In the second episode of this two-part series, co-hosts Lynette Ezell and Tera Melber welcome back Colleen Riddle, director of Foster Care Ministries for the Florida Baptist Homes for Children, to discuss parenting traumatized teenagers. Discover best practices when parenting a traumatized teen in this special two-part series with Colleen Riddle.
For additional information on parenting teens, visit the link below:
Trust Based Relational Intervention
Dr. Karyn Purvis
Announcer: Welcome to the Adopting and Fostering Home podcast. Whether your family has been on this journey for years or you’re just getting started, we’re here to support and encourage you along the way. And now your hosts, Lynette Ezell and Tera Melber.
Tera Melber: Welcome back to the Adopting and Fostering Home podcast. We’re back today with Colleen Riddle, who’s the director of Foster Care Ministries for the Florida Baptist Homes for Children. She and her husband Shane are the parents to three children, two of whom they adopted out of foster and one biological son. Colleen has a lot of experience dealing with some of the more extreme cases that we might come across in foster care and has seen God move many mountains through people who are trusting in Him.
Yesterday we talked about the fact that their oldest son was 18 when he joined their home and their daughter was 13 – 14-ish when she came home, and so she’s been home for a year and I know Colleen that you’d mentioned that your daughter specifically had been through a lot of trauma and that your son, both of them were in a lot of placements. As foster and adoptive moms, often times we really have to come up with some unique ways to help our children feel restored and begin the healing process.
Tera Melber: So we’d really like to just begin with what are some of the ways that you’ve learned how to parent these kids?
Colleen Riddle: Yes, well poor Cory was our guinea pig child.
Tera Melber: We all have one of those.
Colleen Riddle: We were not prepared with services in place and a plan when he moved in but the lessons that we learned in trying to get him connected really helped us prepare for when Brittany moved and that was a blessing but not necessarily for him but for Brittany it was definitely a blessing. I think some of the most important lessons that we learned were to try to understand her perspective so when you’re moving somebody into a new home it’s scary. It’s so scary and so we wanted to recognize that for her. We didn’t want to dismiss or minimize her fear in any way but we knew we needed to help her feel secure.
Lynette Ezell: That’s right, safety.
Colleen Riddle: Yes, yes, and develop a trust in us that the decisions that we were making were in her best interests and that we would never want to harm here. And so you see that often through the things that they’re able to take with them and sometimes they have barely anything, foster children moving so often but sometimes some of the them are really good at holding onto the most random objects.
Tara Melber: That’s true
Colleen Riddle: They will take loads and loads of just junk but it’s important to them. It’s security, it is theirs. It is something that is their own that they can take with them no matter where they’re all.
Lynette Ezell: And they can control that. That’s something they can control.
Colleen Riddle: Exactly. And so we knew we need to respect that coming in and so one of the rules that we set is this is God’s house. God has given us this home so we can have our family so we’re not gonna worry about the stuff in the house, if it doesn’t look exactly a certain way or if a bedroom’s not set up exactly how we would want to set it up. There’s a time and a place for having an immaculately decorated and clean home and then there’s a time and a place to just develop safety and security and make the home feel like a home even if it doesn’t look like a home in my sense of the word. And so we really had to consciously set aside the tangible.
Colleen Riddle: Also going in sometimes objects are treated differently or there’s different situations where things may get broken or damaged and that had to not be a big deal. Stuff had to not be important. People are more important than stuff and that was the message that we would say over and over and over and over and there were times when we had to say it over and over to remind ourselves because we would get really upset over something and we would coach ourselves through that mantra but really meaning it when you say, ‘People are more important than things. It’s just a thing it can be replaced or repaired. It’s not a big deal.’ So that is definitely one of the important lessons that we had in place moving forward just for ourselves.
Colleen Riddle: And then being able to have honest conversations, and this is where we brought in the therapy. You need a therapist who will be absolutely honest with you, with your child, and in family sessions. You cannot skirt the difficult conversations, you have to set boundaries for how disciple will be. What are the important things that you will discipline for? What is the junk behavior that you’re just going to ignore because in the big scheme of things it doesn’t mean anything. Sitting down and being able to have a very very blunt conversation over topics that Christian’s sometimes aren’t always comfortable discussing. Having purity in relationships and that can get very detailed with teenagers and young adults in ways where often adults in Christian circles skim over it, “Oh you know what we mean.”
Lynette Ezell: Right. ‘Cause they don’t know what you mean. They do not know what you mean. The rules have changed.
Colleen Riddle: Exactly! So being able to have very clear honest conversations with uncomfortable topics and a therapist who will guide you through that. We were so blessed to have a therapist who had worked with Brittany for little while committed to her and continued to provide services within our home and we would have a great family session and sometimes she was pull Shane or I aside and say, “Listen you’re being too picky over this, let this go, this will work itself out. This is not a behavior where it is intentional defiance or intentional disrespect or anything like that. This means something different.” And so really heeding the advice of that professional is very very important.
Colleen Riddle: We have individual therapy, a must, for your teenager, your older child that you’ve adopted and for younger children but that talk therapy where they have a trusted person that they can just say whatever they need to say to you. They can criticize their parents. They can criticize the home and it’s safe for them to do so. Family therapy, so there’s a neutral party kind of mediating some of this difficult conversation and those are your traditional talk therapies that will help ease her anxiety in working with it through the trauma focus PBT’s.
Tera Melber: So one of the things that I am kind of gathering from you is that it’s not like you’d been a season parent of teenagers for years and years so you needed a skill set. So as you were kind of going through this process, you had to seek out wisdom and you had to look for people who could assist you in this way because you know some of the things you were talking you know understanding her perspective and not dismissing her fears or her need to bring trinkets into your house that you think, ‘good grief why are you bringing that in here?’.
Tera Melber: Some of those things just wouldn’t come naturally to us as adults. We look at things and we have a specific way we view the world and so I think some of those things you’re talking about, these very practical things that you’ve discussed are really important for us to hear because we wanna make our home a certain way. We like things to be in a certain order at our house but when you bring in a child who’s been through lots of trauma and lots of placements, they don’t have an idea, they don’t even have the foggiest clue how your home is gonna run and so you’ve gotta really start from square one and you have to know and have the skills yourself to be able to walk them through that so that they feel like it is their home and that its not some drill sergeant telling them, ‘you can only do this’ or ‘we can only have your bed there’. You can’t bring that stuff in here.’ Otherwise, you’re gonna lose’m before they even really are in your house for 12 hours.
Tara Melber: Yesterday when you were talking about after Owen was born that it was very beneficial to your teenagers to kind of bond you together as a family. Did you find that having a little one in your house to love, where they love you back unconditionally was beneficial for you kids?
Colleen Riddle: I did, yes. I was really nervous about that at first. Just the traditional older kids scared of mixing a younger child but I think it’s been great. I think that Owen has been a huge part of everybody’s healing process because he does love them unconditionally and he doesn’t know any different. They’ve always been his older siblings and so that has been really really neat to watch. And sometimes even now if Brittany is upset with us she’ll go snuggle Owen and that’s great because she still understands that even if she disagrees or she’s upset there’s still love and we’re still a family and so it’s just been really awesome to have that, see that relationship and dynamic grow.
Colleen Riddle: It’s so funny ’cause Owen has always been a vocal child but even now he’s extremely vocal and so I take him with me to Brittany’s swim meets and her father coaches and I cheer for her and I’m known for cheering very loudly so people can hear underwater. But Owen has picked up on that and she’ll be able to hear him yelling from the sidelines all kinds of nonsense and she thinks it’s great and he knows ‘hey that’s my sister, I’m yelling because everybody else is yelling but it’s for my sister.’ So it’s been really fun to see that aspect.
Lynette Ezell: I love that ’cause that’s such a part of therapy too to have someone in the stands. And I think when our son came home he was older and loves sports so we got him in a basketball league and it was just, you could tell it was, it just changed his whole persona because he had a family in the stands that cheered for him. He’d never had that before and we began to see the trust level just rise just through sports and being there for them. We didn’t miss a game.
Colleen Riddle: You can teach all kinds of lessons through sports so we found that to be beneficial but the support of ‘hey everyone is coming out to watch me and cheer for me’ has been so huge.
Tera Melber: Do you find too that things like that, if you, you know, when your older son comes along to cheer for your daughter or things like holidays or birthdays, I mean have you utilized those kinds of things to try to help bond you older kids together because 25 years old and 15 year old, how do you make them feel like siblings? It’s easy to do that with Owen.
Colleen Riddle: Brittany has been great for Cory because the lessons that we teach to Brittany, him being our man child he has a lot more choice in some of the things that Brittany doesn’t let him get away with skipping family activities or family dinners, or things like that. She’s right there at his door like ‘Cory this is family dinner come sit at the table, come eat with us, do this. So that’s awesome. But he also will take her out on special brother-sister dates. He’ll take her to a new movie coming out. Her first birthday he got her a beautiful birthstone necklace just like letting her know ‘hey I care about you’ so they have a special bond ’cause they have some shared experiences and then Cory’s been a wonderful big brother and looking out for her in that aspect and then she doesn’t let him off the hook socially with the rest of the family either so the two together, it’s really been fun to watch and see.
Colleen Riddle: And even greater than that my … I have a lot of sisters, my second sister, their foster parents, so they have a 14 year old foster son. So when we hang out extended family, Cory really takes charge and the three of them will spend hours together just interacting. They have a very neat special relationship where Cory’s kind of looking out for them as the oldest one but they enjoy each others company and they really feel safe with each other. So that’s been awesome to see as well
Lynette Ezell: Colleen, I’d like to ask you how long before you felt like Brittany’s mom?
Colleen Riddle: Ooh, um..
Lynette Ezell: You don’t have to talk about that if you don’t want to. That’s the struggles we’re hearing.
Colleen Riddle: The transition was a little different for me, I think, than most because I was already cons- … she already called me her ‘church’ mom. I was already used to having a little bit of authority and say in her life. But as her mentor, it had been like ‘these are the rules when you are in my car, when you’re in my care,’ and then transitioning to be her parent, okay now I’m responsible for enforcing these all of the time and even more than just enforcing the rules was wrapping my head around that character development. What type of young lady do I want her to be three years from now? Five years from now? And so once that started to come a little more naturally about thinking for the long term, rather than just getting through that particular day. I think that’s when I really felt like I am her mom in every aspect of being her mom. It probably took a good 6 months of adjusting and transitioning into that, I would say, but …
Tera Melber: But that’s after you’d already, you’d already been in a relationship with her for how long?
Colleen Riddle: Two and a half years, almost 3 years at that point.
Tera Melber: So I think for the listeners it’s important to hear it does take a lot of time and that just because you don’t feel like you’ve got the emotions of what you would perceive my mom emotions should be, that’s not abnormal feeling. That it does take time, just like with any relationship to grow and build trust and feel like that you’re in this for the long haul, that that’s not an unusual feeling to have where you don’t feel like the mom necessarily. I feel like people need to hear that and you just keep plugging along and you ask the Lord and sometimes even beg the Lord ‘please give me that nurturing mom emotion toward my son or daughter’ or ‘please give them an attachment toward me’ and really begging the Lord for that fierce loyal affection with your child. I think that’s not a wrong thing to do. It’s necessary.
Lynette Ezell: That’s right and you know and even Cory was older when you brought home but you and Shane were still the adults in the room.
Colleen Riddle: Right
Lynette Ezell: And you still had to still embrace that role no matter how you felt and I think that’s a struggle for a lot of families who bring older children in their home. They expect them that though they look 18 to act 18 and a lot of times they’re stuck and they’re not capable of doing that.
Colleen Riddle: They’ve never been taught, never been modeled so yeah, and then especially for that feeling comes much later even with all the other families guides coach for an older youth because they’re used to taking care of themselves and so they don’t seek out …
Lynette Ezell: They are independent, usually yes.
Colleen Riddle: … the assistance to have their needs met in the same way a younger child or an infant does. I know even recently we tell our children, “I understand that you are used to taking care of yourself and that you don’t necessarily think you need our protection or our guidance but that’s our job. We are here to protect you. That’s my job, I’m mama bear.” So if somethings going on at school or with sports or whatever, you need to let me know because it’s my job to take care of it. I’m not saying you haven’t taken care of it in the past or that you’re not capable of it because I don’t wanna insult that past experience and how they’ve learned to survive and the survival instincts but once the trust is built where they start turning that over to you then absolutely stepping up and making sure you take care of it to the fullest extent, that will also further that relationship of coming to the parent for the need and the parent meeting the need, fosters that feeling of, ‘hey I’m the mom, this is my deal to handle.’
Tera Melber: I sometimes feel like you live groundhog day in a sense, maybe not day by day but even season by season that you’re saying the same things to them, “I’m team Cory, I’m team Brittany, we’re here for you for the long haul, this is your home we love you, we’ll love you always,” and I think sometimes people think it’s gonna way faster than it is but it does take time. It’s really a progression and sometimes it really can take years and that’s okay. Because even our, Lynette and I both have teenagers and young adult children, young adult people, whatever you wanna call’em, and even there are times that we’re treasuring our child and then they look at us like stiff arm and we don’t really need your advice right now and it’s hurtful and painful but it’s my biological child doing it to me, no different than our adoptive children are doing it. That’s kind of a typical teenager behavior and so they think ‘oh well, they don’t wanna have anything to do with me so we’re never gonna be able to bond.’ Well good grief that happens to me every day, I mean seriously.
Colleen Riddle: That’s the question we ask ourselves all the time. Is this normal teenage behavior or this something else. How much do we need to read into this. How do we react to this. I definitely [crosstalk 00:19:46] all the time.
Lynette Ezell: When you and Shane get that figured out, you come back and tell us because I’ve been an adoptive mom for 15 years and I’m still trying to gauge that sometimes.
Tara Melber: But when you look at it layer upon layer, trauma and different placements and their trust level, and then you add in trying to bond with the new parents at that particular age, I guess I just wanna reiterate to our listeners, Lynette and I talk about this all time, to give yourself permission and time to bond and don’t feel like that you just should throw in the towel because it’s not easy because basically, the hard core of it the Lord’s called you to do this. It is about your relationship with your child, it’s about helping your child grown into adulthood where they’re passionate followers of Christ but it’s also about your own sanctification and it’s the Lord teaching you, ‘I’m gonna ask you to do hard things and sometimes it’s not gonna turn out the way that you want to but it’s not about that, it’s about what I’ve asked you to do to be obedient to me.’
Colleen Riddle: Mm-hmm (affirmative) exactly. It really gives you a chance to live out unconditional love. Something that we preach regularly. We tell our children, ‘you cannot earn our love. We’ve chosen to love you and you cannot get rid of our love because we’ve chosen to love you.’ And then really a chance to share the gospel with them too because I only understand and know unconditional love because that’s how Jesus has loved me and so that is what I’m passing onto you. Really it gives you an opportunity to understand how much you yourself has been forgiven as you go through this process and you think, ‘gee golly I only have to love you unconditionally for this or this or this’ but Jesus he died so that’s so much bigger.
Colleen Riddle: It’s been wonderful to hear especially our daughter recently grasped that and be able to explain it back to other people. She’s written to letter future foster parents, I recruit often, and she likes to come with me if she can because she likes to tell foster parents what they’re getting into and what they need to do and not do. She’s written a letter and the beginning of that letter she outlines the salvation story and just clearly shares that she understood, she’s been forgiven and Jesus loves her unconditionally and then she’s preaching at these future foster parents too. Like these children are going to be broken and they’re gonna be hurting and they’re gonna be angry and they’re gonna do this and this and this and you still need to love them unconditionally or you might be a hypocrite. Just seeing that growth is awesome.
Tera Melber: It is such a beautiful picture of the gospel. We are broken. We were apart from the Lord. We didn’t deserve any love. We put our fist out to the Lord and said no and yet He pursues us and yet He loves us and it’s a picture of adoption and foster care and pointing our kids back to the gospel and begging the Lord for His mercies every day and that when our spirit is overwhelmed within me, He knows our path and He carries this through.
Colleen Riddle: Yes ma’am.
Tera Melber: Colleen we are so so grateful for you and your patience for vulnerable children and for how you and Shane have followed hard after the Lord and we do pray for your family and pray that Cory and Brittany and Owen will be passionate warriors for the Lord all the days of their life because of your obedience to the Lord so thanks so much for coming and being with us today.
Colleen Riddle: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
Tara Melber: Alright, thanks Colleen
Announcer: You’ve been listening to the Adopting and Fostering Home podcast, a resource of the North America Mission Board. For more information about today’s podcast and other available resources, visit sendreleif.org.