“Broken” is a prevalent term in foster and adoption circles. We think that when we label children from trauma as being “broken,” it’s a soft way of saying they’ve been hurt. “Broken” is also a label we put on the home environments our children have come from. Even more prevalent is the way we describe the entities that govern foster and orphaned children: “The system is so broken.” While we often talk about the brokenness of kids and systems, we are less apt to talk about the brokenness in ourselves as we parent children from trauma.
Dr. Karyn Purvis, author of The Connected Child, coined the phrase “children from hard places” as a way to describe foster and adopted kids. When we decide to bring these children into our home, we have great intentions, we “feel the call,” and/or we just “want to give a child a home who needs one.” So, we enter this unusual parenting journey with an attitude of one who is a fixer, healer, or, even in some cases, hero.
Interestingly enough, such attitudes set us up for failure in our parenting efforts. When we approach our children with this attitude of savior, we are doing them a disservice. We have put ourselves up on a pedestal as the hero, and they look to us as having achieved a standard they can never reach.
I’d like to suggest a different approach as we parent our children from hard places. If we can seek to connect to them as fellow humans with brokenness of our own, the self-righteousness fades and we become much more approachable to our hurting kids. Time and again I’ve seen healing occur faster when parents humble themselves on this journey. When they address their own past, hurts, and struggles, and when they approach their children as fellow sojourners on path of life, connection happens faster then when these children see their parents with mythical superhuman abilities. And what does connection do? It fosters healing.
In the book of Hebrews, the author talks about a priest who was able to “deal gently with those who are ignorant and going astray” (Hebrews 5:2) because he was aware of his own weaknesses. As we parent our children, are we dealing gently with their “broken” behavior as fellow human being struggling with our own brokenness, or are we approaching them as the unbroken one in the relationship?
Mark Gregston, author and executive director of Heartlight, a treatment center for adolescents in crisis, has this to say about imperfect parenting in his devotional called Parenting Today’s Teens:
“You can help your child through the process of realizing that you aren’t perfect. Dad isn’t Superman, and Mom isn’t Wonder Woman. If you’re like me, you’re far from ideal! Admitting the truth won’t destroy your child’s concept of who are are as a parent or damage your relationship with him. In fact, it can bring you closer together. And it will probably affirm what he already knows anyway. Nobody’s perfect! When you’re up front about your imperfections, you help your teen feel a little more comfortable in his own skin. His world is filled with voices that remind him every day how imperfect he is. You can teach him by example how to have a confident but realistic assessment of himself. Being imperfect is okay. In fact, when your teen sees you making it in life even though you’re not perfect, he will have a good reason to believe he can make it too – without trying to attain to an ideal he’ll never reach this side of heaven.”
While we all want our children to think of us as heroes, it’s important for them to know that no hero is perfect, and neither are you. Encourage them to think of you as an imperfect hero with broken areas in your own life. This could be one of the more important lessons to teach your child. Doing so just might create a superhero-sized connection between the two of you.