Hope / hōp / (noun)
- a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.
- a feeling of trust.
As a parent of children who struggle with intense, unrelenting issues related to early childhood trauma, broken attachment, and prenatal substance exposure, I know how flimsy, hollow, and hopeless those definitions of hope can feel. After years of trudging through the trenches, how can I trust that anything will ever get better? How can I believe or even desire that things can or will ever change? How can I keep doing this when I’ve got nothing left to give? Yet the #1 encouragement we continue to offer our fellow travelers is something along the lines of “Hang in there, keep going, and hold onto hope.” That bodes the question of what is real hope and why is it so darn important?
Hope isn’t a noun. It’s a verb.
My years of parenting trauma have taught me some powerful lessons about hope. The most important is that real hope…the kind reaches your core and has the power to carry you through the darkest of nights… isn’t a noun. It is a verb. It is also a choice. Hope requires deliberate and consistent action in order to make it happen. It also requires a whole lot of commitment. Rather conveniently, H.O.P.E. is also an acronym that perfectly describes how deep and sustaining hope is found.
Healing is the #1 most essential element of hope. It’s what gives us the strength to keep holding and the courage to keep getting going. Yes, healing takes time. It takes energy. It also takes a lot of hard work. But it is also very worth it. Healing changes everything and everyone it touches. Our kids aren’t the only ones that need healing. We as parents, especially moms, do too. Even if all else has been right in our lives, the constant fear, stress, anger, loss of dreams and normalcy, along with the fight to swim upstream in a world that doesn’t understand ARE trauma. Unfortunately, few of make it through this experience of parenting tough kids without experiencing significant changes in the dynamics of our other relationships. Friendships, marriages, and family relationships across the board become strained and even broken. Those too require healing. This journey forever changes all of us. It changes who we are at a core level. Healing those wounds and finding freedom in spite of their scars is the best gift you will ever give yourself, your children, your marriage, and everyone else around you. The most important message I can or will ever share with anyone is that things don’t have to stay as they are. There is a way out. This stuff doesn’t have to destroy you and it doesn’t have to destroy your family. Be brave. Be the one that goes first. Even if you didn’t cause the problems, be the first one to step into the light and start that healing journey. You might just be surprised to discover that your family will follow you. That’s what happened at my house. Once they did, I realized they wanted to heal but needed me to show them how to do it.
Back when we first adopted our kids, there was precious little available in terms of resources, support, or help. From start to finish, our adoption journey was like no other we had ever heard of. Very literally, from day one we were left largely on our own to figure out how to make all of this work. I also realized very quickly that I could not do this alone. Out of sheer necessity to survive, I had to create many of my own opportunities for healing and support. I reached out wherever I could find people who understood and built my own support network. I blogged. I hosted retreats for struggling moms from all over the country for several years. I traveled all over the country to attend whatever I needed to attend in order to gain the tools and resources I needed to help my children and family. In the process, I met some of the most amazing people this life has to offer and am still grateful to call them friends. Thankfully, there are MANY more resources and opportunities now than there were even just a few years ago. Find them! Take advantage of them! Make the most of them. No, most of them aren’t free, but they are out there and they ARE worth it! Much advancement has also been made in neuroscience, especially over the past few years. There are now well-documented and well-researched behavior interventions and relationship based parenting strategies that DO work for our tough kids. There are also significantly more conferences, classes, and support groups located all over the country than there were even just 5 years ago. Take advantage of them. I love that life has given me the opportunity to be part of that community of help and support. I work with parents of tough kids every day as a parent and family coach. My goal is to help parents untangle the mess, find what works for their family, and get out of the trenches of chaos for good. There was a time I would have given my right arm to find the kind of help that I now offer. The opportunity simply wasn’t available. I now do what I do so others don’t have to do what I did alone.
This one speaks for itself. This journey is hard. It is so far beyond hard that it defies description with mere words. Keep going. You really can do this! Things really can and do get better. If something isn’t working, arm yourself with new tools and skills. Keep trying until you find what does work. Unfortunately, hell doesn’t release its prisoners easily…but it does release them if the opposing fight is strong enough. Stay strong and don’t give up too soon. That doesn’t mean we should be blindly foolish, though. Safety and boundaries are absolutely necessary parts of the journey. They are also part of the healing process. In no way do they indicate failure or giving up.
With healing, opportunity, and perseverance comes empowerment. Empowerment is the act of giving yourself permission to step up to the plate and do this. You may not have caused the problems, but you are the person and parent who can help fix them. The answers aren’t going to be found in some magical pill or even in a once a week visit to a therapist’s office. They are found in you. Empowerment is about owning the journey. It is about accepting responsibility for the task in front of you, taking charge of the situation, and purposely taking care of yourself along the way. It’s about YOU believing YOU are worth it and your family is worth it. It’s about taking an active and proactive stand rather than allowing this experience to steam roll you. Empowerment is all about taking deliberate steps to climb back into the light…even if crazy is happening all around you, and even if that climb happens one step at a time.
Real hope transforms
The process of claiming hope (H.O.P.E) changes us in amazing ways. It provides the opposite and needed force to combat all the stress, tears, fears, and other chaotic ugliness that comes with doing hard things. Real hope transforms brokenness into courage and strength. It give us motivation to keep going and keep trying. It gives us permission not to be perfect, but at the same time allows us to see true potential. In short, hope becomes enough.
Sometimes hope takes a different road
One of the greatest lies…and shall we say most perfect lies of our culture and society is that if we do enough, read enough, try hard enough, or even pray hard enough, everything will work out and be just fine. This simply isn’t true. As many of us know, it is quite possible for us to to do all those things listed above (and more) and still have the world around us crumble into chaotic pieces. Does that mean we didn’t do it right? No. It simply means we live in a very imperfect world where cause and effect don’t always line up as we’d like them to. Sometimes it also means we need to adjust our own expectations and desires. Our kids may not ever be rocket scientists, stars of the sports team, or Sterling scholars. Success for them may simply be getting and keeping a job, living on their own, and contributing to society rather than fighting against it. Some of our kids may not make choices that are in accordance with our desires or beliefs. Some of them may even make very poor choices that have legal consequences. Hope teaches us to adjust the sails and love them anyway…often in spite of themselves.
Hope is worth whatever it takes
The most important lesson I’ve learned about hope is that it isn’t just about my kids. In many ways, it isn’t even about my kids. It’s about me. Hope says no matter what they do, what happens to them, or what choices must be made in order to preserve safety, I can still be ok. I can still find peace even in the storms. I can still seek, find, and even reflect light even if they don’t. Seeking hope…real hope…is worth it, my friends. It will forever change your life and your family for the better. It is worth whatever it takes to make it a top priority in your life.
Making hope happen in your life
As you read through this post, what inspired you? What emotions did it stir in you? What parts of H.O.P.E do you need more of in your life? What would hope make possible in your life? What are you going to do to make it happen? As you’ve just read, making hope happen isn’t a passive experience. My challenge to you is to wake up and step up. Don’t sweep whatever you’ve felt under the rug or set this information on the shelf to be used “someday”. As one of my favorite speakers once said,”the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time to plant a tree is right now.” I encourage you to take one step toward actively choosing hope right now. Click a link. Make a phone call. Send an email. Do whatever it is you need to do to take one step forward and claim your place in the light. I would love to hear about your experience! Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what step you are taking or where you need support.