We have just completed another commencement season here in Texas. High schools and colleges were graduating people by the thousands most weekends between mid-May and mid-June. In the midst of it all, I attended a high school graduation and was very impressed as I listened to the kids speak and as I heared about their achievements and the scholarships they were awarded.
While I listened I started thinking about our kids. I thought how there are some difficult days when we may have to deal with an issue for the tenth time that day and we wonder when we won’t have to deal with it again. And like most of us, I remembered times when I would wonder when they would just “get past” some of their behaviors. I know that I was wrong because healing and growing is different from ignoring and moving on, no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves that they are the same thing.
There are some in the adoption and foster care community who believe that if you just love your kids enough, and if you can get enough distance from their trauma (relational, physical, or any other), that they will graduate from their behaviors. I think that’s where many people go wrong, our kids need to heal instead of just move on from one stage of their lives to the next. Besides, where is the evidence that supports that way of thinking?
When I hear people say that our kids need to “get over it and just move on” I always come back to the same question; if moving on is so easy then why are there adults who are still afraid of the dark?
It’s almost like we want to separate our kids from their pasts because we think that is what’s best for them and easiest for us, although I can’t think of a single time where sweeping things under the rug was the best long term solution for anything. Something about things that are done in the darkness being brought into the light keeps tugging at me.
The problem with “time heals all wounds” is that we, in our fast paced culture, think that there is a direct time correlation between wounds and healing. For example, if a child went hungry during their first two years of their life then surely having food whenever they want for the next two years should be enough for them to trust that they won’t go hungry again. It’s almost like we assume that one cancels out the other. We want to believe that there is a 1:1 ratio between trauma and healing. But I can assure you that is not the case. Healing takes time and effort.
I recently fell and cut my leg. Two weeks later it is healed and there is a scar where the cut once was. It only took two seconds to cut my leg, but it has taken 1,210,000 seconds, give or take, for it to heal. That’s a wound to healing ratio of 1:605,000 and there will always be a scar to remind me of my wound. We universally accept certain realities about physical injuries. We accept that healing takes a lot longer than the original injury took to inflict and that we will always scars to remind us of our wounds.
If we easily accept the realities of physical wounds why can’t we accept those same realities when it comes to emotional wounds?
If a child experienced hunger for any amount of time it is probably safe to assume that they will spend their lifetime wondering if they will always have enough to eat. Actor Sidney Poitier famously carries a candy bar in his pocket because he experienced hunger as a child and even with his wealth and his fame he needs to know that he has immediate access to food whenever he wants it.
If a child was abandoned then you need to assume that it will take many years of you coming back every time you leave before they will consider that people are safe and can be trusted. Because healing takes effort and a lot more time than it took to inflict the original wound.
Always remember that our kids need to heal and not simply graduate from their behaviors. If we really want them to move forward we have to realize that true graduation is the result of healing. Our kids need to know that they can trust us. We need to love them in their difficult moments as well as their easy moments. We need to love them when their behaviors make sense and when they don’t.