See that happy-family-walking-through-a-field stock photo at the top of this post? That’s not us. That definitely wasn’t us by the time we hit mid-October this year. The beginning of the school year tends to start a little rough, and while we mostly found ourselves in a routine by October, two of the kids were struggling significantly.
“I really hate you. You’re the meanest person I know….I hate you.” <– (This is literally what my daughter is saying to me in the background as I type this out.)
And why would she say such a thing?
Because I signed her up for Girls on the Run, which she loves. And on this rainy afternoon, while she was at Girls on the Run, having a good time with her friends, I and the rest of the kids were cleaning the bedrooms. Knowing that she would have limited time in the evening, I decided that younger sister, one of the boys, and I would clean the girls’ room for her. She would still have to do an after-dinner chore, like the rest of the kids (who also had cleaned their rooms before dinner), but the littles and I would manage the bedroom for her. I was seeking ways to encourage bonding. Surely this would be a welcomed act of service.
But then…I assigned her to the kitchen floor after dinner. I still gave her a chore. And that was why I was worth hating, apparently. Even after a sensible conversation about how I had cleaned her room with the littles, she decided it just wasn’t enough. She opened up that mouth of hers and started digging for words she hoped would hurt me. And when I tucked her in at night, she refused my hug.
This sort of behavior is, unfortunately, commonplace with her – as it probably is with a lot of kids who have been through neglect. Add to her current round of exceptionally challenging nonsense, we have been fending off a tremendous amount of ODD style disrespect from one of the boys. It feels like 98% of our energy is going toward managing just two of the kids, leaving precious little constructive time for any of us.
Austin and I were admittedly having many less-than-stellar moments. When we are in an ongoing behavior streak with no end in sight, it’s easy to resort to lazy parenting. Our fallback? Authoritarianism. And we were tired of it. Tired of the kids, tired of ourselves. Not only were we losing the parenting battles, we were losing the internal control battles (which not surprisingly, go hand-in-hand). Our tempers were flaring, our voices frequently raised, and we were resorting to threatening; the ultimate sign of a parent without proper behavior management tools.
But then there’s God. And he sent us the Holy Spirit. Whenever Austin and I resign ourselves to just survive the parenting role, we are losing sight of our calling. That’s right, we are called to parent our kids. So are you, adoptive parent, biological, or whichever caregiving role you find yourself in. And when we allow the Holy Spirit to work in us, he equips us to do the task.
We had to (again) get back to the basics: These kids are not our kids. None of them are our kids. They are God’s kids. It’s our job to help them find their identity in Christ; only in Christ can they really be the people they are created to be.
And now I want to say something directly to those of us raising children with broken attachments: We are called to this ministry. We have been called to give love to these kids, not to be loved by them. I’ve done my fair share of complaining about this with God when I lose sight of the eternal perspective. Why me? WHY? It’s just too hard. I can’t keep coming back for more insults and return it with genuine love.
I am not saying we ignore secondary trauma. It’s a thing. It’s definitely a thing for those of us living with people who have been through neglect. That’s why we need to find ways to manage the emotional stress we live in. But we are followers of Christ, are we not?
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45, Holman Christian Standard Bible)
And in his faithful mercy, God (again) has begun to put his compassion in me and soften my heart for our daughter, and I have faith for change in her heart. This is an ongoing work in process, but I am so thankful that the Holy Spirit is present in our household. Not by coincidence, Austin recently found himself meandering through Bill Johnson’s teachings and ended up listening to Raising Giant Killers, which has given us numerous practical tips to tweak in our parenting, especially during this challenging season when we find ourselves sliding toward an authoritarian response to the chaos.
We’ll make it; we always do. But we want to thrive, not just survive. The Holy Spirit is our faithful helper and Christ’s work on the cross covers emotional sickness, not just physical sickness. He bought healing for our children’s hearts and minds and this healing is for our family and for yours.