Why love might not be enough

It is the chief aim of every parent to love their children—whether adopted or biological—in such a way that they feel secure and valued. As Christians, we also hope our children experience our love in a way that depicts the perfect love of God.

When children have endured trauma in their early years, as is common in adoption (at least as a result of their separation from birth parents), they sometimes manifest symptoms of their trauma behaviorally and emotionally.

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Often, the noble and genuine response to such challenges—by parents and those supporting them (such as their church communities)—is simply to “love them.” While love is, indeed, necessary, simply “loving them” may prove insufficient, or is, at least, an oversimplified answer.

To think love is sufficient remedy to a child’s trauma utterly fails to recognize the ways trauma impacts a person biologically—at the molecular level. The effects of trauma are far more than merely emotional; a recent study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found stressors actually alter one’s DNA. The genes affected by trauma are usually those that regulate mood and attachment, giving rise to psychological and social issues. Of further significance is that the changes to the DNA from trauma are persistent, possibly lasting a lifetime.

The field of epigenetics continues to explore potential interventions to aid those affected by early childhood trauma. In the interim, being aware that a traumatized child’s emotional and behavioral outbursts are at least partly “coded into” their DNA helps those of us supporting them better understand their needs without oversimplifying our answers.

Until science reveals more to help our children rewrite their genetic expressions and recover from the trauma they experienced, we must continue to provide safe, nurturing communities and skilled, professional support to allow them to process their traumatic experiences.

Love may not be enough. But it is necessary.

Kirsten Holmberg is a writer and speaker based in the Pacific Northwest. Her TEDx talk, “Your adopted child experienced trauma, now what?” chronicles the impact of trauma and Reactive Attachment Disorder on her family. Find her online at www.kirstenholmberg.com or on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram (@kirholmberg).