‘Deep down I knew I made the wrong call. His foster trauma was inconvenient, and I pushed it aside for my ease. I completely dismissed him.’

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“He sat under the tree as all his friends ran and played. I watched him on and off, distracted by the friend who had joined us. Deep down I knew I had made the wrong call. In a moment of frustration, I completely dismissed him. His trauma was inconvenient and I pushed it all aside for my ease. His sister had packed the pool bag and she had forgotten to put his swim shirt in the bag. He panicked, and in my impatience I gave him a choice – he either can sit out or take off his shirt and just swim.

He was 5 when I got him. The children had been left with caregivers who weren’t safe. I’m not sure where it stems from, but this is a huge trauma trigger for him. His shirt being off makes him so uncomfortable. That is the hard thing with trauma, it doesn’t make sense on the outside looking in.

He wrestled with the depth of his fear and the fear of missing out. I watched him attempt to take his shirt off a few times only to drop his hands and give up. Trauma won that battle, and in that moment I chose not to be his partner. I didn’t put my loving arms around him, encouraging healing to flow. Instead, in my impatience, I left him alone to fight the hard battle alone. My heart was heavy for I knew I had missed an opportunity.

Trauma parenting as a single foster mom is hard, frustrating and exhausting. Behaviors and coping skills surface without a moment’s notice after some mysterious trigger. Trauma parenting takes time as we untangle the root system of lies planted in our children’s hearts. Trauma parenting is counter intuitive. Some days it feels carefree and light, other days it is like brushing your teeth while eating Oreos; hard, unsuccessful and tiring.

Young foster child smiles with arm resting on his head and fishing net in hand
Melissa Pennington Photography

We packed up and headed home. We didn’t talk about it as our night progressed. Once my house had fallen quiet, the interaction at the park came flooding back. Tears filled my eyes as I pictured him under the tree all by himself. I felt mad at myself. I believe one of the keys to successful parenting is forgiveness, so I write this post not from a place of shame but from a heart that was broken by the reality of my son’s experiences and my lack of support for him in that moment.

I played the scenario out in my head and wondered what was the big deal, why couldn’t I have let him wear the t-shirt he had on? We were going straight home afterwards and getting that wet was no big deal at all. Am I taking the approach of teaching and training my kids to be healthy adults, meeting them where they are at, or am I using shame to get them to perform a certain way? The way I expect because getting them to just act a certain way is easier for me?

Kids in swimsuits walking in yard with colorful balloons
Melissa Pennington Photography

I processed and refocused myself. His healing is my main objective. It is the reason I make most of the parenting decisions I do, the reason we go to therapy, the reason we press in and address the big and small behaviors. It is the reason why I spend many hours a week talking through the hard things, and big and small choices. It’s why we do power poses and lead with kindness. I take our trauma seriously and we do whatever we can to help that healing take place, here and now.

I asked myself a simple question – do I want my parenting techniques to merely force my kiddos into compliance or do I want to continue to attack the root of the fear in their lives? That day I was not united with my son and we both knew it. He was hurting and I left him in that pain to spiral and process, overwhelmed by the thoughts swirling in his head. Walking with people through trauma is a long journey but it is there on those paths I have found deep gratitude and my own healing.”

Young boy in foster care slides down slip and slide
Melissa Pennington Photography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Julianna Klepfer, a 30 something, single, foster/adoptive mama. She lives with her crew of seven, ages 11, 9, 7, 4, 3, 18 months and 6 months, their two dogs and 6 chickens in the hills of Iowa. You can follow along with her ever changing family at My Joyful Broken Heart.

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