Our Journey of Parenting Children from Hard Places

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young boy from hard place covering ears in anger
No one else had told us about the long-term effects of trauma on children's brains, behavior, and belief systems.

When my husband and I first signed up to become foster parents, we had no idea what was in store for our family. We knew that children in our community were in hard places. They were hurting, and we felt called by God to open our home to them. As first-time parents, we believed that providing a child with love, structure, discipline, and Christian values would result in obedience and faithfulness. After all, my husband was a pastor, and we knew what the Bible said about training up a child in the way he should go.  

Through the licensing process, we received training from professionals about what to expect. Children in foster care had experienced various forms of abuse and neglect that resulted in their removal from biological parents. As a result of what happened in their family, these kids might have big feelings and difficult behavior while in our care. Therapy, family visitation, team meetings, and court would become a part of our routine as we navigated the child welfare system. The best outcome for children in care was returning home safely. For some children, however, adoption would become the permanent plan when reunification was no longer in their best interest. Adopted children experienced grief and loss, and adoptive families needed to work to navigate issues of identity and belonging. 

Life Was Chaotic and Complicated

As foster parents, our home filled quickly with children. Our first daughter came to our family as an infant. Six months later, we got the call to bring home our second daughter, who was fifteen. Soon after, we added a five and seven-year-old brother and sister to the mix. Then we got pregnant with our son. We completed four adoptions, celebrated the birth of a child, and watched our oldest daughter graduate within a year’s time frame. Life was chaotic and complicated, but we were so grateful that God had blessed us with each of our five children. We held out hope that in time things would settle down. But they didn’t.

Felt Like We Were Drowning

Less than a year after finalizing our adoptions, we felt like we were drowning. Despite teaching our children right from wrong, they didn’t seem to grasp our expectations. We valued honesty and hard work, but our children seemed to constantly lie to get out of doing household chores. Education was a priority, but our children hated reading and threw massive tantrums to avoid completing homework. We emphasized respect for authority, but our children rebelled against us and resisted our rules. 

My husband and I couldn’t agree on how to discipline. We used rewards and punishments, time-outs, sticker charts, loss of privileges, spankings, groundings, and memorizing scripture. It seemed like no matter what we tried, our children’s behavior was worsening. We felt like failures as parents and wondered if God had really called us to foster care and adoption. Our relationships with our children and each other were deteriorating. We were embarrassed and ashamed because we had signed up for this, after all. 

foster mom hugging child from hard place

Children from Hard Places

Out of desperation, we reached out for post-adoption services. When Ms. Jennifer came to our home, she helped us feel safe enough to share our story. As an adoptive parent herself, she offered resources and support to validate our experience. She gave us the book The Connected Child . And sent us to a weekend conference called Hope for the Journey (formerly Empowered to Connect), where Dr. Karyn Purvis taught about Trust-Based Relational Intervention. Over and over, we saw our children reflected in the videos on children from hard places. No one else had told us about the long-term effects of trauma on children’s brains, behavior, and belief systems. We wept. If we had only known, we would have done things so differently. 

Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Now that we knew better, we tried to do better. Right away, we started implementing the principles we learned in our home. Rather than insisting on obedience, we offered choices to empower our children to make good decisions. Instead of being spontaneous, we focused on predictability and advanced warning before transitions. We prioritized connecting with our children while correcting their behavior. We used playful engagement, co-regulation, re-dos, time-ins, and compromises instead of punishment. 

A Shift in My Expectations

While I would love to tell you that these changes quickly resulted in a calm and happy home, that’s just not the case. Although better equipped to parent from a trauma-informed attachment-based approach, our life was still really hard. Dr. Purvis often said she had never met a child who couldn’t come to dramatic levels of healing, but I didn’t realize how much that healing would require of me. Parenting children from hard places required a fundamental shift in my expectations as a mother. 

In response to our family’s experiences, I dedicated my career to helping families and children impacted by the trauma of abuse and neglect. After years of working within the child welfare system across multiple states and various agencies, I came to a sobering realization. No matter how many families I recruited, trained, and licensed to become foster and adoptive parents, countless more were losing their homes. Families felt isolated and overwhelmed trying to meet their children’s needs while managing behavior and were giving up the fight.

Offering Hope and Healing to Families

After completing TBRI® Practitioner Training at the Karyn Purvis Institute for Child Development, I founded the nonprofit organization Flourishing Families of South Carolina to offer hope and healing to families affected by childhood trauma. Flourishing Families provides TBRI® Caregiver Training and Family Coaching via small groups and personalized sessions designed to address the unique challenges within the family. Our vision is that foster, adoptive, and kinship families will flourish in connected communities empowered to help children from hard places prosper into healthy adults.

foster parents getting help for parenting kids from hard places

Since TBRI® teaches caregivers a specialized approach to meet the complex needs of vulnerable children, all our leaders have experience caring for children from hard places as well. Because we know that families often feel vulnerable asking for help, Flourishing Families prioritizes a nonjudgmental experience for all who engage with our services. From the person answering emails to the trainer and the in-home coach, we each can personally relate to the families and children we serve.

Reach Out for Help

If you have signed up for foster care or adoption, start learning now about trauma and attachment so you are equipped to help the children who will come into your home. If you have already brought home a hurting child and are losing hope, reach out for help. Those of us who have walked this road before will cheer you on to the finish line. Your child can indeed come to dramatic levels of healing. In the words of the TBRI Mantra: “Don’t quit. If not you, then who?” 

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Your Teen Needs You Most of All

No parent of teens is perfect and even the best can learn how to better connect with their son or daughter. Get practical action steps to better connect with your teenager in 8 Essential Tips for Parenting Your Teen in this FREE video series!

There Is Still Hope for Your Marriage

You may feel that there is no hope for your marriage and the hurt is too deep to restore the relationship and love that you once had. The truth is, your life and marriage can be better and stronger than it was before. In fact, thousands of marriages, situations as complex and painful as yours, have been transformed with the help of professionals who understand where you are right now and care deeply about you and your spouse’s future. You can restore and rebuild your marriage through a personalized, faith-based, intimate program called, Hope Restored.

There Is Still Hope for Your Marriage

You may feel that there is no hope for your marriage and the hurt is too deep to restore the relationship and love that you once had. The truth is, your life and marriage can be better and stronger than it was before. In fact, thousands of marriages, situations as complex and painful as yours, have been transformed with the help of professionals who understand where you are right now and care deeply about you and your spouse’s future. You can restore and rebuild your marriage through a personalized, faith-based, intimate program called, Hope Restored.

There Is Still Hope for Your Marriage

You may feel that there is no hope for your marriage and the hurt is too deep to restore the relationship and love that you once had. The truth is, your life and marriage can be better and stronger than it was before. In fact, thousands of marriages, situations as complex and painful as yours, have been transformed with the help of professionals who understand where you are right now and care deeply about you and your spouse’s future. You can restore and rebuild your marriage through a personalized, faith-based, intimate program called, Hope Restored.
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Understand How to Respect and Love your Son Well

Why doesn’t my son listen to me? Have you ever asked that question? The truth is, how you see your son and talk to him has a significant effect on how he thinks and acts. That’s why we want to help you. In fact, we’ve created a free five-part video series called “Recognizing Your Son’s Need for Respect” that will help you understand how showing respect, rather than shaming and badgering, will serve to motivate and guide your son.

Reconnected: The Digital Experience

Is the love there, but not the spark? Reawaken fun in your marriage and move from roommates to soulmates again with the help of this 7-part online video experience. Learn how to connect emotionally and spiritually as husband and wife using techniques such as dreaming together and establishing deep, heartfelt communication. The Digital Experience includes 7 teaching videos, an online study guide and access to additional tools and resources to help spouses reconnect.

Next Steps: Marriage Assessment

We want your marriage to be thriving and healthy. Take the free Marriage Assessment from Focus on the Family to learn how to strengthen your bond with your spouse and get the tools to help you need to grow closer together. 

Next Steps: Fruit of the Spirit Devotionals for Couples

The Fruit of the Spirit Devotional is a free series of nine short videos to get you into God’s Word and inspire you to seek the Holy Spirit’s help in loving your spouse.

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