Last summer, I struggled through anxiety (and possibly depression?) like I had never experienced before. Because I am a teacher, I have the privilege of taking the summer off and getting to relax, recharge, and spend some much-needed time with my kids. But last summer was different. I had become a mom of a pre-teen and teenager pretty quickly. I was learning how to be a trauma-informed parent and was dealing with a lot of anger, meltdowns, and conflict alone as my husband left most days to go to work. For a person who loves to please others and for no one to be angry at me, it was a lot to take in.
I found myself waking up always wondering what kind of disaster would control the day. I felt like I was walking on eggshells, like nothing I was doing was helping, and that the constant time together was absolutely, completely draining me. Many behaviors in my house require supervision at all times. I got to the point where I would get angry when TJ left because it meant that I was going to be alone again. (Which is why I wrote You are Not Alone and God Sees You). I often waited as long as possible to get out of bed because that meant there was less time for everything to blow up.
There were a lot of really amazing and sweet things about last summer, like a daily reliance on Jesus, bonding with my daughter, and a road trip that we will never forget. But it was mostly full of anxiety and depression, which led to dread for what each day would bring, which eventually led to isolation. I remember telling people that I was struggling, but I wasn't completely honest about the extent of the struggle. I was so emotionally exhausted that by the end of the day, I didn't even feel capable of telling anyone about what was happening in my home. I felt like a complete failure.
But in the middle of the depression, anxiety, and fear, I was sowing seeds. I was looking into their eyes and telling them I love them. I was handing out hugs and baking with them and swimming with them. I was reading the Bible with them and establishing routine. I was playing basketball and making their favorite dinners and telling them no and holding them tight when they didn't like it. I gave them my all and saw little to no progress day-by-day. But each night, I retreated to my bedroom and my husband reminded me that all of the love was worth it, even when there were no results, even when it felt like failure.
When I think about becoming a parent to children from hard places, I think of it this way. These children have experienced unthinkable pain and suffering, some of them more than we will ever experience in our entire lifetime. They are carrying a burden that is impossible for them to bear on their own. Foster and adoptive parents love them by carrying some of the burden for them. And while we are carrying their heavy load, Jesus swoops in and carries us. He shows up in the meltdowns. He provides the finances, the patience, and the strength to carry on. He holds us and our kids as we sleep. He answers our prayers in our time of deepest need. We carry our kids' burdens and Jesus carries ours.
Fast forward to COVID-19, and I am seeing hope spring up from the ground as if the seeds laid dormant for six months and are now just starting to peek out and say "hello" to the world. Last summer, I had very little hope that things would ever change in my household, that peace would not return, that respite would not be available for us. And now, God is answering prayers left and right. He is showing me that I can trust Him in dark moments of hopelessness simply because He is present with me in my suffering.
Because of the quarantine for COVID-19, I know that many foster and adoptive parents have to be struggling with the same things that I struggled with last summer, but the problems are exacerbated because of lack of routine and the inability to get a break or date night. There is no doubt in my mind that there are trauma tantrums, meltdowns, boredom, and anger exploding all over foster and adoptive families in the US (and all over the world). My heart aches for you, and I am thinking of you.
I want to tell you this:
1. I am with you. I have been there, and some days, I still am there.
2. God is with you. Run to Him in your time of need. He may not answer your immediate need with your kids, but He will be present with you in your suffering.
3. There is hope. You might blow this off because I certainly did when people told me this. I truly didn't believe that there was. But I am telling you - the work that you are doing in the middle of this crisis, loving vulnerable kids and families - IS WORTH IT, even if you don't see results until heaven. Keep doing the Good Work that God has placed in your home one day at a time.
4. Find something that you can look forward to in your days: a chat with a friend, alone time in your room for 30 minutes, going on a walk, writing, reading, etc. It is important!
5. Go to virtual counseling (or in-person if you can). This has helped me tremendously.
6. Remember that your kids are doing the best they can with what they have been given. Many of their behaviors are fear responses. You can read more about this here.
7. Choose your battles. Find what is really important and work through those things. Leave everything else alone and find as many ways as possible to say "yes."
8. Match them. If they are being overly silly and annoying you, be overly silly with them. Even if you are trying to have a serious conversation, sometimes being silly with them is what can bring them back to the serious.
9. Laugh with them as much as possible. Find a funny video, tickle them, come up with a new way to make them smile.
10. Put something on the calendar during COVID that they can look forward to. I have a simple fun thing for each day on the calendar and an act of kindness. We may not get to them all, but it's better than having nothing planned at all!
As followers of Jesus, we can do this hard thing: loving vulnerable children and their families. It's not too hard for Jesus - nothing is.
Some truth for ya:
1 Peter 3:17-18
Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong! Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit.
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.