This is a guest post from Sarah Faulkner. She is a homeschooling mom in Washington state. She has five kids, ages 13, 11, 9, 5, and 2. 

The part of me that makes me so socially inept is the emotional piece.

It would stand to reason that six years ago, when I adopted my son, life was laughing manically that I was adopting a child who is emotionally challenged  forcing me to deal with my own ineptitude.

Here is what I learned.  Make a fist with your thumb tucked under your fingers.  This is your brain.  The wrist is your brain stem which is working just fine or you would be dead.  Lift up your fingers leaving the thumb still tucked into your palm.  The palm is the limbic system.  This is what controls your emotions.  The thumb is the  amygdala.  If you are walking and see a stick, but for a moment think it is a snake, your Amygdala is what gets the rest of your body moving.

Now, make the fist again.  The fingers, which cover the thumb and palm represents the prefrontal cortex.  The prefrontal cortex keeps the emotions and amygdala calm.  It is our rational part of the brain.  Open the fingers again, when our emotions and Amygdala is engaged the prefrontal cortex stops working.

It’s also called “flipping your lid”.

Emotional dis-regulation comes from being exposed to yelling/abuse frequently. You always have your amygdala engaged, causing your rational thinking to not work as well. Years after the trauma the “lid”may only be half engaged, keeping you from being able to think rationally.

Interesting right?

There are three different levels of emotions in our brains.  Here is a video explaining what I’m about to say.  The first two levels of your emotional brain are built in utero and the first couple of years of life.  The third (a bit more rational) is built as you finish growing and this is the part we can consciously control.  We can’t control the other two levels, but we can change them.

My mother had a very traumatic childhood.  She did not establish a healthy emotional brain.  Therefore, when she had me she could not teach my brain how to emotionally grow. She tried her best, but that does not change reality.  This is why I struggle emotionally because my brain never learned how to handle emotions properly.  Unfortunately neither did Andy.  His dad beat him till he cried, and then beat him until he stopped crying.

I have adopted one child who’s prefrontal cortex was attacked by meth and doesn’t cover the emotions properly. I adopted another child who was exposed to trauma and her amygdala is going crazy.  I do know vitamin A helps the hippocampus, which in turn calms the amygdala.  I also have learned that different essential oil smells can help the amygdala release emotional trauma.

I put some on my daughter last night.  Then I was up with her for two hours as she cried from nightmares.  She is very pleasant this morning so I think something good happened even if it sound like hocus pocus.

It would stand to reason that my stress is mainly coming from all the emotions flowing out of the kids, and my ineptitude in handling them.  If I can learn how to handle their emotions, and learn how to handle mine, then my stress should go down.  I don’t know how to do that at all.  I do know, that being aware of what is going on, is the first step to finding the solution.

And now that I’ve spend almost a decade hearing people tell me how crazy and unacceptable homeschooling is, I’m more open to solutions for a wide range of problems. I’ve realized that entrenched, hard-to-fix problems like education and emotional regulation will not have clear-cut, mainstream solutions.

Fortunately I’ve found that my ability to confront the most difficult problems is commensurate with my ability to road test the most out-of-the-box solutions.

9 replies
  1. Cate
    Cate says:

    Your instincts seem right on about your daughter. Beautifully done description of the brain, too! I want to share that with my kids.

    “Hand-in-Hand Parenting” is a free, non-profit parenting service that moves along the same philosophical lines as it seems you are thinking. I’m not a shill for them but just like their approach.

    One of the innovative things they suggest (and actually help with) is that parents find a parenting buddy to talk to on a regular basis. Parents can get their own fears and anger out, so they can focus on what their kids need from them.

    There’s a lot more, but I hope you check them out!

    http://www.handinhandparenting.org

  2. elaine
    elaine says:

    wonderful article. Thank you so much. It explains a hell of a lot of about my relationships with my parents, my partners and ergo what my kids have learned from me.

  3. Sarah Pierzchala
    Sarah Pierzchala says:

    Bless you for offering these precious kids a safe and loving home, even though I know it must be very difficult for you.

  4. cheryl
    cheryl says:

    This is the second time this week–and the first time in my life–I’ve read about the amygdala and the pre-frontal cortex. The first time was in The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World (Dalai Lama + Dr. Howard Cutler). The book is fascinating, and I wish it had included your visual aid with the fist. So clear.

  5. Karelys
    Karelys says:

    I almost didn’t read the comments because I couldn’t stand people throwing comments about how you shouldn’t adopt and homeschool if you are dealing with your own issues as you do and blah blah blah.

    It’s always so surprising to me that some people are so mean and hold this idea that unless you’re “damaged” in an acceptable manner, you shouldn’t reproduced or adopt or homeschool or whatever.

    But Sarah I love you and your bravery. You’re courageous and your writing is better and better and more delicious every time I read.

    Muah! Big kiss. You’re a badass.

    Ps. I was geeking out because I love all chemistry/anatomy talk and this post was so good all around.

  6. sarah faulkner
    sarah faulkner says:

    Thank you so much for all the kind comments. It really warms my heart to hear so much support. I am a bit of a lonely island with juggling everything. :)

  7. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Sarah, here’s something else you’re doing. You’re modeling a growth mindset and creating a growth environment. You’re showing your children you don’t have all the answers. You’re taking risks and working through problems. Your children are watching and learning together with you. School wouldn’t do that for you or the children.

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