I find myself near tears this morning. I can’t quite get a handle on it. It could be that the boys aren’t getting along and I hate when there is strife in the house. This week everyone wants to do something different on a given day and there are not enough parents to get everyone where they want to go. It could be that I am a little stressed about leaving for Uganda in a week and everything that needs to get covered while I am gone (including one of the kids and both dogs) and for the little one we are not quite in the place where I can send him somewhere and not “worry” about how he is going to respond when he gets stressed out. It could be just the season we are in as a family right now, but I think what pushed me over the edge is scrolling through FB this morning (I know, first problem solved). It literally breaks my heart to read some of the rhetoric from “friends” around the situation at the border, or about some of the discussion about who is patriotic or who isn’t because of their beliefs about this country and how it was founded, about how we have treated people, about how we currently treat people who aren’t the same as us. It is exhausting to read and process the huge divide among us and I know no one is going to change anyone’s minds. Everyone has their belief about who is “right” and it just hurts my soul.
I think this also weighs on me after a week where my introvert has opened up a bit more about his past. Three little one sentence comments over a couple of days. Nothing earthshattering but a little peak into the window of what life was like “before” that just hurt my spirit. Someone recently gave me a photo of both the boys when the littlest guy first moved into a group home. They were SO little- just six and seven when they went into the system. I know their story and I have told it to anyone who asks, but I had become a bit numb to it. The photo was a shocking reminder of how young they were when they were homeless and living in chaos. And they are just two of over a half a million kids in the foster system and thousands more that are living this way outside of the system. I can’t fix it. At least not today.
I recently started a little consulting LLC. With 30 years of non-profit leadership I know I can train and consult on leadership and management, but I wanted to find a niche. I decided I am going to “specialize” in trauma-informed leadership. I realize trauma-informed is a buzz word right now but the reality of what our kids are facing is real. If you are familiar with the ACES study it is a scale that adds up adverse childhood experiences. The higher your number the higher your chances are of emotional and physical challenges as an adult. It shows the direct link between trauma and health. Just some of the data… “seven times the risk of becoming an alcoholic, 12 times the risk of attempted suicide, twice the risk of cancer and heart attacks….more violent, more likely to be victims of violence, have more broken bones, more marriages, use prescription drugs more often than people who have no childhood adversity”*. Sobering, and that is just a sliver of the research on outcomes of childhood trauma and how it affects lives. These childhood experiences actually change the function and structure of a child’s brain (let that sink in). Toxic stress is the technical term. We live in a society where our kids are dealing with lives that are literally toxic. I think about the foster system where we move kids from a life of trauma to another life of trauma being taken from their parents (even if they are not caring for them correctly this is still traumatic) and often moving from home to home because their behaviors are too challenging for any given adult to manage. And this post is not about the politics of our immigration challenges, but I think about the kids at the border, and whatever your beliefs about this situation are, we are creating toxic stress for these kids. And guess what? You cannot turn your back and say “They aren’t our problem, we have our own problems, the parents shouldn’t have tried to come here illegally” because these children (and they ARE children) and legal American kids are living in an increasingly global society. These kids are living the results of parents whose upbringings were toxic and adverse and who never were given the opportunity to heal from that. It IS our problem, as are the other problems that you are concerned about that we aren’t addressing. It is a big world, and we have to do something to begin to heal and change the outcomes for all of our kids. We can work on fixing it now or we can deal with the aftermath as all these kids become adults.
So yes, when I think about all this, I find myself nearly in tears. Because on certain days, in our home, I experience the outcomes and reality of childhood trauma, and on other days I am thinking about and reading about all the other kids who live in constant toxicity. If you look at the data you can’t help but realize that we need to do something different, we need to look outside our safe bubbles and homes and neighborhoods and schools. We need to come together, no matter your beliefs, no matter how far away from your bubble this seems, you have to recognize that your life, or your kid’s lives, or your grandkid’s lives will be affected if we don’t address this and start figuring out ways to lower stress for all kids. I know I can’t fix it and it is a herculean task to even think about it. But maybe, if I can try to help just one more person understand the effects of this, I won’t feel myself near tears quite as often.
*”Talking ACES and Building Resiliency in Prison”, Jane Ellen Stevens, March 2019. (and for you literary junkies I am not sure this annotation is correctly formatted but you get the idea)