A Friend’s Review of The Connected Child

In our recent series on the adoption, I included a pretty lengthy critique of The Connected Child, the book which serves as a bit of an adoption bible in Christian circles. In the midst of posting those, my good pastor friend Brian Liechty let me know he had also been working on a review of the book (separately from anything I’d written) since so many folks in his church were using it as a resource. As a pastor, he was also concerned about many elements in the book. After we talked a bit about it, he told me he was considering submitting it to CCEF for their journal. I even got the privilege of reading an early version of the review.

I’m glad to say that Brian did submit the review to CCEF and they did decide to publish it. And it’s a really great review. Brian does an excellent job of laying out both the many strengths and weaknesses of the book, in a far more winsome and transparent and encouraging way than I did in my reviews (and I feel no shame in admitting that!). Brian wrote it with a pastor’s heart, wanting the flock over which the Holy Spirit has made him an overseer to be well cared for and informed in the ways they used this resource for the glory of God. And he was kind enough to share that heart with the rest of us via CCEF’s journal.

So, if you’re not getting this, I think if you have any experience with or interest in The Connected Child, you really ought to read Brian’s review. Unfortunately, you do have to buy either the entire journal or the single article to read it. But if you buy the article, it’s only $1.99 and totally worth it. To whet your appetite, here’s a free sample of the review.

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Skipping the Conversations

“Bill, I don’t know what to do. Every time my son needs correction, I try to sit him down, talk to him about his heart, read to him from the Scriptures and instruct him, ask him heart questions, then discipline him, pray with him, and assure him of my love. But every time I do, he just won’t listen and he fights against me and sometimes just leaves in the middle of it. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong!”

“Remind me again how old you little guy is.”

“He’s two.”

“Ah, yes, I know what the problem is: he’s two. All that talking and instructing and asking questions–he’s just too young. A time will come for that, but you’re just not there yet!”

I remember having this conversation with my friend several years ago. I was a few years ahead in parenting and freely felt I could tell him that while those steps are great, his son was simply not old enough and developed enough. I felt then (and still do) that there’s really not much conversation that needs to happen in those younger ages. You just don’t reason with a toddler. I mean, seriously. It’s painful to try. They certainly need instruction, correction, and assurance of love, but there’s not usually much more to it until they grow older.

The problem is that I had this conversation six years ago. And I said it knowing that “there would come a time” when conversations would increase and discipline would involve more dialogue than it ever had in the past. But now I have an eleven-year-old and somewhere along the way I missed my exit, still cruising on “How to Raise a Toddler” highway.

Which means that a whole lot of my parenting is a whole lot of my talking and my kids doing a whole lot of not talking.

Honestly, I’ve not transitioned well. And I really like that my kids are hitting that tween phase. But the reality is that I’ve transitioned poorly to having intellectually and emotionally capable kids who want to talk and process, and I don’t afford them the opportunity.

So, what does that mean? It’s funny, because it’s still in many ways new territory for me. Like Hermione Granger, when at loss I turn to books! I’m slated to read Age of Opportunity by Paul David Tripp soon and hope to follow that up with Everyday Talk by Jay Younts. And in these opportunities for talking and discussing, I know there are a few goals I want to accomplish:

  1. Hear from my kids and help them learn to talk through their sins, temptations, and troubles. This is something I’m particularly poor at even as an adult, so I want to train my kids how to speak openly and plainly about the deep matters of their hearts.
  2. Help them go to the Scriptures and understand how they apply to them. I’m certainly capable of doing this for them, but they’re at the age where I need to start handing them the reins. I want them to start making the link between their attitudes and behaviors to God’s Word, because I can’t meditate on the Word for them.
  3. Teach them how to process their sin against God and against others, and the appropriate responses for those sins. While this would certainly include seeking forgiveness from the one sinned against, what I’m particularly thinking about here is determining if any restitution needs to be made. I always find this tricky, because I don’t want the kids thinking they can atone for their sins (they can’t). Rather I want them to see that all sin has temporal consequences in addition to eternal ones–and they have a responsibility for those temporal consequences, whether that’s replacing something or offering a service or whatever. But I want to lead the kids into figuring this out instead of simply telling them.
  4. Begin the process (slowly!) of treating my kids like the adults they will be. Even though they’re not adults yet and still have years to go, there will come a day when they are neither under my watch nor under my authority. I want my children to see that my authority has always been derivative. Self-discipline and self-assessment will be the tools to remind them to follow the authorities that will come after me, and much more the authority of the triune God himself. This is really just a fancy way of saying I want them to learn obedience apart from my presence–because God is ever-present.

What about you readers out there? Those of you with tweens and older, how have you found ways to connect with your kids? What have you done to train them for the day they won’t be under your roof anymore? Do you have any resources you’d recommend?

Kidisms

Kindling the Fire
Victoria: I didn’t know daddy had that tablet.
Me: Oh, his Kindle?
Victoria: Yeah, his candle tablet!

Somebody call the cops!
Esther (watching me type up e-vites): Are you using those for investigations?
Bill: Do you mean invitations?

Literally literal
Bill (asking her what topic she’d written about): What did you write it on?
Esther: I wrote it on notebook paper

We call it “The South”
Ariana: Isn’t there another country that calls lunch dinner

It was out of his hands
Liam gave Josiah gum and told him not to swallow it. Five minutes later Josiah said: I’m sorry, Wiam. It slid down to my tummy.

The blood of Jesus doesn’t remove everything…
Victoria: Why is Miriam still crazy even though she’s been baptized!?

Them bones
Victoria: Why do we have bones?
Court: So we can stand and walk.
Josiah: Can babies walk?
Court: Not usually.
Josiah: Oh. So babies don’t have bones.

And the humblest
Josiah: Is Daddy cute?
Court: He’s the cutest!
Josiah: He’s not the cutest! I’m the cutest!

Come home already!
Josiah: How many minuses is Daddy’s work? [How many minutes till Daddy’s home?]

Read-Aloud Review: A Long Walk to Water

41owpj9m5ul-_sy346_A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

From Amazon: The New York Times bestseller A Long Walk to Water begins as two stories, told in alternating sections, about two eleven-year-olds in Sudan, a girl in 2008 and a boy in 1985. The girl, Nya, is fetching water from a pond that is two hours’ walk from her home: she makes two trips to the pond every day. The boy, Salva, becomes one of the “lost boys” of Sudan, refugees who cover the African continent on foot as they search for their families and for a safe place to stay. Enduring every hardship from loneliness to attack by armed rebels to contact with killer lions and crocodiles, Salva is a survivor…

Our oldest daughter, Ariana, got this book quite a long time ago from the Indy Children’s Museum, after which she tore through it and asked us to read it, too. After putting it off for way too long, we recently read this together as a family. The book is 133 pages and we read it in three days.

Yep. Three days.

I was surprised by how compelling the story was, even though it was somewhat fictionalized by Park. But I know enough to know that it was true to Salva Dut’s story and many of the other Lost Boys of Sudan. And so I was glad to read it as a family and get totally wrapped up in the story. They loved it so much that every time I’d finish a chapter, one or more of the kids (and sometimes Courtney, too!) would ask me to read another chapter. And then another. And then another.

The main reason I wanted to read this story was to give my kids a glimpse of what life is like in places where the resources are shy of our very rich country. It certainly did that. But it was far more. Because it was about loss, suffering, perseverance, compassion, and the fragility of life.

And, as the mark of any book I love, I balled like fourteen times in reading it to the kids.

What I Really Liked: I enjoyed giving the kids a vivid picture of life in a very different culture and setting. I also liked that the book didn’t shy away from the horrors Salva faced in many years, though it wasn’t grotesque about it either. I appreciated how the book got to see examples of both noble and ignoble characters, and even weaknesses and frailty in the protagonist. It was a very human story, where the perils of war and hunger are the crucible through which temptations are faced, sometimes well and sometimes not. And I was grateful that the book led into many other conversations, especially as we learned more about Sudan through different resources (more on that below).

What I Didn’t Like: Of course, it’s not a Christian book and I didn’t expect it to be, but the main character wonders many times how he could be so “lucky” and I kept reminding the kids that it wasn’t luck, but God’s kindness. And as I mentioned above, the author admits that some parts of the story were fictionalized, which was a little confusing when I had to explain that most of the book was real, but not necessarily all of it.

The Bottom Line: This is a great book that not only displays depth of character and perseverance through adversity, but also gives an honest and important glimpse into the plight of much of the globe. It’s a great story. Good for all ages, though our tender-hearted five-year-old struggled with the sad parts.

Discussion:

  • How is life in Sudan like yours? How is it different?
  • How do you think you would have responded if you were in Salva’s place?
  • Can you imagine being excited to get to go to school? Can you imagine what life would be like where you need to work all day just to survive?
  • What did you think about the Uncle’s words to just focus on the next goal? Why did he tell Salva that? Does that sound anything like “Don’t worry about tomorrow”?
  • When they were traveling through the desert and saw the group lying there, how did the people in Salva’s group respond? Why did some not want to help? Why did others help them? Does Jesus call us to give only after we make sure we have enough or do we give even if it might endanger us?
  • What are the many ways that God the Father protected Salva through his life?
  • Do you ever feel like Salva? Do you ever feel like things are too hard to keep going? What do you do when that happens?
  • How did Uncle Jewiir remind you of Jesus?
  • Is Jesus with you, even if you have to face terrible circumstances like Salva? How does this story remind you to give thanks to God for what you have? How is Jesus the only hope for Sudan?

Additional Resources

Adoption Series Roll-Up

Now that we’ve spent seven months (WHAT!?!?) opening up our hearts and convictions regarding adoption, we’re ready to get back to what this blog is all about: raising our kids in Jesus. That, of course, includes adoption, but that’s clearly not the totality of it nor is that all we care about discussing on this blog.

So since we’re done posting on adoption for the time being, we wanted to provide a roll-up of the posts we wrote on the topic to sort of wrap everything up. Our hope in this series has been to be incredibly open of the many struggles we’ve faced in our own adoption story without cleaning it up or trying to make it look pretty when it’s painful. And more, we want all of us to see our story of adoption and the resources available to adoptive parents inside God’s grand gospel story of a crucified and risen king.

Here are all the posts in our adoption series:

  1. Getting Real About Adoption
  2. Loving the Unlovable
  3. Sin in the Adopted Child
  4. Support for the Adoptive Parent
  5. Broken-Hearted Parents
  6. Some Clarifying Thoughts on Our Adoption
  7. Examining Adoption Resources (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 1)
  8. Normal and Healthy? (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 2)
  9. A Matter of Foundations (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 3)
  10. The Sins of Neurology  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 4)
  11. Idol Swapping  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 5)
  12. Setting the Course  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 6)
  13. Another Way Forward (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 7)
  14. The Therapy Our Children Need
  15. Who Are You Calling Normal?
  16. Optional Adoption
  17. How to Adopt for Almost Free (And No Fundraising!)
  18. What About “Those” Kids?
  19. Trying to Make Them Lovable

Another Way Forward

Early on in beginning these critiques of The Connected Child/Empowered to Connect (TCC/ETC), I made a soft commitment to build up an alternative view to TCC/ETC. So far, I’ve not done much of that, wishing to simply push through the less-than-savory task of taking aim at a method advocated by brothers and sisters in Jesus that I don’t know, but also used and embraced by many brothers and sisters I do know.

Which is to say it’s hard to write a bunch of stuff you know is going to critique a bunch of people you care about. And I keep putting off each post because I find the task so undesirable. It may come as a surprise, but I do actually get tired of going against the grain…

But I still want to finish what I started and try to give a different vision for what we’re trying to do with our kids, especially as that relates to the two we adopted. Besides, Courtney has a ton of great stuff lined up that’s just been in a holding pattern waiting for me to wrap this up.

To attempt to counteract my perennial long-windedness, I’m just going to do my “rebuilding” in bullet points (as opposed to another 37 blog posts on the topic…) and if someone wants more detail on part of it, you can let me know.

  • The primary goal for all of our children is to know and be known by King Jesus. While we have zero control over the latter, we have much to do with the former. Proclamation is central to our time on Earth, because it was central to our King during his time on Earth. More than wanting my kids to be safe or happy or well-adjusted or connected or well-rounded or successful, I want them to know the Ruler of the Entire Universe. Of course, I’d be glad for them to be everything I just mentioned in the last sentence. But since suffering is not only part of this life, but also a gift from God, then I don’t count on a suffering-free or even suffering-lite life for my kids. Besides, the only thing that’ll sustain them through success or failure, through health or sickness is the unending faithfulness and goodness of a crucified and risen Savior.
  • I suck as a parent. One of things that goes along with most parenting resources (and TCC/ETC is no exception) is a quasi-guarantee that through such and such parenting technique, we’ll bring about real and lasting change and hope of our kids. Well, I neither promise anything that large or see that in my own parenting. My kids are a mess, I’m a mess, Courtney’s a mess, our church is a mess, our neighborhood is a mess. So while I want Jesus to be central to my parenting, my actions have a disturbing tendency to show an opposite desire for my kids. “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” I say this because there is enormous pressure from any parenting resource to feel like we need to get it all right. Here’s an article from ETC basically saying, “We used to screw up, but now we’ve got it figured out.” Ugh. That’s only true till it’s not. Failure in parenting is the burden we bear alongside our successes. Which really just means that…
  • Parenting is by faith and not by method. I feel like I’m beating this drum all the time, but I really just can’t put the darn drum down. We parent our kids in faith that we serve a good God who wants good for his children. He’s not capricious. And he’s not some mysterious secret-keeper, withholding the key to the secret door of parenting knowledge. I’m inherently suspicious of the astounding claims of the snake oil salesman and I feel the same way about parenting resources that do the same thing. Sometimes I struggle to come up with anything to write on this blog, because it all just boils down to, “I suck. You suck. Our kids suck. We all need Jesus.” But then I think I’m kinda okay with that, because it’s better than empty promises and false guarantees. (Cue the drum solo.) But regardless of whether or not you agree with my assessment of TCC/ETC, it’s just a method. If you choose that method, then do it by faith in Jesus, not in the method. Or if, like me, you choose a different method, that’s not where to place our hope either. Whether TCC/ETC or Parenting with Love & Logic or Shepherding a Child’s Heart or Happiest Baby on the Block or whatever your Momma told you or whatever social pressure you feel the need to conform to, put your hope in Jesus as Savior and King. Methods come and go, but he never changes.
  • All my kids are weird, and so am I–and we’re also all the same. I have biological children and adopted children. They are all very different, they all have different ways of responding to situations, they all have different likes and dislikes (though I’m pretty sure they all agree Batman is cool). Bio or not, they’re all different from each other and from Court and me. So, we’re all weird. But we’re also all the same because we have hearts and lungs and brains and belly buttons. And with all that, we all have hearts steeped in selfishness and sinfulness. In that way, we’re exactly the same. “But you [all] were dead in your transgressions and sins.” So, if we all have the same symptoms and the same sickness, we all need the same soul medicine: Jesus. I don’t have a track for my biological (read: normal) and my adopted (read: abnormal) kids. Nope, one track here, with one poor dead horse that I keep beating. Good thing that Jesus can raise that pitiful horse up from the dead, too.
  • Because all the kids are different, we certainly respond to them differently. So, yeah, all my kids need Jesus, but they need him in ways that look a little different from kid to kid. I think this is one of the things missed a lot with adopted kids that TCC/ETC provides such an attractive solution for. Those of us who adopt (and foster, I would think) get firebombed with the sudden arrival of a child with incredibly different backgrounds, genetics, stories, patterns, rhythms. The temptation is to call this different “abnormal”, because that’s nicely packaged and separated. That’s why the whole category of “kids from trauma” is unhelpful because it’s less about “trauma”, and more about how vastly different kids we didn’t birth and raise from Day One are. So I can’t split my kids into the normal ones and the abnormal ones. But I will gladly acknowledge that the kids we adopted have had a far steeper learning curve, because we’re just as different for them as they are for us. So I’m fine with understanding that their path is probably more different than the six bios, but that doesn’t really mean much. At the end of the day, Court and I evaluate each child individually and differently: each kid, not just those weird, adopted ones…
  • Our battle is not against flesh and blood. That’s probably my tipping point with the neurological stuff and coming from trauma and brains being hard-wired. If we really believe the Scripture, then we have to acknowledge that we’re dealing with more than just physiology here. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Am I trying to drive a wedge between spiritual and physical? The opposite, actually. In fact, the unbelieving world and most of the adoption stuff out there are the ones doing that. They claim that if you can treat the body, the soul will be healed. And I say: Bull. Furthermore, in buying into this, we’re forgetting about a massive part of the ministry of Jesus: casting out demons. “Bill, are you saying that adopted kids could have demons?” I’m saying that any kid could have a demon. And the fact is that when we bring children in from Satan-ravaged circumstances, riddled with demons and spiritual forces, then I think we really ought not to be surprised if “kids from trauma” really means “kids with demons.” No, I’m not saying every kid. I’m just saying that we act like it’s a not even a possibility. Sometimes I think we just forget that as much as culture has changed over the past 2,000 years, perhaps demonic behaviors of self-destruction, seizures, and incredibly odd actions might have changed a bit over time as well.
  • The battle belongs to the Lord. Truly, we’re in the midst of a battle. Our own hearts and circumstances are sometimes in the crossfire. And sometimes our kids are, too. But we don’t fight a battle like we’re uncertain of the outcome. In fact, Jesus has already won the war and we’re just in the midst of the last desperate attempts of the enemy to maim us on his way down. And the same goes for parenting. We really need to repent of this “What if I ruin my kids?” mindset. The battle belongs to the Lord. We parent trusting that he will work all things together for good. And we need to repent of the idolatry that makes us masters of our kids’ fates.

Here are all the posts in our adoption series:

  1. Getting Real About Adoption
  2. Loving the Unlovable
  3. Sin in the Adopted Child
  4. Support for the Adoptive Parent
  5. Broken-Hearted Parents
  6. Some Clarifying Thoughts on Our Adoption
  7. Examining Adoption Resources (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 1)
  8. Normal and Healthy? (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 2)
  9. A Matter of Foundations (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 3)
  10. The Sins of Neurology  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 4)
  11. Idol Swapping  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 5)
  12. Setting the Course  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 6)
  13. Another Way Forward (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 7)
  14. The Therapy Our Children Need
  15. Who Are You Calling Normal?
  16. Optional Adoption
  17. How to Adopt for Almost Free (And No Fundraising!)
  18. What About “Those” Kids?
  19. Trying to Make Them Lovable

Setting the Course

With all I’ve written about Empowered to Connect/The Connected Child up to now, I imagine that the question could be posed: “Well, who cares? What if it works? What if I’m following their methods and it’s making a difference?” On the outside, I will certainly affirm that good could come from using the ETC/TCC methods. I greatly appreciate the reminder to parent with compassion–anyone in our lives should be treated with compassion. I love the ideas behind simple, to-the-point instructions. I think setting a series of pre-taught, rehearsed language is helpful in stressful situations.

In short, I’m sure following their methods will help. As one Amazon reviewer said, “the book has some good suggestions. Things that any parent should be doing….being positive with your child, using eye contact, shutting off the TV, spending time with your kids, understanding their past, etc.” TCC/ETC is by no means a big bowl of ridiculous advice–it’s helpful and engaging and highly empathetic to the struggles we adoptive parents face.

It’s the course set by TCC/ETC that concerns me. I’ve already criticized the resources for having a shaky foundation and advocating a subtle form of idolatry. Even if you disagree with me in my questioning of the neurological misunderstandings they present, it really doesn’t change much. These resources are not grounded in Jesus and subsequently aren’t aiming at him either.

This is a problem of trajectory. When there are two lines starting at a single point, at very first, it’s difficult to see the difference between the two as they move toward their goal. But with time, the gap becomes wider and wider, until the point that it’s clear that one of the lines is veering way off target.

So, I look at these resources and I find myself unsurprised that so many have found them helpful and have clung to them as their lifeline, the miracle they’ve been waiting for. As my good friend Brian said, the authors are empathetic storytellers that connect with parents like Courtney and me who have agonized through the struggle of raising kids who don’t have a biological connection to us. They offer compelling answers to their odd behavior and why things don’t work right with them. Then they offer step-by-step solutions to fixing it and making the kids “whole”.

But that’s short-term gain, long-term loss. By addressing the kids this way, by trying to help remap their neurology and teach them to trust us before pointing them to God we’re already rewriting that neurology toward something other than Jesus. By refusing to see these kids holistically from any perspective geared toward eternity, it’s surely going to cause it’s own set of problems that we’ll need another book to figure out how to help our well-adjusted, “whole” adopted kids actually repent of the rampant selfishness and ungodly self-worth we taught them to have by finally pointing them to the selflessness of a crucified Savior and the only self-worth that can ever exist, which is being a child of God.

I’m aware that everything I’m saying hinges on each other. If you don’t buy my criticisms, then you certainly won’t see an issue with the trajectory set by ETC/TCC. But I think it’s all so attractive because of our desperate neediness in this whole adoption mess. The absolute sense of failure and bewilderment. The sense of “are we completely screwing these kids up?” The thoughts of “these kids would’ve been better off where they were than with us.” The end-of-the-rope desperation of “I just can’t do this anymore.” The whispered thought we can’t let anyone hear: “They are so difficult, so horrible, so disobedient, so manipulative, so different, so disruptive. I wish life could be the way it was before they came.” At the end of the terrible day where we’ve screamed or belittled or raged or wailed in failure, and there’s only one thought that screams in our head, “I hate them.” And then that morphs into guilt and self-loathing, “How could I think that? It’s not their fault that their lives are like this. They didn’t ask for this. I just can’t do this anymore. I’m too weak.”

And so, there we are, in our desperation, begging for some help, for some hope, for anything. And this attractive, empathetic book comes along that knows our struggle, that understands our pain. And not only that! It has the solution, the way forward,the step-by-step means of making it better. Hallelujah, our hope has arrived!

But it hasn’t. However well-intentioned TCC/ETC (and I know it’s well-intentioned), these resources don’t offer the hope that flows from eternity, the living water that only Jesus can offer. Our adopted kids are the products of sinful humanity, the brokenness that came from teeth breaking through the rind of sin’s fruit. And even apart from their horrible backgrounds, their little hearts were never innocent, but were “sinful at birth, sinful from the time [their] mothers conceived [them].” And us? Our parenting is riddled with the same brokenness and the same lack of innocence. We’re guilty of being terrible, horrible, no good, very bad people.

For us and for our kids (biological, foster, adopted, whatever), our only hope is this: “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

For the joy set before us, we endure the suffering of life, the effects of our sin, and–especially through adoption–the effects of the sins of others. And the weight of the crap of all of it grounds us into the dust of despair and weariness, till we feel we have nothing left. And in those moments (which sometimes seem to come day after day or even moment after moment), fixing our eyes on the neurology of our children and making sure to help them feel safe and building trust to make them a counterfeit version of whole will not lift the burden we’re carrying. Maybe those things will bring a little relief, like some morphine to help deaden the pain of the burst appendix. But at some point, you gotta let the surgeon hurt you worse by cutting you open so that you can actually heal, not just cover the pain for a while.

I don’t want to be a morphine addict. Nor do I want to jump from one pain killer to the next, as I build immunity to one after another and I have to keep searching for new methods of hiding the pain. I want the surgeon, scary though it be, to cut me open and fix me from the inside out. And I want the same thing for my kids, too. And even if it means more pain now, I know it means joy in eternity. The road is marked with suffering, but the city at the end will be a feast.

And I don’t want to miss it.

Here are all the posts in our adoption series:

  1. Getting Real About Adoption
  2. Loving the Unlovable
  3. Sin in the Adopted Child
  4. Support for the Adoptive Parent
  5. Broken-Hearted Parents
  6. Some Clarifying Thoughts on Our Adoption
  7. Examining Adoption Resources (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 1)
  8. Normal and Healthy? (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 2)
  9. A Matter of Foundations (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 3)
  10. The Sins of Neurology  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 4)
  11. Idol Swapping  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 5)
  12. Setting the Course  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 6)
  13. Another Way Forward (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 7)
  14. The Therapy Our Children Need
  15. Who Are You Calling Normal?
  16. Optional Adoption
  17. How to Adopt for Almost Free (And No Fundraising!)
  18. What About “Those” Kids?
  19. Trying to Make Them Lovable

Idol Swapping

As a parent, I want one main thing for my children, whether bio or adopted: for them to know and be known by King Jesus. So any method I use as a parent has to fit inside that rubric to be helpful, especially when we start talking about healing and hope.

The Connected Child (TCC: the non-Christian source material) states their goal to be thus: “The good news is that there’s real hope for a better way. As research psychologists who specialize in child development, we have been delighted to watch adopted children and their families make tremendous gains once they begin using the philosophy and techniques outlined in this book. When parents really begin to understand this approach and put these methods into practice, they soon glow with delight at their blossoming child and newly connected family.” Thus the goal is happiness and connection, which are fine though not ultimate.

Somewhat better, Empowered to Connect (ETC) has this in their study guide: “We believe that as you work through these pages…you will better understand the philosophy and approach for the holistic model of parenting that we advocate, which has helped bring hope and healing to countless children and parents. As you do, our prayer is that you will develop a closer connection not only with your children, but also with your Heavenly Father.” Or perhaps this is more to the point: “By loving and nurturing our children in this holistic way we can give them the gift of “real hope”—an opportunity to heal and become whole—even as we teach them about and point them toward the source of everlasting hope in Jesus Christ.”

Hear what they’re saying: these kids are broken and need to be healed. But notice that the hope and the healing come before getting to Jesus. So who or what is doing the healing, if not God himself? “Fundamental to this real hope is an understanding that our children need a healthy and consistent balance of both nurture (affection, compassion, mercy) and structure (rules, limits, boundaries). Put another way, our children need a balance between connecting (nurture) and correcting (structure). As a result, the challenge is to identify what your child is really saying and what your child really needs. If we give a child structure (rules and correction) when she needs nurture (affection and mercy), we damage her ability to trust. If we give a child nurture when she needs structure, we limit her ability to grow. Therefore, we must learn to see our children and understand what they need in all of their being.”

Where’s the hope? Look at all the “we’s”: the hope is in us, as parents, as we try to make our kids whole.

And that, my friends, is idolatry. As the old hymn says, “What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

You see, because it’s so subtle, it’s easy to read the Christian veneer and think this is good, God-centered stuff. But it’s not. The only one who heals is Jesus. The only one who makes broken people whole is Jesus. And if we think that we have to fix people–child or adult–before we bring them to Jesus, then we’re placing ourselves in God’s place. We are setting ourselves up as an idol–on purpose! This is why I even bothered to make the point about normal and healthy: ETC & TCC are all about making our kids normal, so that we can then give them Jesus.

From ETC: “Out of this spontaneous, affectionate, connected dance between parent and child, this little one develops trust in the knowledge that his parent truly cares for him. In these arms of nurturing love, this child learns who he is, the meaning of unconditional love and his heart is being prepared to understand the eternal love of God.”

No! His heart is already prepared to understand the love of God. “The heavens declare the glory of God.” “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Our kids do not need to pass through us to get to God the Father.

You see, all humans are dead in their sins and trespasses, even children. Thus, all of us are chasing after idols. The idols of the “at-risk” child might be a different set of idols, but they are still just worthless idols. If our goal is to get our kids to trust us, so that they trust God the Father, all we’ve done is say, “Get rid of those idols of control (or eating or manipulation or fear or anger or shutdowns or whatever) and replace them with Daddy and Mommy. Once we’ve done that, then you’re ready for God.”

That’s swapping idols. And I don’t want my adopted (or bio!) kids to swap idols. I don’t want to be their god. I want to over and over and over and over again point them to the one, true, and living God, the creator of the universe. I want to show them how he sent his Son to be the perfect Lamb of God, the great King who makes all things right and good. I want to love them and nourish them and cherish them, while always pointing them to the only one that will truly love them and nourish them and cherish them. And you know why this distinction, which might sound like splitting hairs, is so important? Because I will let them down. It will never work to point them to me first. I’ll be teaching them to believe a lie, which is the very definition of an idol. Their only hope is for me to continually point them to the only one worth trusting in.

Here are all the posts in our adoption series:

  1. Getting Real About Adoption
  2. Loving the Unlovable
  3. Sin in the Adopted Child
  4. Support for the Adoptive Parent
  5. Broken-Hearted Parents
  6. Some Clarifying Thoughts on Our Adoption
  7. Examining Adoption Resources (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 1)
  8. Normal and Healthy? (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 2)
  9. A Matter of Foundations (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 3)
  10. The Sins of Neurology  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 4)
  11. Idol Swapping  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 5)
  12. Setting the Course  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 6)
  13. Another Way Forward (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 7)
  14. The Therapy Our Children Need
  15. Who Are You Calling Normal?
  16. Optional Adoption
  17. How to Adopt for Almost Free (And No Fundraising!)
  18. What About “Those” Kids?
  19. Trying to Make Them Lovable

The Sins of Neurology

Up to this point, I’ve been writing an extended critique of The Connected Child and the related Empowered to Connect (ETC) that I’m trying to develop one step at a time . I hope you’ll bear with me as I try to show the connection between what I’ve said about their approach to “normal” and their foundations, and how that leads to some more specific problems.

An element that comes up over and over again with ETC is that kids from trauma have been hardwired into their behaviors by their experiences, thus their brains don’t work normally. “The deprivation they suffered early in life has hardwired their primitive brain to believe that starvation is just around the corner.” “Research shows that motor memory can trump cognitive, thought-based memory for very young children.” Here’s a longer quotation:

Thinking in terms of our children, we must recognize that for many children from hard places, fear is their best friend. Due in large part to their past, fear has ruled their lives—their mind, emotions and behaviors—for so long that it has become a familiar, and even oddly comforting, companion. Rather than having more brain activity in the frontal regions of the brain (i.e., the part of the brain that can process thoughts such as, “I can communicate my needs,” “I can communicate my wants,” “I can tell you that I am hurt or afraid,” etc.), children from hard places often operate in the more primitive part of the brain, called the amygdala. As a result, their behaviors and interactions are more likely to be driven by more primal thoughts such as, “How do I get food?” “How do I get safe?” “How do I get what I want?” and “How do I get my way?” They are stuck in survival mode and, therefore, they are prone to misinterpret communication (both verbal and nonverbal) as threatening and respond in ways that are unacceptable

Let’s put aside this idea of “primitive” (hearkening back to an evolutionary understanding of the brain, which is problematic in its own right but not central to their points) and deal with what they’re really saying: these kids have brains that are hardwired differently and that’s why they act differently.To which I say, “Sure, I agree. Different experiences will lead to different wiring and different responses.” If that were it, I’d be fine.

But they don’t stop there: “But remember, inappropriate behaviors are driven by old traumas, neurological limitations, and the appropriate urge to survive.” “When your child appears physically perfect, it’s easy to erroneously assume that his or her poor behavior is willful and intentional.” “[Y]our child…is controlled by his primitive brain…”

And this is where I can’t follow that logic. According to ETC, “inappropriate behaviors” and “poor behavior” aren’t wrong–they simply need to be retrained. More than that, their behaviors are outside their control. They can’t help it! Their brains made them do it! But biblically speaking, sin is sin is sin, even if there are environmental factors at play (and there almost always are!). It’s not possible to drive a hard wedge between volitional and involuntary responses–at least, the Bible doesn’t permit that division, even if we like it.

Let me address this a few different ways. Let’s say I grow up in a house that’s stable and loving, but very little is expected of me. My parents do everything for me so that I never have to work, never have to try. So, I’m hardwired at this point toward low effort. Now my circumstances change–maybe I’m at school for instance–and I’m given a project. I’m hardwired not to work hard. So is my laziness and failure to complete the project not my fault since I was raised and wired that way?

Maybe that’s too anecdotal. Let’s use pornography. This article shows how persistent viewing of pornography leads to neurological changes. So if the hardwiring of their brains are changed, does that mean lusting via pornography isn’t a sin?

Or perhaps that feels too volitional since those individuals made the choice to get in that position. This article suggests that there might be a link between genetics (a.k.a. non-volitional hardwiring) and negative thinking. So would we say that if these folks are genetically geared toward anger or faithlessness or hopelessness, then it’s not a sin? I mean, they can’t help it, right?

Understand that answering “yes” to any of these questions means that there are sinful behaviors that aren’t really sins. And that, my friends, is not how God has revealed himself. Let’s take the last example: who made that individual’s genetic makeup? God did. Did God make a different set of right and wrong for these people than he did for those to whom he gave cheerful personalities? Nope.

Let’s expand this one step further. Is God sovereign over everything that happens, “working all things together for good for those who love him, who are called according to his purpose”? Absolutely. So doesn’t that mean that he was even sovereignly guiding the circumstances that led to the “hard places” of these kids? In fact, doesn’t the Bible tell us that suffering will be part of the story God weaves for all who believe in him and follow him? You bet your tushy it does.

Thus these behaviors are sins, even if they are responses to the things that happened to these kids that were outside their control. Does that mean that we should ignore their past and treat them like they ought to know better? Of course not. And when I start buildling back up everything I’m dismantling right now, I hope to demonstrate that.

But just because kids have brains that process differently than our white-bread, middle class, American easy-peasy lives does not mean that their behavior stops being sin. And thus (and I’ll build more on this later), it’s not that these kids need to be treated differently than “the normal kids”, it’s that their sin needs to be dealt with in a way that knows how they were formed (Ps 103:14). But it is sin and it should be corrected as such, even if that method of doing so might be tailored differently.

ETC has no category for sin. Just “unhealthy”. An unhealthy person just needs a new diet. A sinful person needs a new heart. That’s apples and oranges.

Here are all the posts in our adoption series:

  1. Getting Real About Adoption
  2. Loving the Unlovable
  3. Sin in the Adopted Child
  4. Support for the Adoptive Parent
  5. Broken-Hearted Parents
  6. Some Clarifying Thoughts on Our Adoption
  7. Examining Adoption Resources (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 1)
  8. Normal and Healthy? (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 2)
  9. A Matter of Foundations (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 3)
  10. The Sins of Neurology  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 4)
  11. Idol Swapping  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 5)
  12. Setting the Course  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 6)
  13. Another Way Forward (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 7)
  14. The Therapy Our Children Need
  15. Who Are You Calling Normal?
  16. Optional Adoption
  17. How to Adopt for Almost Free (And No Fundraising!)
  18. What About “Those” Kids?
  19. Trying to Make Them Lovable

A Matter of Foundations

In my last post, I drew attention to the ways that Empowered to Connect (ETC) and most other adoption resources label the backgrounds and behaviors of these kids as not “normal” or as “unhealthy”. My criticism of any resource that uses those terms is that it has to ground them is something objective, something timeless, an authority that stands outside of our foolish selves. As followers of Jesus, the only thing that could be that objective rule is Scripture.

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash. -Matt 7:24-27

Now, in saying “these words of mine”, Jesus certainly means all that he taught, which is in harmony with the full testimony of Scripture. Thus the words “breathed out by God” are useful for “teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training.” God’s word is our objective truth, the standard or the ruler by which everything else is measured.

To press the parable from Jesus a bit, the two houses built both had nice floor plans, all brick with lovely shutters and a spectacular back deck. So, you understand, the two houses end up looking quite similar. But after a while, you realize the second house looks a little crooked. And some of the mortar is starting to crack. And then the first big storm comes and waylays the whole house. See, it’s an easy thing to confuse lives (or in our case, resources) that have a lot of the same appearances of biblical truth and living that a follower of Jesus has with an actual follower of Jesus. But the foundations are incredibly different and that makes the difference between a house still standing and a pile of rubble. Just give it a little time…

The trouble with ETC is that it explicitly states that The Connected Child (TCC) should be the main resource to consult: “I believe you will gain most from this resource if you spend meaningful time reading and reflecting on what we have written in The Connected Child (from the Study Guide).” In fact, the study guide “Created to Connect” at ETC states that its purpose is “to illuminate the biblical background and parallels that support the guiding principles set out in The Connected Child” and “is designed as a companion to The Connected Child.” To be clear, TCC is not a Christian book. There is no mention of anything even remotely religious in it, much less Christian. So the main guide here is TCC and ETC stands as a “companion to” TCC. Thus the foundation is the content of TCC and from that the biblical explanations follow.

That sounds completely backwards. TCC literally has no solid foundation to it because it’s not rooted in the timeless truth of Jesus as the Word. Furthermore, every single bit of justification or grounding in TCC is based upon the understanding that “these” kids haven’t had the “normal” upbringing they “should have had” and thus they must have those “needs” met. But that only works so long as we agree on the “normal” and the “should have had” and the “needs”.

Now, perhaps I misunderstand their intention. Maybe the biblical truths were always there and always part of the foundation of both ETC and TCC. And perhaps they removed that biblical undergirding in order to make a book that would appeal to both Christian and non-Christian audiences. Two responses here: First, that sounds a lot like giving a baking recipe book to a friend, but saying, “I removed flour from all the ingredients because of your gluten intolerance.” Except that removing such a foundational ingredient destroys every single recipe and the only option to salvage anything is substitution, which will never match the quality of the original. Second, if TCC can stand alone without any biblical basis then Jesus is really nothing more than an add-on, the “optional” ingredient in the recipe that some take and some leave behind. And I just don’t get how the king and lord of the entire cosmos (and beyond!) could be an optional ingredient when he’s supposed to be the core element of the approach.

Either way, ETC comes across like taping Bible verses to methods. Instead, we should be looking for the principles to come from Scripture through which we discover our methods, even if some of those methods come out looking pretty similar in the end. The foundation sets the course for the rest of the house and if that foundation isn’t firm, the house will eventually show it. So while I have no doubt that many have found the perspectives and methods of ETC/TCC helpful, I think the trajectory being set is troubling. Because of that lack of grounding, I see some glaring problems which I’ll highlight in the next few posts.

Here are all the posts in our adoption series:

  1. Getting Real About Adoption
  2. Loving the Unlovable
  3. Sin in the Adopted Child
  4. Support for the Adoptive Parent
  5. Broken-Hearted Parents
  6. Some Clarifying Thoughts on Our Adoption
  7. Examining Adoption Resources (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 1)
  8. Normal and Healthy? (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 2)
  9. A Matter of Foundations (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 3)
  10. The Sins of Neurology  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 4)
  11. Idol Swapping  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 5)
  12. Setting the Course  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 6)
  13. Another Way Forward (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 7)
  14. The Therapy Our Children Need
  15. Who Are You Calling Normal?
  16. Optional Adoption
  17. How to Adopt for Almost Free (And No Fundraising!)
  18. What About “Those” Kids?
  19. Trying to Make Them Lovable