Often when I talk to parents who are raising hurt kids they express feeling like a failure. They may even feel powerless to change this and bitter at their circumstances, the system or even their kids. This is so sad to me as we have not only let down these kids, but we’ve abandoned the families who are called to raise them. To begin changing this we need to redefine what it means to be successful as a therapeutic parent so we can empower parents on this very difficult but sacred journey or parenting the most vulnerable of God’s children.
If we look only at the behaviors of our kids our feelings of success will vacillate depending on how our kids are doing. This is destructive to our sense of ourselves as parents because hurt kids go in and out of survival mode based on their past traumas and attachment wounds. In survival mode we will see our children manipulate, lie, steal, act out and hurt those who are trying to love them. Other times they will manipulate others into thinking they are sweet well-behaved kids and we as the parents are the problem. Then we get glimpses of the kids we know they can be as they connect and interact in healthier ways. This sends our feelings of success and failure all over the place until we begin to conclude the worst about our kids and the worst about ourselves as parents.
As a parent of adopted children in addition to being a therapeutic parent coach and therapist, I’ve been there myself and understand these feelings of desperation. I used to be controlled by my children’s manipulation and got sucked into trying to control them and their behaviors more often than I’d like to admit. This is different now because I now measure my success as a therapeutic parent not on how well I control my kids’ behavior but how much self-control I can have even when the wheels are coming off and my child is in full chaos. I now measure my success in this way not only because it empowers me but because it is also what my children need. They need someone who is self-controlled in the chaos so they have a place to find security when they are ready. When their chaos doesn’t become my chaos, my self-control begins to empower them to also have self-control.
1 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers. Psalm 1:1-3
Here we see that we are blessed when we don’t get pulled into the chaos of others and instead find our security in the Lord. If we stay firm in Him we become like a “tree planed by the streams of water, which yields its fruit in season.” A tree is firmly rooted and does not get pulled out of the ground and thrown about at every little storm. The most significant part of this is that our job is to bear fruit, correct? I can only bear fruit if I am firmly rooted and self-controlled. This will bear fruit in my family, in my life, and in my children’s lives.
So I was sitting there looking at this woman trying to figure out what to say to such an absurd question…then it hit me, it wasn’t an absurd question to her and probably wasn’t to most of the people she had asked it to previously. We were in the process of adopting two of our kids who had been with us as foster children for almost two years and this woman was asking questions for our home study to see if we could adopt these children. The question she asked was why do you want to adopt “these kids?” After staring at her confused for a few seconds thinking “well which ones do you think I would want to adopt” I simply replied “because they are the ones they gave us.” Now SHE looked confused. She said “yeah but what about them makes you want to adopt them.” Ah, yes, there it is. She was looking for something conditional about these kids that makes me want to adopt them. What’s wrong with that you ask? Well, kids change! If I want to adopt them because I like certain things about them, then what happens when that changes? This is how we pick puppies from the pound but shouldn’t be how we adopt kids. So my next response was a defiant “because they are my kids!” I wanted to ask why she wanted to keep her kids but I didn’t. You see, when a child is born into a family, the parents already decided to love that child long before he or she was born and no matter what the child’s attributes are, they love them. You don’t see parents at the hospital looking at their child and deciding if they are going to keep them or not, do you? No! So when a foster child comes into our home we have already been praying for that child and loving that child no matter what they are like or what is wrong with them. They are our kids!
As a licensed counselor and therapeutic parent coach who specializes in working with foster, adopted, traumatized and difficult children I work with a lot of parents on this concept of unconditional love. Not only do we have to unconditionally love our kids, but they have to feel and believe that we do. This is where it gets hard. Every child needs someone to say “that’s my kid” and mean it with every fiber of their being no matter what happens or what the child does. But beyond that, the child has to take a risk and believe it. Hurt kids have a hard time doing this and often push parents away and even make parents act in ways that the child uses to confirm that they aren’t loved. Really bad and destructive patterns emerge when we don’t know how to handle situations with “hurt kids.” Notice I say “hurt kids” and not “bad kids.” These kids are hurting and they need someone to love them in a way that the child can believe them.
There was a point in time when I decided to be God’s child. I decided to let him adopt me into his family. Maybe you have as well? When we do that God reaches down, takes us in his arms and says “my kid” and it’s done. You are his kid unconditionally, no matter what you have done or how damaged you are. This is the model we have for adoption and for parenting, but it is hard to live. The “My Kids” program was started to help make this a reality. Our passion is for every child to have someone say “My Kid” and mean it and for every child to have the chance to take the risk and believe it.
My wife and I currently have 10 children in our home. Some are our biological children, others are adopted and others are foster children. But they are all our kids, period. People often ask “which ones are ours” to which we give a really confused look and say, “well all of them are ours.” James 1:27 commands us to look after the orphans. The My Kids program is committed to fulfilling this command and pursuing the goal of every child having someone say “my kid” and mean it.
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 1:27
Have you ever heard that you should pick your battles in parenting? What if I told you that you didn’t have to battle at all? You would think I was nuts right? Well I might be, but the fact is, you never have to battle with your kids. It’s true!
“The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.”
God commands us to be obedient but that is in the context of a relationship. Luke 6:45 tells us that what is in a person’s heart is what leads to the outward expression of either good or evil. If we focus just on this outward expression, we battle. When we focus on the heart we don’t have to battle, we learn to connect and DANCE with our children.
“Dance? What do you mean dance? I don’t like to dance!”
I am talking about doing a relational dance with your kids. When your child (or anyone for that matter) engages in a negative behavior, they are communicating something to you. They are insecure and acting on what is in their heart. Are you listening? When we address the behavior we battle. When we address the heart, we dance.
All negative behavior comes out of some insecurity that your child can’t regulate. When we battle our kids, they perceive us as against them and as a threat to what they are trying to do to resolve the insecurity. What if you could help them deal with the insecurity and not get caught up in battles no one wins? “Wow, that would be cool!”
This is just the basics…are you ready to dig in and learn to DANCE with your kids? We have a free book for you…just go to www.MyKidsCommunity.com and download it. You can download an electronic copy or we can send you a hard copy (We just ask you to pay the shipping for the hard copy).
3 Behold, children are a gift of the Lord,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one’s youth.
5 How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them;
They will not be ashamed
When they speak with their enemies in the gate.
As a parent, I know the feeling well… I felt desperate, hopeless and overwhelmed with no end in sight, and nowhere to turn. This is where I was with a new baby and a traumatized 13 year old foster daughter. I had no idea how to make it work and felt I was failing my children. We considered throwing in the towel, but my wife and I were certain God’s calling for our lives was to help damaged children heal and understand His love.
Now 12 year later we are going to be celebrating our daughters 25th birthday. She is working full time, living on her own and has a goal of becoming a child case worker someday. In that 12 years our family has grown to include 11 children and our life is mostly chaos free. That’s right, we were overwhelmed and about to give up with two, and now we have 11! A lot has happened in 12 years to make this possible. After a major shift in our philosophy on parenting and learning techniques that work with even the most difficult kids, we are not just surviving but are thriving as parents.
Why do I tell you all of this? Because I want you to feel the freedom I feel. I spent the last 12 years learning from the best in the field, navigating challenges in my own family and developing a professional practice where I have helped many families find freedom. I learned that behavior modification strategies and traditional parenting don’t work with difficult children and often make it worse. I learned how to work from a brain based, attachment perspective to free children from the trauma, attachment issues and behavioral difficulties. In this process, I have seen many parents empowered as they learned to connect with and guide their children instead of trying to control their behaviors. Listen to what some parents have to says about her experience:
“For seven years, we have seen traumatic stress counselors, psychiatrists, family therapists and group therapists, without success. In the beginning of April 2014, I sought parenting strategies at Grace Wellness Center for my adoptive teenage daughter who has RAD. The strategies and encouragement have been exactly what my husband and I needed. The coaching and time spent learning how to deal with ongoing situations has yielded great benefits for our family. I would encourage any parent especially parents of children with RAD to give this avenue a serious try.” (Dana C)
“Thank you for facilitating the My Kids boot camp. It was pivotal for us in learning how to effectively parent our RAD daughter. What a difference it has made for our whole family. Frankly, it has helped us across the board in our marriage, friendships, family relationships, and professional relationships. We would highly recommend this “boot camp” for parents who are challenged in raising attachment disorder children. Honestly, we are filled with hope and promise now more than ever!” (JD & SD)
Are you ready to move past the frustrations and stress and enjoy your family? We have a plan.
Join the My Kids Community today: