Truthfully, we really had no idea what to expect. All we were told was that we were invited to attend a conference with no kids, accommodations covered, and lots of free time. “Sign us up!” we thought. We aren’t really sure what “kid-free” means anymore so anything containing those words together, or even in the same sentence, is worth our time :-).
We quickly discovered this was not a typical conference on adoption or foster care. It wasn’t focused on techniques or types of adoption. We did not get into issues surrounding the foster care system or how to maintain healthy relationships with birth families. We didn’t even spend time talking about our kids individually. Juli began, simply, by looking around the room at all of us and saying- “This weekend is about you!”
Say what? This was a relief! Everything began with peace. Parenting children with special needs, especially through foster care and adoption, is a lot of work. In fact, you don’t realize how exhausted you are until you stop and take time to be alone and take an introspective look at your life. We were able to do that. This is what we discovered in the 48-hour period we were there:
1. There is hope.
Sitting in this group and listening to Juli, and her partner Cara, reminded me of the group I attended a few years back that inspired this blog. There is hope. We heard that over and over again. There is hope when you’re so exhausted you can’t see straight. There is hope when you want to give up. There is hope when your child pushes, and pushes, and pushes you away. There is hope!
2. It’s not our fault.
Our child’s impulsive, out of control behavior, is not our fault. It’s the result of trauma that happened before we even brought him home and became his parents. It’s the result of a very dark and difficult background that we had no control over. We cannot take it personally when he screams “You motherf***ker, stupid b**ch, I’m gonna kill you,” because we insisted he get his homework done, or take a shower properly, or eat all of this vegetables. He experienced severe trauma that affected his brain permanently. That is not our fault!
3. We need to take care of us.
We spend all of our time pouring into our children. And, that’s a good thing. But, we need time to get away and breath. We need time to sleep. We need time to be. We cannot pour out from an empty pitcher. We have to take time to fill up.
4. We can do this.
During the course of the weekend, when things were solemn and quiet in our group, Cara looked at all of us and simply said, “You guys can do this!” It was motivating and encouraging. Sometimes, as an adoptive or foster parent (or parent in general) you just need to hear those words!
5. Children can experience trauma while in the womb.
I had always heard this but had it reinforced during the course of the conference. It’s amazing how powerful the human mind is. One of the greatest take-aways for me, personally, was that children remember things they experienced in the womb. It is etched in their brains forever. They may not be able to articulate it, or remember it in detail, but they will behave from experiences that they do not even understand or remember happening to them.
That’s why things like consuming alcohol during pregnancy, or being victimized by an abusive spouse or boyfriend while pregnant, is so devastating.
6. Our kids know how to leave, they do not know how to stay.
Children who were adopted from difficult places have conditioned themselves to flee when things get tense or stressful. It is a defense mechanism. When your child runs from difficult situations they are enacting a safety plan that was etched in their brains long ago when they faced neglect or abuse. One of the most powerful things we were challenged with was to stay with our children and keep telling them, “I’m not going anywhere!”
7. Our kids are worth it!
They are! They really are! I already knew this but had it confirmed for me a million times over after the weekend was over. I was so excited to get home and hug my kids. I found myself not caring whether or not they had some attitude, or pushed me away. I am their daddy, and my wife is their mommy, and nothing is going to change that. Our kids are worth it more than anything!
What are some experiences you’ve had lately with your own children?