Once again, I watched my wife reach out to our foster son, trying to give him a hug. Instead, he pulled away, yelling at her, and stormed down the stairs and into his bedroom. With a sad look in her eyes, my wife gave me a half hearted smile, and slowly sat down in the chair, exhausted from this daily battle with the child. The ten year old had been in our home for five months, now, and had resisted all attempts from both my wife and I to show any signs of love and compassion from him. I didn’t blame him; he had been abused physically, sexually, and mentally by so many other adults in his life, and was full of anger and mistrust. Indeed, why should he trust us? I saw no reason why he should, and my heart only went out to him all the more. We were both determined to not give up on him, and to keep trying to reach out to the child, who was simply hurting inside.When a child is suddenly taken from his home, and from his family, and placed in a home against his will, there are bound to be issues of trust. One way to combat this is to create a trusting and nurturing environment within your own home. Let your foster child know as early as possible that he is welcome in your house. Along with this, you will want to let your foster child know that your house is a safe one, and that he will not come to harm in your home. Not only do you want to let your foster child know this when he joins your family, it is just as important to remind him of this as often as possible. You want to show your foster child that you .your foster child needs to realize that all of these are important. For some children, this might be a new experience, as they have never been shown value before.
Trust can also be built by showing your foster child that you care for him. Building a trusting relationship means showing your foster child that you are concerned for his well being, physically, emotionally, and mentally. Showing compassion for your foster child is an important part of building a healthy relationship, as he needs to know and feel that you care for him. After all, close relationships between children and adults is a central part of avoiding further risky behavior. Trust, though, does take time, and for some foster children, it may take a very long period of time. Remember, you are planting seeds, here, that you may never see come to fruition.
After living with us for six months, our ten year old foster son left our home, moving to his grandparent’s house. During those six months with us, we tried several strategies with him, all designed to build trust and love with him. To both of us, it looked like we had failed; failed to make any headway into his heart, and it appeared that this door was simply not going to open on his behalf. Yet, on the day he was to leave, we were blessed with an amazing surprise; a gift from him to us, and perhaps one from us to him. For the last time, my wife gave him a hug, kissing him on the forehead, and telling him that she loved him. Instead of once again lashing out at her, like he had so many times before, he wrapped his arms around her tightly, and with tears in his own eyes, he said, “I love you, too.”
-Dr. John DeGarmo
Dr. John DeGarmo is a foster and adoptive father. He has been a foster parent for 12 years, with over 40 children coming through his home. He is the author of many books, includingThe Foster Parenting Manual, and the upcoming foster children’s book A Different Home.
Have you ever asked yourself, “What on earth does God have in mind by allowing both me and my teen to struggle so?”
I often see Christians who believe that parenting according to scriptural values, taking their kids to church every time the doors are open, and promoting family togetherness means that all will be well in the teenage years. Like buying an insurance plan, they think that doing the right things will bring about the right result.
Let me tell you, based on years of experience with struggling teens and their parents, that this thinking is just plain wrong. Never assume that applying a continuous moral or religious presence in your child’s life will in itself bring about a perfect transition from childhood to adulthood. It can help and should be encouraged, but it is no guarantee. The often-quoted scripture “train up a child in the way he should go” says nothing about the turbulent teenage years. In fact, you’ll want to remember that some biblical characters with seemingly perfect spiritual upbringings had difficulties themselves in their teenage years.
Stuff happens that is out of our control as parents, and even if we do everything right, stuff still happens. One angelic teenager can lead us to think that we have found the right formula, right up until we see our next child go down a completely different path. Welcome to the real world — where God gives each of our children a free will.
And, welcome to the one thing in life over which you have absolutely no control. It may be the first time in your life that you have to lean on God completely. And that’s not all bad.
Could this Time Be God’s Challenge to You?
In the heart of any parenting struggle there is usually more that we can learn. For instance, could God want us to know Him more fully? Could we benefit from a different perspective and have a better understanding of how to help other kids or parents? Could this difficult time reveal areas of our lives that need to change?
The point is this. In God’s economy there is always a point to the pain. So allow God to use this time to move you along to a better place or to develop your own character.
Consider Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me oh God, and know my anxious thoughts, and see if there is any hurtful way in me, and lead me in paths of righteousness.”
In addition, think about Matthew 7:4-5, “How can you say, ‘My friend, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you don’t see the log in your own eye? You’re nothing but show-offs! First, take the log out of your own eye. Then you can see how to take the speck out of your friend’s eye.”
Do you have something that needs attention in your own life at the same time as you seek help for your teen? If so, remember this…it could have lasting benefits that go far beyond this difficult period. You will learn to trust God in a very real way.
– You will learn how to become a good listener — one who waits to be invited.
– You will grow spiritually, become more self-controlled, slower to speak, slower to anger.
– You will realize that God is still dependable, even when everything seems out of control.
– You will learn the extent of God’s great love for you.
– You will develop wisdom that is useful for the next generation in your family.
– Other parents will benefit from watching you handle your struggle in the right way.
– Out of desperation, you will stop faking your faith and make your dependence upon God real.
You see, the struggle is always partly about us, how we handle things and how we seek God’s help in the midst of the storm. It will challenge and sharpen our beliefs and help us confront our fear of losing control. Stated in another way, it will help build our faith and dependence on God’s every provision in our lives.
Isn’t it somewhat comforting to know that God may have a bigger purpose in it all for both you and your teen? If you believe that, then don’t just focus on your teenager’s struggles at this time. Step in front of a mirror and look for areas in your own life that need to grow, and aim to make those changes with God’s help.
Take a moment right now to think about how God might be using your situation to reveal more about His character, and how that knowledge can help you in turn deal with your struggling teen.
The path of parenting a struggling teen isn’t an easy one, but there’s more than one reason for the struggle and I’m sure you don’t want to miss any lesson that God desires to have you learn from your circumstance. Hang in there; you’ll get through it, and so will your teen. And when “on the other side” of this bump in the road, you’ll see that God’s plan was much bigger than just eliminating the struggle.
My first book, entitled When Your Teen is Struggling, is a great follow up to this article. You can purchase this book by going to our website, www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org or call 903.668.2173.
It’s a book that will help all parents understand the process of “struggle” and give insight into the heart of a teen who is.
About the Author
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas. He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 39 years, has two kids, and 4 grandkids. He lives in Longview, Texas with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, 2 llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy. His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with over 2,500 teens, has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents.
Visit www.HeartlightMinistries.org to find out more about the residential counseling center for teens, or call Heartlight directly at 903. 668.2173. For more information and helpful other resources for moms and dads, visitwww.ParentingTodaysTeens.org, It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent. Here you will also find a station near you where you can listen to the Parenting Today’s Teens radio broadcast, or download the podcast of the most recent programs.