Self-care should be a vital part of everyone’s routine, but it is too frequently overlooked. Maybe it’s because it sounds selfish, but you cannot parent your kids well if you are constantly stressed. I was recently invited to speak to a group of Child Protective Services case workers in Houston on the topic of secondary traumatic stress and why self-care is so important. Take a listen below.
The 2017 Tapestry Conference will be held October 20-21 at Irving Bible Church. Come learn from Dr. Curt Thompson as he teaches on the Soul of Shame. Examine how shame keeps us from being engaged in relationships and community. Learn how to retell the stories we believe about ourselves.
Early bird registration for the 2017 Tapestry Conference is NOW OPEN. Register at http://bit.ly/TapCon17 and use TAPCON20EB for 20% off.
School’s out for the summer, it’s a holiday weekend, so I thought I’d share some of my favorite books with you. Each one of these has changed the way I look at the world and has impacted how I understand myself and my family. In short, each of these books has changed the way I relate to people and how I parent my kids. If you’re looking for some must-read book this summer, I highly recommend these books.
The Connected Child (Purvis, Cross, Sunshine)
No surprise here. Most of you have probably read this book, but if you’re like me you should read it every summer. The Connected Child introduced us to connected parenting and was the on ramp for us getting involved with Tapestry and Empowered to Connect. The Connected Child opened my eyes to many things by offering me some context in ways that other resources had not. I learned that trust is built through healthy relationships, that I need to connect before I correct, and that I need to see my children with eyes of compassion. I learned that nutrition, hydration, and sleep play an important part in setting my child up for success, I learned that I need to understand and meet their sensory needs. The Connected Child helped me understand that my kids can heal.
The Whole-Brain Child (Siegel, Bryson)
Siegel and Bryson have an ability to translate complex scientific things into words that the rest of us can understand. This is an easy read, especially considering that it is a book about neuroscience. Almost all of us can explain the difference between the left brain and right brain, but fewer can explain the differences between the downstairs brain and upstairs brain; the emotional brain and the logical brain. This book helped me learn about the upstairs brain and downstairs brain. A game changer at our house. In my opinion, there are only three types of people who should read this book; people who have kids, people who work with others who were once kids, and people who were once kids themselves.
Anatomy of the Soul (Thompson)
Anatomy of the Soul is a deep book. I remember the first time I read it…I had to read it twice. I would read a page and then have to re-read it immediately just to understand the content. But, don’t be intimidated this is an amazing book. Curt Thompson weaves science and faith together in a way that helps us practice mindfulness, understand attachment, and make sense of our past. Dan Siegel says that Anatomy of the Soul “offers an illuminating journey through the Bible and the brain that has profoundly practical implications for how to live our lives more fully.”
Daring Greatly (Brown)
Kayla and I listened to Daring Greatly together on a road trip last year, and I highly recommend that you read it with your spouse if you are married. Brene Brown communicates things that we all feel and experience, but find difficult to communicate. This book allowed us to have empathy on a level that we hadn’t previously had for each other. Being vulnerable allows us to experience intimacy in relationships the way we need to. Unfortunately for most of us, we have learned to build walls and how to be defensive instead of being vulnerable. We spend our time avoiding being hurt when we should spend our time being completely available to each other. The key to life-transforming relationships is deciding to be vulnerable with those you love. Daring Greatly is a must read.
The Body Keeps The Score (Van Der Kolk)
This is a foundational book for those who what to understand trauma and how it impacts people. Everyone parenting or working with kids should read this book. Everyone trying to understand their own histories and the impact of those histories should read this book. Understanding that the body remembers what the mind forgets was transformative for me. Watch me telling a story about it HERE. Resolving trauma requires us to understand it and experience it emotionally. The Body Keeps Score sends phrases like “you’ve got to just get past this and move on” and “time heals all wounds” to their rightful place of superficial advice. This book may help you understand why trips to Chuck-e-Cheese don’t go well and the good thing you planned wasn’t.
I hope that you enjoy reading and learning from these books. Each one of them has been transformative for us in understanding our kids and ourselves better.
I was invited to speak at the Florida Foster and Adoptive Parent Association Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida in June. It is always a special privilege to share with families who are in the trenches. I love meeting them, hearing their stories, and being able to share information and experiences that can help them on their journey of hope and healing. I find it easy to be vulnerable with like minded people. I feel like I want to open up to them, honestly, it’s very therapeutic. Perhaps that is what I ultimately like about having the opportunity to speak at events like this one.
But this isn’t about my time in Orlando at the conference. No, this is about my flight home.
The pilot made two announcements before we left the gate; “Our flight is completely full today” and “It’s probably going to be bumpy as we climb out.” I assume that both of those announcements are made on every flight leaving Orlando in the month of June. It is where Mickey Mouse lives after all and afternoon thunderstorms are a daily occurrence in central Florida.
Soon after that we left the gate and started our journey home. We spent the first fifteen minutes in the air either turning left or right. At no point did it seem like we were flying in a straight line until we were above the clouds because the pilot was navigating the rough air so that we didn’t have to experience the turbulence. He was cutting a path between the clouds to give us the smoothest ride possible. The climb out of Orlando reminded me that someone who is gifted and skilled can masterfully navigate the skies and avoid the turbulent air.
The first 15 minutes of that flight got me thinking that being a parent is a lot like being a pilot. They are both leadership exercises.Being a parent is a lot like being a pilot. They are both leadership exercises. Click To Tweet
They are both leadership exercises because:
- You have to be equipped to do your job
- You are responsible for everyone on your “airplane”
- You have to navigate the turbulent air
You have to be equipped to do your job
Our pilot didn’t just climb into the cockpit and fly the plane one day. He is a highly trained and experienced person. He did the work necessary to do his job well. He made the investment in himself (and by extension in all of us sitting behind him) to do his job with the skill required.
But training by itself is not enough. He needed the right kind of training. Pilots need to be trained in the principles of flight. Not just flying a plane.
Parents who are raising children with trauma histories need to be trained in trauma. They need to understand the risk factors that make a hard place. They need to understand how that trauma impacts the brain, body, biology, beliefs, and behavior of their child. They need to understand how their kids respond to fear. Understanding these things is vital to your ability to navigate the skies.
We all accept that athletes need a coach and they need to practice so that they can be at their best. Yet, many parents are reluctant to accept that they need a coach or need to practice to be at their best. I doubt that many (if any) of them would fly on an airplane piloted by someone who is neither trained nor experienced.
You are responsible for everyone on your “airplane”
Pilot or parent, like it or not, you are responsible for everyone on your airplane. That’s what you signed up for. We cannot expect our children to have the tools necessary to self-regulate, take responsibility for their actions, or repair their mistakes. We have to show them how. We have to lead them on their healing journey. We have to model these things for them. Dr. Purvis used to say that unless you taught your child how to do something, you should assume that they don’t know how to do it.
As parents, we know that we are responsible for our families, but that responsibility extends way beyond food, shelter, and clothing. We are responsible for their emotional development and relational healing. Adoptive and foster parents have to heal wounds we didn’t inflict and redeem ground we didn’t lose. This is a foundational reality that we have to embrace about parenting kids with trauma histories. This is how we take responsibility for those behind us on our airplane.
You have to navigate the turbulent air
This means two things. We need to find a way to avoid the turbulent air if we can, and since that isn’t always possible, we need to know how to navigate safely back to smooth air when we find ourselves in turbulent air.
I would suggest that there are two ways to do that. One is to be equipped for the journey by getting that training we need in order to understand our kid’s histories. The second way is to become the world’s leading experts in our children. Since being equipped was addressed earlier I won’t repeat it here, I’ll focus on becoming an expert on who your child is.We must become the world’s leading experts in our children. Click To Tweet
I can’t overstate this point, we need to know who our kids are in order to be the agents of healing they need us to be. We need to know their triggers, their hurts, and their hangups. We need to know how much sleep they need, how frequently they need nutrition and hydration. We need to know their allergies and their reactions to foods and stressors. We need to know what helps them regulate and what we need to do to re-integrate their upstairs and downstairs brains. We can’t navigate the turbulent air if we don’t know these things.
It’s a matter of trust
The pilot made another announcement about 90 minutes into the flight; “Folks, I’m going to turn the seat belt sign on again as it’s getting bumpy, but don’t worry we’ll do our best to find some smooth air for you.” I had no anxiety when he made that announcement. I had complete faith that he would do what he said because he had proven that he could find the smooth air when we started the journey. He had already demonstrated his ability to navigate the skies. That’s how trust is established, you prove that you are up to the task. You lead those you are responsible for to a better place. You show your kids how when they don’t know how. We can’t always avoid the turbulence, but we can do our best to find the smooth air. We have to, our kids are depending on us.That’s how trust is established, you prove that you are up to the task. Click To Tweet
Just in case you were wondering, the seat belt sign was turned off 20 minutes later when we found ourselves back in the clean air.
My thanks to Captain Chuck Oltman (pictured below) for the safe, smooth flight home.
There is a great parenting strategy I think we should all subscribe to; don’t remove a coping mechanism or survival strategy from a child unless you have something better to replace it with. Don’t create a vacuum if you are not prepared to fill it. Vacuums by definition cannot remain unfilled. If you’re not equipped to replace your child’s survival strategy with something that helps them, don’t take the strategy away. Let them keep it until you can help them because if you don’t they will develop another coping strategy.Don’t remove a survival strategy from a child unless you can replace it. Click To Tweet
I recently presented at a conference for adoptive and foster parents. My assigned topic; Building Healthy Relationships and Boundaries with Your Biological Relatives. I was excited when the topic was first assigned to me. There are many books on the subject of boundaries, so preparation should have been easy, except that I couldn’t find many on the subject on healthy boundaries with biological relatives for adoptive and foster families. And so I encountered a challenge immediately; I’d have to confront my own issues and experiences to do the topic justice.
Boundaries are interesting and most people are reluctant to establish them, but Brene Brown reminds us that “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” So much wisdom and beauty in her words, but to get to the place she suggests requires effort and intentionality.“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk… Click To Tweet
Remember The Alamo
What images come to mind when you think of Texas? Most of us think of cowboy hats, horses, longhorn steer, the Dallas Cowboys, JR Ewing, oil fields, and of course The Alamo. So much of Texas is tied to the events that took place there in 1836. Colonel William Barett Travis was the commander at the mission during the Battle of The Alamo (February 23 – March 6, 1836). He wrote a letter on the second day of the battle (February 24) To the People of Texas & All Americans in the World asking for reinforcements during the siege which he famously signed “Victory or death”.
One the penultimate day of the battle (March 5) he drew a line in the sand between him and his men and said, “I now want every man who is determined to stay here and die with me to come across this line.” All but one of his men stepped across the line.
How many times have you drawn a line in the sand when something far less drastic would have been sufficient?
We all too often embrace our inner William B. Travis when it comes to boundaries in our relationships. We need to remember that a boundary and a line in the sand are not the same things. Victory or death is rarely a healthy posture in relationships. It’s important to remember that boundaries and ultimatums are not the same things. If we don’t, our recognition that most relationships don’t require ultimatums will manifest itself as an unwillingness to establish healthy boundaries. Once you draw a line in the sand you remove most of your ability to be flexible. That’s a problem because flexibility is more than a friend, it’s your ally.Once you draw a line in the sand you remove most of your ability to be flexible. Click To Tweet
Just another brick in the wall
Let’s face it, none of us had the unconditional support of our “people” when we decided to grow our families the way we did. I can’t remember many (if any) stories of extended family and friends rejoicing at the news that there were plans to adopt or foster. This was an issue for us for a long time until we realized that no one dreams of becoming a grandparent through adoption, and no one hoped to become a foster grandparent. So we have to give them the grace we want for ourselves.
But we also have to recognize that there are some hurts associated with our decision to adopt or foster, many which stem from the (real or perceived) lack of support we received from those close to us. And those hurts manifest themselves when it comes to establishing healthy boundaries. We need to make sure that we don’t build walls in the name of healthy boundaries. Yes, a wall is a boundary, but it is rarely the best relational boundary.
Healthy boundaries are necessary for healthy relationships
One of the hallmarks of a healthy relationship is the presence of healthy boundaries. They can be difficult but are necessary for relationships to grow and develop. We all agree that people should not be able to say what they want, do what they want, have unrestricted access, etc. in a healthy relationship. The problem is that most of us can easily see that for others and not for ourselves. Adoption and foster care requires us to see the need for healthy relationships not only for ourselves but for our kids too.
So, why am I so convinced that boundaries are healthy? Because God is the one who established boundaries. Creation is an ordered environment because of the boundaries that He established. I won’t get into details about the life of Job in this post (you can read a summary of the book of Job HERE) but God speaks to him starting in Chapter 38. And the first thing He addresses with Job is boundaries, specifically those in the physical world.
Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much. Who determined its dimensions and stretched out the surveying line? What supports its foundations, and who laid its cornerstone as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? Who kept the sea inside its boundaries as it burst from the womb, and as I clothed it with clouds and wrapped it in thick darkness? For I locked it behind barred gates, limiting its shores. I said, ‘This far and no farther will you come. Here your proud waves must stop!’ – Job 38:4-11
We learn from that text that boundaries are created to keep order and for our protection. Imagine a world where the ocean has no limit; a world where He didn’t say “Here your proud waves must stop!” I don’t think we want to imagine that world because I’m yet to hear of the person who looks forward to a flood.
So Why Can’t We Establish Healthy Boundaries?
The past affects the future but does not have to determine it is something I firmly believe. Stated another way, your history brought you to where you are but does not have to decide where you go. Coming to terms with why we do what we do is a crucial part of being a connected parent.Your history brought you to where you are but does not have to decide where you go. Click To Tweet
Most of us learn two lessons from our parents; how to do things and how to not do things. This reality will inform our ability and desire to set healthy boundaries…or not. If you had emotionally unavailable parents growing up (I won’t get into attachment styles here) one of two things happened, you set out on a quest to gain their approval, or you lost interest in trying to get their approval and stopped trying. Neither of those positions will allow you to set healthy boundaries. If you are still seeking approval you won’t risk upsetting your family so you won’t establish. If you gave up on gaining approval you’ll build a wall every time a boundary needs to be established.
Here’s an example, your kids don’t do well with unannounced guests, but you have family close by. You have three options. One, say nothing and let them come over unannounced whenever they please. That’s not good because you placed their feelings above your kids. Two, you can tell them that they may only come over when invited. That’s unnecessarily harsh. Or three, tell them that they need to let you know if they are coming over before they head over. For those who don’t respect boundaries, only option one will work for them, but that doesn’t mean that you need to take that option.
Do It for the Kids
So why should we work to establish healthy boundaries? Why should we do the hard work necessary to come to terms with who we are? Simple really, we have children. The day we welcomed our kids home we promised them that we would protect their story. Some of the most difficult boundaries we had to draw were related to our kid’s stories. There are details that we know but are their privilege to share. There are times when that simple truth wasn’t so simple to communicate because people feel like you are shutting them out if you don’t share everything. That is simply not true, our kids need us to stand our ground for them.
That does not mean that we can shut people out. We have to explain why the boundary needs to be established. Those we are in relationship with deserve to know why we have established a boundary. Explaining the need behind your decision will go a long way to building a healthy relationship even when boundaries are necessary.
One of the promises we made to our kids the day they came home is that we would serve as the guardians of their story until they were at a place where they could do it for themselves. That’s our responsibility
That Sounds Good, But What Now?
Establishing healthy boundaries gives you an opportunity to practice you connected parenting skills. This is an opportunity to practice outside of the moment if you need to. This is an opportunity to find your voice. This is an opportunity to give choices. This is an opportunity to compromise. This is an opportunity to grow.
Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
An essential component of being a connected parent is coming to terms with our histories and doing the hard work necessary to make sense of the past. Our stuff can’t get in the way of us being the people our kids need us to be. We can’t be fully present if there are things from back then that keep us from being here now. Our histories cannot be chains that bind us.
This is a clip of me sharing how I worked through something from my childhood that I wasn’t aware of for 35 years, and how it allowed me to be fully present when my daughter needed me.
To be an effective agent of healing in your child’s life you will need to understand their history and come to terms with your past. Both are necessary.
One of the most important things we’ve learned as parents is the difference between being safe and feeling safe. For many years we thought that they were the same thing, but we have come to understand and live the difference. Our kids need us to create an environment of felt safety for them. It is an essential part of their healing.
In order to create an environment of felt safety we need to:
- Be active in our own healing
- Examine our lives and start to process our hurts and hang-ups
- Realize what our triggers are
- Own our stuff
But that is not enough. We need to practice mindfulness in the following areas:
- How we speak to our kids
- Our non-verbal communication
- Our emotional health
As participants in the Empowered to Connect Parent Training, you will be equipped with a holistic understanding of your child’s needs and development while empowering you with the tools and strategies to effectively meet those needs, build trust, and help your child heal and grow.
The training is taught from a Christian perspective and focuses on a wide range of topics and relevant issues, including helping you understand the impact of your child’s history, what you bring to the parent-child relationship, the fundamentals of attachment, the impact of fear, and the importance of meeting your child’s sensory processing, nutritional and other physiological needs.
If would like to participate in our Spring semester training, you can get more information as well as a registration link HERE. Visit www.empoweredtoconnect.org for helpful resources that you can use starting today.