I have always wanted to work with children and teenagers. As I was growing up and beginning to think about what I wanted to be when I grew up, many of the professions I thought about pursuing were all connected to a desire to give to someone, specifically a child or teen, what I was fortunate enough to have. Even at that age, I was able to recognize in many ways, even though maybe not fully, that I had an incredible village raising me and I wanted to be part of that village for other young people and I was pretty sure I’d be good at it too.
While I was in school, specifically in high school, I had some amazing teachers who showed an interest in me. They identified and nurtured gifts they saw within me. As a child growing up, I was blessed to be part of a wonderful congregation and youth ministry. It was filled with attentive adults and pastors who choose to love and care for me even though I was not their own child. And soccer was always a very important part of my life from the age of 5 through college. In that time, as a player, I had a handful of very impactful coaches who encouraged me to be more confident and be a leader on and off the field.
Well, to prove I meant what I said: In college I majored in secondary education and math with the intention to teach high school. I adored my time student teaching, connecting with students, encouraging them in their successes and working through their struggles. I still think I would love to be in the classroom at some point. Throughout college I worked as a summer camp counselor at a Lutheran camp and after college I served for 6 years working with children and youth in a congregational setting. I was able to be that adult in a child and teenager’s life who wasn’t their parent but wanted to be part of their life and love them even through the quirky awkward phases. And during college and even afterwards, I have had wonderful opportunities to coach elementary aged children all the way through high school. I got to help push players to a level they did not know they could reach. To ask more of them in a way that helped them become more confident and stronger leaders on their teams.
Working with kids is my jam. I have always thought it was a gift of mine to be able to connect and care genuinely for young people and the places they are in life. It is something that has come naturally to me. So, I’m not going to lie, I really thought that moving into being foster parents, while I definitely knew it wasn’t going to be easy, I did genuinely think it was going to come naturally to me.
But, in short: I was wrong.
It is difficult to admit that this is really hard. It is difficult to confess that some days I completely miss the mark. It is difficult and very humbling to share that I’m totally not a natural at this.
My schooling and work experiences interacting with children and teens has not necessarily prepared me to work with children who have come from hard places. Being “trauma informed” is not something that has come naturally to me. What is natural for me is to care for and parent like my parents parented me. And do not get me wrong, I am so lucky to have INCREDIBLE parents. I mean seriously, they are top notch! Unknowingly to me, as they were (and still are) parenting me, they were (and still are) adding to my mom tool-belt that has served me not only in having a child of my own but throughout all of my work with young people. Parenting like them is what comes naturally. But what I have had to realize with D is that I cannot parent him the same way I was parented. I cannot parent D the same way I parent RA. It is not because my parents did anything wrong. Nor is it just because D and RA are different children, or because he is a boy and she’s a girl, or because he’s 11 and she’s 2. It is way deeper than that. It must be different if I want it to be effective.
Children who have experienced trauma, whatever it may have been, cannot be parented the same way as a child you nourished in the womb, birthed, nursed, held, cuddled, and loved-on every day of their lives. That time with a biological child is so important to their brain development, to building their ability to connect and trust, to learning that there is someone in this world who comes when they cry and loves them unconditionally. It is an incredible bond that is formed in that time. Every interaction with D has the potential to be an intentional moment to create opportunities to connect, bond, and to build that trust that was not able to happen between us and him during his earliest years of life.
Being trauma informed was not something I even knew existed before entering the world of child welfare, BUT for those teams I coached, those students in my classroom, and for those youth at the church, I KNOW I would have been better at my job if I had been. If lessons and courses about being trauma informed was something I was taught in my college education classes or something required for working with youth, I would have been a better part of their village. Even if you have no interest in foster care, but you have the potential to interact with children who have experienced any sort of trauma, it would be a blessing to you and those children and teens for you to learn more.
If you’re interested, and want to be a better part of children and teen’s villages, this month, Thornwell is offering their annual Foster Care Conference virtually. You can sign up for FREE and access some incredible videos that would be a great start to learning more about children who have experienced trauma, how their brain operates differently, and how we, as part of their village, can best support them. Please check it out!
So, of course I cannot parent D like my parents parented me. I am having to find a new “natural.” I’m having to learn a new way of how to best talk with and connect with a child that I didn’t have the honor and blessing to carry, to birth, to nurse, to cuddle and to spoil with attention. It is hard. I do not like not being good at it all the time. But it is so worth it. Those moments when you see it working are worth all the frustration, tears, and doubt. I can’t go back and change anything about the leader I have been in hopes of giving to other children and teens what I was fortunate enough to have, but I can learn going forward, and I can share what I’ve learned with others in hopes of creating stronger communities surrounding these precious children God has entrusted us to care for! Let us care together!