The Sound of Thin Silence

Kol demama daka is a Hebrew phrase we have translated ‘still, small voice’ and it’s from 1 Kings 19: 9-14. The sound of thin silence.

The still small voice was given to Elijah after he complains to God (and I don’t blame him at all) that all of God’s prophets have been killed by Jezebel and he alone survives. Have you ever been there, thinking you are the lone survivor and you aren’t sure how much longer you can hold on alone? Clearly, those of us parenting children from trauma backgrounds have been in a similar feeling situation many times over. Without a solid tribe of people to share our burdens with, we very much can believe we are the only ones facing an insurmountable task or life or something that no one else has to deal with.

For Elijah, God sent a mighty wind, an earthquake, and a fire, to teach Elijah that His voice was in none of them. After all of those really big expressions of nature, (which of course Elijah and you and I would expect to hear God within those events) God spoke to Elijah in the sound of thin silence. Kol demama daka. I wonder how long Elijah sat within that thin silence. If I was expecting to hear God in the big things, I’d be a little disappointed when He didn’t come through.

I am imagining Elijah’s time alone, after expecting God to show up in wind, earthquake, or fire. And I am already getting antsy. I’m an introvert, so I do like to spend time alone, to recharge, but I also orchestrate many activities to ‘record’ over the sound of thin silence. I overlay the sounds of busyness, taking care of family, dealing with the cares of the world, writing, and even ‘good deeds’ done in God’s Name. Thin silence makes me nervous for some reason.

Thin silence is where I can hear the condemning thoughts in my own head, thoughts of unworthiness, of missing out on what others have or do, of fears for the future of my now-adult children. Thin silence is a wilderness where I most feel alone.

I think I want the voice at Sinai instead. The giving of the Ten Commandments at Sinai was a unique moment in the religious history of mankind. Instead of one lone witness to the voice of a ‘god’ who then tells others what he heard, we have an entire nation witnessing The Voice.

The power and majesty of God at Sinai was unmistakable. No matter what the people were doing, when the Voice sounded, it was so significant to their senses that they stopped in their tracks and experienced it. It didn’t matter what distractions they had come up with to cover the thin silence that nobody thinks they want, His Voice came through loud and clear. At Sinai, He broke though their distractions and competing idols, and defense mechanisms that they had in place while they continued to think of themselves as slaves to Egypt. Through no effort on their part, they heard His Words loud and clear. They didn’t have to lay down the distractions, so mighty was His voice. That’s what I want. I want all of my distractions to keep me company until God speaks. And then I want the utter magnitude of His Voice to overpower those other things in my life that I hold dear, so that I get the best of both worlds. My way until God speaks, and then I can easily hear Him. Or so I think I want this.

We’re told of the account on Mt. Sinai there was thunder and lightning, “and the people are afraid…“and they tremble”…“and they stand a long way away”. And they say to Moses, ” You go and speak to God; if we continue to hear His voice we will die.” His Voice is that powerful. At the sound of His voice, they were so terrified of closeness to Him that they begged for a mediator instead of direct experience.

Do I really want that after all? Or would I rather have His closeness? What do I have to give up for that closeness? I think maybe I have to brave the sound of thin silence.

Elijah, in his time of need, his time of feeling quite alone, gets a voice he can hear only if he is truly listening. He must venture into the thin silence where his alone-ness might be deafening. But that is where God was for him.

Laying down the distractions to hear the sounds of thin silence takes concentrated effort on your and my part. But maybe you have been conditioned to believe that active efforts to draw close to God are akin to ‘dead works’ and heaven forbid you or I substitute works for grace. And so we feel justified to keep our distractions intact and we wait for God to shout when He wants our attention. We wait for wind, earthquake, and fire. But what we get is kol demama daka.

So now what? What actions do we need to do to draw close to God when He is not in the wind, an earthquake, or a fire? We’re going to have to lay down our distractions and get quiet enough and still enough to hear God in kol demama daka. Laying them down is not a passive action! Do you know what I have found is a powerful weapon against distractions? Gratitude to God for the things He has done for me and my loved ones. Gratitude is a powerful force that drowns out the angst of the day and allows me the courage to enter the thin silence. Being reminded that Elijah has been here too helps me for some reason, even though he lived so long ago.

Maybe you would like to try the practice of gratitude as a way to enter kol demama daka to hear God? Just start recounting His great deeds. Start with your own life, then the lives of your loved one. Recount His deeds from the pages of scripture. Say it silently, or out loud. Say it to Him. And before you know it, you are so filled with wonder and awe at what He has done and Who He is, that you stop thinking about your worries. Then be silent. And just be in that thin silence. You are not alone there after all. He is there with you. You’ll hear Him. He has a lot He wants to say to you.

Do you have another practice to get quiet with Him? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.


Grannie’s Cornbread and the Sovereignty of God

You prepare a table for me before my enemiesPsalm 23:5

My mother-in-law would have been 101 years old this last September had she lived that long. Her legacy still stands strong with those who knew and loved her. She was, hands down, the maker of the best Southern cornbread ever. I always felt honored that she allowed me into her tiny country kitchen. It was made cramped by a table big enough for six, that would barely hold all the food she prepared for Sunday supper. There we’d be, with her four feet something little self and me with my five feet ten inch frame. Graciously, she’d let me do this or that odd job to ‘help’ but I suspect it was mainly to keep me out of her way while she made The Cornbread. I can’t prove this, though. The kitchen was her domain and making hearty meals was her love offering to the large extended family I’d recently joined. So she’d allow my company, with one rule: I could help with anything but the cornbread.

I think I talked about it too much, pestering asking her for her recipe after the first time I tasted her version of cornbread. My husband, his brother, and a couple of other males in the family had this practice of cutting around and eating the crunchy outer edge of the round cake, slathered with thick butter. They’d descend like locusts and in one quick motion leave again with nothing left but the middle for those too shy to line up first or too naive to understand where the best pieces came from. I was both. I never got the outer edge, but the middle was heaven on a plate. “Hey, Lorna (Grannie to everyone else), I can help you with the cornbread,” was pretty much how I greeted her on the occasions we could visit. “No thank you”.

Oh, sure, she did tell me the ingredients. And I know enough about baking that I can guess in what order they are mixed in. I still chuckle now, thinking back on it , how she always managed to have her back turned to me when she was making the batter. To this day, I still believe she added something extra, some special ingredient no one knows about, when she knew I couldn’t see. My husband says it’s love, but I’m not buying that. There was something else, too, I just know it! But it wasn’t mine to know. And the sooner I accepted that, the better I’d be.

You prepare a table for me before my enemiesPsalm 23:5

I wonder if that’s also how it is with God, as He prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies. Does He hold something back, out of our eyesight, because we don’t really need to know everything He has planned? When God prepares, He does not share the full recipe with us, does He? He prepares our future His way, in His timing.  He’s under no ‘obligation’ to tell us what goes into His preparations, either. And yet, the prophet Amos tells us: Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets. (Amos 3:7) So what really is going on here?

You prepare a table for me before my enemiesPsalm 23:5

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The Hebrew verb for prepare is ‘arak.  It describes arranging, ordering and preparing.  Biblical scholar Skip Moen, PhD. says ” When we seek God and His ways, He engineers our lives so that they display the order He wishes, even in the presence of those who stand against us.  Wisdom calls us to “forsake folly and live.”  God invites us to the same table.  Let Him do the organizing, and the meal you will be served will bring you life.”

Preparing a table in ancient Israel was a sign of hospitality and also part of legal and political agreements between friends and allies, never between enemies.  The the meal that God prepares is not for the enemies.  It’s for the one who is in relationship with the Great Host, God Himself.  He’s signifying that even amidst enemy threats, there remains a covenant commitment between Himself and the guest at the table. Because of Who the host is, the guest is guaranteed safety.

The Hebrew word for enemies is tsarar, a root word that means “to show hostility toward.”  In some forms it takes on the nuanced meaning of being bound, distressed, hemmed in, confined and troubled.  We live this experience, don’t we? I sure do! I know there are enemies from without and enemies from within. Even in the absence of outside enemies I am not free if I have a distressed and bound heart.  Same for those in my family.

I think of all the nourishing meals I fed my Russian-born sons, from the time we brought them to our family until when they moved to their own places. Yes, they had regular meals; they could eat to their body’s satisfaction. My table is anything that I desired to give them – a sense of permanency, love, belonging, family, as well as actual food on the table. But a heart that is distressed and bound up in memories of lack leaves the table unsatisfied. My table in the presence of their enemies (the trauma, abuse, and neglect they suffered) is sparse.  

But when God prepares a table, it satisfies, even in the presence of those things that would prevent my receiving of His bounty.  I can’t make God’s cornbread because I am bound, confined and constrained.  He’s not even going to ask me because He knows I can’t help; I am tied up with my enemies within.  So God invites me to watch Him work, then I feast at the King’s own table, prepared by His own hand, for me. Those at His table feast with Him, even while “enemies” look on. Clearly, love is His special ingredient.

What enemies do your children from hard places face, which makes it difficult for them to be satisfied with your table? What enemies are you facing, making it difficult at God’s table? Will you stop trying to season God’s bounty with your own preferences, will you take your hand off the spoon in the cornbread bowl and just let God prepare His table? I’m going to try, too.

Here’s where I’m struggling, who can relate, and who wants to talk about it together?

I’ve been blogging again. Those of you who have signed up for updates in your email in-box, or who frequent the Facebook Page and can read when a new one is published, already know this. I’ve been posing every Wednesday and restraining myself from daily posts. I know mine is not the only one you read. Oh, but there is so much to say.

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So, it’s not that I have suddenly found new time to say that things I want to say, or a stronger voice to say them. It’s that I now think I have something worth while to say.

I’ve been much more inclined to share things along the lines of ‘hey fellow adoptive or foster parent: let me tell you about the standard we should aspire to’. But when I read that kind of information from others, it leaves me wanting more. Only having information in the theoretical, rather than lived experience doesn’t seem to be enough of a motivator for me to change, when I realize I need to change in some area. Lately, I’m drawn to hearing about the real experiences of people just like me; people who blow it, but God redeems it. And I’m compelled to be one of those who are willing to share my own struggles from a more vulnerable position. Here’s where I’m struggling, who can relate and who wants to talk about it together?

This shift started subtly during the process of writing my book The God Who Adopts: Grafting, belonging and the journey toward attachment. Still yet to be finished. I thought I had said all there was to be said in that book several months ago and had literally sent it off to the self-publisher. They were doing final line edits on it and designing the cover when I realized that it needed to be more than what I was making it. And I think I’ve added 10,000 more words to it sprouting from my own personal experiences, rather than detached information.

Want to read a excerpt from the introduction?

God’s lessons to me came through the heartache of being a mother to sons struggling to attach to their new family. In sometimes horrifying and yet always liberating precision, God cut through the walls and barriers I’d build up over the years that prevented me from experiencing the abundant life that a daughter of God should have with her heavenly, adopted Father. It was easy to see the difficulties that my boys had in accepting their new positions as sons in our earthly family. Their behaviors spoke volumes. With their actions I knew they still thought of themselves as orphans, unattached.  What had not been so clear, until God pealed back the deception, was that my own fleshly push-back against my place in His family echoed my sons’. My own actions betrayed the secret, kept even from myself, of my own precarious attachment to God.  Oh, sure, intellectually I agreed to the truth that as God’s child I am being made new (2 Corinthians 5:17) and no longer outside the Covenant of God (Ephesians 2:12) in His family.

Mentally agreeing to truth like this is what I used to think was all that is necessary. Just believe in Jesus and receive eternal life (John 3:36) is what the preacher man on TV told me all those years ago. But behaviorally I didn’t always act like I really believed it down to the core of my being. So, did the verbal profession and mental agreement not ‘take’? We’ll talk about this more later, but God’s idea of believe means to act on that belief, not just mentally agree. It’s not enough for the orphan to read the new birth certificate which legalizes the parent-child relationship according to the laws of the land. It’s not enough to believe the legal paper grants inclusion to family. No, the mental truth of belonging (adoption) is held in storage as only potential energy until it is unlocked by action. The orphan must act on the truth of their new status. You can’t fake attachment. You can’t fake having a sense of belonging. At least not for long. Not when the trials come that really test the bond of trust. The child asks, “Do I really trust my new parents to be there for me, or do I need to hang on to some old survivals behaviors, just in case?” That is the unspoken question being asked underneath a lot of ‘bad behavior’. Just in case has no place in attachment. It has no place in the life of the son or daughter of God. But there I was, seeing the just in case behaviors of my sons and living my own just in case with my God.

***

I think, from time to time, I’ll post most excerpts from the book. And I would love to hear your comments. Here’s where I’m struggling, who can relate, and who wants to talk about it together?

“God’s On His Way Over With Your Steak!”

Beth Guckenberger of Back2Back ministries shares in her devotional, Reckless Faith, about a time God’s loving care was experienced in a big way. The Setting: An orphanage in Mexico. The Players: pre-school orphans, a group home director with a faith like George Muller, and leftovers from a random meat convention held earlier, across town. The Plot: Dinner time is coming up for the children and there’s no food. Edgar the director knows a secret: there’s nothing left for dinner that night but there’s plenty of faith to go around. So, he gathers the children and asks them to pray. Little Joel is there, too, as outspoken as his heart for God is big, “Let’s ask him for steak!” What a far cry from the usual beans, rice, and tortillas that Beth says is their staple diet.

Well, since you already know the players in this scene, you probably can guess what happens next. In a fashion that only God can orchestrate, Beth and her husband are involved unknowingly in God’s plan to show Himself really big to hungry orphans and their fearless leader Edgar. And to little Joel, the one who is not afraid to ask for steak. Yup. They got steak – the choice cuts, too! A freezer full. Beth ‘just happened’ upon the meat bonanza and ‘just happened’ to drop it off to an orphanage she knew about.

I cried and I put the book down right there at that point. And I couldn’t pick it back up again for a long time.

You see, I’ve been settling for beans from the hand of man instead of asking for steak from the one who owns a cattle on a thousand hills.

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And little Joel’s proclamation just about did me in when I read how it was answered by a God who brings steak when you’d be grateful for beans. When did I stop looking for how God is already supplying my needs? When did I start relying on man or self instead of God; looking outwards or inwards, instead of upwards? When did my problems get so big for God?

I think my problems got big when my children did. When they moved out on their own and I could no longer see what’s going on in their life. Hey, without my oversight, everything will fall apart, right? But really, my problems have always been too big for me. Parenting children from hard places, parenting siblings of children from hard places…that’s not easy is it? What is your too big? Who has been taking care of it?

Are you like me, tired of stressing out about things that you know are too big for you to handle? Are you weary of manufacturing the solutions yourself, or looking to anyone but God for solutions?

How many times have I, while raising children from hard places, turned to this man-made solution or that. It shouldn’t take me this long to realize that much of what is available when I look all around me are just opinions at best of so-called experts. And often, they give conflicting advice. When will I tire of hearing inflated claims that all it takes is the right partnership, the right strategy or gimmick to bring me the results I am seeking? Which, if I am being honest, the results I used to seek were how to keep that one child from running away again. Much of my parenting years were spent trying to tap into that elusive formula that would change everything. And God has been there all along, waiting to hear from me with child-like faith. When was the last time I asked Him what to do? When was the last you asked Him?

I want to eat God’s steak with 4 year-old Joel. How about you?

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What is Real?



Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you.
― Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

I still remember the very first time I read The Velveteen Rabbit, a childhood favorite, to my first born daughter. I couldn’t get through it without crying at the powerful story line. What I didn’t know then, but do now is that it has a deep message for us adoptive moms.

Have you heard the funny one-liner: ‘I was a great mom before I had kids?’ And it’s true isn’t it? How about this one? ‘You are not their real mom, you just adopted them.’ That one stings. If you are like most adoptive moms, this triggers second guessing yourself. A statement like that is ground zero for comparisons between ourselves and the real moms, the biological moms. The sting is deepest when coming from our child’s angry mouth. Understand, I am a biological mother to five children. And I am the adoptive mother to two.  Am I only real to five of my seven children?

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I think I should do this or that to be a real mom, whether adoptive or not. And on those days strung together into weeks, months, seasons when I can’t seem to ever get to this or that, or whatever bar I’ve set for myself that says I’ve arrived, I call myself a faker. Unreal, imaginary, nonexistent, illusory, immaterial, intangible fake, false, imitation, counterfeit.

Anything but real.

But what is real anyway? Take a lesson from one who knows: “Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

You see, none of us start out as real anyway, not the Skin Horse kind of real.

Most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby,” says the ever-wise Skin Horse, who should know these things.

Real happens slowly, so slowly you won’t even realize it. Real happens with kids snuggling up with you and running their fingers through your hair, getting it caught and ripping parts out. OUCH! It hurts sometimes to become real. That’s ok, “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

Real happens as you cry your eyes out over your love for your child or children, only wanting the very best for them and thanking God He gave them to you. Real happens as you cry with them each time they experience the struggles common to humanity, but oh, so hard for them to feel every first time. Real happens each time tired arms carry them to bed after they fell asleep in your arms. Real happens as you kiss unseen but oh so painful boo-boos received long before you ever met them, and for which Band-Aids will not satisfy. Real happens over late night talks with pre-teens who alternately need you so much, and are embarrassed you’re so uncool. Real happens as you hold your grandchild in your arms the first time, as your grown child, now herself a mother, looks on in amazement, seeing your deep, generational love. Over and over again, these are the stuff of real.

Real happens even when the love your child has for you isn’t that loud demonstrative love that most of us expect ( and hope for) from our kids. No, their’s is buried deep underneath their past, underneath the anger and hurt they feel for what happened to them before they met you.

And, if I’m being honest, real happens as you neglect yourself a bit too often, caring for children instead of your own needs. But, Skin Horse says, when we’re real, “ these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

It’s true, none of us started out as real, but somewhere along the way we became. And we didn’t even know it. And the best part? “Once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.” That Skin Horse tells it like it is.

Reaching Forward

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but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead  Philippians 3:13 NASB

My 6 year old granddaughter stands on the wooden, built-in bench on my deck outside, facing the grassy yard. She’s holding in one hand a favorite toy, a plastic stegosaurus bigger than her hand; her grip is tight. Taking the longest downed tree limb we found in the yard earlier that day that has leaves at the very tip, I stand beside her and I stretch out the leafed limb in front of her as far out as I can. She then leaps out as far as she can, arms outstretched. She jumps off the bench and grabs for as many leaves she can with the one hand but still grasps the toy in the other hand, which she forgot she is holding. She lands on the ground, still clutching the toy. “Aww, I didn’t get any leaves, let me try again”, she says, as she lays the toy down this time and readies herself to jump again. Success.  Again and again. “Bubbe, reach forward more” she instructs me until the limb is stripped bare. We laugh and laugh. 

“The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let things go”

Long before memes and catch phrases about falling leaves and letting go, Paul taught deep truth.

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Forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.

Six-year-olds get it, why can’t the rest of us? You can’t reach forward that well if you’re still holding onto dinosaurs. 

Paul uses the Greek verb epilanthano (forgetting), to suggest a deliberate act, a matter of the will, a resolve to no longer dwell on the past. To let go. Letting go is what we’re asking of our children from hard beginnings, isn’t it? That they let go of all the times in the past that their ever alert survival brain kept them safe from harm when no one else would. That they forget how dangerous it is to trust. That they forget the shame of rejection. Those are some big dinosaurs and their grip is tight. 

but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead  Philippians 3:13 NASB

The Greek word for reaching forward is epekteino emphasizing really stretching. You gotta get that tree limb really out there, that’s the best part of the game. And the real secret is fully empty hands as you reach for the prize. Whether the price is a fistful of green leaves, a child’s attachment and feelings of safely in a family, or ‘the prize of the calling of God’, you’re gonna have to let go of the stegosaurus. 

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Be blessed,

Gail

Re-Building Back Fences or Living Your Life With Purpose?

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake. 
-Psalm 23

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My husband and I went to Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Park over the weekend. The rainy haze didn’t dampen the majesty nor the impact this moment in time had on me. These aren’t wild horses, but still, I was taken by how at home they were in their pasture, happily grazing away at the portion given to them.

Notice the fence in the foreground? It seems more decorative than functional against those strong beasts. I wonder if they know they can easily jump over or easily run through. Actually, maybe just a strong leaning up against is all that’s needed to break free to other pastures not of this fold.

Do you have a leaning child? One who longingly looks to the supposedly greener pastures elsewhere? The limit pusher, the one with the chocolate ice cream in one hand but crying for a cracker. too? Do you have a fence jumper, currently in someone else’s pasture, living the large life, if only in her own mind? Somewhere an 18 year old says, ‘well, mom, dad, it’s been fun, but I’m outta here, done with your rules and constraints and family dinners, and that God of yours, and the love that you give me that makes me uncomfortable because I still don’t feel worthy. Somewhere there’s a 9 year old who keeps running away because his survival brain tells him that the vulnerability of being loved and held accountable in a family is too scary: the memory of having only self to rely on before he met you is still too strong a pull.

If we’re able, we drag them back and re-build the fences. But even in the building project, we have but one real choice that gives the most impact on them: live our pasture life with real purpose, answering the unspoken question they ask, ‘is it really that wonderful in your pasture?’ Maybe the time for talk is over. Maybe now we show them by our own walk that the things they think are only out there have been here all along. Safety, love, family, belonging, a God who see and redeems, adventure, happiness, joy, peace. Have you been mending fences with the wrong materials of judgement, offense, bitterness, anger , rejection? I have. But that doesn’t leave space for God to work in them or in me. And for those children for whom we can no longer drag back to our pasture, what can we show them about our good land when they sneak a look back from time to time?

Sometimes I need to ask myself, how much leaning am *I* doing in God’s pasture?

-Gail

*This post was inspired by the book Reckless Faith: a 40-day journey to saying yes, by Beth Guckenberger and by God’s beautiful creation as experienced last weekend.

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I came across a bible verse today from Isaiah 58:12 that I think encapsulates the purpose or goal of “The Connecting Space”:  

“Those from among you shall build the old waste places; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; and you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach, the Restorer of Streets to Dwell In.”

The word ‘restorer’ is the Hebrew word ‘shub’, which is used over 1000 times in the Hebrew scriptures, all having to do with movement back, do-over, re-establish, turn around.   The ultimate restorer of course is Jesus (Hebrew name Yeshua). Those who follow in His path, must also be restorers. What He calls us to do, He also authorizes us to do, and equips us for. Remember that.

Bible scholar Skip Moen explains the power behind ‘shub’ this way: “God’s heart is bent on recovering what was lost.  It is fixed on repairing what is broken.  It is committed to restoring what was once there.  That’s why we call it salvation, not indoctrination.  We are saved from something.  We are brought back from death to life.  The purpose of God is to redeem you from destruction, to restore you to His loving care and favor.”

What an amazing task we are given as parents of children from hard places, whether those hard places are results from the life they had before coming to our families through adoption or fostering, or whether they are our natural born children who are struggling in some area for whatever reason. YOU are how God chooses to show Himself to your children – you are the vessel of restoration to your children – you are called, authorized and equipped to repair the connections your children most need, and ultimately to bridge that gap between them and God. Yes, it is a big task, but it is what He empowers you and I to do. Read all of Isaiah 12 today and see what it takes for you to be in a position to shub for your children. I welcome your thoughts and comments!

Managing Relationship Expectations Between Siblings

Our sister site, Suddenly Siblings™ is geared specifically to bio and other children already in the home when a family adopts or fosters. Its vision is to support the family by specifically empowering the siblings of children who come from hard places. One of the common challenges in blended families comes from the miskaten idea that the new sibling will automatically get along with the children already in the home and the other way around. How can you support your child to understand that there may be challenges, while still focusing on the positives? Here’s the latest article .

But Aren’t You Just Coddling Your Kids?

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Be honest. Can you relate? It’s OK if that’s where your thoughts are right now. It’s a pretty common belief born from traditional, authoritarian parenting. We’re “hard” on our kids now so that they’ll turn out to be productive citizens and stay our of trouble later. It’s part of the pay now or pay later philosophy, which isn’t a bad philosophy. In fact, I still believe that motto. Just in a different way, which you’ll see in a moment.

“Hey, I was raised that way and look how *I* turned out. ” That was my attitude a number of years ago if someone would have suggested to me to try some of the TBRI techniques on my children instead of going straight to ‘punishment’. If they did the crime, they do the time, right?

But the more I learned about these beautiful brains of ours, how they are designed to function and how things can go off track when a child experiences early abuse, neglect, and trauma, the less I wanted to contribute more to their shame core, and the less I wanted to be added to their long list of adults they feared.

Dr. Becky Bailey, whose quote is below, specializes in early childhood education and developmental psychology. She often writes about the dark side of fear-based punishment. This is true for all children, but even more so for our children who experience any of the 6 risk factors for behavior issues. By inadvertently triggering the stress response in our children by our punishment methods, we disconnect from them and become their adversary, not their ally.

Children who are in a fight, flight, or freeze mode are stuck, and cannot process that we are trying to do right by them – what they actually experience in their bodies is that the very one who is supposed to help, is actually hurting and scaring them. Of course, we don’t want that for our children.


Most of us raising kids from hard places didn’t learn how early adverse experiences affect their developing brain. I did not understand the effect that early trauma had on my twins. I thought that my tried-and-true parenting techniques were the answer: just do more of what worked with my biological children. But my biological children already felt safe with me, for example. My adopted twins did not. It wasn’t until I began to directly meet their needs for feeling safe and cared for did I see them relax and settle into FAMILY. I either learn to meet their needs now (pay now) or I’m faced with big behaviors when they don’t learn to trust me (pay later).

To meet their emotional needs, I had to stop punishing my sons for misbehavior and instead focus on making soul connections with them. That is what can appear to be coddling, but in reality, it’s the first step in getting them to be able to respond appropriately down the road. Punishment takes a backseat (actually it gets booted in favor of discipline, from the root word disciple) while new neural connection in the brain get formed so that they can learn (perhaps for the first time ever) to trust another human being. Nurture is what they need before they can be expected to behave better.

Children need both structure and nurture, in equal measures, in order to be healthy.

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When our children come to us with grave deficits in the nurture category, yes, we do need to focus more on ‘coddling’, and yes, from the outside looking in, it appears unbalanced. But we’re balancing from their history and that might mean going heavy-handed on connection and lighter on structure at times.

Most of us are more used to the structure part of the equation, so when we add more nurturing (and I’m talking about within the framework of our kid’s behaviors), it feels weird. It did for me, that’s for sure.

Something that helps to motivate me to get out of my structure comfort zone is to learn all I can about how childhood abuse changes the brain. Keeping this information fresh in my memory allows me to see beyond the behavior and underneath, to the true need they child is having.

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I’d love to hear from you how you are balancing structure with nurturing in your own child. Let me know if I can help you bring more balance in this area.

Gail