By: Gari Lister
Until today, my first blog was going to be uplifting. I have three girls affected to varying degrees by their early trauma in orphanages in Russia and Ukraine, and things seemed to be going really well. We just finished a wonderful vacation with the two younger girls, and the third had returned home in October after years of living “on-her-own-traumatized-child-style,” which means she dropped out of high school and generally could not handle being part of a family. Unfortunately, though, we made the mistake that all of us moms and dads of traumatized children sometimes do. We forgot. We forgot she wasn’t like other teenagers, or us, or even the 11 year old (she’s 21). We forgot how messed up her brain is when she makes decisions – or doesn’t make decisions. We believed that she could handle what seemed so simple – feeding our cats and cleaning up after them. She doesn’t have a job (long story), and we agreed to pay her to feed them so she would have a little spending money. We asked neighbors to keep an eye out on things, and put our dogs in boarding.
We came home to a slum. Trash and accidents everywhere. Not just in her room, not just in the kitchen, not just on the front porch, but in the little girls’ bedroom, and everywhere. The 11 year old spent 5 minutes collecting paper cups and candy wrappers from her room. Cats are all alive (thank goodness), but a little desperate. My closet is, quite literally, half gone. She is nowhere to be found. Yet despite the trash, despite the desperation, despite the missing “stuff,” because the oldest “wanted to work,” she beautifully painted two bathrooms and had even texted pictures of them to us.
And that’s what traumatized children are like. One minute they are amazing – they create great beauty, and accomplish tremendous things, and if we’re not careful we can fool ourselves into thinking they are “like other kids.” And then the next minute they have listened to the sad, scared, mad little person inside of them and . . . they lie, and they steal, and the same girl who worked so hard to paint bathrooms in her good moments can’t stop herself from destroying everything she accomplished.
That’s the challenge of loving traumatized children – even when they can’t love themselves or anyone or anything else.