I heard this phrase over the weekend and it hit me hard, right in the heart. All six of my children are in some way, deep in their brains, broken. If you pass us on the street you'd think my kids all look perfectly "normal". They have all their fingers and toes, no obvious defects or deficiencies. They're laughing, running, and jumping as well as any other kid. But if you followed us home, you might catch a glimpse of their brokenness. At home (when they feel their safest and can let their guard down) we see brains that can't control their rage, fears that consume them, sensory overloads that paralyze them or send them into uncontrollable tears.
Their brokenness comes from brain trauma. Some we know about, some we just assume. Some that occurred in their prenatal stages, some that happened in the first few hours, days, and months of their lives. Trauma that can't necessarily be measured or quantified, but it can definitely be observed.
This weekend we attended the Empowered to Connect Conference sponsored by Show Hope. I am going to make a blanket statement that I absolutely believe: EVERYONE who is planning to adopt a child or be a foster parent should be REQUIRED to attend this conference. No formal training I did to prepare for adoption and certainly none of my real life experiences have come even close the depth, usefulness, and wisdom of the information I learned in just 2 days. Even if you aren't connected to the world of adoption or foster care, if you just have kids, you should attend. It is powerful parenting training.
Empowered to Connect is an organization that focuses on "Trust Based Parenting". It is lead by Dr. Karen Purvis, the director of the Texas Christian University Institute of Child Development. She is an extraordinary speaker. She has been in the business of helping families heal their children from "hard places" for most of her life. Her practices are proven and backed by tons of amazing brain chemistry research. The developments that have been made in this area in just the last few years are really ground breaking.
If you've already adopted you owe it to your children to attend. I knew that some of the behaviors I saw in my kids were not "normal". Don't worry, my family isn't in a major state of crisis. But I know that my kids can be better, happier, more connected. My kids were deprived of a most basic human need: constant and loving contact with their birth mother's. For the first several months of each of their lives they knew loss, change, upheaval, deprivation, but they did not know their own mother's love. I came along as soon as I could, but the gaps will effect them for the rest of their lives.
One of my kids can't be alone or in a dark room without lapsing into a panic attack. One can't keep his body still for more than a few seconds at a time. One cries probably 4 or 5 hours a day. One CAN NOT SLEEP. One can't follow an instruction if it is not repeated at least 3 times. One hits and kicks and bites and screams and then erupts into fits of giggles. One freezes into what might be small seizures when he is in new and chaotic environment. They all have behaviors surrounding food, noise, smells, and other sensory issues. They don't behave "badly" because they are defiant, or naughty, or just plain bad. It's because sometimes their brains and bodies simply can't help it.
As we watched hours of video clips, testimonials, role playing, and research analysis I saw things I've observed in my own kids over and over again. It was startling and emotional and mind blowing. Mostly it was really hard. Hard to know these things about my kids. Hard to face what a lame parent I have been to them for the last 5 years. Hard to confront my own attachment issues and personal baggage. But also so hopeful.
Hopeful because in this training I learned that the brokenness in their brains can be rewired. The holes that were left in their development can be filled. The moments they lost in their birth mother's arms can be made up a little at a time in my arms. We have the tools to mend their little hearts.
It is not easy stuff. In fact it is contrary to the way that most people parent. It requires patience that I'm not sure I have, nurturing that doesn't always come in the heat of the moment, lots of time and lots of energy. But of course, that's what we'll do because we love them and it's what we were always meant to do.
Please try to attend one of the conferences. They are very inexpensive. In the spring they'll be visiting Birmingham, St. Louis, and Washington DC. If you can't make a conference, visit the Empowered to Connect website or read Dr. Purvis' book The Connected Child.
I know that you love your kids as much I love mine. Don't miss this opportunity to understand them and help them heal.
Editing Disclaimer: Please excuse any crazy typos, misspellings, odd tenses, bad punctuation or run on sentences. Brian is very sick with some mystery stomach bug and he went to bed at about 5pm. Normally he edits all my posts and makes sure I haven't said anything too crazy. But I'm all on my own tonight. Eek!