and place of terror on this earth. Paradoxically, it is in these dark places where life and death, heaven and earth, good and evil, and joy and pain all begin to make sense and our existence is given purpose.
If you are parenting in the trenches right now, you are not alone. If you are friends with someone who is parenting in the trenches, love them well! Listen, hug, love and do. not. judge. Just love them and be a presence in their lives. There is a growing community of families willing to open up and share honestly about their experiences, feelings, successes and failures. Keep their confidences, build trust. These relationships are a gifts; treasures!
If you are parenting from the trenches right now, do not wait to seek community and share your story. Do not be embarrassed, shameful, or guilt-ridden with anything that has happened or is happening in your life. You are not alone and I can almost guarantee that whatever you are going through, someone else is going through the same thing. This journey will bring out your best traits and potential, and your absolute worst. Some days you will love your reflection, other days you will not even believe you are looking at yourself.
This can be an extremely isolating and painful journey. Yet, what I continue to learn is that when I open up to friend, a kindred spirit, and share a piece of the dark, lonely, embarrassing, or horrifying reality that is part of our life, healing happens. Love happens. And evil loses because light begins to shine into the darkness.