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.