Wednesday, June 12, 2013

the Child Whisperer

I have this magical person in my mind who is able to achieve attachment and compliance using their inside voice at all times as children adverse to good behavior flock to their side.  This person smiles and gently encourages and redirects even the most troubled youth in an instant.  If I had to put a face to this Cesar Millan for children, the face would look something like this... sweater, tie, canvas sneakers and all.

It's difficult to not idolize someone like Mr. Rogers.  But here's the rub... I have heard many parents say something to the effect of, "If I could only channel (insert name of your Child Whisperer here) in my home, my child would see my love for them and regain control of themselves, attach, apologize and heal."  This is our own wishful hopelessness in search of an imaginary person to rescue our child and us from the struggles we find ourselves in.

Here's the truth... Mr. Rogers isn't Mr. Rogers.  I don't mean that in some Jedi mind trick sort of way, I mean the images we build in our minds after seeing people on television or a stage are a finely edited caricature of reality.  The same thing goes for any child expert we might come across in some therapeutic training video.  I'm not suggesting these people are phonies, I'm simply stating there's no such thing as reality television.

To give an example, towards the end of one of those therapeutic training videos, the experts showed real-life scenarios of the principles of their therapeutic model.  In two of these scenarios, there's a little boy who expresses outright resistance to the expert's prompting, and the scene fades to black then cuts back to the therapy session with the boy crying in the therapist's arms.  During the cut-aways, the voice-over on the video states that it took 30 minutes and 10 minutes to get this boy back to a place where he could self-regulate and continue on with his day.  When I asked about what had happened during the cut-aways, I was told the therapist had to perform a restraint on this boy to keep him and others safe.  At another point, the therapist gives him a few options to either walk to where they wanted to go or be carried to where they wanted to go.  The kicker is restraints and ultimatums weren't a part of this therapy model, and while these were supposed to be practical scenarios for what to do, what they actually did was edited out!

I still wholeheartedly believe in the vast majority of this particular therapy method for abused and neglected kids, and while I'm not disillusioned by the reality of what I learned... I am more conscious of my endless search of this Child Whisperer to emulate and the promotion of perfection from external influences whether it's Mr. Rogers, supposed experts or my affluent surroundings that tell me I have to have it all together.

We have a tendency to think if we can be someone we're not while hiding the reality of our child's neglect and abuse long enough, we will be able to heal them and re-enter society as a normal family.  This lack of transparency is usually the first step to disruption or dissolution because our children need months and sometimes years to either heal or learn to cope with their pain in socially acceptable ways.  And to be uncomfortably transparent... sometimes our kids issues aren't fixable, they come and stay just as they are.  But, the more we bury our families in this wish that the Child Whisperer will someday indwell our bodies... the worse it gets.  And, while we may want our kids to mask perceived deficiencies, the long-term consequences are dire.

Our children need healing and so do we... healing from unrealistic expectations that have to be reassessed and the bitter pain that coincides with unpacking everyone's baggage.  We cannot heal if we are holding on to an illusion, and the good news is: WE DON'T NEED THE ILLUSION!

We need us because we are the unedited reality that gets to make mistakes, ask for forgiveness, try new approaches, and move forward.  What makes the Gospel so powerful, so redemptive and restorative is Immanuel... God. With. Us.  He did not remain in a cloud speaking to us from on High, but took on flesh, lived among us in the trenches of fallen creation and led us out.  God's work is rarely carried out like a fairy godmother flippantly solving catastrophes at the swish of a wand.  It more commonly is done in the mundane routines of each day as the Spirit permeates our thoughts, conversations and actions.  Our children, marriages and families need to embrace that approach, and we need to take a long, hard look in the mirror to understand that while our kids may require the best version of ourselves to help them heal, it is still us that they need.  No replacement will do.

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