By Mike Berry
When we first got married we swore up and down that our children would never sleep in our room, let alone enter unannounced. Then we adopted children from traumatic places and our iron-clad rule washed away like sidewalk chalk in a rainstorm.
I pull my tired body out of bed at 5:30 am, each morning, to get a jump on the day. Now that school’s back in session, there’s a routine to follow. Get up, make coffee, check email from teachers, wake up my teenagers, get them off to school, wake up my younger sons, and get them on the bus. Repeat, repeat, repeat. It’s the only way we’ll survive the morning. As I fumble my way through the dark of my room, my foot brushes past a small foot sticking out of some blankets below my dresser. It’s one of my sons. He’s fast asleep on a 2 inch yoga mat piled with 3 or 4 blankets.
How long has he been there? I wonder. It’s hard to tell. Maybe an hour, maybe two. It’s possible that he came in hours ago. Could’ve had an accident in the middle of the night, possibly a scary dream, or maybe he just needed reassurance.
Reassurance that we’re there. Reassurance that we’re not leaving. Reassurance that this is still his forever home.
It’s been years since he came to live with us through foster care. Almost 8 years to be exact. And his adoption was final over 6 years ago. By all accounts he’s well-adjusted and bonded to us as if we created him and gave birth to him biologically. Even though that’s not the case, we see our smile, our expressions, and our features in him. We are mom and dad, forever and ever. But there’s still that place within him. It’s a place of fear, a place of uncertainty, a place of anxiety that propels him to check every now and then…. Are mom and dad there? My room’s too dark. It’s too far away from them. I don’t like the stuff I dream about. I need to be sure I’m okay.
And so we keep a 2-inch thick yoga mat under our bed with blankets neatly folded and an extra pillow for the nights they need that reassurance. We disagree with therapists who tell us to walk them back to their room, make sure they have a nightlight, maybe a drink of water, and their favorite blanket. Tuck them safely into their bed, kiss their forehead and tell them, “It’s okay..mommy and daddy are right down the hall.” I’m sorry, but my children have come from a place where their “bed” may have instantly changed from one they were familiar with, to a stranger’s house suddenly, when a case worker and police removed them in the middle of the night. It’s forever left a scar in their memory. They may have watched police arrest their birth parents and suddenly found themselves waking up the next morning without them.
Even after many years in our home, there’s a small voice inside of our children saying, “I’m afraid, I need you, tell me you’re there. Tell me you’re not going anywhere.”
Fellow foster or adoptive parent, if you have a second bed in your room, you’re doing the right thing. Attachment isn’t built by following a script, or bullet points in a book. Attachment is built by following your heart, and giving yourself completely to the child you have been called to love. That means traditional boundaries and parenting are out the door. That means a second bed on your floor, or another lamp shining all night long in the hallway. It may mean you don’t sleep through the night for a season, or 10.
This is the reality of parenting children from trauma. As hard as it is, you were called to do it, and you’ll succeed when you choose to create a home that accommodates this reality. In fact, as hard as it is to see, this choice will pay dividends in the future that are beautiful.
Every time I brush past a little foot, or trip over an arm hanging out from beneath some blankets on my bedroom floor, I smile. My heart fills up. I will never stop loving these babies I’ve been blessed with. I’ll never stop holding them through the hurricane of memories that haunt them in the night. I’ll never stop keeping a second bed in my room.
**This article originally appeared on Confessions of an Adoptive Parent.