FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Parents’ Expectations

with Karyn Purvis | March 23, 2010
Play Pause

All parents have expectations for their children. Today, Karyn Purvis, a former foster mother who holds her doctorate in developmental psychology, cautions parents to be aware of possible risk factors in their adoptive and foster children and adjust their expectations accordingly. Karyn explains that children need unconditional love and that adoptive parents will need wisdom in regards to disciplining these sensitive children.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • All parents have expectations for their children. Today, Karyn Purvis, a former foster mother who holds her doctorate in developmental psychology, cautions parents to be aware of possible risk factors in their adoptive and foster children and adjust their expectations accordingly. Karyn explains that children need unconditional love and that adoptive parents will need wisdom in regards to disciplining these sensitive children.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Karyn Purvis, a former foster mother, cautions parents to be aware of possible risk factors in their adoptive and foster children.

MP3 Download Transcript

Parents’ Expectations

With Karyn Purvis
March 23, 2010
| Download Transcript PDF

Bob:  Dr. Karyn Purvis often counsels with perspective adoptive parents making sure that they have adjusted their expectations.

Dr. Purvis:  We have this dream that we will bring a child home and they will be so thankful; they will be so excited that we love them and those expectations that have to come to the cross before we bring our child home.  As I go to bring a child home, because I believe God’s called me to do this, because I have a peace in my spirit to do this, but that child may have left a culture and friends and the only life they knew.  It may be their darkest hour in their own little minds.

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, March 23rd, our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey and I am Bob Lepine.  We will talk today about what adopted parents and foster parents can do to help children with what can be a difficult adjustment to a new life.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today!  Thanks for joining us!  Remember a number of years ago when the Disney film, Hundred and One Dalmatians came out, don’t you? 

Dennis:  Bob, that was back before ‘the flood!’ 

Bob:  Well, the cartoon came out back before the flood, and then they did a live action version when my kids were growing up and when your kids were in the midst of it. 


Dennis:  Okay!  Sure!


Bob:  The reason I bring it up is because when that happened, all of a sudden there was a rush to the puppy farms.  People thought, I want to bring one of those cute Dalmatians home.  I remember seeing on TV the animal experts; the dog owners who said, “You need to know a Dalmatian is not an easy dog to raise.” 

Dennis:  Yes!  They are temperamental!

Bob:  It is not like it looks in the movie and if you are going to bring home a Dalmatian they said, “Whenever this happens, whenever these movies come out, all of a sudden, the families go off with a romantic vision that we are going to get one of these puppies and it is just going to be cute and six months to a year later there are a lot of orphaned Dalmatians that parents don’t know how to handle. 

We are not talking about Dalmatians today, but the reality is for parents who are bringing home orphans or children from the foster care system.  There can be some lack of understanding of what they are signing up for.

Dennis:  I think we tend to romanticize adoption and we make it into this ....  as I have said many, many, times here on FamilyLife Today, we make it in to a like a story book ending of a family adopting a child or two or three, and it is ‘happily ever after.’  Everything clicks perfectly.  Everything is positive, there is nothing but warm fuzzies; those little toddlers turn to mommy and daddy and say, “I want to really thank you for adopting me.” 

But that may not be the case and more than likely it won’t be the case.  And we have someone here to help us who has been working in the area of Developmental Psychology at Texas Christian University; well really for more than two decades.  Dr. Karyn Purvis joins us again on FamilyLife Today.  Karyn, welcome back! 

Dr. Purvis:  Thank you!  It is good to be back!

Dennis:  Karyn is the Director of TCU’s Institute of Child Development.  She has written a book called, The Connected Child, and it is subtitled, For Parents Who Have Welcomed Children From Other Countries and Cultures, from Troubled Backgrounds and also Welcomed Children with Special Behavioral or Emotional Needs.

Bob:  Before you were ever Dr. Purvis, you were mama Karyn, right?

Dr. Purvis:  I was ‘Mama Karyn.’  Right!

Bob:  You raised 3 boys.

Dr Purvis:  I raised 3 boys!

Bob:  And you were also a foster parent, right?

Dr. Purvis:  I was a foster parent!

Bob:  How many foster kids in the Purvis’ home?

Dr Purvis: Do you know I can’t tell you.  We had many.  We began fostering; oh my goodness  40 years ago on the streets of Daytona Beach.  We were doing a ministry for runaways and drug addicts.   We began to bring home runaways who left families and were living in the streets.


Bob:  Is that where your heart for the hurt child began to develop?


Dr Purvis:  No!  That is where God continued my journey, but this is my passion!  This is my calling!  I am called to the child from the hard place, from the beginning from when I was a child myself.


Dennis:  Give us an illustration how God enlarged your heart through that experience.


Dr. Purvis:  Okay!  I can definitely tell you that!  When I was 4 I was harmed by some of the older male relatives and knowing deeply the terror; when we began to work as a research institute and we began working with little children, I knew the first thing they needed. 

They needed to be welcomed and they needed to know they were safe. We began to cultivate something we call “Felt Safety.”  It has been called something similar to that out of the attachment research. 

I will give you an example of this.  I am in the home of a mother whose got a little girl adopted at a year of age, from Russia; the little girl is diagnosed with mental illness at 5 ½ going on 6.  I am talking to mother in the kitchen when she cooks and this darling beautiful little girl comes bouncing in the kitchen and smells this delicious supper.  She says, “Mama, can I have a power bar?”  You know those delicious chocolate bars that are loaded with chocolate and they have a little bit of protein in them and they say it is a candy bar.  It is really a candy bar. 

Dennis:  They call it a ‘Power Bar!’

Dr Purvis:  They call it a ‘Power Bar,’ that’s right!  And she said, “No baby, you can’t have that, but in 10 minutes we are going to have your favorite supper.  I have cooked your favorite supper while Ms Karyn is here.”  BAMM!   This little girl goes, “I hate you!  You are mean to me!  You never give me anything!  I hate you!  I hate you!”  And she races to her room and she slams the bedroom door and I hear her throwing things. 

Her mom says looks at me and she says, “I hope she doesn’t break the vanity mirror again.” And she puts her hands on her hips and said, “Do you think that she overreacted just a little?”   And I said, “No!   I really don’t!  You told this little girl she couldn’t eat and she smelled the delicious aromas in this kitchen.  And you know she will eat in 10 minutes, but she doesn’t know it. 

I said the way that we would call, ‘Felt Safety’ is I would take that little ‘Power Bar’ and take that darling child’s hands and I would say, “Yes baby, you can have that ‘Power Bar’ and you can eat it right after dinner.  Do you want to put it in your pocket to save or do you want to put it by your plate and save?”  Now see, that little girl’s holding that thing’ she knows she is not going to die.  You knew it before.  She knows it now.  

Now, one month into this family of doing the things that we had taught them about helping her to feel safe and giving her a voice.  This little girl sat with her mother and curled her little fingers up, like curling towards....

Dennis:  Or saying, “Come to me?”

Dr Purvis:  Something like saying, “Come to me.”  And she said, ‘Mommy do you know what this means?”  The Mama said, “No baby, what does that mean?”  This precious little girls said, “Mommy, it means......’ and she began to look up like she was in the crib in the Russian orphanage and she began to look up and look back and forth and she began to tell the story....she said, “Orphanage lady, will you please stop and give me food?  But mommy, nobody will stop and nobody will give me food.”  This little girl has been home for 4 years and she has never told anybody that she remembers begging for food. 

Now, when I give that child a ‘Power Bar,’ and I say, “Yes!  You can have this candy bar right after dinner, you can keep it in your pocket or you can keep it by your plate.”   I have spoken to her the language that I know she needs to feel safe; not that I know she is safe, but that she needs to know she is safe.

Dennis:  As I listen to that story and I have been in some of those orphanages in Russia and in China; and man....I mean, the emotion of a child who is not held ....

Dr. Purvis:  Exactly!


Dennis:  ..... not stroked, loved, cared for, having their needs met; that is a huge deal.

Dr Purvis:  It is a huge deal!

Dennis:  And yet, as parents move toward adopting a child and as they count the cost as we talked about earlier of adopting a child, they can’t help but have some expectations of what’s going to happen as they bring this child home, as they welcome the child into their home.  You have done a lot of research in this. 

You believe that realistic expectations on behalf of the parents are very, very important.  In fact, so much so, you shared with me earlier that a couple who are adopting a baby; if they know they are adopting a child that has risk factors, if they count the cost of adopting a child that has serious risk factors ... are they much happier?

Dr Purvis:  Yes!  Absolutely!  Research documents the fact that if parents are aware of the risk factors up front as they go into the process, they are aware of possible risk, for example; the couple that is told we believe your child may have exposure to Fetal Alcohol.  There is some significant evidence that the parent had trouble with alcohol during the pregnancy. 

We have some signs that look like he may have been abused or she might have been abused physically or in whatever way. 

The parents who go into adoption understanding the risk factors and knowing the risk factors and the possible risk factors ....we can’t always say, because the children can’t always tell.  Knowing those risk factors, what we know is ....the outcomes for those families are far better and the parents continue to be most satisfied with their adoption.

Dennis:  So, adjusting your expectations at that point...

Dr Purvis:  Exactly! 

Dennis:  ...can have a big impact on your experience of adopting a child.

Dr Purvis:  Exactly!  A lot of our families come in with an expectation that this child looks perfect, everything looks perfect, so this is going to be a piece of cake and everything is going to be easy. They don’t understand the risk signs or the risk warnings.  They don’t understand the potentials and so their expectation is ‘I am going to bring this child home and I am going to love them and they are going to love me,’ but that child may have left a culture and friends and the only life they knew.  It may be their darkest hour in their own little minds. 

Dennis:  It may not have been safe.


Dr Purvis:  It may not have been safe at all.

Bob:  You may realize that is going to be the case in the first 6 months, but I think again every parent figures there will come a time  that child will hit 12  or 15 or enter 18 or 21.....

Dr Purvis:  ....or 57!

Bob:  .... and they will get to a point where they will say, “You know I realize now what I never realized but, my life was not going in a good direction and you stepped in and rescued me and thank you so much and I owe you everything.  And when that doesn’t happen, because it often doesn’t happen.....

Dr Purvis:  No!  It doesn’t happen!

Bob:   ..... parents go, “Shouldn’t that be the case where a child would wake up and realize what has happened and  say – Thank you!”

Dr Purvis:  And those are the expectations that have to come to the cross before we bring our child home.  As I go to bring a child home because I believe God is called me to do this.  I have a peace in my spirit to do this and I am going to love that child unconditionally and that is going to be my expectation.

Dennis:  I am so glad you mentioned the concept of counting the cost because Luke 14; Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple can be one unless you pick up your cross and follow Christ.”  I think one of the things that we don’t talk enough about within the Christian community is ‘cross carrying.’  It is a non-negotiable!   As a follower of Jesus Christ all of us have a cross to carry.  It may be that the child we were hoping to bring into our family and onto our home may look like – it is just a very simple gift, but there may be some crosses to be carried for a long time because of that child. 


Dr Purvis:  And if we come with expectations and that child is not meeting those expectation, but rather is challenging all or our hopes and dreams it is going to be really hard for us to keep going.


Dennis:  What does a family do where the child completely disrupts the family?  I mean ... it is like the ‘solar system’ instead of it revolving around the sun, it completely shifts and the child has everybody in the family in orbit around them.

Dr Purvis:  Yes!  I have seen quite a few families where the whole family is on antidepressants, or maybe there is one child who brings their history with them and maybe there are 4 other children and a mom and a dad and everybody is on an antidepressant. 

Several things are going to come out of that for us; one, is I am going to want to talk to them about the different types of interventions, another is I am going to want to talk to  the parent about what they bring to the dance because the attachment dance is a two party dance.  And many of the kids that we brought home were doing the ‘Okie-phen-okie-two-step’ and we are doing the waltz.  We have to learn a similar dance.  There are so many things.


Dennis:  You know having just taken some dance lessons, ...

Dr Purvis:  Yes?


Bob:  You didn’t learn the ‘Okie-phen-okie-two-step’ did you?


Dennis:  I didn’t learn that, but I want to tell you something that is a great illustration because we are making assumptions about these little people that we can’t make.


Dr Purvis:  No! These children have not danced a safe dance if they come to us.


Bob:  As I have heard you describe our expectations and the realities of the hurt child and the need that this child has to feel safe, part of what flashes into my mind is I know that as a parent one of my responsibilities is to help my children get their own impulse control working, so that they are not just responding to their appetite and getting whatever they want.  I don’t indulge them every time they have a desire. 

How does a parent have realistic discipline in the home with a child who is looking for voice and safety and you don’t want to just indulge that child every time they say, ‘give me voice or safety’ and the child thinks that, “Well, I can get whatever I want as long as I ask for it or cry,” – how do you deal with that?

Dr Purvis:   You know that is a really good question.  We have it in our work what we call ‘Levels of Response.’ So, there are levels if a child is low-level sassy or low-level disobedient or low-level challenging or if the child has a butcher knife.  It goes from a 1 response which is a low level to a high response. 

When I can, I am going to say ‘Yes.’  When I can appropriately share power with my child, and I mean appropriately, I am going to.  Okay?  When I am a mother with my little child I want to sit down and have a cup of tea or I want to sleep at night, if my baby wakes up and they are crying, I share power because I put up my cup of tea or I give up my sleep.  I meet that child’s need.  I respond to their voice. 

For most of the kids who come home to us the region of the brain that has to do with making good decisions takes 3 years of mentoring to mature.  So, if that child came home to us not having optimal care for early months, days or years that region of the brain is not mature.  Now, as a child who is 6 or 8, they still need the same things they did as a little one.

 Let me try to say with an illustration:

I am on the playground 10 years ago with a little girl in our first children’s summer camp.  We have a summer camp every summer for at risk kiddos.  Most of them are adopted, some of them foster care, and some in protective custody come to us.  And that little girl, beautiful little cherub-faced angel of about 5 years old, on the playground says to me in a very gruff voice, “You pick me up and carry me in from the playground.”  And that was a low-level challenge right?  It is mouthy!  So, I gave her a low-level response; that is a level 1 challenge and I gave her a level 1 response.  I said, “Are you asking or telling?” 

Most kids would say, “Well, I was asking.”  To which I would say, “Then try it again with respect.”  Now, if she would say to me at that point, “Would you please pick me up and carry me in?”  I would want her to know that not manipulation, control or violence was going to meet her needs, but her voice used with respect.  Now, this little girl did not say that.  This little girl said,...

Dennis:  She challenged you!

Dr Purvis:  Yes!  She did!  This little girl said, “Choices are stupid and you are stupid and I am not going in.”   And so, I leaned down... that is a higher challenge, right?  And we would use what we call choices – right?  So, I leaned down to her; got right about 36 inches where you can reach out and touch her shoulder – not in a threatening way, but in a firm way and I held up 2 fingers and I said, “Sweetheart, you can walk beside me and hold my hand, or you can walk beside me, which do you  choose?”  She said, “Choices are stupid and you are stupid and camp is stupid and I am not coming back tomorrow.”  That is keeping it ongoing, right?  See, the hope is she would say I will walk beside you and I will hold your hand.


Dennis:  Yes!  Sure! 


Dr Purvis:  So, I said, “Darling, do you know what?  I want you to think it over.  We do not send children away when they are in trouble we bring them closer.  I don’t send a child to their room when they are in trouble, but I bring a child closer to me. 

So, I said, “Sweetie, you are having trouble making choices and so I want you sit on the bench right here this park bench under this beautiful shade tree and I am going to wait over here, about 4 -5 feet away, you just take a few deep breaths and think about what you did wrong and how you can do it right and when you are ready to tell me, say ‘ready’.”  And she sat there and kind of heaved and rolled her little eyes and after a few minutes she said, “I am ready, Ms Karyn.” 

I went over and I knelt down and I took her little hands and I said, “Baby, tell me what you did wrong?”  She said, “I was sassy.”  I said, “Oh, yeah!  You were really sassy.  You did that good!  How can you do it right?”  And she said, “I could use my good words.”  I said, “You bet you could, do you want to try it now?”  We call this a re-do.  We went right back to the scene of the crime and I’ll talk about that from scripture, we went back to the scene of the crime where she had been standing and she came up to me and she said, “Ms Karyn, would you please pick me up and carry me in?”  I said, “Whoooo Hooo!  Darling, that is really good, using your words.”  And I gave her a high 5 and I carried her in.

Now, the next time we are on the playground, what do you think she says to me?  “Ms Karyn would you pick me up and carry me in?”   And the next time, “Ms Karyn, will you pick me up and carry me in?  I said, “Yes, darling, I will that is good using your words.  The next time on the playground; this went on 5 or 6 times, the next time she said, “Ms Karyn, will you pick me up and carry me in?” 

I said, “This time I would like you to practice accepting, No!  Whoooo Hooo!  Good job accepting, no!”   And she had taken a deep breath to scream and I said, “You did a good job of accepting ‘no.’”  And that little girl realized she accepted ‘no’ and she lost control of the world for just a minute and she didn’t get hurt.


Dennis:  You know these stories around these children and you didn’t tell us where that little girl had come from.

Dr Purvis:  She was domestically adopted.

Dennis:  She undoubtedly had been hurt ....


Dr Purvis:  Yes!


Dennis:  ... maybe by some evil people.  Evil does damage to people!


Dr Purvis:  Yes it does!


Dennis:  I think it is a part of the story that God is working out in all of our lives that we would be a vessel of the Holy Spirit of God and to be used by Him to produce fruit.  One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is love.  Loving a child who has not been loved in his or her life or experienced emotional or physical closeness and what a privilege we have as parents to be able to draw a child close and to hug them even when they don’t want to be hugged and when they get stiff as a   board and they are saying to you, “I don’t want to be hugged, but don’t stop.  Whatever you do, don’t stop!

Bob:  And it may take a level of perseverance that you don’t think you have today.


Dennis:  I am telling you... nothing challenged my perseverance as much as raising children.


Bob:  But, that is where you have to stay strong and get help or get a copy of a book like Dr. Karyn Purvis has written called, The Connected Child.   And get together with other parents!  

I think there is great strength in getting together with other adopted parents or parents of foster children and just being able to say here’s what we have done and finding encouragement in first of all, knowing that you are not alone, and secondly, hearing what other parents have found that has been effective as they have raised their children.  You can find out more about Dr. Purvis’ book when you go to our website at and the information about the book is available there.

Let me also mention that we have got an event coming up at the end of April that if you are involved with Orphan Care or with an Adoption Ministry in a local church or you just have a heart for the orphan and want to get involved and want to know what to do to help others get connected and get involved as well.

FamilyLife is helping to host the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit VI.  Summit VI, is taking place April 29th and 30th in Minneapolis where Dr. John Piper is our featured speaker, Dr Al Mohler, Mary Beth Chapman will be speaking, and her husband, Steven Curtis Chapman will be providing music for the event.  There will be a variety of workshops and it is a great place to connect with others from around the country. 

There will be folks coming not just from around the country, but from all around the world.  Folks who have a heart for the orphan and want to see the church equipped and mobilized to help out with orphan care.  And with all that has been going on with Haiti over the last several months, this is a fresh issue on the minds of many people. 

If you need more information about Summit VI taking place in Minneapolis at the end of April, go to and there is a link you can click on there that will get you all the information you need.  Again, our website, or you can call, toll-free, 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329.    That’s 1-800 F as in “family” L as in “life” and then the word TODAY, and someone on our team can answer any questions you have about the Orphan Summit or we can make arrangements to have a copy of Dr. Purvis’ books sent to you.

Next week, our focus is on the death and burial and ultimately the resurrection of Christ.  As we begin to draw our attention toward what took place during the last week of Christ’s life on earth, we have a tool that we would like to send  to you that we think will be not only good for your whole family to watch, but something that you can pass along to others as well.

There is a new movie that is out called, Magdalena.  It tells the story of Jesus through the eyes of Mary Magdalene and it is very powerful.  And we are sending it this month to those who help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount.  We are listener supported and your contributions help keep FamilyLife Today on the air on this station and on other stations all across the country.

If today you make a donation of any amount and you would like to receive the Magdalena DVD we can still get it to you in time for Easter.  All you have to do is go on line today and make a donation of any amount and just type – “MAGDVD” into the key code box on the online donation form; “MAGDVD” all one word or simply call 1-800-FLTODAY and make a donation of any amount over the phone and ask for a copy of the Magdalena DVD.

We will get it sent out to you and we trust that God will use it in a powerful way in your family’s life and in the life of friends that you may want to pass it along to this Easter season.  Again, our website, or you can call toll-free,-1-800-FLTODAY.  Let me just say thanks so much for your financial partnership here in the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  We really appreciate you! 

Now tomorrow Dr. Karyn Purvis is going to be back with us and we are going to continue our conversation about how we can help as parents when children have come from hard places.  I hope you can be with us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team on behalf of our host Dennis Rainey, I am Bob Lepine.  We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas. 

Help for Today!  Hope for Tomorrow!

We are so happy to provide these transcripts for you. However, there is a cost to transcribe, create, and produce them for our website. If you've benefited from the broadcast transcripts, would you consider donating today to help defray the costs?

Copyright © FamilyLife. All rights reserved.