I have a new friend named Emily. Emily is 23 years old, full of life and is currently pursuing a doctorate in psychology with a special passion for working with children and families who have experienced trauma. It was so exciting to read an email from her a few days ago communicating news of a grant she received to do research on “resilience in traumatized children”. This small part of her communication speaks volumes:
“Basically: why do some girls come into our program, and thrive, and are able to recover from their traumas and horrible backgrounds and live full, joyful, healthy lives with purpose and stable relationships- and others we just can’t reach no matter what we do? I’ll be giving the girls some assessments (with permission) to measure their overall resilience, and then looking at various factors to see what the girls who did come out as resilient have in common. The ultimate goal is that I’ll find some significant results indicating factors which correlate to high resilience. Hopefully with this increased understanding, Mosoj Yan and other organizations working with street kids with similar backgrounds will grow in our ability to reach these kids and enable them to live the happiest, best lives possible.”
This mystery of resiliency has been on my mind a great deal recently. I’ve been hearing heart wrenching stories of parents raising kids from hard places – being at church, a place where most of us hope to receive compassion and support, and told that their struggling child should be doing better, because look at how well child x,y or z who also has lived through some trauma is doing. This type of comparison is like a kick in the stomach to a parent who loves and lives daily with this beloved child. And the child surely picks up on this comparison stance – this just leads them to feel more unworthy and reinforces a deep belief that they are just not good enough. We can’t do that to children or parents – each individual child is truly a unique soul from God knit together in a one of a kind way. Which of us hasn’t parented or just casually observed two or more children in a family who are different in almost every way – it is the old nature vs. nurture dilemma that is still passionately debated today. I imagine that the answers to such questions are not easily found and highly complicated.
There are so many facets and factors – known and unknown – for a child who has experienced some type of trauma. Many of us only have fleeting glimpses of our child’s story before the day we embraced them into our families. Months or years have passed with daily experiences – some life giving and some traumatic. We have no clear picture of what did or did not happen for them in their early years. Each individual is born with a temperament and the way we respond to and approach the world is shaped a great deal by this part of our being. Some children were exposed to toxic substances in utero. Some did and some did not have a caring person in their lives who took a special interest in them as an individual. And the list of variances could continue. It is a highly complex situation and judgment can be so very painful and harmful. The arrogant expression that we somehow know from afar what another should be doing as they face their own struggles must be silenced. We must honor the stories and experiences of each child and family. There is so much that we just don’t know or understand.
On this day I am truly grateful for the Emilys of the world who are researching and pouring their lives into better understanding the pain and resilience of children. I can’t wait to hear which pieces of the puzzle she discovers.