Well, I say simple, but what in this life of trauma parenting is ever really simple? So let me start again. Maybe I should title this week,
Four simple strategies...
that will be really difficult to put into practice,
but for the times you are able to make it work,
they will be really helpful ...for parents of children / teens that
stretch us to our limits
...for parents in the foster care / adoption system that stretches us to our limits
This week I wanted to bring to your mind these ideas from author and teacher, don Miguel Ruiz. I guess I was a bit late on this one as I just came to learn about him and his philosophies this year! Have you heard of him before? Well, once I heard him speak I found these principles to be really simple, practical, helpful & powerful. So, of course, I wanted to share them with you!
He first published his book on The Four Agreements in Brazil back in 1997. Since then it has since sold over seven million copies. It has been translated into 40 languages, and appeared on the New York Times bestseller for nearly ten years.
Although I don't agree with everything don Miguel Ruiz teaches, I believe these are some true concepts. They are ideas I had considered before. I feel they are biblical and work with my spiritual world view. They resonated with me and caused me to wonder what if I took them seriously in my life. And what if? What if you took them seriously today, and put them into daily practice? Imagine how different your life would be tomorrow! Imagine how much stronger you would be. Imagine how much more loving you would be. Imagine how much more patient you would be. Imagine how much more peaceful your home would be.
Consider what he is saying here, take some time to meditate on them this week. If you are able to live out these four principles, even just a little bit more than yesterday, you will be able to decrease the amount of stress and conflict you feel and experience a greater level of inner peace. So, let's break them down and see how they relate to parenting kids from hard places...
First: Be Impeccable with Your Word
When we are parenting kids that come from hard places it is essential that we are people of our word. They are in the middle of chaos and struggle to trust. There are plenty of adults in their lives so far that have let them down. If you are fostering, these kids have no idea when they will go home. When they try to find out answers to their questions, many answers start with "Maybe...". So as the parent in their world for today you need to be a rock, you need to be trustworthy, and if you can be impeccable with your word, you will reduce the amount of tension in your home as they learn (over lots of time) that you love them.
I often say that our role as foster & adoptive parents is to help these kiddos learn to bond and attach. Our goals for our children and teens is different than our friends and neighbours. We have to start with the basics and provide security and stability. We don't have time to worry about the Food Pyramid of Nutrition or that chores are done on time with diligence. The end result for our kids may not be acceptance to impressive schools and role model lifestyles (although it might be!) but our main goal should simply be that by living with us they learned to love and trust. That's it. One way for this change to occur in their soul, is for them to watch us being impeccable with our word.
If you missed it you may want to check out Roy's recent blog on this topic, Promises.
Second: Don't Take Anything Personally
When we are involved in parenting through foster care or adoption there is often a lot of crap that is thrown in our direction both from the system as well as from our children. Imagine if you could embrace the idea of not taking anything personally. Imagine if you could adopt a stance of peace and calm where you recognize that others are acting out of their own life experience and pain and that the words and actions they are tossing out have nothing to do with you.
In The Four Agreements he says, "As you make a habit of not taking anything personally, you won’t need to place your trust in what others do or say. You will only need to trust yourself to make responsible choices. You are never responsible for the actions of others; you are only responsible for you. When you truly understand this, and refuse to take things personally, you can hardly be hurt by the careless comments or actions of others."
So then, as the caseworker doesn't include you in her decision making, or as the child hurls out a horrible insult, you take a deep breath and decide it isn't about you. These choices have nothing to do with you, but with the history of the individuals involved. Your response is all that you are responsible for. Then, in a place of peace you choose not to emotionally react, but to peaceful respond in a way that helps you accomplish your goals.
This is a tough one for me. This past weekend I was called some very offensive names by one of our kiddos and to be honest part of me was broken by this exchange. But I have come a ways on this journey and the other part of me was able to recognize the names I was called don't have a lot to do with me, but with the pain residing in this kiddo's heart.
Third: Don't Make Assumptions
If you have lived at all in the world of adoption & foster care, right from the beginning you are thrown a lot of curve balls. Just when you think you know the direction your family is taking, it changes. At the beginning there is paperwork and home studies and timelines, and it seems logical, until it isn't. Once you have started parenting you feel like you are on a path and have a strategy for your home, and then it all changes with new goals and behaviours to manage.
Communication is the key. How are you doing with clear and honest communication? With your partner, with your children, with your caseworker? If you can focus energy each day to ensure you are taking the time to ensure that everyone understands your expectations, hopes and limits your day will be more peaceful and enjoyable. Not perfect. But better!
So in this agreement we are challenged to live a more courageous, open and flexible life. We don't assume the journey will go the way we have planned and are open to change. We don't assume we know all the information, but we seek out all we can.
Always Do Your Best
I'm not sure what your motives were for starting out on this journey of foster care or adoption. Maybe you wanted to make a difference in this world. Maybe you wanted to save an orphan. Maybe you wanted to become a parent. But for some of us, as the months and years of parenting have gone by our motives have changed. There are moments and hours where we question our decision to enter this path. We have questioned if we are strong enough to handle the challenges of today.
And with this agreement I will ask you to step up for one more day. I will challenge you that no matter what you are facing, for you to do your best. Learn about your child, listen to their stories and try to understand what is going on behind the behavior. Learn new strategies that can help you improve your parenting. Learn about yourself and your needs and take care of yourself. Always do your best to be the strongest parent you can be.
This doesn't mean our goal is perfection. Far from it. This doesn't mean that we abuse ourselves in order to provide for our children. What this means is that we take our job as trauma parents seriously and we approach it with the level of attention it deserves. If you researched what cribs & diapers would be the best, then you should also strategize and be thoughtful about the parenting choices you will make for tomorrow. Knowing when you put your head on your pillow, that it may not have been perfect, but you tried your best with what you had in you today.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this article. Feel free to email a check in, or schedule a parent coaching session... firstname.lastname@example.org
If you want to dive into this from a Christian perspective, I would encourage you to take some time this week to mediate on the following verses and consider how they could help your parenting:
Be Impeccable with Your Word
Psalm 34 : 12 - 14 Does anyone want to live a life that is long and prosperous? Then keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies! Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it.
Proverbs 12 : 19 Truth lasts; lies are here today, gone tomorrow.
Zechariah 8 : 16 These are the things you should do: Speak the truth to one another. In the courts give real justice—the kind that brings peace.
Ephesians 4 : 25 Finish, then, with lying and tell your neighbour the truth. For we are not separate units but intimately related to each other in Christ.
Don't Take Anything Personally
Leviticus 19:18 Don’t seek revenge or carry a grudge against any of your people. Love your neighbor as yourself. I am God.
Proverbs 19:11 Sensible people control their temper; they earn respect by overlooking wrongs.
Ecclesiastes 7:21-22 Do not pay attention to every word people say, or you may hear your servant cursing you - for you know in your heart that many times you yourself have cursed others.
Ephesians 4:2-3 Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.
1 Peter 2:23 He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly.
Don't Make Assumptions
Proverbs 25:8 Don’t jump to conclusions—there may be a perfectly good explanation for what you just saw.
James 1:19 You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.
John 7:24 Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.
Galatians 5:22-23 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Ephesians 4:32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.
Always Do Your Best
Colossians 3:23-24 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
Proverbs 13:4 Lazy people want much but get little, but those who work hard will prosper.
Galatians 6:9 So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.
1 Corinthians 16:13a-14 Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love.
1 Timothy 4:10 That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.