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  • Writer's pictureRenata Joseph

Securing a Place in the Family

Family is supposed to be the place where you can be completely yourself. In family you can misbehave and make mistakes in an environment of unconditional love. You test the limits, discover your voice and opinions. Discipline can, and should, play a part in teaching healthy limits and boundaries, but your place in that family should never be at risk.

As a former foster parent and group home staff worker, I've learned about what happens when a child doesn't have a secure family environment.

It's very common for children who come into care to have trouble adjusting to new family environments. The new home comes with new people, smells, food, expectations, and their place in that family is tenuous at best. Children who are looking to feel secure in their environment often react in one of two ways: rebellion or perfectionism.

Those who react with rebellion don't trust when grownups tell them, "You're safe here. You're not going anywhere" or "This is your forever home." They know from experience that happy endings aren't real. People who say they love you will leave you. So they do everything they can to push you away. That may mean lies, tantrums, promiscuity, or other outward behaviors. What they crave is boundaries, stability and to feel secure in their world. What it looks like is holy hell.

Then you have the other type of child who is also insecure. Instead of acting out, they go inward. They bottle up their fears, dissent, opinions, so no one will have a reason to leave them again. These kids appear perfect on the outside, but the hurt and anxiety is just as real. They do everything they can to become the person they think you want them to be. That might mean getting good grades, helping around the house, having a "sweet disposition." Underneath it all, they feel unlovable and so very broken. If people saw the truth, they'd be shipped out in no time. These children have no true sense of self; their personality and uniqueness is suppressed in order to try to earn love.

Ephesians 1:5 says, "God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure."

As Christians we are adopted into God's family, but just like in the natural, we can feel insecure about our place in that adoptive family. Do we really fit in? Will we be accepted if people knew the real us? If we reveal our true selves, will we be pushed out? Rejected?

In our current work with young adults, I am seeing this insecurity manifest in two predictable ways: rebellion and perfectionism. Some have decided to show their worst side, to push away those they think will judge them. Rather than being vulnerable to rejection, they are on the offense. Others feel like they are strangers to themselves, because all they've ever done is try to be perfect. They've been put on display as the example of how a good young Christian should be, but they are at a loss for who they genuinely are.

Our job as "foster siblings" in God's family is to help these kids get to know the Father. Show them that when we mess-up, we can go to Him and make it better. Assure them that perfection isn't a requirement for belonging in this family of misfits. Show them the ropes. Walk with them through their adjustment to family life. In time, they will begin to know, feel and accept the Father's love for themselves- not just take your word for it. Their wounds will heal and their place will be secure. We all need family and we need to be that family for each other.

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