I've been very open on this blog when talking about my family, our kids, what we're experiencing and what is going on with the kids. As open as I have been, there are still many things that I keep more private for the sake of my readers (sometimes too many details can make a person feel sick to their stomach), and to allow my kids to have dignity.
With that being said, I strongly feel that secrets we feel are too shameful to share can be far more damaging when they are kept in. All the while, we think we are protecting ourselves or trying to pretend that we don't really have a secret, it is eating us from the inside out. Secrets cloud our thinking, our perception of the world and most importantly our perception of ourselves which in turn colors our every act.
I've said previously that I usually know when one of my kids has done something and gotten away with it by the escalation of their poor behavior. The secret they are holding onto taints EVERYTHING they do. I find that they become increasingly negative, angry and violent until the secret is finally discovered or revealed. Then, when it is finally discovered and talked about, it seems that they are free again, no longer weighed down. In no time at all, a horrible streak of rages, pooping and peeing in all the wrong places, destroying things, targeting and hurting other people and animals, etc. can be drastically reversed. They are then free to 'start over' in a sense, with a clean plate.
Several months ago our family went to a conference with Beth Thomas who was labeled the Child of Rage by HBO in one of their documentaries. (Clicking of the link above will take you to You Tube where you can view this documentary in 3 parts) The first thing she did at her seminar was show this video, she then said that she would explain why she had no skeletons in her closet and why she was okay with that. She was totally okay with the world knowing her story, where she had come from and what she had done. There was no shame attached to any of it. All of her experiences, good and bad, had helped form her to becoming the amazing, beautiful and loving person that she is today. They were ALL a part of her story, not just the good things.
What is VERY important with kids like mine is NOT shaming them or their secrets. For them to tell a secret is a brave thing. They put themselves out there and probably feel very vulnerable. They NEED to know that the adults in their lives (particularly their parents) are strong enough to handle them.
The very first person my kids have EVER opened up to about their past traumas was our therapist. Prior to her coming they denied that anything happened. We flew her to our house and she stayed with us for 3 days. When she walked into our house after I picked her up from the airport the kids greeted her. In her greeting back to them she held up our 100 page intake report I had written and said, "Do you know what this is? This tells me that you have sex with each other, break windows, put holes in the walls and doors, poop and pee all over the house, hurt animals..." The kids were shocked, but as the day went on they realized that not only did she, Brad and I know all these things but that we were strong enough to handle it. After realizing that, for the first time they began to open up and to be honest about their horrific pasts. But it wasn't until they knew that there was someone there who was strong enough to help them deal with it.
I used to make the mistake of always discussing the kids behaviors and what to do about them when I thought they couldn't hear me. I didn't want to hurt their self-esteem. I didn't want them to think that I thought they were bad. With our therapist though, we talked freely about things throughout her entire visit all within earshot of the kids. I said something to her about it and she said that there were no secrets. The kids already knew what they had done and were doing and eventually they'll figure out what we're going to do about it whether they hear it or not. I loved this. It felt SO open and freeing to me. Since her visit with us the kids have been much more open about things as well. And it's all been so positive!
Again it is SO important to NOT shame the kids when they tell their secrets. Trust me they already feel enough shame. Christine has done a few great posts about this on her blog a few months ago. Although often they don't show it, they live in a world of shame and us shaming them only pushes them deeper into that gloomy world. It's important to praise their bravery when they share things with us. After all they TRUSTED us enough to tell us! That's huge for these kids.
So instead of letting past experiences of things having been done to them or bad decisions they have made be something that is to be ashamed of, something that labels the kind of person they must be, it can just be something that happened. Something that they were strong enough to survive and get through. Something that they can learn from to help them to become even better and wiser people.
I started writing this post last night and put it on hold when my baby woke up crying for me. In the meantime, we have been doing our Saturday outings with the family. During the course of the day one of the fruit and nut bars I had in the diaper bag went missing. Just before it went missing Jazmine was playing games with her lunch. She threw 1/2 of it away then immediately started to cry and whine at me telling me that she was starving. She's been doing things to punish herself a lot lately then tries to make it my fault. (Just a side note - these kids believe that they deserve to be mistreated, so when no one in their environment is mistreating them they do it to themselves. When this happens I gently remind them, often in playful ways that they are now their own abusers.) So instead of trying to reason with her (which NEVER works), I played into her game. I said, "Oh poor thing! Come here and sit on my lap. It must be so sad being so hungry! And to think that your mom made you throw away 1/2 your lunch! How could she do that knowing that you were so hungry? Don't worry too much though because dinner will be soon and you can eat as much as you want!" Throughout the next 5 hours her negative behavior and sassiness escalated.
So, when the bar went missing and all the kids denied it, my suspicions immediately went to Jazmine. After denying it over and over, she finally admitted to me that she took the bar. When she did I said, "I know." and pulled her up on my lap. She became VERY tearful. I asked her if she felt bad for taking the bar or if she felt bad for getting caught. (In the past her answer was ALWAYS she felt bad for getting caught. There was never any remorse for what she had done. Only anger at getting caught doing it.) She answered that she felt bad for taking it! I told her that I was SO proud of her for feeling that way. It shows that she is finally starting to develop a conscience. She is HEALING! I said that I thought she was VERY brave for telling me what she had done. I told her that I didn't care about the bar, it was just food and could easily be replaced. But I do care about her and I care about how she feels inside. I told her that when we do good things we feel good. Then I had her come up with a way to do a good thing and replace the bar or the value of it. She let me hold her and comfort her for nearly 20 minutes while she got her composure back. A little while later while we were eating dinner she whispered to me, "I feel proud of myself." "So do I." I told her. "So do I." And she has no idea how much!
There is a quote that says, " ...if they never should have bitter, they could not know the sweet." And another that says, "...and they taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good." People who have known much heartache and pain can be so much more capable of feeling and enjoying joy and happiness. There is hope for these kids. Healing can happen. It isn't quick and it can't be scheduled, but it IS possible. I believe that our Heavenly Father is a loving Father and I know that He wouldn't ask us to do something we couldn't do. He loves each of His children and wants the best for all of us including abused children and their abused (by the children) adoptive parents.