This spring our family has joyfully celebrated the graduation of our oldest daughter from college, our youngest daughter from high school, and our twenty ninth wedding anniversary. Those who are close to our family, and have known our struggles, know there is more to these pictures than meets the eye. You don’t see this in the pictures, but we are a family affected by trauma.
As I posted pictures of my beautiful girls, their academic accomplishments and the serene picture of my husband and I on a horse farm in Kentucky, my heart was filled with thankfulness. As I think back over the many trials, struggles, difficulties and emotions of the past twenty nine years, these celebrations hold extra reasons for rejoicing. You don’t see this in the pictures, but we are a family affected by trauma.
Yes, this post is about my family but it also speaks for the other adoptive and foster families I have worked with or encountered over the past twenty years.
Facebook pictures and the lives depicted in social media can make foster and adoptive families look flawless. Our families come in all sizes, shapes, and colors and because of this we sometimes stand out. Our kids are cute and have their own unique gifts and talents. In the photos, we are all flashing big smiles and it may look like we are perfect, have it all together and are coasting through life. You don’t see this in the pictures, but families are affected by trauma.
So as you scroll through Facebook or other social media sites, I’ve come up with four things that many foster and adoptive families, especially those whose children are coming from higher levels of trauma and neglect, want you to know about their pictures and a few suggestions on ways you can support them.
1.The pictures do not show the pain and heartache they have endured or are still enduring.
Traumatized children get triggered easily and sometimes act out, say hurtful things, and push away the people that are close to them or want to help them. It is super hard for parents to react calmly and not get their feelings hurt when their child rejects them or lashes out at them. Relationships in the family between siblings are often affected. School and church leaders do not understand or know what to do with the negative behavior, impulsiveness, sensory processing and other issues our children may have. Children from backgrounds of harm can have trouble attending loud events, sitting in a classroom or participating in large group activities. Sometimes, because of the underlying trauma and automatic behavior, these children are suspended from school or asked not to come back to activities. Parents lose friends and often become isolated because their child cannot attend activities that are organized for families. We are affected by trauma, you can reach out and offer to be trained to be a one-on-one buddy to our child at an event or find some way to help us attend an activity as a family.
2.The pictures do not show the investments the parents have made in their families.
To heal the effects of trauma, many children require a specialized parenting method that takes time to learn and is counter-intuitive to the way most of us are raised. Moms and dads have to first unlearn traditional parenting ways to learn these new techniques. Many parents spend time reading parenting books, attending conferences, working with professionals and scouring the internet. They become experts on neuroscience, brain development, and psychology. Their vocabulary includes such terms as the vagus nerve, the parasympathetic nervous system, the amygdala, and attachment theory. Parents also spend thousands of dollars hiring tutors and taking their child to different therapies. We are affected by trauma, you can offer to babysit, make dinner or help our child get to a therapy appointment.
3. The pictures do not show the judgements they have faced.
At first, others may not believe the parents when they share the trials they are facing. The concerns of mom and dad are dismissed and not validated. These cute, smart kids sometimes only act out at home. When the child is disruptive outside of the house, the parents are immediately blamed. Since we can’t see inside the brain of a child who has endured a difficult past, we assume that the challenges must be because the parents are too lenient, too strict, work, do not teach the child manners or values and let the child watch the wrong TV show or play too many video games. We are affected by trauma, please do not judge us when our children act out.
4.The pictures do not show the struggles they continue to have.
Overcoming the effects of trauma is a lifetime endeavor. Progress is often made by taking two steps forward and one step back. Yes, deep healing can occur, but as the child goes through transitions and enters new developmental stages, they face new challenges. Emotional dysregulation, avoidance of feelings, fear and anxiety in relationships, the need for approval, shame, perfectionism and other issues may continue to pop up. The transition to adulthood is scary and sometimes prolonged. Our children mess up and make mistakes. We are affected by trauma, you can give our kids encouragement about their unique gifts, talents or positive character traits that you observe in them.
For our family, we have learned to look at success and progress in a different way. Our marriage has endured. We tag team and do our best to work together. Our children are growing in their self-awareness, relationships, empathy and love for God. We are learning to be content, count our blessings, rely on God and keep moving forward. Some days we do a pretty good job at this and other days we stink at this, but we keep leaning into Him and pressing on.
Yes, our family and many other families are affected by trauma. Our social media pictures may look idealistic but trauma still affects us every-single-day. Thank you for listening and seeing the real us.
“Learning to Be Found”
There is no healing
In believing we can make it all on our own
And we can only love each other
When we're brave enough to be known
So don't be scared now
To confess what you're afraid we won't understand
Cause you are safe here
Where the broken take the broken by the hand
Renee is a life coach who specializes in working with foster and adoptive families. She is based in Louisville, Kentucky but she works with clients all over the US through internet coaching. She helps families identify areas of concern, provides training to help them understand the root cause of their struggles and through coaching, helps families apply the proven tools and techniques, needed to address their underlying difficulties. You can find more information about her services at https://www.facebook.com/empoweredcalling/videos/1535462483248676/or you may contact Renee at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/empoweredcalling/