Are you an adoptive or foster parent?
Are your kiddos in survival mode?
Do you feel stuck in reactionary mode instead of proactively parenting?
Do you feel as if your home is constantly in chaos?
I'm a parent, just like you. I am the mother of seven, four through adoption. When I adopted, I had no clue how to parent my newbies. Traditional parenting had worked with my three bios. It didn't work with my newbies. Everything I tried seemed to backfire. I needed answers and fast!
I naively thought that because I had early childhood trauma, I was equipped to handle kiddos who had experienced the same. That’s like driving on an interstate and taking credit for building it. As my stepfather, Bud used to say, “That’s hogwash.”
When my husband and I adopted a sibling group of four from Poland, all of them came with open emotional wounds. I can’t share their story. Their story belongs to them. Suffice it to say, their triggers and my triggers met head-on and resulted in chaos.
I did the logical thing. I bought books. I researched. I read books to my husband at night when he was trying to fall asleep, “Listen to this,” I would say. “This is why he is doing this.”
I thought it was all about the behavior. Maybe you think that too. Maybe you, like me, think that if you learn the science, you can figure out the why behind the behavior. I thought I could fix the behaviors and the chaos would be gone.
It didn’t work. I was so busy trying to fix my kids that I didn’t realize the biggest part of the chaos was me. It’s not that my kids were acting or reacting properly. They struggled with regulation because of their past experience. It still hurts to say this, the true common denominator in the cycle of chaos was me. It was my reactions, my triggers being activated. The cycle of behaviors and my reactions made me ashamed.
Something had to give, and it had to be me. I couldn’t parent from a base of shame. My past couldn’t parent. As Dr. Karyn Purvis said, “You can’t take your child somewhere you haven’t gone yourself.” I had to go first. I had to find hope and healing before I could lead my kiddos there.
I’m not saying to throw out the books. They have their place. Many good people have done research that we need to digest and apply. I didn’t throw away the books, I changed my approach.
What Really Works
Instead of starting with the science and trying to change our kids' behaviors. We must start with our beliefs. They will take some reframing. We start with the origins of adoption. If we have erroneous beliefs in this area, we will be building on a faulty foundation. As long as we believe adoption was a secular response to a problem, we will be tempted to give up more easily. Adoption is a godly calling.
We must confront the lies and replace them with the truth. If you have a child in your home through birth, foster care or adoption, God has anointed YOU to parent them. You are qualified and equipped. When God chose you, He promised to equip you.
Once we have the origins of adoption solidified in our heart and mind. Once we know we were called, we can work through the myths and misconceptions of adoption our cultures is saturated in. We can use the truth to reframe our thinking.
It’s not time to get the science yet! Hold on.
Now, we must do the hard work of making sense of and peace with our past.
We must make sense of our past to be fully present with our children.
We parents often believe that our past — that is, the way we were raised — is just a book on a shelf of memories. It’s not. Triggers are where past and present intersect. We can’t assume our past isn’t affecting our present parenting.
I thought my past would automatically help me empathize and understand my kids from hard places. It was a book I could keep on the shelf, I could just say, “Been there. Done that,” as if that would cover it all.
There was one huge problem with that sort of thinking. My triggers and their triggers were often the same. I struggled with being the adult in the situation when all chaos broke loose. I wanted the right to react. Plus, I often didn’t know what my triggers were and they didn’t know what their’s were. It was a recipe for disaster. Simply knowing all the scientific facts in the world couldn’t bring peace in that situation.
Just to be clear, we can’t make peace with our past in a day or even a month or year. What we can do is examine it, see where we had trauma. Start paying attention to our reactions and then start reacting differently. When we have had trauma, we often take things personally. When our kids behave badly, we automatically think they are doing it on purpose. When we get trapped in this sort of thinking, it’s an us against them mentality.
After you begin to make sense of your past, you can then learn and apply the science. When we can look at the science with fresh vision, we can see our kiddos behaviors for what they are - needs- however inappropriately expressed.
When we get some of the science of trauma under our belt, including:
- The six risk factors
- The 5 b’s affected by trauma
- Why traditional parenting doesn’t work
We can move on to what does work and get some new tools in our tool belt. Once we start using these new tools, we can find some peace in our homes. That doesn’t mean that the chaos will totally disappear. It means that you will have peace in the midst of it. You will understand the why behind the behavior. You will be able to meet the child where they are. Instead of your past and his past being in competition, you will have empathy plus the proper tools to have inner peace.
“Kathleen’s insight — both from her firsthand experience as an adoptive mother and from her education as an Empowered to Connect trainer — is something I wish I’d had when we began our own journey as foster parents. She is absolutely the first resource I would recommend to anyone who is considering foster care or adoption.” - Kristin Peters, Adoptive/Foster Parent
"Kathleen has been an integral part of my journey to becoming a foster mother and to becoming a better parent in general. Through attending her Empowered to Connect course Kathleen has equipped me with new ways to parent my children. Not only did she provide me with the tools I would need to parent children from hard places, but she also backed up those tools with the science on why they are effective. Parenting is difficult and stressful and overwhelming under the best of circumstances. Parenting a child with a capital letter syndrome or a child from a hard place is all of those things and on top of all that, it can be isolating. Through her classes, podcasts, blogs, videos, conferences, and advice Kathleen has helped me to look at my child’s behaviors in a new way. She has helped me to change the way I parent and has shown me that I’m not alone. Because of Kathleen’s influence I have more successes to celebrate in the journey of parenting my children." - Rachel Eubanks, Foster Parent
"Kathleen has such a big heart for helping others in the adoption world! My husband and I had the opportunity to hear her speak at an adoption seminar. I instantly knew she was someone that I could look to for advice on parenting our adopted children. She has wrote helpful suggestions on parenting and also ways to help take care of myself during the trying times. I enjoy how scripture and reflection are part of anything she writes!" - Karri Shilling, Adoptive and Foster Parent
"My husband and I first met Kathleen through a mutual friend in 2016. We learned of her adoption journey and read her first book. We were looking for a guest speaker at an adoption seminar at our church. We contacted Kathleen and she eagerly accepted the invitation to speak. Kathleen was truly a blessing at the seminar. She is extremely knowledgeable and her sweet spirit was felt by all. Kathleen not only served as the guest speaker, she sat on a panel and answered questions from the prospective adoptive/foster parents.
Kathleen has been much more to us over the years. She never hesitates to respond to an email or message that we have with our children who have a trauma background. She has offered help in so many ways. She even offered to come to my home and observe our family and offer any help! She is easy to speak with and offers so much knowledge to other families. Most of all, she offers hope when we thought there was none. Kathleen has become a treasured friend. We truly needed a Christian who understood our struggles and the potential struggles of other families in our church.Kathleen offers hope and healing to families."
-Jeremy and Jeanine Kaminski"
"Kathleen is an endless source of information when it comes to foster/adoption situations, triumphs and struggles. Her genuine, heart felt desire for this purpose is something I admire. Trauma, which is prominent in this field, is not an easy thing to talk about but Kathleen is inviting, nurturing and attentive to those she’s trying to help. She is the first person I go to when having any questions on how to approach certain situations that the child from a hard place in my life may be going through. Thankful God has placed such a knowledgeable, driven mentor like her in my life."
- Jessica McHugh, Kinship foster parent
Here's what you'll get:
1. The Origins of Adoption.
2. Myths and Misconceptions in Adoption/Foster Care.
3. How Your Past Affects Your Parenting.
4. The Effects of Trauma on Your Child.
5. Why Traditional Parenting Doesn't Work.
6. What Does Work.
7. The Missional and Spiritual Aspects of Adoption/Foster Care.
You'll be provided pdfs for assignments and reflection.
Kathleen is an author, speaker, mother of 7 - four through adoption.Kathleen has written Positive Adoption: A Memoir chronicling her childhood story intertwined with the story of the adoption of her children. She has also written: Five Things: A Tiny Handbook for Adoptive/Foster Families, Defining Home (A novel), 25 Days of Thriving Through Christmas: An Advent Devotional. Kathleen is a certified Empowered to Connect Parent Trainer, which relies heavily on the model TBRI (Trust Based Relational Intervention) created by Dr. Karyn Purvis and her colleagues at TCU. You can find more about her, including over six hundred articles she has written about adoption, home, house and family at https://thewholehouse.org.