Karen Purvis' next Empowered To Connect Conference is in San Antonio, TX on April 10-11, 2015. There are many simulcasts throughout the nation if you are not able to make it to the live conference. See the link at the end of this post for a live simulcast location near you!
Three-and-a-half years ago we hosted a 9-year old little boy from Ethiopia for a month, through the Welcoming Angels program with America World Adoption. At the time we were told that we were ineligible to adopt, as I was eight months pregnant with our third biological boy. So our role was simply to host and advocate. Long story short, we were thrilled to NOT find any interested families, since we ourselves had fallen in love and wanted to adopt this child ourselves. It took us a year to complete the paperwork and get our now oldest son home with us for good. Adopting a nine-year old out of birth order with a new baby and now 4 boys in the house earned us a lot of kudos and murmurs of how wonderfully kind, loving and selfless we were. And I must admit I too felt like I was a pretty darn good person, and confident that although I had been warned of the challenges we could potentially face, our “perfect host month” and our “loving good nature”, would easily win out. Boy, did I not have a clue what I was talking about!!!
After about three months of our honeymoon phase, our son started to show some anger and defiance, most notably towards me (the primary stay at home caregiver). It began slowly with little disrespectful verbal digs and disobedience. Before I knew it I was spending hours a day restraining a child who was spitting on me and kicking me, and I must admit I was still completely committed to, but struggling to find love for. This little boy was an angel in school and everywhere else but at home we began to slide into a private hell. It really hit me how bad things were when I realized how scared my other children had become. Scared of the verbal attacks, the loud noises of things being thrown, the unpredictability that had taken over our home. I had to clear the house of everything sharp as he had pulled knives out of the kitchen. I was exhausted and scared, and began to resent my son in ways I am ashamed to admit. I was not at all as loving as I once thought. I could barely look at him and hated myself for feeling that way since I logically knew he was just a hurt little child but couldn’t muster up feelings to match.
My husband and I had always parented with a firm hand and felt like successfully running a house with four boys required intolerance for disrespect and consequences for disobedience.However the more I applied these tactics with my oldest son to try and regain control of our life the worse things became! We were in a constant combative state. We sought help from a myriad of professionals some who suggested I give him a lollipop to calm him down (you can imagine how well that went over), some who told me there was nothing I could really do, and all of which I had to drag him to see while having things thrown at my head as I drove. I was at a complete loss for what to do and so confused since I wholeheartedly believed God had placed this child in my family. I felt broken hearted that I (such a loving, giving person) couldn’t get close to this child who acted so mad at me all the time and who I only felt comfortable avoiding. What was I doing wrong and why was I so bad at this? We stayed in therapy, had him on medication, and worked hard but I wasn’t seeing the kind of progress I had hoped for and internally I still resented this child and had to physically discipline myself to spend time with him. It wasn’t a joy like I had experienced with my other kids. Who was I turning into?!
So here comes the part that will hopefully bring you hope if you are reading this wondering where this is all going. I had read the book The Connected Child by Karyn Purvis pre-adoption but it didn’t mean much to me since I had no context in which to put it to use. I was given a video of hers to watch by a very good friend in one of our crisis times but was too much in a tail spin to put any of it into practice. I do remember seeing the way she interacted with children and feeling a glimmer of hope I hadn’t found elsewhere. I was able to go to one of Dr. Purvis’ Empowered to Connect conferences and it literally changed my life and our family.
I was wrong in the way I had been parenting and wrong in the way I had been loving. Dr. Purvis talks a lot about realizing our own baggage as parents and why we respond so strongly to certain buttons being pushed by our children. It usually has a lot more to do with us than the child. I began taking a good hard look at myself and my need to control, to be validated by my son, to be treated fairly,…and I prayed for help giving those things up. I started asking God to strip me of my junk, to strip me of my selfishness and start teaching me to love like He does; which is exactly what parenting well but particularly adoptive parenting requires. I needed love on steroids. I wasn’t going to be able to make this work and help heal my child with “every old day feel good” love.
As I started to give up trying to control my son, or demand consequences for poor behavior, and instead started using Karen’s TBRI ('Trust-based Relational Intervention') principle of seeking to nurture the relationship with my son above all else more than control him, I was amazed. Drawing closer to him when he rejected me from grief and misplaced anger brought him back to me.Applying seven seconds of eye contact when he was in flight or fright mode and softening my touch, I literally watched him melt right before my eyes.
I would have missed rocking him while he sobbed about his birth mother right after he screamed at me if I had been focused on dealing out a consequence or how I felt personally. If I kept tip toeing around him instead of engaging him (as tiring and time consuming as that was) until I found his sweet heart buried below the fear I would have missed out on all the beauty. God was teaching me to love as He does (in very small baby steps). To love when you’ve just been hurt, when the person feels undeserving, when you have to lay yourself down and be just plain humble. He has stripped me bare and shown me my ugliest parts and now is starting to rebuild me and I am so grateful to my God and to my son for being his instrument. I truly believe that if I had learned to react with TBRI principle to my son’s behavior and needs sooner I could have saved us so much pain, so much fighting, a hospitalization, having to use medication. TBRI encapsulates Jesus’s example of love. To be humble, always forgiving, never self- seeking, always building up…
I could list off all the practical achievements my son has accomplished over these past couple of years. He has survived the death of both his parents. He has stayed strong through losing Ethiopian brothers and sisters, being abused, shuffled through orphanages, changing countries, languages and adjusting to a new family he didn’t understand. He has become a straight A student. He is on a club soccer team. He is in the school robotics club. He has formed bonds with his brothers and learned to play the violin. I could go on and on and on.
But it’s the inside of him that he should be most proud of and that I am most proud of: The real self he is starting to let shine now that I have learned to give him room and time to breathe and heal. So I want to encourage you all to hang in there with your kiddos. Don’t be afraid to jump in if you haven’t yet. There is beauty beyond belief. And there is good advice and principles that do work and a fix to all the pain if you are willing to work. You may be stripped uncomfortably bare in the process but you will be clothed again by our gracious Father more beautiful than before and with a new understanding of love. The journey of adoption is all of our stories. We are the ones kicking and spitting and God is the one patiently holding our gaze and softly touching our hearts when we least deserve it.
- an America World mom