I’d like to follow up on the issue of “control” with an observation about foster parenting.
Erin and I have sensed God calling us to be foster parents for a long time, and that calling has come to fruition with the presence of two little ones who have been in our care for the past several weeks. I haven’t written much about it, in part because I am reluctant to exploit the kids, in part for privacy’s sake, and mostly because we are so wrapped up emotionally in the situation that I have been unable to get any objective distance, everything is fresh and still kind of swirling around.
But Erin made an observation about our 3 year old foster child “Dakota” (name changed for privacy) the other day that has illuminated something about human behavior and the desire to have some control over life. Dakota has absolutely no control over what is happening. This child has been taken from home and family, told where to live, when to visit whom and for how long – nothing is under control.
And so, because these are BIG things that are completely out of control, controlling all the little things is very, very important. Dakota displays the behavior of a terribly spoiled child when things do not go just according to plan. Tears, screams, kicking, lying down on the floor – your basic hissy fit – is just about guaranteed to happen any time we offer even the smallest bit of discipline. My mom calls such behavior a “hing-ding.” I think you get the picture.
While I was getting frustrated and saying how spoiled Dakota was, Erin had another take on it. She says that telling Dakota, “No candy unless you clean your plate” is at the same time saying, “Here is one more thing in your life you do not have control over.” And Dakota is not really reacting to the candy, but to the whole thing – home, living arrangements, visits, etc. If Dakota’s reaction to being denied a piece of candy seems to be extreme, it is – if taken at face value. But there is so much churning just underneath the surface of that little heart, it doesn’t take much to pierce the façade and unleash the pent-up energy of the confusion, frustration, and helplessness there.
So before we react, we are careful to ask ourselves, “What is really going on here?” Our parental response can then be more measured, grounded, and responsive to what is actually happening, rather than just the behaviors that are presenting themselves. It’s not about the candy. We still do not allow hing-dings, but knowing some more about why Dakota is throwing one helps our response enormously. You have to address the behavior, of course. Any good parent will do that. But with a foster child, more things are out of control than just the availability of dessert.