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