If you have been reading my blog posts, you will know that we have 3 children by adoption, all with varying invisible disabilities. One of our children has been affected by childhood trauma. Before they arrived in our lives and came home to us, they had years of experiences that we will never have complete knowledge about. Even though we don’t really know what life was like for them, we do know a little bit and we are living with the side effects of those early traumatic experiences.
Having a child affected by trauma has taught me more than I ever thought, it has challenged me more than I realized I’d be able to handle and has given me insight and a better understanding of other people’s lives, that I otherwise would not have had. It has been one of the more challenging things I have done thus far. At times, I forget. I forget that the behaviours are symptoms and not a choice. I forget that reactions are due to the brain’s inability to process and function in a typical way.
Trauma directly affects the brain and how it develops. It has many symptoms. Some of these may include:
Every child is different, but for ours, the above list is definitely what we see on a continual basis.
Parenting a child with these challenges has not been an easy task for me. There is no “magic” method or one simple answer on how to help them move beyond trauma. My way of thinking has been blown out of the water. I believed with consistency, routine, predictability, a safe environment and lots of love many of these challenges that they face would be minimized and that daily life would become easier for them. Unfortunately, that is not the case. These symptoms are still there after 12 years of being home with us. The triggers, fears, anxieties are still a part or our child’s life. Sometimes we are prepared for what is coming, but often we are not. Life is so up and down for them. We do see improvement, but in other ways. For example, maybe the length of time of the dysregulation has minimized or the duration between the outbursts has lengthened. Still in those challenging moments, it’s hard. It’s hard for us as parents and it’s hard for the siblings. I’m sure it’s hard for them too, actually I know it is.
As the adults and parents, we have to help regulate the brain, essentially become their “external” brain and help them with the moments of difficulty. When reading about strategies and talking with others in regards to supporting our child, it all sounds manageable. To a point it is, but we are human too and it’s that humanity that also trips us up. So what do you do when your own brain is overwhelmed? How do you organize life when around you, you’re in a constant tornado of emotional disorganization?
Often times our child seems as though they are constantly pushing us away, but wanting us to be there too (there is typical behaviour in there too, teen brain is a whole other thing).
Love is so wanted, but that very feeling of love is a trigger. At times this feeling can be handled better than others. Our child is continually struggling with acceptance and trying to fill a “void” that will never get filled, not by anything external. They are still waiting for us to give up. Some of their fears and behaviours from the fear actually starts a spiral to make this become a reality. They don’t want to be rejected, disconnected or unloved and our child actually sabotages moments where they feel connected, affection or acceptance from us. The fear of losing this becomes the trigger. The trigger is set due to early trauma that we had no control over.
So how DO we handle this.
Forgiveness ………. I would have to say this is one of the biggest things. Forgiveness for their birth parent’s own shortcomings, to ourselves and our human moments and for the behaviours that the child themselves display.
In reality, this is not a smooth process. I have lots of knowledge, great support and family. I still struggle through some of these behavioural symptoms. It’s hard to go through the day to day whirlwind and not be affected by it. Which is one of the reasons I try to keep my days chunked into moments. Moments come and go quickly but days and weeks don’t. So if this moment is tough, how can I change it for the next.
Here are some things that I do to help me be a better parent.
We are very fortunate to have many people in our lives that support us in all different ways. We have people that will talk things through with us and our children, we have people who will lighten the load and take over for a bit, we have family and we have Dr.’s that listen (so important). I truly believe it takes a village to raise a child. In our children’s case, the more people that love them, the safer and more successful they will be.
Things are not perfect, everyday is a new day. We set up for success and try to learn from the setbacks.