06 Feb Caring for Parents of Kids from Hard Places
When three, beautiful sisters walked through my door in 2011, my entire world was flipped upside down. I became an instant mom to a 6 year old, 22 month old, and 5 month old. I was thrown into a world of formula, diapers, potty-training, and kindergarten. I was suddenly expected to run a family, be a wife, a mom, a record keeper for CPS, a taxi driver to visits, and a support for a biological momma who desperately wanted her kids back. It was a whirlwind of emotion, pain, stress, trauma, and exhaustion. Much like any new mom, I longed for sleep, for food, for relationship, and for help. But unlike most moms, I became the parent to strangers. I became the parent of children who didn’t trust me and had no reason to trust any adult. I became a trauma parent.
Parenting a child who comes from trauma is kind of like studying for an english exam and then being given an anatomy exam instead. You think you have an idea of what to expect and what you’ll face, and then it’s completely different from anything you’ve prepared for. My girls came to me after suffering intense trauma. They were taken away from their mother and brought into the home of strangers with a different language, culture, and set of house rules. My children came to me with needs that a biological child just will not have. And because of that, parenting my children looks quite different from parenting outside the world of trauma.
Every behavior my children have must be looked at through a trauma lens. Every tantrum, stolen piece of food, punched sister, hair pulled, and eye rolled has to be looked at in light of the life that my child came from, even though that life ended over 5 years ago and one of them was just a baby while she was in it. My children’s brains have permanently been affected by their trauma, and I have to constantly ask questions like: Does my child feel safe or afraid? Does my child wonder if they will get to eat another meal today? Is my child experiencing a sensory need she didn’t get when she was a baby? Did the tone of my voice remind my child of the violence she witnessed or the environment she came from?
The response to the behavior must also be looked at through the lens of trauma. When I think of responses or consequences I have to, again, ask questions: What will make my child feel most connected to me? What can I do to make my child feel safe and trust me right now? How do I discipline without making my child feel more shame, more isolated, and more traumatized? Trauma parenting looks like rocking a teenager, time-ins instead of time-outs, and role-playing scenarios and re-doing a behavior instead of disciplining the first behavior. Trauma parenting looks like ignoring behaviors sometimes and making the entire family stay home from something super fun because their little brains can’t handle any excitement that day. Trauma parenting looks like constantly wondering which parenting technique to use because sometimes it works for your child and sometimes it just makes things worse. Parenting a child with trauma truly is an example of what Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” I am bearing my child’s burdens because they certainly can’t do it on their own. And they shouldn’t have to.
Following Jesus is hard and scary, and does not look like the rest of the world. When Jesus’ disciples followed Jesus onto the boat in Matthew 8, they followed a Jesus who knew a storm was coming, and allowed it to come anyway. But he was also a Jesus who could speak and calm the storm. Trauma parents have chosen to follow Jesus into a storm, a storm that brings gusting winds, crashing waves, and often seems like it will drown them. But we’ve also chosen to follow the One who can calm the storm with His words.
Parents of children with trauma need community to wrap around them and remind them that Jesus can and will calm the storm. They need people to see their children and love them for who they are, even if that’s hard to do sometimes. They need friends to bring them coffee and sit with them while they cry because the burden just seems too hard to bear. They need the body to wrap their arms around them and share the trials and the triumphs as they see God’s beautiful children begin to heal from their trauma and learn to trust their parents, and eventually, the Lord.
1 Peter 4:10 says, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace…in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” Trauma parents need your gifts. They need your love. They need you. And as we come alongside each other, God will be glorified, Christ will be made known, and His Kingdom will come on earth, as it is in Heaven.
* This blog post was written by Cara Griswold, a mom to 4 and wife to 1. She can be found at the crossfit box, reading a book, or in her taxi cab, uh, van. You can follow her on instagram @cegriswold or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.