“The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” – Peggy O’ Mara
The words of our parents becomes our inner voice, the voice we hear in our head. Their words become our mantra, our definition of self, the thing that spurs us forward with confidence or the thing that makes us doubt our own abilities. As an adoptive mother I find myself battling invisible demons. I find my voice competing with the voices already in my sons’ heads. Unfortunately, while those words whispered are often unkind or untrue, they are incredibly powerful.
When Tyler moved in with us he often said, “I’m a bad boy.” He uttered those words daily… in anger, in frustration, in defeat. He could not even imagine a world where he could be anything but a “bad boy.” Daily I would affirm, encourage, and fight to replace his inner voice with one of hope and love. For every “I’m a bad boy” I would whisper, “No, you are a good boy, whom I love very much.” Over time he began to want to believe, although it took much longer for him to begin to believe. I think my voice now rings louder than the voices of his past, but I still sometimes see him struggling to let go of the identity that defined him for so long.
This week I have been battling Ozzie’s inner voice. A cruel, lying voice that tells him that he will never be good and can never be trusted. He speaks the “truths” he hears in his head:
“I have never been good for even one day in my life. I will never be good.”
My arguments are disregarded as unbelievable,
and no matter how many times I tell him that he is a good boy he argues that I am wrong.
This week was a particularly hard week as we have moved into new territory in therapy. One of our greatest sources of conflict is found in the relationship and interactions of Ozzie and Tyler. It is a hard and complicated relationship that comes from two hurt boys trying to have a healthy sibling relationship when they haven’t been taught how. This week our therapy assignment was to have 30 minutes of playtime daily for Oz and Tyler. We created a set of rules with the therapist, made an activity bag full of sheets of activity ideas, and took our assignment home, ready to give it a try. Ozzie was told if he could have 6 out of 7 play times end successfully then he would be allowed to pick a treat from her goody box the following week.
It seemed so simple.
30 minutes a day.
All they had to do was have fun and play nicely.
They weren’t being asked to clean their rooms, or do the dishes, or complete extra school work,
all they had to do was PLAY.
It didn’t end well.
Each days’ play session turned into hours of mediation as Ozzie tantrumed, and teased, and hurt and hit, in an effort to get out of having to play with Tyler. He yelled and screamed how much he hated Tyler and how he would never be Tyler’s brother. It was a long week and a much harder therapy assignment than the previous week’s assignment. We were now digging deeper and opening old wounds in an effort to heal those sores so deep and raw that were inflicted over the course of his childhood. Wounds that should have never happened.
Every time I would say it was time for “Tyler time” Ozzie would shout and stomp his feet and say, “You don’t understand, I’ll never be able to play with Tyler. I just can’t be trusted.”
I was puzzled by his choice of words. We had never said that. I was battling his inner voice once again.
After a week of failed attempts we were back at the therapists office. After explaining our experiences she made the executive decision to table this exercise for the time being and address the emotions that had arisen as a result of this exercise. As we were headed home I received some profound insight into the boogeyman we were battling. Ozzie opened up and shared that playing with Tyler makes him think about his biological home and he gets anxious. He shared that his parents didn’t trust him to play with his sister so they weren’t allowed to play together. They would be sent to their separate rooms to play and could come out one at a time to play in the living room but couldn’t play together.
“I couldn’t be trusted,” he whispered.
Ahhh…and there is that inner voice, so powerful in its deceit.
He told me that playing with Tyler scares him because he is afraid he is going to be bad and get in trouble. Here is a little boy who spent much of his childhood playing alone in his room. It is no wonder he struggles to join the family for game time, or play ball with his little brother. He is happiest locked in his room alone. It is where he feels safest. Safe from the adults that he worries could hurt him, and safe from the damage he feels he could inflict upon others.
The journey of adoption and parenting wounded souls had been humbling. I have learned, and grown, and been made painfully aware of my own inadequacies. But, I have also been blessed with a growing testimony of our Lord’s great capabilities and immense capacity to heal.
I can not heal the hurts.
I can not silence the inner demons that my sons battle daily.
I can not quiet the inner voices that whisper lies and hurts.
I can not fix them…
All I can do is love them,
and teach them,
and pray for them,
and walk with them.
But most importantly I can give them a new inner voice…
by the way I talk to them and the words I use.
I can speak God’s truth.
Words are powerful things.
I have never understood that as well as I do now.
We become the voice our children hear in their heads.
We must choose our words wisely.