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
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Normal and Healthy?

distribution-159626_960_720What does a normal child look like? What does healthy development look like? How normal is normal?  This article and this article both highlight how the idea of “normal” is a relatively new construct and, aside from that, incredibly difficult to nail down. Especially since “normal” floats from culture to culture, decade to decade, region to region, even research sample to research sample.

What in the world has this got to do with adoption and Empowered to Connect (ETC)? One of the fundamental principles that goes into ETC and the broader world of at-risk/trauma kids is that they didn’t have a normal (or healthy) development. Here’s one example:

Reactive attachment disorder is a rare but serious condition in which an infant or young child doesn’t establish healthy attachments with parents or caregivers. (Mayo Clinic)
And another:
In an ideal world, a newborn is laid in his mother’s arms and cradled within minutes of birth. Soon the mother is feeding him while he rests on her breast and gazes into her eyes. If he is hungry or uncomfortable, his cries will elicit her attention and care. In this way, the child learns to trust adults and begins to explore the world through his physical senses. From the hour of birth, a well-tended baby is immersed in a soft and nurturing sensory bath. He feels the warmth of his mother’s body and hears the joy in her soothing sounds. He sees her smile, mirroring back his own preciousness, and they engage in the dance of emotional bonding. This is enormously important to his healthy development. She cuddles, feeds, and carries him, and his senses are awakened. They coo and smile at each other, and he discovers the joys of bonding and attachment and how to behave in synchrony with other humans. Through this simple shared activity, his brain begins to build the neurological pathways of learning and healthy social connections. (The Connected Child)

 What’s implicit here is that there is a normal, healthy, ideal way to raise children and an abnormal, unhealthy way to raise children. “So what?” you say. “Isn’t that an obvious thing?” Well, yes and no. Yes, that these kids have had a different upbringing than, say, me or my bio kids. And yes, because there are definitely differences between good and bad parenting and childhoods (more on this later). But also no, because the definition of “healthy” and “normal” is assumed and never proven. I mean, don’t we all know what a good, healthy, normal childhood looks like? If the Mommy Wars are any indication at all, then no, we can’t at all agree on what a normal, healthy childhood should look like. And that’s just in the US.

Let’s be honest here: “normal” means whatever the heck we want it to mean. Individually, it usually means whatever we’re used to, whatever we have decided is the right “normal”, what we’ve accepted (consciously or otherwise) as culturally “normal”, or, most often, a combination of the three. For something like the Mayo Clinic, it’s a socially driven construct (again, see the article at the top).

When you boil it all down, I’m pretty sure “normal” in most of these circles means “what most white, middle class Americans do and think.” (Maybe we could stretch “Americans” to “Westerners”.)

So, here’s the rub: most of what I see in ETC and related psychological material is an effort to take your abnormal child and make them normal. That’s not terribly explicit, but it is painfully implicit. These children have been raised in “unhealthy” ways and have learned “unhealthy” means of behavior. But what happens when our definitions of normal/healthy shift (as they do all the time)? What happens if we change cultures? What happens if we’re not white and middle class?

The approach is essentially grounded on a moving target with a particular cultural bent to it. And I find that highly troublesome, to say the least. For instance, Dr. Spock’s writings were revolutionary when they came out. Since then, some have carried on, some have been debunked, and some have simply been altered by the winds of time. Even over the last few decades, there have been significant shifts with family structures, self-esteem, discipline, and quality time, to name a few items.

So in approaching adoption, these kids all get labeled as “at-risk”, or from “trauma” or  “unhealthy” upbringings or “hard places”, but none of those labels are grounded in an objective standard of truth. And without an objective standard, we’re aiming at a moving, debatable target.

“But, Bill, don’t you think that children who were beaten severely or not fed or left in their own filth or used as sex slaves have had unhealthy childhoods?” Of course I do! “Don’t you think it’s unhealthy when children have learned to be perpetually scared or be manipulative or be violent or hoard or steal or defecate in the hallway or prey sexually on others?” Without a doubt! But I can also tell you why and it has nothing to do with socially acceptable behaviors or the most recent scientific survey or the latest parenting trend. If the Mayo Clinic (to use one example) and I end up agreeing from time to time on what “unhealthy” looks like, it’s because of common grace and not because we’re coming from the same place.

I expect nothing less from an unbelieving world. When there is no objective truth, standards have to be created instead of received. But with ETC, I don’t see any substantial difference. The main emphasis seems to be on fixing broken kids (though to be fair, it’s never labelled that crudely). But in so doing, they’ve adopted the definitions of an unbelieving world to set the standard of what is normal and what isn’t.

I’ve already hinted at it, but this is indicative of a larger problem I find with ETC regarding their foundation. And that’ll be the subject of the next post.

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