Friday, October 02, 2015

Truth and consequences

(Don't read more into this post than is intended. We're fine. I actually can't write coherently when we're not.)

I've discovered this is a thing. Parents who have successfully raised biological children who then adopt and are thrown for a loop when those traditional parenting practices don't work. More of the same doesn't work. (Isn't that one of the definitions of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and over and expecting different results?) I'm certainly a founding member.

I've also discovered it's a thing as well, that while some people are willing to change, there are more than a few parents who are so committed to traditional parenting practices that they just can't bend. Often this is to the detriment of both the child and the family. It takes a huge amount of humility to say everything you thought about parenting is wrong and change. Especially if that change is to a method which on the face of it seems at odds with everything you thought was true.

I know I've hinted about at what these new methods we use look like, but I don't think I've ever really addressed them directly. Now, traditional methods work just fine with emotionally healthy, secure children. It's just that these methods do not work with children whose brains have been changed, for whatever reason, through trauma. (Some children, even biological ones, can have a very underdeveloped emotional system, and traditional methods don't work with them, either.) If this is a child's starting point, not only are they not on the same page as you, like your other biological children, they're not even in the same book. Through no fault of their own, they experience the world differently.

Now trauma can affect the brain in utero as well as at birth. I'm not making this up or making excuses. Do the research. These are actual physical results of brain changes due to extreme stress and trauma. The brains of children who have experienced trauma show the same types of changes that soldier's brains who have PTSD as a result of trauma show. And just the fact that I need to make this disclaimer shows the adult bias to assume that all children can behave as we expect them to, they just choose not to. If we just punish them enough, they will soon see the error of their ways, or at least the benefit of doing as told, and tow the line.

Well, the problem with this is that a child whose brain is changed through trauma is unable to see or understand cause and effect. They are essentially operating in a different universe.... one that is chaotic, illogical, full of things to be afraid of, and is out to get them. When the parent says something along the lines of, "Do this or else that will happen." It's as if the universal translator that trauma placed in his brain hears, "I don't love you and something bad is going to happen." That's not a nice thing to hear, so the whole fear cycle starts. Fear is something to avoided at all costs; it's scary after all. The single best way to avoid feeling afraid is to get angry. Really good and angry. It's impossible to be afraid if you are preoccupied with tearing a room apart. Of course, there is a part of you that knows tearing a room apart isn't a good thing, so the shame cycle then starts. Why can't you do anything right? No wonder no one loves you.

Rinse, repeat.

No amount of trying to punish the bad behavior and reward the good is going to work because you're not working from the same script. Someone needs to change the script and your child isn't capable of it, so it has got to be you, the parent. You have to be the one to bend. To bend down to your child and slowly show him that he can trust you. To slowly make new connections in her brain that the world is not quite the scary and chaotic place she thought it was . (Just turn off the news, or you'll land right there with her.) You have to bend. To stoop down out of your comfort zone, out of what you thought was right, and be willing to make adjustments that seem wrong. That will certainly get you kicked out of the "good parent club."

Because, frankly, connecting with your child first so that he can experience love and safety from you, looks backwards. It feels backwards most of the time. But I have here to tell you that it can, given enough time, begin to work. What does it look like in practice?

It may look like picking up all 2 million legos off your child's floor that were thrown in a rage. More than once.

It may look like ignoring the words, as much as it kills you to do so, and look deep at the meaning.

It may look like asking your child to do something (that is no big deal and something everyone else is expected to do) and when she starts to balk, offer to do it for her.

It may look like buying a dozen of a small something that was stolen from another child and giving them to the offender.

In short, it looks like grace. A huge over flowing outpouring of grace that even your child in the different universe cannot ignore. Slowly trust builds. Slowly shame recedes. Slowly. Slowly.

And if you think about it for any length of time, it is how God, the perfect and ultimate parent, parents us. Sure, he lets us experience natural consequences, but even though we extremely imperfect humans mess up all. the. time. God still showers his grace upon us. Even those of us who are supposed to know better mess up all the time. It's one of the things that drives non-believers bonkers... that fact that we don't do what we know we're supposed to. But once again, we've focused on the wrong thing. Once again the human focus is on the human, when it should really be on the divine.

We should be in a perpetual state of thankfulness that God does not parent us as we so often parent our own children. Who could stand? And if we can't do it, why do we expect our children to be able to? By bending toward your child, you are not losing a battle. You are not giving in. You are not in a position of weakness. You are playing out in a very small and microscopic way the entire message of the Gospel. You are remembering who your real enemy and you are winning your child. Isn't that worth picking up a million legos or so?

3 comments:

sandwichinwi said...

LOVE.

I know it. Now if only I could consistently put it into practice. It.Is.So.Hard.

Blessings,
Sandwich (who wishes we were neighbors)

thecurryseven said...

That would be fantastic! And then you could give me that box of books I keep neglecting to come and collect. :-)

e

Alex and Riann said...

Just...thank you.

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