Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Will it Make Any Difference?

Here we are approaching Christmas.  Its been a year since we received our new children into our home.  And what a year its been!  I would have thought that Karen, the wonderful mother of 5, former preschool teacher and the queen of motherly instincts and myself, a clinical psychologist of 31 years, father and instructor would have been ready for their arrival and participation in our family.  While the year is not lost, it has not been without turbulence and surprise!

A good friend of ours, Sandy Jones, wrote us recently a humorous story about her family experience as a young girl in upstate Michigan.  Here's an excerpt from her email:

"[I] have this memory of going out into the woods in the snow to cut down our Christmas tree and my mom had hot cocoa and homemade cookies for us in the car. It seemed so magical. I thought this was a tradition for us for a few years. However, when I asked my mom about it she said we only did it once and it was awful. They had a terrible time cutting the tree down and getting it back to the car, it was freezing cold, and the car got stuck in the snow. Funny how a child and a parent can remember the same event so completely differently!"

Karen & I can only hope and pray that our children remember this first year as Sandy remembers that infamous family moment retrieving their Christmas tree because right now, we remember vividly how difficult it was to drag the tree out of the woods, freezing our caboose off and being stuck in the snow, i.e, assimilate these children into our home and lives!

Otherwise, as we end this first year, we reflect on it with mixed emotions.  On the one hand, it often feels as though little progress has been made while on the other, we rejoice in God's hand and how He has blessed our hearts and home.  In our worst moments we have tried to find His voice and guiding hand.  It has actually been out of this desire to find Him that tremendous revelation has occurred.  I recently spoke in Raleigh, NC at Rolesville Community Church where my good friend Steve LeRoux pastors a congregation.  He had asked me to speak about our adoption experience and with great reluctance and hesitation, I did so (You can see a video of that message in its entirety at our website ; The remainder of this post is a summary of what Karen and I have learned the past year that without adopting, we may have never understood.  There is an old saying "the devil is in the details" but we say that it is God that is in the details and that if we press in just a bit we begin to understand and appreciate the magnitude of who He is and just how crazy in love He is with His prize and me!

Lessons Learned from Adoption.  It is always true that there are two separate but interrelated processes going on at all times.    Equally as true is the fact that events in one domain often mirror or run parallel to those in the other.  Group therapists and leaders often refer to this phenomenon as "parallel process".   It is like when one member is struggling with communications at work and now the group members themselves, finds themselves struggling to talk to each:  two separate processes that are interrelated and mirror one another.  This is often an extremely useful and powerful process to bring about change and usually positive changes in one domain effect the other in a positive manner.  Futhermore, if you resolve conflicts in one domain you will resolve the conflict in the other.

Life itself operates on this "parallel process" principle.  On one hand, we have the physical, while on the other hand the spiritual.  The two are separate entities but very much intertwined.  One might say that the entire prophetic movement, both ancient and modern is built on this principle.  In the Bible prophets shaved their heads, tied themselves up, ate donkey dung and shook all over while they ate and drank in order to demonstrate something in the natural and is going on in the spiritual:  parallel processes that demonstrate one truth and changes in one trigger changes in the other.  Jesus spoke of the same process when asked about the end times and His second return to earth.  In Luke 21 he said to look at the trees and when they bud understand that the same thing is happening in heaven and its just about time for my return...2 different domains, one reflecting what is going on in the other.

Adoption as a parallel process of God's grace.  I wish that I had a nickel for every time that Karen and I have looked at each other and said something to the effect that "when they [the children] do that, its just like when God says..." and then we complete the sentence.  In other words, what we see in the natural, raw behavior of our children, mirrors something about what is truth in the spiritual domain.  To understand this process has been a revelation to us: a revelation particularly of God's love, grace, and mercy to us all.  We'd like to share a couple of those lessons that we have learned through our adopted children over this past year.

First, the degree of separation and detachment that they demonstrated was surprising.  We were immediately taken back by the degree to which our adopted children lacked attachment, not to us (we expected that), but to each other.  We assumed that their common history of hardship and just life together would have bound them together in a way that was not only satisfying, but also protective.  What we found was 4 children who were not only detached from all others, but from each other as well.  They had virtually no regard for each other and would consistently sell each other out in order to gain some type of advantage, i.e., food, attention, staying up later, etc.  It was literally "every man for himself".

Likewise, Peter described all of us in a similar fashion (I Peter 2:10) when he said that we were "once not a people, but now we are a people".  We were once going through life with no identity, no place, no relationship to others.  We were simply on our own, doing our own thing, looking after our own interests.  But then Peter goes on to say that we found something:  mercy.  Mercy is God's unmerited favor and it makes us aware of others' needs and tolerant, maybe even compassionate, towards their shortcomings.  The experience of God's mercy in our lives allows us to connect with others using the same technique that God used in ours:  the giving up of one's own personal rights in order to love and connect with others in spite of their unworthiness for us to do so.  Two separate domains and if you resolve conflict in one domain you will resolve conflict in the other.  If we can understand how God demonstrated mercy to us, connected with us, perhaps we can do that with our disconnected children and they can in turn, do it with others.

There are many other lessons learned through this parallel process that have demonstrated the power, love and grace of Jesus in our hearts.  I talked about some of them in that message Sunday morning and for the sake of length in this blog will not reiterate them at this time other than the last one.  It is the principle of covenant participation in the kingdom.  As we approached finalization of the adoption process we asked the lawyer who was handling all the legal paperwork what exactly was the legal standing of our children after the adoption was finalized.  His answer was terse and pointed:  they have all the same rights and privileges as your other children.  There is no difference between our adopted children and our biological children.  In other words, our adopted children have full, complete access to our "kingdom".  Everything!  They are now heirs and joint-heirs to all that is in our estate and kingdom.

That's the good news.  Now here's the sad: they haven't got the slightest clue what that means!  Our adopted children don't understand anything about our kingdom and fail to recognize that if they are playing by our rules and handling the inheritance well, they will have full run of the kingdom.  Now look at parallel process.  How many times have we missed out on blessings and provisions that our Father would like to send our way because we weren't following the rules or mishandling those things that he has given us?  Remember the words of Jesus "if you are faithful in the small things and you'll get the larger (Luke 16)" and the fact that when we restrict our giving what comes back to us is in restricted form (Malachi 3; Luke 6:37-38)?

The idea of covenant participation in the kingdom recently brought to mind the struggles of Jesus in the garden.  One of our biggest struggles this past year, particularly as it has approached the year mark, is the idea that we are in our middle age and is what we are doing going to make any difference.  It is an agonizing thought when we have these moments of doubt that says we could very well give up this 15-20 years of good health, relative stability of days, and a low keyed home life for this current time of chaos, loud, animated and time consuming parenting...and for what?  What if the outcome is that they gravitate toward the lifestyle from 
whence they came?  What if they return to the life where disarray rules the day?  

It is often presented that Jesus' struggle that produced the sweat of blood was the result of his cruel, barbaric death that would happen the next day.  We always thought the struggle was coming to grips with dying.  However, we now have a different understanding of the agony of the garden.  What if Jesus, for just a minute, saw me in my worst moment...that moment when I was disconnected, self-serving, rebellious, defiant and unwilling to listen and He asked Himself a simple question...what if I do all this and it doesn't make any difference?  What if I take the stripes on my back for his healing and he doesn't accept it?  What if I am scourged for their deliverance and they don't receive it?  What if I die unjustly for every single sin, just so they can walk, talk and even laugh with My Father in Heaven and they won't believe it?  Is what I'm doing going to make any difference at all?!  We believe that was an agonizing thought.  So much so that it generated a conflict inside of Jesus so great that He began to sweat the drops of blood.  But here's the great part:  He did it anyway!  It was a demonstration of love that blows our mind and it parallels our calling as parents...we have resolved the issue in one domain (our spiritual adoption) and are applying to the other (our natural adoption)!

Until we talk again...

Russell & Karen Thomas

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Family Moments

To say that welcoming and assimilating four children, all under the age of 8 into our home at one time has been an adjustment, is like saying that a hurricane is a little windy: it just doesn't capture the magnitude of the event!   As many of you know from our previous blogs, not every day has been filled with the ecstatic, euphoric and warm fuzzy feelings that one hopes to feel often and intensely in your family.  But recently, we got one of those moments.  A rare, we're-all-in-this-together, family event.  And just what was this special moment?  Jonah, the 2 year old, used the potty for the first time!  It was a momentous occasion as all seven of us gathered in the smallest room in our house.  There, in that 5x6 bathroom, the little fellow kept us spellbound for a period of time much longer than should have ever been the case.  Let's break it down for a minute.
The event all began within the context of usual bedtime routine.  This is that time each evening when dinner is out of the way and kids are generally doing anything and everything to avoid going to bed.  The boys streak through the house, requiring multiple prompts to put on their PJs while bigger sister wanders aimlessly from room to room trying to instigate play amongst the troops.  Mom and Dad are barking out orders and directives like a drill sargent, while Jeffrey tends to avoid the entire chaotic scene by immercing himself in his XBox games.  But this night was destined to be different.  In the middle of the usual pandemonium comes an excited little voice proclaiming "Potty, mommy, potty!"  Ah, music to a mom's ears!  Parents wait countless days for such words as  family resources are poured into seemingly endless supplies of diapers and pull ups!  Its amazing the joy that one feels over that one simple word "potty" uttered by a toddler clutching his crotch firmly with both hands while in desparate need!
But that one word set us in immediate motion.  It was like a warning sirene going off on the deck of the USS Nemesis!  "All hands on Deck!  All hands on Deck!  The two year old is going to the potty!"  Ah-uuuu-Ga!  Ah-uuu-Ga!   Mom immediately grabbed Jonah by the hand and sprinted to the bathroom  while busily instructing patience to a 2 year old and trying to wrestle his diaper to the ankles in haste.  By this time, the news that Jonah was being fitted for seating on the upstairs throne spread throughout the ranks and in a flash the entire rank-and-file had gathered in the tiny bathroom.  All 7 of us!
Jonah was hoisted to the throne where he commanded the attention of the entire family.  But was it for real or just another delay in going to bed?  The red-face, the puffed cheeks and the various grunts and moans were dead giveaways that this little fellow meant business.  This was a determined effort to produce while under the pressure of skeptical siblings who were not yet convinced that he was indeed going to use the potty.  "Are you sure, Mom?"   "I don't know Mom.  I don't see anything", Judah stated as he squirmed around the backside of the toilet hoping to get a better angle.  "Come on man, you can do it!" came the admonitions of Jeffrey who at this point had assumed the role as head cheerleader in this momentus occasion.  At this point, the entire crowd followed Jeffrey's lead, breaking out in variety of cheers and chants, spurring the young tyke on to greater heights.
"He did it!" Mom announced!  Judah, peering down the dorsal view, confirmed the sighting.  It was one solitary rabbit-sized pellet floating proudly in roughly 3 gallons of water as the crowd now broke out in cheers and high fives!  "See if you can do another one, Jonah!" Judah shouted!  Jaden jumped into dad's arms laughing and for a moment, sharing in his brother's acheivements.  While that was as productive as Jonah could get, we nevertheless broke out in a chorus of  Luther Vandross' "One Shining Moment" and rehearsed the entire event for the next 30 minutes.  Bedtime was now shot and it took us an hour and half to get things back under control.  But, for that one shining moment, all the frustrations, fears, quirks and questions about our new children faded into that wonderful experience known as!  Its the experience defined by being together in close quarters, cheering on one of the gang on who is struggling, rejoicing in another's acheivement and sharing the joy of being together.  All we can say is that it is the strangest things that bind us together!...
Russell (taking credit ...or blame, for the post) and Karen Thomas  

Friday, May 6, 2011

Words For A Child's Life

A child's life is a blank page. 
What will the first words be? 

Shut up! 
Get out of my sight. 
Go play. 
Don't touch! 

You, that child's parent, write upon 
These words teach fear. 
They register unwantedness. 
They say, "I don't love you." 

Let your words teach gentleness and beauty. 
Let them supply high moral principles, 
courage to meet life's disappointments, 
pride in a job well done. 
Use words that reflect your love: 

Beautiful, son! 
You did a great job. 
Don't worry--we'll clean it up together. 
I'm so proud of you!
When your child is grown, you will look at him 
and see the words you wrote on that blank page. 
Write words you will be proud of!

Author Unknown

There is one universal truth in this world:  your words will determine the future.  I am told that in every major religion in the world there is something in their teaching that reflects this principle.  In Christianity, it is a central and essential life giving principle.  God spoke the word and the world was created.  Moses spoke the word and the Red Sea split, saving the Hebrew nation from certain annihilation.  Jesus spoke the word and the centurion’s servant was healed.  Paul turned and looked deep into the eyes of a tormented lady and spoke the word and her tormentors fled abruptly.  Later, in Romans 4:17 he tips his hand, telling us he got the idea from God, for “He gives life to those things that are dead, and calls those things that are not as though they were.”

In parenting, the truth about your words and how they shape the life of another human being is paramount.  Early in our parental careers we read an excellent book by John Trent and Gary Smalley called The Blessing.  What is remembered about that book is the concept of painting “word pictures” for your children.  The idea is to speak words of blessing over them in the form of a picture of their life.  Its an awesome thought that a child’s destiny is so colossally determined by the words that they absorb so early in life.  Where does a child get the idea that he is worth something in this world?  Where does she gain the understanding that she does not have to compromise her standards in order to gain acceptance?  Conversely, where does the child learn that he will never amount to much in this world?  Where in the world did a 5 year old get the idea that he’s a holy terror (or unholy!) and an unwanted addition to the family?

Who writes these messages on a child’s hearts?  Obviously, parents get first shot at it.  Me, you and every parent in this world will speak into their child’s life.  Will the child hear the sounds and voice inflections of acceptance?  Or will it be words of rejection and that their life is one of intrusion and hardship?  Its an awesome responsibility, perhaps the most awesome responsibility in the whole world.  But even more, it’s the most awesome privilege in the whole world to think that God Himself, has trusted us enough to place such a powerful tool, not in our hands, but in our mouth!

But who else writes these messages on a child’s heart?  Over the years we have been so aware of the words spoken to our children and have guarded their hearts from words that could have caused destruction.  As parents, we took this principle of the spoken word very seriously.  We have made tough, sometimes unpopular decisions to not leave them in children’s church, remove them from classrooms, and not visit some of their friends’ homes because we were wary of the messages they would receive while there.  We made sure that those who were writing on our children’s hearts would be speaking words we knew would be productive and help them grow.

And what was the fruit of our efforts?  We now have the advantage of hindsight as 4 of our children have hit their 20’s and see them acting on those words that have been etched on their hearts for years.  In short and without squawking our pride too much, our older children are solid, love God, respect themselves and others, and contribute much to the Kingdom of God and society.  Their lives were no accident.  They were spoken in profound, positive prophetic ways from day 1…and we aggressively and unapologetically did everything we could to protect them from others who add negative, ungodly words to their cerebral processes!

We’re in month 5 now with our 4 new children.  Its amazing the scripts that have already been written on their hearts and minds, even down to the 2 year old.  Many of the words have been quite toxic and have generated significant hurt and disappointment.  But, like a spring flower blossoming after a good soaking rain we have noticed that our new children respond to kind words, words of affirmation and reassurance, and a lexicon of acceptance and love.  They begin to open up, hearts are merry, and emotions are healed as they leap (sometimes literally) with joy and excitement.  It saddens us that 463,000 children are currently involved in the Foster Care system in the United States alone, about a third of which are available for adoption.  Who is writing words on their hearts?  Is it staff that are going home at 5:00 sharp?  Is it the social worker?  Or maybe the parents that failed to provide basic nurturing in the first place?  Or is it the kids at school who can be so “innocently” ruthless on the kid living in a decent home, not to mention “the kid living in the shelter”?  Or even worse, maybe it’s the 15 year old who’s also in Foster Care, who projects his or her lifetime of hurt and negative words onto the 6 year old housemate!  Oh if people only realized the damage they can do with their words! And what a difference can be made with the right words.

Our task now is to rewrite those negative words and give these four children a positive, healthy future. The kind of future God intended for them from the beginning. What words can you speak in someone’s life today?

Saturday, April 30, 2011


Raising boys is one of the greatest experiences one can have in life. Boys are full of energy, mischief, curiosity and LOVE! Who can resist a sweet, innocent boy, who may happen to be covered in mud at any given time?
They are also very responsible and love to learn to do lifeskills...that is, when they're not doing dog piles!
We raised three of our own. They are each 9 years apart but when they get together they become one age and enjoy each other and doing things together. Like wrestling, fishing, camping, and cooking. What fun to have cooking throw downs with these boys! Family gatherings make for great memories and awesome food.

We had so much fun and love with the first 3 so we couldn't resist and adopted 3 more boys!  These three are each one year apart. WOW! It is like having triplets, but oh so fun...and never a dull moment!  We also have four wonderful girls and I don't mean to leave them out but this post is about boys so there will be another time to show off the girls.

That leaves us with 4 boys at home and the boy fun is full and alive in our house.  Whether its playing outside, crawling on dad's tractor...or lap...
or hanging from trees, working in the garden, conquering universes with their Star Wars light sabers,
swinging from tires,
or enjoying ice cream
never mind the chocolate on the white shirts!

cause its time for another dog pile!
there's enough love to go around as these little guys figure out life on the farm
and life in a new family with older brothers...

In the end, here we are!  All 13 of us...and counting, our oldest son and his wife are pregnant
...with a BOY!  (we think!)
There is no question about it, boys are a special breed.  Their natural combination of curiosity, endless energy,  and downright cuteness are irresistible and have brought much joy and life to our home through the years.  We strongly recommend giving thanks for and hugs to the boys in your life today!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Managing your own need.

Today brought an interesting devotion from the book of Proverbs.  In the 25th Chapter, Solomon, the man credited with being the wisest man to ever live said these words:
It is not good to eat much honey;
So to seek one’s own glory is not glory [at all].
Whoever has no rule over his own spirit
Is like a city broken down, without walls.
One of the devasting effects of parental neglect is the development of narcissism.  Psychoanalysist, Heinz Kohut, once spoke much about the development of narcissism.  He concluded that everybody has a narcissistic need and that in normal development these needs are met through empathic parenting.  Primarily through empathy, children develop the skill of self soothing, feeling safe, receive nurturing and develop a sense of well-being in this world.  Without such parenting, narcissism basically goes unchecked, rules the day, and establishes an abyss of emotional need that demands satisfaction, i.e., its all about me, baby!   Those around such a person often avoid contact, run for the exit doors or tend to counter the self-centeredness with rejection and in worse cases, become abusive in efforts to "tame" the narcissistic demands.
Kohut's theory never made more sense to me than now.  We have seen first hand the emotional injuries of neglect and the resultant narcissism.  It is one of the more difficult aspects of parenting children who have been neglected.  Watching a child try to meet legitimate needs through narcissistic indulgence is painstakingly difficult and managing your own reactions is tricky.  If you're not careful everyone loses.  The child makes no progress in learning to meet his/her needs and the parents have just either avoided or scolded the child for their demanding behavior...thus, to seek one’s own glory is not glory [at all].    Solomon said it centuries ago.  But he also tips us on how to meet those needs.  It requires that you gain control over your spirit.  We’re talking personal responsibility not only for making good choices, but for meeting one’s own needs in legitimate, healthy ways.  To not do so leaves you without defense or protection, just as a city without walls is subject to invasion.  When you are seeking your own glory, the possibility that you will be met with invaders is increased, resulting not in needs being met, but legitimate needs being plundered and even exploited.   This explains why people who are sensitive to rejection seem to invite that rejection from others.  Seeking your own glory opens up your soul like a broken down city without walls.  You get whatever wanders up and enters in.  Perhaps the sojourner is good for the city, perhaps he is not.  Maybe the need is met, maybe the soul and emotions were exploited and frustrated one more time.  However, the one who rules over his or her own spirit is not so.  They let in what they know will be good for the city!

But then the question comes, "exactly how to do teach a child to rule over his own spirit?"  Particularly a child that has experienced such disappointment and whose sense of well-being has been shaken to the core.  To that we say, "stay tuned, we'll get back to you on that one!"  We know it has to do with consistency, emphasizing personal responsibility from each child, the importance of the truth, unconditional love from parents and establishing meaningful relationships.  Perhaps it requires other things as well.  If you've got an idea, let us hear from you!  We'd welcome the input!  Until next time...

Monday, March 28, 2011

Life's Audible at the Line of Scrimmage.

I'm not much of a football fan and I'm not terribly versed on the rules and lexicon of the game.  I do understand that plays are called in a huddle, the team breaks the huddle and heads for an imaginery line draw across the field even with the football and that this line is called the "line of scrimmage".  The quarterback then settles behind this great big guy who usually looks like for all the world that he's about to split out his pants and proceeds to bark out a bunch of nonsense "codes" and at some point in this strange sequence the guy who's about split out his pants snaps the ball back to the quarterback and the play starts.  But sometimes the quarter gets real uncomfortable with what he sees across that line and he calls what is known as an "audible".  This is when the quarterback decides to not go with the plan devised in the huddle and instead, switch the play right there in the middle of the action.  This past weekend, life called an audible on our family and man did it turn out to be a winning play!

Annually the male types on our family have gone on our "Boys Club Campout".  All the men and boys get together somewhere in the wilderness equipped with camping gear and plenty of good eats that are shared throughout the weekend, While the women and girls get together at our home for their own fun. We stand around a campfire much of the weekend, hike through woods and mountains, and generally give our best Daniel Boone impression before returning home to the women in our lives smelling like the great out of doors among other things!  This weekend the event for the guys was to be held at a state park nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains in upstate South Carolina.  Our oldest son, Jason, went a day early to enjoy some R&R along with his 90 lbs German Shepard, Max.  The rest of us guys got up Saturday and began our journey to meet Jason and Max for the weekend in the park. We were all en route when the phone rang.  It was Jason letting us know that a heavy rain had set in, flooding the campsite, soaking everything he had, and that perhaps it wasn't such a good idea to follow through as planned.  The "audible" was called and we decided to all invade the women folk back at our home in southeastern North Carolina.  Throughout the afternoon car loads of rugged warriors waylaid by the weather arrived at our house. 

Afternoon gave way to evening as everyone settled in to plan and prepare meals for what turned out to be 14 family members in our home.  People were laughing, playing and enjoying the time together as the meal was being prepared.  We realized that all of our children were present in our house, which is actually a fairly rare event.  But our four new children along with the others we've been loving for years were all present. Including our daughter in law (who is with child) and our soon to be son in law. In that moment we realized that God had orchestrated a wonderful time for our family to enjoy.  It was a "Little House on the Prairie" moment as we watched the new kids playing and interacting well with the older ones and the older ones enjoying one another as well as the new kids.  All were laughing, playing and there was such a strong sense of well-being and safety that permeated the atmosphere of our home.

The teasing and talks of who prayed for the rain went on and on......Was it Jason, the devout Carolina fan who was going up against Kentucky on Sunday? or was it Russell, the devout Kentucky fan? Could it have been Chris, the soon to be son in law, joining the camp out for the first time? Rumors had it that there would be an initiation into the family :)...he certainly had ample motivation to pray this one a wash out!  Or, was it Karen, who was supposed to be home with the four new kids for the weekend?  Or maybe it was just one of those collective unconscious things that moved Heaven to intervene for the good of the entire tribe.  

Whatever the cause, we could not have planned it any better if we had tried.   Children gathered literally from all over the country, having fun, enjoying the magnanimous blessing of family and all the best that offers us and there was the blessed peace of God and deep down joy that comes when you know that the Heavenly Father is watching over His children with great satisfaction.  The audible was called and the play generated huge gain.   We look forward to many more such moments.  Thanks to each of you for letting us share it with you today!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

System Solutions vs Parental Solutions

This is a long post, but an incredibly important one.  We'd like to ask all our readers to please stay with us until the end.  Throughout the adoption process there are various snags, snafus and sometimes, even landmines to navigate.  The battle for orphans, their lives, their sanity, and their very souls can be intense.  With older children, if its not intense enough just dealing with their undersocialized, unstructured and at times, unruly behavior, it often seems that there is this collision of idealogies that exists between the systems that are charged with the care of these children and the parental philosophies of those who accepted the challenged of providing a forever home and parents.  We have encountered this collision of idealogies several times along the way while caring for our 4 new children. 

One of those collisions occurred recently when we received an email from our social worker outlining a conversation she had with the social workers from the children's placing agency. Our social worker indicated that there is apparently a court order for the placing agency and other state personnel to have contact with us and the children each month.  Additionally, we were informed that the children’s care plan allegedly calls for psychotherapy, play therapy and for some of our children, speech therapy. We have searched through our paperwork and could not find either the court order or a copy of the care plan. We saw a form that we signed obligating us to participate in a care plan development, but we have had neither participation in the plan and have not even seen the plan. This blog is intended not to bash the system or point out breakdowns in communication, but to express our ideas about the philosophy that drives these recommendations on the alleged care plan.  That is to say we are opposed to involving the children in all these various services at this time for several very important reasons.  We would like to express our ideas and what distinguishes them as parental ideas vs. system ideas of caring for children.

Our first idea focuses on the historical instability in the children's lives and the need for a strong season of stable bonding.  These children have moved so many, many times and to the point that they expect to move again any day now.  Every time we do our monthly post-adoption placement visits, our children's behavior regress unbelievably and it takes another 2-3 weeks, literally, before they settle back into a safe, secure routine.  Their behavior screams (sometimes literally!) of the fact that nothing has been stable in their life. You can observe, sense and feel their anxiety, as they wonder if they will be removed from the home, because after all, in their worlds, that's what the social worker does...removes them from home and places them in a temporary shelter.  They have been conditioned to an adult just telling them where they will be and taking them there.  No explanation of their long term future, just that you're safe and will be fed today.  Perhaps some of the placements have taken a shot at structure and instruction, but little investment in their long term welfare and destinies, if you will. 
Don't get me wrong, there is value in securing a child's evening or day, but at some point that care plan needs to shift to the long term vision and destiny of a child.  That requires concentrated effort that only comes through a bonded relationship.  We have spent the first 90 days trying to bond with the children and getting them accustomed to responding to our voice. The children are responding positively to this approach and developing a parent/child relationship that they have never known.  The process begs the question, Why do we want to introduce 1, 2 or more other voices instructing them right now?  In my opinion, which also includes 30 years of clinical psychology experience, that idea does not make sense at this time and is not a parental solution, but rather a system solution. Let me explain.

The system is overloaded with children and in many cases there are no reliable caregivers, thereby forcing the system to take on the voice of a parent. One of the system’s best options to fill this “parental voice” is therapy. Whether it is psychotherapy, play therapy, speech therapy, primal scream therapy or all of the above!  But what is the goal of such therapy?  Where does it go?  The standard answer is “to work out these issues” however “these issues” are defined.  In my career I've written many of these treatment plans and signed off on hundreds more.  The popular lines in the Individual Care Plan reads something like this:
BEHAVIOR:  child becomes easily angered and frustrated, fights with others, is defiant with authority figures
GOAL:  reduce angry outbursts from 10 times a day to less than 3 times per day
INTERVENTION:  individual outpatient psychotherapy
And then the plan goes on to outline timeframes, who is going to do what, when, how often, etc.  But we have to stop right here and ask an important question: If we are doing all these things in therapy, what in the world are the parents for?!  The system responds with a "yeah, well the parents may not X,Y,Z, and even if they do, the therapy is designed to support what the parents are doing!"  And to that I (Russell) say, "never kid a kidder!"  I know what the deal is.  And in most cases, the system is saying that because there is no parent doing the parenting and we (the therapists) assume the parental role of teaching, instructing, guiding both child and parent(s) if they will participate.  We operate as if we are the one best shot at being a guiding, structured, i.e., parental voice in that child's life...and for good reason...many times we are!   But this is not how life should be.  I am quick to say that the system, which is subject to its own transitions, e.g., therapist moves, maternity leaves, or decisions to change careers and go into real estate, is a weak substitute for positive, consistent parenting.  I know how the shelters, group homes and respite care facilities are staffed.  Well meaning, good people, with big hearts of compassion who care about the residents…for 8 to 10 hours a day for 5 days a week, maybe 6 days if there’s no one else to fill the shift.  They are generally minimally trained but usually supervised by a more educated individual…and this is the best case scenario...I don’t want to even talk about the worst!  These people come and go, impacting the moment with safety and basic needs, but having little vision for the life of the child because after all, next week the kids may be placed somewhere else or perhaps a better job opens up across town, or perhaps one is just flat burnt out and needs a change of vocational scenery.  The point is, this is in essence, trying to stop a hemorrhage with a Band-Aid!  While it sounds like I am bashing the system, I assure you that I am not.  I, of all people, recognize and know its strengths and weaknesses.  When there is no reasonable option available to provide stable, responsible and enduring care, the system is the best option.  However, when there is a reasonable option, the system should recognize its limitations in both practice and philosophy, back off and let parents do the parenting.  To bring it back to our children, we do not believe that introducing more “parental voices” to them is in their best interest, especially at this time.  It introduces “competing voices” and weakens or even interferes with, the bonding process between the children and us as their forever parents.

The second reason has to do with simple logistics.  To place the four children in these services at this time means anywhere from 10 to 20 hours a week of time spent either on the road or in an office somewhere.  This makes no sense to interrupt the children’s routine and structure in our home.  We have established a consistent routine with the children and they are responding positively to such structure.  We have noticed that any disruption in this routine, whether it’s a visitor, change in supper time or just doing something different, generates significant regression in behavior.  Let a social worker show up or a phone contact with a former social services worker, and it literally requires weeks of intense supervision to return the children to the previous higher levels of functioning.  To place the children in all of these services (1) limits our time with them developing bonding, and (2) disrupts routine and structure for the children.  It is hard to see that the potential benefits of therapy is going to be greater than us being with the children and providing a consistent, loving and predictable environment for them.  Again, if we saw that the potential benefits were greater than doing what we are currently doing, we would deal with that and certainly put the children in all these services.  However, we are not currently convinced of such benefits.

So, the battle for the future and welfare of our children continues.  It is intense and requires diligence, perseverance and patience.  We'd love to hear from some of our readers.  What are your thoughts?  Maybe some of you have had experiences.  What have those experiences been like for you?  Drop us a line in the comments section.  We have been greatly encouraged by many of you and your insights in the past.  We'd like to invite you to give us more!  Until we talk again...

Friday, February 11, 2011

Does it really take a Village?

Does it really take a Village?
 M. Russell Thomas, PhD
Taken from a full length article posted 2/14/11 to
            We have often heard the phrase that “it takes a village to raise a child”.  It is an old African proverb that suggests that children are raised best by a village of people who will help that child reach its full potential in life.  I would like to take a moment to address this philosophy and with all due respect, vehemently disagree with basic tenets which underpin it.  It is a philosophy designed by the father of lies and, while dressed up in sheep’s clothing, directly opposes the foundational truths of family.
            Before I present my case, let me go into just a little history of the adage.  It takes a village to raise a child allegedly has its origins in African culture.  It originated from the Nigerian Igbo culture and proverb Ora na azu nwa which means it takes the community/village to raise a child. It is interesting that The Igbo's also name their children Nwa ora which means child of the community Other African cultures have promulgated their own version of the proverb.   For example, in Lunyoro (Banyoro) there is a proverb that says Omwana takulila nju emoi, which means literally A child does not grow up only in a single home In another African language (Bahaya) there is a saying, Omwana taba womoi, which translates as A child belongs not to one parent or home. In Kijita (Wajita) there is a proverb which says Omwana ni wa bhone, meaning regardless of a child's biological parent(s) its upbringing belongs to the community Finally, SwahiliAsiyefunzwa na mamae hufunzwa na ulimwengu translates similarly to that of Kijita.
            More recent history on the proverb it takes a village to raise a child indicates that then, first lady, Hillary Clinton picked up the phrase and idea to write her 1996 book, It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us.  Ms. Clinton spun her political views regarding community, family and social structure based on this popular phrase.  While I have not personally read the book, reviews of the book suggest that Ms. Clinton’s politics and the worldview that shape her politics, were (and presumably still are) similar to that of the African tribes.  It is also noted that Ms. Clinton’s book became something of a political lightening rod, as several conservative politicians countered her ideas.  For example, in the 1996 presidential campaign, Republican presidential candidate, Bob Dole is quoted as saying,"... with all due respect, I am here to tell you, it does not take a village to raise a child. It takes a family to raise a child."  Nine years later, conservative Senator Rick Santorum wrote a rebuke to the book, It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good.  Both politicians apparently understood the fallacy in Ms. Clinton’s philosophy and political ideology.
            Now I’m not here to talk politics.  But since adopting our four children, Karen and I have been presented with this same it takes a villagementality multiple times.  However, its not in campaign headquarters, but rather coming from good, God-fearing brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ.  We have cringed every time we heard these words.  And before I go any further, let me say this is not to cast a judgmental stone at anyone.  To my shame, I too, have used the phrase and perhaps at some point have given place to some of its ideas in my own life.  But having had a sharp rebuke from God’s Spirit, I feel it important to bring this philosophy to Light as we hold its major ideological principles to the standard of God’s word.  But to all our shame who are in the Body of Christ, promulgating this ideology is promoting Satan's agenda, which is to destroy family and vomit his plethora of lies out on our family and society.  I'll tell you why Karen & I feel so strongly about this issue.
            What are the major principles of the It takes a village philosophy?  There are two messages immediately inherent in this philosophy that are designed to undermine parents and the family structure that our Creator has orchestrated to raise healthy, functional, and creative participants in this world.  The first message inherent in the it takes a village philosophy is that parents are somehow inadequate, in and of themselves, to raise a child.  The idea is that as a parent, you will need more than you and your family to produce a healthy, thriving adult.  So everyone is ready to jump in and give your child what he or she needs to mature.  Huh!?  Now please show in the scripture where God ever said to parents, “I’m going to bless you with this child and you, your neighbor, the garbage man, the banker, and the mailman are going to raise it!”  No, God said Children are heritage of the Lord like arrows in the hands of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.  Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of the youth (Ps 127:3).  Again, in Proverbs 22:1 Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old , he will not depart from it.  The operative word there is “train”.  This is an active, dynamic verb that indicates parental effort and involvement with that child.  Not farming out that responsibility to every community entity that so eagerly await receiving a child into their particular philosophy and worldview.
            The second message of the it takes a village philosophy is that you and I as parents, should relinquish our parental responsibility and authority to others.  Or at best, that we should share that responsibility with others.  Again, let’s bring this idea into the light of scripture and see how it holds up.  Is there anywhere in scripture that says a parent should share their parental responsibilities and authority with others in the community?  Absolutely not! There were times when parents made a decision that it was perhaps in the child’s best interest to be raised by someone else (Moses comes to mind), but again, when the angel appeared to Mary and Joseph did he outlined a plan whereby they would share raising Jesus with others?  No, they understood that they had been selected to raise the most influential man of all history.  The angel gave them of vision of this child and who he was to become and it was their sole responsibility to move him toward that destiny.  Nowhere did the angel suggest this was going to be a village effort!  But rather, biblical culture understood that the foundations of family where parents involved in the training and socialization of their kids.  Paul said in Ephesians 6 and Colossians 3 for father’s not to provoke their children to wrath.  I submit to you that fathers whose children are being raised by the village need no such instruction!  This instruction was to fathers who embraced the responsibility of parenting and who bear the wait of raising healthy children.
            I’m going to stop right now and point you to read the rest of this article in its entirety next week.  It will be posted on our by Valentine’s Day.  I will simply conclude by expressing my concerns about how this philosophy is creeping into the Body of Christ.  It is a subtle sabotage and undermining of the Biblical foundations for family and raising healthy children into thriving adults.  But until we talk again, we thank you for reading and following our blog.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bonding and attachment

Our new kids have been with us a month now and today is one of the more difficult blogs to write.  I'm not sure if I'm writing as a psychologist or father.  I suspect some of both.  But in the spirit of transparency we will try to convey to our blog readers what its like to receive a sibling group into your home with a background of moving from placement to placement throughout their lives.  We will now try to describe what we have observed as one of the most devastating impacts of neglect on a child.

One of the biggest surprises to us is the degree of "disconnect" our children have from others.  Otherwise put, the degree to which our children are deficient in their ability to attach, bond and empathize with others has caught us a bit by surprise.  When a child is neglected, a very deep, entrenched feeling of "my caretakers are not there for me" develops and behavior emanates from this core conviction that "I must take care of myself because nobody else is trustworthy enough and can be counted on to meet my needs".   The behavioral result is surprisingly devoid of empathy and awareness of others.  It is our constant chore to maintain order when toys are ripped out of each other's hands or when unkind words are spoken that seem to be designed to generate space and distance in relationships, i.e., make sure nobody gets too close, because after all, when it comes down to it, nobody is trustworthy and we're just one more behavior away from another placement.  When one child is praised for something, often another jumps in to try to "steal the spotlight", leaving the other child screaming in order to regain the attention.   We expected the bonding to be slow with us but we thought they were bonded to each other as siblings and that is not the case at all. They are not bonded to any one. I can only imagine what life must have been like for a baby that had no one to count on. What goes through a little childs mind when they are not nurtured and they have no one to connect to? What leads them to disconnect from everyone when by nature we are designed to connect?
Its easy to see these behaviors as defiance and/or rebellion.  We have come to a different conclusion.  The bruised heart of a child isn't that much unlike the new child of God.  God constantly pleads in scripture for our trust and confidence in Him.  He reminds us in Hebrews 13:5 that "He will never leave us or forsake us".  It is one of the most primative, basic needs of a human being to be connected and cared for.  When that need is frustrated and injured, the impact is profound.  Relationships are suspect, connections are only for the purpose of obtaining something, and a self-absorbed, egocentric way of life rules the day.
Now here's the good news.  The heart of a child is vulnerable.  It remains vulnerable to the warm embrace that assures that everything is all right and that mommy and daddy aren't going anywhere.  It takes some time to cut through the insulation that defiant, self centered behavior provides, but beyond that behavior is a heart that screams for the assurance that care and nurturing are in place and predictibly consistent.  We are just beginning to scratch the surface of this protective layer of disconnect.  We have found the general rule of thumb seems to be the older the child, the more entrenched they are in their "disconnect".  The task isn't that much different than sharing Jesus with adult.  For some reason, we all seem to have these protective disconnects that hamper our intimacy with God.  Like Adam and Eve, when they perceived that their Heavenly Father was not providing fully for them and decided to take matters in their own hands, so is the nature of a child.  Whether parents or preachers, our task is to love with a love that is so predictible, so compelling, so consistent, that disconnect melts and meaningful, stabilizing relationship rules the day.  It is in this context that people grow and thrive beyond all they ever thought what possible for their lives.