Silly Ignorant Me: What I Thought My Child Heard

by:  Craig Peterson

Andrew and me being sillyWhen my mother and father spoke, I responded. So did my five siblings. That’s all we knew.

I never gave the dynamic much thought until raising children of my own. You see, all six are adopted. Unfortunately, none responded to me like I did with my parents.

Not even close.

Didn’t my children feel lucky to be part of my family? I had chosen them, after all. But why couldn’t they see the opportunities before them, with so much loss early in life.

Silly, ignorant me.

For years I wasn’t entirely clueless, but a part of me didn’t fully understand the devastating effects of early trauma on secure attachment.

Of course, I knew my children needed to feel safe. And my home was just that. Under my watch they wouldn’t be afraid again. Food would be on the table. Their beds would be warm.

I also knew they needed structure to make their lives predictable. The chaos in their past became ancient history.

In time, I knew we would build connections. Although that bond wouldn’t develop overnight, it would happen eventually. Of that, I was sure.

And I knew I needed to always be intentional. Each child needed a special touch consistent with their abilities and their challenges.

Silly, ignorant me!

Although I parented therapeutically, the problems didn’t disappear. They multiplied. They became surprises – erupting at the worst possible times.

Why didn’t someone make me see the light? The “two steps forward, three steps backward” way of life had become exhausting. I felt defeated – wondering if we would ever turn the corner. After a while, the days ran together. Was that any way to live, much less raise a family?

Sadly, the trauma inside my children recycled. The triggers were everywhere. Most weren’t fully understood, because they were rooted subconsciously deep inside their brains.

Finally a therapist removed my rose-colored glasses.

“They might not entirely heal. Some might not get any better. Managing the behaviors may be all you can do.”

Did I push too hard? Was I expecting them to forget their past and focus solely on the future? Had I forgotten about the importance of “one step at a time”?

I took the therapist’s advice. When I joined my children in the moment – while keeping one eye ahead, an amazing thing happened. My children responded.

Less turned out to be more.

For starters, we laughed more.
In turn, we argued less.

By cleaning less, we found more time to play.
Soon we were talking more and isolating less.

At last my children believed in themselves to a greater extent.
They expected more.
They questioned less.

With my children thinking I was now on their side, I almost became cool. As they let down their guard, their passive aggressiveness waned.

Most importantly, they felt safer – not anticipating another disappointed look from me, another uncomfortable moment of judgment.

In other words, they no longer felt the need to beat me to the punch – to prove themselves right. They stopped acting out on purpose. They refrained from sabotaging at any cost.

Turns out they had wanted to please all along.
But their trauma kept getting in the way.

Lesson learned – wishing I had another chance.

D. Craig Peterson is a retired ATN Board Director. You name it, Craig has a story to share in achieving success and learning from mistakes as he raised six children to adulthood...all while maintaining faith and believing in unconditional love. He understands the ups and downs of learning challenges, special education, psychotropic medications, ADHD, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Bipolar Disorder, Reactive Attachment Disorder, sexual abuse, juvenile justice, residential placement and so much more. In his upcoming book Adopting Faith: A Father's Unconditional Love, Peterson details his journey in raising six children who brought unbelievable challenges from their birth families and the foster care system. His parenting is a combination of typical and unconventional strategies." His blog is here: