One of my passions during the time I studied for my Masters degree was the physiological effects of trauma on the brain. It has been so helpful to me over the last year and a half as I've attempted to raise a traumatized teenager here in our home.
Trauma parenting is so different than regular parenting. Parenting in general is hard and worrisome, but if parenting is like riding a bicycle, then trauma parenting is like trying to ride one backwards on a tightrope. That may or may not be on fire.
Trauma and attachment issues present themselves in literally every aspect of a child's day, from getting dressed to selecting food to choosing friends and going to school. Loss, grief and lack of trust govern much of their thought process and behavior. They are terrified of intimacy, keep people at a distance, hide their feelings, they are prone to prolonged periods of fear, and have a limited ability to trust. They manipulate and lie. They take literally ten times longer than children without trauma to learn new skills (even simple ones) and new patterns of behavior. They make the same mistakes over and over (and over and over and over).
Let me be clear, because it cannot be overstated: none of these things are the fault of the child. Only deep love, compassion and the formation of secure attachments can begin to promote new brain growth and impact the biological and emotional development of trust (I am safe), self-worth (I am precious) and self-efficacy (I am heard).
But the parenting process. It is exhausting. It is constant. It is overwhelming. It is neither natural nor instinctive in many ways. It is necessary, valuable, and worth doing - but it is all those other things, too.
Parenting is the ultimate exercise in leadership. When we agreed to take on a child with trauma, we instantly became responsible not only for his physical well being, but also his emotional development and his relational healing. We had to build connection when we were virtually strangers, identify and heal wounds that we didn't inflict and redeem ground we didn't lose. We had to quickly become experts on a child whose 14 year history we barely knew so that we could become the agents of healing he needed us to be. We became versed in neural rerouting and self-regulation and trigger responses, and most of all, we had to have the tools and time and self-reflection to develop and put in place strategies and environments that would promote healing.
Most of that fell on me, partly because of Casey's travel schedule, but also because it is "in my zone" professionally and personally. Meanwhile, there were three small children to be cared for and schooled, a home to be run, a pregnancy and life happening abundantly all around us. Major transitions - whether positive or negative - are always difficult to navigate in the life of a family, and we have had a LOT of them.
And then... sixteen months later... this opportunity came up for him to go home. He had struggled with the loss of his friends and his life as much as with the loss of his father, and now he had a shot at going back to a place where he felt more "normal." Where he was more securely attached and hopeful. He felt that way, and because we love him, we did, too.
But it was a loss for us too, particularly for the kids who truly opened their hearts with love and compassion in the most amazing ways. Love, as they say, is a verb, and theirs was so much more than just lip service.
We feel a little like the team that goes to the Superbowl and loses: proud that we made it this far, gratified by our efforts and teamwork. As a family, as individuals, we know that we left everything we had out there on the field, but ultimately, it didn't go the way we would have liked.
And now... we have to pick up the pieces. To stop and recalculate.
I'm physically and emotionally exhausted after the work and the non-stop stress of the last year and a half, compounded by what we went through in the spring. The kids are sad, and we all have a little bit of our own PTSD (mild on the spectrum, but real nonetheless) to contend with.
We are not okay. And, while I know that we will again be okay, it takes time to get there.
We took September really slowly. We stopped for no reason to do fun things and build happy memories. We focused on connection above all else.
We took lots of breaks and were very intentionally aware of our commitments. We applied grace liberally to every aspect of life.
We got out of our routine and enjoyed beauty. Because we can.
We focused on joy, peace and rest.
I don't see much changing for us in October.
In many real ways, we're rebuilding our family. We are different people on the other side of this experience. I know that our foundation is still there, and that foundation has proved, and continues to prove, incredibly strong. But it is again a matter of establishing our new normal.
We will get there, and we will get help if the path becomes too difficult. We are worth fighting for.
And while it's hard, there is grace. And Halloween Bingo.
For parents dealing with attachment and trauma: Don't miss these amazing resources! THIS is what we used during my MA program as foundational for connecting with "kids from hard places." It is a game changer. Also: this, and this are phenomenal.