When I was first asked to write about what I thought every adoptive parent needed to know, I thought to myself this is a piece of cake…except it isn’t a piece of cake. There are a number of things that I think every adoptive parent needs to know, but for the sake of the length of this article, I will narrow it down. Every adoptive parent needs to understand the importance of asking for help from experts, understanding different forms of punishments, supporting your children with personal hygiene, and understanding how food affects your children.
I know that there has always been a stigma about asking for help because it makes you (the parents) look “weak”. Maybe you’ve talked to someone close to you because you’re at your wits end and they have told you “Oh you’re just not praying enough” or “You must not have a strong enough relationship with God” or “Back in my day I just knew how to parent”. If anyone has said those things to you or anything else like that, I want to start by saying I am so incredibly sorry that they have said those hurtful things to you. It takes a lot of courage to step outside of your comfort zone and ask for help. ASKING FOR HELP DOES NOT MAKE YOU WEAK. It shows wisdom and humility to seek wise counsel. Let me be honest with you, a lot of your children will have some sort of trauma once they come into your home. It doesn’t matter if your child is a newborn baby, a toddler, a young child, or a teenager. They all have trauma, and it can be extremely difficult to understand how to help when you yourself aren’t sure what to do. I moved into my parents’ house when I was seven and let me tell you boy did I have trauma. I grew up with mental abuse, sexual abuse, and physical abuse. When I moved in with my parents, they only knew about my brother’s trauma but not mine because I didn’t share anything. I was so afraid of being hurt again that I just kept everything to myself. I was six years old but knew the importance of keeping things to myself to avoid being vulnerable. My parents tried to ask me questions about what I had gone through, but I would shut down. They eventually stopped asking because it would hurt me more. I was probably 11-12 when I first started to notice that I wanted to just stay in my room. I laid in my room in the dark and just did nothing. I would come out to eat meals and go to the bathroom, but I didn’t have the energy to do anything else. I didn’t know that it was depression I was struggling with. I thought everyone did what I did, my family just said I was a hermit. When I was 13, I told my parents there were some things I didn’t understand about myself and I wanted to talk to someone. Inside I felt numb and empty, like nothing I did brought me energy. I was easily getting agitated with people and wanted to yell at everyone. My parent’s response was, “Well you’re just not praying hard enough”. I was so ANGRY at them for saying that, so I never asked for help again. Years later, now at 24, I have been able to talk to my mom about things I struggled with as a kid that she had no idea I struggled with. We talked about how she and my dad had no experience in how to deal with trauma and they did the best that they could at the time. I have no hard feelings for my parents because, in their mind, they thought they were doing what was best for my siblings and I. My mom has heard me say that
therapy is essential because it gives you a safe place to go through your emotions. I’ve seen my parents step out of their comfort zone to get help from experts with my younger siblings and even for themselves because they want the best for all of them. As a family and as individuals seeking therapy, or any other expert advice, can build a family up.
I was physically abused for the first seven years of my life and even though I was abused daily, I absolutely hated it. I remember after I was adopted it meant that my parents could spank us because we were legally their kids. I know there are a LOT of opinions on whether or not you should spank your kids or not. I remember getting spanked and I would get triggered. I would lose trust in my parents and my body would go into fight or flight. I remember once telling my dad that I didn’t like getting spanked because it reminded me of my biological family and getting hit. His response was basically he didn’t really care because God tells him to spank his kids. I was so angry because he just wasn’t listening to me. He would just say that it’s his job to spank us, God tells him to spank us, or I wasn’t a parent so I didn’t understand. I would be left extremely confused because if it’s his job to spank me, then how come I still lived with him when he hit me, but when my biological mom hit me, we got taken out of her house? In my mind getting hit was all the same for me. Getting hit meant that I was never good enough. It meant that at any moment, my parents would take away privileges. Privileges like having at least three meals a day, having access to a bathroom at any time, having a bed to sleep in, or even having a room. I am not saying that you never discipline your child(ren) but there are other ways to punish your kids, without involving hitting. You can use punishments such as a time out, loss of electronics, early bedtimes, or even extra chores. Using other punishments will show your child that the action they did was not acceptable, but there are other ways to show your disapproval that don’t involve hitting.
Personal hygiene may be something you think is a no-brainer, but it may surprise you that many kids, even older kids, don’t actually know a lot about personal hygiene. I had sexual trauma that occurred a lot in the bathroom, which gave me a GINORMOUS fear of showering because at any moment someone could come in and take advantage of me again. My parents would get my bath ready and then they would turn it off when it was full, and then they would leave and I would take a bath. I would get so anxious that I felt nauseous. Most days I wouldn’t get in the shower, because I wanted to be able to keep my clothes on for protection. However, I did know that my parents would do the smell test… test to determine if your kid actually used soap in their bath, so I would soak my hair in the water, scrub it, and then rinse. I would use body wash on my arms and armpits because then I would be clean. I would “splash” water around to make it sound like I got in the bath. I didn’t do this all the time; in fact, some days when I wasn’t triggered, I would actually take a bath. However, that’s the thing about triggers, they show up unexpectedly at the most vulnerable times. The bathroom was something that wasn’t safe for me, so I would recommend creating a safe place. Allow your child(ren)to
choose the body wash and shampoos that they want to use. It may seem little but allowing them to use their voice for this shows them that how they feel matters. Give them some fun toys that are just for the bathtub, it gives them something to distract their minds. Maybe, you could give little prizes for them taking baths. Use visuals of what needs to be done in the bath, if they don’t want you in the bathroom. You can even stand outside the door and every few minutes say something like, “I’m still here for you. Have you washed your _______… or even You’re safe.” All of these may seem like nothing, but I am telling you if you create safe places, your child’s inner child will slowly start to heal.
Growing up in my biological home, we would get food taken away for just breathing the wrong way. My biological mom would make me go days without eating. In kindergarten, I learned that if I wanted food at home, I needed to bring food home. I would grab extra breakfast, snacks, and lunch things so I could hide them at home. Sometimes we had food taken away, and other times my mom would make “special” meals…those meals consisted of all our rotten food that was in the fridge that she would make us eat because she was mad that we didn’t bring her things she asked for fast enough. It made me become extremely sensitive to food. When I moved into my adoptive parents’ house, they had FOOD FOR DAYS!!! But I would get scared that they would take the food away, so I would steal food and hide it. My parents didn’t know at the time, but we have talked about it now that I’m an adult. We’ve talked about having a “yes cart.” A “yes cart” is a cart that has snacks in it that the child can help themselves to at any time without asking. You can include things like fruits, granola bars, crackers, or those favorite snacks that make your kids feel safe. You keep it in a designated spot and you never, ever, ever take it away as a punishment. Maybe your kid is having a hard time with food textures, so you can allow them to eat from the snack cart and maybe they can try to eat again later.
Being a parent is not easy, and it’s not for the faint of heart. But being an adoptive parent is especially not for the faint of heart. There will be some easier days and there will be hard days. There will be days where your kid has had trigger after trigger and you’ll cry your eyes out because it’s a lot to handle. You’ll feel absolutely guilty because you got fast food instead of making dinner…AGAIN. You’ll feel like you’re the worst parent ever, but believe me that’s not what your child(ren) is seeing. Your kid is seeing love. In their mind, they will think, “Wow, I’ve had a really hard day today, but my parents are still here. My parents are still saying ‘I love you’ and ‘You’re mine’ even though I yelled at them all day. Through all of these hard days, there will also be great days! Days where your kid gets to experience being a kid and not having the weight of the world on their little shoulders. Then you will realize with time that there are more good days than bad days. Please never be afraid to ask for help. God made people with different passions so we could all help each other. Remember, we are the body of Christ, we need different parts (people) to help us through our lives.
Be open to listening to your child(ren’s) voice. Believe it or not, kids who have had trauma are very perceptive. Yes, they may not be a parent, but they have had to grow up in many ways already and they understand more than what you give them credit for. Allow them a safe place to share how they feel and actively listen, and don’t just brush it off and say, “Well they’re not a parent; they don’t understand.” Above all, never give up on your child(ren); always show them love and compassion. I would not be where I am today if my parents had said “We change our minds.”