Last night as Cora went to bed, she was fairly short-tempered with Alea and hurt her feelings. Alea got over it rather quickly, but I harshly told Cora I was disappointed and walked out of the room, tired after a long day. A few minutes later, I came back to bring Alea a drink of water. (Of course I did… what toddler goes to bed without one last drink of water?!) And as I turned to leave the room again, I saw Cora’s crestfallen eyes silently peeking out at me from between the rails of her bunkbed. I paused, put my hand on her cheek, and whispered, “I love you Cora… no matter what.” Her countenance changed and she let out a deep breath, visibly relaxing as she snuggled more deeply into her blankets.
She needed connection to fully rest.
As parents, we are all doing just the best we can and when we are tired, stressed, overwhelmed, or busy, we typically go on auto-pilot. Which for most of us means we fall into the patterns we were raised with, for good or bad. Growing up, my family was authoritarian with some significant chaos and unpredictability thrown in. I know my parents did the best that they could; I do not fault them. But the traumatic experiences of my childhood colored my adulthood in profound ways that I didn’t fully realize until I became a mom. My ability to develop emotionally intimate relationships, to truly trust people, to relinquish control — all these things were stunted in my life. And the stress of demanding little people with never-ending neediness quite frequently takes me to the end of my rope and my gut response is one of punitive harshness, withholding connection as a way to prove my point.
But one woman started me on a journey of healing… Dr. Karyn Purvis. And her insight reflects the heart of God to me.
More than any other person in this world, Dr. Purvis positively shaped my mothering by teaching me that connection is always the goal. She called me to a place of being ferociously honest about my own history and doing the hard work of finding healing so that my own children don’t have to repeat the same patterns. She enabled me to look past — on my good days/in my good moments — the challenging behaviors my kids throw at me and see their needs, insecurities, and fears, and she gave me tools to respond accordingly. She taught me that gentle parenting doesn’t mean permissive parenting. She reminded me that I am loved and I am precious, and she helped me make communicating that message the primary goal of my parenting. (Truthfully, she helped me make communicating that message to anyone I meet the primary goal of my life.) And perhaps above all, she gave me hope — that my brokenness doesn’t have to be my children’s brokenness; that their woundedness can be healed.
One of the hats I wear in life is that of “home study worker.” And when I sit down with families to start their home study process, I know they often see the visits as a necessary evil… something they need to check off the list in order to get the prize at the end of the journey. And the education component of the home study? I can almost see their eyes rolling and hear the groans; that’s something that just needs to be done as quickly as possible so that they can move on to the next important thing. Many adoptive parents have already parented for many years… they are successful and stable families, by and large, who are drawn to adoption because parenting is a rewarding and meaningful part of their life. Truthfully, adoptive parents often know what they are doing and have the outcomes (well-mannered, well-adjusted, well-behaved children) to prove it! They don’t need or want me to come in and offer suggestions for ways they can parent differently. I get that. (One of my other hats is that of “adoptive parent.” So when I say they, I really mean we.) So when I bring up Dr. Purvis for the first time, I often feel like I’m not able to fully articulate why the knowledge she brings to the table is so utterly important to their journey ahead.
But what I want all of us to understand is this isn’t just another parenting method. It is Humanity 101 and helps us understand how to have the relationships we all deeply crave – with our kids, our families, our spouses, and our friends.
And I don’t think the approach Dr. Purvis pioneered is just for adoptive and foster families. I think it’s for anyone, because no matter where we go in our day-to-day life, we are constantly surrounded by people who need to know who they are. I join others in my church to serve lunch every Thursday to several hundred high schoolers who come across the street to our church. And as I hand out cups of Powerade and Dr. Pepper, I see the questions in their eyes: Do you see me? Do I matter? Would anyone notice if I just disappeared? They might be 16 and taller than me; but they need connection just as badly as my 3 and 5 year old little girls.
So this next part isn’t your cumbersome and overbearing and slightly wonky social worker talking to you. This is a fellow mama pleading with you. (Well, and maybe a little bit of the slightly wonky social worker, too.) But, if you’ve never heard of Dr. Purvis and you would like to know more, I think this video is a great place to start.
And if you haven’t already done so, please read The Connected Child.
Take a few minutes to see if any of the titles in the TBRI Collection speak to circumstances you are currently walking through, and invest in your family or your ministry by getting them.
Spend a while watching videos on the Empowered to Connect website.
Listen to Dr. Purvis explain how God wired us to connect.
Find a friend and delve into Created to Connect, a Christian study guide that can be done alongside a study of Dr. Purvis’ book, The Connected Child.
Dr. Purvis passed away Tuesday, April 12, 2016 after a long and valiant battle with cancer. But she leaves behind a rich legacy that we can all carry on. Look in the mirror and say “You are loved and you are precious.” (And if you can’t honestly say that, find someone who can help you in your own healing journey so that those words can ring true.) And go hug your child and tell them the same thing. Smile at a stranger, give a lonely high school kid a high five, and maybe go read a book to a chaotic kindergarten class. Crouch down, look each child in the eye, put your hands on their shoulders, and tell them you are really glad to meet them. I think when we do these things, we will help keep the legacy of Dr. Purvis alive and well.
Dr. Purvis, you will be deeply missed. I don’t feel like the world was quite ready to let you go yet.
– images by Tish Goff