One of the things that continues to inspire my work as a Permanency Specialist at Ampersand Families is our commitment to “honor the brevity of childhood.” We work with teenagers and we know that the clock is ticking for these kids to be able to experience what remains of their childhood within the security and love of a family of their own. But how do adoptive parents “fill in the blanks” of childhoods already lost to trauma, grief, and loss? When life experiences have left a teen feeling old and tired, how does a mom or dad restore a childhood?
Parenting looks different when you adopt a traumatized teen. That’s just the truth and something we do our best to convey during our Parent Trainings at Ampersand Families. I remember the advice given by a family therapist to one of our dad’s on how to “fill in the blanks” of his 14-year-old son’s lost childhood. She told him to do things with his son that the boy had never done with a dad. For instance, she suggested getting down on the floor and playing with his collection of Matchbox cars; and doing it with abandon – “zoom-zooming” like the boy in the Mazda commercial. She warned him that it would feel awkward, maybe a little corny – that parenting his son would look different. The good news: even though his son might groan and roll his eyes, these experiences just might settle in his brain as happy childhood memories of things he did with his dad, filling in the blanks of a child’s lonely heart.
“We know that the clock is ticking for these kids to be able to experience what remains of their childhood”
For adoptive parents, if they listen closely, their child’s dreams might slowly be discovered, rescued from the tangled history of a childhood defined by trauma and loss. One example comes from a girl who, over time, has shared some of her own dreams with her Ampersand Permanency Specialist. This young teen likes school and she loves animals. Someday she might have parents who, like most parents, will help her build on these interests and expand her dreams to include college and a career. But for now, her dreams are surprisingly every-day normal, modest, sweet – and very important to her. This imaginative girl is busy filling in the blanks of her childhood; naming what living with the family she never had might look like. She shares that she sees herself on a bike, riding up and down her family’s long country driveway. In her daydreams, she’s hanging out in a warm kitchen with her parents, learning to cook. Being required to do a simple chore like washing the dishes every day sounds like fun to her! She says she wants to walk into the house after school and hear someone call out, “How ya doin’ hon’?”
Our Ampersand families understand that childhood is a brief treasure. And even if its wealth exists deep within the guarded hopes of an injured teen’s heart, it remains an unfinished birthright and worth the effort of filling in the blanks.