Healing Childhood Trauma

This week on CatholicMom.com, my column deals with the signs parents should watch for in their children that may indicate they are experiencing trauma and need professional help. The source of the trauma varies from child to child and from family to family: divorce, death, separation, neglect, abuse, financial stress, the list goes on. For children touched by adoption or foster care, unresolved trauma from the circumstances that caused them to be separated from their birth families can affect them into adulthood, even if they are loved and supported by their new families. Love, in and of itself, does not always “conquer all.”

What I wish someone had thought to mention to us when we first got our children, is that unresolved trauma can lie dormant for a time — only to bite you in the glutes as the child approaches adolescence. So parents need to keep a watchful eye, especially in children who have been diagnosed with “invisible disabilities” such as autistic spectrum disorders, ADHD, ODD, attachment issues, and so on. And parents of children with a history of abuse and neglect must never let their guard down entirely. Sneakiness and deceit — even with children who are otherwise good and truthful — is part of the disorder.

Another thing I wish had been pointed out to me is that trauma affects parents, too. After years of dealing with acting-out behaviors, your parent brain may not catch the more subtle signs of “something is not right here.” Not only do your kids need help in healing . . . You may also need help in dealing with the stress.

This week’s Gospel, in which Jesus gives dire warnings to those who cause one of his “little ones” to stumble, predicting millstones and a watery destruction, also provide a faint hint of hope to those who hear with the ears of faith. For the Christian, “death by water” has an entirely different connotation than it does for those who have not experienced the “dying with Christ” and “rising to new life” that baptism represents. Through our baptism, we do have all the graces we need to complete the journey. The path is not without suffering, for we follow in the steps of the Savior who suffered and died for us. But as we travel the road together with our children, we can persevere in faith, trusting in the perfect healing that is to come.

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Single Moms: Are Your Kids in Danger?

In an article posted today at CatholicExchange.com, How Co-habitation is a Sin Against Social Justice, Dr. Jennifer Robuck points to co-habitation as one of the greatest dangers to the physical and spiritual well-being of children, particularly when children unrelated to the partner are living under the same roof. Morse writes:

“…we know that a cohabiting boyfriend is the person most likely to abuse a child. From British child-abuse registries, we learn that a child living with his or her mother and a live-in boyfriend is 33 times more likely to be abused than a child living with his or her biological married parents. From a study of inflicted injury deaths in Missouri, we learn that children living in households with unrelated adults were 50 times more likely to die of inflicted injuries than households with both biological parents present. In 82% of the cases, the ‘unrelated adult’ was the mother’s cohabiting boyfriend.”

The issue is not primarily the fact that the man is biologically unrelated (as is clearly demonstrated by the fact that so many couples choose to expand their families through adoption). But when a couple lives together without the sacrament of marriage, the instability of the partnership has a profound affect of the children living within the home.

I would add a caveat to Dr. Morse’s observations, however.  A single mother must consider carefully — and as objectively as possible — the type of man she is dating long before the question of marriage (or co-habitation) is raised. The sacrament of matrimony is not a magical panacea.  An immature, selfish wolf won’t turn “sheepish” just because you put a wedding band on the fourth finger of his left hand.

In my article “Marriage and the Single Mom,” I address some of the red flags that can creep into a relationship, signaling that the man in question is not a suitable spouse.

I don’t need to look any farther than my own family circle to show what can happen to children when their mothers make an ill-advised match. (Thankfully, my sister and her daughter managed to escape her abuser, and she chose much more wisely the second time around.)

The mutual self-donation that is part-and-parcel of a sacramental union is made by the husband and wife for the benefit of their children — whether or not those children have a biological connection to their parents.  If the woman’s future husband is willing to love her children without reservation, out of love for Christ, well and good.

If their mother has any doubts about this, however, she is wise not to risk the wellbeing of her children by tying her future to a man she cannot trust to love her children as his own.  Her highest responsibility is her children, and her happiness is inextricably tied to theirs.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that you will be alone for the rest of your life. Every life has its chapters and seasons, and the time may come when God brings the man who is worthy of your family into your life. Or, if you ask Him, He may also bring other people into your life who can give you the kind of encouragement and support you need right now. 

Have you asked Him? Today?

Prevent Child Abuse: Tips to Help Parents Cope

carriecraftCarrie Craft at AboutAdoption.com has lots of great information for parents looking for tips on a particular aspect of foster or adoptive parenting. Today she sent this link to an article to help parents cope with stress, especially when kids seem to be doing all they can to push your buttons.

Children who have been exposed to physical or emotional abuse will sometimes push the boundaries of reasonable behavior, often (but not always) to test your resolve to parent him or her. By responding with self-control, we teach them valuable lessons about love … and responsible adult behavior. Check it out!