Thursday, June 25, 2015

Celebrating Success

     On a daily basis, parents are working hard to provide for their children and help them grow up to be productive citizens.  Among them are parents of foster and adoptive children who face additional challenges.  The trauma of abuse, neglect, and abandonment has left them wounded and unable to trust.  The six-year-old girl hits her grandmother and refuses to sleep in her own bed.  The five-year-old boy runs into the street and gets kicked out of preschool.  The 10-year-old girl cries when asked to do chores or when her parents welcome guests.  These tired parents ask, "Why is this happening?" "What can I do?"  "How long will it last?" "Will this child ever be 'normal'?"
     It is helpful and heartening, then, to witness success stories.  An angry, demanding, bossy little three year old with a mentally ill biological mother and four failed adoptive placements graduates from high school with a full scholarship to a major university.  Her whole family including her bio-mom watch her receive her diploma.  A once quiet, sly twin removed in diapers first from a substance using mother then older sister is reunited with siblings and completes high school with lots of friends and family.  Brothers abandoned by immigrant parents are excited to have their own rooms and a big back yard since they are moving, for the first time, with their adoptive parents.  A teenager dropped off at ten by her mother at the shelter is turning her story into performance art.  Another teenager adopted from a group home once tore up the house is now building homes for the poor on mission with his father.
     These success stories have several things in common in addition to the children's once strange behavior.  Their parents have worked hard to develop several characteristics that are essential for helping their children heal and grow.
  • Each has an openness to learning, changing, asking for help, and receiving support.
  • Each has an interest in the child as a unique individual separate from their personal concerns.
  • They have an appreciation for the child's biological family and honor those relationships.
  • These parents have tolerance for conflict, emotional and otherwise, and stand up for their kids.
  • Each has learned to keep perspective, to take the long view, and know that growth takes time.
      Parents still in the middle of the mess ask, "Will it get better?"  "Will it get easier?"  The simple answer is probably.  The honest question is, what are you willing to change if it does not?  Children, particularly those suffering from trauma, are counting on parents who are willing to learn how to help them.  Nothing is more satisfying than celebrating a child's successes, both large and small, and knowing the things you did, both large and small, made all the difference in the world.