Thursday, June 16, 2016

Open Letter to Jen Hatmaker

I have been a fan and a reader for some time.  I loved the threads of grace that I glimpsed in your writing and I felt a kinship with you in that I am also raising home-grown kids as well as adopted kids.  Your Facebook post today and the subsequent “hero stories” you requested from your readers and then applauded in your own replies really has me questioning that kinship.

You started your post with an amusing anecdote about a difficult day with your son and the ensuing battle of wills.  But it then deteriorated into a celebration of parenting stories that featured manipulation, abandonment (albeit temporary) and shame.  It concluded with a call for other similar stories. Many of your readers obliged.  Tales of more shame, rejection and humiliation under the guise of natural consequences followed.  And you commended them.  Repeatedly. 

First of all, I am completely aware that sometimes it is good, even necessary, to find the humor in hard circumstances.  However, laughing at and hailing destructive discipline "techniques" as positive is completely different and, in my humble opinion, is what you and a large majority of your readers did.

There is also a difference between “natural consequences” and consequences that a parent imposes to “teach a lesson”.  I believe that in your post and the resulting comments that difference was ignored.  A fellow adoptive parent once said, “A natural consequence is a consequence imposed by nature, like burning your finger when you touch a hot stove. No person decides that your finger ought to be burned to teach you a lesson. The laws of nature ensure that your finger gets burned, whether you need to learn that lesson or not.” (Mark Vatsaas)  If you need to “come up with” a “natural consequence”, it is NOT one.

What concerned me most, as an adoptive mom, was that these methods of shame and repudiation have been scientifically proven to be detrimental and ineffective for kids with backgrounds of trauma.  To champion them can quite literally be dangerous for these kids and threaten to emotionally, psychologically and neurodevelopmentally destroy them.  A survey of current neuroscientific studies validates this information.  The best resources for connecting with and disciplining (which can be defined as an activity, exercise, or a regimen that develops or improves a skill) kids from hard places can be found in the writings of Dr. Karyn Purvis from Texas Christian University’s Institute of Child Development and Dr. Dan Siegel (clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine).

I do not have perfect children.  I struggle with parenting them everyday.  Before I knew the scientific data regarding trauma and its effects on the brain I parented the same way your readers were encouraging and lauding.  Sometimes I still struggle.  Parenting is not an easy job and parenting a child with trauma is even harder and messier.  But I am daily encouraged by the progress I have seen in my children when I connect first and correct last.  When I look behind the behavior and find the need.  When I go through the natural consequence with them as opposed to delving out my own created consequence.

I encourage you and other adoptive and foster parents to attend an Empowered to Connect conference (usually sponsored by Show Hope and Focus on the Family).  You will be emboldened by the hope that can be found in connected parenting techniques.

No comments: