Originally Written in 2012
by M. Russell Thomas, PhD
May, 2012. I sit down to write this blog today having attempted to do so many times this weekend. To say that our 3 new children have created a new environment around our house is like saying Bill Gates is rich...it just doesn't do the situation justice! Its been a stretch and at my age stretching can be painful! But in the midst of our chaos has been strength, new wisdom, an increase in my and Karen's communication, and even revelation moments. I'd like to take a moment and share one of those moments.
Our new children are energetic, cute, lovable and exploratory. Unfortunately, their energy often couples with their lack of understanding of boundaries, limits and respect for others, creating frequent meltdowns, chaos and crisis. Their history of neglect and multiple placements lends itself to a plethora of issues including a very limited understanding of boundaries, not to mention, basic issues of trust and safety. I will be writing more as a psychologist on my website in the future (www.simplesolutions4.com) about some of these issues, but for now, I write as a parent along with Karen to try describe what its been like to parent these 3 children over the past few weeks.
One of the things that I noticed earlier this week was my response to the children's behavior. Let me be more descriptive for just a second about the behavior we have encountered. Entering other's rooms without permission or knocking, taking toys/objects from each other via snatching them out of their hands, ignoring or objecting to parental directives, not eating, not going to bed, bossy or demanding behavior, objecting to dress, objecting to directives, and saying inappropriate words that we do not allow in our home are just a few of the behaviors we've encountered. Now mind you, its not that we expected perfection and its not that we consider them "bad" children in the slightest, but their general level of socialization, or lack thereof, often prompts strong, intense responses from Karen & me. We noted a major difference in the responses of our 11-year-old to us, who we have had since day one, compared to the three children we now have. Our 11-year-old responds to us because he understands our love and commitment to him. In other words, we have relationship with him. The grafted 3 have no experience base with such a relationship. They do not respond to our voice because they do not yet have a safe, secure, trusting relationship with us. And when you don't have relationship, the tendency is to go into judicial mode with them. That is, just start making rules in order to contain or shape behavior.
God had the same problem with His children and the result was the Torah, or law. In essence, God was saying "Let me set the standard for behavior but it won't be enough. It won't heal your heart and it won't restore you to me." We have experienced a similar "laying down of the law". I wish I had a nickel for every time we've said, "We got a new rule...no swan diving off the kitchen table! No putting mac & cheese in your brother's ear! No interrupting while someone is talking!" And on and on the list goes. It is behavioral management by law. Its Parenting 1.0, i.e., parenting kids by the Old Testament. We are beginning to understand that, while it may give some semblance of order in our home, it won't be enough to heal their bruised hearts and calm their deepest anxieties.
But understand that these Old Testament kids are not there by their own choosing. Shelters, foster cares, temporary placements, even school, all have their rules. If you're a child going from place to place, you're not learning to love a person, you're simply learning to play by the house rules. There is no attachment, no loving oversite, no comfort when hurting...just rules to follow. And following rules is everything. It gets you TV time, trips to McDonald's, and maybe an occasional kudo from the case worker...but it doesn’t touch the soul! The need for love, care, attachment and belonging go untouched. The child’s expectation is not for satisfaction of the soul, inner comfort or security that comes through loving attachment, but simply to stay out of trouble. Such environments are in crisis management and behavioral containment mode as a way to manage dysfunctional and ineffective behavior. The product is an Old Testament kid.
Let me explain the Old Testament kid further. God has made it abundantly clear to us as humans that His desire for us is relationship, intimacy and fellowship. It is the heart of a father trying to connect with His creation. But then man had this little thing called "free will" and consistently chose to disobey and break that fellowship. The result was the passing down of the law that included animal sacrifices and all kinds of "Listen up!...I got a new rule..." It’s an attempt at behavioral management and managing the carnal nature. Unfortunately, it only produces a religion characterized by laws, inability to measure up, and a notable lack of connection to anything other than to meet one’s own basic needs.
Fortunately, God's heart didn't give up. He had a plan to bridge this gap. Its a sacrifice that doesn't just attempt to manage behavior so that we are good, moral people, but a plan to pierce the heart and restore that wounded heart to Him. A plan to institute relationship that scratches the deepest itch of need...the need to connect, feel safe and secure in a world that simply doesn’t deliver such things, and generate feelings that you belong. It’s a need that all humans, especially children possess, that they know that somebody is fully invested in their best interest, welfare, and future. And what greater demonstration of that investment than to die for another? It was that kind of act that restored it all. It is the act that moves us from Old Testament kids to New Testament sons and daughters. The attachment generates behavior that is motivated by love and connection, not mandated by law. Anybody can be a kid. You only need to be birthed and exist with breath in your body. But a son or a daughter, now that's a different story. A son or a daughter is identified by the parents that love them and the family in which they grow. A son or daughter carries the brand of the family, otherwise known as the family name, which tells them that they, not only are loved, but that they belong. Its the anchor in this world. It’s called, establishing identity and something that is currently under attack from all angles in this world. A son or a daughter is known by the mother and/or father that tuck them in at night, the mother that guards them like a jealous momma bear and a father who provides not only food, but an example of manhood. This is New Testament parenting that produces sons and daughters!
I tend to become overwhelmed with the vast needs of our grafted boys at times. I grow impatient with them and even angry at times. At other times, they simply hurt my feelings and I ache inside with their limitations to attach to us. But the every child ever born, the cry of the orphan, the cry of every child who has gone without parents or been abused or neglected, is not a cry for law, but for love and attachment. It is not a call to mandate or provide restriction on behavior, but a call to heal the bruised and insulated heart that screams to the child, “don’t you dare trust!” The burden to heal is on the healer. However, its like trying to apply healing salve to a wound with the child kicking and flailing about, while at the same time screaming that you are hurting them and what a terrible healer you are. The process is an earthly expression of what our Heavenly Father has done for all of us. He took the burden of repairing the relationship. He took to task of healing of the heart and soul. He initiated the restoration of attachment that He knew was vital for our health and destiny. He is the one that made it possible to transform from Old Testament kids into New Testament sons and daughters.
That's what I wrote 10 years ago. In the coming weeks, I will be updating what its been like to live with Old Testament kids and share our process to see them become New Testament sons.
Thanks for checking out our blog today. God bless and we'll talk again soon.
Dr. Russell Thomas