I sit in the bland, cold waiting room of the latest residential treatment facility my child is a resident in. Clutching my legs just above my knees tightly, I listen to other residents and their parents receive instructions on a pending off-campus visit, in the waiting area next to where I sit. “Make sure he doesn’t have access to a cell phone, or social media, or email. You need to be back by 4pm sharp, no exceptions. Please stay within 10 miles of the facility. Absolutely no visits to home. If he tries to run here is the number you call. Have a nice visit!”
I’ve heard this before. In fact, I’ve been given this list before. Many times.
I watch as the family disappears around the corner of the entrance. I hope they have a good visit, I think to myself. How did we get here? I begin to wonder. This is not what we planned back in college when we dreamed of having a family. Never in a million, billion years did we envision visiting our child in a place other than our home! However, here we are. We’ve tried everything to this point, and nothing has worked. This facility wasn’t even our choice. A judge ordered it.
I gulp as I grapple with the reality of this.
For the first 15 minutes of our visit, my mind is spent. Nearly to the point of breaking down. My child berates me with question after question after question.
“When am I getting out of here?”
“I don’t know son. I judge makes this decision!”
“Why can’t I have my belt, or my hat, or my Kindle?”
“Because it’s the facility rules!”
“Why won’t you let me have an iPhone? My sisters have iPhones! I never get anything! You only care about them!”
“That’s not true.”
“You want me in here. You are keeping me here. You could call the judge and tell him to let me come home. You just don’t want too!”
“Also not true. We love you. But we can’t keep you safe.”
“That’s bullshit dad. I wish I had a new family! You guys are assholes and this staff hates everybody.”
“Well I love you and I am glad you’re my son and that I get to be your dad.”
On and on and on. I’m about to lose it. I can’t take the mind game, or the verbal abuse. It’s been the way of things for the past decade, or more, now.
The room falls silent. I’m already frustrated and we’re only 15 minutes into the visit. Kristin is tearing up. She can’t take it either. We all sit in silence for what seems like an eternity. The only sound to be heard is the ticking clock, locked safe behind a cage on the wall.
And that’s when I see it. The heart of my child. He looks up at me with a genuine glow in his eyes. “I’m sorry mom and dad. I didn’t mean that. I’m just tired of this….all of this! I love you. Let’s have a good visit.” We smile in return and spend the next hour shooting baskets on the 3-Point Challenge game tucked in the corner of the room.
For years I missed it- When I was neck deep in 3 or 4 hour tantrums. When I was dealing with a frustrated neighbor because my child had no concept of boundaries and had played a little rough with their son. When I laid awake worrying about the safety of my other children in our home. I missed the heart that beat in his chest. I saw only the exterior- the aggression, the verbal abuse, the defiance. I thought I was staring at a bad kid, behaving badly. But I wasn’t.
He was a scared kid, speaking from his fear, his past trauma, and his fight to stay alive. It took years before I could see who my child really was- a human being just like me. A person with hope and a future, in-spite of his traumatic past. I thought his diagnosis of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder was a death sentence (for him and for us!). But that’s simply because I was fixated on the behavior, not the heart. Truth is, he has a heart of gold once you look past the trauma.
Once I saw this my entire perspective changed. My heart for him changed too.
That’s why I can spend the first 5 minutes of visits dealing with the barrage of questions. Questions that have the same answers as the ones he asked me a few days earlier. That’s why I refuse to give up on my belief that he has a bright future. Fact is, his past trauma, his FASD diagnosis, and all the times he’s acted out in aggression do not….I repeat, DO NOT….define his future.
His past trauma, his FASD diagnosis, and all the times he’s acted out do not, I repeat, DO NOT, define his future.
He’s defined by grace…by hope…by this truth that every human being can change….can grow….can be redeemed!
When I accepted this invitation to look beyond his trauma, and into his heart, I fell deeply in love with him. Nothing in this world can change the deep love I feel for him. Not his behavior, not a judge’s order, not the words he says (but doesn’t mean), nothing!
So I invite you. I invite you to also look deeper. You’re invited to look beyond your child’s trauma and see their heart. See that their behavior does not define them. See that their past doesn’t either. Nor does their diagnosis. It’s hard at times….extremely hard, in fact. But when you look closely, you see their humanity. You see see that they are speaking from a place of brokenness. A place you and I know very little, if nothing, about.
Take some time…this morning…this afternoon…or tonight. Look deeper. See that what’s on the exterior is not necessarily what’s in the heart. It will change you and your relationship with your child!
Have you struggled to see your child’s heart, in the midst of tantrums, outbursts, or meltdowns? Share your story with us in the comment section below.