I’ve asked another of our wonderful YWAM moms to be our guest blogger today.  Jennifer and her husband John adopted Sena and brought her home in February of this year.  Jennifer just returned from a conference put on my our friends at Empowered to Connect and does an excellent job in this post of sharing some of what she gleaned.  Jennifer’s blog is 7,739 Miles Away.  Thanks Jennifer!
Dr. Karyn Purvis is known to many in the adoption community as the author of The Connected Child – a book that every adoptive parent should consider reading before and after they bring their child home.  She is the director of the Texas Christian University Institute of Child Development and is a gifted teacher.  I had the opportunity to attend the Empowered to Connect conference in Nashville featuring Dr. Purvis this past weekend and I came away from it with knowledge and tools to help me be a more effective parent not only to the daughter who came to us through adoption, but also to the sons who were born to us. 

The principles that Dr. Purvis teaches are based on the premise that we were created for relationship.  Deep within each person is a desire for connection with others and the connection between parent and child is one of the most important.  In children from “hard places,” that connection is compromised usually as a result of abuse, neglect, or trauma.  It can then be very difficult for these children to develop secure attachments with subsequent caregivers.  
Those of us who have welcomed a child into our family through adoption have the responsibility of helping that child heal from emotional wounds that can run very deep.  That can seem like such a heavy burden, but there is comfort in knowing that the very One who created our complex minds, bodies, and souls, and who knows us and our children from the inside out, is right here with us on this journey.   He has entrusted these children to us so that we can be agents of change in their lives. 
I often think about how it must grieve the heart of God to see His children suffering at the hands of those who should be protecting them.  Conversely, I know that He is pleased when His people step up and say, “I will do it.  I will open my heart and my family to a child in need.”  Isn’t it just like God, then, to throw us a lifeline and give us some tools we will need for such a big undertaking? 

It would be impossible for me to give an adequate summary of the weekend, but here are some of the key points that I learned:

1.  Children need to have a voice.  They need to know that they are heard and that they are precious.  In a newborn baby, a healthy cycle of attachment is formed when the parents consistently answer the cries of the baby and meet whatever need that child has.  In doing so, a foundation for healthy interactions and the ability to resolve conflict later on without aggression develops.  For the first months of a child’s life (in a loving environment), they receive “yeses” consistently from us.  Yes, I will feed you.  Yes, I will change you.  Yes, I will hold you….

2.  We should practice “Investment Parenting.”  When we bring an adopted child into our home, we should strive to give them as many “yeses” as we can because they are the building blocks of trust.  With a newborn, we expect that we will be inconvenienced.  We will lose sleep.  Our meals might grow cold while we tend to our baby.  We instinctively and continually give of ourselves to meet that child’s needs.  We shouldn’t expect it to be any different with an adopted child – whether they are 7 months or 7 years old.  They need us every bit as much as (or more than) that newborn baby did.  Dr. Purvis suggests that for every year that a child spent outside the comfort of a loving family, approximately one month of very intentional parenting/mentoring is necessary to help bring healing to that child.  

3.  We need to be fully emotionally available to our children.  In order to do that, we need to examine our pasts and consider how the experiences in our own upbringing may be impacting how we parent our children.  We need to resolve our own issues before we can hope to bring resolution to our children.  According to Dr. Purvis, “You cannot lead a child to a place of healing if you do not know the way yourself.” 

4.  The IDEAL response.  Dr. Purvis emphasized the importance of teaching our children how to resolve conflict using respectful words, logic, reasoning, and the sharing of power.  The goal is mentoring, not dominating, to bring resolution.  In addressing misbehavior, we can keep these in mind:

I: Immediate – within three seconds

D: Direct – proximity and eye contact
E: Efficient – a measured response (not a lecture)
A: Action-based – give opportunity for a re-do
L: Leveled – at the behavior and not at the child 

Ultimately, we want to help our children make good decisions by practicing under our guidance.  This requires us to be very intentional and consistent.  Children from hard places are much more apt to respond to a “coach” rather than a “warden.”

5.  We need to make our churches a safe place for adoptive and foster families.  The church is embracing adoption like never before, but along with that comes a tremendous need for support.  Families cannot do this alone.  Too often, a family who is struggling keeps quiet because it is hard to admit that the thing they willingly signed on for has gone south.  As adoptive families, we need to be there for each other with no judgment.  It can be a hard road – it shouldn’t be a lonely one.  

There is so much more material that was covered in the course of the weekend.  I highly recommend checking out the Empowered to Connect website at http://www.empoweredtoconnect.org/.  There are many helpful resources available there.  If you ever have the opportunity to attend an ETC conference, it would be an extremely worthwhile investment in your family.  The stakes are high and I am thankful to have resources and research that weren’t available even ten years ago to help us as we endeavor to be the very best parents we can be to the children God has given to us.