Tag Archives: Empowered to Connect

Therapeutic Thursdays: The Power of “Yes”




For this weeks installment of Therapeutic Thursday I want to begin with one of the three cornerstones of Trust-based Relational Intervention (TBRI), developed by the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, for parents raising children from hard places. The three cornerstones of TBRI are Empowering, Connecting, and Correcting. I thought I’d begin with one particular tool we have been applying to promote Connection with our two adopted sons.

There is an unrealistic expectation I have seen when it comes to adoption, that love is enough to solve any problem or issue that arises after adoption. That is an unfair expectation place on the adopted child and on parents raising kids who come from a life of early childhood trauma, neglect, or abuse, because those early life experiences taught them that “love” is scary, unpredictable, untrustworthy, and even painful. These kids have a very different set of experiences with love then you might have  which can result in a “Clash of the Titans” showdowns.

This is especially true when you have adopted a child with attachment issues or a diagnosis of Reactive Attachment Disorder.

When the first behaviors arise, there is an arrogant ideology that you can love the pain away. With that unrealistic expectation comes feelings of resentment when that child rejects your love and responds to each effort to get closer with behaviors designed to push you away. The more you try to love their past out of them the more they rebel in word and action.

Over time this takes its toll on a family. You morn the loss of the family you thought you’d be after adoption and the loss of who you once were. You find yourself evolving from loving mother to a Marine Drill Sergeant. Since loving acts are reciprocated with destroyed property, physical aggression. and hurtful manipulation we desperately find ourselves moving into the camp of stricter consequences and the tactic of,  “punish the behavior out of them.”

We soon discover this to be an equally ineffective tool as these behaviors are not defiance behaviors, rather they are survival behaviors. These hurt kids can no more accept our love or be moved by our consequences than I can fly to the moon. They are prisoners of their past trauma and are driven solely by the fight, flight, or freeze response of their brains.

Much like a cornered dog who has spent years chained up and kicked, these kids from hard places don’t “growl” out of aggression, but out of fear and a need to survive.

They are terrified by the love we offer. They have been burned before by the very adults that were supposed to love, nurture, and meet their most basic needs, and as a result learned early on that adults are untrustworthy, attachment results in pain, and that they can only depend on themselves to get their needs met.

This survival mindset is the foundation for the most difficult behaviors associated with RAD kids.

So, while our instinct might be to first address the behaviors that are causing havoc in our homes, we must first address the cornerstone of connection, because as Dr. Karyn Purvis always said,

“Connection must come before correction.”

So, for the next few weeks I will be talking about some of the strategies we are using in our home to foster connection.

In an effort at transparency I will admit this is by far the most challenging aspect of the program for me. Connection is easy with people who treat you kindly, but requires intentional, Christ-like effort when trying to connect with someone who wakes up daily with the sole goal of hurting you and pushing you away with their behaviors.

Loving a child from trauma can be likened to hugging a porcupine, the closer you pull them to you the more you get poked.

It requires consciously and deliberately letting go of years of hurt and the mountain of resentment and say, “I am stepping back into the minefield, for the sake of my child’s heart and healing.” It requires humility. It requires the ability to forgive (and forget) 20 times a day. It requires looking at your child through the eyes of trauma and seeing those hurtful behaviors as survival behaviors. And it requires getting closer, when all you want to do is step away. It is an exhausting test of devotion. And it starts with Connecting…reaching out and reacquainting yourself with the child you have been holding at arm’s length as a means of self-preservation.

And it isn’t easy,

But it works.

For the next few weeks I am going to share some of the strategies I have been applying in an effort to connect with my adopted son. And the first strategy I’d like to introduce is giving your child the gift of “Yes.”

This one seems so backwards and counterproductive when viewed through the lens of parenting a child who hasn’t experienced trauma. In fact it goes against everything I did as a parent to my older kids. In an effort to raise humble, grateful children that didn’t carry the “entitled child” stigma of their peers, we made every effort to say “No” more than “Yes.” I saw the effect of too much indulgence in the children of friends who parented differently than we did and was determined to not have our kids grow up believing the world owed them something. We consciously made an effort to say “No” more often than “Yes”, so that the yesses were appreciated more and so our children saw every small blessing as the gift it was.

This idea of intentionally saying “Yes” more than “No” goes against everything I believe. But this is what I needed to understand about the difference in my older children’s upbringing and my two little boys’ upbringing. The older three were given a million “yesses” in their early years, while the two younger boys were told “no” time and time again…and I am not talking about verbally “yesses” to what they wanted at Dollar Tree. I am talking about every “Yes” I gave them as infants when I came to their cry. I am talking about every feeding and changing, and snuggle I said “yes” to when I met their most basic needs. I am talking about the thousands of times I said “yes” to their need for comfort after a nightmare, or “yes” to their request for help when they couldn’t do something on their own. I think about the millions of “yesses” they received for every time they were hungry and asked for food, or thirsty and received a drink. When reflecting back on my bio kids early years, I would not consider myself a permissive parent, but when I consider the many ways they were told “yes” by simply nurturing and caring for their basic physical and emotional needs I can see clearly the millions of “yes” answers that were invested into their trust bank which is what they are healthy, attached children.

I wish I could say the same for Ozzie and Tyler, but their starts were much different and those basic needs were not met regularly or consistently. Their parents said “No” to their requests when they didn’t meet their most basic needs as infants and toddlers. Because of that they learned quickly that adults won’t take care of you and can’t be trusted. They became their own keepers and continue to apply those survival strategies today.

Our goal is to balance those early years filled with “No” with an abundance of “Yes.” They more we can say “Yes” and meet their needs they more they will trust us to meet those needs, thus feeling safe enough to abandon those survival strategies they depend on.

Saying “yes” builds trust.

Saying “yes” leads to attachment.

Here is a great video about the power of “yes” from a TBRI parent:


I urge you to pick a day and give it a try. When your child asks for something, bite back the impulse to answer with the automatic “NO,” and consider whether this is a request you can say “yes” to. See how many “yeses” you can log in a day, and watch your relationship with your child transform and you feed his/her trust tank with each yes…

And with each met need.

That is how connections grow.

This is how our children heal.

This is how attachment forms.

Next week we will delve into another connection strategy we have had tremendous success with: “One on One Time.”


Therapeutic Thursdays: Lessons I’ve Learned Along the Way


At Patchwork Farm we are on a journey of discovery and healing. 6 weeks ago I attended a two day Empowered to Connect simulcast conference, at a local church near us. It was my first exposure to a parenting technique developed by the late Karyn Purvis and her co-author, Dr. Davis Cross, for kids from hard places. This therapeutic parenting approach is called TBRI (Trust-based Relational Intervention,) and it is the revolutionary parenting program that has saved our family and turned our lives back around.

Those who have been following this blog since the start know the unique challenges we have navigated in our adoption of two older, foster child placements. They both have a history of early neglect and abuse. That early history has affected them in so many ways like physical development, sensory processing issues, learning disabilities, relationship struggles, and has resulted in their development of “survival behaviors.”

        At the Empowered to Connect conference I learned the “whys” behind the behaviors we deal with, and the “hows” of what to do to address the needs behind the behaviors. As a result of that education, and applying the strategies we have learned, healing is happening. Praise God!

I have felt called to share some of these strategies with other families that might find themselves engulfed in that same hopelessness we felt as parents of two boys with Reactive Attachment Disorder. These techniques are incredibly affective for RAD kids and kids from hard places, but can be equally affectively applied to our children who don’t come from trauma. TBRI is just good, healthy, Christ-like parenting that works!

I look forward to sharing our life changing journey with you as we focus on one applicable technique of TBRI with you every Therapeutic Thursday. These will be fed to you a bite at the time so that you have the opportunity to put a piece of the program into practice, try it out, and see how it works before I introduce another piece of the TBRI puzzle.

We will kick off this new segment with a throwback blog about some of the lessons we have learned so far, on this crazy journey we call adoption.

When we first felt God calling us to adopt,

our vision of what they journey would look like was far different from the reality that was ahead of us.

Not better, not worse, just different.

We thought we had a handle on things. We had parenting experience and felt we were pretty competent at it, so this adoption thing was bound to be a breeze, right?

Ummm…nope. 🙂

Through this process we quickly learned how little we actually knew. We discovered that there are lessons that can’t be learned ahead of time. Some things must be learned in the trenches.

With that being said, here are some of the lessons we have learned

as we have navigated the road of adoption:

#1: Adoption is HARD!

I remember attending an adoption prep class prior to having Tyler move in with us in which the speaker compared adoption to giving birth. She made the profound comparison that growing your family requires labor. For a woman giving birth that is a physical labor that stretches over the course of hours or days as you brace yourself to bear each painful contraction. Adoption labor is also a necessity. It may not cause the same physical pain, but it is a labor of love none the less

that hurts your heart and tires your spirit. It requires that same commitment as birthing labor

to keep pushing through the pain to enjoy the reward that comes after the pain.

#2: If God calls you to it, He will qualify you for it.

This has been, by far, the sweetest blessing of our adoption journey. We have witnessed the Lord’s hand in powerful ways, as a result of our complete dependence on Him, as we have traveled these uncharted waters. We quickly learned how ill-equipped we were to do this alone. That humbling realization led to a deeper relationship with the ONE who can do it all…

and can equip us to do it all.

Through this process I have discovered that, with the Lord’s help, I can do hard things. Things I never felt I could manage…

– Driving through crazy, scary, Pittsburgh traffic by myself to get to a court hearing.

– Battle epic temper tantrums that would last for hours

– Dodge sharp flying projectiles with the greatest of ease.


God truly gives you superhero powers when you are fighting for a noble cause…

the life of a child.

# 3: Sometimes this journey is about embracing Plan B:

As I observe the adoption journey of many friends and acquaintances, I am struck by how many have been placed on this road as a result of circumstances beyond their control. Many of them had a different vision for how this journey would play out. Perhaps they assumed they would grow their family through birth. Perhaps they signed up for adoption with a certain type of child in mind. Perhaps it is the timing of the process that is different from expected. I have come to realize, through our own journey toward adoption, that what you think the path will look like is often very different from reality.

We began considering adoption 10 years ago with domestic infant adoption in mind. When we felt God calling us to foster child adoption we thought it would be a child under 5 or a young sibling group. We began with a list of non-negotiables…things we didn’t want in our home. Then we witnessed the truth in that old adage, “When we make plans, God laughs.”

Everything we thought we didn’t want is exactly what we received and we gained a testimony of the importance of embracing Plan B

because our Plan B is quite often God’s Plan A…

If we would trust the Lord when the road bends in an unexpected way we would see the great blessing of His plan…

the BEST plan.

#4: Glean all the wisdom you can from the experiences of others.

It is humbling when you have to face the reality of your own inadequacies.  We were flabbergasted when we applied all our “tried and true” parenting tools to our adopted treasures and discovered they were ineffective. We quickly leaned that parenting a child who had experienced trauma was far different that parenting a child whose early years had been filled with love and security. We needed a new play book. After depleting our “tried and true” parenting tool box we began seeking out support.

We discovered the gems of wisdom that could be found in others’ experiences. Tapping into the lessons learned by those who walked before us turned out to be our greatest asset. We felt like we had finally been given a code book to the behaviors we were seeing.

It was therapeutic to talk to others who “got it.” We discovered the great blessing of adoption books, great social workers, support groups and a good therapist.

# 5: Self care is essential!

Toby and I have an ongoing joke in our family about a little idiosyncrasy of mine that drives him CRAZY. It is my  tendency to allow my gas tank to run down to EMPTY. He doesn’t get it. He is of the mind-set that you should always have a half  a tank of gas in your car. When his truck’s gas gauge drops below the 1/2 mark he stops at a gas station to fill it up. This is very different from how I work. There have been many times in our marriage that Toby has had to come and rescue me by the side of the road because I had run out of gas. He lovingly arrives with a container of gas, shaking his head, just not getting it. I try  to explain,

when he asks, “How does someone run out of gas?? The gauge tells you that you are almost out?”

that I just hate stopping for gas. I am busy and it always seems like a waste of time. Instead I push my car to the limit to see how far I can go before I have to stop for gas.

Toby always points out the obvious, “You just wasted A LOT more time waiting for me to bring gas than the time it would have taken you to just stop and fill up.”

I realize this. I don’t know why I do it. But I find it is an accurate reflection on how we both manage self-care. When he is running low on gas he makes sure to address the issue before he runs out of gas. I, on the other hand, run on fumes and push myself to the brink of exhaustion, and then discover that I am stuck.

This last year has taught me a lot about the importance of self-care. If you are raising a child who has been a victim of trauma, you are walking a hard road. You must fill your tank regularly or you WILL run out of gas…

and then you are no help to anyone.

For each of us that “fill up” will look a little different. You must make sure you are carving out some time for yourself…

Get adequate sleep, feed your body regularly, take time to do something that makes you happy….

It is so important!

# 6: Take care and nurture the primary relationships in your life.

The road to adoption can be all-consuming. I had no idea how it would consume my time, my energy, my creativity, my whole self. Because it is so consuming it is very easy to let the primary relationships in your life get pushed to the back burner. We found that during the hardest times of our journey we would collapse in bed at the end of the day with nothing else left to give. It is tiring and it is very easy to put off the things that are most important for those things that are most urgent…

in essence, those “fires” you are putting out all day.

But it is when things are toughest that we most need the strength we gain from our deepest relationships…

The relationships we have with our Lord, with our spouse, with our other children…

This sometimes requires digging deep and engaging when all you want to do is crawl in bed and pull the covers over your head.

This also requires planning and effort.

It means waking early to have quiet time with the Lord and filling your spiritual bucket when all you want to do is sleep another 30 minutes.

It means carving out a date night with your spouse, even if all that date night can be (in this season of life) is pizza and a movie in bed.

It means staying up a little later, after the little boys are tucked into bed, to have heart-felt talks with your teenagers.

Making the effort, even when you feel you have nothing left to give, pays back a hundred fold…

# 7: Let go of the guilt.

I know no other way to say this than to be blunt:

You are doing the best you can.

Give yourself a break.

Let go of the guilt.

Do the best that you can and then give the rest to God.

# 8: Embrace the Ridiculousness.

Sometimes it feels like we are living in an alternate reality. Sometimes Toby and I will catch each others’ eye across the chaos filled room and we just smile. “We just can’t make this stuff up,” we say to each other. We find ourselves saying things to our children that we never thought would come out of our mouth like,

“Get the cat out of the toilet.”

We find ourselves parenting behaviors that border on the absurd.

There are days so filled with CRAZY that we learned early on that the only choice to be made in the midst of them is whether to laugh or to cry…

As Marjorie Hinckley said:

“The only way to get through life is to laugh your way through it. You either have to laugh or cry. I prefer to laugh. Crying gives me a headache.”


# 9: Adoption is not about changing a child’s life.

We entered into the adoption journey with the belief that we were being altruistic.

We thought we would bless the life of a child…

we would save the unfortunate.

That was not the reality.

While, yes, their lives may have been changed, it was us whose life was most blessed. It was our lessons that needed to be learned, it was our spiritual and emotional growth that needed to happen, it was us that God was working on.

Through this journey we have all been blessed with increased patience, deeper empathy, a greater realization of our own weaknesses and a deeper testimony of God’s ability to heal.  We have learned lessons that we may never had fully understood if not for the struggles we had to overcome along the way. While this road has been challenging at times, I have watched my children rise to the challenge and all of us blossom as a result of the struggle.

 And we are a better family for it.

# 10: It is worth it.

For those who are still in the darkest part of the journey I speak to you about hope. In the midst of the storms it can be hard to see the end from the beginning. It can feel hopeless, and scary, and you question whether it was the right decision. It can be hard to look forward to the future when you are drowning today. But I am here to tell you that it will be worth it. The hard times are building a foundation for a bright future. And as you struggle through day after day of tantrums and worries you will eventually find yourself on the other side.

One morning, not too far in the future, you will take a deep breath and exhale. You will realize that you are no longer holding your breath and things are ok.

It is a long road…

but it is worth it!

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Molly Turns 17!


Molly is 17!

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We woke to snow on her birthday!


Early spring is a busy time at Patchwork Farm as we celebrate three birthdays in a row with Ozzie, Grace, and Molly’s birthdays each falling a month apart.

This birthday began as all birthdays do here at Patchwork Farm with an early morning wake-up serenade and cake for breakfast.

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This year was a bit different, however, due to an unusually packed Friday. Grace was on the schedule to work, Toby was at work, and I had committed myself to a two day simulcast conference…something I was struggling to remain committed to after Ozzie woke up itching for a fight.

Holidays are hard for Ozzie. Birthdays, in particular, are hard for Ozzie. Through therapy we have discovered that the motive behind the sabotage that often occurs on other’s birthdays are result of hard feelings he has about memories of his birthdays in his birth home. They were not nice and he struggles with feelings of anger and resentment towards the parents that stole his childhood from him. When he sees another one of our children being celebrated and loved he feels threatened and fears that by them receiving, he is losing out. What he deals with is not unique for kids from a trauma background, but it does make holidays and birthdays hard. I struggle to find the balance in addressing his trauma triggers while still protecting the birthday child from Ozzie’s efforts to sabotage and derail their special day.

This is why I was so worried when I committed to spend 8 hours of Molly’s birthday outside the home and leave Ozzie home with the other children. It was only the prompting of the Holy Spirit and hope that through this conference we would get much needed help and direction with the crisis at home, that I left the house for the day.

But, even with many prayers prayed, I hedged my bets with a special deposit in Molly’s love tank before I left for the day in hopes that even if things derailed in my absence the day would not be a complete washout.

My solution: an early morning breakfast with Molly before I left and before her school day began. I took her to Eat n’ Park for the breakfast buffet, where we enjoyed a very special hour of waffles, bacon, and one-on-one time before our day began.

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The conference was life changing and I recognized God’s hand in leading me there as soon as the first speaker began talking (more on that in the next blog.) Meanwhile everyone survived at home.

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That evening we enjoyed a family dinner. Molly requested spaghetti pizza, salad and garlic bread.

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We also has “fancy “soda, which then evolved into a concert of epic proportions when the empty soda bottles were turned into musical instruments.

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Gracie got home from work at 9:00 and we celebrated Molly’s birthday as a family with cake and gifts.

Everyone had put much thought into their gifts for Molly. As is tradition, the gifts were given from youngest to oldest. Tyler gave Molly three new lipsticks that he picked out himself.

Ozzie bought her a Bambi pillow.

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He was thrilled that she was thrilled.

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Rusty bought Molly the Disney movie, The Princess and the Frog.


Grace was excited to give Molly the gift she had been working on for quite a while. She decided she wanted to paint Molly a painting that was reflective of Molly. She decided to combine this with their shared love of American Sign Language and paint her the sign of a word that describes Molly, and then finger spell her name at the bottom. Gracie’s biggest struggle with this project was to decide which adjective best describes Molly. She came to me with a list, hoping for help deciding. In the end she chose the word, “Special.”

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The gift was received with as much love as it was given.

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Molly was touched to tears.

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Our gift was also a hit, although much less sentimental and a lot more practical. For Molly’s 17th birthday she received her first cell phone. In our family we have the rule that ownership of a cell phone comes only with a need for a cell phone. Which means: a driver’s license or a job. Molly now meets the prerequisites which means she is now the owner of her first cell phone. She was very excited.

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The next day we enjoyed the birthday activity that couldn’t happen on her actual birthday due to our crazy schedules that day. We surprised her with tickets for the family to go see “Shrek: The Musical” at Lincoln Park, a performing arts high school near us.

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It was so much fun. The caliber of talent was exceptional. The costumes, backdrops, and use of puppetry were unreal. It was hard to believe that we were watching high school students. Molly loved it!

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Even the little boys enjoyed themselves. There were just enough 10-year-old boy jokes sprinkled in to make a play enjoyable for them as well.

Happy birthday, Miss Molly. I hope you had a good day!