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!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Advocating for Yourself, Your Family, and Your Child - In That Order

All those well-meaning people who say you "SHOULD" (or should not) be doing ____________, have no idea what living 24/7 with a child with an attachment disorder is like (even those who have experience working with special needs children). They don't know YOUR child and how your child is with YOU - plus they work at most an 8 hour shift with your child, then they get to go home!  None of them take into account the needs of the rest of your family, your other children, your marriage, or you.  Their priority is the one child, not your family as a whole.

When my kids first got here, I was empathetic, calm and patient with them- maybe TOO patient.  I stuffed things down, let it roll off my back, and GAVE and GAVE and GAVE... until there was nothing left. Nothing left for my child, for my family and most of all, for myself. I was so burned out and overwhelmed that we were all miserable.

Here's what helped me:

1. CARING FOR THE CAREGIVER!!!  Remember what they say about when you're on an airplane that is in trouble, put the oxygen mask on YOURSELF first.  If you are not taking care of yourself, then you can't help anyone else.  As women, we tend to say, “I don’t have time to do that.”  We sacrifice ourselves for our children (as we were taught to do and as we are TOLD to do by all those "well-meaning" people involved in our child's lives.).  What we MUST do is make ourselves a priority.  It is not selfish.  It is a must!  You have to find what works for you.

There will be times when we feel defeated.  Like we just can't take one more step.  We want to run away.  We want to drop kick this kid. We are completely drained and have nothing left to give anyone. Yet we keep giving and giving, until long after there’s nothing left, and if we try to stop we’re told we’re a bad parent for not giving our child what he/she needs.

  • The Five Love Languages (Acts of Service, Physical Touch, Gifts, Words of Affirmation, Quality Time) - I highly recommend figuring out your love language and teaching your family how to give you what you need to feel loved, but don't depend on your family to meet ALL your needs (especially your spouse and those with attachment issues!)!  That's not fair to them.
    My Love Language is Words of Affirmation, so I go online and help people so they will give me what I need (thank yous and praise).  It felt self-serving at first, but it was the only way I survived when I was so drained that my "love tank" felt like the Pit of Despair!

    I did “train” my husband in how to give me what I needed. I explained why it was important to me that my “strong, silent type” husband give me compliments and praise. Then I taught him how to do it! I started by walking in to the room and saying, “This Is Where You Say, ‘Wow! Honey, you look amazing!’” then I’d ask him to repeat. Eventually I’d walk in to the room, “strike a pose” and he’d compliment me. A couple of years ago, I went on a trauma mama women’s retreat. One morning, he texted me, “Rrowr! You look really hot today.” I had to explain to my friends why I had a huge grin on my face all day!
  • Therapy - for ME!  I needed to talk to someone whose primary goal was helping ME deal with my life.  In a lot of ways, our children are abusers, and we are battered women - if our children were adults, we would be told to run away as fast as we can, but since they are children, we are expected to just take it.  There is no way to not internalize years of this abuse.  I know I had PTSD from it.  I saw an EMDR therapist who specializes in PTSD, and she helped a LOT. Learning about my own issues, including my own attachment disorder, and accepting and dealing with them has helped a lot too.
  • Medication.  It is not shameful, and it doesn't have to be forever, but a LOT of therapeutic parents I know (including myself) take medication to help with the anxiety and depression that come from parenting kids with trauma/ attachment issues.
  • Take Care of Your Body. I know you're going to ignore this, but GET SOME SLEEP!  DRINK LOTS OF WATER!  Eat Right.  Exercise.  Please do everything you can to take care of yourself.  No one else can.
  • Avoid Toxic People.  This can be anyone who is critical or demanding of you and/or your parenting (whether you agree with them or not, even constructive criticism can be too much), people who delight in talking about their perfect children or insist that your child is just being a typical ____ (boy, teen, 5th grader...) - usually with the accompanying "My ________ (child/ nephew/ neighbor's first cousin...) did that once.  It's totally normal.  You just need to ______ (spank them, use a sticker chart, ignore it...)."  They never listen when you try to explain how your child's intensity, duration, and motivation is totally different.  They think they understand your child better than you do, and they (or more likely the imaginary "someone" else) would be a much better parent.
  • Forgive Yourself for Not Being the "Perfect Parent" (which doesn't exist!) that could heal/fix your child.  Give yourself time to grieve the child that you wanted (who could love you back, heal with your help, be RRHAFTBALL (Respectful, Responsible, Honest, +Attitude, Fun To Be Around, Loving and Learning)... all the things you hear about from those "perfect people" who post about how amazing their kids are on FaceBook -by the way, no family is really perfect some just hide the skeletons better.  Martha Stewart, Fly Lady, and all those people on Pinterest do not have special needs children!  It's OK to eat macaroni and cheese on paper plates for 3 days in a row.
  • You Are the Expert on Your Family. I spent a lot of time trying to get validation for my parenting from people who just didn’t “get it.” I ran across people who felt their way was the only way. Sticker/ level charts, spankings, time outs… I was often told that if I followed their advice and my child wasn’t “healed,” then I must be a bad parent.
    There are many different ways to do “attachment parenting” and “therapeutic parenting.” Some are abusive. Some work better with younger kids/ older kids/ neurotypical kids… I finally learned to take what I need and leave the rest. I also had to learn that this changed over time. Ask me about the FAIR Club!
  • Follow the Advice You Give Others!!  You know what you would say to someone in your situation!  You deserve to be treated just as kindly.  When my kids say something negative about themselves, I fuss at them just as much as I would if they said the same thing about a sibling.  ("Kitty, don't say mean things to my little girl!!"). So many of my women friends say horrible, critical things about themselves that they would NEVER say about someone else. Be kind and respectful to yourself. Children (and others) respect those that they see us respecting, guess what they’re learning if we don’t respect their mother (us)?
  • Keep on Swimming!  Feel free to scream this SUCKS!!! ...and then keep putting one foot in front of the other.  Don't look at how far you have to go.  Focus on surviving the day.  You already have a 100% success rate!!  You and your child have survived every single day until now.  It may not have been pretty, but you've done it!!  Good for you!
  • Find Time to Laugh! Do silly, fun stuff with the kids. Do silly, fun stuff just to entertain yourself! There’s some great ideas in 99 Ways to Drive Your Child Sane and Brighten Up a Boring Day!
  • Treat Yourself!  Even if it's for the most minute of successes.  Have you seen that Wendy's commercial about a little girl who lost her baseball game, but they celebrate because she didn't get hit by a ball?!
    - I didn't smack my child when she screamed in my face for the millionth time (Get a mani/pedi - even if you do it yourself).
    - My kids ate dinner. Yes, fast food in front of the TV counts!  (Go on an ice cream "date" with one of my healthy children).
    - No blood was spilled in the last hour! (Take a hot bath with a trashy novel and a glass of wine after the kids go to bed).
  • Prioritize Your Relationship with Your Significant Other.  With any luck this person will be around long after your kids are out of the home.  Respite, date night, at least 5 minutes a day of time together where you DON'T talk about your kids.  I also found it helped to have 10 minutes a day set aside to talk about the kids, and schedules and how your day went...
  • Room Time. No matter their age, our kids go to their room at 9pm. Sooner if their bedtime is earlier or they're in the FAIR Club. (Although I admit now that our kids are mostly young adults, we've let it move to 9:30 or 10 pm if we're watching a movie or something). This gives Hubby and I a chance to be childless for awhile (and watch something besides Disney on TV!).
  • Use Respite. Get out of the house and away from it all, take the family on vacation, go on a day trip, go to a support group or on a mom’s retreat. Acknowledge that your child may not be able to handle this outing, but rather than “punish” the whole family (and the child), find fun alternatives/ respite for your child and go anyway. Leave the child with family or friends (preferably someone who “gets it”) and go. Even knowing that your child (who might feel abandoned) is going to “punish” you later, remember that it’s worth it and your family needs time together without the stress and you need to recharge your batteries. We often found visits to psych hospitals (and residential treatment) offered time for the family to recover.
  • Spend Extra Time with Your Other Kids.  Go on "dates" with them.  Find times to chat.  Treat them to a little extra mommy time.  The squeaky wheel gets the oil and that means often the other kids can get shoved to the side.  Plus it helps you by getting some time with your child that is capable of “giving back” and having a relationship with you. I give my children permission to talk about their feelings about their siblings. They know it is completely OK to tell me they hate their sibling, as long as they don’t act on those feelings or share them with the sibling.
  • GET SUPPORT!!  Surround yourself with people who "get it."  Prioritize these relationships. Real life, on line, support groups, therapists, empathetic friends... just find them, and share!! Remember, "YOU ARE NOT ALONE!"
  • ASK FOR HELP!!!  and ACCEPT It!!  When someone has a baby or has been hospitalized, people come over and help out.  They bring food for several days or even weeks.  They clean, go shopping, mow the yard, take care of the kids...  just because we haven't been to a hospital (or maybe we have, but not for a "socially acceptable" reason), doesn't mean that we aren't living like survivors of some catastrophic illness or major life event.  When people say, "Can I help?"  Say YES!  You need help.  You deserve help.  Ask for it.  Accept it.  Please!
  • Choose Joy - this is one of the hardest things I've ever done, and I wasn't ready for it until my "love tank" was a little fuller. Every day I try to focus on the positives.  It's hard as heck, but it is important.  I vent, but limited it to a maximum of 3 vents, even less if I can.  I needed lots of validation that what I was doing was the right thing.  Over time I began believing I was doing my best, and that helped me feel better about myself.  I look back at the Godincidences (like reviewing my blessings) that came out of what frequently seemed like tragedies at the time.  I try to focus on how many of these “tragedies” have made me a stronger, better person.  Most importantly I focus on the positives and Choose Joy, like the little old lady in the nursing home.

A 92-year-old, petite, poised and proud lady, who is fully dressed each morning by eight o'clock, with her hair fashionably coiffed and makeup perfectly applied, even though she is legally blind, moved to a nursing home today. Her husband of 70 years recently passed away, making the move necessary.
After many hours of waiting patiently in the lobby of the nursing home, she smiled sweetly when told her room was ready.
As she maneuvered her walker to the elevator, I provided a visual description of her tiny room, including the eyelet sheets that had been hung on her window. "I love it," she stated with the enthusiasm of an eight-year-old having just been presented with a new puppy. "Mrs. Jones, you haven't seen the room ... just wait." "That doesn't have anything to do with it," she replied.
"Happiness is something you decide on ahead of time. Whether I like my room or not doesn't depend on how the furniture is arranged... it's how I arrange my mind. I already decided to love it. It's a decision I make every morning when I wake up. I have a choice; I can spend the day in bed recounting the difficulty I have with the parts of my body that no longer work, or get out of bed and be thankful for the ones that do."
Each day is a gift, and as long as my eyes open I'll focus on the new day and all the happy memories I've stored away ... just for this time in my life. Old age is like a bank account ... you withdraw from what you've put in. So, my advice to you would be to deposit a lot of happiness in the bank account of memories.
Remember the five simple rules to be happy:
  1. Free your heart from hatred.
  2. Free your mind from worries.
  3. Live simply.
  4. Give more.
  5. Expect less.
Not easy, but Wonderful Advice....for all of us.
There's more, but the most important thing is please be good to my friend!  
She deserves it!

2. Understanding why they act the way they do.  It helps me a lot to know that it's not personal or malicious.  It helped to understand that my son is a scared little boy acting out of fear.  I learned about emotional age versus calendar age, and realized that like most children of trauma, my children were MUCH younger than the age of their bodies. I had to learn to parent based on their emotional age, which is pretty hard to do when they have adult size bodies and you have others telling you what they have a “right” to have... (ex. cell phone) whether or not they can actually handle it.

A lot of times with my daughter I repeat my mantra, "She's only 6.  She's only 6.  She's only 6!" (Chronologically she might be 17, but emotionally she's only 6).  The books Beyond Consequences, Katharine Leslie's books and seminars, Can This Child Be Saved, The Explosive Child, and Stop Walking on Egg Shells, really helped with this.

3. Lower my expectations. REALLY lower them.  Quit waiting for _______ to happen before I do _____________.   Stop expecting them to grow up and change, or be able to handle more than the most basic of tasks.  I found I was mad at my daughter for constantly demanding the privileges of a teen, but not being able to consistently do chores or other responsibilities.  I had to forgive her for not “acting her age,” and let her know that I would no longer be expecting her to meet typical teen responsibilities nor would I continuously justify why she doesn't get typical teen privileges to her or others. I explained to her that this meant she wouldn’t always be in trouble (for not meeting her responsibilities and doing what she was supposed to do), she’d have fewer (more “age-appropriate”) chores, and I wouldn’t always be mad at her.
This felt so wrong that I sought out the validation of others for a long time (making myself completely miserable), before I finally felt OK about this path.  Of course getting validation always feels awesome! I just have to continuously remind myself to ignore the critics.

4. Redefine Success and Accept What It Looks Like. Like most moms, success for my children meant college, finding a career they loved and that supported them in a lifestyle similar to what they have now, finding true love, getting married, living near me (but not with me!), having children... preferably in this order!  Basically living "happily ever after." When I realized that this was not the path Bear and Kitty were on, or even capable of, I grieved. A lot. Then I took a deep breath and redefined success for each of my children individually.

  • For Bear, I kept struggling to give him the freedom everyone insisted he needed, since he was “going to be living on his own soon and needed to become independent.” I knew in my heart that he would most likely never be capable of living in an unstructured environment and having a long-term relationship with anyone (employers, friends, girlfriends...), but I kept letting him try (and fail), because everyone told me I "should." It made us all miserable.
    He finally found a structured environment that works for him (even though prison is not what I'd hoped for him), and he got there without violence.  He did graduate from high school, and the college degree everyone kept trying to push on him would not have been helpful to him with the lifestyle he needs to survive. 
  • Kitty may never be capable of living independently, but she is mostly happy living with us and likes having the option of living with her biofamily (even though she knows it is not good for her, and doesn't plan to move - except when she's upset). Whenever Kitty chooses to try independence again, as long as she has someone willing to help support her, she will probably be OK.
  • Bob is mostly on the path I dreamed of for all of my children. Ponito is struggling, but we are hoping to get him back on track. If/ when they step off of that track, that will be OK too.

5. Set limits.  Once I knew what I needed, I stopped giving so much that I had nothing left.  I’ve always been a rescuer, giving even beyond what I could afford to lose.   I had learned the hard way to stop doing it with other people (we called it "rescuing puppies" - people who seemed to be perpetual victims). I had felt though that these limits shouldn’t apply to children, especially MY children.   I soon found that the kids not only NEEDED the structure and boundaries I set by saying “No,” but they also did better with them – they felt safe which allowed them to trust enough to feel loved.  (I strongly recommend reading the book, Stop Walking on Eggshells!  The first half of the book helped me with empathy for them, by giving me a better understanding of why they act the way they do. The second half gives great practical advice in setting boundaries.

Saying "no" is not being negative.  Negative is saying "yes" to things that are destroying you. 


Presentation means a LOT. How you present yourself strongly effects how others respond to what you have to say.
People decide in seconds whether or not to take you seriously,” says Margaret A. Neale, Ph.D. So the next time you are faced with a pushy doctor or a IEP “team,” sit tall with your chest open and your shoulders back. Research shows it’ll give you confidence and may even alter your body’s chemistry in a way that helps you feel less stressed and more powerful, she says. ~ REDBOOK August 2015.
Physical appearance – First impression. I always dress fairly professionally. Not in a business suit, but usually a blazer (most of the time in hot pink or red!) over dark jeans or slacks. Something that makes me feel confident and attractive. I always wear makeup and do my hair.

Attitude – Stay calm and carry a big stick. I try to always stay calm, pleasant/friendly, professional, respectful, and show empathy for the stress the other person is dealing with (acknowledging that they have to balance the needs of many children and yes, this IEP meeting is running long). I also love to take my husband or a pushy advocate so they can get angry and demanding where needed (not that I can do it!) and I don’t lose my credibility as a competent, confident, rational professional – unfortunately that’s too easy to lose.

Helpful – I want teachers to know that I’m an involved parent (especially because my children tend to be prone to telling stories about how we abuse them and other reasons why they aren't able to do what's asked of them - ex. Bear told his teachers he was on a bender with his girlfriend in a city hours away for all of Spring Break. In addition to sending out the New School Year Letters at the beginning of the year, I also try to find time to do some volunteer work and get to know the teachers better.


One thing I HIGHLY recommend to any parent dealing with children of trauma is to DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT!  You've heard me say it before... I'll say it again, and again.  It has helps protect us, get services for our children, and refresh memories of past issues so you can see progress and make sure chronic issues get addressed correctly.

Ex. At an IEP meeting in November, the IEP team said Bear was doing so well that they wanted to move him full time from his structured, supportive special school to his home school (he'd been splitting his time between the two). It felt so wrong in every way, but I couldn't think of a reason why not! I took a minute to glance at my notes, and realized that only a couple of months before, Bear threatened a special ed student in the middle of class, took the girl's car keys, loaded her car with his friends and drove to a local fast food place, where he accidentally ran into their landscaping and wrecked the car (consequences for skipping class, driving without a license or permit, threatening a student, disrupting class, stealing and wrecking a car... none). The crazy thing was we ALL had forgotten this major incident!! (I think I was repressing it.)

When dealing with police, CPS, getting your child services and treatment, trying to get people to understand and believe you... it's amazing what they'll believe when it's in writing, versus hearing it from the parent - even if you're totally calm, logical, and professional when you speak.

Written Communication

Letter to a Stranger - "When you write letters/emails, these letters will usually be read by strangers. Many important decisions about your child are made by strangers. What impression will your letter make on a stranger? Will the stranger see you as an angry, negative complainer? Or will the stranger see you as a rational, thoughtful parent who is expressing valid concerns? When you write letters, keep this "stranger" in your mind’s eye."

Document Conversations:

Especially when dealing with bureaucracy (like insurance or school!), try to keep as much communication as possible in writing (e-mails, notes, letters...).  If the person insists on phone calls and face to face meetings, take detailed notes and IMMEDIATELY type up a transcript afterwards with as MUCH detail as possible. One of the main things to remember about documentation is to do it as SOON as possible after an incident.  Adrenaline and time really alter memories quickly.

Include names, titles, agencies and affiliations, DATES and TIMES!  When you need documentation you can use these transcripts and they are MUCH more admissible then saying, "Well Ms. So and So said he was doing this a few weeks ago."  Once again, people believe what they see in writing, and it gives more credibility and authority to your statement.

Instead of: “I talked to someone about this a few days ago and she said… (something vague in support of what you want).

Notes: “21st of March at 2:15pm, I spoke on the phone to Ms. Smith, the head of the ARD Committee. We discussed Johnnie’s behavior during transitions times. Specifically, pushing Susie in the hall when she bumped in to him (3/19 at 1pm on the way to Music – observed by Mr. X), when lining up to go to recess running away from the teacher and found 20 minutes under Mr. E’s desk (3/17 from 2:20-2:40 – reported to Mom with a note in his homework folder on 3/18). Ms. Smith suggested that an option was to transfer Johnnie to Ms. Jones’ classroom 5 minutes before the bell rings so to reduce Johnnie’s stress during transfer times. Since many of these incidents were later in the afternoon, we discussed sending a high protein snack for Johnnie that could be given in the nurse’s office). We agreed that we would brainstorm other options and discuss this at the next ARD. Ms. Smith will make requests to Johnnie’s homeroom teacher, Mr. X the behavior aide and the assistant principal to bring options to the next ARD, which is on April 1st.”

Confirmation in Writing: Then I would email a summary to Ms. Smith (and copy everyone else that needs to know). “Dear Ms. Smith, I just wanted to confirm our discussion on 3/21/15 regarding Johnnie’s behavior during transitions. As agreed, you will contact Johnnie’s homeroom teacher, behavior aide and the AP regarding options that will help Johnnie access the least restrictive environment that meets his needs to successfully access his education. I look forward to receiving these options for my review before our next ARD scheduled on April 4th, so that we can discuss them and choose the best solutions for helping Johnnie be successful…”

Incident Report: Documentation protects you, because many of our children will make false allegations and people (even ourselves!) forget or misplace information about incidents. This information may be needed to get the services our child needs.

To protect all involved, I recommend writing an "Incident Report" and keeping it in a log, sending it in an e-mail to the child's therapist or whomever might keep track of the info, and/ or add it to the child's timeline:

  • Antecedent - what was going on before the behavior or possible/probable triggers.
  • De-escalation - what we said/ did to try to prevent the event (if we had time) - calming techniques
  • Behavior/ Event - with as much detail as possible
  • Intervention - what we we did during and immediately after the event - how we tried to calm the child, confrontation, redirection, distraction, sitting with them, time-ins, holding, rocking.., 
  • Follow-up - how you processed what happened with the child.  Injuries, damage, repairs needed/ made (emotionally and physically)... What consequences were given (if any). Agencies contacted. Reports filed.

Get ORGANIZED and keep EVERYTHING! E-mails, school behavior reports, transcripts, psych evals, documents. Get letters from his doctors, caregivers, therapists... Get these Organized and keep them updated (you'd be amazed how many times the school will say, "Well we don't have access to, or record of, that, let's wait until it can be found..." When you open up your 3 ring binder and pull out a copy of your child's behavior reports, that medical report (that you had them put in to their records at his last IEP meeting), your list of topics you want discussed at the meeting (I usually send out a copy of this via email before the meeting and ask them to make a copy for everyone!)... it keeps them from slowing down the process.

3" 3 ring binder - I take this everywhere - school IEP meetings, doctor/psychiatrist appointments, anytime I'm going to have to fill out a ton of paperwork requesting my child’s history, dates and dosages.  I tend to keep these binders in my car in their own tote (more than 1 is too heavy!).

Primarily I use a 3" 3 ring binder with front and back pockets and a clear covering that I can drop things into. It's divided into sections with tabs. I add to the sections by putting the most recent information in the front of each section.

SPINE- Label with the child's name - since I've got 2 kids), but I also made sure they were different colors so I could recognize a child's quickly.

FRONT Drop in business cards so they don't get lost.

BACK Add a photo of the child. I've found some people in the IEP meeting forget we're talking about MY child, so even though my child is usually present I find this important. I have a beautiful crayon sketch done by my mom of my daughter. For my son I have a photo of him.

INSIDE (I generally try to keep things in chronological order - most recent items in front - unless it's a summary or needs to be in the front because we use it a lot)
  • Front Pocket - I keep a copy of the current IEP since it's too big to fit in the binder sections.
  • In Front. Current Meds and Diagnoses page. I keep this one-page document updated and with me at all times.  I also keep a copy in my purse.  This summary has the child’s name, age, grade and where they go to school, IQ (if significant), current meds and dosages, current providers’ names and contact info (doc, therapist, pdoc…) and a list of diagnoses (with DSM V codes if possible) including, if needed, a brief summary as to how that looks in my child (ex. 294.9    Cognitive Disorder NOS (deficits in processing speed, working memory, executive functioning, and visual memory) - Cerebral Dysrhythmia (TBI) – right temporal lobe. - which controls memory, hearing, understanding language (receptive language), organization, and sequencing.

    It's especially useful to have the Meds and Diagnoses page on hand when I need to fill out a health form for school, admittance forms for a psych hospital or residential treatment center, new therapist or medical practitioner forms, to give to police officers and to child protective service workers (when we're reported for child abuse by a child who makes false allegations).

    Plus, I have some blank ruled paper for notes.
  • TAB 1. Medical - (this includes copies of discharge paperwork from psychiatric hospitalizations), a current med list, a med list with all the meds they've ever been on (including when they took it and why it was stopped - if I know), immunizations, hearing and vision, and reports in chronological order of any significant medical issues (surgeries, test results and reports...), most recent well check summary…
  • TAB 2. Psych evals - (this includes the school version of a psych eval - called an FIE at our school). I like to use big paperclips to keep each report together rather than staples so they can be copied easily and so I can flip through quickly.
  • TAB 3. School - this has copies of important e-mails, IEP meeting invitations, printed out attendance, behavior reports, grades... I keep the most recent IEP in a pocket in the front of the binder because it's WAAAYYYY too big to fit in the binder. I only have room to keep a "summary" of important stuff in there (she's had 6 IEP meetings this year), so older stuff from past school years usually gets filed away unless it's really significant. A copy of the Procedural Safeguards (just so they don’t have an excuse to try to give me yet another one).
  • TAB 4. Legal - this is different per child. For my daughter we filed due process against the school (kind of like a lawsuit) so I keep this information here. Including recommendations of her therapists and psychiatrists regarding her school placement. For my son, it's more about his involvement in the judicial system. This would also be where we put Power of Attorneys, SSI paperwork, pretty much anything legal.
  • TAB 5. Adoption - just some legal documents needed sometimes because our kids were teens when we finalized, their names are different on documents from before their adoption (my daughter's first AND last name changed from her birth name).
  • TAB 5. Work - Now that my children have started working, we’ve replaced the adoption stuff and now have job search info, resumes, DARS information, pay stubs, Write Ups…
  • Back Pocket - odds and ends.
IN THE TOTE - A separate file folder for "current stuff” -  Stuff I haven't had time to hole punch, stuff that doesn't actually belong in the binders, info on programs we're considering, a calendar, "to do" stuff... whatever. A pencil bag with – pens, fidgets (for the kids), random stuff. A cheap hole punch. A photo “brag book.” A book for me to read (since I don’t have a smart phone!).


The most important thing I've learned is that my children need relationships and emotional healing WAAAYYYY more than they need an education.  Think about it, do you really want to raise a well-educated psychopath?

What Happens in School Stays in School. I'm a firm believer that what happens in school stays in school.  We have enough problems with relationships at our house; I don't need to fight the school's battles as well.  Advocate to make sure they get what they needed, but leave the rest to the school.  Family relationships are way more important, and you're not able to work on that if you're fighting about school.

Homework is not YOUR problem.  If I force my kids to do their homework then in their mind it becomes MY problem (meaning no longer theirs!).  Also, the school doesn't get an accurate picture of my child's issues (Like most kids of trauma, my children have severe executive functioning and memory issues, which means they canNOT get/stay organized. A lot of times my child understands the assignment at school, but has forgotten it by the time they get home, or they can do something laid out very concretely, but in the homework they are supposed to apply the knowledge they learned - which process to use - which they just can't do!). My son would act out to hide the fact that he couldn't, or didn't think he could, do his homework.

 I need the school to grasp and acknowledge my child's academic issues, and they won't get that if I walk my child through the homework. I do give my child adequate time to do homework and offer support and help (if they ask for it and remain respectful), but I will tell my child to put it down and walk away if it's obviously triggering him/her.  Maybe I encourage them to come back later.  Maybe not.  It depends on what's best for the emotional health of the family as a whole.

Key Phrases to Help Your Child:

  • "My child has a right to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), this (issue) is preventing him from being able to access his/her education." 
  • "These behaviors are caused by my child's Disability. In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), My child cannot be discriminated against/ punished/ reprimanded/ denied access to his FAPE for symptoms related to his Disability."
  • "My child has a right to be in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). The LRE for MY child to be able to learn and receive an education is in a smaller classroom with more INDIVIDUAL (one on one) attention. My child cannot learn in a large, chaotic environment like a general ed classroom therefore that is a MORE restrictive environment for my child and as such not APPROPRIATE."  

Wrightslaw - go immediately to and become familiar with your child's rights!!

New School Year Letter – This is a ONE-PAGE letter that I send out every school year to teachers and people who will be working with my child.  This is a brief summary of my child, since most teachers don't have time to read a child's whole file.  It gives tips on what works and what doesn't with my child, diagnoses and what they mean. Most importantly, it gives them my contact information and lets them know that I am an involved parent. Hopefully it will keep the teacher from making assumptions about our family, believing the crazy lies my child tells (hopefully they’ll be more likely to verify with me before they call CPS), and be thoughtful about the assignments they give (send baby pictures, talk to an older family member about your life history, family tree… write a eulogy for Tweetie - for my child who just got out of the psych hospital for suicidal ideation, memorize a monologue called Men are Slime - for my child with men issues, read the Outsiders and watch the movie - so many triggers I can’t mention them all!)….


Finding Services - Many high schools and other organizations offer Transition Services/Trainings, including things like Transition Fairs to parents of special education students and children with special needs. Check with your school's special education department (many have an organization for parents), check with other local and government organizations, google it... It's different for every state.
Transition Inventory - This is specifically for the state of Texas, but some of the resources are national.
Getting SSI/ Medicaid for Your Adult Child 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Seven Years

Hard to believe I started this blog seven years ago. One month after the adoption of our son, Bear (the day before his 15th birthday), and 5 months after adopting Kitty (2 weeks before she turned 13). This blog started out as a way for me to get support and advice from other people who had adopted and a place to vent about the overwhelming drama/ trauma in our home. Blogs were one of the few ways I had to connect to the adoption community.

In our house it's called the "Three Vent Rule." In my need to talk through my problems I discovered I was not only burdening my friends and family with my problems, but I was also "ruminating" and actually making myself feel worse. I eventually came up with the "three vent rule" - which stated that I could only whine/ complain on any one subject to no more than 3 people. I try to spread the love around too so no one person bears the burden of all my whinging (except Hubby - poor baby always has to listen, but that's why I married him - because of his broad shoulders - designed to bear all the weight of my world, and then some). I also had an unwritten rule to try to make the story as entertaining as possible so no one would notice what a total whiner baby I really am.

Another big source of venting for me was the long e-mail (Hubby calls them novels). I would write all about what my children were in to (or more likely up to) and the whole adoption team was FORCED to read them. Now that my children's adoptions are FINALLY final, I no longer have a captive audience. I'm hoping that this blog will allow me to vent without overwhelming my small support group.
So now I begin the journey into blogging.

Over the years, as we muddled through the mayhem of living with teens with RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) and severe trauma and mental illnesses, my life and outlook have changed RADically. I no longer need the validation that I'm doing the "right thing." I know that doesn't really exist. It still hurts when people criticize my parenting and my choices, but I feel more confident that I'm doing the best I can.

3 years ago, I discovered that Biomom had been reading my blog. I freaked out decided to shut it down. I knew that over the years, I had made assumptions and criticized Biomom's parenting in a way that would be hurtful to her. I did/ do have empathy for why she made the choices that she did and I regretted damaging our relationship (such as it was).

I chose to write my blog for several reasons:
  1. As a place to vent and get support from other moms who "get it."  When I first started blogging I didn't have access to this amazing community, and the few people I knew who'd adopted, even those who'd adopted RAD kids, had adopted younger children.  
  2. To share and provide support and education for other trauma mamas.  Over the years I've had to acquire a crash course in RAD and trauma and I didn't want others to have to go through what I did and make the same mistakes I made.
  3. To provide information to those in my kids' lives that needed it (like Grandma), without having to repeat myself or chance having the kids over hear it.
  4. To maintain a record of events.
Now that most of my children are (legally) adults, I blog mainly to give back to the adoption community. I moderate some FaceBook groups and comment frequently on others. I maintain this blog primarily as a resource.

I will continue to post resources, and include occasional updates about the kids, but I am no longer actively blogging. I want to thank everyone who has been there for me over the last 7 years.

Family Update:

Bear (22) still in prison, but he's expecting to get out soon. We talk to him weekly(ish) on the phone and send him a small monthly stipend. He changes his mind on a daily basis as to whether or not he will move back to our state to live near us or move in with biofamily. Either way, we'll have to limit our relationship until he gets stable on meds. I will continue to help him and do his case management, but for the sake of the rest of the family, he cannot live in our house again.

Kitty (20) still lives at home. Her therapist (and I) believe she will never be able to live without some support. She just misses the cut-offs for most assisted living/ group home type situations, but that may change as she gets older. Working and school have proven too stressful for her, and we're still working on finding her something she can do all day (besides watching Netflixs, going to therapy, and occasionally hanging out with friends). As she matures, I am hopeful that she will find a way to be happy with what she has, and what she needs.

Bob (19) is starting her second year of college and living in her first apartment. She loves school and has become a confident, amazing young lady. She is so independent, except when she's not! She still calls Hubby and I when she needs to know what to do about a flat tire, how to handle her roommate keeping a dead baby bird in a jar of water on the counter in their dorm room, what to do when her roommates figure out what an incredibly picky eater she is...  I hope she will always need her mama a little bit.

Ponito (16) is a junior in high school this year. He has recently been diagnosed with Depression and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). We're hoping that we can find the right medications to get him back on track at school and start to enjoy doing the things he loved again (like soccer).

Hubby (50!) is still my rock. 21 years of marriage and he still loves me. Yea! We're struggling financially, which stresses him out, but he keeps moving forward.

Me (45) I'm finally working only one job. I'm (mostly) full time in the corporate world, but I telecommute so my schedule is pretty flexible. I am able to go to all the therapies, doctor appointments and do the case management needed by Kitty (and the other kids). We've decided to sell our house in a few years, so I'm trying to squeeze in a lot of remodeling (DIY to save money) in my "spare" time. Another reason to be grateful I don't go to the office every day, I'm usually covered in paint/ stain/ sawdust...

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Handling Child Stress

I wrote this for a fellow Trauma Mama whose children are reacting to school starting. Sorry about all the links!!

When my children acted out, which was always worse around holidays, traumaversaries, starting or ending school..., when I wasn't so frustrated at them I could scream, I pulled them in. I reminded myself that they were terrified. This was life or death to them, and they couldn't really handle change or added stress (this has gotten better as they healed). Even my bio kids reacted this way, just not to this extreme. Some insight into why kids act the way they do. Our kids need a LOT of structure and support, especially when they are overwhelmed.

I reminded myself that they were really so very much younger than they looked, and I was expecting a lot from them. I tried to change my parenting to better match their emotional age.  I tried to remind myself that they were SCARED and punishment for something that was out of their control was not just mean, it was pointless. What they needed was to feel safe and loved. That meant I couldn’t take away all fun stuff (even though I wanted to!!!)

Most of all, I gave them a LOT more structure and support. We went back to line of sight supervision, time ins instead of time outs, removed as many overwhelming events as possible (not just avoiding throngs of hyper children in places like sporting events and the park, but also the grocery store and Sunday School). Yes, there were things I could do nothing about (school/ daycare), but I could talk to the teachers and minimize as much stress as possible.

I tried to find calm, quiet, but still fun, things to do so they wouldn't feel punished (taking a walk, letter parties … ). This wasn't about being in trouble or loss, they'd had enough of that; this was about making their life smaller. So they would feel SAFE.

At home, I did things like strip their room (helping me was overwhelming so I did it when they weren't there, although I let them know ahead of time) to a bed, a book/ quiet toy, and a stuffed animal, at one point I even had my daughter's dresser in her room, and she "checked out" her clothing by bringing me the dirty ones, THIS WAS NOT A PUNISHMENT. I tried to find ways to help them understand that. I pointed out that now cleaning their room would be a lot easier!

When stress was high, my kids’ life was like being in the FAIR Club (our family discipline method  ), but without actually being in the FAIR Club.

I used calming techniques a LOT.

A lot of time I screwed up. I lost my cool. I gave up.  Then I did a lot of Caring for the Caregiver because this is HARD WORK. I forgave myself, which was REALLY HARD. I put on my big girl panties, tried to find the joy, apologized to my child for not keeping them safe, and started over. Being a therapeutic parent SUCKS, but it does get better.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Dealing with Disrespectful Language

This is a tough one. It's been a little while since we've dealt with it.

First, I hate this answer, but... it depends.

I had one child who needed an excuse to vent/ blow off steam. Until we got him on the right meds and in a structured environment where he felt safe, he just needed to explode every now and then.

You could see it building like a volcano. He'd stuff down his feelings, fears, and anxieties until he was full up (about once a month), and then he'd fall apart (which for him was anger). For about 20-30 minutes after the rage/ meltdown, he was able to access his true emotions with us.

For him, the rages were inevitable and necessary and he used the disrespect to give him an excuse for blowing up at us. I used to back off and try to avoid conflict (I HATE conflict), until I realized that he NEEDED someone who would stand up to him and hold him accountable. He still talks about his favorite teacher's aide. She would stand up to him (difficult to do with a 5'9" 210+lb 13yo with no problem with getting physical with people) and tell him to, "Stop acting like a turd," The important part was that he knew she cared about him. Lots of people would tell him off and not care about him or back off and let him walk all over them to avoid conflict. They were scary. Because she provided both structure and support, he respected her and felt safe with her.

Feeling "safe" is HUGE and has nothing to do with reality for our kids. To feel safe, my son needed control of his environment at all times, and can go to extreme measures to get that control. This is not always logical. For example, if Bear is told he can go on a field trip if he has no attendance issues and behaves pleasantly with everyone for a week, but deep down he doesn’t know for sure he can do that, then he might deliberately misbehave so he has control over the outcome. He might also sabotage himself because the trip actually scares him (he doesn’t feel safe in unfamiliar, uncontrollable environments). If a connection is made at all, he will most likely say he didn’t want to go on the “stupid” field trip in the first place (sour grapes).

Safety - People that don't provide the structure and support our kids need, are not "safe." Christine Moers has a fantastic video called from Chaos to Healing: Therapeutic Parenting 101 That helps explain why our kids don't feel safe, which causes them to act out.

Triggers - There are lots of triggers for feeling unsafe that we as rational adults totally miss - food is a huge trigger for my kids. So if he suddenly lashes over a snack, it may have brought up a memory (smell is a BIG memory trigger). A lot of times our kids don't know how to react to big feelings so they get overwhelmed and drop in to fight/ flight/ freeze mode. Triggers to watch for is HALTING US (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, Ill, New - changes are scary!, Guilty, and UnSafe, ).

Help them identify the emotion that's causing the behavior.

My kids chronological/ calendar age is MUCH older than their emotional age. Many of our kids get "stuck" at much younger ages. My 11yo daughter was emotionally stuck at age 4, which was a time of a lot of trauma for her. She was pretty much developmentally on target for THAT age, and unfortunately that meant I had to parent her at that level (really hard to do with a 6yo in a 16yo body or a 12 yo in a 20yo body!). I did find that when I changed my expectations to what was correct for her emotional age, she felt safer and wasn't overwhelmed and dysregulated as often. It also helped her mature. I can't tell you how many times I repeated my mantra, "She's only 6! She's only 6! She's only 6!" And had to explain to my husband why my 16yo daughter's only chores were feeding the dogs and wiping down the countertops (with lots of reminders), when her 12yo NT brother had much more extensive chores.

Even if my child is a total mess, I can't just ignore the behavior - it sends the wrong message to the child (and siblings!).
If my child is dysregulated and/or slipping in to fight/ flight/ freeze - then I try to look at the disrespect as a signal that they need help getting calm and regulated. I might pull the child aside and do some calming techniques.

I don't do anything during fight/ flight/ freeze - the thinking part of their brain is not home. Afterwards, when they're back and regulated, THEN we talk about consequences if needed (a LOT of the time I let it go).

Nothing triggers my kids more than feeling criticized (especially my daughter whose love language is Words of Affirmation). So calling them on disrespectful behavior usually triggers a rage/ meltdown. Instead we try to go about it differently.

My son made the mistake of growling a response at his grandma in front of Hubby (son usually hides this type of behavior toward me and my mom from his dad). My husband called him on it, and my son instantly dropped into fight/ flight/ freeze - it became an hour long shouting match.

If we'd listened to Katharine Leslie (my fav attachment guru - he might have said,
"Hey bud, would you like to try that again? Your response did not match the situation so I know something else is going on with you. This is where you say, 'Grandma, I didn't understand what you're talking about and I'm really tired right now.'" Then, if Bear chooses not to "try again" and continues to argue defensively, then maybe Hubby could have said something like, "I can see you're not able to talk about this right now. That's OK. We can talk about it later." And walk away.

We use, "This is where you say..." a LOT!. We say things like, "And this is where you say, 'Mom, This is not my favorite snack food, but thanks for making it for me. Could I have something else?,' Now you say it." and asking them to repeat the more respectful version. "This is where you say, 'Oops! Someone made a mess. Let me clean that up.'" I remind them that cleaning up a mess is not a confession. It is just helping. Now I don't have to tell them what to say. Sometimes I'll just say, "This is where you say..." or even just give them a "look."

GIGO - If my children start using disrespectful and/or foul language, I explain to them that I'm going to help them, by removing the bad influences that are teaching them that these words are acceptable. We stopped watching Cartoon Network, anything but G-rated movies, switched their MP3 players to all Christian Rock... if they slipped and used a word I didn't find acceptable, I'd say, "Language!" and sometimes there were consequences (usually removing media or going in the FAIR Club).

Another thing I do is define the words for them. I use it as a "teachable moment" for sex ed. Makes my kids crazy! Mom talking about sex is soooo embarrasing. I talk about what "That sucks!" is really referring to, F*ck, B*tch, even 'jacked (it's not all about sex! lol)."

If they're whining, we often pretend we don't understand them, because we don't speak Whinese.

Once we worked through some of the bigger stuff. I moved on to grammar. Makes my daughter crazy when she says, "Me and SoandSo are going to the movies." I pretend I don't understand her. All I have to say is "Who?" and she corrects it to "SoandSo and I are going to the movies." She even gets it right on her own some time.

Honestly if it's going to lead to a rage/ meltdown, sometimes I just let it lead to a rage/ meltdown, document, document, document ( ), do some self-care for me ( ), and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Trauma Healing Goals

Just had to share this!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

How to get some sleep

Some common causes for issues with sleeping:

  • Mental illness - Bipolar disorderADHD...
  • Trauma - PTSDNight Terrors - Sleep terrors differ from nightmares. The dreamer of a nightmare wakes up from the dream and may remember details, but a person who has a sleep terror episode remains asleep. Children usually don't remember anything about their sleep terrors in the morning. Adults may recall a dream fragment they had during the sleep terrors. Also, nightmares generally occur in the last half of the night, while sleep terrors occur in the first half of the night. 
  • Sleep Disorders - Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorder - a family of sleep disorders affecting, among other things, the timing of sleep. People with circadian rhythm sleep disorders are unable to sleep and wake at the times required for normal work, school, and social needs.
Some techniques for getting sleep:

  • Bedtime routine. Have a set bedtime routine and stick to it. (Bath, brush teeth, "room time," quiet activity in a dimly lit room, parent reading a book, singing a song or rubbing the child's back...).
  • Room Time. This was for both the kids and the parents. Room time was 1/2 hour before bed or 9pm whichever was earlier. Even my older kids had room time. Especially as teens most of my kids didn't really go to sleep at 8 or 9pm anymore, but if they were up running around, the kids who needed more sleep would want to be up too. Plus, Hubby and I wanted some adult time (Get your mind out of the gutter! We just wanted to watch non-Disney TV shows and talk about our day!). 
  • Avoid stimulating activities between dinner and bedtime. This is not the time for a rousing game of tag or scary movies/ stories.
  • Eating and drinking. Avoid eating a heavy evening meal and caffeinated beverages.
  • Avoid overstimulation - bedrooms should not be playrooms. Our therapist suggests bedrooms should have a bed, a dresser (even this can be too much for some kids!), a stuffed animal or two, a book or two and a quiet activity if the child doesn't read independently. No TV or other electronics with screens belong in a bedroom.
  • Give your child tools to overcome his worries. These can include a flashlight, a spray bottle filled with "monster spray," or a large stuffed animal to "protect" him.
  • Screen time ending 2 hours before bedtime - Screens – found on computers, cellphones and TVs – emit blue light that is found in the light spectrum present during daytime hours. Acting as artificial sunlight, blue light decreases your production of melatonin.
  • Melatonin - a mild herbal supplement available over the counter that helps regulate your sleep and wake cycle. A small does is usually given near dark to signal the body that nighttime is coming (does not really work during the day). 
  • Sleep meds - children taking sleep meds should do so only under a doctor's care. If an adult requires sleep meds more than a few days in a row, it's probably a good idea to discuss it with a doctor.
  • Set bedtime and wake time. No matter what time I went to sleep the night before, I get up every day (even weekends) at the same time. This helps force my body to keep my circadian rhythms more regular. For children past the age of napping. Avoid naps during the day.
  • Sleep time. People generally need 8 hours of sleep a day. Kids and teens usually need closer to 10. Especially when my kids are dysregulated, I move their bedtime earlier.
  • Daylight Savings time and school holidays. Changing your body's sleep schedule takes time. I usually start getting the kids back on schedule 2 weeks prior to school starting again after winter and summer vacations, and avoid letting the kids stay up too late or sleep in too much on weekends and holidays.
  • Biofeedback - Practice biofeedback and other calming techniques at other times of the day. Then you can use them at bedtime.
  • Counting to 100. I use this one a lot. I get comfy, close my eyes, breathe slowly and deeply, and count to 100 in my head - each breath in and out is a count of 1 (deep breath in, deep breath out - "1", deep breath in, deep breath out - "2"... If I move for any reason then I have to start over with 1. If I reach 100 and I'm still awake, then I roll over and try a new position - and restart the count.
  • 4-7-8 Breath. I use this quick and simple breathing every night. It works!
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation - The link gives a good tutorial, but basically PMR teaches you how to relax your muscles through a two-step process. First, you systematically tense particular muscle groups in your body, such as your neck and shoulders. Next, you release the tension and notice how your muscles feel when you relax them. This exercise will help you to lower your overall tension and stress levels, and help you relax when you are feeling anxious. 
  • Sleep Phase Chronotherapy (SPC), which progressively advances sleep time by 1–2 hours per day until you've gone all the way around the clock to your preferred bedtime. The idea is that it's almost impossible to make yourself get sleepy and go to sleep early, but it is possible to stay up a little later every night until you move your bedtime all the way around the clock to the right time.
  • Nightmares - One thing my mother taught me is that we can take control of our dreams and nightmares. When I have a recurring nightmare (such as being chased). I try to think of what's going on in my life that might be making me feel this way. Then I rewrite the dream in my head (might be right when I wake up, might be later in the day). I imagine every detail of what I want to have happen instead. (Turn and confront the person chasing me. Have the ability to fly. Whatever.) Think of defeating a bogart in a Harry Potter movie.
  • How to have good dreams. My "secret trick."
    Kitty wanted to have a good dream, and I told her I knew a secret trick.

    I asked her what she wanted to dream about -"getting married and having kids with Jesse McCartney" (Bleech!). But I decided to ignore the gross factor, so we both could get some sleep seeing as she'd had a tough day.

    So to have a good dream you tell yourself a story or write a play in your head while you're laying comfy in your bed. Your story is about what you want to dream about, but you have to imagine EVERY detail. Where are you? What does your house look like, is it a 2 story or a one story, are you in the living room? Where is Jesse? Is he at work? Do you go with him? Do you work? What do you do? Picture it in your head. What are you wearing when you go to work with Jesse? Are you wearing an evening gown? What color is it? Do your heels hurt your feet? Are you in a crowded club or a private limo? What color are the seats in the limo? Is it moving or are you stopped? Does Jesse take your hand as you get out? What does his cologne smell like? Can you feel his hand in yours?

    All of this was done in a quiet, calm, monotonous voice, and I didn't usually wait for answers for most of the questions. I just wanted her to visualize the picture. I did biofeedback when I was her age so I tried to mimic the method of painting imagery.

    In the morning she said it worked!