“Frog, can you be as wonderful as this?” said Toad as he danced all over the stage. There was no answer. Toad looked out into the theater. Frog was so small that he could not be seen or heard. “Frog,” said Toad, “where are you?” There was no answer. “Frog, what have I done?” cried Toad. Then the voice said, “THE GREATEST TOAD WILL NOW…” “Shut up!” screamed Toad. “Frog, Frog, where have you gone? Toad was spinning in the dark. “Come back, Frog,” he shouted. “I will be lonely!” . “I am right here,” said Frog. Frog was standing near Toad’s bed. “Wake up, Toad,” he said. “Frog, is that really you?” said Toad. “Of course it is me,” said Frog. “And are you your own right size?” asked Toad. “Yes, I think so,” said Frog. Toad looked at the sunshine coming through the window. “Frog,” he said, “I am so glad that you came over.”
“I always do,” said Frog. (From “Frog and Toad Together, by Arnold Lobel)
It is a storybook by the side of the bed that I cannot get out of my mind. It is a detail (more here) from the Lydia Schatz tragedy that has pierced my heart like no other. It was when I read of that forlorn book that I wept and wept for the first time, because my little daughters, who are just exactly her age, and I have recently finished reading “The Frog and Toad Treasury”, out loud, and we have made precious memories, but for Lydia the book only opened wounds. Now, after rereading it, I cannot help thinking that these stories speak so profoundly to the complicated questions children who come with ungrieved losses as adoptees have about their world, and they say some things I believe Lydia might have wanted to say to her parents, if she had been given a voice.
If the Schatz’ could have stood with an open heart instead of following a rote formula against all logic, they might have been able to see her sadness. They were trained to see her repeated mispronouncing of the word as disobedience, instead of recognizing that she was sad–because a child with attachment issues will express this sadness with anger. ‘Family Life Today’ last week broadcast a series of programs dealing with those special needs both foster and adopted children, and biological children born under trauma and stress bring with them into their new families. The series was called, “The Connected Child” and included Children From Hard Places, then Parent’s Expectations, and last of all, Parenting At Risk Children. All the programs would be helpful for any parent, not just adoptive parents, to listen to.
For three days the hosts talked with Dr. Karyn Purvis, who has foster-parented countless children and also holds a doctorate in developmental psychology. She discusses with great wisdom and compassion some of the deficits these children suffer neurologically and emotionally that have crippled their abilities to connect and communicate appropriately. She identifies the six significant risk factors these children can experience –difficult pregnancy, difficult birth, early hospitalization, abuse, neglect, and trauma. Dr. Purvis says because of the multiple risk factors adoptive children experience they start off life scared and sad. She says, “I ask parents up-front to remember this, scared kids look crazy and sad kids look angry. Stand before your child with an open heart because this child has come from incredibly hard places.”
I think it was the pain from those hard places that provoked that fatal standoff about a mispronounced word, and especially provoking would be that particular storybook. Because the Frog and Toad books describe in the most charming way secure and cosy homes filled with laughter and loyal friendships, they could stir the confusion in the heart of a deprived child into feeling her losses most keenly. I do not think her grief was properly understood, nor would she be given a voice to express it in a household dominated by the repressive teachings of Michael Pearl, who trains Christian families in the rote Operant Conditioning techniques of B.F. Skinner. Lydia’s parents were not evil people, they wanted only the best for their child, but they had a faulty paradigm about what was best. They did not understand fully their own, or their daughter’s deprivations. Purvis says, “As I go to bring a child home, because I believe God’s called me to do this, because I have a peace in my spirit to do this, but that child may have left a culture and friends and the only life they knew. It may be their darkest hour in their own little minds.”
It was a dark hour for Lydia Schatz, in that bedroom in the early hours of the morning on February 6th; and I think if she could have articulated it, in all her pain and confusion and longing, what she might have said would have followed the lines of that sweet story quoted above that still brings me to tears with its wisdom.
I want to try to articulate it for her. Because in the providence of God, if my dear friend’s file had been on top of the pile on the orphanage director’s desk, Lydia might have called me ‘Auntie Karen’, too. I feel a duty to her memory, to speak what she could not say. I too have been in some of these hard places, I have learned through much pain the need of a parent to hear the heart of a hurting child. I think we must understand what broke down on that terrible night, because these are important things, and perhaps another family at risk might avert disaster.
This Frog and Toad story makes a wonderful frame for the complicated language of an at-risk child’s turbulent emotions–and these are difficult issues, not easily understood without plenty of illustrations, so I have quoted Dr. Purvis’ poignant stories at length from the ‘Family Life Today’ transcript. Threaded throughout will be wisdom from pastor Reb Bradley that he painfully gleaned from parenting a prodigal, and bits of my own story of the hard places I have been with my own children. So I have summarized the excerpt above, and line by line I will attempt to interpret the stirring of emotions that can lead to such a fatal breakdown of communication as the Schatz family experienced.
Perhaps Lydia might have been trying to say this:
It is not all about You looking good,
and how good you can make me perform.
So get off that stage!
Stop listening to those BIG VOICES
and hear my still, small one.
It is dark, and i do not feel safe here,
oh help me feel safe!
SHUT UP, SHUT UP SHUT UP–i have no voice–
so how can I tell you what i need?
tell me where you are, and where I am too,
and be your own right size!
oh i am so glad that you came over!
It is not all about You looking good
Reb Bradley, whose seminar “Building A Strong Family Identity” and whose book “Child Training Tips” influenced our homeschool, experienced the bitter fruit of producing a prodigal when rules and image were valued in his home more than relationships and authenticity. He wrote a very good article “Solving the Crisis in Homeschooling” subtitled, “Exposing the 7 Major Blind Spots of Homeschoolers”, and in it he identifies accurately some of the dangerous and idolatrous aspects of the homeschooling movement.
Here he writes about the peer pressure to put forth a good image before men that is so rife in the church:
“If we live under fear of judgment, not only will we tend to be on the defensive, but whenever we are in a public setting where our children might be “watched,” we will put pressure on them. If that setting is church, preservation of our reputation will require our children always be on their best behavior. If they sit there silently when everyone else is singing a hymn, we look down with intensity and whisper, “Sing! Show some respect to God.” If they wiggle too much we scrunch up our face, squeeze their leg, and say, “Sit still!” If they draw pictures while we see other children listening to the pastor we quietly instruct them, “Put that away and pay attention.” Obviously, nothing is wrong with wanting our children to respect God, control their bodies, and listen to Bible teaching, but fear of judgment is the wrong motivation. Besides, if we do succeed with molding our children’s outward behavior to be impressive in public, we will easily condescend to those whose children’s behavior is not.
So get off that stage!
“It is only natural for parents to have high hopes and dreams for their children. However, when we begin to see our children as a reflection or validation of us, we become the center of our dreams, and the children become our source of significance. When that happens in our home it affects the way we relate with our children, and subtly breaks down relationship.
We know we have made our family an idol when we put our hope and trust in it more than in God – we look to it rather than God for our identity and significance. And we know we look to our family for our significance when it has the most power to lift us up or to demoralize us. It is most obvious in a public setting when we either glory in our children or become enraged when they embarrass us. Our children are either the source of our pride or our disappointment, depending on whether or not they help us achieve our image of a strong family”.
Stop listening to those BIG VOICES
Again Reb is right on target here, particularly regarding the parenting style of the Pearls and Ezzo’s, authoritarian teachers who claim it is ONLY THEIR WAY THAT IS GOD’S WAY:
“If we think we have total control over how our children respond to our training, we will relate to them not so much as people, but more as soulless animals. Dogs are behavior-driven and can be trained to respond to a stimulus time after time, exactly the same way. Children however, are people and as they mature they will eventually decide if they will continue to respond as trained. If we fail to understand this we will be tempted to intensely control our children up into their adult years. We will hold them tightly in the mold of our choice up until the day we release them from the home, thinking that they will maintain the shape of our mold as they venture into their married lives. Sometimes as parents we give ourselves way too much credit for the power we have in our children’s lives. Such a perspective insures we will develop a dominating style of parenting that will likely damage our relationship with our children and hinder our ability to truly influence their values.”
If you don’t believe Reb and his testimony of loss, then perhaps a look at two websites will open your eyes and change your mind. If you cannot hear the truth from a peer, then perhaps the voice of one of our daughters, speaking to other girls in authoritarian homes, will break your heart.
Still not convinced? BIG VOICES still acceptable?
Ah, I have to use my big guns now! Shudder at the testimony of Razing Ruth, and ask yourself– is instant, unquestioning obedience to authority a virtue you really want to instill in your kids. Death is not the only peril lurking in the Pearl’s teachings.
and hear my still, small one
“And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word, that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:3)
There is nothing more humbling than raising children. I have been humbled. I took a journey through some hard, hard places, a desert land, a place of no rest–a horrifying nightmare I do not have freedom to write about in much detail. It was a journey that dead-ended with our runaways being miraculously apprehended. And then a healing season of therapeutic boarding schools for two of them and marriage counseling for my husband and I. In these afflictions I was humbled and clung desperately to God and to every word from His mouth and not on the false promises of false prophets and self titled experts and all their formulas that fix, and happy pills that miss, and magic wands that terrify.
I began to fear, at last, not just looking bad to the world, but to fear displeasing a Holy God. It truly was the beginning of wisdom for me, a wisdom that was from above, which is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” (James 3:18)
And much of this imparted knowledge was very practical–I was given wisdom to stop spanking my children, who suffered from many of of those six risk factors Purvis listed above, and to work to build trust with them again. I had been a depressed and anxious mom, filled with my own particular losses, having grown up with a bi-polar mother. In my brokenness I had a wooden spoon and a copy of God, the Rod, and Your Child’s Bod, and I was taught that the rod was the only biblical response to defiance. What a mess it all was. Thank God, that where sin abounded in me, grace abounded all the more.
In my devastation, God spoke to me with such grace, saying that it is never too late to make up these deficits, that it was not by my might or by my power but by His Spirit that my children’s losses, and my own, would be restored. So our family began our own attachment therapy. Though I hadn’t even heard about new studies concerning the healing power of massage and healthy touch, still the Spirit of God led me to begin to build meaningful touch with my own at-risk kids. We got a glider rocker, and I would soothe even an older child with it. We went slowly at first, if they would not accept it. Today, when one of my children exhibits deep distress, which they are not able to articulate, we do what the eldest has dubbed, laughingly, ‘MTF’ or “Massage The Freak.”
It is not for the children’s sake alone that I do this–in mothering them I am being mothered myself. When I massage their tense muscles, and release their stress, I turn my own hands from the error of my ways–instead of the sting of the switch, I turn to the comfort of a caress. In submitting to my gentle ministrations, my children cover over my multitude of sins. Practically, oxytocin, the bonding hormone, is released in both of us and trust is strengthened. It is reparative therapy for both mother and child. It is lovely to do. God leads us in these wise things as we pray and wait on Him for counsel.
It is dark, and i do not feel safe here,
oh help me feel safe!
Remember, what Dr. Purvis said earlier? It is very important.
‘When a kid looks crazy, he is scared. When a kid looks angry, he is sad.’
She continues, “So many of our kids have been scared so long they have forgot they are scared or what they are scared about. They live in a state memory, which is the first-year of life’s brain development—state memory.”
In the radio broadcast, Dr Purvis tells the story of a mom who told her adopted daughter to wait for her dinner, that she could not have the snack she requested:
“And she said, “No baby, you can’t have that, but in 10 minutes we are going to have your favorite supper. I have cooked your favorite supper while Ms Karyn is here.” BAMM! This little girl goes, “I hate you! You are mean to me! You never give me anything! I hate you! I hate you!” And she races to her room and she slams the bedroom door and I hear her throwing things.
Her mom says looks at me and she says, “I hope she doesn’t break the vanity mirror again.” And she puts her hands on her hips and said, “Do you think that she overreacted just a little?” And I said, “No! I really don’t! You told this little girl she couldn’t eat and she smelled the delicious aromas in this kitchen. And you know she will eat in 10 minutes, but she doesn’t know it.
I said the way that we would call, ‘Felt Safety’ is, I would take that little ‘Power Bar’ and take that darling child’s hands and I would say, “Yes baby, you can have that ‘Power Bar’ and you can eat it right after dinner. Do you want to put it in your pocket to save or do you want to put it by your plate and save?” Now see, that little girl’s holding that thing, she knows she is not going to die. You knew it before. She knows it now.
Now, one month into this family of doing the things that we had taught them about helping her to feel safe and giving her a voice. This little girl sat with her mother and curled her little fingers up, like curling towards…. Something like saying, “Come to me.” And she said, ‘Mommy do you know what this means?” The Mama said, “No baby, what does that mean?” This precious little girl said, “Mommy, it means……’ and she began to look up like she was in the crib in the Russian orphanage and she began to look up and look back and forth and she began to tell the story….she said, “Orphanage lady, will you please stop and give me food? But mommy, nobody will stop and nobody will give me food.” This little girl has been home for 4 years and she has never told anybody that she remembers begging for food.
Now, when I give that child a ‘Power Bar,’ and I say, “Yes! You can have this candy bar right after dinner, you can keep it in your pocket or you can keep it by your plate.” I have spoken to her the language that I know she needs to feel safe; not that I know she is safe, but that she needs to know she is safe.”
SHUT UP, SHUT UP SHUT UP–i have no voice–
so how can I tell you what i need?
In the Family Life Today article, the hosts lead Dr. Purvis to describe what ‘giving a child a voice means’, practically.
Bob: As I have heard you describe our expectations and the realities of the hurt child and the need that this child has to feel safe, part of what flashes into my mind is I know that as a parent one of my responsibilities is to help my children get their own impulse control working, so that they are not just responding to their appetite and getting whatever they want. I don’t indulge them every time they have a desire.
How does a parent have realistic discipline in the home with a child who is looking for voice and safety and you don’t want to just indulge that child every time they say, ‘give me voice or safety’ and the child thinks that, “Well, I can get whatever I want as long as I ask for it or cry,” – how do you deal with that?
Dr Purvis: You know that is a really good question. We have it in our work what we call ‘Levels of Response.’ So, there are levels if a child is low-level sassy or low-level disobedient or low-level challenging or if the child has a butcher knife. It goes from a 1 response which is a low level to a high response.
When I can, I am going to say ‘Yes.’ When I can appropriately share power with my child, and I mean appropriately, I am going to. Okay? When I am a mother with my little child I want to sit down and have a cup of tea or I want to sleep at night, if my baby wakes up and they are crying, I share power because I put up my cup of tea or I give up my sleep. I meet that child’s need. I respond to their voice.
For most of the kids who come home to us the region of the brain that has to do with making good decisions takes 3 years of mentoring to mature. So, if that child came home to us not having optimal care for early months, days or years that region of the brain is not mature. Now, as a child who is 6 or 8, they still need the same things they did as a little one.
Let me try to say with an illustration:
I am on the playground 10 years ago with a little girl in our first children’s summer camp. We have a summer camp every summer for at risk kiddos. Most of them are adopted, some of them foster care, and some in protective custody come to us. And that little girl, beautiful little cherub-faced angel of about 5 years old, on the playground says to me in a very gruff voice, “You pick me up and carry me in from the playground.” And that was a low-level challenge right? It is mouthy! So, I gave her a low-level response; that is a level 1 challenge and I gave her a level 1 response. I said, “Are you asking or telling?”
Most kids would say, “Well, I was asking.” To which I would say, “Then try it again with respect.” Now, if she would say to me at that point, “Would you please pick me up and carry me in?” I would want her to know that not manipulation, control or violence was going to meet her needs, but her voice used with respect. Now, this little girl did not say that. This little girl said,…
Dennis: She challenged you!
Dr Purvis: Yes! She did! This little girl said, “Choices are stupid and you are stupid and I am not going in.” And so, I leaned down… that is a higher challenge, right? And we would use what we call choices – right? So, I leaned down to her; got right about 36 inches where you can reach out and touch her shoulder – not in a threatening way, but in a firm way and I held up 2 fingers and I said, “Sweetheart, you can walk beside me and hold my hand, or you can walk beside me, which do you choose?” She said, “Choices are stupid and you are stupid and camp is stupid and I am not coming back tomorrow.” That is keeping it ongoing, right? See, the hope is she would say I will walk beside you and I will hold your hand…So, I said, “Darling, do you know what? I want you to think it over. We do not send children away when they are in trouble we bring them closer. I don’t send a child to their room when they are in trouble, but I bring a child closer to me.
So, I said, “Sweetie, you are having trouble making choices and so I want you sit on the bench right here, this park bench, under this beautiful shade tree, and I am going to wait over here, about 4 -5 feet away, you just take a few deep breaths and think about what you did wrong and how you can do it right and when you are ready to tell me, say ‘ready’.” And she sat there and kind of heaved and rolled her little eyes and after a few minutes she said, “I am ready, Ms Karyn.”
I went over and I knelt down and I took her little hands and I said, “Baby, tell me what you did wrong?” She said, “I was sassy.” I said, “Oh, yeah! You were really sassy. You did that good! How can you do it right?” And she said, “I could use my good words.” I said, “You bet you could, do you want to try it now?” We call this a re-do. We went right back to the scene of the crime and I’ll talk about that from scripture, we went back to the scene of the crime where she had been standing and she came up to me and she said, “Ms Karyn, would you please pick me up and carry me in?” I said, “Whoooo Hooo! Darling, that is really good, using your words.” And I gave her a high 5 and I carried her in.
Now, the next time we are on the playground, what do you think she says to me? “Ms Karyn, would you pick me up and carry me in?” And the next time, “Ms Karyn, will you pick me up and carry me in? I said, “Yes, darling, I will that is good using your words. The next time on the playground; this went on 5 or 6 times, the next time she said, “Ms Karyn, will you pick me up and carry me in?”
I said, “This time I would like you to practice accepting, No! Whoooo Hooo! Good job accepting, no!” And she had taken a deep breath to scream and I said, “You did a good job of accepting ‘no.’” And that little girl realized she accepted ‘no’ and she lost control of the world for just a minute and she didn’t get hurt.
Dr. Purvis is called ‘The Child Whisperer’ for these beautiful reasons. What a glory to God she is, as she helps these broken children find their voices again. These stories make me weep.
tell me where you are, and where I am too,
and be your own right size!
Purvis points out that we can actually change the neurological structures of our children’s brains with healthy touch. She suggests infant massage right away, especially if there has been a difficult pregnancy or traumatic birth, or early hospitalization. She says, “If you’ve just brought home a little one, the best investment you’re going to do is $15 on an infant massage DVD. We know from research that you can change the brain chemistry level to optimum. You can impact and calm the central nervous system if the child’s come from a difficult pregnancy or a difficult environment…with massage – simple human touch! God designed us for relationship and a healthy mom who’s able to care for her children – not physically ill, and a healthy Dad who’s not physically ill and able to care. Everything we communicate is through our touch and the warmth of our hands and the warmth of our body. When we hold that child to our chest they feel our chest vibrating.
So, if you’re bringing home a child the first thing you do is you start infant massage or toddler massage and by touching that baby you can begin to change the brain chemistry and right whatever is off in the brain development. What’s magnificent is the benefit to the caregiver is as great or greater in research studies than to the child. So, you actually create the bonds of attachment simply through healthy touch which is absolute optimal way that we connect with our kids to start with.”
Remember, it is never too late to start massage, and a child is never too old. Get a rocking chair. Learn how to meaningfully touch your older child, even your adolescent–that is when I began our therapy! Ask God to restore what the locust has eaten up in your child’s damaged neurological systems. He is able to do beyond what we can ask or imagine.
i am so glad that you came over.
Are you able to ‘come over’ to your child? Have you processed all your own hurts and losses, so that you do not react to their reactions, but instead can yield to the Spirit, with all His wisdom, in the nitty-gritty dirty challenges you will face in parenting another dirty rotten little sinner like you? Purvis says,
“Here is an interesting thing. If we have a family that has a foundation that is designed for a one-story house and you build a one-story house on it, that foundation will hold up really well. That is the case with most biological children who are low risk. There is a one-story foundation and a one-story house.
Now you have a one-story foundation, and you’ve built a high-rise on it with the stressors that this child brings from abominable things that happened before you could protect them. Now, that same foundation, under the weight of a high-rise, every fracture in the foundation is going to open. We have families who are falling apart under the weight of the high-rise—not the child being the high-rise—but their history.
We say to families, “Your most courageous move is to give fierce, honest reflection to your own life.” If you have some aching loneliness and you think a child will fill it, then heal that aching loneliness; and then go back to the Lord and say, “Is it time?” If you lost a child or can’t carry a child to term, grieve your loss so that when you hold your child you are present for their loss.
In one set of families that we did some research with, we did an interview called the Adult Attachment Interview. Out of the low-risk population, only 1 percent should be unresolved with regard to loss. In our research, in each of those sets, up to 25, 30, even 50 percent have an unresolved loss.
So now a child stands in front of me: they have lost a land; they have lost familiar surroundings; they have lost the only world they know. They need to process their loss, but say ” I don’t know how to get there because I can’t do my own.” So I need to be aware, if I bring a child from a hard place, I am going to build a high-rise on my foundation. Ask, “Are there fractures in my foundation that need mending?”…If we have had a loss that we haven’t admitted and haven’t processed spiritually and relationally with God and with our spouse, we are bringing that loss into the relationship with a child. The very thing that we want to provide that child—some help, some hope, and healing—we may not be able to provide because we are in need of that same healing ourselves…
If you can catch it before you bring that child home, the better. Find a safe place; find a safe church; find a ministry of grace; find a ministry of love; find a church where it is really the church—where the church is doing this stuff, right? If you have already brought that child home, hey, go through that process with the child.
For example, out of that same group of parents, two had a sibling that died in childhood. One had a two-year-old baby sister who died in her mother’s arms. She adopted a little girl from Russia at two. Another had an eight-year-old brother who drowned in a river when they were swimming. He was powerless to save him; and he adopted an eight-year-old domestically.
Now those two children stand before those parents with loss. Maybe the parent can become aware, “Maybe I have something that I didn’t resolve; and I can say to the child, ‘You know what, I don’t exactly know how to talk to you about what you asked me about your mother, but let’s do this journey together.’”
Again, here’s the link to the first program, “Children From Hard Places.” Dr. Purvis’ soothing voice is reparative therapy in itself, and it is free! Here, she concludes her discussion with the hosts:
“Here is what we have discovered in our work. We have worked almost exclusively with high-risk children for the last decade. We have worked with kids through the courts, from families in protective custody; we’ve worked in orphanages all around the world. We are convinced that if you understand four things, you can help virtually any child heal.
First, you have to understand how attachment forms in the child and how to help that child heal by understanding attachment. The other half of that part is you have to understand your own attachment, your own history, your own expectation. It is a dance,” says Dr. Karyn Purvis.
“I am so glad that you came over.”
“I always do”, said Frog.
We didn’t give up on our prodigal kids, and they know now we will always love them without conditions. We are learning how to come over to them and how to dance together. We are learning how to give each other a voice, and how to make each other feel safe. We have stopped listening to GOD’S AUTHORITIES ON CHILD TRAINING and have learned to hear the still, small voice of His wisdom ourselves. Keeping our Father’s open heart before us, we are prodigals still processing our losses together, putting away magic wands that promise a quick fix for our broken worlds. But as we dance, we still step on each other’s toes sometimes and sadly we do not always ‘come over’.
There is only one who fulfills that promise never to fail or forsake us, and He comes alive from the throne of God, full of the forgiveness for our failure that was delivered in His death. Jesus stands with an open heart near to you, saying, come weary child, come to me. I will teach you how to dance.
Then Frog and Toad ate a big breakfast. And after that they spent a fine, long day together.
It was an open heart of a father that Lydia longed for that night, that we all long for. But in her heavenly Father’s arms, she has not been disappointed. And she is spending some long, fine days together, forever with Him.