I saw a wonderful piece of research the other day out of Harvard (https://medium.com/thrive-global/this-75-year-harvard-study-reveals-the-secret-to-happiness-and-success-3cf0002510fe). It followed
- 456 poor people in Boston from 1939 to 2014 (the Grant Study)
- 268 graduates from Harvard’s classes of 1939–1944 (the Glueck study)
It concludes that nearly everything in life is impacted by WHO is around you, and how those people support you.
“Childhood trauma, for example, is not about what happens to you. But about what happens ‘inside of you’, according to Dr. Gabor Maté. In other words, if you go through a terribly horrible experience and you have someone there to help you process it, you’ll likely recover quickly. If you don’t have someone to help you through it, you’ll internalize it, isolate yourself, and that trauma will turn into a lifetime of pain.”
I bet I don’t need to tell you why I’m sharing this. Those of you who are foster parents and those who have been parenting hurting children adopted into your families will struggle daily to see the fruits of your labor. Until children reach adulthood and begin navigating the grown-up world they cannot comprehend what knowing you has meant to their lives. Even then, unless they are remarkably reflective people, it may never be obvious where they learned the lessons that have proved so critical to success at any level and happiness of any kind.
In my experience, this came from two people: Claudie, an ample black woman who came every day to cook and clean before the bottom fell out of our family functioning and finances due to alcoholism; and Pastor Mark Herbener, the man who baptized me at age 6. Claudie was there when mom wasn’t remotely “present” and Pastor Herbener was there to offer an example of a functioning family. I wanted more of that. Who was there for you to interpret life? Who explained, in words you could understand, what was happening around you? Have you thanked them? If not, why not?
So, please, take care of yourself so you can recover quickly from the very difficult moments of caring for this hurting child. Learn as much as you can about what their boo-boo brains need to heal and trust that every day you are making a difference even if you can’t see it yet. A journal can help you see yourself and your child with a little distance. Identify people to whom you can take your feelings. Forgive those who just don’t get it. We all aren’t cut out to do this work but know that even if children aren’t in your life for long, they still get a taste of a new way to live a life. This is what love looks like.