Parenting Challenges: One Couple’s Journey
Parents face many challenges when raising kids, but even when parenting is tough, there is hope! A mom who has fostered many children shares her insights.
All children go through difficult stages in their development.
Stan and Phyllis know a few things about this because they have fostered 78 children and adopted five, in addition to raising two of their own. I recently had the opportunity to talk with Phyllis about what she and Stan have learned over the years. You may find the lessons they have learned helpful to you as a parent.
Question: What made you and Stan decide to become foster parents and eventually adopt?
We found ourselves with the responsibility of caring for an extended family member. In order to keep her, we had to become foster parents so she could transition into our home permanently. That opened the door to fostering other children, and we began to realize that we enjoyed helping children with this need. We came to believe that God had shown us this was a service we could do as a family.
Question: What are some of the most difficult situations you’ve encountered?
There’ve been so many. We once had a little girl who used to tear up everything she touched. We also fostered a kid who was a runner. Another girl, 12 years old, came to us with warnings that she would have to be monitored closely, because she was a cutter and would bang her head repeatedly on walls.
Question: What causes children to do things like that?
There are a lot of factors. The little girl who broke things—she felt broken inside. The runner … most children who run away from home are so guarded that they can’t even make little choices in their lives. In other words, their parents are overly controlling.
In the case of the girl who self-harmed, before she ever came into our home I asked how long she’d been doing this, and I was told, since at least age 6. I asked if she had ever injured herself enough to go to the emergency room and was told no. That helped me to know that the girl was behaving that way to control her environment, so I knew to always give her clear choices, like with chores. For example, I would ask her to clean her room, but if she didn’t want to do that she could pick a different, equivalent chore instead.
Question: How do you know what to pay attention to?
Behavioral problems come out in actions or the way kids verbalize things. Kids who have been violated and abused have trust issues—they put up a wall, and it’s really hard to get through it. You can’t just focus on what they do; you have to understand why they do it.
A lot of bad behaviors are actually survival skills for these children. Take lying for example. Most lies are rooted in fear—fear of getting in trouble or of looking weak. You can focus on the lie, or you can investigate and get to the root of the lie. You don’t ignore the lie, but you also recognize that for many children, lying is something they have to “unlearn.” How you question your child, and whether or not you’ve created a safe (and private) way for him or her to be honest, makes a big difference in how quickly he or she tells the truth. Don’t be surprised or angry if it takes your child several times to finally admit the truth about a situation. Invite them to “share” the details of an incident and retell it as many times as it takes.
Question: What other kinds of “survival skills” have you encountered?
Control is a big one. Some kids who’ve had very little control over their lives will learn to manipulate; it’s like a security blanket that soothes them and gives them a sense of power over themselves and their environment.
The other thing to remember is that kids are very impulsive. They usually do what feels good in the moment. This can be a dangerous combination. You have to have very open communication with children like this and find ways to praise them even as you’re asking them to do something.
For example, “I’ve asked you to fold the clothes because I know it’s something you’ll be really good at.” Or, as I tell my 6-year-old son, “I’m asking you to take the trash out because it’s a little heavy, but you have strong muscles so you can lift it.”
You can’t react today for something your child did wrong yesterday. Every day needs to be a fresh start. Even throughout the day you can’t focus on or remind them of their bad behavior.
Question: What’s the best way to communicate with children who are struggling?
If your child is talking with you, that’s a big deal! Don’t focus as much on the volume, the word choice, or even necessarily the content, especially during the ages of 9 to 16.
Question: What are some of the difficult stages that most children go through, that parents need to be aware of?
It’s easy to fall through the cracks when you’re in the middle—the middle of elementary school, the middle of high school, even birth order, etc. Puberty is also especially challenging for kids because they’re so emotionally volatile, and they don’t understand the changes going on with their body.
Question: What are some of the rewarding experiences you’ve encountered through all the years you’ve parented?
We’ve seen beautiful things come out of darkness. When you expose them to love and teach them the life skills they need, children’s lives can completely change and bloom. We learned that, no matter where they come from or what their background is, there’s an opportunity for them to have a successful life, as long as they have the right tools.
Question: What one piece of advice would you give other parents who are struggling?
People give up too quickly. If they’re not successful overnight, they throw their hands up and walk away, emotionally or physically. Never ever give up!
Parenting can be difficult. Working with behaviorally challenged children is especially hard. If that is your situation, remember, you are not alone! Other people have walked your path, so reach out to them for support, encouragement and the necessary tools. And take hope in God’s Word, which reminds us that there is a purpose to all things (Romans 8:28).