Photo: Jeremy Bathan
You teach your child how to do a basic task like brush his teeth, wash his hair, or turn the light off as he leaves a room. Yet, he doesn't seem to get it. The task is either ignored or done improperly almost every time. You teach him to stop lying or being defiant over the simplest of issues, but he continues. Month after month and still there is little, if any, progress. Why?
There are several possibilities and we are learning about them. There can be anatomical problems in the brain that prohibit or frustrates learning. In our case, we have no idea with our adopted children what kind, if any, damage may have occurred due to in utero exposure to drugs or alcohol. If there was any, it appears to be very mild. Another possibility would be a learning disability or learning style issue. I put these together since their definition is often disputed or misapplied and identifying them is not always clear-cut. Then, there is also the matter of trust and selfishness. This leads to, and simultaneously feeds on, anxiety and obsessive/compulsive behavior.
In the case of children adopted from an abusive background or who have been in foster care for a long time, trust is a challenge for them. Relationships, or even the idea of relationships, can be frightening or threatening. This leads to anxiety and fear and to cope with these fears obsessive/compulsive behavior becomes the norm.
This fear can lead to untrue thoughts about themselves, others, or their situation and this has to be combatted with truth. They may misinterpret simple situations and twist them into something they are not. Perhaps they finally work up enough courage to speak to a friend or cousin and just as they go to speak the other person just happens to look away. They may interpret this to mean the other person doesn't like them even though the other person was unaware they were about to speak. They sometimes have to learn the basics of what body language communicates and what it does not.
They may create unrealistic expectations about what others think of them, either negative or positive. To cope, they may obsess about their pants being pulled up to make sure no one can see their underwear. They may obsess about what the next two meals will be. They obsess to cope with the anxiety. They need to be continually reassured about what is true and what is not true.
Kids have to learn through consistent experience that they can trust us in both the little things and big things. The challenge we experience is that their understanding of what develops trust is not the same as ours. They sometimes equate getting more stuff or getting treats as a sign of trust. They may think they can only trust others who like what they like. Certainly, these are starting points to relate to one another, but they are not the foundation of a relationship. It simply takes time for our children to truly learn that trust is built upon consistent, loving provision and boundaries.
If we are believers in Christ, the truth is we can, as parents, relate to this problem. There is much Jesus wants us to learn from His word. There is many habits in our thoughts, words, and actions that He wants to transform in our lives by transforming who we are. We are adopted into God's family if we receive Christ as our Lord and Savior. Yet, we don't seem to get it. Either we ignore what He has taught us to do and what He has taught us to be like, or we go about it improperly. Month after month, year after year, there is little, if any, real progress. Why?
Distrust and selfishness. The truth is I often say I trust Him, yet I live as if all my trust is in me and what I can do. I often say He is Lord, but I want my agenda to trump His. He consistently provides what I need, but I often give myself the credit. He consistently lays out loving boundaries, but I ignore them. We do not mature in our faith and we do not really change when we live life this way. Just as I long for my kids to learn they can trust me, Jesus longs for us to learn we can trust Him. Just as I long for my kids to be transformed from their former way of life to a new way, Jesus longs for us to be transformed as well. True transformation is possible, but we must surrender to the One who transforms.