[This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.]
This week we read Chapter 2 of, The Whole-Brain Child, Two Brains are Better Than One: Integrating the Left and the Right. The authors explained the differences in the right and left sides of the brain, and the importance of helping our children integrate them.
They gave a fantastic explanation of the two hemispheres of the brain and how they function, which I recommend you read, but in the simplest terms, the left brain loves order and details, while the right brain cares about the big picture.
I like this quote,
“…the left brain cares about the letter of the law…As you know, as kids get older they get really good at using this left-brain thinking: ‘I didn’t shove her! I pushed her.’ The right brain, on the other hand, cares about the spirit of the law, the emotions and experiences of relationships. The left focuses on the text — the right is about the context.”
I didn’t attend medical school, but I listen closely to my daughter who did and my son who is currently in his third year. They often learn things that apply well to parenting children who experienced early trauma. This post on sharing difficult news with children is one of those lessons.
“Mom, you know what I learned from the chief resident today?”
My daughter, Hannah, was in medical school soaking up knowledge at a rate reserved for the young and intellectually curious.
When you give a child hard news, you have to get down low so your heart is on the same level as theirs.
Even now, years later, I have not forgotten those words.
My writing partner, Jennifer, once quipped that she wanted to write a post about how being a foster parent made her fat.
We shared a moment of sad, I-know-what-you-mean laughter, about the toll that parenting at this level places on our bodies, and ultimately our lives.
This is serious work.
Sometimes I wonder if I’m getting stronger or weaker? Am I aging more quickly or does having young kids as an older mom keep me young?
Am I gaining wisdom and learning to lighten up and let things roll off me?
I’m pretty sure I cry more easily than I used to.
Adoptive and foster parents, you are doing incredibly hard, good work.
You are giving your hearts and lives to children from “hard places,” which means you are willingly going into those hard places too.
They have been through trauma, and you now enter it with them. Their nightmares wake you and maybe you haven’t slept through the night in a long time.
They have suffered, and now their suffering spills onto you. You walk with them, even when they push you away, or spit on you, calling you names and saying they hate you.
Sometimes the pain is so great, their feelings of rejection so big, that they want you to feel exactly what they feel deep in their spirits, so they reject you. And it hurts – even when you tell yourself it’s not about you, it still hurts.
Foster mamas and daddies, you may love a child so much, nurture and care for them day by day for months, only to say goodbye when the court decides it’s time. And now your arms are empty and your heart is broken.
This is the hardest work you will likely ever do.
It may be lonely and isolating. People may wonder if you’re a bit crazy, and sometimes you may feel like they could be just a little bit right.
I mean, who else worries that their preschooler might bite the teacher tomorrow, or their son will come home with a friend’s toy car in his pocket, or their fifth grader might wet her pants at school?
Folks may think your kids are a little out of control – or maybe more than a little.
People will have lots of parenting advice for you, most of it of little use because it won’t take into account the trauma your kids have endured and the impact that trauma has on their brains.
Friends and family may wonder why you do this, why you pour yourself out for children who make your life harder or more complicated.
Maybe there is something deep in the core of who you are that motivates you to love the wounded and care for those in need.
Maybe you’re compelled by a love for God that drives you to love the vulnerable and weakest among you.
Find the people who value this in you, who know this is part of how you are made and understand that denying this calling, even with all of its sacrifices, would be denying part of who you are.
You are living out the expression of what you are meant to do – it’s messy, beautiful, and life-changing for the children you’ve been called to love and for you too. None of you will ever be the same.
You won’t do it perfectly, you’ll make mistakes. Trust me, I’ve been a mom for 29 years and I’ve made countless, truly countless mistakes, some that still break my heart. Learn from them and move forward.
Take care of yourself.
Find your people and make room for them in your life.
Say no to tasks you aren’t called to and yes to those you are.
Hug your kids.
Seek joy in the small things.
Pray – if faith is part of your life, pray. I need Jesus so much, every moment.
Dr. Karyn Purvis taught that high nurture and high structure must be balanced when parenting children. I was recently asked to explain what that means.
I recently shared a quote by Dr. Karyn Purvis on a local foster parent group about the need for a balance of nurture and structure as we parent children from “hard places.” One of the dads replied, “Interesting. Care to give examples to explain this to me?”
I’ve been in the therapeutic parenting world many years now and his words made me pause. How would I describe high nurture, high structure parenting? What does it look like?
I could probably write a book on this topic alone, or a least a few chapters, but I’ll limit myself to a blog post.
For me, high structure means providing children with a home that is predictable and safe. More importantly, I need to be a mom who is predictable and provides safety.
My Thankful Life is a series written by our readers. We admire and appreciate you more than you know. Thankful Moms is a place for all of us to gather and encourage one another. If you would like to submit a story about your life, you can find our editorial guidelines here. We can’t wait to hear from you. – Lisa and Jennifer
My granddaughter is two. She greets me each time we meet with a huge smile and small arms thrown round my neck.
She emanates the essence of being two, from the rounded still-baby cheeks to the insistence of her new found power of speech to the pure intensity of every emotion she experiences.
Joy borders on hilarity and sadness mimics despair in her unfiltered emotional two-ness.
When I look at her sometimes, I think about our three sons, who each were close to her age when they moved into our home. Still so young, with their cheeks still babyish and round, their emotions and smiles and hugs were guarded. They already knew instinctively that safety required them to charm strangers while keeping emotional distance from anyone who tried to get too close.
In so many well-meaning attempts I floundered at being the final mother for children who had lived in multiple homes. We tried advice of so many experts, thinking there was some magical thing we could do that would erase pain and bring peace and connection.
Even now when they live on their own, we are still figuring out our relationships, although with distance, rather than in the same house.
This week I heard Pauline Boss interviewed by Krista Tippett for the On Being podcast. She spoke of ambiguous loss, the loss that does not fit into our normal categories of loss. Living as a caregiver for a spouse with dementia is an example. Your spouse is alive and with you, but is not the spouse you married.
You have a loss that is daily while you are also living daily with the person you are losing. Ambiguous.
Adoption is an ambiguous loss for every person in the relationship.
My tiny children had mothers who were alive but not with them.
They had a mother who was with them but wasn’t the mother they wanted.
Their mothers had children who were alive but were not with them.
I had children who were mine but not mine.
Our birth children had siblings who were not their siblings, who added drama, and sometimes violence to their lives.
Our adopted children had siblings who had easy bonds with parents, who had the life they wished they’d had with their birth families.
We wanted it to be uncomplicated. We wanted to believe the people who said, “Love is all you need.” What was wrong with us??? Each of us chafed and struggled against the impossible parts of our relationships.
Pauline Boss reiterated that ambiguous loss is complicated loss, which results in complicated grief. But complicated grief is not pathological grief. It is only complicated grief.
When she explains this idea, people frequently comment, “Oh, you mean the situation is crazy, not me.”
What a comforting thought. I’m not crazy. My child isn’t crazy. We are attempting something very complicated. I wish I’d known that in the thick of things.
Even after all my children are grown and making their way as adults, I think on those round, childish cheeks and the emotions that were hidden inside those small bodies.
I think of my own emotions and the crazy ways we tried to make sense of what we were living and the grasping for wisdom and for empathy and for meaning. I still grieve for the confusion and anger and sadness they felt, and for the same emotions I felt/feel.
Pauline Boss states that closure is a myth. Healthy grief does not end. It changes, but it is revisited.
Our lives are forever changed by the losses we have experienced, and so are the lives of our children. Healthy grief includes experiencing that sadness again as events and life stages bring it back, or remind us. And healthy grief also includes eventually finding meaning.
And there IS meaning. It isn’t always easily articulated, but it is there. I have learned so much through the life we stumbled through, through all my children and through the people we met because of our children.
I’m still learning, learning humility and honesty and empathy for myself as well as for those around me.
I’m thankful for this journey, with a complicated thankfulness that wishes I could have spared those I love from the parts that were hard. I’m thankful for the grace I’ve received from each of my children, for the relationships they offer me, each as they can. I’m so thankful for my husband who made sure we stayed on the same team.
One last thing. Boss also stated that for healthy grief, which is sadness, the treatment is human connection. It is in being with others. It is in being understood…in finding and offering empathy.
That is the strength of Thankfulmoms. When we read truthful and vulnerable writing about lives we recognize as like our own, we feel understood…we feel community…we experience healing. It is encouragement to carry on with important work.