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Trauma-Informed Care Takes Courage

Foster and adoptive parents providing trauma-informed care are some of the most courageous people I know. The journey of caring for children from hard places often demands a willingness to face a litany of challenges – mental, emotional, relational, legal, financial, social, and even spiritual. One of the least discussed of these challenges is overcoming many of our natural tendencies toward behaviors and having the courage to find compassion that defies conventional wisdom.

Tense Relationships with Food

As a professional chef, it has brought me great joy to inspire a particular type of courage in others – the courage to eat. Consuming food is a deeply-embodied experience that can bring with it very strong responses to certain foods. Many have come to me in my place of work and told me things like:

  • I can’t stand mushrooms.
  • Eggplant is gross.
  • Kale? Do I look like a rabbit to you?!
  • I’d rather eat sand than eat red beets.

That last one was me.

The Story of the Red Beets

For the longest time, you couldn’t pay me to eat red beets. That was not the case for my parents. They had a much different relationship with pickled red beets from a can – enjoying the flavor and nutritional value they provided to a balanced diet. I assume that’s the case because they repeatedly served these ruby red roots at our dinner table, expecting my body to respond to them in the same way theirs did. 

Yet, even with much persistence on their part, I always found them nasty.

Even into my adolescent and early adult years, just the thought of beets would create a sickening sensation in the pit of my stomach. Then, one day, things changed.

I was a chef’s apprentice working in an upscale Italian restaurant in the heart of Columbus. It was there that I first came across a new flavor sensation: oven-roasted beets. Rather than opening up a can of preserved pickles, they showed me how to take whole, fresh beets and roast them (with the skins still attached to concentrate the sweetness and ease peeling). Afterward, we diced them and tossed them with fresh arugula, goat cheese, toasted pecans, and a white Balsamic vinaigrette.

Lo and behold, I now love beets. 

All those years, my body was telling me that beets were disgusting and didn’t belong on my plate or in my stomach. Now, I crave their taste and rich nutritional value and even grow them in my garden!

Tense Relationships in Trauma-Informed Care

Unpleasant foods aren’t the only thing to give us that sinking sensation. I have often felt that way when trying to help my children work through trauma and difficult situations. There have been countless times throughout my foster and adoption journey in which a child responded to my parenting the way I responded to red beets – only they weren’t just rejecting my food; they were, in a sense, rejecting me. This put a sour taste in my mouth toward their attitudes and behaviors. It took me years to realize that the same transformation I had around food could also occur in my perspective toward my children.

Courage in the Four Realms of Trauma-Informed Care and Relationship

Whether it be food or parenting, it is possible for us to develop a new taste and retrain the way the brain and body react to a particular ingredient or relational challenge. We can put in this work in order to expand our ability to experience joyful eating and nutritional health, especially in trauma-informed care

Taking advantage of our natural neuroplasticity (the brain’s capacity to form new patterns of thought) takes feeding our hunger for connection in the four realms of relationship:

1. Relationship to Ourselves (Being Soothed) 

I learned to love beets because I could tell my body a different story about them – that they could and would be edible, even enjoyable – because they were prepared by people who knew what they were doing.

2. Relationship to Others (Being Seen)

I didn’t try these beets in a vacuum. There were other chefs and apprentices around me, allowing themselves to have the same sensory experience I was having. I wasn’t alone.

3. Relationship to the Environment (Being Safe)

If there is ever a safe place to try something new, a very successful restaurant from a highly-respected company is usually a good place to start.

4. Relationship to the Future (Being Secure) –

Being in my early 30s, I knew that life would go on after the bite of beet. Even if I hated it, the flavor would leave my mouth within moments, if not minutes. I could live with whatever consequences came my way.

Having access to connection in these four realms of relationship is just as important to providing us the courage to develop a taste for foods as they are in allowing us the courage to develop a relationship with a child that God has placed into your home.

Expanding Our Emotional Taste Buds

Here are two practical applications for how developing taste can be applied to our relationships, especially when we are giving trauma-informed care:

1. Children Have a Smaller Flavor Tolerance Than Adults

This is true in the food sense, but it is also very much the case in the emotional sense. In particular, children from hard places have a smaller window of tolerance for stress, making it far more difficult to navigate the choppy waters of their orphan-care journey. It’s important to recognize this when providing them with direction and discipline.

2. Our Bodies Can Be Taught, Too

As with me and beets, our natural responses to a child’s attitudes and behaviors may feel like the best or only response at the moment. However, it is possible that the body can be trained to react with empathy and compassion by finding our own sense of connection, especially with others who are facing the same challenges as we are. This might mean finding a counselor, joining a support group, or attending a conference.

By providing a sense of connection to our children and seeking connection for ourselves, everyone in our home can find the courage to overcome fear and find peace and joy in its place.

©2024 Chef Kibby. Used with Permission.

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