We were excited to take our two newly adopted sons to Florida for the first time. Although they were foster placements, we were going to be their forever home. They settled in with us just two weeks before the trip. When their case manager asked me what we were planning to do with them when we went to Florida for vacation, without hesitation I answered, “Take them, of course!”
My reason was simple: They were mine. Even though I barely knew them, I saw my sons every time I looked in their eyes. So, we packed up our 12-passenger van, filled up a trailer full of luggage and necessities for taking care of babies, and we headed south. The trip was magical … until we reached the beach. In retrospect, I realize that until that moment, my wife had never put the younger of the two boys down. For two weeks she had carried him everywhere. He had just turned 1 but had not begun to walk.
The moment she bent down to place him on the blanket we had spread out on the warm sand, he freaked out. For the next hour he flung his body across the blanket, tossing and turning as if he were on fire. His screams alarmed other sun-bathers, who haughtily looked sharply in our direction. We finally gave up and went back to our vacation house.
Every night for the next several months, he screamed in the night. Car rides were also coated with tirades. Cereal bowls were flung across the room, my wife’s hair was pulled, her arms scratched. There was even bruises up and down my legs from his constant kicks. We suddenly began to realize the depth of this little boy’s trauma.
After glancing through the files given to us by the Department of Family Services, we caught a glimpse of his journey. He was separated from his birth mom early on, and every visit with him ended early because of his tirades. The trauma deepened as he moved from his biological grandparent’s home to multiple foster care placements.
We hadn’t even scratched the surface of his story. But in the process, we came face to face with the reality that choosing to love him through this wouldn’t be enough. We had to tap into the resources that were being offered to us.
Love was never meant to stand alone.
As much as we wanted to admit it, we weren’t Superman and Superwoman. We couldn’t just look at this little boy and remove his fears, his anxiety, his stress. We’d all like to believe that we possess the power to transform a child whom we’ve brought into our care from a traumatic past, but the truth is, we don’t. Sure, our love must be unconditional, with no strings attached, but it cannot stand alone. For the first several months that our son was in our care, we ignored resources because we believed that all he needed was to be loved through the darkness of his trauma. We also felt like we would be failing as parents if we used the help of therapists or state-provided resources.
We were wrong.
Depending on love alone puts an unfair burden on your shoulders. You were never meant to fight through this alone. Love must be the blanket that you wrap around the entire journey. Within the blanket of love, there’s you, your spouse or partner, the resources you have available to you, and this precious child.
Look at it this way: If you were driving down the road and suddenly one of your tires blew out, you wouldn’t continue to drive, ignoring the reality of your situation, would you? Sure, you love your car and you want to believe that you could get it to a service station, but you’d cause more damage by trying to do this. Instead, you’d stop, pull out your tire iron, jack, and spare tire, and change your circumstances. Or, you would call roadside assistance for help. These are all resources you have available to you to keep the car you love from sustaining more damage.
The same is true for your child. You must connect your love to action and partner with resources available to you to change the circumstances. You aren’t taking action in spite of your love for your child, you’re taking action because of the love you have for them. Doing this consistently will bring healing over time.
Love in partnership heals all wounds.
Connecting love with action, resources, and consistency will heal the wounds of trauma. Maybe not in a few months, or even a few years, but it will happen. We brought our two sons home to live with us in March of 2009. For years, our little one threw tantrums, went into screaming fits that caused us to leave public places. We fought to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But we refused to give up. We kept pursuing resources — trauma-informed counselors and therapists, online courses and videos, specialists in the areas of disorders sustained by children who’ve come from difficult places, and much more.
We wrapped our unending love for this little boy around all of this. Today, more than seven years later, our son (who is now 8) is healthier than ever. He is one of the most joyful kids we’ve ever met. You wouldn’t believe that he’s the same little boy who screamed at the top of his lungs for hours on the beach in the spring of 2009.
If we’ve learned one thing it’s this: Love does heal. But love on its own, when it comes to healing a child from a traumatic place, is not enough. It was never meant to exist on its own. It was meant to stand in partnership with action steps.More On