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!

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.

    Tuesday, November 18, 2014

    Self Care

    I decided I need my home to be clean(er) for the holidays, but the thought is totally overwhelming, so I have this new 31 day house cleaning routine that I'm going to try.

    31 Day House Cleaning Routine 

    I'm going to have to modify it for my home (which is bigger than the one described), but it breaks the job in to chunks I can handle. I've also decided to treat the children as "bonus" helpers so I don't get so frustrated with them when they don't help.

    It may not sound like self care, but I think it will make me feel better and more accomplished.  Plus, Bob has been saying she wants to bring friends home from college, but is too embarrassed.

    Wish me luck!

    Monday, November 17, 2014

    Books and Methods Review - Traumatic Brain Injury - Brain Damage

    Traumatic brain Injury linked to ptsd and suicide.

    Bear - left parietal and left temporal
    Kitty - left temporal

    Both my children have brain injuries (called Cerebral Dysrhythmia - the cause and time of injury is unknown - could be birth defects, could be from abuse).  The temporal lobe is definitely damaged in both, Bear also has damage in the parietal lobe.  I always thought it explained a lot, and I bet more than a few of "our kids" have these issues.  I always include the brain injuries when mentioning their issues to people who need to know, because I think it helps people understand that this is PERMANENT not something that therapy or medication is going to "fix."

    Damage to the parietal lobe can also lead to Anosognosia - "impaired awareness of illness." Affects approximately 50 percent of individuals with schizophrenia and 40 percent of individuals with bipolar disorder.may not recognize that they are ill. Instead, they believe their delusions are real (e.g., the woman across the street is being paid by the CIA to spy on him) and that their hallucinations are real (e.g., the voices are instructions being sent by the President). Impaired awareness of illness is the same thing as lack of insight. The term used by neurologists is “anosognosia,” which comes from the Greek word for disease (nosos) and knowledge (gnosis). It literally means "to not know a disease." This is more than just denial!

    We are often told that brain damage can be "fixed," and I believe that to a certain extent that is true, but at some point we have to acknowledge that some of it isn't going to get better or we'll be blaming ourselves (or allowing others to blame us) for our child not healing.

    Some analogies:

    The Newborn Kitten - Kittens eyes stay closed for awhile after they are born.  Scientists did a study in which they didn't allow kittens eyes to open when they normally would. When they finally allowed the kittens' normal, healthy eyes to open, the kittens were completely blind. The part of the brain that processed vision did not form. The kittens will never be able to see.

    Amputated Limb - If a human being has a limb removed and replaced with a prosthetic limb, then the brain can be trained to use the remaining muscles in a different way that allows movement of the new limb.

    So the question is, if a person has brain damage or an injury, can they "heal"?  Can they retrain their brain to work in a new way that circumvents the damage (like teaching a person with dyslexia "tricks" to make it easier to read) or is it permanent?

    I assume the answer is that it depends.  On the age of the person, on the cause and extent of the damage, on when and what quality of intervention/ therapy was used, and on the motivation of the "injured" person to heal...

    There is evidence that in addition to brain damage and the way the brain forms in utero, a lot of what happens to a child as an infant can also cause brain damage.  I've written a couple of posts reviewing Piaget's child development and Katharine Leslie's take on Cause and Effect and Object Permanence and how it effects children of trauma, but here's a couple of key points:

    Cause and Effect - Children with attachment disorders and FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders) often have problems with cause and effect. This may start with the caregiver not meeting the child's physical needs (ex. not changing them when they're wet or feeding when they're hungry). The child doesn't learn that if I cry then someone will come make it better. Instead they might learn that if I cry then someone will hit me, or if I cry then no one will come anyway... this makes behavior management difficult - both self-regulation and parent discipline. If I steal a cell phone, then I will get in trouble. If I yell at my sister now, then she will be scared of me - even 5 minutes (or 5 years) from now.

    Object Permanence - We all know that young infants have no ability to understand object permanence. For example, if you hide a rattle under a blanket they don't look for it, it's gone. For them, out of sight out of mind is really true. At about 8-9 months though they "get it." They start to look under the blanket. We often help them develop this ability by playing peekaboo with them. "Wheeere's Mommy? Here I am!"

    Now imagine the child who's infancy is not the norm. Who never "gets" this concept. So what? Maybe they never put their toys away because if you can't see them they don't exist. Might not even be so bad because when they are put into foster care they "forget" about all the things left behind... but it's not just things the child doesn't remember. It's people.

    You can't attach to someone who isn't there the second they step out of sight. Mommy doesn't exist anymore.

    There's a weird movie with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore called 50 First Dates. Because of a car accident that damaged her short term memory Drew's character is unable to remember anything that's happened in her life the day before. Adam meets her and courts her anew every single day. They introduce a character called "10 Second Tom." He can only rememember things for 10 seconds. Drew is able to fall in love with Adam because she has the ability to create attachments. Tom would be unable to attach to anyone.

    Even though I'm here and not going anywhere, my kids' ability to attach is severely damaged, and for Bear, maybe permanently. Katharine assures us that even a child/person older than 8 who's brain is pretty much hardwired now, can learn these skills and abilities (or approximations of them), but just like learning a foreign language, the older you are the less perfectly you'll be able to learn it and the the more effort it takes (think of people who learn to speak English as a second language as a child versus as an adult).

    Thursday, November 13, 2014

    75 Positive Child Behaviors and Attitudes - Katherine Leslie

    75 Positive Child Behaviors and Attitudes 

    from Katherine Leslie's Coming to Grips with Attachment

    The survey contains a list of positive child behaviors and attitudes. Please put a check mark under the column that best describes whether each of these behaviors or attitudes is generally true (GT) or generally not true (GNT) of your child.  Please fill out a different survey tool for each of your children.

    1 Cares about self
    2 Cares about others
    3 Takes care of the pets
    4 Good work ethic
    5 Is kind and giving
    6 Has a positive outlook
    7 Enjoys learning
    8 Loves spending time with family
    9 Adds to family unity and peacefulness
    10 Wants to do what is right
    11 Friends and relationships are important to him/her
    12 Is polite and respectful
    13 Is conscientious and accepting of others
    14 Is remorseful when he/she makes mistakes
    15 Stands up for her/ himself
    16 Is grateful and appreciative
    17 Asks me to play with him/ her
    18 Asks for compliments
    19 Wants me to share in his/ her successes
    20 Tells me things he/ she's learned or seen
    21 Appreciates my efforts
    22 Responds respectfully to my discipline
    23 Does things/ chores to help me
    24 Wants to please me
    25 Hates to disappoint me
    26 Demonstrates behaviors we've talked about
    27 Looks to me for approval
    28 Listens to me when I give directions
    29 Shares ideas and feelings with me
    30 Asks for help and advice from me
    31 We talk together about life
    32 Looks up to me
    33 Talks to me about his/ her problems
    34 Is interested in hearing my life stories
    35 Enjoys my hugs and kisses
    36 Tells me his/ her fears
    37 Is natural and authentic
    38 Cares about what I think
    39 Knows I will be there for him/ her
    40 Wants to be cared for by me when he/ she is sick
    41 Comes to me for comfort after being scolded
    42 Falls asleep in my arms
    43 Feels sad when I leave or if I'm not around
    44 Is excited/ happy to see me after a separation 
    45 wants to be near me
    46 Seeks me out for comfort I he/ she is hurt or feeling bad
    47 Lets me teach him/ her things
    48 Looks for me if I'm watching his/ her sporting events/ activities
    49 Wants a hug and a kiss from me at bedtime
    50 Wants to spend time with me
    51 Gives me support and encouragement
    52 Compliments me
    53 Wants to be like me
    54 Pays attention to me
    55 Seems to like me
    56 Shows concern when I am upset
    57 Talks positively about me to others
    58 Makes things for me
    59 Gives me gifts
    60 Tells me I am the most important person in his/ her life
    61 Tells me I'm great
    62 We play, tease, and joke around
    63 We enjoy doing activities together
    64 We cuddle and giggle together
    65 We rough house together
    66 We share the same sense of humor
    67 He/ she is funny and makes me laugh
    68 Gives me hugs and kisses every day
    69 Isn't afraid to show me affection in front of others
    70 Tells me he/ she loves me
    71 Responds to my affection with warmth and happiness
    72 Smiles at me many times a day
    73 Writes me cards to tell me he/ she loves me
    74 Hugs and kisses me out of the blue
    75 Looks to me for protection

    I loaned out my Coming to Grips with Attachment book years ago and it never came back, so when someone mentioned this checklist, I was curious how my kids rate now. It was really depressing until I decided to look at it for ALL my children and realized that some of it is probably the fact that my kids are teens. 

    Kitty 15-20 if I'm feeling generous. 

    Nope, still depressing.  *sigh*

    Wednesday, November 12, 2014

    Caring for the Caregiver Ideas

    We HAVE to "fill our buckets." It's not selfish (no matter how many people tell you otherwise!). It doesn't mean we don't love our kids or are "bad parents." If we give and give until we're completely drained, then there's nothing left! You have to find little ways (or a few big ones) to carve out something that's just for you.

    When people said stuff about Caring for the Caregiver to me early on in this journey, I just looked at them like they were crazy. Who has time for that?! I needed to believe that if I said, did, taught... just the right thing(s) that my child would heal, and I knew that if I didn't... then it would be my fault that my child was broken.

    So put your foot down and DEMAND that you get time for yourself. Fight for it. Carve it out. Put a priority on it.

    What fills your bucket is unique to you.  For me, it helped knowing my love language.  Since my primary love language is Words of Affirmation then I tend to lean toward finding ways to fill that need.

    • Splurge a little on a treat just for you. Remind yourself that if Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!
    • Buy your favorite kind of chocolate (or other treat) and hide them for when you need them.  (Tell someone or write down where you put them!  Nothing worse than not being able to find your special treat when you absolutely need it right now!
    • Pay someone for a mani/pedi or have your own little homemade spa. Can be a fun thing to do with a regulated child.
    • Keep a little jar with reminders of the times you've done something right.  It can be a quote from someone else, a thank you card, a note you wrote yourself about a recent achievement.  It can simply say, "I'm good enough. I'm smart enough. And doggone it, people like me."  (I have a Positive Affirmations folder in my e-mail for when I get a positive comment on my blog, or my boss tells me I'm doing a great job, or my kid has a special achievement that I know I had a hand in -even if that "hand" is raising an amazing kid....  Sometimes if I'm feeling down, attacked, or judged, I open that folder and remind myself that I am a good person and I'm not the only one who thinks so.)
    • After everyone is in bed, I love a bubble bath, a good book that has nothing to do with trauma or adoption or anything (my fav is the funny,romance novels by Katie MacAlister), and maybe some candles and/ or a glass of wine.
    • Turn on Spongebob. Let the kids zone out in front of the TV while you take a break.
    • Have your kids come up with a list of things to do when they're bored (check out this example) and then encourage them to do one or more of the activities while you take a break.
    • Tell them that room time is at 7pm, whether they're tired or not (and change the clocks if need be). 
    • Buy a cheap alarm for their bedroom door so you don't have to worry about where they are. 
    • Sing along to the radio!  It's amazing how much better you feel after singing. 
    • Find something to laugh about - watch a silly video, read something funny 
    • Call the friend that is always saying, "let me know if I can help," and say, "YES! Please come by my house at 7pm and watch my kids for 2 hours." 
    • Call a fellow trauma mama who "gets it."
    •  Join the annual trauma mama Christmas Gift Exchange. 
    • EXERCISE - Turn on an exercise video and work out - if the kids want to do it too, great! If not, then they can sit on the couch and watch. I love Richard Simmons for the low impact work out and easy to learn routines. Try Christine Moer's (Welcome To My Brain) hoop challenge (30 minutes for 30 days)
    • Start a snowball fight in the backyard (or if you're in Texas like me, a water fight or run through the sprinklers!). 
    • Find a regulated kid and cuddle (borrow a neighbor child if you have to!). 
    • Read Healing from Hazardous Parenting by Brenda McCreight PhD.
    • FIND A SUPPORT GROUP of people who "get it." If you don't have anyone local, try online. You can find anything on the internet these days!
    • Start a co-op with other trauma mamas. 
    • GET ENOUGH SLEEP. Take a nap whenever you can. Go back to sleep after the kids leave for school.
    • EAT WELL. 
    • Make something special just for you, and let them eat cheap boxed pizza on paper plates.
    • Give the kids the "burned" pieces. Don't always take the bad stuff for yourself.  I always have my own bowl next to me when I cut watermelon and the best pieces go in MY bowl.
    • LAUGH! Find whatever makes you lol and check it out daily.  Whether that's  People of Walmart, an iFunny app or Spongebob.  One of my personal faves is 99 Ways to Drive Your Child Sane by Brita St. Clair - This short little book is full of wild ideas and hysterical humor to bring the laughter back into a home with an emotionally disturbed child.  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.

    Almost every Monday for the last 2 years, I have met a friend at IKEA for breakfast.  We met casually in a fabric store one day and started chatting. She is not a Trauma Mama, and we have very little in common. She's about 15 yrs older than I am. Has grandchildren the same age as my kids.  She's an artist (makes beautiful art dolls). Grew up in Germany.  Living green is very important to her... She lives about 1/2 an hour away from me, and we almost never meet or talk at any time except for these couple of hours once a week. We vent, talk about our kids and husbands, and shopping, and religion and family...  I consider her one of my best friends. Sometimes you just need a person to go to, who is not part of your everyday life, but never judges you.  Who is always glad to see you and always willing to listen.