I recently completed an interview for a training that I attended in October. The interview was a two hour process with a series of questions that explored my attachment style and how it affects my approach to parenting the children in my home. They finished the assessment with the following question, “what do you hope your children will learn as a result of how you parented them?”
It sounds like a simple enough question to answer, but for some reason it made me stop. My hopes for my children are grandiose as I think about all the great things I desire in terms of their faith, future spouse, educational experiences, vocation and passions. Then I stopped and questioned myself. How does my parenting approach translate into the fulfillment of my greatest hopes for them?
I was immediately convicted that the overarching lesson my children will learn about life is not through a heart to heart "This is Us" type of conversation that occurs once. Her wording made me pause and I said them aloud again, “as a result of how you parented them.” Parenting is daily moments of connection with our children through positive experiences, coupled with the grind of managing my emotions and appropriately correcting them when negative behaviors arise.
In the early years with my boys I had countless hours of rocking them, feeding them, gazing at them and showing them they are cherished. Those early years are a blissful bubble of endless opportunities to pour into our babies. As a result of meeting their needs we receive sweet baby giggles, snuggles on our chest, and tender moments of warmth.
We survive those early years because for every stress filled wail that occurs in the middle of the night is counteracted by the same number of sweet moments where we get to soak them in. I pour into my sons and I say through my actions, “you are a son of the King, you are exceptional, you are worthy, you are and always will be enough.”
I thought about our three placements the past year, and the many children that came in years past. These three girls that came into our home needed those nurturing moments, like a new infant. They needed to be soothed, they needed to be comforted and they needed to be shown, “you are a daughter of the king, you are exceptional, you are worthy, you are and always will be enough.”
It hit me like a punch in in the stomach. In the day to day moments of parenting children from trauma I catch myself resistant to parenting our girls the way I know I need to. In a nutshell I realized that my resistance was encompassed in how much more effort it takes in comparison to our boys.
Children from trauma can be “prickly” when they come into our home. They are encased in insecurities and behaviors because they have not consistently been told or shown that they are worthy from the adults that once cared for them.
Currently in our home these “prickly” aspects of our little girl are translated into behaviors that demand my attention. These behaviors are her attempts to push us away as she processes her own anger and grief. When I spend the day navigating her behaviors and reactions it seems as though it leaves little time for moments to cherish and nurture and encircle her with affirmations. When I do have those moments it is so foreign to her she pushes back in rejection and confusion. The response I get is not the heavenly baby smell, or the warmth of a sweet new baby on my chest. It makes my motivation to connect with her that much more difficult.
I have learned that when parenting our sweet girl I can feel almost defeated as a foster parent. I want to get to the warm, fuzzy feeling connection like I did when my boys were snuggly newborns. I have created unrealistic expectations, that unfilled creates discouragement in me as her mother.
In the small moments, when I see her be successful, when I catch her eyes glimmer I try my best to pause and capture it almost like a picture. I look at her, I take her hands and I say through my actions, “you are a daughter of the King, you are exceptional, you are worthy, you are and always will be enough.” Now, I will have to likely do this twice as many times as I would with my boys because she missed years of those actions early on.
As I reflect on the question asked in my interview and I thought about all the children that come through our home, “what do you hope your children will learn as a result of how you parented them?” I want them to see through my interactions and how I engage with them that they are loved and worthy. I can only accomplish this through small moments of connection. I can hold their hands, praise their successes and affirm their preciousness to me and their Heavenly Father. I want to stop making my moments of connection contingent on my child’s response, because then I will find myself disappointed and longing for more than they are able to give back in the moment.
Parenting children from hard places is about lowering my expectations of what I will receive from them when I put forth effort on my end. In order to care for them the way they deserve I must instead make it about finding moments to see their preciousness and speak those truths aloud that they may heal. Seeing my three sons from birth and the children that walk through my door as the worthy, beloved children of the King they are. I will attempt to recreate an environment in my home filled with not tiresome moments of correcting, but sweet opportunities and tender moments of warmth and connection. This happens through one small touch, one character affirmation and one praise at a time.