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The Struggle is Real

Things You Need to Know About MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE

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“I so got this.”

No text message had ever brought so much comfort.

The evening we dropped our kiddo off at Adora was quite possibly the most emotionally contradictory moment I’ve ever had to push through. When my husband and I drove away that night, I was surprised that there were no tears. All the years of trauma and grief that led us to the decision to move our child from our home and place him at Adora – all the days of purchasing supplies in disbelief and saying some goodbyes to family – all the hours spent secretly crying in my bathroom – led me to believe that I would be an absolute wreck as soon as I closed the truck door.

The reality, however, was a shock.

I felt relief. Relief that the drive home would not be spent with our child verbally and physically abusing us. Relief that our dinner meal would not be spent interrupted by food and dishes being thrown in anger. Relief that the hours between 10pm and 6am would not be spent managing, in exhaustion, a child who would not sleep.

And then I felt guilt.

All the questions we’d been asking as we wrestled with sending our child FROM home and TO  Adora came rushing in. I talked to myself with that perpetual, looping, instinctual-to-any-parent dialog, which vacillates between “Have we REALLY tried everything else?” and “You have ABSOLUTELY no other options.”

The endless, juxtaposed thoughts of: “He will never forgive you for this.” and “Even so, he has a chance at a better future.”

“Will he be terrified and sad to sleep tonight?” and “What does it matter? He hasn’t slept in months.”

“What are people outside our inner circle of friends going to think of us?” and “We are so far beyond caring what people think. My child’s health trumps their mindset.”

“What if we have made an unimaginable mistake here?” and “In Whom have you placed your trust after all this time of prayer and seeking wise, compassionate counsel?”

“Have you MET my child? Are you SURE you can handle all the garbage you are about to be given? Surely no other child in your school’s history has met with the likes of this one. You have clearly met your match. You. Have. No. Idea.”

So, when the text message from our child’s House Mom came just as we were ordering dinner, the questions quickly receded and my anxiety decreased. And I chose to believe it.

“This is WHAT you do. This is WHO you are. You HAVE got this.”

It was immensely comforting to receive several updates that evening as our child settled in to play a board game with another student, to attempt to impress others with knowledge about anything and everything, to quickly change out of an outgrown, torn up, smelly pair of “comfortable” shoes into a new pair that he refused to wear just hours earlier. There were comical text messages. There were questions to quickly establish our child’s credibility. “Does your child know Slovakian?” Um. No. Only a handful of words from the back of a work of fiction.

Over and over we have been so touched, impressed, and comforted to bear witness to the amount of knowledge, compassion, and skill the staff at Adora so humbly operate with. And I can say, now that some time had passed, they DO know what they are doing. Each and every challenge my child brought them has been met with wisdom, caring, and even comedy when necessary. Our child is flourishing in the Adora community. Slowly, but surely, we see progress. There IS hope for these kiddos who seem to be so far down a path of destruction. Whose future seems so very impossible.

With genuine hope,

An Adora parent

Courage

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He didn’t come to America until he was eight years old. He lived on the streets in his first country. He saw things no child should see. Ever.

We welcomed him into our home. A bed to sleep on. Food to eat. Books to read. Movies to watch. At first things seemed to be moving in the right direction. Then…

This boy, our son, had no idea how to function in a family. Rotten food hidden in the bedroom. Stealing. Locks on cabinets. Physical fights. Sneaking out of the bedroom at night to find his sister.

How did we get here? How do we love and protect this child while we love and protect the rest of our family?

He is terrified and lives in fight, flight, freeze. We are terrified of his behavior. He must have a safe place to learn skills needed for life in a family. We must heal and learn new skills for helping this boy who has experienced such hard things.

The painful decisions are inconceivable, yet must be made. It takes courage.

Hope for Struggling Teens

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One of our learners struggled this week. Lies. Fighting relationship. Refusing support. None of it easy. The thoughts I put on paper the night before kids arrived are still true today.

“Tonight sleep will not be easy. We are finally beginning again.

Excitement. Anxiety. Hope.

Sadly, for kids who have experienced hard things, hopeful excitement is often missing.

Teens who are dealing with developmental trauma, depression, and anxiety–our students at Adora–are in fear mode. The portion of their brain they use most often is the amygdala.

The amygdala, sometimes called the animal brain, is the survival center of the brain. In order to survive, anxious teens live in fight, flight, freeze, or faint mode.

They arrive in fear mode. They arrive ready to fight. They arrive frozen–giving little or no participation in the activities. Or maybe they don’t arrive; they cut class–flight.

Survival strategies are often visible due to high anxiety, depression, and fear. It looks like defiance. It looks like laziness. It looks like a battleground between adult and teen.

At Adora, we see the anxiety. We see the survival strategies. As a team, we set the boundaries to create safety for our students. Trauma Healing-Based Learning is full of physical activity to help settle brain chemistry and create calm. Gentle voices and soft eyes are practiced by each staff member. Trust and relationship building are key to each activity.

We stay close. We wait. We are present in each moment.

Yes. We are excited about learning. We are even more excited about the relationships we will develop with kids and families. There is struggle. There is anxiety and fear.

Through God’s Law and His Grace, through safety in trusting relationships, teens can find success. Relationships with families can be rebuilt. The Savior can change hearts.”

There is hope!

 

by Gail Prutow

Small Successes

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Parenting a struggling teen is probably the most difficult job in the world. It is so easy to get caught up in power struggles that end almost every interaction with a fight. Before long, you may come to dread interacting with your child, and he or she will dread interacting with you.

This type of chronic negativity often produces feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and depression in both you and your child. Do NOT beat yourself up about this, struggling is a part of parenting. You cannot and will not ever be a perfect parent.

A way to combat chronic negativity is to seek out places for your child to find small success. The goal at Adora is connection. We want to meet learners where they are and always find some way to connect with them. As the first sentence of this post implies, this is an INCREDIBLY difficult task and we are not perfect at accomplishing it.

One of our learners is really struggling right now and all of the staff members are working through the chronic negativity that surrounds interacting with him. This learner is one of many who takes riding lessons at a nearby stable on Saturdays. Last Saturday, while he was waiting for his turn on a horse, this learner helped me unload nearly 5000 lbs of bedding and stack the 50 lb bags neatly in the barn.

One of the main struggles for this learner is being attuned to the needs of others instead of focusing solely on himself. As we unloaded bag after bag he turned into the picture of chivalry, loading my dolly for me, and stacking his bags up high so short little me could stack mine on the lower rows.

You can bet I took this opportunity to praise the heck out of him, I was truly impressed by his selflessness. This was the first truly positive interaction either of us had had in weeks. Both of us left with a sense of accomplishment, some sore muscles, and a feeling of encouragement.

Did this fix any major problems? No. Did it completely turn the child’s behavior around? Nope. But it did give each of us hope that this negative rut wouldn’t last forever. It also gave me a beautiful opportunity to seek connection with a hurting child and him the opportunity to engage in soothing (and exhausting) proprioceptive work.

I know that not everyone has access to a barn and a trailer full of shavings to unload, but some easy ways to connect at home include:

  • Baking and cleaning up
  • Raking leaves
  • Shoveling snow
  • Cleaning the garage
  • Listening to books on tape
  • Rearranging furniture

Whatever you do, do it together.

Small Successes by Sarah Andrews

 

 

Fair Does Not Mean Equal

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Growing up mom would say, “Fair does not mean the same.” Invariably she was saying that my sister and I were different and therefore had different needs.

In order to fairly and lovingly meet our needs, Mom and Dad sometimes had to treat us differently.

In a recent sermon on Matthew 20:1-16 about the laborers in the vineyards my pastor, Mike Morgan, used the illustration of a parent having 7 m&m’s and 2 girls. How does a parent treat both fairly? Pastor Morgan’s solution of giving each girl 3 M&M’s and eating the remainder was met with “that’s not fair” by both children.

His point was we do the same thing to God.

God is extravagantly generous. He doesn’t pay us earned wages of death. He gives us the gift of salvation. In love, He is willing to do what may be labeled as “unfair” by treating us as individuals with different needs. He gives us grace.

As sinful humans, we do not consistently get this message. We begrudge God’s generosity and covet His power to forgive.

Children from hard places can have the same difficulty seeing and recognizing God’s gifts. They have experienced the pain inflicted by the sin of others.

Their defense mechanisms may have outlived their usefulness. Now their defenses only perpetuate more pain for themselves and others. In constantly looking for potential hurts, they may be blind to the many blessings present in their lives.

Adora staff seek to model God’s generous love–to model a love that is not willing to check off boxes. We are unwilling to be mathematically fair and equal. Our work requires us to love in a way that meets the needs of each teen as a unique child of God.

We seek opportunities for the children in our care to learn how to develop and nurture loving, healthy relationships. We pray for God’s healing and restoration.

Just as with m&m’s and labourers in the field, healing and restoration require the understanding necessary to meet the needs of each child.

Not same or equal.

By Dr. Elizabeth Caldwell

Mama Guilt

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Years ago I wrote this in my journal. God used my precious children to draw me back to His mercies and His plan. It is a good reminder again.

I like things I can fix. I like to focus on issues I might somehow be able to control.

My children need just as much of me, my time, and my attention as they did 9 years ago.

Welcome to the heart of a sinful, broken mama. Welcome to the heart of a mama who needs the Gospel everyday—just to get out of bed. Welcome to the heart of a mama who loves her children from hard places desperately.

The note was on my pillow. Wrinkled paper. Precious kindergarten scrawl.

“Doo u luv me? Pla wif me.”

Those seven words put me under. Just like that I was a complete mess. Tears dripping. Thinking back on the last few weeks: a new school year, a new school, a new apartment, 100 new students in and out of my classroom.

Pushing aside the most important children in my life.

I knew it before I saw the note. The weight of it was already crushing me.

I wasn’t the mom I wanted to be. Too tired. So busy. Sarcastic. Unkind. Impatient. Preoccupied. I didn’t take time to sit down and play. Or when I did, I wasn’t really there.

My life. The life of someone who desperately wants to love well and finds failure all around. The life of one who is learning to look hard at the broken places and confess her sin.

I can’t hold it all together even when I try. So, in my tears, I lay it at the feet of my Savior.

God repairs what I’ve broken. He creates hope where there is hopelessness and gives peace when all I feel is defeat.

Then I find the three most beautiful people I know…

…and we play.

 

Mama Guilt
By Gail Prutow

Calm Assertive Parenting

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Parents of troubled teens can learn a lot from working with a unbalanced dog.  Kids who have experienced trauma often function out of their amygdala, also known as the “animal brain,” reacting instead of thinking logically.  All hurting or abused animals function out of this part of the brain, meaning that dogs and kids may exhibit similar behaviors.

Before you stop reading because you think I’m crazy and cold-hearted treating kids like dogs, hear, or rather, read me out.

Our kids are often not able to self-regulate.  We see dis-regulation in depression, anxiety, anger, and other behavioral problems.  Dis-regulated dogs act out with aggression, obsession, destruction, and hyperactivity.  In order to help a dog feel safe, the “pack-leader” must be a self-regulated source of calm, assertive energy. The same is true for a teen to regulate. Their adult must be a source of calm, assertive energy.

Ok, great!  What does that mean?  Merriam-Webster defines calm as a peaceful mental or emotional state, assertive as confident in behavior or style, and energy as a usually positive spiritual force.

So together we have a peaceful, confident, positive force that is shared with others in the way we present ourselves  This is what we must project to troubled teens, especially when they are acting out.

When a child or dog acts out you have three choices with your energy: you can add more anxiety by conforming to the negative energy, you can increase the negative energy by yelling, or you can settle the situation by practicing calm, assertive energy.

To use calm, assertive energy you might get down on the kids’ level, use a relaxed voice, and  whisper.  Your calm will draw them to you. Whispering will bring their energy down.

If you get into a shouting match with your struggling teen, you add tension rather than stabilizing the situation.  Maintaining calm, assertive energy is a skill, and just like any skill, the only way to hone it is to practice, make mistakes, learn, and grow.

If you are looking for an examples of calm, assertive leadership, Jesus is our best example. His energy inspired people to listen, to leave everything, and follow Him.  He did not control people through fear or manipulation. He spoke the truth with gentleness which drew people to Him.

Modern examples include the source of knowledge for this post, Cesar Milan (the Dog Whisperer), Tim Gunn of Project Runway, Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News, Dana Perino, former White House Press Secretary, and Buck Brannaman, the inspiration for “The Horse Whisperer.”

You can see calm, assertive energy in action by watching any of their programs.  I highly recommend watching at least one episode of “The Dog Whisperer” or “Cesar 911” to see calm, assertive leadership at work both with people and dogs.

Sarah Andrews
September 10, 2016