Thursday, January 16, 2014

Parenting that Heals

Today I have the pleasure of talking with Christie, mom of 4 sweeties (two adopted domestically, two from the Ukraine, two after adoption disruption) and three grown sons.  She writes at her public blog Parenting that Heals .  

You won't find any "techniques" on her blog, no "steps to take" that can be overwhelming.  

What you will find is a change in perspective.  You will find principles to frame your parenting.  You will find gentle prodding to work on yourself so can provide a safe space for your sweetie(s) to heal from their trauma.

Many of the parents reading this are either struggling with their child(ren) or waiting and preparing for their children to come home.  I wonder if we could focus our conversation today on the concept of wanting our children to obey out of love not fear or anger.  I think that is the sticking point for most people.  Sometimes we are stressed or in a hurry or our children have been with us for X months and we just want them to OBEY ... and don't think of the cost.  Can you help us understand what this means, why it is important, and what it looks like in real life ?

All of us want our children to obey.  After all, scripture says, "Children Obey Your Parents for this is right!"
And it IS right.
The problem comes when we have children who have trauma backgrounds.  Our children come to us with brokenness and pain.  Parents were not somebody that existed in their lives, neglected them or broke their trust, causing them terrible harm.

The KEY to children obeying or listening to us, is TRUST.  And when they first come home, they do NOT trust us. They want to, but pain gets in the way.

I think about the song, "Trust and Obey".  Notice, it doesn't say "Obey and Trust".  In fact, we must TRUST the LORD before we OBEY him.

We have found that as we walk in a trustworthy manner towards our children, showing them unconditional love and acceptance, even the hardest of hearts has been turned to trust, obey and LOVE.

Does this mean that before they trust we don't expect any form of obedience?
Of course not.
But their obedience might be reluctant or after much discussion.  We may be asked to explain a "Why?" And that is ok.  Sometimes they NEED to know that "why".  
But as time goes on, and we model for them what obedience looks like, what love looks like and what parents look like, the hardness of a little heart hurt and protected behind that wall of opposition, begins to chip away, and obedience comes.  
It doesn't come because of consequences or punishment.  It comes because of a deep trust, just like our obedience to God comes from a deep trust in His infinite love for His children.

So what does that look like in real life?  Let's say you are struggling with your 10 year old adopted daughter.  She's been home 8 months and you think you have provided a trusting atmosphere and she still whines about picking up her room or yells at you when you ask her to pick up her dishes.  How do you get your relationship back on a positive track?  How do you do it without using fear or anger?  How do you put the relationship first but don't feel like you are doormat or the live in maid :) ?

That is a very good question!
I can use our own family as an example.  We adopted our last daughter almost 3 years ago at the age of 11.
This little one was so traumatized by her past, we honestly didn't know what to expect. We knew that the Lord had called us to bring her home, but we also knew it would not be easy.  And it wasn't.
That said:
When she was first home, we didn't play the "I'm your forever mama" or "We are your forever family" card.
She had had too many of those and wouldn't have believed it.  
I simply told her, "My name is Mrs. Minich, and I'm here to keep you safe." 
Children are so vulnerable to the adults that make decisions for them.  They want to feel safe, but when they have had their hopes dashed, time and time again, they begin to shut their hearts down to protect themselves from any further pain and even act out in order to just get the next relationship overwith because they are convinced in their hearts that it won't work anyway, so why bother.

Some might call that RAD. 

The first thing I will say is that our expectations need to be lowered a bit.  There is time to learn, but a child cannot learn everything at once.  We don't send our kindergartners to college, so we really shouldn't expect our 11 year olds to understand how to do the household chores they have never done before.

ASSUME that is was not good if you can't know it.
LISTEN to them and ask inviting, open ended questions when you are in the "getting to know you phase."
If you have not done this yet, and are having relationship problems, no matter how old they are, you are still in the "getting to know you phase."

As soon as they will let you, take on the role of a loving mama.  If they are reluctant to touch, start with polishing nails or putting lotion on feet. Eventually they will get more used to touch.
Then, when you are doing this happy activity, open dialogue.

Make your expectations simple at first.  
We must make our bed.  
We must help load the dishwasher.
And then, come alongside and kindly and patiently, with humor teach your child how to do this.
Your 5 year old may know how already, because you taught them. Don't expect a newly home 15 year old to know how. They won't.
AND.... it will seem awkward and overwhelming for them at first.

Doing it WITH THEM and giving them confidence that they too can do it will go along ways towards success.

We had a specific incident with our 4th daughter that I still chuckle about, though it wasn't funny when it happened. 
She didn't want to do the dishes and was banging them into the dishwasher.  She banged them in and I quietly took them out and told her, NO!  That was a firm no! And then a QUICK switch to a softer, kinder tone.... "I think you might need some help!" with a soft smile.
I showed her, and she slammed.  I showed her and she slammed.  I showed her and she slammed.
I showed her, and said, "I know you can do this! It's ok, we'll do it together, and she complied!
And then we high fived it!  A job well done!
And then we headed to the rocking chair to snuggle and talk about what happened.
She then FELT safe!  (for the moment)

That experience was VITAL.  She expected to get into trouble.  She TRIED to get into trouble. 
Instead, we focused on relationship and healing, which led to obedience.

Today, she cleans the kitchen well, for one week at a time just as her sisters do.

And when you mean "open dialogue" with them you don't mean nag and lecture right?  (I'm making this point to myself since I have a tendency to use these "open spaces" as "teaching moments" when really I should be building our relationship.)  I find that in these moments when the relationship is strained (I did this when i worked with teens mandated to come to therapy by the courts) just me talking or rattling on helped bring them out of their anger or hurt.  Rattle on about sports (using what little you know), or visit your teens favorite singer's fan site and get something to talk about!  Don't expect THEM to make the relationship.  We need to take the first steps and KEEP taking those steps right?

Absolutely! I do not mean nag or lecture.
When we go to talk about things, after something has happened, such as the dishwasher incident, It will usually include an "I really like how we finished that!"  
A word of encouragement, and then maybe a humorous turn in conversation.
Or.... you sure did respond strongly to dishes, can you tell me what happened a long time ago when you did dishes?
You'd be shocked what you might find out, and how open they are to share!
Always encourage, and never demand.
There is a difference between "Can you share with me?"  And " Tell me what happened before!"
One gives permission and room to not share, the other is a demand.

This may seem subtle, but for the hypervigilant child, they are not subtle at all!

There are other times where we just talk, to talk.  Leading questions while in the car etc.
Those are the times to just talk dancing, sports, favorite music.

Targeted conversations used for teaching can also be ended on these notes.
Especially if an abundance  of emotional information has been shared. 
You have end with a hug and humor!
"So! How bout them Dodgers!" :)

Christie will answer any questions in the comments so ask away!!

Thank you Christie!  Again her public website is Parenting that Heals.