We learned that patience within effective families is different for every individual person and every individual family. We learned more, too…
Trends not Steps
Amy was the patient one. In her eyes, nothing I did was worth getting worked up about. Comparatively speaking, maybe she was right. In Amy’s first home her dad was an abuser and notorious sex felon. Her mother was a stay-in-bed mom. In foster care, where she stayed between the ages of fifteen and twenty, when we got married, she was abused neglected taken advantage of Cinderella. Yeah, that’s it. She was Cinderella. It was Amy’s job to raise the younger foster children while the parents cashed the checks and partied. They even taught her how to mix their drinks. (Amy replaced the money from the state with her own payments to the foster parents between the ages of eighteen and twenty, rather than moving out, on her own.) While Amy’s patience had been honed with biblical Job-like situations, it made me uncomfortable. It was not the same as patience within effective families. It was counterproductive.
Patience within effective families is one of the keys to success. However, there is a difference between patience and avoidance. Enabling shouldn’t receive the title of patience. Patience becomes something else, entirely, when it turns into the bridge that allows continued abuse.
It took Amy a long time to learn that she needed to stick up for herself and that allowing others to abuse and take advantage of her were not Christian attributes and virtues, but she got there. Amy’s greatest goal was to have an effective family for her children so she realigned her tolerances to be consistent with what could be described as patience within effective families.
Jack was our first experience within our own family where we needed to acquire more than “out of the box” patience. Jack was three-and-a-half when he finally learned to walk, and he was a stout kid. That was a long walk packing him to the top of Wallace Monument on our trip to Scotland when Jack was five. But Jack was a joy. His challenges were evident. It didn’t seem like we were being patient when he didn’t potty-train until he was six, it just took Jack longer than others. His older brothers had trouble with Jack’s physical abilities allowing him to get into their things and trash books, homework and CDs before his brain understood concepts like ownership and fragile. They learned, though. And patience with Jack is what patience within effective families is made of.
Not only did we find ourselves lacking in what is patience within effective families, we found ourselves lacking in patience everywhere.
Adopting and bringing children from traumatic histories into our family required a paradigm-shift in our understanding of patience. Challenges like RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder), PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) and Borderline Personality Disorder were serious realities that strained our patience, often beyond the breaking point. These challenges were not “cute” like the ones we saw with Jack, earlier on. These children didn’t have facial features that alerted others to the fact that they might need a little bit more help than other children. In fact, the very behaviors that were indicators that these children needed help were actions that drive others away. Not only did we find ourselves lacking in what is patience within effective families, we found ourselves lacking in patience everywhere.
School administrators and teachers, even people at church, struggled and often refused to believe that the emotional and psychological ages of our children were not consistent with their physical ages. They didn’t see my fifteen-year-old daughter’s fits of rage as three-year-old temper tantrums. They viewed them as bad behavior from a bad kid and bad parenting from naïve parents.
In the beginning, we wondered if the success and effectiveness of our family could survive those challenges. We learned something important. When, as parents, we did everything we could do, God stepped in and made up the difference. It rarely happened any too soon, though. We learned that patience within effective families is different for every individual person and every individual family. With our troubled children, that meant that we had to find a new way to measure success. We needed to learn to follow graph-like progress rather than point-to point progress.
In doing that, the three-steps-up and two-steps-back that was so commonplace for our traumatized children showed measureable progress! We didn’t need to focus on the two steps back. We could look back to a history of forward and backward moves that always equaled progress when clumped in groups. Trends were far more important than steps. As we strived to add the patience within effective families to our family, this type of measuring gave us confidence.
We couldn’t allow tolerance to enable our children to cease to make progress, but the principle of patience within effective families allowed us to celebrate the progress of three-year-old behavior to four-year-old behavior, even if the child was sixteen. That is important. My children who were not traumatized had sixteen years free from trauma to learn how to act like a sixteen-year-old. My traumatized daughter wasn’t going to reach the same point a year after coming home, even if she had perfect parenting (which wasn’t going to happen in our home).
The key to patience within effective families is that it allows people to progress within their abilities, without enabling them to trend downward, without improvement.
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