Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Words Matter

He's in!

I know a few readers mentioned that you are preparing to foster/adopt and considering an older kid/teenager. So for you guys, I wanted to share a text message that I got this afternoon. It came from T, while he was in the car (with his social worker) on the way to the treatment house where he's quite voluntarily signed up for a 3-month residential program. This is verbatim, as I know he wouldn't mind being quoted here:

"It feels good knowing I can make changes. I realized my decisions and the choices I was making weren't smart and I know I could be doing better but I thank you guys for being here for me and your support. I love you guys."

That feels great! We have been quite careful never to suggest in any way that he should feel gratitude toward us, but he has always found occasions to say thanks in a most genuine way. It occurred to me today that this is the first time he's ever moved from one home to another on positive terms that he elected for himself. I love knowing he does that with a strong sense of connection to us.

I wanted to post his text, because I remember so well that when you're preparing to be a foster/adoptive parent of an older kid and doing all the reading about various challenges and potential behaviors, it can be daunting. And as my posts over the past few months attest, it is! But I feel there's less said about how awe-inspiring the kids can be. I have many, many moments like today when T says something to me that leaves me stunned by happiness and a depth of love that astonishes me. I literally drive along in my car thinking:


T is very good at expressing himself (in every medium: writing, speaking and behavior). As he's grown attached to us, I've noticed that he latches on to words and phrases we use and those become part of how he makes sense of the world. I'm sure any parent of a toddler has already learned that the words you use around your kid have a huge impact on their development. The same is true of a kid T's age.

We often talk in terms of choices and behavior, so as to avoid implicating his core being in issues that need attention. I see him using that language now as he reflects on what happened these past few months. He used to talk about his early childhood by saying things like "I was bad." Now he talks about the recent past by saying things like "I wasn't making smart choices." That's not just different language; it's a different sense of oneself and one's possibilities. We didn't give him that - he already had the capacity to believe in himself. We just helped him acquire the language to reinforce it.

We talk about sobriety in the same way, as a difficult and positive choice to be healthy, rather than just a "fix" for a problem - as a highly individual process, rather than an ultimatum. I've learned firsthand that if you hand him a different vocabulary for making sense of his behavior, he will borrow those words and use them to define his reality and that is what he is doing now - telling a new story about himself to the world.


Jen said...

I thank you again for sharing your experiences. T is an amazing person, learning exactly what he needs from you and Tim to be his best self. I see the best of human nature in your family.

Anonymous said...

I love text messaging so much! It gives my boys a medium to say nice things. I have also received some sweet texts--it's a real treasure.

All my best to both you and T. You are both so blessed to have found each other.

jaenkes said...

Instant tears upon reading T's text to you. While our new comer is only 7, this type of message is what we hope for someday. You must be so proud of T and yourselves! The incredible parenting he'll have for a lifetime is a blessing, to say the least!

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