And we are off…
And boy, was it a journey getting to this point!
Despite being well informed about trauma and its effects, it still is fascinating (and often FRUSTRATING) to watch the effect of trauma play out in our home. In so many ways it is illogical and nonsensical to untrained eyes. For this reason, behaviors triggered by past trauma can’t be addressed in traditional ways. Cause and effect logic is moot and rewards are as powerless to bring about change as punishments. This is because the root of the behaviors that might read as defiance are actuality fear, frustration, guilt and grief. Because the root emotion contradicts the perceived behavior, the behavior must be parented with heightened levels of compassion and connection. Much like a growling or snapping dog might get labeled as aggressive or ferocious by someone who isn’t looking beyond the behavior to the cause beneath the behavior (i.e.: the dog is cornered and feeling threatened because of a history of abuse and neglect), the same is true of my sons who come from hard places.
So often my adopted sons don’t respond with the same expected responses and behaviors as my biological children who have never know the darker side of life. I have to continually remind myself of what I have learned about trauma and its residual effects, so that I can react appropriately. It can be extremely challenging and hurtful when those behavior seem targeted and personal or when those challenging behaviors result in attempted sabotage of special family moments.
The reality is…
Birthdays, holidays and vacations are often a living hell in our home. The happier a moment is the more my traumatized treasures react out of fear, guilt or grief, in explosive and challenging ways.
And nothing invokes those feelings more than two weeks of family togetherness at the “happiest place on Earth.”
The anxiety in our home is palpable. Over the last two weeks we have had children run away from home, verbally attack family members, declare hatred of our family, insisting they are leaving us as soon as they turn 18, destroying other family members’ possessions, breaking a school computer with a punch of frustration to the screen of the laptop, and the addition of a few new holes in the drywall.
The very human part of me struggles to continue planning this magical family trip in the midst of screams of hatred and efforts to destroy their chance of coming. (This is especially true for one boy in particular.)
I’m sure there are some who in reading this account are thinking, “No way would that child be going if it was my kid. I don’t reward bad behaviors.”
And I get it.
I was there 6 years ago.
Had it been Grace, Molly or Rusty acting out in these ways, we probably would have canceled the trip, but things are different now. The past 6 years have been a humbling journey of learning how to parent kids from hard places. I better understand the “why” behind the outbursts and as a result am able to come from a place of compassion rather than judgement. The Lord has taken me on a journey of discovery as I recognize my complete dependence of Him.
The reality is we are headed to Disney World not because their behaviors make them worthy of reward, but because they are worthy of good things and happy moments and unconditional love simply because of their divine worth as children of God!~
Much of the increase in negative behaviors are rooted in feelings of self-hatred and feelings of unworthiness. There are feelings of guilt about feeling happiness away from their birth family. There is fear that if they mess up, all of this will be stolen away, so rather than live in dread of that happening, they will simply hit us with the ugliest behaviors they have in their arsenal so we will send them away and they can get the disappointment over with. There is fear that we will fail them like everyone else in their life has. And the very root of the behaviors is the reality that those warm, fuzzy moments that bring feelings of joy for most, feel downright prickly and uncomfortable for a child whose “normal” in early childhood was fraught with screaming, hitting and hurting, rather than laughing, playing, and connecting in loving ways.
Some might ask why we even bother trying to do fun things. I certainly have had those moments this month when I looked at the chaos reigning supreme and I asked myself, “Why the heck do we even bother trying to have special moments?”
But then I remind myself:
1. I won’t let the ugly choices made by selfish adults in the past steal the present joy of childhood from my children.
2. It isn’t about “deserving.” That is the root of my Christian walk. I am infinitely unworthy of any of the good things my Heavenly Father has blessed me with. My life is fraught with mistakes and He is infinitely merciful…therefore, I will choose to show mercy.
3. I look into the dilated pupils of my child in crisis and know that this behavior isn’t coming from a place of “I won’t” but rather a place of “I can’t.” This is survival.
4. I won’t reinforce the lie “I am not worthy of happiness” by stealing happy moments from my child as a means of consequence.
5. I will challenge the lie they believe to be infallible truth by pulling my child closer when they try to push me away with anger and hateful words, rather than push them away.
6. And finally, I will come by my child and ask them to lean into the discomfort of connection, to whatever degree they are capable of, rather than giving them the “out” of leaving them home from vacation (as long as the behaviors are not unsafe) because the only way to help them be comfortable with family connection is to expose them in a loving way to the thing they fear most: attachment.
None of this is easy in application, but it is so important.
I have cried in the shower and punched many a pillow in the last few weeks as I drown under the frustration of not being able to “fix” the hurts my children carry so that we can just have a normal, happy vacation once and for all.
But the growth doesn’t come when the winds are still. Deep roots form under the strain of high winds and dry soil. And loving these three has created a family tree with strong, deep roots…
And from those deep roots will come a tree that will bear fruit. If not today, if not tomorrow, then someday down the road. I know this to be true.
So, the holes in the drywall will wait to be patched by our personal Mike Tyson after we return home from Disney, and the list of chores to be done to earn the money to replace the computer has been created, but it too can wait.
Today we leave for Disney World,
Because building a family is more important than fixing a house.