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, April 17, 2014

The 5 Love Languages


Gary Chapman has written:
The Five Love Languages:  How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate
The Five Love Languages of Children,
The Five Love Languages of Teenagers,
The Five Love Languages for Singles.
The Five Love Languages Men's Edition:  The Secret to Love that Lasts
The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People
and many more

The 5 Love Languages:

  1. Words of Affirmation
  2. Quality Time
  3. Gifts
  4. Acts of Service
  5. Physical Touch

Everyone has a primary love language. This is how you know/ feel that people love you. You could tell someone you love them until you are blue in the face, but if their love language is physical touch and you rarely touch them - they will not believe you love them!!  This is especially important with children in my opinion, but in all relationships knowing their love language (and your own) keeps you from getting frustrated and relationships from ending miserably. Unfortunately  it's not always totally obvious what someone's love language is, and some people are "bilingual." (although usually with a preference for one over the other).

Don't forget that just because something is not spoken in a person's primary love language does not mean it is not appreciated!  Even if Gifts is not your primary love language (in fact it is the last on both Hubby and my list!), that doesn't mean we don't LIKE gifts - they tell me that someone is thinking about me and making an effort to make me happy!

I use the love languages daily.  Not just to help me understand my husband and family and express my love to them, but with every person with whom I come into contact.  With my employees, it helped to know how to best reward their achievements and motivate them.  With friends, I can figure out how best to express my appreciation or provide support.

One more area knowing my love language helps me with?  ME!  It may sound selfish.  It kind of feels selfish, but that old saying, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy, ” is true!  When my love tank is drained I have nothing left to give, not to my family, my friends, or my church.  I become depressed and shut down.  When I have better insight into myself and find ways to fill my love tank, I am able to be a generous person.  I am also able to give my time, energy and affection to people who aren’t able to give back (like my attachment-challenged children).

There are ways to explore and discover others, and your own, love language.

There are tests you can take (, and reading the book(s) really helps, but even then, it can still be hard to tell what people's love languages are (especially if their love tank is drained and has been for a long time). Some languages are obvious, like Bear's (quality time), because they demand it.  Others not so much. Sometimes how a person expresses their love to others is a good clue, but that can be altered by experience (for example, my mom speaks ACTS OF SERVICE all the time, but her love language is actually Words of Affirmation. I don't know if she was trained to do acts of service, it’s definitely a generational thing, or, more likely, she learned that if she does things for others they are more likely to praise her and give her the Words of Affirmation that she needs).

The Five Love Languages is often a required book for engaged couples getting premarital counseling (a really good idea by the way!). I highly recommend the book to help couples better understand each other's expectations, before they get frustrated and resentful that their partner is no longer meeting their needs.  People in the "courting" stage of a relationship tend to go out of the way to speak many love languages (bringing little gifts like flowers or candy, doing things for the other - like making brownies or washing her car, sending love notes and paying compliments, going out of his/ her way to spend time together, hugging and kissing...  After marriage,  people tend to drop a lot of these little things and stick to their primary language never realizing that their partner feels deceived that they misrepresented their love.

Young children (under age 8) need ALL FIVE languages and most do not have a primary love language until they are early elementary age. Don't forget that developmentally (emotionally/ socially) many kids of trauma are a lot younger than their chronological age so this can include them, even if they are teenagers.  Also, trauma can cloud or mask a child's love language - especially when their love tank is empty.  Young children needing all 5 languages makes a lot of sense if you think about it --babies especially need ALL of these things done for them (holding and cuddling, doing things for them - like food and changing diapers, giving them what they need, cooing and talking to them in a loving way, being with them all the time.

There are some ways to determine a child's love language if it's not obvious:

  • Try completely removing one of the love languages and seeing if it makes a difference (like not touch the child for a few days). 
  • Try flooding the child with one language one and see if the kid blooms (this would be my preference - especially while we're still trying to get some of our kids to attach!). My kids would love treats and presents for a week! (Gifts)

There is a 5 love languages book for teens as well.  It has some practical advice on how to love your teens without embarrassing them (too much).  My adopted children are better served by the child’s version of the book, because developmentally they are much younger than their chronological years.

Finding out someone's love language is essential! It effects peoples' self-esteem if no one loves them (and if you're not speaking their language then they usually feel you "don't love them!"). Also, if your "love tank" is empty then you are unable to give love or really even function well. You need love!

It’s not fair to expect one person, even a partner,  to be the only one to fill your love tank!

It's important for me to remember that because half my kids are attachment disordered they are not able to fill my love tank. Dealing with them regularly drains it in fact. Because I am the only Words of Affirmation speaker in the house, it is not easy for me to get the words of love that I need to function. I have learned to encourage my family and others to speak in my language (they can be taught!! *grin*) and I have learned to go elsewhere for ways to fill my tank. This is one reason I blog and moderate a FB group!! I love hearing from others that I'm doing a good job and helping others.

 I try to remember it’s not fair to expect my spouse to be the only one to fill my love tank – especially because we don't have the same love language.  For many years I was a resentful bitter person, because no one in my family speaks my language (Words of Affirmation) and I expected my husband to telepathically know what I needed and magically be able to give it to me.  He is an introverted person who grew up in a family that didn’t talk much, especially not compliments, and are not a physically affectionate family.  His love language is Quality Time, and I have serious abandonment issues that cause me to be naturally distant (plus insomnia keeps me from going to bed at the same time).  By learning each other’s love languages, not only do we get more of what we need, but we also have a better understanding of why the other person isn’t giving us what we need, and appreciate even more their efforts to do so.

With friends, I can figure out how best to express my appreciation or provide support.  I also find it helps me in choosing how I want to help others.  My love language is Words of Affirmation – if I find ways to contribute that help me get what I need then everyone benefits.  My husband is an introvert with a love language of Quality Time – having him organize a group of volunteers would be a bad match for him, but put him in the back of a pumpkin truck (for the annual church Pumpkin Patch) and let him shift pumpkins for 8 hours and he’s happy as a clam.   I’m an extroverted Words of Affirmation with a STRONG secondary language of physical touch.  I’ve loved working at Vacation Bible School, usually in Recreation!  I choose to regularly attend an adult Sunday school class rather than church, because I get a chance to develop personal relationships and give and receive hugs.  For me, a formal church service doesn’t provide me with what I need.

What is your primary love language?  
What makes you feel most loved by your partner?  

Three ways to discover this include;

1. What does your partner do or fail to do that hurts you most deeply?

     The opposite of what hurts you most is probably your love language.

2. What have you most often requested of your mate?  (or wished you had the courage to ask for?)

     The thing you have most often requested is likely the thing that would make you feel most loved.

3. In what way do you regularly express love to your partner?

     Your method of expressing love may be an indication that would also make you feel loved.
If you are regularly doing acts of service for others, this may be your love language. If you are consistently, verbally affirming people, then Words of Affirmation is likely your love language.

5.  What do you complain about most often?

     When you say to your spouse, “I don’t think you would ever touch me if I did not initiate it,” you may be revealing that Physical Touch is your love language. When your spouse goes on a business trip and you say, “You didn’t bring me anything?” you are indicating that Receiving Gifts is your language. The statement, “We don’t ever spend time together,” indicates the love language of Quality Time. Your complaints reveal your inner desires. (If you have difficulty remembering what you complain about most often, I suggest that you ask your spouse. Chances are they will know.)

6.  What do you request most often?

     If you are saying “Will you give me a back rub?” you are asking for Physical Touch. “Do you think we could get a weekend away this month?” is a request for Quality Time. “Would it be possible for you to mow the grass this afternoon?” expresses your desire for Acts of Service.

Important to Remember:
You may have scored certain ones of the love languages more highly than others, but do not dismiss those other languages as insignificant. Your spouse may express love in those ways, and it will be helpful to you to understand this about him/her.

In the same way, it will benefit your partner to know your love language and express his/her affection for you in ways that you interpret as love. Every time you or your significant other speak each other's language, you score emotional points with one another. Of course, this isn't a game with a scorecard! The payoff of speaking each other's love language is a greater sense of connection. This translates into better communication, increased understanding, and, ultimately, improved romance.

If your husband has not already done so, encourage him to take The Love Languages Profile for Husbands. Discuss your respective love languages, and use this insight to improve your marriage!

The First Love Language:  Words of Affirmation

Words of Affirmation - this is me and my Mom! This is being told you are doing a good job at something, hearing "I love you," validation and praise, little love notes, even wolf whistles...

If this is your love language, unsolicited compliments mean the world to you. Hearing the words, “I love you,” are important – hearing the reasons behind that love sends your spirits skyward. Insults and negative comments can leave you shattered and are not easily forgotten. Kind, encouraging, and positive words are truly life-giving.

Verbal compliments, or words of appreciation, are powerful communicators of love.  They are best expressed as straightforward statements of affirmation.  The object of love is not getting something you want but doing something for the well-being of the one you love.  But when we receive affirming words we are far more likely to be motivated to reciprocate.

Encouraging words means “to inspire courage.”  All of us have areas in which we feel insecure.  We often lack courage, and that lack of courage can hinder us from accomplishing the positive things that we would like to do.  The latent potential within your partner in his or her areas of insecurity await your encouraging words.  Encouragement requires empathy and seeing the world from your mate’s perspective.  We must first learn what is important to our partner.  Only then can we give encouragement.

Kind words. If we are to communicate love verbally, we must use kind words.  Sometimes our voices are saying one thing, but our tone of voice is saying another.  Your partner will usually interpret your message based on tone of voice, not the words you use.

Words of forgiveness. Love doesn’t keep a score of wrongs.  Love doesn’t bring up past failures.  None of us is perfect.  In a relationship we do not always do the best or right thing.  We have sometimes done and said hurtful things to our partner.  We cannot erase the past.  We can only confess it and agree that it was wrong.  We can ask forgiveness and try to act differently in the future.  If you have been wronged by your
partner and they have confessed and requested forgiveness, then you have a choice. You can extend justice or forgiveness.  If you choose forgiveness, intimacy can be restored.  Forgiveness is the way of love.  We can choose to live today free from the failures of yesterday.  Forgiveness is not a feeling; it is a commitment.  It is a choice to show mercy, not to hold the offense up against the offender.

Humble words. Love makes requests, not demands.  While dating or in marriage, you and your mate are equal adult partners.  We are not perfect to be sure.  If we are to develop an intimate relationship, we need to know each other’s desires.  The way we express those desires, however, is all-important.  If they come across as demands, we have erased the possibility of intimacy and will drive our partner away.  If, however, we make known our needs and desires as requests, we are giving guidance, not ultimatums.  When you make a request of your partner, you are affirming his or her worth and abilities.  A request introduces the element of choice.  Your mate may choose to respond to your request or to deny it, because love is always a choice.  Your partner may comply with a demand, but it is not an expression of love.  A request creates the
possibility for an expression of love, whereas a demand suffocates that possibility.

Some tips: 

  • Give indirect words of affirmation about your partner to others when s/he is not present.  
  • Affirm your mate in front of others.  
  • Consider an experiment - write out a list of positive traits behaviors of your partner.  For one week suspend all criticisms.  Instead give daily verbal appreciation of their positive traits and behaviors.

Words of Affirmation
• Let me express myself without agreeing or punishing
• Let me know about your day
• Tell me about when you feel proud of me and why
• Tell me how you feel, your intimate thoughts
• Tell me when you like the way I look.
• Talk directly to me about your feelings – don’t clam up
• Compliment me in front of others
• Tell me I’m doing a good job.
• Tell me something you appreciate about me.
• Say you’re sorry.
• Picture something positive about our future together.

The Second Love Language:  Quality Time

Quality Time - this is spending time together. (This is Bear big time! If you are not spending time with him, listening to him talk, then you do not love him!) This doesn't have to be talking.  It can be just hanging out, going places together, looking into each other's eyes...

In the vernacular of Quality Time, nothing says, “I love you,” like full, undivided attention. Being there for this person is critical, but really being there – with the TV off, fork and knife down, and all chores and tasks on standby – makes your significant other feel truly special and loved. Distractions, postponed dates, or the failure to listen can be especially hurtful. Quality time also means sharing quality conversation and quality activities.

Togetherness. Togetherness has to do with focus, giving your mate your undivided attention (not sitting on the couch watching TV together).  It means that we are doing something together and that we are giving our full attention to the other person.  The activity in which we are both engaged is incidental, it is simply a vehicle that creates the sense of togetherness.

Quality Conversation.  Sympathetic dialogue involves shared experiences, thoughts, feelings, and desires in a friendly, uninterrupted context.  Quality conversation focuses on what we are hearing - drawing out your partner’s thoughts, listening sympathetically, asking questions (who, what, how, where, gentle why) with a genuine desire to understand.

  • Maintain eye contact when your mate is talking.
  • Don’t listen to your partner and do something else at the same time.
  • Listen for feelings (glad, mad, sad, bad or afraid).
  • Observe your partner’s body language.
  • Refuse to interrupt.

Learning to Talk.  Self-revelation does not come easy for some of us.  Awareness and expression of our emotions (glad, mad, sad, bad or afraid) is essential for a healthy relationship.  Emotions are neither good not bad.  They are simply our psychological responses to the events of life.  In each of life’s events, we have emotions, thoughts, desires, and eventually actions.  It is the expression of this process that we call self-expression.

Personality Types. How we communicate has a great deal to do with our personality type and gender.
Are you a “Dead Sea” or a “Babbling Brook?”  Men and women tend to have basic differences in how and what they communicate, and how they problem solve.  Become aware of your own and your partner’s personality style and shape your communication accordingly.

Quality Activities.  These can include anything in which one or both of you has an interest.  The emphasis is not on what you are doing but on why you are doing it.  The purpose is to experience something together, to walk away from it feeling “My partner cares for me.  S/he was willing to do something with me that I enjoy, and did it with a positive attitude.”  The essential ingredients in a quality activity are: at least one of you
wants to do it, the other is willing to do it, both of you know why you are doing it - to express love by being together.

Does having quality activities mean careful planning?  Yes.  Does it mean we have to give up some individual activities?  Perhaps.  Does it mean we have to do some things we don’t particularly enjoy?  Certainly.  Is it worth it?  Without a doubt.

Some Tips.  

  • Get your “Daily Minimum Requirement” - establish a daily sharing time in which each of you talks about three things that happened that day and how you feel about them.  
  • Consider taking a personality test (Myers-Briggs, 16 PF, Taylor-Johnson) and then discussing the implications of your personality types in your relationship.  Read “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” together and discuss each chapter.

Quality Time
  • Come home for dinner together
  • Plan time to be alone with me
  • Focus on what I’m saying – rather than being distracted when I talk
  • Read a relationship book with me
  • Make weekend plans with me
  • Be protective of our time together

The Third Love Language:  Receiving Gifts

Gifts - this is the love language that Hubby and I do not have at all! It is, however, my dad’s love language. Not that everyone doesn't like getting gifts, but this person has a special place in their heart for the gift. It is a symbol of that person's love for them. They can tell you where they got it, who gave it to them and under what circumstances. They usually keep it in a special place and take great care of it. Think “The Last Doll” in The Little Princess movie/book.

Don’t mistake this love language for materialism; the receiver of gifts thrives on the love, thoughtfulness, and effort behind the gift. If you speak this language, the perfect gift or gesture shows that you are known, you are cared for, and you are prized above whatever was sacrificed to bring the gift to you. A missed birthday, anniversary, or a hasty, thoughtless gift would be disastrous – so would the absence of everyday gestures. Gifts are visual representations of love and are treasured greatly.

Gift giving.  Gift giving is a universal part of the love relationship, it is a fundamental expression of love that transcends cultural barriers.  You must be thinking of someone to give them a gift, and the gift itself is a symbol of that thought.  It doesn’t matter whether it costs money, gifts may be purchased, found, or made.

It's the Thought That Counts.  What is important is that you thought of your partner.  And it is not just the thought implanted in the mind that counts, but the thought expressed in actually securing the gift and giving it as an expression of love.

The Gift of Self.  The gift of self (or presence) is an intangible gift that can speak more loudly than a gift that can be held in one’s hand.  Being there when your partner needs you is a priceless gift, your body becomes the symbol of your love.

Some Tips.

  • Make a list of all the gifts your partner has expressed excitement about receiving through the years (given by you or others).  
  • Recruit the help of family members who know your mate.  
  • Don’t wait for a special occasion.  
  • If you are a “penny-pincher” you may resist spending money on gifts.  Remember you don’t have to spend a lot and the money you do spend is well invested.

Giving / Receiving Gifts

  • Flowers
  • Small surprise gifts
  • Buy me my favorite magazine

The Fourth Love Language:  Acts of Service

Acts of Service - this is how my Mom expresses love (although it is not her love language). This is doing things for others (making a meal, knitting a sweater, getting up and getting a drink for someone, mowing the lawn, paying the bills, filling their car with gas, taking out the trash...

Can vacuuming the floors really be an expression of love? Absolutely! Anything you do to ease the burden of responsibilities weighing on an “Acts of Service” person will speak volumes. The words he or she most want to hear: “Let me do that for you.” Laziness, broken commitments, and making more work for them tell speakers of this language their feelings don’t matter. Finding ways to serve speaks volumes to the recipient of these acts.

 “Serve one another in love.”(Galatians 5:13).  Acts of Service means doing things you know your partner would like you to do.  You seek to please them by serving, which requires thought, planning, time, effort, and energy.  But requests for service cannot be demands, manipulation by guilt or coercion by fear.

There are three principles to keep in mind:

  1. Remember that what we do for each other before marriage is no indication of what we will do after marriage. 
  2. Before marriage, we are carried along by the force of the “in-love” obsession.  After marriage, we revert to being the people we were before we “fell in love.” Love is a choice and cannot be coerced.  Each of us must decide daily to love or not to love our partners.  If we choose to love, then expressing it in the way in which our partner requests will make our love most effective emotionally. Your partner’s criticisms about your behavior provide you with the clearest clue to his/her primary love language.  People tend to criticize their mate most loudly in the area where they themselves have the deepest emotional need.
  3. Overcoming Stereotypes.  Learning the love language of acts of service will require some to reexamine their stereotypes of the roles of husbands and wives.  A willingness to examine and change stereotypes is necessary in order to express love more effectively.  Remember, there are no rewards for maintaining stereotypes.  But there are tremendous benefits to meeting the emotional needs of your partner.

Some Tips.

  • Make a list of three or four things you would like your partner to help with.  Then exchange your lists.  Don’t add any more than 1 request per month.  Remember, your partner can only choose to do what is on the list, it cannot be demanded.  
  • This love language of service has different dialects.  The acts of service that you are willing to do may not be the ones your mate needs most from you.

Acts of Service

  • Groom yourself in preparing for time together
  • Do one of my regular household chores
  • Do tasks around the home

The Fifth Love Language:  Physical Touch

Physical Touch - a big one with guys.  This language isn’t all about the bedroom. A person whose primary language is Physical Touch is, not surprisingly, very touchy. Hugs, pats on the back, holding hands, and thoughtful touches on the arm, shoulder, or face – they can all be ways to show excitement, concern, care, and love. Physical presence and accessibility are crucial, while neglect or abuse can be unforgivable and destructive. Physical touch fosters a sense of security and belonging in any relationship.

Physical touch is a fundamental expression of love and meets an essential biological need within each of us.  Holding hands, kissing, embracing, back rubs and sexual intimacy are all ways of communicating emotional love to your partner.  Since touch receptors are located throughout the body, lovingly touching your mate just about anywhere can be an expression of love.  But remember your touch does not always
need to be sexual in nature or intent.

Some Tips.

  • Not all touches are created equal.  Some will bring more pleasure to your mate than others.
  • Your best instructor is your partner.  Consider doing a sensate focus exercise.  Caress your partner and try to discover the most sensitive areas of his/her body and the kind of stimulation s/he enjoys most.  They may, for example, prefer a gentler touch, or perhaps a rougher one, than you yourself would enjoy.  Your partner can use a “spectrum rating scale” to describe how positive or negative your touch is on different parts of their body.  “1” up to “10” is for positive touch and  “-1” down to “-10” is for negative touch.  
  • Remember, loving touch does not always need to lead to sexual intimacy.
  • Keep in mind that a time of crisis is a particularly important time to extend the gift of touch to your partner.
  • Embracing, holding hands, a reassuring kiss can be sorely needed encouragement during loss.
  • If a back massage communicates love to your mate, then the time, money, and energy you spend in learning to be a good masseur or masseuse will be well invested.  If sexual intimacy is your partner’s primary dialect, reading and discussing the art of sexual lovemaking will enhance your expression of love.

Physical Touch

  • Spend more with being affectionate
  • Tell me more about what pleases you sexually
  • Show me affection that doesn’t lead to sex
  • Hold me when I’m upset
  • Give me a back rub
  • Give me a foot massage
  • Comb my hair


Take the Love Language Challenge:


16 Ways I Blew My Marriage 
(By Dan Pearce)

You know what blows big time?

The other night I was sitting with my family, most of whom are very successfully married. We were going in a circle giving our best marriage advice to my little sister on the eve of her wedding. It’s somewhat of a family tradition.

But that’s not what blows. What really blows is that I realized I don’t have any good marriage advice to give. After all, I’ve never had a successful marriage out of the two marriages I did have.

And so, when it was my turn, I just made a joke about divorce and how you should always remember why you loved your spouse when you first met her so that when times get tough, you can find someone new that is just like she was.

There were a couple courtesy giggles, but overall my humor wasn’t welcome in such a beautifully building ring of profunidity.

They finished round one, and for some reason started into another round. And that’s when I realized. Hey. I don’t have marriage advice to give, but I have plenty of “keep your marriage from ending” advice (two equivocally different things), and that might be almost as good.

It eventually came to me again, and what I said would have been such great advice if I were a tenth as good at saying things as I was at writing them.

And so, that night, I sat down and wrote out my “advice list” for my little sister. You know… things I wish I would have known or done differently so that I didn’t end up divorced (twice). After writing it, I thought maybe I’d share it with all of you, too.

I call it my “Ways I Blew My Marriage” list. Also, for the list’s sake, I am just going to refer to “her” instead of “them” even though they almost all were true in both marriages.


When I first dated the woman I ended up marrying, I always held her hand. In the car. While walking. At meals. At movies. It didn’t matter where. Over time, I stopped. I made up excuses like my hand was too hot or it made me sweat or I wasn’t comfortable with it in public. Truth was, I stopped holding hands because I stopped wanting to put in the effort to be close to my wife. No other reason.

IF I COULD HAVE A DO-OVER: I’d hold her hand in the car. I’d hold her hand on a star. I’d hold her hand in a box. I’d hold her hand with a fox. And I’d hold her hand everywhere else, too, even when we didn’t particularly like each other for the moment.

BONUS! When you hold hands in the winter, they don’t get cold. True story.


Obviously when I was working to woo her, I would do myself up as attractively as I possibly could every time I saw her. I kept perfectly groomed. I always smelled good. I held in my farts until she wasn’t around. For some reason, marriage made me feel like I could stop doing all that. I would get all properly groomed, smelling good, and dressed up any time we went out somewhere or I went out by myself, but I rarely, if ever, cared about making myself attractive just for her.

IF I COULD HAVE A DO-OVER: I’d try and put my best foot forward throughout our entire marriage. I’d wait to fart until I was in the bathroom whenever possible. I’d make myself desirable so that she would desire me.

BONUS! when you trim your man hair, guess what. She returns the favor.


For some reason, somewhere along the way, I always ended up feeling like it was my place to tell her where she was weak and where she could do better. I sure as heck didn’t do that while we were dating. No, when I dated her I only built her up, only told her how amazing she was, and easily looked past all of her flaws. After we got married though, she sometimes couldn’t even cook eggs without me telling her how she might be able to improve.

IF I COULD HAVE A DO-OVER: I wouldn’t say a damned thing about anything that I thought could use improvement. I’ve learned since my marriage ended that there is more than one right way to do most things, and that the imperfections of others are too beautiful to try and change.

BONUS! when you tell her what she’s doing right, she’ll tell you what you’re doing right. And she’ll also tell her friends. And her family. And the dentist. And even strangers on the street.


I knew how to woo a girl, for sure. And the ticket was usually a night in, cooking a nice meal and having a romantic evening. So why is it then, that I didn’t do that for her after we got married? Sure, I’d throw some canned soup in the microwave or fry up some chimichangas once in a while, but I rarely if ever went out of my way to sweep her off her feet after we were married by steaming crab legs, or making fancy pasta, or setting up a candlelit table.

IF I COULD HAVE A DO-OVER: I’d make it a priority to cook for her, and only her, something awesome at least every month. And I’d remember that meat in a can is never awesome.

BONUS! candlelit dinners often lead to candlelit bow chica bow-wow.


I’m not talking about the angry kind of yelling. I’m talking about the lazy kind of yelling. The kind of yelling you do when you don’t want to get up from your television show or you don’t want to go ALL THE WAY UPSTAIRS to ask her if she’s seen your keys. It really doesn’t take that much effort to go find her, and yelling (by nature) sounds demanding and authoritative.

IF I COULD HAVE A DO-OVER: I’d try to go find her anytime I needed something or wanted to know something, and I’d have both gratitude and manners when I did. I always hated when she would yell to me, so why did I always feel it was okay to yell to her?

BONUS! sometimes you catch her doing something cute that you would have missed otherwise.


I always felt I was the king of not calling names, but I wasn’t. I may not have called her stupid, or idiot, or any of the other names she’d sometimes call me, but I would tell her she was stubborn, or that she was impossible, or that she was so hard to deal with. Names are names, and calling them will drive bigger wedges in communication than just about anything else.

IF I COULD HAVE A DO-OVER: Any time it got to the point that I wanted to call names, I’d call a time-out and come back to it later. Or better yet, I’d call her names, but they’d be names like “super sexy” or “hotness.


As the main bread earner, I was always so stingy with the money. I’d whine about the cost of her shampoo or that she didn’t order water at restaurants, or that she’d spend so much money on things like pedicures or hair dye jobs. But seriously. I always had just as many if not more things that I spent my money on, and in the end, the money was spent, we were just fine, and the only thing my bitching and moaning did was bring undo stress to our relationship.

IF I COULD HAVE A DO-OVER: I’d tell her I trusted her to buy whatever she wanted, whenever she felt like she needed it. And then, I’d actually trust her to do it.

BONUS! sometimes she will make bad purchase decisions, which leads to makeup purchase she felt like.  Remember we all make bad decisions, like that new gadget you’ve had your eyes on.


There was never any argument that was so important or pressing that we couldn’t wait to have it until the kids weren’t there. I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist or super-shrink to know why fighting in front of the kids is a dangerous and selfish way of doing things.

IF I COULD HAVE A DO-OVER: I would never, ever, not even once fight in front of the kids, no matter how big or how small the issue was. I’d maybe make a code word that meant, “not with the kids here.”

BONUS! when you wait to fight, usually you both realize how stupid or unimportant the fight was and the fight never happens.


I don’t know why, but at some point I started thinking it was okay to poop with the bathroom door open, and so did she. First of all, it’s gross. Second of all, it stinks everything up. Third of all, there is literally no way to make pooping attractive, which means that every time she saw me do it, she, at least in some little way, would have thought I was less attractive.

IF I COULD HAVE A DO-OVER: I’d shut the damn door and poop in private.

BONUS! when she does think of your naked body, she’s not going to be thinking about it in a grunting/squatting position.


It always got to a point when I’d more or less stop kissing her. Usually it was because things were stressful and there was tension in our relationship, and so I’d make it worse by refusing to kiss her. This of course would lead to her feeling rejected. Which would of course lead to arguments about it. Other times I had my own issues with germs and whatnot.

IF I COULD HAVE A DO-OVER: I’d kiss her in the morning when she looked like people do in the morning. I’d kiss her at night when she’s had a long day. I’d kiss her any time I felt like she secretly wanted a kiss. And, I’d kiss her even when my germ issues kicked in.

BONUS! she feels loved when you kiss her. That’s bonus enough.


Age shouldn’t matter. Physical ability shouldn’t matter. Couples should never stop having fun with each other, and I really wish I wouldn’t have gotten into so many ruts in which we didn’t really go out and do anything. And, I’ve been around the block enough times to know that when the fun is missing, and the social part of life is missing, so also goes missing the ability to be fully content with each other.

IF I COULD HAVE A DO-OVER: I’d make a rule with her that we’d never stay home two weekends in a row.

BONUS! awesome stories and awesome memories come from doing awesome things. And so do cherished embarrassing moments.


Pressuring each other about anything is always a recipe for resentment. I always felt so pressured to make more money. I always felt so pressured to not slip in my religion. I always felt so pressured to feel certain ways about things when I felt the opposite. And I usually carried a lot of resentment. Looking back, I can think of just as many times that I pressured her, so I know it was a two-way street.

IF I COULD HAVE A DO-OVER: I’d make it a point to celebrate the different views, opinions, and ways that she had of doing things. I’d find the beauty in differentiation, not the threat.

BONUS! authentic happiness becomes a real possibility. And so do authentic foot rubs.


Sometimes the easiest phrases to say in my marriage started with one of three things. Either, “you should have,” “you aren’t,” or “you didn’t.” Inevitably after each of those seemed to come something negative. And since when have negative labels ever helped anyone? They certainly never helped her. Or me. Instead, they seemed to make the action that sparked the label worsen in big ways.

IF I COULD HAVE A DO-OVER: I would learn to stop myself before saying any of those phrases, and then I’d switch them out for positive labels. Instead of “you should,” I’d say “you are great at.” Instead of saying “you aren’t,” I’d say “you are.” Instead of saying “you didn’t,” I’d say, “you did.” And then I’d follow it up with something positive.

BONUS! the noblest struggles become far more conquerable. And you don’t think or believe that you’re a schmuck, which is always nice.


It was so easy in marriage to veto so many of the things she enjoyed doing. My reasoning, “we can find things we both enjoy.” That’s lame. There will always be things she enjoys that I will never enjoy, and that’s no reason not to support her in them. Sometimes the only thing she needs is to know that I’m there.

IF I COULD HAVE A DO-OVER: I’d attend many more of the events that she invited me to. I would actively participate and not tell all the reasons why I’d do it differently or how it could be better or more fun or time better spent.

BONUS! go to something she knows you don’t enjoy and the gratitude gets piled on later that night, like whipped cream on a cheesecake.


I never got to experience the power of make-up sex because any time my wife was mean or we got in a fight, I’d completely distance myself from her, usually for several days. Communication would shut down and I’d avoid contact at all cost. This never let things get worked out, and eventually after it had happened enough times I’d explode unnecessarily.

IF I COULD HAVE A DO-OVER: I’d let myself communicate my emotions and feelings more often, and I’d make sure that she knew I still loved her any time we had an ugly bout. Sure, we’d give each other some distance. But not days of distance.

BONUS! Fantastic make-up sex. Or at least that’s the theory.

I had lots more written out, but the list started getting super long so I’ll stop right there and maybe do a part 2. It’s amazing when you’ve had relationships end, just how much you learn and know you could have done differently, isn’t it?

My sister and her new husband will be amazing. Hopefully she’ll always be giving amazing marriage advice in the future and never have to hand out the “keep your marriage from ending” advice like I get to.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Treated like an "Adult"

Dealing with a lot with Kitty right now.  She finally got a cell phone.  It increased her addiction to electronics, but not by much, because it's not really possible to increase the amount of time she has spent on them!  She's also spending a lot of time on Face Book with biofamily and friends so far we haven't seen a lot of negative effects, except she's isolating herself even more than before and she's not dealing well with the stress of school.  Biomom is now only communicating with her, and not responding to the e-mails and photos I've sent.

Kitty has been sick a lot.  Alleged vomiting (always at night), nausea, headaches, sleepiness.  Honestly it's almost possible to know when it's real and when it's psycho somatic.  I try to be sympathetic, but it's hard when she has so many psychosomatic/ stress related incidents or those caused by her unwillingness to treat her constipation issues.  The school has already sent us an attendance letter regarding her unexcused absences.  We're trying to get a lot of medical appointments and testing done now because she loses her Medicaid at the end of this month, and we won't have it again until she gets SSI, which probably won't be for a couple of months if not longer.

Another big issue is that Kitty now has a boyfriend.  Same guy that she dated as a freshman (I think she hates change enough to go back to him).  When she was a freshman he was a senior.  He dumped her, probably because she wouldn't sleep with him.  She suffered a lot because he moved on to one of her friends, who would not heed her warnings.  Obviously our worry that he only wants to use her is even greater now.  She got into trouble about 4 months ago, because she was sneaking around meeting him at the grandparent's house.

She of course wants to be able to run around on dates with him, and is furious that I try to rein her in a little (asking her to start with supervised/ group dates and work up to us getting to know him well enough to trust him with her).  She's also not acting trustworthy.  She breaks the rules when she thinks I'm wrong.  She thinks the rules are just because we're being mean.  She also believes that the structure and rules we're providing has nothing to do with our concerns about her being ready for older teen responsibilities and is more about the fact that we love and trust Bob more (despite the fact that Bob has the same rules).

By the way, YES, I know I'm overprotective.  I also know she's not ready to have the same privileges as a "normal" 18yo (I also don't think any of my kids should be doing what "normal" teenagers do.  I grew up in a big city.  I know how severe the consequences of one bad choice can be.), but this is not because I'm "mean."  I just don't know how to explain to her that she's different from other kids her age without effecting her self-esteem.  Plus, of course there's nothing I can really do to change her mind - her perception of reality is so distorted.

As always Kitty wants all freedom and privileges right now!! I know she's only 10(ish) and isn't ready for adult privileges, but I'm open to letting her take the steps (including increasing her responsibilities) to show us that she's ready for more privileges.  We're talking about reintroducing the level chart to give her a more concrete understanding of what she needs to do to show she's ready for older teen/ adult privileges and allow her to take steps to attain those privileges.  Of course she wants it all to be granted to her without earning it.


This has been coming to a head as Kitty gets closer and closer to graduation.  She is freaking out about this huge life change.  Not that I can blame her, but it's getting harder and harder to live with her.  She's realized that she can't afford to move out.  She's demanding that as a rent paying adult, we treat her like an adult, but she's also told us outright that she will not act like one around us.  She feels that as her parents we don't deserve the respect that she would give strangers.


Kitty is also talking about moving in with Biomom.  At first she was just planning on visiting for 2 weeks after graduation so she could spend time with her sisters.  In therapy, the therapist brought up her many concerns regarding Kitty being stranded in another state if she finds herself unable to emotionally cope, and recommended she wait until I was able to go with her to provide emotional support and the ability to take a break.  Kitty immediately forgot about the very serious concerns the therapist brought up, and began talking about staying a 2 months with Biomom.  I asked her to talk to the therapist about it during her next individual session.

Now Kitty is saying 2 years!!  *sigh*  Part of me wants to encourage her to go.  The rest of me knows she would completely lose most of the progress she's made over the last 2 years.

Received a letter from Bear.  He said the becoming a Muslim thing was just a test.  No idea if I passed or not.  Not thrilled at the idea of being tested.  Let him know as much when I wrote back.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Books and Methods Review - Methods - Calming Techniques

Realized I've been talking about calming and relaxation techniques for years, but never gave any details.

An important thing to remember is that when a child is in full meltdown - fight/ flight/ freeze mode the thinking part of their brain is shut down.  Most likely they won't even remember what happened.  Talking, appealing to their better nature (guilt), providing logical arguments, threatening punishment/ consequences... will NOT work.  Usually when my child gets to this point it ends up becoming physical and might end up restraining/ holding her until she calms down.  Then I usually hold and comfort her longer, assuring her she is safe and still loved.  This is a good time for real conversation about her emotions and feelings (as is the time right before sleep and after a good workout).

Only after she's calm does her brain start working again.  I usually wait until a later time, when she's in a good state, to talk to her about any consequences or other things I know might trigger her.

One thing that helps us avoid a meltdown is to try to make her environment as low stress as possible – including school. It's not always possible, but I try to avoid her triggers and be especially understanding when she's feeling unsafe (which is a perceived unsafe feeling not necessarily based in reality), hungry, tired, sick and during traumaversaries (anniversaries of traumatic events like gotcha days, day they went into foster care, holidays, birthdays...) Kitty meltdown triggers.

At one point Kitty yelled at me for not calming her down.  I remember thinking, "How ridiculous!  She's 18.  She's stable.  It shouldn't be my job to calm her down... oh wait.  It is.  I took a deep breath, stuffed down my anger and frustration, hitched up my big girl panties, and calmed her down.  Changed the subject, distracted her, and moved on.  Nothing was resolved, but it wasn't going to be anyway.
We processed her meltdown a couple of days later in therapy, where she admitted that she's deathly afraid of emotions leading her back to being unstable.  This is why she's been isolating more and more.  She's trying to turn off her emotions.  This is a terrifying life or death feeling for her.  She blames me for trying to drag her back to the family and not allowing her to shut herself off.  I'm the evil witch who is trying to force her to be unstable.  No, it's not rational.

Many children of trauma are not able to regulate their emotions.  They need parents to help them.  The biggest calming technique I have is to stay calm myself (if I can't then I switch out with Hubby!).  I try to speak to her in a calm voice and breathe loudly (slowly and deeply) to see if I can help her regulate (wish I had a Darth Vader mask!). 

Avoiding escalation is the most important tool.  If I can see her escalating toward a meltdown, and I'm lucky, I can keep her calm enough to avoid a total meltdown.  If I work it out just right I can actually get her to do, fix, calm down about some, if not all, of whatever it is she's upset about.

Generally I don't think Kitty has control of meltdowns (and I frequently have to remind myself of this), but I also think she has occasionally escalated because in her past if she pitched a big enough fit she got what she wanted. Each meltdown she had seemed a little more extreme then the last one, because we were not giving her her way.  Made it very hard, but we had to be consistent in how we helped her regulate.

Sometimes talking to her (especially with eye contact) just escalates her.  So I try staying near her, but not interacting. Sometimes this makes her feel rejected. Sometimes when she storms out, and I don’t go after her, I'm sure she sees it as me not loving her.

If she makes threats to herself or others we go to the "4 Foot Rule," which she knows so I think she does it deliberately sometimes so she feels safer.  The "4 Foot Rule" means an adult must be within (approximately) 4 feet of the child at all times (usually just means line of sight).  If I know she can't hurt herself (like if she's holding the door shut so can't hurt herself without moving away from the door), I might sit outside the door.

Example of my probably too logical way to deal with a PRE-meltdown:

"There is No way I am EVER going to do my schoolwork."
I calmly sympathized that it is hard and I understand that she doesn't like it, but it has to be done.

"You're an idiot if you think I'm going to do any schoolwork again and you can't make me." 
I admit I got a little frustrated at this point and spoke firmly about calling me names. I warned her that if she didn't do her school work, she would go to work with me - where she would have to do schoolwork. She calmed down a little so I was able to switch back to "nurturing mode." I told her that she can't drop out of school. That she didn't want to be 14 and held back to 5th or 6th grade....

"I'm going to go emo."
I hear this a lot and she knows how I feel about it. I told her that I would have to assume that someone/ something was negatively influencing her and would start taking away TV shows, makeup, music...

"You hate me. You don't care about me. I'm going to crawl in a box and not eat. You want me to be in a box and die."
I told her I love her even if she doesn't believe that right now. That she can only know how she feels, not how I feel. That if I didn't love her I wouldn't care if she was in a box.

I let her go outside to walk/stalk for 10 minutes, but told her she then needed to come back in and do 3 pages of math and 3 of word building. She had a snack. Went outside. Came back in, and verified that she only had to do 6 pages and she was done for the day. I said no. When she was done with the six pages we would talk. She left and did the 6 pages.

Success! No meltdown. No regression to fight, flight, or freeze mode. AND some actual schoolwork done!

Ways to AVOID meltdowns:
  • Reduce Responsibilities and Expectations {Effective, but with drawbacks. This works well in the short term, but obviously can't continue forever.  It's very important to remember that kids with trauma are usually developmentally socially/ emotionally much younger than their chronological age}
  • Safe Environment - structured with consistently, enforced rules helps, but remember it's perceived safety - which is different for kids of trauma {Effective. Is what we provide at home, but we're unable to treat all kids exactly the same as they are of extremely differing abilities and levels.  Unlike residential treatment who have 24/7 staff with shifts.}
  • Consistent, caring caregivers - providing loving structure {Effective. Responds well}
  • Frequent, gentle reminders to stay focused and on task.  Can be just using the child's name at the beginning of a sentence {Effective.}
  • Teachers/ staff monitor her stress level and cue her to take a break. {Effective at home. Not sure if it's been tried at school.}
  • Staff trained in helping Kitty with stress management/ relaxation techniques. {Effective at home and Summer Camp}
  • Predictability of routine {Fairly Effective}
  • Work with her on Social Skills training {Fairly Effective}
  • Self-Confidence Building activities and training {Fairly Effective}
  • Provide goals for managing stress and anxiety on her own. {Currently ineffective as she is unable to access these skills independently when she is actively stressed and anxious - although responds well to cuing by someone when she is starting to escalate.}

Calming Techniques:

Deep breathing - slow, deep, even breaths from the diaphragm, rather than short, shallow breaths from the chest. Can try counting - especially if trying to go to sleep
- Get comfortable and relax muscles.
- Inhale deeply and hold it.
- Exhale and repeat.
- Try adding stretching.

EFT EmotionalFreedom Techniques  aka Tapping.  This can be a full tapping routine, or just something simple like a side hand chop.

Mantra (can be used with tapping) - Choose a positive, calming word or phrase. Repeat it over and over to yourself silently to prevent distracting thoughts from entering and calm yourself.

Brain Gym – exercises that cross the mid-brain.  EMDR works in similar ways.  I do a variation of these with Kitty.  Sometimes it's just rubbing her back from side to side (crossing the mid-brain).  Sometimes I can talk her into tapping herself (like patting her left knee or upper arm and then her right, over and over), but she finds it embarrassing and most of the time we've missed the window where she can access calming techniques for herself.

Exercise - Going for a walk or run, yoga, jumping on a trampoline to clear the mind and reduce stress.

Distraction/ Redirection - Find a different activity or something to focus on that distracts from event that is causing stress.  Lots of ideas in this post about the Attachment Challenge.
- Read a book or magazine.
- Listen to relaxing music or watch a video.
- Do a crossword puzzle, or play an electronic game.
- Make cookies.
- Play with playdoh
- Try lying down and taking a nap.
- Go somewhere in your imagination.
- Cocooning (create a cozy, womb-like area with books and soft toys).
TRE Tension & Trauma ReleasingExercises  this intrigues me, but I haven't tried it.

Biofeedback – training in how to calm the body and brain.  

Mindfulness - staying focused and in the present moment.
- Take a break and make yourself acutely aware of your surroundings.
- Take deep breaths and feel your lungs swell.
- Allow yourself to think about your feelings, but do so without judgment.

Flooding - a type of exposure treatment, often used for treating phobias - which is basically what the Attachment Challenge does.  Hugs cause Kitty's nervous system to instinctively flood.  Flooding involves immersing the person in the fear reflex until the fear itself fades away.

The therapist recommended something more like Counter-conditioning*.  Instead of hugs and pressured attachment activities with extended eye contact (which is also very hard for Kitty).  We'd change it to her sitting next to me on the couch while we watch TV and I put my hands on her shoulders (eventually working up to pressure on her upper arms and neck), plus warmth and light pressure on her lower back (fingers in line with her lower rib cage) which effects her kidneys.  Kitty isn't happy about it, but she agrees it's better than the way we were doing it.

*Counter-conditioning - (Watson, 1924). In this form, one is trained to substitute a relaxation response for the fear response in the presence of the phobic stimulus. Relaxation is incompatible with feeling fearful or having anxiety, so it is said that the relaxation response counters the fear response. This counter-conditioning is most often used in a systematic way to very gradually introduce the feared stimulus in a step-by-step fashion known as systematic desensitization, first used by Joseph Wolpe (1958). This desensitization involves three steps: (1) training the patient to physically relax, (2) establishing an anxiety hierarchy of the stimuli involved, and (3) counter-conditioning relaxation as a response to each feared stimulus beginning first with the least anxiety-provoking stimulus and moving then to the next least anxiety-provoking stimulus until all of the items listed in the anxiety hierarchy have been dealt with successfully.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Bear Update

Been awhile since I updated on Bear.  Not a lot of great news.

  • At "A & R" Bear was finally assessed and put on medication.  Unfortunately the wrong one, because Elavil can cause mania in people with bipolar disorder.  He had severe "gastrointestinal issues" and they took him off of it.  Unfortunately they didn't put him back on anything.  
  • They also offered him Thorazine – which D refused to take as he'd seen a lot of people taking it acting like zombies.
  • Bear was moved to one of the scarier private prisons and he's pretty scared.  
  • The good news is that the new location is only about a 10 hour round trip from our house.  The bad news is that makes it feel worse when we still can't visit.
  • According to Bear, there's a race war between the Native Americans and the Hispanics, so Bear has aligned himself with the Native Americans.  I wish he'd stay out of all of it, but I assume it helps him feel safer.
  • We haven't been able to communicate with him much, because until a bunk opened up in a regular cell block, he was stuck in, I think he called it segregation.  Now he's finally got a regular bunk.
  • He is asking me to advocate for him and get him moved to another cell block and/or another prison, plus he wants me to fight to get him on meds.  I don't think I can help, but he seems to think I'm Super Advocate!
  • Bear is struggling more and more with the lack of medications, but despite his repeated requests, he hadn't been able to see a psychiatrist until he "flipped out" recently.  Unfortunately they chose to put him on Trazadone for sleep and Prozac.  Prozac is an anti-depressant, which for someone with bipolar disorder can trigger mania.  In Kitty it triggered self-harming.  A manic Bear was angry and aggressive.  Very scary!
  • Bear had told us he was up for parole at the end of January, but he recently told us that he was mistaken and won't be eligible for parole until December of this year.
  • He's decided he wants to be Muslim and has asked me to buy him a Quran.  If I thought this was a genuine decision based on sincere beliefs and information, I would be supportive.  Instead I believe this is like Kitty becoming Wiccan while in residential treatment, just because her roommate had decided to try it and they were into teenage romance novels loosely based on Wiccan principles.  I'm not sure why it bothers me so much, but it does.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Holiday (aka Traumaversaries) Trauma Tips

Holiday (aka Traumaversaries) Trauma Tips 
Adapted from

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.”

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).

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 know 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:

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).

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,

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Response to an Anonymous Comment

"How can Kitty even be expected to attach to you when you spend so much time disparaging her? Didn't you once blog that your husband curses at her and calls her names? How is that in any way "theraputic"?
Every idea Kitty has, you shoot down and mock.
You constantly talk about Kitty's mental age but I don't know any actual good parents treat ten year olds the way you treat Kitty, typical or otherwise.
How is what you do attachment parenting?
I've been reading your blog for years and the way you depict it, your home seems quite unsafe for Kitty.
Your depiction makes it seem that you are forcing yourself on her to no avail whatsoever with little to no positive results. Isn't that the definition of insanity?
Your "Fair Club" seems UNfair and not based in any kind of science or reality, especially when it is only used sporadically at your own whim.
People feel sorry for Kitty because like it or not, your description of your parenting appears abusive, infrequent and unsafe.
All I can think is that Kitty must spend much of her life bewildered and frightened, a prisoner of your slap-dash, unbalanced "parenting". Your blog is a testament to that."

Wow, this was a particularly harsh comment.  I will address each part:

"How can Kitty even be expected to attach to you when you spend so much time disparaging her?"
-- I certainly don't spend all my time disparaging her!  This blog is my place to vent. I do speak up if it will effect her future (like choosing classes that won't help her with her future), but other than that I keep my opinions to myself around Kitty.

"Didn't you once blog that your husband curses at her and calls her names? How is that in any way "theraputic"?"
--No, I didn't blog that.  You must be thinking of someone else.  Over the years my husband may have said something not very nice to her a few times, and he's not always totally empathetic, but would never curse at her and call her names!  We rarely curse or call each other names in this household.

"Every idea Kitty has, you shoot down and mock."
-- I do get frustrated with Kitty's unrealistic expectations, and that's what I talk about a lot on here, but if it makes a difference, I don't mock her to her face.

"You constantly talk about Kitty's mental age but I don't know any actual good parents treat ten year olds the way you treat Kitty, typical or otherwise."
-- First of all, Kitty is 10 in a lot of ways, but definitely not in all ways, and one of the most important ways she's different is that she is a "child of trauma."  I try to parent her where she is, and I use the age "10" as a starting point, but the truth is I can never parent her like I would a typical 10yo.  Talking about her emotional age is more about helping me remember that she's not really 18 and remembering to parent her accordingly.
The main thing is therapeutic parenting is very different than "regular" parenting.  It's not intuitive.  I doesn't look like "good parenting,"  It is what my kids need.  Yes, I make mistakes.  There is no Dummy's Guide on how to parent Kitty or kids like her.  If you know of a book or resource that tells me how to be a "good parent" to her then I'd be happy to read it.  I'm doing the best I can.

"How is what you do attachment parenting?"
-- Kitty is attached now, although because of her history probably still "anxiously."  I don't really do attachment parenting anymore, just therapeutic parenting.  If you want a good description of therapeutic parenting check out Christine Moers' DVD - Chaos to Healing:  Therapeutic Parenting 101, Katharine LeslieDaniel Hughes, Denise Best, the Beyond Consequences books

"I've been reading your blog for years and the way you depict it, your home seems quite unsafe for Kitty."
-- I guess I don't express myself in my blog as well as I'd hoped.  My home is not unsafe for Kitty, or any of my children.  If my posts come across that way then it's because I'm not making it clear that most of my blog is venting and letting other parents going through similar issues know that there is no such thing as "perfect parenting" (and to share resources).  If you're really worried then try to comfort yourself with the fact that I have access to amazing, experienced therapeutic parents and lots of resources, and that Kitty (and therefore myself) is under the direct supervision of her therapist, psychiatrist, a special school for emotionally disturbed children...

"Your depiction makes it seem that you are forcing yourself on her to no avail whatsoever with little to no positive results. Isn't that the definition of insanity?"
-- Yes, that is the definition of insanity; however, I believe the only alternative is to give up on her, and I'm not OK with that.  I have to have hope.

"Your "Fair Club" seems UNfair and not based in any kind of science or reality, especially when it is only used sporadically at your own whim."
-- The FAIR Club is a combination of the many different parenting methods I've used and/or read about over the years.  It is designed to be used with both my neurotypical and not neurotypical kids.  It is definitely not perfect and probably time to update it, but I've never found any other discipline method that worked any better.  I've never claimed it would work for every child or parent, and often when people ask me how to use it, after asking lots of questions about their child, most of the time, we find that their child is developmentally too young or don't have the cognitive abilities to be able to use it completely.  Like every other parenting method, I hope that parents take what works for them and leave the rest.
We don't really use the FAIR Club anymore.  Not because it doesn't work, not because it's at my "whim," but because my kids haven't needed it.  Kitty lives a version of it daily because she needs the structure and support.  The other kids, Ponito and Bob rarely require much discipline anymore.  Coincidentally, we actually used the FAIR Club for the first time in years with Ponito earlier this week (post coming).

"People feel sorry for Kitty because like it or not, your description of your parenting appears abusive, infrequent and unsafe.
All I can think is that Kitty must spend much of her life bewildered and frightened, a prisoner of your slap-dash, unbalanced "parenting". Your blog is a testament to that."
-- Kitty came to us "bewildered and frightened" 7 years ago, imprisoned in a scary world she didn't make and had no control over.  Obviously this couldn't have had anything to do with my parenting, since I was not her parent.  Over the years we have worked hard to become the parents Kitty needs and to help her find new ways to cope and trust, and we're working on helping her accept her limitations (denying that she has any means that she feels it's her fault when she fails) and find ways to work around them.
I think the fact that she's attached to us and trusts us to the best of her ability, that she finally has access to and control of her feelings (physical and emotional), has processed some of her trauma, is properly diagnosed and medicated, has been out of the hospital and residential treatment and been stable for almost 2 years, is graduating high school, has maintained a job (even if I don't think it's the right one for her), no longer hates her siblings and grandparents - hasn't called them evil in years, rarely threatens violence or vengeance on others, rarely has meltdowns for that matter - even when asked to do chores which used to be a huge trigger for her!, will accept hugs from me and actually cares how I feel...
          ................ I think all that is a "testament" to my parenting and her hard work.  You can think I'm a bad parent, but you're wrong.
All I can say is that you don't live in my home, and this blog contains only what I intermittently choose to share here (which admittedly hasn't been much lately).  You'll have to take my word for it that I parent to the best of my ability and that's pretty darn good if I do say so myself.  This is not an easy path and Kitty has a LOT of issues that make her very difficult to parent 24/7, but she's come a really long way.  Maybe that's in spite of my parenting, and maybe there is someone out there who could do a better job of it, but I'm Kitty's mom and they aren't here.

"This sounds like a way for you to get your hands on Kitty's SS money.
Honestly, how do you live with yourself?"
Yes, we would be taking the majority of Kitty's SSI money.
1. If we didn't she would lose! her SSI benefits, because she can't accumulate more than a miniscule amount. Rent is a legitimate expense for SSI.
2. We're not rich. I haven't been able to work for many years because the kids need so much supervision, and when Kitty graduates high school she'll need even more supervision, because she won't be working. We need her income to contribute to the family. If/when she moves out either I'll go back to work, or we'll move to a smaller house.
3. We fully intend to save some of this money for her so that eventually she can use it to pay deposits and such if she ends up living on her own, or for "extras" if she ends up living in an assisted living situation.

"How do you live with yourself?" I'm fine with myself, because I know your judgment is inaccurate.

If you want to share your name and share your blog (or write one) about what an amazing parent you are to your kids who I assume are exactly like mine, then I'd be very happy to read it and respect any constructive criticism you may offer; however, until and unless you are walking in my shoes then please don't criticize me or presume to judge what makes me a good or bad parent.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Common Comment Response


I wanted to address one of the comments I receive a lot.

"If I was Kitty I would want to move out to get away from you.

Yes, what you see on my blog does appear controlling and restrictive.  There's several reasons for that:

  • I think people are projecting their own feelings or experiences on my children.  Yes, as adults or older teens being treated like a child would be demeaning and feel controlling.  I remember how I felt as teen, ready to get out on my own and try new things.  My mom was pretty strict and protective, and I wanted to rebel from that.  I lived in a big city and I look back now and realize how much my mom's rules protected me.  I had so many friends who got raped, pregnant, dropped out of school...  That being said, I did rebel against some of the rules, and I dealt with the consequences - which luckily weren't too severe.  I think how I parent 17yo Bob and even 14yo Ponito (which I don't talk about much on this blog, since it's not about neurotypical teens), shows that I can parent teens well.  HOWEVER!!!  Kitty is NOT an older teen!!
  • Kitty is at best age 10.  Yes, she gets jealous of the privileges her neurotypical siblings have, what little sister doesn't?   This doesn't mean those privileges are right for her.  RAD behaviors and teenage rebellion/ independence LOOK alike but they are NOT.  Kitty will not be moving out, because 10 year olds expect to have this kind of structure and support.  She may not always like it, but deep down she knows we love her and she doesn't want to leave, just like any other young child.  It is not appropriate or in Kitty or Bear's best interest to parent them like I would a child of their chronological age.   
  • I've been burned before.  I do base some of my responses on our prior experiences.  Honestly, we bowed to pressure a lot with Bear and gave him more freedom than he could handle, and he felt abandoned because of it!   He NEEDS structure and support and when we didn't provide it, he assumed it was because we didn't want to, instead of realizing it meant we were trusting him!  I think he was afraid to admit that he needed the structure and love, so he found ways to force us to give it to him!  I have become more structured, because I know it's what is needed and I'm learning to trust my instincts.
  • I know I tend to overplan and overthink things.  {I also tend to use more words than less!  ;) }  I like to have at least an outline of a plan, which I really am OK with changing.   I try to use this blog (and other resources) as a sounding board.  This blog is often where I experiment and "talk things through" before implementing them.  Although it usually hurts {a LOT} to hear, you guys give me some good feedback, and I listen. Sometimes I change my mind, sometimes I tweak things, and other times I stick with my first instinct.