Parenting hurt kids is rewarding, but it is hard. It can be isolating and lonely. Even people I thought would understand, haven’t always. Even the parent of an older, internationally adopted child once told me, “You and your friends scare me.” I don’t know about how you handle things emotionally, but that didn’t slide off my back without cutting my heart deeply along the way.
Still, I believe most people want to support families who are raising hurt kids. They just don’t know what to do or say. They don’t know when to step up, or when to step back. Some think they know better, even though they’ve never walked in these shoes. (They’re never helpful.) Some walk in similar shoes but only want to draw close when they themselves are hurting.
Through the last five or six years, I’ve come to know a lot of trauma mamas who are raising hurt kids. Sometimes they’re supporting me or others; sometimes they need support themselves. I'm friends with a mama that is hurting SO much right now. I've dealt with some things recently and am doing well, but when I'm not, I wish someone - SOME ONE - could hear my heart, too. I’ve heard several things, from hurting mamas - over-and-over again - things that parents of hurt kids wish to God would happen, so they might not feel so alone. My friend is voicing some of these things now. This list is not meant as a personal groan session. It is genuinely put "out there" to tell people who care what we wish we could say in those lowest of times. Here are ten things I've heard (and sometimes felt) most often:
1. When you ask how a trauma mama is doing, and she says, “Okay,” but she doesn’t sound all that enthusiastic about it, tell her to “quit joshing” and tell you the truth. Then, be ready to hear it, without judgment, and without trying to “fix” it if you don’t know anything about it. And PLEASE don’t say, “You need some time away.” Most trauma mamas already know that, but trying to actually get away is nearly impossible. When we do, we usually have hell to pay when we get back home, because we left our traumatized kid and they’re triggered beyond triggered by the “abandonment.”
2. When we say we’re sleep deprived, please say something like, “I’m sorry. I can see in your eyes that you’re tired.” Don’t tell us you know "just what we're talking about" because you stayed up to watch a movie and have some fun, and then you couldn’t sleep because it was so exciting. We can’t sleep because our minds won’t turn off thinking about the misery our children are in and the trouble they've gotten into, and because we're also listening to see if our kids are getting up and trying to sneak around to do something they're not supposed to do.
3. When we ask you to pray for us, take the two minutes and do it, right then and there. On the spot. And give your trauma mama friend a hug.
4. If she is less than kind to you, or if she should happen to snap at you one day, and you know that it’s not like her to do that, please don’t hold it against her. Hold her accountable, but recognize she's hurting and without any reserve in that moment. Try not to snap back. Don't say hurtful things in return. Whatever you do, please don’t push her away. Reach out to her. She needs you more then than ever. Be there for her, especially if she's been there for you when you've hurt. She knows you’re tired and beat down. But, she's tired, too. She's beat down, too. She's prayed, but she couldn’t find her joy in that moment. It might feel like you’re hugging a porcupine, but none of us is all that cuddly ALL the time, including you.
5. Parents of traumatized/attachment disordered (or still attaching) kids need friends who don’t hug their kids, don’t let them sit on their laps, don’t pick them up, don’t give them gifts, don’t say “I wish you could come live with me,” don’t invite them on outings or to their house without talking to us first, and don’t believe everything that comes out of our kids’ mouths without checking it out – especially if they’re saying something about us that seems “off” in any way. Attachment disordered kids are masters at triangulating adults. They may tell you we said something negative about you, when we never even thought it, let alone said it. Attachment disordered kids often "shop" for new and improved versions of parents (usually those with more money who could give them more “stuff”). Some of them can come up with pretty horrible stories about their parents that just are not true. Again, please don't jump to conclusions. Most of our kids still need time to learn what it means to be a family, what appropriate affection means, and that Mommy IS their mother and Daddy IS their father.
6. No matter what the situation, remember the parents are the ones who should be in charge of their children. They know their children best. Do not lump a traumatized/attachment disordered child into the “all kids” category. Do not say, “But all kids do that.” Not “all kids” have the same motivations as traumatized kids. Allow experienced therapeutic parents to teach you some new skills and knowledge. We don’t know it all, but neither do you (even if you are a teacher, or a parent, or a grandparent, or a therapist).
7. Surprise us by bringing us a healthy, but kid-friendly meal. Call a few hours in advance so your trauma mama friend doesn't drag herself to the grocery store, trying to figure out what she can throw together for dinner while dealing with a triggered child. (See #1-4 above.)
8. Love her. Just be there. Take her out for coffee while the kids are in school. (She'll even pay her own way.) Talk about the garden you’re planning and get her mind off things at home – or just listen if she needs that. Again, listen without judgment -- without trying to fix anything. And pray for her then and there, too.
9. When you have a question, talk to her privately. Do not ask her about a concern, or if her child can do something with you, go somewhere with your family, or have a gift from you (even a piece of candy) in front of the child. This does not matter if they are 3, 6, 13, or 16.
10. Remind her when things are tough that her child CAME TO HER this way. She did not do anything to hurt her child. Remind her that God is near the brokenhearted and He does not bruise the tender reed. Remind her, without judgment in your voice, that she loves her child and he loves her as best he can. Tell her you love her, too. Remind her God loves her especially.