This blog is my place to vent and share resources with other parents of children of trauma. I try to be open and honest about my feelings in order to help others know they are not alone. Therapeutic parenting of adopted teenagers with RAD and other severe mental illnesses and issues (plus "neurotypical" teens) , is not easy, and there are time when I say what I feel... at the moment. We're all human!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Integrity Study - The Game

As part of a FAIR Club assignment, we did a study on Integrity.
Integrity Study Day 1
Integrity Study Day 2
Integrity Study Day 3
Integrity Study Day 4
This was a game I created to practice what we learned about integrity.

The Integrity Game

1) Roll the number cube (die) and pick up a card. Read and answer the card aloud.
2) If the group decides you answered with integrity, then you can move the number of spaces on the die.
3) Two or more players can be on the same space.
4) Continue to play until someone reaches the finish, then see who will finish second, third, etc.

Integrity Cards:
  1. Your friend’s parents give him permission to be at your house.  He goes to the park instead.  He asks you to lie about his whereabouts if they call.
  2. You are alone in your classroom.  You are standing near the teacher’s reward box.  It would be so easy to grab that cool reward trinket you’ve been wanting.
  3. You buy a burger. The cashier is distracted and accidentally gives you too much change.
  4. A group of kids is picking on a kid you really don’t like.  They want you to join in.
  5. You have a really hard question on your homework.  You know you can just write the wrong answer and will be allowed to make corrections before it’s graded.
  6. Your friends dare you to ask out someone you don’t really like.  (You aren’t allowed to tell the person it’s a dare).
  7. You agree to sell your old MP3 player to a friend, and someone later offers you more money.
  8. A friend is wearing an expensive new outfit that she really likes, but you think is ugly and unflattering.  She asks you for your opinion.
  9. Your friend asks you to find out if a boy likes her.  He says he likes you better.  Your friend wants to know what he said.
  10. You left at home all the research for your rough draft which is due today and a big part of your grade.  You could copy something off the internet on the school computer and fix it later before turning in the final report. 
  11. You’re thirsty but have no money.  A friend offers you a Frappuchino (cold, sweet coffee drink), but it has caffeine and a lot of sugar.  Mom would never know.
  12. You’re at a party and find out there will be no adults there to supervise and some people are drinking.  Your friends want you to stay.
  13. It’s fun to tease your siblings and they tease you right back.  Mom tells you that one of your siblings is really upset by the teasing, even though they don’t say anything and they tease you back.
  14. You discover that if you stand next to a certain air vent you can hear your parents talking about you.  You really want to know what they are saying.
  15. Mom’s told you and your sibling to quit roughhousing, but you don’t and your sibling accidentally gets hurt.  Mom asks you what happened and you know you’ll get in trouble if you tell her you were roughhousing.  Your sibling says, "let’s not tell."
  16. A big, mean kid purposefully spits on you in the hallway between classes.  You want to yell and scream at the kid, but you know the kid could really hurt you.
  17. You’re pretty sure your teacher gave you a bad grade just because she doesn’t like you.  You think your parent’s won’t believe you, but they might let you get out of her class if you tell them you’re afraid of the teacher.
  18. You left a big mess in the kitchen but a sibling is going to get blamed for it.  The sibling always makes messes and never gets in trouble for them.  If you say nothing the sibling will finally get in trouble for making a mess.
  19. You really want some cookies, but there are only a few left.  Mom would say no, but if you don’t take them now there won’t be any more later.
  20. Everyone cusses and would think there is something wrong with you if you don’t.  You think they might stop being your friend if you’re a goody two shoes.
  21. It’s a holiday and you want to sleep in, but for some reason Mom says you have to get up early.  You could go back to sleep and say you didn’t hear your parent say it was time to get up.
  22. You know you can’t get out of doing your chores, but if you do a bad job maybe they won’t notice.  
  23. Dinner looks really gross.  Your parents ask why you’re not eating.
  24. A friend says something really mean about you to all your friends.  You know a secret about the friend that you could tell.
  25. A person tells you that you made a mistake and it reminds you of a really upsetting event in your past.  You want to yell and scream at the person in the past, but the person who criticized you is the only one there.
  26. A sibling may have told people at school about something private about you.  You’re so mad you want to hurt your sibling.
  27. You don’t feel good because you stayed up late reading.  There’s nothing really going on at school today so you probably wouldn’t miss anything if you stay home.
  28. A kid in special ed likes you and keeps putting notes in your locker telling you how great you are.  Your friends are teasing you about the notes and you want the kid to stop.
  29. You’re in a bad mood.  You want to tell everybody to leave you alone, but your sibling is in your face being silly and obnoxious.
  30. Your friend asks you to come over, but you know your parents won’t let you because you’re in trouble.  Your friend will want to know why you can’t come and will tell everyone if you say it’s because you’re in trouble.  

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Books and Methods Review - Stop Walking on Eggshells

Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care About Has Borderline Personality Disorder by Paul Mason MSRandi Kreger
Do you feel manipulated, controlled, or lied to? Are you the focus of intense, violent, and irrational rages? Do you feel you are 'walking on eggshells' to avoid the next confrontation?

If the answer is 'yes,' someone you care about may have borderline personality disorder (BPD). Stop Walking on Eggshells has already helped nearly half a million people with friends and family members suffering from BPD understand this destructive disorder, set boundaries, and help their loved ones stop relying on dangerous BPD behaviors. This fully revised edition has been updated with the very latest BPD research and includes coping and communication skills you can use to stabilize your relationship with the BPD sufferer in your life. This compassionate guide will enable you to:

  • Make sense out of the chaos
  • Stand up for yourself and assert your needs
  • Defuse arguments and conflicts
  • Protect yourself and others from violent behavior
There is a part on using coping strategies for self-care, how to seek support and validation, how to seek out Internet help and community groups and above all how to keep a good sense of humor.  Taking care of yourself, detaching with love, taking your life back, not allowing yourself to be abused, taking the heat out of the situation by gently paraphrasing and reflexive listening, creating a safety plan for imminent self-mutilation, how to bolster your own self-identity and self-esteem, taking responsibility for your own behaviour and remembering that sometimes, “… splitting and other BPD behaviour can be catching.” ~PsychCentral Review
    Marythemom:  This is an excellent book written for family members of people with BPD, but I feel it can also help parents of RAD kids. I read an older edition, so my review might not be as accurate. The first half of the book explains how the person with BPD feels.  The second half addresses how to live with a person with BPD.  It is assumed that everyone is adults, and that we cannot change the person with BPD - treatment is their choice.  This book is NOT written to help the person with BPD.  It is how to cope as a sympathetic family member.  I plan to review some of the concepts from the second half of the book at a later date.

    Thursday, January 29, 2015

    Books and Methods Review - 99 Ways to Drive Your Child Sane

    99 Ways to Drive Your Child Sane by Brita St. Clair 

    This little book is full of wild ideas and hysterical humor to bring the laughter back into a home with an emotionally disturbed child. Need a good laugh? This book will do it! It includes lots of "one liners" and silly, fun ways to help parents avoid anger around tough topics. Written by a very experienced and loving Therapeutic Mom with years of success helping tough kids heal.

    A few examples:

    For kids that pee in their rooms - Sprinkle peas around the room at night or while the child is gone. When the child is awake or at home, you discover the peas, get a bowl to collect them and show your delight over the child growing peas by peeing. "I knew this would happen someday if you just peed enough peas were sure to grow." Make sure you have peas (clean ones please) that night for dinner. Those of us from the south especially like to use black-eyed peas.

    7. BUMMER
    One liner: "Bummer"

    This is commonly used by therapeutic parents working with unattached children and was not invented by me.

    Something fun to do with it though is to keep a tally sheet or put a sticker on your arm every time you say "Bummer." See how many times you can use this one liner in one day instead of getting into an argument. Don't explain what you are doing either. Your child will have to wonder why you are putting stickers on yourself.

    This reminds me of Behavior Bingo - 
    Behavior Bingo is something I heard about from somewhere on the web. As a way to cope with her children's behaviors, this mom started pretending that whenever her child did something annoying (like pitch a fit, or paint with poo, or call her a $%#*... she would sometimes act really excited like she'd gotten to put a marker on her imaginary bingo board. She didn't tell her kids what she was doing or why. Every now and then she would yell out Bingo! She usually thanked the child for the behavior (again without telling the child why), and rewarded herself in some way (got an ice cream or a margarita or whatever). She said it made her feel better, and confused the heck out of the child(ren).

    37. STUPID MOM
    When the child is acting like you are dumb or asking head hassling questions he knows the answers to, point at your forehead and say,"Does it say stupid here?" If he says yes, then say, "Well erase it quick, you don't want people thinking you have a stupid mom," or "Erase it, that's supposed to be our secret"

    Marythemom:  *****Quick, fun read.  I highly recommend it to help with the stress. 

    Here's some fun one-liners to help with your stress!

    Monday, January 26, 2015

    The Addictive Brain

    Finally an article that puts in to better words why my son has an "addictive brain." We've seen evidence of it for years, and knew it wasn't the drugs themselves, because the addiction shifted often and he could stop seemingly cold turkey (drugs, alcohol, tobacco, but also sugar, sex, adrenaline, chaos...).

    These addictions continued despite the fact that my son had a much better "cage." I believe this is for several reasons. One, he is missing the ability to make the "connection" mentioned in this article.

    "Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It's how we get our satisfaction. If we can't connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find -- the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about 'addiction' altogether, and instead call it 'bonding.' A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn't bond as fully with anything else.
    So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection."

    So my son remains "addicted." In part because his attachment issues - the (in)ability to make human connections - haven't really healed, but also because his Chronic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder means he is stuck living in a "war zone" 24/7. He carries his old "cage" with him wherever he goes.

    The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and 

    It Is Not What You Think

    by Johann Hari - Author of 'Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs'

    It is now one hundred years since drugs were first banned -- and all through this long century of waging war on drugs, we have been told a story about addiction by our teachers and by our governments. This story is so deeply ingrained in our minds that we take it for granted. It seems obvious. It seems manifestly true. Until I set off three and a half years ago on a 30,000-mile journey for my new book, Chasing The Scream: The First And Last Days of the War on Drugs, to figure out what is really driving the drug war, I believed it too. But what I learned on the road is that almost everything we have been told about addiction is wrong -- and there is a very different story waiting for us, if only we are ready to hear it.
    If we truly absorb this new story, we will have to change a lot more than the drug war. We will have to change ourselves.
    I learned it from an extraordinary mixture of people I met on my travels. From the surviving friends of Billie Holiday, who helped me to learn how the founder of the war on drugs stalked and helped to kill her. From a Jewish doctor who was smuggled out of the Budapest ghetto as a baby, only to unlock the secrets of addiction as a grown man. From a transsexual crack dealer in Brooklyn who was conceived when his mother, a crack-addict, was raped by his father, an NYPD officer. From a man who was kept at the bottom of a well for two years by a torturing dictatorship, only to emerge to be elected President of Uruguay and to begin the last days of the war on drugs.
    I had a quite personal reason to set out for these answers. One of my earliest memories as a kid is trying to wake up one of my relatives, and not being able to. Ever since then, I have been turning over the essential mystery of addiction in my mind -- what causes some people to become fixated on a drug or a behavior until they can't stop? How do we help those people to come back to us? As I got older, another of my close relatives developed a cocaine addiction, and I fell into a relationship with a heroin addict. I guess addiction felt like home to me.
    If you had asked me what causes drug addiction at the start, I would have looked at you as if you were an idiot, and said: "Drugs. Duh." It's not difficult to grasp. I thought I had seen it in my own life. We can all explain it. Imagine if you and I and the next twenty people to pass us on the street take a really potent drug for twenty days. There are strong chemical hooks in these drugs, so if we stopped on day twenty-one, our bodies would need the chemical. We would have a ferocious craving. We would be addicted. That's what addiction means.
    One of the ways this theory was first established is through rat experiments -- ones that were injected into the American psyche in the 1980s, in a famous advert by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. You may remember it. The experiment is simple. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself.
    The advert explains: "Only one drug is so addictive, nine out of ten laboratory rats will use it. And use it. And use it. Until dead. It's called cocaine. And it can do the same thing to you."
    But in the 1970s, a professor of Psychology in Vancouver called Bruce Alexander noticed something odd about this experiment. The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently? So Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat about town could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, will happen then?
    In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn't know what was in them. But what happened next was startling.
    The rats with good lives didn't like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.
    At first, I thought this was merely a quirk of rats, until I discovered that there was -- at the same time as the Rat Park experiment -- a helpful human equivalent taking place. It was called the Vietnam War. Time magazine reported using heroin was "as common as chewing gum" among U.S. soldiers, and there is solid evidence to back this up: some 20 percent of U.S. soldiers had become addicted to heroin there, according to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Many people were understandably terrified; they believed a huge number of addicts were about to head home when the war ended.
    But in fact some 95 percent of the addicted soldiers -- according to the same study -- simply stopped. Very few had rehab. They shifted from a terrifying cage back to a pleasant one, so didn't want the drug any more.
    Professor Alexander argues this discovery is a profound challenge both to the right-wing view that addiction is a moral failing caused by too much hedonistic partying, and the liberal view that addiction is a disease taking place in a chemically hijacked brain. In fact, he argues, addiction is an adaptation. It's not you. It's your cage.
    After the first phase of Rat Park, Professor Alexander then took this test further. He reran the early experiments, where the rats were left alone, and became compulsive users of the drug. He let them use for fifty-seven days -- if anything can hook you, it's that. Then he took them out of isolation, and placed them in Rat Park. He wanted to know, if you fall into that state of addiction, is your brain hijacked, so you can't recover? Do the drugs take you over? What happened is -- again -- striking. The rats seemed to have a few twitches of withdrawal, but they soon stopped their heavy use, and went back to having a normal life. The good cage saved them. (The full references to all the studies I am discussing are in the book.)
    When I first learned about this, I was puzzled. How can this be? This new theory is such a radical assault on what we have been told that it felt like it could not be true. But the more scientists I interviewed, and the more I looked at their studies, the more I discovered things that don't seem to make sense -- unless you take account of this new approach.
    Here's one example of an experiment that is happening all around you, and may well happen to you one day. If you get run over today and you break your hip, you will probably be given diamorphine, the medical name for heroin. In the hospital around you, there will be plenty of people also given heroin for long periods, for pain relief. The heroin you will get from the doctor will have a much higher purity and potency than the heroin being used by street-addicts, who have to buy from criminals who adulterate it. So if the old theory of addiction is right -- it's the drugs that cause it; they make your body need them -- then it's obvious what should happen. Loads of people should leave the hospital and try to score smack on the streets to meet their habit.
    But here's the strange thing: It virtually never happens. As the Canadian doctor Gabor Mate was the first to explain to me, medical users just stop, despite months of use. The same drug, used for the same length of time, turns street-users into desperate addicts and leaves medical patients unaffected.
    If you still believe -- as I used to -- that addiction is caused by chemical hooks, this makes no sense. But if you believe Bruce Alexander's theory, the picture falls into place. The street-addict is like the rats in the first cage, isolated, alone, with only one source of solace to turn to. The medical patient is like the rats in the second cage. She is going home to a life where she is surrounded by the people she loves. The drug is the same, but the environment is different.
    This gives us an insight that goes much deeper than the need to understand addicts. Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It's how we get our satisfaction. If we can't connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find -- the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about 'addiction' altogether, and instead call it 'bonding.' A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn't bond as fully with anything else.
    So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.
    When I learned all this, I found it slowly persuading me, but I still couldn't shake off a nagging doubt. Are these scientists saying chemical hooks make no difference? It was explained to me -- you can become addicted to gambling, and nobody thinks you inject a pack of cards into your veins. You can have all the addiction, and none of the chemical hooks. I went to a Gamblers' Anonymous meeting in Las Vegas (with the permission of everyone present, who knew I was there to observe) and they were as plainly addicted as the cocaine and heroin addicts I have known in my life. Yet there are no chemical hooks on a craps table.
    But still, surely, I asked, there is some role for the chemicals? It turns out there is an experiment which gives us the answer to this in quite precise terms, which I learned about in Richard DeGrandpre's book The Cult of Pharmacology.
    Everyone agrees cigarette smoking is one of the most addictive processes around. The chemical hooks in tobacco come from a drug inside it called nicotine. So when nicotine patches were developed in the early 1990s, there was a huge surge of optimism -- cigarette smokers could get all of their chemical hooks, without the other filthy (and deadly) effects of cigarette smoking. They would be freed.
    But the Office of the Surgeon General has found that just 17.7 percent of cigarette smokers are able to stop using nicotine patches. That's not nothing. If the chemicals drive 17.7 percent of addiction, as this shows, that's still millions of lives ruined globally. But what it reveals again is that the story we have been taught about The Cause of Addiction lying with chemical hooks is, in fact, real, but only a minor part of a much bigger picture.
    This has huge implications for the one-hundred-year-old war on drugs. This massive war -- which, as I saw, kills people from the malls of Mexico to the streets of Liverpool -- is based on the claim that we need to physically eradicate a whole array of chemicals because they hijack people's brains and cause addiction. But if drugs aren't the driver of addiction -- if, in fact, it is disconnection that drives addiction -- then this makes no sense.
    Ironically, the war on drugs actually increases all those larger drivers of addiction. For example, I went to a prison in Arizona -- 'Tent City' -- where inmates are detained in tiny stone isolation cages ('The Hole') for weeks and weeks on end to punish them for drug use. It is as close to a human recreation of the cages that guaranteed deadly addiction in rats as I can imagine. And when those prisoners get out, they will be unemployable because of their criminal record -- guaranteeing they with be cut off even more. I watched this playing out in the human stories I met across the world.
    There is an alternative. You can build a system that is designed to help drug addicts to reconnect with the world -- and so leave behind their addictions.
    This isn't theoretical. It is happening. I have seen it. Nearly fifteen years ago, Portugal had one of the worst drug problems in Europe, with 1 percent of the population addicted to heroin. They had tried a drug war, and the problem just kept getting worse. So they decided to do something radically different. They resolved to decriminalize all drugs, and transfer all the money they used to spend on arresting and jailing drug addicts, and spend it instead on reconnecting them -- to their own feelings, and to the wider society. The most crucial step is to get them secure housing, and subsidized jobs so they have a purpose in life, and something to get out of bed for. I watched as they are helped, in warm and welcoming clinics, to learn how to reconnect with their feelings, after years of trauma and stunning them into silence with drugs.
    One example I learned about was a group of addicts who were given a loan to set up a removals firm. Suddenly, they were a group, all bonded to each other, and to the society, and responsible for each other's care.
    The results of all this are now in. An independent study by the British Journal of Criminology found that since total decriminalization, addiction has fallen, and injecting drug use is down by 50 percent. I'll repeat that: injecting drug use is down by 50 percent. Decriminalization has been such a manifest success that very few people in Portugal want to go back to the old system. The main campaigner against the decriminalization back in 2000 was Joao Figueira, the country's top drug cop. He offered all the dire warnings that we would expect from the Daily Mail or Fox News. But when we sat together in Lisbon, he told me that everything he predicted had not come to pass -- and he now hopes the whole world will follow Portugal's example.
    This isn't only relevant to the addicts I love. It is relevant to all of us, because it forces us to think differently about ourselves. Human beings are bonding animals. We need to connect and love. The wisest sentence of the twentieth century was E.M. Forster's -- "only connect." But we have created an environment and a culture that cut us off from connection, or offer only the parody of it offered by the Internet. The rise of addiction is a symptom of a deeper sickness in the way we live -- constantly directing our gaze towards the next shiny object we should buy, rather than the human beings all around us.
    The writer George Monbiot has called this "the age of loneliness." We have created human societies where it is easier for people to become cut off from all human connections than ever before. Bruce Alexander -- the creator of Rat Park -- told me that for too long, we have talked exclusively about individual recovery from addiction. We need now to talk about social recovery -- how we all recover, together, from the sickness of isolation that is sinking on us like a thick fog.
    But this new evidence isn't just a challenge to us politically. It doesn't just force us to change our minds. It forces us to change our hearts.
    Loving an addict is really hard. When I looked at the addicts I love, it was always tempting to follow the tough love advice doled out by reality shows like Intervention -- tell the addict to shape up, or cut them off. Their message is that an addict who won't stop should be shunned. It's the logic of the drug war, imported into our private lives. But in fact, I learned, that will only deepen their addiction -- and you may lose them altogether. I came home determined to tie the addicts in my life closer to me than ever -- to let them know I love them unconditionally, whether they stop, or whether they can't.
    When I returned from my long journey, I looked at my ex-boyfriend, in withdrawal, trembling on my spare bed, and I thought about him differently. For a century now, we have been singing war songs about addicts. It occurred to me as I wiped his brow, we should have been singing love songs to them all along.

    • The full story of Johann Hari's journey -- told through the stories of the people he met -- can be read in Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, published by Bloomsbury. The book has been praised by everyone from Elton John to Glenn Greenwald to Naomi Klein. You can buy it at all good bookstores and read more at
    • Johann Hari will be talking about his book at 7pm at Politics and Prose in Washington DC on the 29th of January, 2015, at lunchtime at the 92nd Street Y in New York City on the 30th January, and in the evening at Red Emma's in Baltimore on the 4th February, 2015.
    • The full references and sources for all the information cited in this article can be found in the book's extensive end-notes.
    • If you would like more updates on the book and this issue, you can like the Facebook page:

    Monday, January 12, 2015

    Five Hard Truths About Adoption Adoptive Parents don't want to Hear - A Response

    Five Hard Truths About Adoption Adoptive Parents don't want to Hear by 

    Adoptees. We're allegedly 16% of America's estimated 500 serial killers whilst we represent only 2-3% of the population. We're also the heroes of pop culture from Harry Potter and Frodo Baggins, to Superman and Luke Skywalker. In real life we're Nelson Mandela, Steve Jobs, Bill Clinton, Marilyn Monroe...and Ted Bundy. We're overrepresented in mental health settings, often at two-and-a-half to six times the rate of non-adopted children. Why can we fly so high and fall so hard?
    Most of the analysis disregards the truths about adoption, swept under the carpet along with our origins by a society who prefers to ignore them. So it's time for adoptees to step up and tell the world those truths. None of the 'a mom is a mom, it doesn't matter who gave birth' shit. Because it does matter. The truth matters. 
    1.  There is not one 'real' mother.
    Real is one of those words that denotes authenticity. Superiority. Only one according to King Solomon, can be the 'real mother'. And I know you want to be the only 'real' mother. You may be a great caregiver. I know you changed my nappies and stayed up countless nights with me, attended the parent-teacher evenings and all that good stuff. I know you 'mother' me - often to the best of your ability and always with the resources within you.
    But the relegation of my first real mother to the function of incubator by using the terms 'birth or biological mother' objectifies her, and diminishes her role and her importance in my heritage. She is also my 'real' mother plain and simple... I bonded with her before I was born during my very formation, she is and forever will be a part of me and I of her. And you - adopter - you are my parent. Maybe you are my 'real mother' too. After all, it's just a label. Two women played a part in making me who I am. My mother doesn't parent me. You do. Does this mean that either one of you is less important than the other? No.
    Without my mother I would not be alive. Without you I would not survive to see adulthood. I would not be able to survive without either of you. Don't think that I cannot appreciate life and our relationship. I can... if we both acknowledge the truth. You and I have a unique bond without you pretending it's something that it can never be and trying to force others to do the same. Otherwise all we are taught is that lying is the best way to handle life - as if living under an assumed name wasn't already enough to teach us that.

    2.  No matter how good our childhoods are, most of us fantasize about our origins.
    In my childhood daydreams, I was the daughter of a nobleman and a beggar girl, the ugly duckling who turned out to be a swan or even a lost princess. Surely my fairy godmother would soon rescue me. When you are ignorant of your parentage such fantasies are beautiful to dwell upon. Even though my adoptive mother wasn't an evil queen, nor my father an abusive woodcutter, the fairy tales I read kept me dreaming. One day I would be reunited with my natural family and ascend my true power. Power that had been taken from me when I was adopted.
    It is the sad truth that all adoptions start out of loss no matter how you try to frame it. I may be your gift. I may be your chosen one although the reality is that usually you were chosen to be my parents by a team of so-called experts....whilst for you, any child would do. And saying otherwise is a lie. But I am a child who's lost her mother without her conscious knowledge or consent. I have learnt by my formative experiences that my consent is not important. It has unsurprisingly left me far more open to abusive situations later on in life.
    That I dream of my reunion with my natural parents has little to do with your ability to parent me, although it may be enhanced by it. If you tell me that happy children do not find their natural parents, you invalidate my very natural need to repair the bond that was once broken. You might use manipulation and indirect blackmail to stay my hand by putting me into the position of telling you that I do not appreciate your parenting and if so, I will learn by your example. I will also use manipulation and emotional blackmail. You might force me to commit sacrilege by contradicting the universally acknowledged ideal of motherhood. Because you know full well that I will hesitate from further rejection and keep me bound to you by fear. Fear leads to pain. Pain leads to destruction. Is that what you want?

    3. I am not the answer to your prayers.
    ...even if you think I am. You may have had hopes and fantasies about your natural child and when you realized you couldn't have one, they were transferred to me. This is normal, but when those hopes and dreams turn into expectations it creates a box that I feel I must fill or risk rejection a second time. If you objectify me, you deny me my humanity and create a permanent sense of failure.
    For that reason, I would ask you to ditch your hopes and dreams and look at who I really am. Whilst hopes and dreams may be resisted more easily by your biological child, an adopted child will subconsciously perceive that she must match up to the child you could have had and end up second best. We are after all, more often than not, your second option and worse told to feel happy about this. Grieve your unborn child and don't fill that hole with us. Because whilst we won't fit, we will still kill ourselves trying.

    4. My reunion will most likely be disappointing because reality never lives up to dreams. This does not mean it isn't needed.
    When I grew up and found my natural parents, there was of course no gold crown waiting for me. Just a realization that I was the rather ordinary product of a tawdry affair where responsibility for my presence was passed off to a childless married couple desperate for a child of 'their own'. I was a possession. My mother had become pregnant, victim of the wiles of a married and - as it turned out - immoral man. Not only was I not special, I was worse than others... born a bastard child, a second class citizen denied her birthright and a reject. And yet my reunion with my mother, a wonderful woman, was by all accounts successful even though it initially left me empty inside. My reunion with my father was an unmitigated disaster colored by [his] genetic sexual attraction.
    Does this mean I should never have found them?
    Until 19, I was effectively in limbo living the life of someone I didn't even know. Meeting my mother and father didn't teach me who I was, it taught me that I had the ability to choose who I was, for myself. But without that realization, I would have been forever stuck a victim of my circumstance not able to assume responsibility for my life or my actions. Feeling that you are a victim of life doesn't lead to anything good; so let us pursue our own journey and help us recover from the trauma - in part - by finding our natural parents. The outcome of the reunion could be good or bad... but in either way it will help shape how we manage our future and maybe give us the wings we need to fly. If we don't have that reunion, the realisation might never come and we will try to create meaning in our lives by pushing the boundaries. Sometimes quietly. Most times not.

    5. I have no idea who I am. This can be good. But first it could be very, very bad.
    Adoptees have gone through a trauma and a loss of their mother.  It doesn't matter whether or not they are conscious of it. Losing a baby is like an amputee having a phantom leg... for the mother. It should be there. It hurts that it is not. But it's not debilitating. If the mother is the amputee, the adopted child is like the phantom leg. Cut adrift, the connections which are supposed to be there, that the brain expects to be there... gone. We look like the other children, but we operate under different schematics because our brains have undergone stress at a formative stage.
    For a time after birth until the age of around 2-3, the child is not fully aware of its own independence. Until the natural development and physiological separation of the child from the mother at this point, any enforced separation like adoption will result in a different kind of growth pattern. We are, like all children, naturally equipped with the resources to survive. We find the workarounds. But we do so differently, with strangers instead of with the people the brain is hardwired to expect.
    We are not taught how to deal with this. We are told that our adoption is good, that our new caregiver for everything that matters, is our mother. But we know instinctively she isn't even before our cognitive brain kicks in. We have a fear of rejection which the mind has created as a survival mechanism from its first experience. We cannot trust those around us... so the best way of surviving is to trust no one. We are insecure, and are more likely to suffer low self esteem because we were already discarded as not worthy. It doesn't matter what you say. In most cases we will not be able to understand this until we are much much older and by then it is often too late.
    Your adopted child will be more susceptible to bullying or to bully, more likely to become a rebel (after the initial attempt to be the perfect child), and in later life if this trauma remains unacknowledged and untreated, more susceptible to addiction, abuse and self-harm.
    If your child gets through this, (s)he will start to realize that the ability to define themselves and create their own meaning free of lineage and free of definition is one of the most stunning gifts in this world. We, like the superheroes, are truly able to follow our call to adventure. But not before the shit has hit the fan, leaving everyone wondering what is 'wrong' with us.
    The answer is nothing. We're following our own blue print designed to protect us in the best way it knows how. But it may not fit with your ideas. You may have to adapt them to help us counteract those parts with prove to be at odds with the healthiest way of living. If you do, then thank you. But you may also try and ignore, disparage or otherwise suppress what is widely researched and supported by the brightest minds working in clinical psychology and neuroscience.
    And if you do, the question is not what is wrong with us, but why you put your own need to be parents before the needs of the child that you once said you loved... as if they were your very own.


    I don't believe these actually are "Truths," but I think most adoptive parents do want to hear them.

    This article was obviously written regarding the generally outmoded practice of the secretive, closed private adoption, and the current adoption system is much more complex than that, but it's still a good reminder to avoid falling in the trap of trying to mold our children into what we want them to be and believe. We do need to acknowledge the fact that it's hard for us to give up our expectations, hopes and dreams for our children and focus on the realities of who our child is... and who they're becoming.  If we haven't already, we need to stop and mourn who this child could have been if their lives had gone a little differently, and the hopes we had for them.

    I wonder about this women's family and if they were really as harsh as she implies or if her perception of their motives and actions is as twisted as my children's often are?

    1.  There is not one 'real' mother. 
    I totally agree with this one. Both biomom and I are my children's "real parents." This generally isn't an issue in our house unless my child is mad at me, at which point I may hear, "You're not my Real mom." I try to take this in the spirit it was intended (a way to strike out because my child is feeling upset).
    "You're not my real mom."
    "That's funny, I
    feel real. Honey, do I look plastic to you? Believe me baby, this is not a Barbie body!"
    2.  No matter how good our childhoods are, most of us fantasize about our origins.
    I think EVERY child fantasizes about their origins. I remember wondering if I was adopted or really an android or an alien... and wishing it were true!  This is a hard line to walk with my kids though. I firmly believe that it is vitally important not to hit my kids over the head with the realities (or suspected realities) of their family of origin (or allow them to vilify them either - which Bear liked to do), but at the same time we need to keep it real so that they don't focus all their energies on the dream and miss out on being a part of our family. This is especially hard with their black and white thinking.
    I recognize that adoption is a major loss, and this is one reason we've never made a huge fuss or had big "Gotcha day" (a term that really bothers me!) and Adoption Day parties. Yes, they are an important part of our family history, but we try to remember that they are a day of loss as well.

    3. I am not the answer to your prayers.
    Gonna have to disagree with this one. While I did not know the names and details about my children beyond a picture and a brief description (which we all know are incomplete and inaccurate), and yes, we were chosen by a team for our children, I do believe that God chose these children for me (the series of Godincidences that led to them becoming a part of our family can be explained in no other way) and therefore they are an answer to my prayers. I do believe the children are filling a "hole in my heart," but it is a Bear- and Kitty- shaped hole.

    4. My reunion will most likely be disappointing because reality never lives up to dreams. This does not mean it isn't needed.

    I firmly believe that whenever possible kids should have a reunion with their birthfamily, but when they're adults --> a chance to explore their origins and imagine what their life might have been like, when they are hopefully emotionally stable, and secure in the knowledge that they have a loving family which they are very much a part of and that any relationship with this other family is a "bonus." Especially with social media, more and more kids are being reunited with birth families when they are not emotionally ready, often causing additional trauma.  The waters got "muddied" in our case, because the children had sisters that stayed behind with biomom, and we wanted to keep that door open so they could maintain that relationship.

    Because of their black and white thinking, my kids felt torn by massive loyalty issues -- that if they allowed themselves to be a part of our family then they were betraying their birth family. Bear always had one foot out the door anyway, to avoid being abandoned again. It wasn't rational, but he felt that if we weren't forcing him to stay (which we would never do!), then we were kicking him out. He never allowed himself to come all the way in to try and see if he wanted to become part of our family, because that other door (with the tempting fantasy that everything would be perfect if) was always dangling just outside his reach. I think that "escape hatch," especially during those volatile teen years, kept him feeling abandoned  over and over again - constantly picking at a raw, open wound and preventing any healing.

    5. I have no idea who I am. This can be good. But first it could be very, very bad.

    The author describes the adopted child as being like a severed limb, lost and hurting without an attachment to the body from which it came. I think a better analogy is seeing the child as like the limb of a tree rather than a body part. Yes, if grafted to a new family tree, that limb will always look and feel different from the new tree, but it will grow and gain vital nutrients from the new tree and often the tree as a whole will be stronger for the graft, and everyone benefits from the beautiful variety.
    I do agree with most of this, but definitely not the summary.
    "what is 'wrong' with us.The answer is nothing. We're following our own blue print designed to protect us in the best way it knows how. But it may not fit with your ideas. You may have to adapt them to help us counteract those parts with prove to be at odds with the healthiest way of living. If you do, then thank you. But you may also try and ignore, disparage or otherwise suppress what is widely researched and supported by the brightest minds working in clinical psychology and neuroscience.And if you do, the question is not what is wrong with us, but why you put your own need to be parents before the needs of the child that you once said you loved... as if they were your very own."
    Yes, our kids are operating in ways designed to protect them the best way they know how, but I do not think the majority of this is a "biological blue print." Instead, I think a lot of it is adaptations and defense mechanisms that were designed to protect the young child, but are no longer needed. I believe it is our job as parents to help them determine which of these are biological and a beautiful part of our child's personality, and which they need help overcoming to be the happy, healthy adults God intended them to be. I do not have a crystal ball to know exactly how best to help my child and/or when to back off, but as an involved, loving parent with the closest viewpoint, and the responsibility to help pick up the pieces if things fall apart, I will continue to try to help my child prepare for the future and put together the pieces of this identity puzzle.

    I believe that this is putting my child's needs before my own needs, because it would certainly be easier to throw my hands up and say, "I can't wait until (s)he is 18 and goes to live with his/her biofamily!" (...and believe me, now that my kids are legally adults, there are definitely days when that is super tempting!)

     I hope my children will always know I'm here to love, cheer, support, and challenge them in their quest--whatever form that does, or does not take.

    Sunday, December 21, 2014

    Holiday (aka Traumaversaries) Trauma Tips - Updated!

    Holiday (aka Traumaversaries) Trauma Tips 

    Between scary creatures and a sugar rush on Halloween, the start of many schedule changes with Daylight Savings Time, family gatherings on Thanksgiving stirring up feelings about family members not present (including bio), and feeling judged to see if you’re naughty or nice… there is no shortage of potential trauma and upset during the holiday season.  For parents of children with trauma and special needs, this holiday season can create significant disruption and spark some serious trouble.

    Around here we usually hold our breath in October and don’t exhale until January,” says Barbara Streett, a parent of one special needs child, 10, and two neurotypical kids, 7 and 5, respectively.  “If it’s not one thing at this time of year, it’s most definitely another.”

    This is a great article about why our children act the way they do on holidays. The following is a paraphrased excerpt from this article:
    WHY: Adopted children have been abandoned causing deep shame and feelings of being unlovable and unworthiness of anything good. This has nothing to do with the reality that they are now in a safe, loving family. So they sabotage to gain control of what they know will be inevitable disappointment and if they trigger us into anger then it just validates their beliefs. 
    WHY: "Big Days trigger Big Feelings. No matter the extreme (good or bad), it is all INTENSE and triggering." 
    WHY: Holidays rarely have routine or structure and they are full of expectations and surprises (what is in the package? did she get something better than me? will I get what I desperately want? can I handle that?). The stress is overwhelming and scary! Children react to feeling unsafe by going in to fight/ flight or freeze mode (meltdowns, shut downs, attempting to totally control the situation which is impossible...). 
     WHY: "Big Days are a reminder of what should have been but wasn’t, all that was lost, all that will never be."
    • Limit the "runway." Downplay the hype and discussions of  expectations as much as possible. Avoid things like decorating for Christmas as long as possible. Not letting a child know you are leaving for a trip until the day before or even the day of prevents them angsting over it and sabotaging it.
    • KISS - Keep it simple! Keep things as lowkey as possible, don't make elaborate plans, instead schedule lots of downtime and avoid overwhelming/ overstimulating situations whenever possible (like shopping or parties). 
    • "We cast simple, manageable vision for Big Days: this is what we’ll do, this is who will be there, this is what we won’t be doing, this is about how long it will last."
    • Use calming techniques when you see a child getting overwhelmed or ramping up. 
    • Acknowledge and talk about the child's "Big Feelings." "We assure them that whether they get a handle on it or not, they could not possibly make us love them less, and if the worst thing that happens is they have a bad day, then no big deal."
    • Remember that we as parents are human too! "We’ll just keep working, keep trying, keep loving, and keep forgiving ourselves when it all goes sideways. You are not alone, know that.
    Christine Moers says one of the most important things to remember, "YOU CAN'T LOSE CHRISTMAS!"
     "Trauma has jacked with the brains of our kids. In a stressful moment/week/season they get stuck in a part of their brain that was meant to only be visited on occasion, in extreme circumstances. Our kids also find themselves regressed emotionally and developmentally in those times. They can be, quite literally, a three-year-old in a 12-year-old body. 
    Imagine a three year old kicking and biting and hitting two days before Christmas. Throwing toys and scratching up the family dining room set. Having a massive tantrum. Would we take Christmas away? Nope. That's crazy talk. A three year old cannot understand the magnitude of what they're doing when they feel out of control. We would redirect in the moment. When they are calm, we would reconnect with them and give them an opportunity to do the same. That is how we heal and guide young children. Our kids need the exact same thing. There is a reason they do these crazy things that are just so beyond description. They are camped in a part of their brain that wanted to kick them out long ago. 
    Family celebrations and holidays are an opportunity to imprint into their minds and hearts: you are a part of this family. Period. Finito. You can never lose that. "
    The challenges associated with holidays like Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s can be overwhelming for a family with special needs, but with preparation and awareness of the individual family member’s needs it can be done!

    A few minor tweaks to holiday rituals can go a long way.
    • Instead of big family gatherings with lots of expectations, try downsizing!
    • Instead of big family gatherings, try spacing out visits with one or two relatives at a time.  Have some quiet activities for the child in case they become overwhelmed.
    • Try to stick closely to your child’s usual schedule - regular nap time, bedtime and meal times are important! 
    • If you are visiting, try sending family members a letter beforehand with some suggestions about how to make the child feel most comfortable (See appendix for sample letter.)
    • Set up a safe place in the house for your child to go if he or she just wants to be alone.  Stock this place with a few soft toys, a quiet activity or two and some books, maybe an MP3 player filled with soothing music.

      If you decide to travel, here’s a few tips: 
    • Take electronic gadgets AND the chargers.  There are inexpensive converters that can be plugged into your car allowing you to charge items that normally plug into the wall or even USB.
    • A personal DVD player or laptop stocked with movies and/or games.
    • Pack a personal back pack for child with new dollar store items, include a few favorite toys, pencils, snacks etc.  
    • A bag with new or rarely used items – like travel games and snacks, that can be introduced at various intervals throughout the trip.
    • Small heavy blanket, for sensory kids.
    • Travel pillow and soft toy/lovey.
    • Headphones.
    • Ask flight attendants and hotel about accommodation’s available to make your trip a family success.
    • Plan for frequent stops to move around (look for places with playgrounds).  Think about traveling at night, but if you travel during the day, try to stick as closely as possible to routines – especially mealtimes and bedtime.
    • Medications.
    • Visual pencil box for travel and helping child understand sequence of events.  These are simple pictures, stored in a pencil box, with Velcro dots on each picture.  The box has 3-4 Velcro dots (the soft side of the Velcro) on the outside.  Pictures are placed on the box so the child understands the order of activities.  For example: a suitcase (to show packing), a car, food (to show will eat lunch), then a picture of the destination (ex. Grandma’s).
    • Think about putting your child in respite and going without him/her! Just be sure it's not treated as a punishment for the child (it can be a low-key fun time with a family friend or relative). Trips can be just too overwhelming for some kids and can ruin the experience for everyone else.  "Re-entry" (coming back from time away from your child) can be super hard, but if it gives you some respite and a chance to recharge then most trauma mamas agree the re-entry meltdowns are worth it.

    Remember, every child is different, and there is no flow chart for how this works.  The overarching goal: Be flexible, and remember that no tradition is more important than the comfort and happiness of your kids.

    Holidays are supposed to be special times for the whole family.  Most of us grow up expecting them to be memorable and fun.  When we have children, we experience these dreams and expectations even more acutely.  It’s perfectly natural, then, to experience an emotional roller coaster when presented with the challenge of navigating holidays with a child with special needs.  One key to managing this inevitably frustrating situation is learning to let go.  Set realistic expectations and be flexible.

    You have to be willing to modify certain traditions, or forget them all together,” says Barbara Streett, parent of a child with autism. “What you want or envision may not be the best thing for your child, so you have to change your plan accordingly.”

    • Holidays are about the kids, but a successful holiday doesn’t have to look like a Norman Rockwell painting to make the kids happy.
    • Remind yourself that it’s OK to let go of certain traditions that just won’t work… for now.
    • Allow yourself to be frustrated and anxious; there’s no shame in that.  When you feel frustrations welling up, take a step back and focus on what you’re doing.
    • Frequently remind your child that there is nothing they can do to lose Christmas.  This is frequently such a source of anxiety for children that they sabotage it rather than take that chance.  In the long run this “naughty” behavior will usually stop as the anxiety decreases.
    • Remember what your child’s “currency” is and use that to interact with him or her.
    • Streett is careful to add that especially at holiday time, the definition of a family meal should also be flexible.  “If your child doesn’t want to eat with everybody else, that needs to be OK; if the child needs to take a break, let him go,” she says. “The sooner you stop fighting the fact that these kinds of traditions must be set in stone, the more enjoyable the holiday will be.”
    • If your child tends to destroy gifts (very common when they don’t feel they deserve gifts or for now aren’t able to accept what they mean).  Try inexpensive gifts from the dollar store. The bigger the better.

    At our house (2 siblings adopted as teens from foster care and 2 neurotypical biochildren), we realized our children were overwhelmed by the holidays so we started simplifying things with some new traditions:

    Halloween - Children of trauma can be both attracted and triggered by the gore and scary fantasy associated with Halloween (not to mention the sugar rush!).  I love Halloween, but my kids just couldn't handle it.  We chose to turn off the porch light and have a small family Halloween party.  We ordered pizza and soda (a special treat), and I bought each child a bag of their favorite kind of snack size candy that was just for them (explained as, "This way you don't get a bunch of stuff you didn't like!"), made Halloween shaped sugar cookies they could decorate themselves, and watched a non-triggering Halloween movie (usually the "made for TV" Disney movies).  As they got a little better about handling the holiday, we left the porch light on and the kids took turns handing out treats to the little Trick or Treaters.  When they hit their tweens and young teens we dressed up and did a quick trick or treating walk of the block as a family.  They were allowed to have one or two friends join us afterward for a small Halloween party.  By their late teens they were told they were "too old" for Trick or Treating, and we went back to having a small party and handing out treats.

    Our Christmas Traditions For us, Christmas is very low key. We have several traditions which seems to help anxiety levels, because the kids know what is coming next (helps them feel safer).
      Jesus' birthday cake
    Jesus’ Birthday party – To alleviate some of the building of stress and anxiety of waiting for Christmas and change the focus from the gifts, we celebrate Jesus’ birth on Christmas Eve with a birthday cake and Jesus gifts, which are similar to New Year’s Eve resolutions (everyone writes on a piece of paper what they are going to give Jesus this year, usually something we think he would want us to do – like spend more time with the family or give more time to those less fortunate.  Each person can choose to read theirs aloud and then we put the paper on the tree. Then we read last year’s gifts and see how we did. Afterward we all eat birthday cake (helps my antsy ones sit through this, knowing there's cake when it's done!).

    Christmas Eve presents -  Before bed we open our Christmas Eve gift - usually a pair of PJs, and a book or stuffed toy – depending on the child’s age.  This helps the younger children wait (and makes sure everyone looks nice for pictures in the morning!

    Three Gifts - A few years ago we decided to start only giving 3 gifts to the kids on Christmas morning. (It was good enough for Jesus!). It has helped me out in many ways (the kids are not quite as fond of it).  Usually at least two of the three gifts that the children get are “themed” gifts. So it’s more than one item in the package.  The cost of the gift seems to be largely unimportant – the most envied (meltdown inducing) gift was a box of highlights that one daughter got and the other (RAD) daughter didn’t.
    Taken some of the focus off of gifts and put it back on the “reason for the season.”
    Reduced some of the pressure to get the exact same number and equivalent gifts for each of my 4 children (I remember my sisters and I counting gifts on Christmas Eve – cost wasn’t as important).
    Decreased the clutter. My adopted children can’t handle too much stuff in their rooms or lives.
    Reduced the cost! Christmas is expensive enough with 4 kids.
    Made shopping easier. It’s HARD to find presents for teenage boys (assuming that like us you do not want to buy expensive electronic stuff he’s only going to break or lose anyway and/or can’t handle).
    Less wrapping!
    Less time sitting watching everyone open presents (better for my kids with ADHD).

    Scarlet Claus
    Santa - My biokids (7 and 10) still believed in Santa when the older kids (11 and 13) came in to our home the month before Christmas. We made it very clear to all the kids that if they said they didn't believe in Santa then Santa wouldn't bring them presents. My insistence that Santa is real (HE IS!) caused some issues with Kitty, because she decided that made me a liar). Santa used to bring the best present, but we changed that approach when we realized we didn't want him getting all the credit! We wanted the kids to know that we were supplying the gifts that said, "We know you, we love you and we are giving you these things because we want to show you how we feel." Santa still brought stocking gifts (although the kids knew we added to those), but he started bringing "family presents" - gifts for the whole family to enjoy rather than for each child. Over the years, Santa has brought, a dog (a red husky named Scarlet Claus), a big screen TV, a Wii, a Clearplay DVD player with a bunch of movies they hadn't previously been allowed to watch...
      Helpful websites:
      Top Toys for children with special needs: - Model Me Kids® videos demonstrate social skills by modeling peer behavior at school, on a playdate, at a birthday party, on the playground, at a library, at the dentist, restaurant, and more. Designed as a teaching tool for children, adolescents, and teenagers with Autism, Asperger Syndrome, and developmental delays, the videos are used by teachers, parents, and therapists. Real children model each skill.

      Sample Holiday Visit Letter – Adapted from article –
      Holiday Survival Guide for Parents with Special Needs

      Dear Family and Friends:

      We look forward to seeing everyone for the holidays. I can’t wait to see everyone and celebrate
      together. Before we gather this year, I would like to share with you about ______________ and let you know how you can support him and our family.

      My son is loving, kind, and very affectionate. He loves to talk about his siblings, ______________
      and ______________, and camping. He likes to play Candyland, Legos, and with his iPod.
      He also has (attachment disorder/ autism/ sensory integration disorder...).

      Holidays are a time of year that ______________ looks forward to. However, the extended
      family and friends, decorations, and festive noises that the holiday brings can be frightening
      and/or overwhelming for him. They also cause him anxiety because there are so many new things
      happening that are different from his routine.  He is hypervigilant about new situations, and it reminds him of traumatic things from his past.  Please understand that this is not about his feelings about you or me.

      ______________ may need a quiet place to retreat to take in everything presented to him in this new and different environment.  Please have a quiet room available for ______________ so that he can have time to himself to process everything. This room should be off limits to everyone but ______________ and me (mom). ______________ is used to routine and all these changes can cause anxiety. Once ______________ can regroup, he may be OK to return. However, if something changes, we may need to leave suddenly.   Also, although we love being with family, we will need to leave at __pm to allow ____________ to stick as closely to his normal bedtime routine as possible.  Please support us in this.  It is very necessary to his well being.

      ______________  or I may appear bossy and controlling. This is to help him cope. ___________ needs structure, and often things have to be done in a way he is familiar with or else he may get stressed and frustrated. This does not mean you have to change the way you are doing things--just please be patient with ______________, and look to me (mom) to redirect this behavior.

      People with (attachment disorder/trauma/ autism/ sensory integration disorder...) often have certain behaviors to help themselves feel more comfortable and safe. ______________  is not trying to be disruptive or defiant; he is doing this to regulate himself in his surroundings. Please be respectful of these behaviors and look to me (mom) on how to handle this.

      _____________ often needs to get up and walk around (maybe even go to his quiet room) to regulate himself.   I ask that you not give this a lot of attention and continue eating and conversing.

      Please do not be critical of mine or my husband’s parenting skills. Remember that ____________ needs to be watched more closely than most children are his age. Like all parents, we do our best but are not perfect. Holidays are filled with new sights, sounds, and smells packed into a busy and often frantic household with a big tree plopped down in the middle of it. It is very hard work to incorporate (attachment disorder/trauma/ autism/ sensory integration disorder...) into this. I said it was hard – but it can be done. We have been doing this for ____ years, and although it is not perfect, it works for us.

      We are excited to share this holiday experience with you and look forward to seeing you,

      Sunday, December 14, 2014

      Trauma Mama Gift Swap/ Secret Santa

      One of my favorite things to do at Christmas time over the last few years is to participate in the Trauma Mama Holiday Gift Swap. Unfortunately the people sponsoring it found that doing this for large groups quickly became too much for any one person to organize. For one reason or another, many people did not honor their obligations (which I totally understand as we are all trauma mamas and Christmas time is HARD!) so many mamas did not receive gifts. Many others tried to step in and fill the gaps, but a lot of needy mamas were hurt and disappointed.

       This year I participated in a small group exchange and I did a one on one swap with another mom. I was also an "angel" to a trauma mama who could not afford a gift for her child or herself. I'm so glad to be in a place in my life where I can do this.

      If anyone wants to organize their own gift swap or just exchange with a friend, here's a form I adapted from the From Survival to Serenity 2012 trauma mama holiday gift swap. I found it to be particularly helpful in finding just the right gifts. I hope this will inspire you to start your own group or just a one on one swap with another mom. Moms deserve special gifts under the tree too!

      Trauma Mamas Holiday Gift Swap Registration
      Please complete at least the required questions marked with an asterisk. All other "Get to Know You" questions are optional, but please do keep in mind that the more questions you answer, the better the person who gets your name will be able to connect with you. It will also help us in creating matches based on similar situations, geographic areas, interests, etc.
      **Hint** If you would like to answer the "Getting to Know You" questions, but don't have time to complete the whole form all at once, write out your answers in a word processing program and then cut and paste them into the form boxes when you're ready to send it in. Registration forms are due no later than November 15. All matches will be made on or before November 20. Unless there are special circumstances that need to be considered, packages should be mailed to their recipients no later than December 14. International packages will need to be shipped no later than December 1. We learned from sad experience last year that if they're shipped any later than that, they don't arrive before Christmas, even when they're coming from or going to Canada. .
      * Required

      Contact and Shipping Information*

      Name (first and last)
      Shipping Address

      Other Contact Information
      Examples: Blog, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, etc. You are also welcome to include a phone number or whatever other contact information you wish and/or feel comfortable sharing.

      I am 100% committed to participating in this event. *100% commitment means that I acknowledge and understand there is a very real mama with very real feelings on the other end of this swap. She's also a trauma mama who's been in or is still in the trenches just like I am. She's very likely put much of herself into preparing something special for another mama. I want her to receive something special this holiday season to remind her that she is loved, that the work she's doing is worth it, and that she's not alone. It would be very sad for her to be looking forward to receiving something special from a potential new friend, but not have it arrive. I will make sure that doesn't happen!

      What if I need to back out? *If circumstances arise and I'm unable to keep my participation commitment, I will notify one of the organizers as quickly as possible so another match can be found for my assigned mama.

      Shipping Confirmation *I promise to ship my package using a method that can be tracked, even if I have to pay a little bit extra in order to make that happen. I want to make sure my mama actually gets my package once I've sent it.

      Getting to Know You
      These questions aren't required, but the more you share, the more the mama who gets your name will be able to get a feel for who YOU are outside of being a trauma mama. Not only does it help her be able to put together a special gift for you, but it will also help in deciding who you ultimately get matched with. One of the most fun aspects of participating in an event like this is finding others to add to your circles of support and friendship. If matches can be made among people with similar interests or family situations or whatever, they will be. Unless otherwise noted, these answers (along with your contact information) will be shared with the person you are matched with.

      Briefly describe yourself and your family. Describe your personality, share your general age, what your profession is, any special talents, etc. Share whatever you want about what makes you you. Also share a bit about your family including how many kids you have, their ages, are they bio or adopted, if adopted, how old were they at adoption, where they were adopted from, and whatever else you want to share.

      What type of activities do you enjoy participating in with your family?

      If you had spare time for hobbies or interests, what would they be?

      What are your top 3 favorite movies?...the ones you could watch over and over again and only love them more each time you see them.

      What are your favorite colors...both for decorating and for wearing?

      What is your decorating style? funky, contemporary, eclectic, shabby-chic, country, traditional, minimalist…

      Do you collect anything in particular? (coins, figurines, butterflies, angels, snowmen, etc)

      What are some of your favorite things?
      These would be things you love and enjoy having in your life and in your space

      What type of gifts would you most like? things to pamper yourself, accessories, crafts, soft cuddly items, inspirational items, food treats, things you collect…

      What types of things do you dislike?
      This would be things you smile sweetly at initially, but then they secretly end up in the trash bin later on.

      Do you have any allergies? Gluten free? Caffeine free?  Include food, chemical, metal, etc

      What are your favorite foods and/or beverages? Do you drink alcohol?

      Do you have any dietary restrictions and/or preferences?

      What are your 3 most favorite restaurants?

      What stores do you like to shop at when looking for a little something special for yourself?

      Is there anything else you'd like to share? ie: a particular religious affiliation, perhaps you celebrate a holiday other than Christmas, any unique life circumstances or situations, etc.

      I can help with this event by...
      If you have the time, sanity, and desire to help make sure this event continues to be a fun and fulfilling experience for everyone, please let us know.

      I am willing and able to ship my package internationally if needed

      I am willing and able to be an "Angel Mama" if needed. Should the need arise, I can help out by putting together a second package for a second mama. Feel free to contact me if you need some help in this area.

      I can help with event coordination and logistics if needed. Should the need arise, I can help with the coordination efforts and logistics of this event. I am willing to help out by working with the other event coordinators, sending emails to other participants as needed, or doing whatever else is needed to make sure the logistics of this event are manageable.