Loving a Broken Child

Brokenness is no one’s friend.  No one intentionally seeks it out.  No one wishes for it.  Most believe they don’t deserve it.  Yet, regardless of how we feel about brokenness, it still finds its way into our lives– each of us experiencing pain in various forms–knowing that, if we wanted to, we could trace back to where our pain began.  And, although it’s difficult to face our past, we recognize that, unless we understand the root of our pain, we will never truly heal from that experience.

But what if your experiences took place before you were old enough to understand them, old enough to comprehend the nature of them?  What if you were so young you don’t have any memories of them?  How do you work through your brokenness then?  How do you move on when you’re not sure what you’re moving on from?  How do you heal?

Brokenness is a tricky thing.  You’re never quite prepared for it.  It seems as though it always catches you off guard, especially when the brokenness is not your own.  Although we knew as much as we could about the trauma of our adopted children’s pasts, the extent of their pain still caught us by surprise.  They were so young, only 1 and 2 years old when we adopted them.  Yet so much had already happened to them, more than either of us could have comprehended.  Most people were quick to assume that due to their young ages they couldn’t have experienced much trauma in their lives.  However, that couldn’t be further from the truth.  Numerous times I remember thinking, “How could so much anger be inside such a little body?”  After 7 years, I’ve realized that not much has changed; he is still that hurt little boy struggling to make sense out of his life.

It wasn’t long before his pain brought about pain in all of us.  It gradually made its way into every aspect of our lives, each year growing bigger and bigger with new difficulties presenting themselves almost daily.  The truth is, working through the consequences of childhood trauma was far beyond my basic emotional understanding.  Unless you were there to see the entirety of every single moment of the situation, feeling every single emotion, all that can be done is our attempt to mentally piece together an idea of the life they lived.  Yet, no matter how hard we tried, we knew we would never be able to see the full extent of their brokenness, and neither would they.  What they felt and what they saw was too much for them to understand.  Children were not made to experience similar emotions as adults.  They do not have the mental capacity nor do they have the level of understanding which gives them the ability to navigate through what their facing.  I’m learning that trauma isn’t necessarily caused by experiences we can control – trauma is caused by experiences that exceed our control.  Ultimately, they are the experiences that leave us powerless, where any sense of “control” or say in the matter has been taken from us.  We are then completely vulnerable to every spectrum of emotions that present themselves.  And if there is one thing more highly subjected to helplessness– it is a child.

Over the years, the sum of our son’s past emotions has escalated.  What began at 2 years old as “controllable behavior” at 9 years old has become the opposite.  His feelings became so big it was as though they constantly haunted him.  He became highly sensitive to everything.  Triggers became more frequent and with less warning.  As he has grown bigger and stronger, so has his aggression.  It was as though it went from 0 to 60 in a matter of months.  It felt like chaos.  And the truth is, I got lost.  Somewhere along the way, I lost sight of where this all began.  And, although I had become the target of all his anger, it really had nothing to do with me.  This was about our son’s past and the vague memories he holds of his mother.  For so long I made it personal – I mean how could I not.  I’ve had objects thrown at me, insults and threats spoken to me, and physical harm given to me.  I couldn’t eat or take a drink without it affecting him in a negative way.  In over 3 years, I haven’t been able to sing in front of my son.  Needless to say, it became second nature to create distance between us.  As he put up his walls, in return, so did I.  Each day it got easier, easier to not give him affection.  How could I give affection to the one who was bringing so much brokenness into my life?  I had only ever wanted to love him.  But it’s hard loving a troubled child.  My attitude turned from originally protecting him from himself to protecting our family from him.  It seemed as though the harm he was putting into the home he wanted to put into us.  And believe me, he tried.  I began to see our son as the problem instead of our son having problems.  He was simply a broken child–a child unable to work through the trauma that plagued his mind and thoughts, so lost within his inner turmoil he didn’t know how else to live.  He grew comfortable within his walls because he found he could control what was inside them.  No matter how hard we tried, any pursuit of bringing him out of his walls was met with clear opposition.  He wouldn’t let us in even if he had wanted to. 

My desire for each of you who are reading this is to understand the intense reality of childhood trauma.  It is real, it is deeply-rooted, and it is scary.  And, under no condition, should it be belittled by anyone.  It cannot be compared to my pain or the majority of people like me–people who grew up in a decent home, with decent parents, given a decent life.  My children experienced more in their first few years of life than I have in 34 years.  If our therapist and psychiatrist struggle to understand the complexity of our son, what makes me think I can?  How could I possibly understand?  Simple.  I can’t.  Outside of God’s guidance, I understand nothing.  In spite of all the disorders that our son has been given over the last 2 years through different individuals, they can only base it off of their own experience and knowledge.  Our son has been given the diagnosis of:  chronic, severe Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), severe Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD), Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and combined ADHD.  With all these clinical evaluations, it would be so easy for us to see our son through these disorders instead of seeing our son’s brokenness.  We can’t forget that at the core of these “disorders” is pain.  Yes, these disorders work to help us understand our son, but they are not meant to fix him.  He is not his disorders.  They do not define him – only God does that.

God persistently pursued me. Consistently putting before me forks in the road. Constantly giving me the opportunity to choose the path to Him.  Yet, it was solely up to me to make that decision.  Will I choose my way or God’s way?  Throughout these years, I have allowed my pain and brokenness to determine which path I would take.  More than not, I chose my way.  As I mentioned in my last post, I knew what God was asking of me.  I knew what it would require.  But, the truth of the matter is, I wasn’t ready.  I wasn’t ready to give of myself.  I had already given, what I thought, was everything I had.  But God wasn’t asking me to give everything I had–He was asking me to give my son what He had through me.  I was to be His vessel.  There wasn’t anything I could do to make the brokenness of my son go away.  It wasn’t in my power.  How could I change my son’s heart when I don’t completely know it?  I took on a responsibility that wasn’t mine to bear.  I felt that if I knew his struggles, I could somehow make it all better and then everything would eventually go away.  But how selfish of me.  How ignorant of me to believe that I held the key to his condition.  What a lie I allowed Satan to feed into me.

I will not go into great lengths about the journey of how we ended up where we are, because that would be more of a book than a blog post.  But the truth of our situation came down to one thing–safety.  Our home was no longer safe.  The defiance and the physical harm on us became heightened.  When that physical harm turned to our daughter, that was the breaking point.  For almost two months now, our son has been placed in a treatment center and it’s hard.  The mixed emotions are difficult to process.  You feel as though you failed, wondering if you had done this or that, then maybe we wouldn’t be in this situation.  Walking past his door every day is a struggle.  He hasn’t died, but for some reason, I mourn as though he has.  And I hate that I can’t comfort him; I hate telling him “goodbye.”  The “not being there” for him, pulls at my heart.  The feeling like I’m no longer his mom.  I can’t quite explain the extent of how I feel. 

Yet, I can’t overlook that our son is surrounded by individuals who far exceed our knowledge of his trauma.  In spite of everything, it is nothing less than a blessing that he is where he is.  And, although this isn’t what we wanted, we have to trust that we are doing the right thing.  We must trust that this is exactly where God needs him to be.  God has gifted our family the time and the space each of us needs to work through our own brokenness.  He has given our family the opportunity of restoration. 

Sometimes I forget that we live in a broken world, and that we can’t escape brokenness.  Everyone will experience it in their own way.  What makes us who we are isn’t our brokenness but what we’ve done with it.  The truth is, we will always fail to see the full extent of brokenness in others.  Our natural tendency is to overlook everybody else’s brokenness, especially of those who are nearest to us.  I contribute that to the fact that, for some reason, we’ve convinced ourselves our pain is more pressing than theirs, simply because we can’t feel their pain.  Obviously, it’s easier to understand the depths of our own brokenness, rather than someone else’s, which is why I placed my brokenness above my son’s.  Over the years, I became more concerned with my overall state, than with his.  And in my brokenness, I forgot that he was more broken than me. The more I made my brokenness significant, the quicker I made his brokenness less. 

I don’t know where you find yourselves today and I will never know what the days hold for you.  But today I’m reminded of how short this thing called “life” really is, and seeing how much of it I’ve wasted.  That’s what happens when you live within your brokenness – you waste time.  And I’ve sure wasted a lot of it.  I’ve had to ask myself if what I know of God is enough.  A question I will continue to ask for the rest of my life.  Yet, I always wonder why I ask it when I already know the answer.  Maybe it’s as simple as me realizing my own nature.  Because whether I recognize it or not, I seem to make my brokenness replace God on His throne.  Every time I looked down on my life, I was doing the same to God; I was looking down on Him.  All my skies turned grey.  Life’s colors seemed to fade.  I chose that.  I chose to live that way.  And honestly, I’m so tired of doing that.  I’m so tired of defaulting to that response because of difficult circumstances.  It is never what God wants for me.  It is never what God wants for you.  So, wherever you are today in your brokenness, look up.  Look up and remember that God sees you exactly where you are, that you are not forgotten, and regardless of any circumstance we face, God is enough.

For all you struggling adoptive parents out there, I want you to know that I see you.  I see your pain.  I feel your loneliness.  I understand many of your struggles and hurt.  Like us, I know you didn’t expect this to happen to your family or to your home.  None of us knew the sacrifices we would be making.  We had no way of knowing the trials that we would be facing daily.  For some of you, your adoptions didn’t work out, your marriages fell apart and much was lost along the way.  You may be having therapists and psychiatrists telling you that all hope is lost – there is nothing more that could be done.  In many ways, we’ve been told that, and maybe that is what you’re telling yourself.  You find yourself living in fear that your circumstances won’t change, allowing all the other voices to be louder than God’s.  I can understand that.  For years I’ve lived in fear that our son’s behaviors will only get worse, damage to our home will continue, someone will get seriously hurt or our son will end up in jail.  Yet, in spite of those fears, we were chosen by God Himself to love the children He gave to us no matter the cost.  He has asked us to love these damaged children, to be their advocates, their voice, and to fight for them and to stand with them.  We were asked to walk through this journey so that they aren’t walking it alone.  God isn’t asking of us to give up who He created us to be, He’s asking us to help these children see who He created them to be.  No matter the cost.  No matter the sacrifice.  I understand how overwhelming that sounds, and there may be times the task seems too much to bear.  But God intentionally chose you and I because of who we are in Him.  What an honor.  What an incredible honor that God has bestowed on us.  An honor we may not see now, but we will spend the rest of our lives understanding the magnitude of.  To the world, it is ridiculous to believe that someone this broken could change, that they could become better than their circumstances.  Most people will simply write off our children and try to convince us we should do the same.  But praise God, we aren’t like most people, are we? 🙂

I want to leave you with this quote my mom gave to me.  It says,

“There is nothing – no circumstance, no trouble, no testing – that can ever touch me until, first of all, it has gone past God and past Christ right through to me.  If it has come that far, it has come with a great purpose, which I may not understand at the moment.  But as I refuse to become panicky, as I lift up my eyes to Him and accept it as coming from the throne of God for some great purpose of blessing to my heart, no sorrow will ever disturb me, no trial will ever disarm me, no circumstance will cause me to fret – for I shall rest in the joy of what my Lord is! – That is the rest of victory!  (Alan Redpath)

To brighter days,


2 Replies to “Loving a Broken Child”

  1. Beautifully written Niki. As a Greatgrandmother of this precious boy I have seen the pain of all of you. We think as adults we can fix things if we just Love them enough. God is our Creator, our Provider, Our Strength and our Healer and He will never fail us. Our continued Prayers are with you, We Love You.


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