Saturday, March 25, 2006

Recovery lessons -- updated

So here I am in foster parent month without Evan, one more to go.

I have been reading blogs of my fellow foster parents and I have been reading posts on the discussion forum for people who are involved with addicts. My observation is not going to surprise anyone:

They are really similar.

The kids in our care can behave a lot like "typical" active addicts sometimes. They may lie, manipulate, and steal. They certainly are masters of getting us to do what they should be doing for themselves. They are needy and self-destructive.

And we love them.

As I have been thinking about the lessons I am learning, and re-learning, about loving addicts, I am coming to some realizations about all the self-destructive behaviors of our troubled teens.

First the bad news:

Our love cannot save them. We cannot heal their hearts. We cannot change basic self-destructive impulses.

Sometimes we can set up good incentive plans with appropriate logical consequences through which we modify particular behaviors. We can often succeed in getting them to stop using language we find objectionable, take their turn washing the dishes, and maybe even do their homework. All this is good and important and necessary, but it is not healing.

All those dreams of the new foster parent are an illusion. "I will take this damaged child into my loving home. I will make them feel safe and teach them a better way to live. I will love them until all the hurt goes away."

And now the good news:

They do have the power to heal themselves. They won't all succeed. For all we can tell, some of them will not even try. But some of them will.

So what do we do?

Well, we love them, but we don't expect that love to make anything in particular happen except keep us going when we want to quit.

We do the things for them which, being children and youth, they cannot do for themselves. We provide food, shelter, clothing, and safety. We help them learn to do what they need to do for themselves, at least as much as they will let us.

We learn not to enable them. We do not do for them what they can do for themselves. We let them fail, pick themselves back up and try again. We trust that they are traveling their own journey in their own time. We express confidence in them by not protecting them. We let them slowly heal their own hearts.

We remind ourselves that even the children who do not seem to be healing at all must travel their own journey too. We cannot choose their path for them. We cannot make them heal at our pace; we cannot make them heal at all.

We take care of ourselves so that we are calm and sane. Granny points out...if I can just remember all this when Evan comes home....


  1. Yes - now if I could only remember it all the time.

  2. It's a common failing I'm afraid. Knowing is one thing but I often have trouble with the doing.

  3. Anonymous6:12 AM

    This is an excellent post. I think all prospective foster parents should read this--actually, I think all parents should read this.


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