We're often advised to not look back. We can fill our Facebook pages with cliches and quotes that encourage us to never look back - you're not going that way! Keep on keepin' on. Look to the future. Today I'm giving all of us on a hard parenting journey permission to look back.
Let's grab a cup of coffee or an afternoon tea while the kids are napping and really look back. You may still be feeling quite overwhelmed on a hard parenting journey, but I believe if you look back to the days when your child first came home, you'll find that you have done a lot right. So get ready for some heavy-handed "pat yourself on the back" moments. You deserve it!
I have met some of the most amazing parents in the world in the adoption/foster care community - loving parents who have sacrificed greatly to help their children heal. Smart, committed men and women who have flown to conferences and bought DVDs, books, and more books to learn about the affects of early harm on the child they adore. Many mothers and a few dads have given up jobs or decided to home school, which they swore they'd never do, to help their child feel safe and have the best chance to grow and learn and make it in life.
And many of these parents after so much effort are still on an excruciating parenting journey with a child from a very hard place. It's grueling at times.
Then here it comes. An epic meltdown over something you have taught more times than you can count. It can feel so frustrating and as if you are not making any progress at all. Why are we still here after so much training, hard work, and sacrifice?
It takes a long time to grow your child a healthier brain. The work you are doing can take weeks, months, and even years. It takes many repeated experiences of feeling safe for our children to learn to trust and build the new neural networks in the brain for self-regulation. And the slightest disappointment or setback can throw everything off and make you feel like you are just spinning your wheels. I know this feeling well, and I see it often in the parents we support. It can cause us to parent from a place of fear, worrying about our child's future and that of our family, instead of parenting from a place of faith.
Today, look at what your child was like one year ago, two years ago, three years ago.... For me, that number is now twenty-three years ago.
How many meltdowns did he have then? How many now?
How long were those meltdowns? How long are they now?
What was it like when you took her to the store or a restaurant? Can you do those things today?
What types of things brought on a meltdown then? Has that changed?
How well did your child express his feelings then? (If he even knew the language.) It may still be messy, but can he now at least tell you he is furious?
How was sleep when she first came home? Can she now sleep in her own bed most nights?
Depending on how long you have been implementing TBRI®, if you're like most parents I know, you have seen a decrease in the frequency, intensity, and duration of difficult behaviors.
Now, look at yourself. I know this may be tougher!
How was your patience before learning to use trust-based strategies? Do people now tell you that you have the patience of Job?
Did you once struggle to stay calm and regulate your voice? How is your tone of voice today? (Most days, anyway!)
Did you view behavior as willful and deliberate before? Can you now take time to look for the need beneath the behavior?
How much did you understand about the developing brain when your child first came home? Can you now look at behaviors as an impairment in the brain's self-regulatory system and an overactive fight, flight, or freeze response?
Looking back has caused Alan and me to realize we have come so far with our son from a hard place. We still have rough moments, but they don't derail us any longer. We can see how far Dane has come and truly mean it when we say we know he will continue to improve. Even as an adult, he can handle situations and disappointments today that a year ago would have caused him to have a verbal outburst.
We don't have to have all the answers for the future, but we can rest knowing that our child is changing and growing and so are we.
And just think... next year we can look back again and that crisis we had today may just be a thing of the past.
What growth do you see in your child and yourself as you look back?
P.S. Don't forget to be grateful for the baby steps.