Becoming the Moms We’re Called to Be

We believe in whole families here at The Well. Over the last six months, we’ve been doing some serious work on parenting education and support. We have classes for groups of mothers and one-on-one coaching. I’ve heard wonderful stories, but even with this focused approach, I still hear discouraging reports. A staff member pulled me aside to tell me of a mom hitting her 4-year-old. Another woman told me she hits her child with a hanger because he will only obey if he is afraid.

Improper parenting does not seem natural to me. None of us are born perfect parents, of course, but I believe people learn neglect and abuse from the generations before them. In parent education, we contend with automatic responses that come from memories of abuse and neglect. We invite women to end generational patterns, which isn’t something they can do quickly or easily. Our goal is to help them do very difficult work.

At the end of our recent module, I asked my class how they’ve practiced what they’ve learned. They shared how they’ve praised their children and hugged them. They’ve redirected and predicted behaviors. They’ve set up new rules and family structures. They’ve taught their children to talk about their feelings, even their trauma stories.

Next, I asked them where they still struggle. Many shared about poor self-control. They try so hard to do the right stuff and end up sorry for what they do—or don’t do. They talked about how hard it is to stay “on” at the end of the day, when they’re tired and slip into old habits.

I have compassion for that feeling. Just this week I said some things I shouldn’t have to my family. It’s hard for me sometimes, even with all my resources and experience, and I know they are in much more desperate situations. But I had to push them, because we are all called to the same high standard of being the parents our children need. Any child, regardless of where they come from, needs to be safe, connected and cared for in order to be a healthy person.

Breaks from parenting are few and far between, especially for a single mom in a one-room apartment. God knows, though. He knows where we come from and He knows what we need. I told them the story of Susanna Wesley, who had 19 children and put her apron over her head to pray. We talked about ways to find space and call out to God for strength to keep on working on these parenting skills—to be the moms we are called to be.

The module just ended, but we are far from finished. This week, another ministry is coming to teach our staff Thai laws and procedure for child safety. We will keep our standards high and keep children safe. We will continue with our holistic approach so moms can be healthy enough to do this difficult work and be the parents God calls them to be. We’re confident that breaking cycles of abuse will help their families be safe, connected, and cared-for—which is good for children, and good for their parents, too.

Your Brain on Trauma

A few months ago, a pickup truck turned in front of a motor scooter just 50 feet ahead of me on my own bike. The rider braked but slammed into the truck at maybe 5 to 10 miles an hour. He appeared a bit dazed but stayed on his feet, bystanders quickly coming to help.

Afterwards I noted that while it was only a minor accident, a picture was now indelibly painted into my memory: the rider, wearing a lime-green shirt, arms flying up to catch the impact, slamming into the white truck. Twenty years from now I will most likely not remember typing this article, but I will retain that image.

Recently I asked “Nan”, 25 and with a left forearm completely scarred from years of self-cutting, what some of her worst memories were. Nan had started out very guarded and to some, threatening: her income sources had been drug dealing and pimping other girls. But having spent a few years working to slowly earn Nan’s trust, I knew I could ask. “So many!” she exclaimed.

“Tell me a couple,” I pressed.

“I was raped at 15,” Nan began, then added, “When I was 13 I watched about 30 guys rape my friend.” To our team, reports like these are sadly and disturbingly common.

Brain science has come a long way since my B.A. in psychology in 1979. We now have a pretty good understanding of what happens when the brain goes through a traumatic experience. “Write this one down!” our amygdala, there to protect us, shouts not only to the brain but to nerves connected throughout our bodies. The greater the fear, the more permanent the paint recording all five senses.

Most of the time and in healthy people, this works like an immune system. We become more careful. But when one experiences severe and/or repeated trauma, a number of unhealthy things start to happen that don’t just go away. Any one of the five senses can trigger a fear response, often without our full awareness. We may feel anxious, angry, or apathetic, but not know why.

The worst of all is repeated trauma, involving helplessness, that occurs randomly to a child. Brain and body lock into a perpetual state of fear. Life becomes survival from constant threat. She lashes out or withdraws, with growing shame over her irrational behavior. She will try anything to feel better, or feeling numb, may hurt herself to feel something. It only gets worse.

Arousal hormones such as adrenaline tear at healthy cells and the immune system derails. Many women at The Well get sick at least monthly. One of our dear long-term addicted women passed away just last week from infectious disease.

There are answers, and a growing understanding of trauma-based disorders has been incredibly helpful at The Well. It fits very well with the Good News of grace, making Scripture wonderfully alive. However in a real sense we are only just getting started.

We will explain more in our next edition. For now I’d like to introduce our main staff counselor, Siri, an amazing, grace-filled woman who comes out of a traumatic background herself, including addiction and sex trafficking. Siri is encouraging several younger women to follow her in psychology and counseling studies. Please take three minutes to watch her story then prayerfully consider the possibilities below.

Thank you again for praying for and supporting The Well.

Ways to Help

Sponsor a future professional.

This coming school year, ten students from Servantworks Thailand ministries will be in university. Most have goals to work helping others in professions such as teaching and counseling (one is the daughter of the woman who just passed away). In addition, one married couple is working on M.Div. degrees at a Bangkok seminary. Perhaps you would like to help support one of these wonderful young leaders.

Provide training and consultation.

We are inviting mental health professionals, or others with experience in addressing trauma, to teach and coach. While a visit to Thailand is most helpful, online video chat can work very well.

Help build healthy places.

Because rampant addiction and other severe dysfunction make for very unsafe communities among the Thai lower class, we have two complementary dreams: 1) “Connect”, growing a healthy church-without-walls network in our community, based around a coffeeshop; 2) a short-term residential recovery center, where women with high dysfunction can receive safe, intensive help. Connect needs about $6000 in building repair, and we would like to begin a capital fund for land and improvements for the recovery center.