Control…such a powerful word. It is the only thing our children believe they have as an ally after living a life filled with loss and trauma. For parents it is how we believe we need to manage our daily lives, raise our children up and hold on to our sanity. It fills our brain like a broken tape recorder subconsciously replaying moments of our own childhood.
Children from foster care lose everything imaginable and resiliently strive to attach and love. I have never met children who so badly want to do the right things, fit in and just be accepted. Control often sabotages this from happening. Often, my own children’s needs are so great I pray the things they chose to fill their soul’s cup are fortifying and healthy. I drain myself daily trying to keep their emotional and physical needs filled.
The choice to control ultimately is theirs alone. Accept it. Embrace it. It is all they have left sometimes.
The fact is that children who are not in foster care are often labeled “spirited” and “ strong willed”. They are given positive labels, as parents struggle to not describe their children negatively. Foster Children, who have suffered abandonment, neglect and abuse are immediately labeled negatively… as having ODD, aka: Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Its as if they deserve a bad label , or have done something wrong. I know this reality so well as none of my children have ever been passive…birth or adopted and I intimately understand their struggles with control. I have seen each of my children struggle to hold onto to the one thing that is solely theirs…CONTROL. Whether it is control of what they eat, what time they go to bed, what they wear, to young adult issues of what time should they be home, or whether or not to go to school and work. I would say the level of control with all my children’s needs and wants has always been my biggest challenge.
“But what about Parental Control?” you ask ,as you defiantly start to look for ways to argue about what I am going to say next. It’s important! I mean, after all we are parents, but what happens when it doesn’t work any more? I always ask parents I am working with, who clearly are struggling but adamant in their reflection of how they were raised, “How is that working for you?” If everyone is brutally honest…the truth is “Not very well”!
Letting go of your own need to control is the only way to truly be successful in parenting children who continue to hold strongly to their own sense of control.
This doesn’t mean children don’t need structure, firm boundaries, expectations and consistent follow through. Especially children from trauma. They do. Learning how to involve them in the process, looking at the grey areas and dancing with the flow all add to success. In doing that you will find your need to control lessening and your children beginning to thrive and attach even deeper.
In adopting two teen boys who had over 100 placements while spending the majority of their lives in Foster Care, I knew I had to create a unique and different parenting plan. The fact that they were oppositional to the extreme had me grasping at how to manage our lives. If I said the sky is blue and it is a beautiful day…. They said its a grey sky and raining. So I learned I had to be smarter and much more creative. I decided on saturation and I started with food. I gave my then 12 year old son a big rubbermaid container, and told him he could put in it any non perishable food items he felt he needed or wanted.I remember how in the 3 inpatient facilities everything was always locked up. I would take him to the dollar store and he would buy candy, then try to stuff it all in his mouth before we got back. Then I watched them lock it up and he told me quietly “ It will be gone and stolen by tomorrow”.
So I took him shopping at the grocery and to my horror he filled his box ( we decorated it) with white powdered donuts, and chips and icky junk. Inside I was dying…. What did this say about me as a mom?What mom feeds her child all this stuff? I couldn’t help but think the cashier was looking at my plump figure thinking what a horrible Mom this lady is! I stayed the course though. He was excited as I told him he could keep it in his room, but should ensure the seal was on because of possible bugs. ( he was petrified of bugs, having trauma experiences as a young child). Purposefully I ensured I put no conditions or rules on the box. Long story short…he slept with his box for months on end, in his bed and then transitioning it to the floor, and then completely left it empty and when we moved a few years later and he threw it out. There were no arguments about food. If he felt sick because he ate junk we talked about about food choices and how the body needs nutrients for energy. Six years later and he now eats healthier foods, became an athlete and has no eating concerns. This was a simple and creative concept but when you think about the challenges we as parents face, this is what it takes. Know the trauma, learn the triggers and create solutions that are NOT struggles.
Don’t insist on control being your parenting style, not for our children. What I have learned is it doesnt work long term. In reality ,adopting teens who have experienced everything and had no control in their lives, I needed to inspire them to WANT to do things. The more I controlled them and their environment the more they would rebel, even in the smallest ways.Helping them create and learn the expectations of living in a family was a constant but giving them freedom of choice was essential.
Think about it. Experiment with it. What have you got to lose , except struggles?
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