“She doesn’t control how I feel,” explained my 13-year-old daughter when she caught me watching her choosing loving acts. I may have looked a little surprised or perplexed. It had been a very bad week. Old behaviors revived. Hurt feelings. Anger. Resentment. We were digging deep and recovering the only way we know how—by creating Joy.
We were spending the day at the river with nothing to do but enjoy each other. I watched my precious child who at 13 is more emotionally mature than most adults behave in a way that was loving, compassionate, and forgiving toward a little sister who devotes a shocking amount of energy to trying to hurt her and push her away. Big sister pushed little sister on the swings, she helped her down the hill, she helped her climb a tree, she was every mother’s dream come true. I was so overwhelmed with pride, I could only touch her beautiful face and smile.
But I was also overwhelmed with guilt.
Shaped by a painful childhood, it was my vow to protect my children from trauma.
I sure fucked that up.
I didn’t just fail to protect them from trauma, I hunted it down, brought it home and invited it in.
Because of my choices my first four children have suffered.
They have experienced loss.
There was the baby who lived with us for a year who we could have adopted and didn’t because her special needs were more than we were willing to commit to. Parenting her would have cost the other children parental resources and limited our freedom to a life full of adventure. It was a price I wasn’t willing to pay.
Although it was amongst the most difficult decisions I have ever made, I believed it was in my other children’s best interest. Ironically if the decision had been theirs to make, I know they would have chosen to make the sacrifice. They loved her and losing her was painful. It was the kind of pain that creeps into your being and never goes away.
There was another baby who went to a kinship placement and more who went home. I suspect for my children, the losses are all heaped into a single ache that resides in their hearts always.
They have experienced fear.
There were the boys from a very rough place with only monsters for role models who behaved like miniature thugs. There was the deeply disturbed 4-year-old who was viciously aggressive. There was the deeply disturbed 11-year-old who threatened our lives. One by one many have crossed an inflexible line in the sand that led to their removal from our home. We won’t live with predatory behavior. Period. Unfortunately, you don’t know it’s there until they show it to you.
I don’t want this to come off as self-loathing. It’s not. We’ve done a lot of things right. We are damn good parents. They know we cherish them. We speak it often and show it well. We live to support our kids in discovering their passions and polishing their gifts. Each of them has arenas in which they shine. We did what had to be done to preserve normalcy and seize opportunity.
If they wanted it and were willing to do the work, we made it happen no matter how many miles, how much juggling, or how difficult it was going to be—we even took turns sleeping in the car last summer when number three son booked a lead role in a feature film with multiple overnight shoots . In short we have refused to be defined by the choice to add traumatized children to the family.
That said, if I had it to do over, I would do it differently. I would have waited longer—my youngest was only five when we began this journey and I should have given her well, all of them, more time. I would have said “no” more often—child placing agencies love to push you outside your limits and accepting the shove rarely ends well. I would have ended more placements more quickly—traumatized children are capable of frightening behavior and I should not have allowed so many second (and third) chances and I would have prepared better—I was pretty naive when we embarked and I’ve made a lot of mistakes.
But I’m sure what I should have done is no consolation to my children and they and I have to live with what I did do. I have to make peace with the fact that this journey has affected my children. It has hurt them.
My choices have hurt my children.
They are not broken. My kids are all bright, funny, compassionate beings with a zest for life who fill me with pride every second of the day. They are fun to be around and liked by most. We did more right than wrong, but I am sure in each of them resides the wish that things had gone a different way and I hope they will forgive me.