is love enough? (adoption/foster)

Is love enough?
Pam Parish, a woman who writes insightful words over at,  asked for input on the “love is not enough” idea in a Facebook adoption group. I had quite a lot to say about the subject since I’d heard Nancy Thomas speak on “Love is Not Enough.” I had disagreed with Nancy to a point, and I constantly hear other parents use those words, “Love is not enough.”

Here’s what I shared with Pam (with a few additions), which she posted on her blog: I think it all depends on what a persons definition of LOVE is. Is love putting a roof over a child’s head, providing clothing, toys, entertainment, taking them on vacation, being there for them when they need it?

Or, is it much more than that?

Is it providing consequences to teach them how to live life? Is it holding them when all they’ve done is push you away? Is it living through the ugly and dirty moments when we feel such hate being slung our way? Is it moving on with each day even though we don’t have strength to even look at the dirty dishes in the sink?

I feel it’s all of the above and more.

This is HARD because our children came from HARD. I believe the knowledge of this begins with the original training foster and adoptive parents receive before a child is placed with them. Although we never truly understand what it takes to raise a hurting child until we are living with them day to day, I feel I had a better starting place than many. Because of our training, I was able to empathize with my children and I knew it was going to be HARD.

My love has been enough, but then my definition is probably different than most.

I see where some adoptive parents are coming from, we hear others say, “I would love to adopt, children just need love,” and maybe they don’t realize the amount of “love” a hurting child needs. One mom on the Facebook page said, “Those who look at our family think, ‘Look, all they needed was a family to love them.’ ” But, that family knows how much “love” it has taken to heal their child.

original photo by joeymc86 via

Is love enough? Some might say, no. But does your love include educating yourself and learning about trauma? Love should be all inclusive. As I was working on this post, I received an email from my dad. He had listened to my radio interview, and said, “I know you have developed a relationship with Payton and the two of you are very close. One thing to remember is it is a continual learning process.” I think that process entails love, a love that is willing to try to do the best, and be the best for a child. It includes loving through the process and in the process.

Love is a big word. Our children need a big love and we can do it.

I am rewarded daily for the immense amount of love I’ve poured into both my children. When Payton runs to me after school, yelling, “Mommy!!!” and gives me a big hug, my heart is filled. It used to be that I showed up at her school and she wanted me to leave and didn’t want me to help her with her craft. Now, she WANTS me to sit with her on her classroom floor and read with her. Now she gets slightly jealous if I help other kids in her class, whereas before, she couldn’t care less where I was or what I was doing.

Love is a big word. When children come from trauma, they need a big love to carry them through.


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the orphan’s brain


The article, Orphans’ Lonely Beginnings Reveal How Parents Share a Child’s Brain is circling the web. Reading to the end of this article is so important, as the end gives the hope. Well, some.

It scares me when articles like this are shared, not because it’s a horrible piece, but because I fear adoptive and foster parents will be pushed away and not adopt because of the news it shares.

I tell parents about Dr. Bruce Perry’s studies on neglected, abused, and traumatized children’s brains and how they look differentYet, I always try to share the positives that our hurting children possess. I know families who adopted five, seven, and nine-year-olds and they’re thriving.

Not every child who’s neglected suffers from cognitive delays, or neurological disorders.

If a child misbehaves, it doesn’t always mean they have neurological issues or cognitive delays. Parents can look at behaviors and think their child lacks intelligence, when most often that isn’t the case. A child’s ability to control and manipulate their environment gives light to their cognitive prowess. More information about this can be found in the post, the intelligence behind a hurting child.

We are doing a disservice to orphaned, neglected, and abused children when all we do is share the negative aspects, the daunting studies, the harrowing stories with the rest of the world. I would love for families to share the other side, the stories that turn bad are the ones which circulate the most, they get shared on Facebook and Twitter. People talk about them saying, “See, I told you. Orphans have so many problems.”


I don’t want an adult who hears about his parents car accident, and turns back to them, realizing he loves them, to be the only story. I want to hear stories of children who realized their parents love while they were still in the home.

Yes, there are children with cognitive delays and neurological disorders, but that doesn’t mean all children who’ve been traumatized has them. With help, they can overcome their circumstances.

And, sure, I’m thinking it may be beneficial for some prospective adoptive and foster parents to be aware of this information beforehand, if only to weed out those who wouldn’t be able to handle a child with special needs. Caring for a child with special needs requires special parenting, and some people don’t want to put in the effort to help a child, and some feel they can’t do it even with every ounce of their abilities put in full force.

(I am absolutely an advocate of adopting children with special needs because both my children have been diagnosed with several disorders and disabilities, and my son is cognitively delayed. However, I never want to see children moved into homes where caregivers turn them away because it’s too much.)

If you read the article, Orphan’s Lonely Beginnings in its entirety, you will see Ruckel saying, “I believe that even the brain cells that don’t work as a child…can develop as a grown man.” The articles response to that is, “Scientists have their own version of that idea. They say the brain has a remarkable ability to rewire itself and compensate for things that go wrong during development.”

Ruckel also says, “I’ve become an advocate fighting for other orphans. And I believe that has everything to do with my parents, because I realized what love, what compassion, what affection can do.”

Here are some other links related to a hurting child’s brain:
the intelligence behind a hurting child
rocking: a simple first step to bonding (and it doesn’t just to infants)
attachment in adoption

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the intelligence behind a hurting child (adoption/foster)


I talk frequently about our children and their brains, how a hurting child’s brain is less developed than a child who’s had a typical upbringing (love and consistency). I talk about their inability to think logically, and that’s why consequences and reward systems don’t work. However, none of this means that a child who’s been neglected, abused, and traumatized isn’t smart. I think all of this can be misconstrued and parents can assume their children aren’t intelligent, when that’s very far from the truth.

When Dr. Bruce Perry talks about a traumatized child’s brain being smaller, it means certain areas haven’t developed fully. It doesn’t mean the processing areas aren’t functioning, it means the areas that control the social and emotional haven’t developed fully. A hurting child is aware of what’s happening around them, they are able to manipulate, they can give you directions and street names, but solving A=B issues is very difficult, even impossible for some, hence the logical consequences don’t compute.

In the book Little Bee, two girls have escaped an England prison, where they’d been held as illegal immigrants. Little Bee says to Yevette, “You aren’t dumb, Yevette. All of us who have got this far, all of us who have survived – how can we be dumb? Dumb could not come this far.” It’s so true, and something that parents need to understand about their hurting kids, they aren’t lacking intelligence, it only looks different.

Bryan Post writes, “In his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, researcher Mihaly implies it’s no mystery that individuals of genius nature are in fact genius because most have all experienced life-altering trauma. In essence, he explains that in environments of neglect and abuse the child does not receive an equivalent balance of cognitive/social/emotional experience, therefore a neurologic compensation occurs. Whereby what the brain does not get emotionally, it compensates for cognitively, thus a very intelligent child. The catch, though the child may be cognitively advanced perhaps even brilliant, rarely can this be accessed because of the constant emotional hijacking which occurs when the trauma brain gets triggered and takes over.”

For those who don’t enjoy reading about brain development, essentially what Mihaly said is that while our children weren’t developing in the social/emotional area of their brain, the cognitive area had adequate time to mature.

My daughter, Payton, is just one example of this. She had extreme difficulty with controlling behaviors she knew were unacceptable, she wasn’t able to figure out A=B for consequences. [If you do A (behavior) then B (consequence) happens.] Yet, when I spelled out “ice cream” when she was two, she knew what I was spelling, and she could give me directions to the grocery store. She was reading books at age four, and I could go on and on with her knowledge of where she was and how things worked. This happens so many times with kids who’ve been neglected, abused, and traumatized.

Dr. Bruce Perry has also said, “If you have relational poverty you walk around as a dysregulated person. You’re more vulnerable to trauma…and it’s harder to learn new things.” Perry describes the one who is in relational poverty as a high risk child or one who’s in foster care. Also, just because a child has entered your home or been there for a few months, it doesn’t mean they’re no longer in relational poverty. It takes time for relationships to develop, especially when a child has learned no one can be trusted.

This is also explained well by Joseph LeDoux, “In times of stress, our thinking becomes confused and distorted and our short term memory is suppressed.”

Hurting kids are constantly under stress until they have made significant attachments, even while they’re making attachments they will slip back into a stressed state.


On the topic of stress affecting our memory, even I can attest to this. I walked into a Starbucks earlier this week and stood at the counter, it was the first time I’d been at this particular store, but I had ordered this particular drink dozens of times, yet I froze. What was it that I order every time? See, it happens to all of us…I think.

So, there’s a good chance your child is intelligent, it just may be hiding underneath a lot of pain, or you may see it and wonder how your child can be so smart, yet not obey simple rules. I hope this gives you some insight into your child and what’s going on inside of them.

These links may be helpful in learning more about a child who’s been neglected, abused, and traumatized:

detecting attachment issues
why consequences and rewards don’t work 

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taking the HAUNT out of Halloween (adoption/foster)

(In this post when I talk about our children who came from a scary place, I am including those who were neglected or abandoned. Although they weren’t abused or frightened by some larger person, their experience was extremely fearful for a child.)

halloween haunt

I’m not a fan of fear. In college you would have thought differently. The movie Fear was released when I was in college, and it was played numerous times in my dorm. I read books that made me think every noise was an intruder coming to take my life. I went to the best haunted houses in the Phoenix area. It was a phase, a very brief phase. I no longer like haunted, scary, or spooky.

We all know that Halloween can be filled with some frightful stuff, some people thrive on it, some love scaring others, or being spooked themselves. But what happens when our children who’ve come from some really scary places meet bloody, spooky, skeletons? It doesn’t help them.

Our children who’ve been through trauma have logged their fears and concerns in their brain. In The Whole-Brain Child, Dan Siegel writes,

“What’s crucial to understand about implicit memory – especially when it comes to our kids and their fears and frustrations – is that implicit memories cause us to form expectations about the way the world works, based on our previous experiences.”

Because our children have previous experiences that were scary and worrisome, they are basing their view of the world through that lens. So, what happens when a teenager with a gory mask steps in front of them during trick-or-treating? No matter how much we’ve talked, saying, “You’ll see scary things, masks, statues, but it’s all pretend. A kid is wearing that costume,” our child will be frightened.

In The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, Bruce Perry writes,

“…If the incoming information is initially unfamiliar, new, or strange, the brain instantly begins a stress response. How extensively these stress systems are activated is related to how threatening the situation appears. It’s important to understand that our default is set at suspicion, not acceptance. At a minimum, when faced with a new and unknown pattern of activity, we become more alert.” (Emphasis is mine.)

That section about our default being “set at suspicion” is referring to people who have not necessarily experienced trauma. How much more will our child who has definable reasons to fear and suspect respond to the unfamiliar, strange, or in this case, scary? They will become frightened.

When I was of trick-or-treating age, the tricks were much less terrifying. With the ever widening capabilities of plastic molds come scarier masks. Just today I saw one that ran a blood resembling substance under a clear plastic that was molded to a really creepy mask. That didn’t exist in my youth, but I was still plenty worried about whatever creature might poke its head from behind a bush, no matter how real it looked.

Our children store their fear in their brain in an area called the amygdala. When they’re frightened or anxious, their brain immediately brings up those stored memories (even if they can’t identify or name them, they know the feeling).

This can cause a number of reactions in our children. They can become defiant, or get an attitude as a way to protect themselves and be in charge of the situation.

They may question and try deciding for themselves if what they’re seeing or experiencing is safe or not, without listening to your counsel. Bruce Perry also writes, “Human beings fear what they don’t understand. The unknown scares us.” Once again, Perry is referring to a person who hasn’t experienced extended trauma.

Before our children have bonded with us and begin to trust us, they live in a fearful state, so scaring them more will add to what’s already happened. It won’t be funny, it won’t be easily forgotten, it will compound the problem.

So, can you do? Months before Halloween begins, displays are set out in stores with moving skeletons, our neighbors put out a full Headless Horseman display and more. Even when it’s not Hallow’s Eve, kids now wear hoodies that cover their faces with artwork of various evil designs. I’m not saying all this is wrong, I won’t share my opinion, but what I do know is that we need to protect our children as much as possible. Here are some ideas you can incorporate to take the HAUNT out of Halloween:

  • Talk about what your kids might see surrounding Halloween, during trick-or-treating, or at school festivities. Remind them that it’s not real, and if a child or adult is wearing a costume that there is a person underneath. If there is a particular one you can’t get away from, say on a Subway, ask that person to show their face so your child won’t be as frightened.
  • Avoid scary as much as possible. This can be difficult, I know. Last year we went to our downtown Farmer’s Market, a seven+ foot tall monster roamed the street, and this was in September! On Halloween night don’t go to the house that has a man in the yard with his head chopped off, just don’t go there. Walk far around scary yards and creepy costume covered people.
  • Don’t let your child stare, try finding something to distract them. Payton has always honed in on the scary. She will stare at the store displays or people who are dressed in alarming costumes. We try to distract her, and sometimes it works, but we have to be aware of what she’s looking at.
  • Find safer Halloween alternatives. When you go door to door, you don’t know who or what will come out to greet you with a bowl of eyeballs. Really not cool. You don’t know what will jump out from behind those bushes, and you don’t know when that eerie skeleton will get its groove on. Some malls offer a safe alternative, churches and schools do too.

I hope this helps take the HAUNT out of Halloween and helps you understand why fear isn’t good for our kids. May you have a safe and fun filled Halloween.

You can also check out this other post on making Halloween happier.

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trauma focused equine therapy (adoption/foster)

I found this information in an email from The Child Trauma Academy on Spirit Reins Equine Therapy:

“Participants learned that the brains of “prey” animals, such as horses, are organized much like that of a traumatized and hypervigilant children who are constantly scanning the environment for threat. The horse, for one, senses a child’s hypervigilance instinctively – and demands that the child learn to master internal regulation, but also the horse will not tolerate “bad behavior” in the same way that humans or dogs will.  However, unlike humans, horses remember past bad behavior but “forgive” it if the child is currently behaving better in the moment. By responding to and rewarding what a child is doing in the present, rather than remembering and responding to what he or she did in the past, the horse provides immediate feedback to the client that the new social skills the client is practicing are effective.”

Spirit Reins is located in Texas, but if you are not in Texas, there is a good chance you can find an equine therapy center near you. You can find out more about Spirit Reins here.
*I have not experienced Spirit Reins first hand.

the behavior battle (adoption/foster)

Behaviors come in all shapes and sizes. There is avoidance, vocal aggression, physical aggression, self-abuse, rude comments, bowel issues, sleep issues, food issues, and the list goes on, and on, and on. Many of you are in a battle with behaviors.

Last year we had a Speech Pathologist and a Developmental Therapist coming to our home for our son. They suggested we bring in Patrice, a Behavioral Specialist. After visiting our home one time, she said Jeremiah exhibited behaviors. Well, I was not a happy Mama. My son was well behaved, especially when considering where he came from and what he deals with. I equated much of his crying (behavior she was referring to) with his lack of understanding language (he’s nonverbal). Jeremiah is developmentally delayed and has Autism, but does not struggle with many of the attachment issues our daughter does.

Before school began, I attended a meeting with Patrice and Jeremiah’s other therapists. I mentioned, as kindly as possible, that Patrice said Jeremiah exhibited behaviors. One woman said, “He does.” A few minutes into this roundtable discussion, I found out they all believed behaviors aren’t a bad thing, but are a child’s way of communicating.

If we look at our child’s behavior in this way, it alleviates some of the frustration we feel when they act out. We can also see that our child’s behavior isn’t about us, which so many parents of hurting children tend to think.

Our children are telling us something. They are responding to triggers that send them back to their days of trauma, neglect, and abuse. They are trying to control their environment because they don’t believe they will be safe if they don’t.

like a wave, our child's behaviors come from deep within.
like a wave, our child’s behaviors come from deep within.

I listened to a webinar on The Attachment and Trauma Network that was very enlightening. In regards to a hurting child’s behavior one of the speakers said, “If your child had acid reflux and threw up, it would be because of the acid reflux. So it’s the same as when your child tries to ruin things when they are going well, their brain is more comfortable with the chaos, the calm scares them. Their body is reacting, they aren’t doing it because of you.” This internal response to the chaos in their brain produces behaviors that we don’t like.

Our children who have been neglected, abused, and traumatized have behaviors, some big, some small, and many are colossal. I hear parents consistently wanting to fix their child’s behaviors, so they can have a more peaceful life. I’ve been there many times myself. We think, “My child should understand this, she’s so smart,” “Why doesn’t my child get the consequences that come about every time she does…” “I am so tired of repeatedly telling her the same thing,” “Why can’t we get past this, it’s been years since the trauma occurred.”

Why can’t behaviors be quickly fixed with consequences, discipline, and rewards? For our children to create a lasting behavior change they must bond with us (see the end of this article for links to posts on bonding). When our children bond with us, their brains are forming connections that previously did not exist. Before our children bond, their brain is disconnected.

In The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, Dr. Bruce Perry says, “Because of the enormous amount of information the brain is confronted with daily, we must use these patterns to predict what the world is like. If early experiences are aberrant, these predictions may guide our behavior in dysfunctional ways.” Our children will not behave properly when their brain is disconnected.

Consequences, discipline, and rewards used in the right way are elements that help our kids develop, but when our main focus is on those three facets and not on bonding, it’s like placing a new board over a rotting one. The rotting board doesn’t go away, it’s still festering underneath, it will continue to rot until it’s replaced.

I equate the rotting wood with the beliefs our children have formed about life and themselves. When our child bonds with us, we are replacing those old ideas with new theories of themselves (they are lovable), their caregivers (safety and love), and life (they don’t have to control everything). When all these pieces begin to come together you will see your child letting go of their control, which will in turn change some of their negative behaviors.

For practical ways to get your child’s brain connected (bonding with the caregiver) head over to my other posts:
let’s bond already:creating attachment with an adopted child 
rocking: a simple first step to bonding (and it doesn’t just apply to infants)
what’s on their mind?
why consequences & rewards don’t work

interesting quote

I read this in a book, and thought I would share it with you.

“… Our first experience of this life begins here on the first day. This won’t be recorded in language or be retrievable into rational thought. But the limbic brain remembers, and our body remembers. Here is when we begin to build our model of what to expect, of who will be there, of how we will be received, of how safe it it out there, of how we can make ourselves known and be comforted… Many Americans still view babies as inattentive and unaware.”


What happens when a child is abused? Neglected? A mother consumes alcohol while pregnant?