I’m learning over and over that we need to be proactive as parents when it comes to our kids’ emotional worlds. Instead of ignoring the situation and hoping it will go away, we need to face it head-on. This is the only way our kids will learn to manage and express their emotions in healthy ways.
The other day, I heard the words many of us dread: “You’re a bad mommy.” I was also informed by my son that I was teaching the kids how to be mean, not kind.
Honestly, I had to agree with him. The moments leading up to his accusation had not been filled with exemplary parenting. I had yelled and been unkind, throwing around phrases like, “I’m sick and tired of you always ________!” Not my best moment.
So, as he said those words, I knew I had a crucial decision to make. I could dig in my heels, insisting that he deserved what he got and had no right to question me, or I could acknowledge that I had made mistakes and there was truth to what he had said.
Giving and receiving love may seem like an easy thing, but for many adopted and foster kids it is hard. They have given love to people only to have those people disappear from their lives or not return their love. They have received love only to be moved to a new home, or the “love” they received was not love at all.
These kids are confused about what it means to give and receive love.
A while ago my husband was travelling and called home to say goodnight to the kids. One of our sons finished his conversation with his dad and handed the phone to his brother Zeke, who was finishing up in the bathroom before going to bed.
Noticing Zeke’s dilemma of needing both hands while working with water, I stepped in and held the phone for him so that he could continue getting ready for bed. My action, which was meant to help, was interpreted as me not trusting him with the phone. In a split second, his anger flashed and he stormed to his bedroom with two slammed doors shuddering in his wake.
The ability to see, think, and feel things from another’s perspective – to empathize – can be difficult for anyone, especially parents. I often find myself more focused on what my kids should be doing rather than considering why they’re doing what they’re doing.
What we know is that empathy is learned. If I want my children to learn to respond with empathy, then it is up to me to model it for them. This requires that I acknowledge their emotional reality even if I can’t give them what they want in that moment. This means that I need to slow down, at least long enough to look in their eyes and let them know that I’m with them. That if they’re hurting, I’m hurting. That I am on their side; that I am for them. That their feelings and their hearts and our connection are more important than my schedule.
I recently read a study that highlighted the difference between our ability to recall images versus words. There were two control groups. The first was shown a picture of a circle. The word “circle” was written down for the second group. The groups were re-convened 72 hours later and asked what they were shown. The group that saw the picture recalled that it was a circle one and a half times better than the group that only saw the word.
Maybe this helps to explain why physical wounds often get so much more attention than emotional wounds when it comes to our children.
What we have learned over the years parenting children from hard places is that physical wounds leave physical scars; emotional wounds scar our children’s ability to trust.
I remember the first time I heard it said. It came out of nowhere during a conversation with an adult adoptee, and I recoiled as the words made their way to my heart. “There is no adoption without loss,” she declared, “but sometimes adoptive parents tend to forget that.”
Such a categorical statement. So black and white. Surely there had to be an exception. Certainly there was some gray. “All adoption is born of loss?” I remember thinking to myself. All?
Fear — it is a crippling and sometimes debilitating feeling, but it is so much more than a feeling. For many children from hard places, fear is a constant, though unwelcome, companion. It is a way of life. From research we know that fear left unaddressed can have pervasive and long-lasting effects on a child, including negative impacts on cognitive ability, sensory processing, brain chemistry, brain development, ability to focus and ability to trust. As a result, it distorts and dictates much of what our children are dealing with.
It was the third day in a row, or maybe the fourth. I don’t exactly recall. I do, however, vividly remember coming home from work and being met by my normally patient and long-suffering wife declaring in an overly frustrated tone “Here, you deal with him. I’m done!”
The kids were home for Christmas break and one son in particular was being more than a handful. This was very uncharacteristic for him. The first day we thought it was simply childhood Christmas excitement. By the second day, we were beginning to lose our patience. When I arrived home this day my wife was almost at her wits’ end. Nagging, whining, crying, bugging siblings, arguing, you name it. But why? Didn’t he know Christmas was almost here? Had he forgotten that Santa was “making his list and checking it twice?” Wasn’t he aware of how much mom and dad had to do in order to get ready for Christmas? For so many reasons, now was not the time for him to be acting this way.
What I did next doesn’t come naturally to me.