Parenting a Child with Trauma and What I'm Learning About Myself as a Mother


Parenting a child with trauma is no joke. For real. It has challenged and changed me. Loving and living with a child with trauma has revealed new depths of my own sinfulness.  I am learning to fight against lies about my own inadequacies and insufficiencies while learning to rely on others even when I’d rather be self-sufficient. I’m learning to pull my daughter closer to me when I would rather have my own space and peace.  However, I’m praying that all of these trials we’ve faced truly will lead to maturity, Christ-likeness, and a more peaceful future for our daughter.

Trauma rears its head in weird and painful ways. A lack of a secure attachment early in a child’s life leaves their brains physically altered and creates behaviors that, for the securely attached among us, seem counter-intuitive. While not divulging much of our daughter’s story here, I will say that I’m thankful that we’ve already been blessed to have progressed leaps and bounds in the two and half years that she has been with us, but it has not been without struggles. Learning about trauma, attachment styles, bonding techniques, different parenting strategies, etc is an ongoing thing. I know it’s a very important process to go through and yet it mentally and emotionally exhausts me to read books about attachment and children with trauma. The secondary trauma of hearing other’s experiences makes it hard to do the work that I need to do to help my daughter. I’m praying to find the balance of self-care while not retreating entirely from the hard work that needs to be done to aid in healing.

Before I had children, I was delightful. Hear me out now. I loved people. I loved children. I was fun to be around, I was gracious. In short, I was awesome. Yes, I had a need for Jesus, we all sin of course. But mine was only a mild need. Just a little bit of salvation would be fine to cover my ordinary little sin. Enter my eldest biological son: okay, maybe I’m not always loving, maybe I’m not always patient. Nothing that can’t be fixed by catching up on sleep. Enter our foster daughter: I am a sinner deserving the depths of hell! I am not patient. I am not kind. I do not love people. I do not love children. I do not love. I am deeply selfish and quick to anger. Ouch. Talk about an identity crisis. But what a blessed crisis it has been. I have ran to the arms of my Savior over and over and over again, praying for his wisdom and guidance. Knowing he is strong in my weakness. Knowing his blood covers all of my failings. Praise God that he has revealed new depths of my sin to me through this small, broken baby that I can repent and move closer to him. He uses the weak things to shame the strong. I have been shamed. And now I know that I am not strong but I can turn to the one who is.

I am learning to be honest and vulnerable in ways that I never was before I fell on my face as a foster mama to a child with trauma. I’ve questioned my own ability to parent this beautiful child, even occasionally falling for the lie that I’m not the best parent for her. That she would be better off with someone else who was just better than me. This is a common struggle for foster and adoptive parents, I’ve learned, an outcropping of our own secondary trauma. Thankfully, our daughter has a wonderful, kind therapist who works with us and listens to my struggles and tells me to give myself grace. She is teaching me new ways to bond with my little cutie pie and I find that being accountable to her from week to week helps me to pull my daughter closer to me in difficult times when I would rather have my own space and feel my own peace. This isn’t something I have mastered, but I have come a long way and with God’s grace I will continue to improve. Part of moving past these things for me is allowing myself to grieve what I thought motherhood would be for me. Making peace with the path not always being smooth. Handling tantrums and awkwardness, learning difficulties and clinginess, when my imagined picture of motherhood never included any of these things. I’m sure my grieving is not over, but I understand it more now and I accept it as a normal part of this process instead of something to be ashamed of and hidden.

I don’t want to close on the hard things of parenting a child with trauma because redemption is what my God does and I believe that he is working redemption in our lives. I have been blessed beyond measure since that night that my sweet baby girl came to live with us. She is a stunning beauty who loves beyond measure. She is fiercely protective of her baby sister. She is the best playmate a kid could ask for. My son has often called her his best friend and it melts my heart. She is funny, preferring physical humor, she used to throw herself down on the floor when guests came over and then roar with laughter. She has such a cute, infectious laugh that it just gets everyone around her going too. She is the most empathetic little person I’ve ever met. Any hurt feeling or boo-boo will get immediate attention from my little girl. She comforts with a soft voice, and a sweet stroke of her tiny hand. Most importantly to me, she talks of Jesus often and is firmly convinced of his love for her. For that, I am thankful! I know our hard work is not done, but I also know that the grace and blessings of our Lord will continue so I will keep learning to rest in Him.

To all you beautiful women who are doing the hard work of raising littles: May God bless you and grant you peace and may our children come to rest in the knowledge of Jesus as Lord! Happy Mother’s Day!

If this seems like too tall an order, see Rachel’s previous post: Foster Care is for the Ordinary.


Rachel is a graduate of Taylor University (2009) and stay-at-home mom of three in southern Indiana. She and her husband Matt have been married for almost 8 years and spend most of their time corralling kids and enjoying family and friends.