I decided I would write about something that I’ve avoided writing about for some time now. I haven’t shared because I didn’t want it to come across as unloving or as me shaming my son. But today is the day I finally write about it. Today is the day I say what needs to be said.
Parenting a child from trauma is hard.
There, I said it.
I will not disclose the particular issues that we are experiencing right now. I will just say that we are walking through some deep attachment issues and abandonment fears that have finally surfaced over the past 8 months. I say finally because it took almost a year and a half for all this deeply-rooted trauma to finally surface. The trigger for the onslaught of trauma discharge was when 3 children who we were fostering left our home just before Thanksgiving. Two weeks later, bam. All the stuff deep inside my son that needed to come out finally started rising to the surface.
And parenting got much, much harder literally overnight.
You see, if you know my son, you know that he has pretty much the most likable personality imaginable. He’s funny, loves to entertain, is very friendly, and has a certain cool factor to him that my husband and I have never possessed. I love all these things about him. You would never know, though, based on all these things what goes on when it’s just him and me. You wouldn’t know the hot tears I have cried in desperation of not knowing what to do to help him. You wouldn’t know the frustration and anger that have boiled up inside me again and again. You wouldn’t know the doubt, the fear, and the worry that I’ve felt.
But just because you wouldn’t know by seeing our family from the outside doesn’t mean it’s not there on the inside.
I’ve been so afraid to openly share about my struggles as an adoptive mom because I don’t want to in any way shame my son for his behaviors. I hope, though, that in reading my words, you will see my heart in finally bringing my struggles to the light. I’m not sharing to heap shame or guilt on my son; I’m sharing in hopes that something in this post will encourage you if you are in a similar place as a parent.
Fostering and adopting a child from trauma is not glamorous. I don’t like being put on a pedestal as the epitome of what others should aspire to because we’ve done something that others say they themselves could never do. I despise being seen as a hero especially knowing in my heart I sometimes feel like the biggest failure as a mom.
Defeat. Disappointment. Depression. Isolation. Feelings I’ve known all too well as a mom on the hard days. I love my son deeply, and I am forever grateful that God brought him into our family almost two years ago. He is my son, and I am his mom forever and ever no matter what, a truth that I remind him of often. My love for him spurs me on to keep fighting this Enemy that is at work in his heart, soul, and mind. He can’t yet verbalize all the trauma he has experienced. One day hopefully he’ll be able to make sense of it all, but for now, I get the painful brunt of all the trauma that happened the first three years of his life, before he was ever placed in our home.
The struggle is real, and the healing that needs to happen is slow, so slow that I may go months without seeing any signs of progress. The wounds my son experienced early in life are far greater than the wounds his trauma behavior are inflicting on me. On my best days, I can remember that important fact and have compassion and grace for him. On my worst days, I feel attacked by him and take it personally. God reminds me on those days of these wise words I once heard: It’s not me versus him. It’s him and me versus his trauma.
Doesn’t that change of wording breed abundant love and grace for him as we seek to tackle the trauma head-on as a team? Yes. But it doesn’t stop the struggle completely…because I’m human. I’m prone to discouragement, weariness, and selfishly wishing it would all just be easier and that we could have a “normal” relationship. And that’s when I must remember where my ultimate hope and help come from.
I titled this post, Hope in the Struggle, because I must often remind myself of the Hope I have through the hardest struggles of parenting. Maybe you are struggling as a parent to young children or to teenagers right now. Maybe your children are grown, but the pain of the choices they are making are wounding themselves and others. Even if you can’t relate to my struggles as an adoptive mom, the truths I’m about to remind you (and myself of) are for all parents, no matter your kids’ ages or circumstances. Jesus gives us hope to keep pressing on in the struggle. Here are some truths that have helped me keep pressing on:
Our example for being able to love our children, and anyone else, unconditionally is God’s perfect love for us. Paul prays that the Ephesians “may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18-19). God’s love for us fills us so that we can love our children well, even when it’s hard.
While it may seem like I’m all alone, I’m not. Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 28:20b, “‘And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.'” He will never leave us. He is always with us, through the struggle and through the joy.
When I come to my wits end, and I don’t know what other techniques or strategies to try, I can turn to the One is full of all wisdom. Listen to what James in the book of James, chapter 1, verse 5 writes, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” He later goes on to say that “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” (James 3:17) Now that’s the kind of wisdom we all need as parents!
The work God is doing in our hearts and our kids’ hearts is ongoing. Healing takes time. God never stops working and moving to bring about his redemptive work. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
This work that we are a part of does not happen in our own strength or power. Our source of strength is God, who gives us all that we need to fight the good fight every single day. Philippians 4:19 says, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Thank God the source of my power and strength is not from me-I would have run out a long time ago! But God’s power and strength is infinite, and we have access to it through His indwelling Holy Spirit.
And finally, though I could list many more, God is always faithful to forgive us when we mess up this parenting thing for the millionth time. 1 John 1:9 reminds us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Confessing our mistakes takes humility, but who are we kidding? None of us is perfect, and we all mess up. Go to God in confession, and He will forgive you and, I love this, cleanse you from all unrighteousness. We get a fresh start each and every moment of each and every day.
Jesus is our Hope. Without Him, I would have already given up on parenting when it got too hard. But God meets us where we are. He is our Hope in the struggle.
As I have parented my sweet boy, I have come to God in prayer more times than I can count. In closing, please feel free to pray this prayer along with me: “God, you know my struggle as a parent all too well. You know what sets me off, what upsets me, what makes me feel defeated and like a failure. And yet, you love me unconditionally and never leave me. You give me wisdom and guide me. You are always working and healing even though I may not see change for a long time. You give me strength on the hard days. And you forgive me all the many times I mess up. Your love for me and for my child is beautiful and never-ending. Thank you for being my Hope in the struggle. Help me to press on in the battle. In Your Name, Amen.”
Pressing on in faith during the struggle, Jennifer