Parenting and Trauma: the hard reality

Heisey-3 (1)

When you are raising birth and adopted children, the love is the same but the parenting is different. When I say “love”, I mean that piece of your heart that would jump in front of a bus or a bullet. I mean that you worry about them, their happiness, their education, their teeth, their friendships from sun up to sundown. Loving your birth and adopted children the same is the easy part. Who wouldn’t love a child in their home and in their family? The love is what will keep you going through the hardest parts of trauma. The love will be the reason you cry at the kindergarten graduations or after they leave for their first sleepover. Thank goodness for the love you have because it will keep you motivated and moving forward. It will sustain you long after they have gone off to college.

But raising children is different from loving them.

Before I adopted children from foster care, I really didn’t understand the impact of trauma on children. I sat through trainings and kept saying “I can handle that” when they talked about how trauma manifests itself. The problem with telling yourself that you can do it is that when you are doing it and you aren’t handling it well, you feel like a failure. Trauma is so much more all-encompassing than you can imagine until you have to live with it. Trauma is never ending. It’s a dark cloud that follows your children around morning noon and night. They don’t outgrow it. They can’t be loved out of it. They wear it like clothing to protect themselves from a world that hurt them.

The hardest part of parenting a child with trauma is that it goes against all of your ideas of what children need to succeed. A child is hurt and you hug them and fix it but that version of parenting is put by the wayside for a child who can’t handle touch. A child is scared and you want to help them feel better but they can’t be comforted. A child is not doing well and you want to help teach them but they scream at you to leave them alone. It feels like rejection. I didn’t expect to feel rejection and it hit me hard.

The hardest part for me as a mom is that I have to adjust my parenting on a daily basis, sometimes on an hourly basis.

If my trauma impacted adopted children are misbehaving, a timeout won’t work, but for my birth child it can be very effective. My daughter loves night time hugs and stories and my son doesn’t want anyone in his room. The constant juggling of your parenting styles will wear you out, will break you down, and will make you feel you aren’t succeeding. I feel guilt and shame for rewarding and punishing in different ways. I worry about how they as siblings feel to be raised differently but in the same family. Will they resent us? Will they feel like we didn’t do a good job as parents? Will they turn out to be smart productive adults? Will they all get what they need to succeed?

There is no crystal ball to tell you if you are doing a good job with your kids, but if I had one I would want to know that I’m doing okay as a mom. I love them all so much and that’s the best part, but parenting them is the hard part.


About the Family
Sabrina and Zebulon Heisey are parents to 6 children, 2 adopted from DCF and 4 birth children. Sabrina is a Research Administrator at BIDMC and a member of the Dracut School Committee. Zeb is an engineer at iCAD and coaches the kids soccer teams.

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