07/30/2022 11:20 AM By Joshua
Car Line
Joy Zedler
Joy Zedler
Story & Photo by Lisa Anderson


An Adoptive Mother Shares Her Parenting Struggles

“I want to tell the story of my son at school,” declares Joy Zedler, co-founder and board member of The Pearl Project. Joy and her husband Stephen have five children, two of which were adopted. 

The Pearl Project website states, “In 2013, our family began a foster journey that unexpectedly turned into an adoption adventure. We listened politely as people told us that what we were doing was beautiful, not wanting to admit that it felt anything but that. In fact, there were days when it looked downright ugly. We felt tired, overwhelmed, and alone. We quickly learned that the more traditional parenting style that worked well for our biological children was not going to work with our children with a history of trauma. It was at our lowest point that we discovered the work of Dr. Karyn Purvis at an Empowered to Connect conference. It gave us more empathy for our children’s history, hope that we could help them heal, and most importantly, practical parenting tools. We will forever be students of Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) and it is our mission to bring trauma-informed support to families like ours—families who need to know that there is beauty in their hard work.”

Extra Care Pays Off 

“I just feel like it’s such a good picture of what trauma-informed care looks like,” says Joy, continuing the story about her son. Trauma-informed. It’s become such a buzzword, but what does that mean? What does that really look like?

“I thought [this story] about my son and what [trauma-informed care] meant for him could be a good picture of that,” she explains.

“When he started kindergarten, we knew, because of his history and diagnosis of FASD [Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder], we really wanted his school to have knowledge of TBRI. We wanted them to be ready, not just for him, but there are many kids in the classroom who need extra support.

“The entire staff went through a TBRI training in the summer. One of the administrators particularly took an interest. She has a background in social work, so she was all in,” states Joy. 

Joy’s son had an amazing first day at school. Immediately, Joy thought this was going to be a great year. “The next day he woke up, and he found out that he had to go back. He started melting.

“Part of his history, part of having FASD, is he really can struggle with self-regulation to the point of having really intense rages. We lovingly refer to them as wobblers in our house. So, he was wobbling, and I was crying because I’m thinking I don’t want to homeschool. I was really overwhelmed. Somehow, through my TBRI strategies, I was able to help regulate him and get him back online using play. I was able to get him in the car and drive to school.

“I get to the drop-off area, and I walk him up,” narrates Joy.

The administrator who had taken a keen interest in TBRI was standing in the courtyard while Joy said goodbye to her son. The wobbling began again, and Joy felt slightly embarrassed as she looked at all the other parents dropping off their children. “Nobody knows his history. They just think this kid is bad or whatever. He was really raging, and I was struggling internally, as well.”

That’s when the administrator walked up, gave Joy a hug, and took control of the situation. “I had to leave while he was screaming.”

Joy remembers getting in the car and crying. Her son had pulled off his shoes and socks, and the administrator picked up a sock, made a puppet, and began to play. “She got him laughing, got his shoes back on, and didn’t shame him for his behavior. She was thinking in terms of his brain. He needs to be regulated,” Joy explains.

“He had a great rest of the day. Not only that, he also had a great rest of the year. I really think that interaction could have changed the trajectory of the year, if she had come down harsh.”

Dealing with Reality

Fostering and adopting can sound noble, but it can be very difficult for both the parents and the children. “It is hard, because sometimes, I know even with all the support I personally have and all the education I have, I still struggle sometimes. FASD is not something that goes away, and it’s not something that can fully be ‘fixed.’ You’re always accommodating, growing, and learning.”

Joy finds a lot of happiness, inspiration, and a feeling of gratefulness through her work with The Pearl Project, but it can take a toll on her and the parents. “I don’t have a magic bullet for them. It’s going to cost a lot for [the parents] to do it the right way.

“We have a foster care crisis right now in our community, and everyone can do something. There are lots of great organizations that you can get involved with. I feel like if we all did something, we could really make a dent. We could solve it, really, if more people became foster parents and more people supported foster parents and became trauma informed.”
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