Trauma Parenting

Holidays and Adoptive Families

The holidays.  To some they are a time of celebration, family and fun.  To others they are a time of sadness and a reminder of what has been lost.  Even in the best circumstances, emotions can run high and personalities clash.

Adoptive families have an added challenge to this.  We are parenting children and teens with great loss. Trauma doesn’t respect holidays and in fact the holidays can bring many feelings and losses right to the forefront.

For those that have recently adopted, cocooning is in full swing possibly and sweet Aunt Susie may not understand why she can’t hold or feed that darling baby just like she did with the others.  It can be awkward telling her she can’t hold your baby or your two year old right now and explaining why.  Family may not understand why it’s not healthy for your affectionate 6 yr old little girl to be hopping from lap to lap and hugging and kissing everyone along with the way.  Family members may not have ever even heard of indiscriminate affection or RAD and how it manifests. But we have and may know more about it than we ever planned.

Dear family—It’s not that we don’t want your support and help. We do. Desperately. Our emotions may be running high themselves. We may be tired. Mentally exhausted. Drained. We need your love and support to parent our children the way we know best. It may look different than how you parent or even different than how we parented some of our other children—because children from hard places need different parenting.

We asked some adoptive parents what they wished you knew. Below are their candid responses.
My kids can easily get over stimulated by all the “stuff.” It can be […]

So it’s not all unicorns . . . now what?

We at Project Hopeful believe in the power of prayer.  And not just a little bit.  We pray for things like the complete eradication of HIV in our lifetime, as we did last month.  We know that we serve a mighty God who is able to do all things, in His will.  So we pray, and pray a lot.

In addition to prayer, however, we also encourage adoptive parents to take advantage of the many God-given resources that are available when the difficulties of parenting children who were adopted arise.  Just like we would never tell scientists to stop searching for the cure to HIV because we are praying, neither would we suggest that someone who is in the valley with their child “just pray” and fail to take advantage of the lifeboat that God may have sent to them.  Last week this point was driven home for me as I was speaking to a friend of Project Hopeful.  She was just finishing her first Empowered to Connect conference with Karen Purvis and was sharing some of her learnings with me.  She wrote:
[Purvis] believes that the neuroplasticity of the brain makes it possible for the brain to overcome almost any prior insult with purposeful parenting.  But simple prayer and love  . . . will not be enough. [Purvis believes] reprogramming WILL NOT happen unless parents approach it knowing the science and how to use injured brain areas to get to ones that are currently offline.  That was sobering for me. I feel a new responsibility to approach my kids mindfully, purposefully. 
As I read my friend’s email, I was convicted about how often I choose to overlook warning signs that my children’s brains may be experiencing […]

It isn’t all Rainbows and Unicorns

We at Project Hopeful believe children should live in families, not institutions or temporary families.  Ideally, children would be able to stay with their first (biological) families, even if external interventions and support are needed to make the first family a safe, healthy, and feasible option.  That said, we recognize that the first family may not always be a real option, and if all means of keeping a child in their first family are exhausted, we support adoption.  In fact, most of our volunteer staff and Board members are parenting children who were adopted.  A big part of our lives is raising adopted children and educating other families who have adopted or are considering adoption – we believe in it that much.

Since we have walked through many adoptions – our own and ones we helped other families through – we have come to realize that many of the public messages about adoption are dangerously one-sided.

Celebrity adoption photos, dreamy Facebook posts, and “Merry Christmas-from-our -‘happy’-growing-family!” cards may have minimized the commitment that comes with parenting children from hard places.  We absolutely believe in celebrating adoptions but it is imperative that we begin to communicate more clearly:  adoption is hard.  While the anticipation during the paper stage, the process of being matched with a child, staring longingly at beautiful pictures of a child from another country, and even the first meeting can feel very fairy-tale like, this is not the reality of adoption.  There are rarely unicorns and rainbows.  Adoption is hard.

Children who were adopted come from broken places.  Even those who are adopted at a very young age have experienced trauma (or at minimum, great stress) in utero, which will impact their behavior and development […]

What if your mom was a T-Rex?

What if your mother was a Tyrannosaurus Rex?  You desperately need your mom to keep you safe.  You turn to her when you are afraid, you rely on her touch to comfort you.  Human babies need mommies (or daddies- a safe, loving caregiver) for survival.  What if the one person who could keep you safe was a scary, loud, rough Tyrannosaurus Rex, with a terrifying roar and sharp pointy teeth?

What happens when you come face to face with a velicoraptor?  What do you want to do?  Where do you want to run?  You run to the person who keeps you safe- your mom!  So, what if your mom is a Tyrannosaurus Rex?  Then what do you do?

Humans are blessed with an attachment system that serves many purposes.  The attachment system lays the building blocks for mental health, relationship skills, and self-regulation.  The attachment system is also a biological system that ensures our survival.  It is through the attachment system that little babies keep their parents close.  When babies are distressed, they behave in ways that brings a parent toward them.  As babies get older, they move toward their parents- with their legs or with their eyes- seeking out closeness and safety.  This system works because parents aren’t supposed to be scary.  When a small child is feeling anxious, nervous, uncomfortable, scared, or terrified their attachment system becomes activated and draws them closer to their attachment figure.

When the attachment figure is the source of the anxious, nervous, uncomfortable, scared or terrifying feelings children are left with an unsolvable dilemma.  When your fight/flight/freeze system is activated by the same person who activates your attachment system, you’ve got a big problem.  It is this unsolvable dilemma that […]

Attachment with Children who were Adopted

I remember rocking . . . rocking . . . rocking . . . in the denim blue glider that was nestled into the corner of my bedroom, gazing at a sleeping newborn perched on top of a yellow, velour covered Boppy® pillow.  We rocked with each other in loving peacefulness; the only sounds were the creaking of the glider that desperately needed some lubricant and tiny, sweet, breathy newborn exhales.  I remember thinking to myself . . . knowing enough about children to understand the future of our relationship but so entrenched in the depth of my love for his little perfection . . . “I cannot imagine ever having a feeling for him that isn’t pure love and adoration.”  I knew that I would one day feel frustrated, even angry (and believe me, I have) but I truly could not fathom what that would feel like.

My little guy spent hours — — wrapped in my arms.  I touched him almost constantly.  I gazed at him with eyes that said, “You are perfect.  The love I have for you is practically more than I can bear.”  We rocked and rocked and rocked, either in the rocking chair or just holding him my arms, automatically swaying the same as I do now when his eight-year-old long-legs are wrapped around my waist, or if I have a baby doll in my arms.  He cried.  I went.  I held. I spoke gently.  I didn’t speak a harsh word, use a harsh tone, look at him with harsh eyes, or even have a harsh thought for literally months.  Every.single.thing he needed he received, almost instantly.  And through that always-repeating cycle of he has a need, I […]