A storm is coming. I can see the silhouette of the clouds in the night sky in front of a distant flash of lightning. There is a faint rumble, too. A storm is coming, and my kids are asleep. I hope it doesn’t wake them. When you’re a parent, you will have to help your children through many storms, literal and metaphorical. As a foster parent, some of the storms my kids will face are different than a child who has never left their natural family.
Yet, all kids will have storms. And as their moms, they’ll look to us when the dark clouds come rolling in.
In our training to be licensed as foster parents, we talked a lot about triggers. In psychology, the word “trigger” describes a stimulus such as a smell, sound, or sight that triggers feelings of trauma. We discussed triggers because all children in foster care have experienced trauma. The very act of being separated from a biological family is traumatic. And many kids suffered trauma long before they were put into foster care.
So, we try to recognize our children’s triggers. Once we recognize a trigger, we can predict it. It’s like seeing lightning in the distance warning us a storm is on its way. Then we can prepare, shut the windows, turn on the white noise machine to drown out the thunder, and sing a gentle song to help the kids fall asleep feeling safe.
But sometimes, there are no warnings. Suddenly, our child is sobbing, eyes wide with fear. What is it? As I reach out to comfort them, they swat at me and scream, “No Mommy!” We wrack our brains to figure out why they’re afraid. Sometimes, we figure out what triggered this reaction. Sometimes, there is no answer and we just have to be patient and continually remind them they’re safe in our home. We give them space and talk them through it. We sit with them, and when they are ready, we hold them. Sometimes, the storm is fierce but short. Other nights, it lasts hours.
It’s a lot of work to help our children through their trauma reactions. Physically, we have to keep everyone safe, which can mean protecting them from flailing too hard against the ground or protecting ourselves from them digging their nails into our face. It isn’t personal—their mind is telling them to fight. It is our job to help them recognize they are safe so they can come back into their front brain. The part that uses logic and not just survival. It’s also emotionally draining to see your terrified child and not be able to help calm them.
I wish we could see all of their triggers coming before they happen. So we could prevent them, but as in life, there will always be storms. We can’t control the weather.
Even when we do have time to prepare, sometimes the storm is too strong. The thunder shakes the house and the white noise machine just can’t drown it out. So we find ourselves holding our toddler as the cry assuring them, they are safe and the storm will pass.
Like many moms, I can experience imposter syndrome. Thinking that I am not enough for them. Feeling inadequate. Sometimes, I think that I created the storm. Recently, I told my husband, “I shouldn’t have gone back in to check on him (our 2-year-old), it startled him and he was almost asleep. I’m a terrible mom, I can’t even make my baby feel safe!” But, as my husband reminded me, it wasn’t my fault.
And keeping all of the storms away isn’t my responsibility. But sitting with him in the storm… I can do that. That’s what all children need. Someone to hold them when the rains pound and the thunder roars. Someone to say, “I’m sorry you are going through this, but I will be here with you until the sun comes out again.”