Welcoming Joy! Belonging, Safety & Relationships are KeyBY: RONNIE D. KOEHN, PH.D., Associate Director
Despairing and hopeless. Agitated, angry and aggressive. Engaging in addiction. Panicked, alone and suicidal. These are all debilitating feelings and behaviors any of us might experience when faced with extreme or prolonged stress. The ability to recover or “bounce back” from these experiences is referred to as resilience. But what does resilience look like for an infant or young child? During these early years, how is it possible to “bounce back” to who we are, when who we are has not yet fully come into being? Like many aspects of a young child’s developing sense of self and identity, their resilience is not yet their own. From early age through adulthood, resilience lies within relationships.
Families who bring their children into Casa de Esperanza’s care have exhausted their ability to provide safety, without which a resilient “bouncing back” remains improbable. As a result, the families we serve consistently present with many of the destructive feelings and behaviors listed above. Casa de Esperanza’s greatest service to these children and families lies in our first three core values: Belonging, Safety and Relationships. Safety, absolutely essential, prevents further injury. Resilience and the desire to bounce back requires something more. Instilling resilience in a young child or the parent whose entire life may have been dominated by stress, injury and rejection, requires forming relationships; relationships that are characterized with “welcoming joy.”
Welcoming joy is witnessed every day in the children and families we serve. From the moment a family arrives at Casa de Esperanza, our staff and volunteers want each parent and child to feel, “You are welcome here, so you feel that you belong, and know your continued existence is important. Your being here brings me joy, and through our relationship I am going to reflect back to you that you are a source of joy.” Experiences of belonging and joy give a reason to remain hopeful during the most tragic moments when they might consider giving up—resilience.
To be clear, finding joy in others is not always easy. Histories of being hurt, neglected and hurting others often result in behaviors and feelings that are the opposite of welcoming and joyful. But our mission to break the cycle of abuse requires that we be willing to bear witness to the injuries in those who suffer them and those who inflict them. And if, within the confines of the safety we establish, we can use our own resilience to see beyond the injustice, tragedy and pain that surrounds the children and families to discover even the smallest spark of joy, then our mission stands a chance. Much like the early parent-child relationship, we at Casa de Esperanza hold the resilience that will eventually become the child’s and parent’s own resilience through the relationships we create with them.
By using our own resilience and our ability to see that tomorrow can be better, we can give each child and family a renewed sense of belonging and hope. Our reward is the gift of joy that we discover and rekindle in the children and their families