Remember that moment in the big box store when you realized the “honeymoon” was over as you (and everyone else in Aisle 7) watched the precious child you’d been fostering have all their big feelings erupt in a huge melt-down? It’s not uncommon for those eruptions to come again (and again) when that same precious child enters a new stage of development, especially adolescence and pre-adolescence. Instead of the big box store, these later stage behavior challenges usually erupt first at home. Communication breaks down and more big feelings surface. The child and other family members can easily get caught up in a “fight, flight or freeze” cycle that impacts the emotional and even physical well-being of everyone.
Many parents discover that tried and true parenting tools and resources are ineffective. At some point, that precious child may refuse any boundaries. As one sibling said, “I never knew saying no to that boundary was even an option!” Parents seek help from mental health, school and spiritual professionals and then seek higher levels of treatment. Nothing seems to work. Daily calls from the school. Hospitalization and even police visits occur. Answers and resources that work are hard to find.
While the resources for healing will be different for every child, there are some things you can do as a parent as you go through this turbulent, scary time. The same things you leaned into as a new foster or kinship parent can help you in this new situation, but you may need to lean even harder.
Prayer. Activate your prayer warriors. For me, it was my mom and a small group of other mothers who had struggling teens. These women prayed when I was so tired and fearful that I could hardly utter an amen. Ask God to show you a Scripture verse to pray over your child, write out your prayer as well as a gratitude list. When worry and stress keep you up at night, read your prayer and review your gratitude list. Listening to audio Psalms and even whispered prayers of desperation can calm your soul and usher God’s healing presence into your family.
Safety. Consider what each family member needs to be physically and emotionally safe. That includes you! Do you need to re-think sleep or play space? Can one or more children stay temporarily with a friend or family member? Can your work schedule flex to provide more adult or two-adult supervision? Does every family member have a safe person to talk with about concerns and feelings? Is out-of-home mental health care needed?
Connections. When family life is in chaos, it’s tempting to isolate from family, friends and services. Isolation is the enemy. It separates you from prayer warriors, safety, services and resources. Email or call Project1.27. We won’t have all the answers, but we will listen, pray, brainstorm and work to connect you with resources. Reach out to your foster and adoption community. Push your school, medical and mental health professionals for higher level resources. If you don’t hear back, call again.
Connections, part 2. Look for opportunities to connect in positive ways with your spouse and all your kids. For kids, join them in favorite activities. If it’s basketball, shoot some hoops. If it’s dancing, film a silly video. If it’s music, even music that’s not your favorite, listen together. For your spouse, find places of agreement, and utilize friends to provide childcare so you can get away for a few hours. For your precious, struggling child, write a note or text reminding her of her strengths or stop for a shake after therapy. Even when she doesn’t respond, keep offering connection.
Grappling with Grief and Guilt. Acknowledge that this is not the family life you dreamed about. Write down what you are grieving – maybe its family game nights, cheering at a school awards ceremony or visiting possible colleges. Acknowledge what is good like a big hug after school or bedtime conversations Grapple with your guilt. Remember the QTIP – Quit Taking It Personally. Those big emotions may be directed at you, but they are not about you. Let go of guilt.
Wait. This is perhaps the hardest part. When you’ve leaned hard into prayer, creating safety, making connections and grappling with grief and guilt and nothing’s changed or the change you see is for the worse. Wait. God is working. Lean into God’s promises. (Click here for God’s Promises for the Wait)
Written By Shelly Radic
Project 1.27 President