The Surprising Way Your Past Trauma Affects Your Foster Children

Now that all 20+ sessions of the Adoption HEART Conference have been broadcast, I want to share how these sessions have impacted me and changed my outlook on raising my adopted children.

I will be the first to admit that as an adoptive parent who “rescued” children from the foster care system, I am flawed. First, I had my head in the sand about some very important issues that drastically affect how effective I can be as a parent to traumatized children.



The most surprising theme for me that ran through many of the sessions of the Adoption HEART Conference is that parents must recognize the impact that personal past trauma will have on their ability to effectively parent trauma.

My history is spotted with family dysfunction, substance abuse, domestic violence, along with physical and sexual abuse. Although I felt had to come to terms with my own past trauma, I had failed to recognize its importance in my ability to stay calm and not be triggered by my child’s trauma. As therapist Amy Sugeno stated in her session:

“If a parent experienced childhood trauma, they are at a higher risk for developing secondary trauma.”

Wow! She went on to explain:

“A child’s trauma may trigger a parent’s past trauma.”

Now, my trauma happened many, many years ago. I actively pursued healing as a young woman through many counseling sessions, group therapy with other survivors, and even hypnosis to clear some of the bad memories. When I eventually came to the point of restoration, I felt alive, healed, and finally over the mountain of heartache that was my youth.

However, as I became a foster parent, I was surprised at how my past trauma caused me to react. To this day, I cringe when a young girl is hugged by males or sits on a man’s lap. I become nervous, edgy, and can even become downright bitchy. My instinct is to snatch the girl from what can be a truly appropriate sign of affection. (It’s ironic because as a little girl, I always felt safest in my Daddy’s lap.)

I began to realize that due to this hyper-vigilance from my past trauma, it would be best for me if I didn’t parent little girls. It is just too nerve-racking for me.


  • Evaluate your past. You can begin by journaling about your three biggest hurts in your past. Many times you will begin to see a pattern.
  • Evaluate your present parenting. Journal about the times you may have just lost it while parenting your child. {no judgment here} look to see if you can identify your triggers.
  • Compare your current triggers with your past. Examine both lists and look for any overlapping issues. Determine if your current triggers are somehow associated with your past.
  • Determine if your feelings are somehow associated with your past.  One way that you can do this is when your child is misbehaving, before you react to your child’s behavior: Stop, breathe, and question your feelings.