Becoming a parent has changed my definition of success—not because I don’t believe that my children cannot do anything they put their minds to, but because my desires for them have changed, or in the least become simpler. It’s probably because my expectations for myself have also changed. Simpler. Is that the correct word? I’m not sure, because very little about life seems simple even though that’s what we keep striving for.
Children with trauma process that trauma in various ways. It looks different for every family, for every child depending on their biological makeup and then the outside factors that played into their brain development, or hindrance of brain development. My children have come a long, long way since they first came home. Yes, there are things they still struggle with and likely will for their lifetime, but that doesn’t mean it holds them back in any way. It changes how we do life—how they do life.
We have multiple diagnoses in our family tree these days. While we use these diagnoses as tools to help our children be the most successful that they can be, it’s not always easy to determine what is personality, trauma, or rebellion. Let me delve in a bit more.
When our second son first came home to join our family, the boys were both young—3 and 2. We thought the easiest and most comfortable situation would be to have the boys share a room. We quickly learned that decision was a colossal mistake. Shortly after our second son moved in, we had our oldest diagnosed with sensory processing disorder. I always knew that something was different about how he processed the world around him. Turns out that music and singing were extremely hard for him to process at bedtime. So having a happy, singing two-year-old sharing a room was pure torture for our oldest. We quickly turned our basement bedroom into a little boys’ room and he’s been happily camped out there for over six years now.
As our second son was trying to process another move, another family, another place to determine if and where he was safe, he became a prolific thief. For a sweet two-year-old he was remarkably sneaky and his older brother’s toys would end up in all kinds of mysterious places. Mostly little things that easily slid into a pocket. As you can imagine, this caused all kinds of strife in our family for a bit of time. Slowly, it became less and less often, and I like to believe that’s because he learned that he was loved, accepted, and had all the things of his own. This small behavior also grew into a barrier between my oldest and youngest sons as my oldest had a very difficult time bonding with his brother. I doubted that they would ever bond. Just the other day, they were arguing in a very normal, ordinary brotherly fashion, and instead of growing annoyed, I was actually delighted. The smallest moments of normalcy are what bring the biggest and brightest joy.
When our youngest, our daughter, joined our family just a year later, she brought with her a whole new alphabet of diagnoses—each with its own unique issues. All of my children were small when they joined our family so communication wasn’t always easy. And some of their personalities made that extra difficult. With our sweet curly-haired, blue-eyed cherub came posttraumatic stress disorder. Wowza. This one threw me for a loop. I’m a loud person. I’m a loud talker and a yeller when I’m angry, and that, my friend, is not a good combination for a toddler with PTSD. Every time I hollered for the kids to put on shoes, she peed her pants. For years. Years. Eventually, I would gather them together and give quieter, more direct instructions, it’s not like I didn’t try. But in those rushed moments when you forget and holler down, “Hey guys, time for shoes and coats,” and a pants change. I learned to carry a tote of extra pants/panties with us and eventually with attachment and therapy, we made it through. We were reminiscing the other day about how I was so confused once that her pants had faded in the weirdest way. Turns out there was no fading, just urine-soaked pants. Poor kid.
Thankfully my children are forgiving little humans and have forgiven us for the mistakes we have made in adjusting to being their parents. We believe in many, many do-overs and much discussion. As they’ve grown there are still coping behaviors we are working through—things that typical families don’t necessarily deal with. But I’ve found that biological families have struggles of their own. Unique struggles cause them to have to pivot as well.
One of the coping mechanisms that my middle guy has picked up over the years is lying. He’s such a good, sweet boy and wants to always be “good” and perfect. And he struggles. Even when it’s blatantly obvious that he’s lying, I try to make sure he feels respected and heard. I gently try to talk about the issue and try to understand that this is a coping mechanism, not a character issue. We talk about truth and how important it is to our relationship and other relationships. We talk about how it’s imperative to have character, honesty, and trust. Time has been a game changer and he’s getting there. Telling the truth, even when we know we will get in trouble, is imperative. He’s working hard and it shows.
One of his big issues is laundry. He’s now 8, and I try to have them put away their laundry. He really struggles with doing this task well. He struggles with doing most tasks well. His method and mode in life are fast. School work, chores—everything that is a responsibility is done fast. We are trying to teach him that slowing down and doing a task well is far more important than doing the most things. He likes to be recognized for being a good helper, so I really try hard to use lots of words of affirmation for him. It’s a struggle. I’ve let go of the inside-out clothes, stained clothes, and clean clothes that I wash over and over because he doesn’t want to take the time to hang them up. I’ve learned that letting go of my own personal preferences and allowing natural consequences to come into play has been the game changer for him. I try to focus on the things they do well and let go of all the other small things that drive me bananas.
Our two youngest struggle greatly with being asked questions. Unfortunately, this is something that happens every day in life. People ask you questions. When I’m near I try to urge them to answer, but sometimes they just cannot. This is something that we work on nearly every day. I ask, they freeze, I encourage, and, eventually, they get through it. Last night we were going through our advent devotional. We were reading, talking about small and inconsequential things, and my daughter triggered and froze. I felt so bad for her. We just moved on and eventually as we were playing Go Fish and watching a movie, she was able to answer. I worked hard at making sure she understood that I knew the work that took.
All of our children struggled with school in various ways. One with anxiety and being bullied, another with speech (and due to his attachment diagnosis he struggled greatly with relationships). Another had issues with learning styles and skills. She excelled in some areas and fell short in areas. Because of my children’s proximity in age, this caused grade placement and learning issues due to age, grade level, et cetera. We quickly learned that a traditional school setting would not work well for our family at this time. Now we homeschool our children and it’s turning out to be a wonderful blessing in our life. It has strengthened our relationship, their relationships with each other, and allows us the freedom we need for them to excel educationally.
Our middle guy struggles with speech. He was neglected as an infant and it left him with a significant speech impediment. He has worked so hard and come so far in the past six years. Some of his speech is also hereditary. Who knew? He hasn’t lived with her since he was under two years old and still he talks just like her. It’s incredible. Some issues are habits that he’s picked up and while we don’t have him in formal speech services at this time, we do continue to work on small things. While I try to be soft, it is necessary that he continue to work on these things. A lot of people have a hard time understanding his name. And that becomes problematic when he’s alone in a situation. When I’m there, or his sister, it’s easily explained, but the poor kid struggles. I should have given him a simpler name.
What I want my message to be here today is that there is plenty of things in life to be afraid of. My fear of change was nearly crippling. And now I realize that those changes have brought an unreal amount of change. They have changed me, my family and my life, in the most remarkable ways. There is barely a remnant of my former life and that’s such a wonderful blessing. I am not the same person I was before them, and I hope by the time I’m done parenting them that I become an even better version of myself. I have grown in every way. I am (hopefully) healing generational curses, and generational trauma for myself and for them. I’m rewriting our stories to make us stronger, kinder, wiser human beings. Trauma changes a life. It literally rewires the brain, but so does love—love, learning, and lots of therapy.