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, March 5, 2010

You HAVEN'T Failed!!

Here's the deal, folks - IT AIN'T ABOUT YOU. It's not about your mothering, it's not about your failure (which you DID NOT FAIL, by the way), it's not about a mistake you made, NOTHING. It's about a piece of the kid that is broken. Don't take it personally, because IT'S NOT YOUR FAULT. I know you love this kid, and I know it hurts, and I know you long for that relationship... I know! 
Your role as a mother is to offer that love and mothering role. That's it. To offer it. Your job as a caretaker is to do all the other stuff - discipline, safety, etc etc. That's not the love role, that's the job. We spend most of our time in the job part, desiring so much to do the mothering part. But if they can't do their part, and come appropriately for the mothering part, then we can't give it to them, and we're stuck with the "warden" job role. 
NOT OUR FAULT. Not necessarily the kids' fault either, all the time. But don't take it personally, because you are only hurting yourself - and giving them more power to treat you like shit. Take the emotion out of the caretaker role - it has no affect on YOUR life, on how YOUR life goes - take the one who earned it to the fair, YES!!!, get the other a babysitter, that one's actions are not affecting YOUR ability to have fun....            
- this is what our psychiatrist (new) told us this past week. I didn't just make this shit up.  And if I'm reading it right, this kid will heal or not, we're doing everything we can. But this is about US surviving, OUR FAMILIES flourishing in the midst of this shitstorm."
~ A Fellow Trauma Mama

I heard something early on in this process that I try to remember often. I think of adoption of a severely traumatized child as being like CPR.

The CPR theory

In a CPR training class I attended someone was talking to the instructor about being terrified that they would do it (CPR) wrong. The paramedic teaching the class looked at her and said, "He's already dead or you wouldn't be doing CPR in the first place. ANYthing you do leaves the person no worse off than he was." He also said later, that even if you do everything textbook perfectly CPR may not work. Sometimes whatever caused the damage in the first place is just too much.

I didn't do this to my children. If I did nothing they would still be "damaged." There is a possibility that even if I do all the right things in just the right way that they might possibly get a "better," but there is an equal possibility that even if I somehow do everything perfectly (and we won't go into the fact that perfect is impossible) that it could have absolutely no effect.

There is no right way to do it, and even if you could do everything "right" that does not ensure the outcome you want, or that it will happen when you want it to.

Redefining Success.

I have to remind myself often that success for my child does not mean that my child will have what I consider a "perfect life" - go to college, get a good job, get married to a wonderful person, move to the suburbs and have 2.5 children and a dog. Instead, my child may leave home before graduating high school, may get into drugs/ alcohol, may get pregnant, may lose his/ her college scholarship, may get arrested, have a criminal record that prevents him/ her from getting the job he/she wanted...

I didn't do this to my child. Nothing I can do or could have done would completely rewire his/ her brain. This is not my fault. Nor is it totally my child's fault (although it is his or her responsibility). If we both regret and blame others for the past, throw up our hands, and give up then THAT is our "fault." Yes, I need to greive the life I wanted for my child, but then I need to move on. I need to redefine "success" for my child.

My son wanted to be a police officer or a marine. He wanted to get married and live happily ever after. Instead, he is in prison, and will probably be in and out of prison for the rest of his life. This is not because he's a bad person, or because I'm a failure as a parent. It is because he needs structure to feel safe. More structure than I, or anyone else, can legally provide.

With hindsight, I can see that it is because of the parenting he received from us, that the reason he's in prison was for a non-violent crime (vs a violent one). Some part of his brain, is still struggling to follow the values we tried to instill.

The Chaplain

A while back, my dad wrote a novel, and let me help edit it. There was one small anecdote that really resonated in me. In the story, the main character (a soldier) was talking to a young chaplain. The chaplain gave the soldier, who knew nothing about faith, a bible. They never saw each other again.

The soldier started occasionally reading the bible and talked to a few people about it. Eventually the soldier comes to Christ. The part that got me was not the soldier, but the chaplain. In the epilogue of the novel it shows the chaplain, now much older, talking to someone higher up in the church (forgive me for not knowing who that would be! *grin*) and guiltily confesses that he had always wanted to be the one to help someone come to Jesus. He had moved to teaching seminary or something after leaving the war so he wasn't out evangelizing or anything, and no one had ever fallen to their knees in front of the chaplain and accepted Christ. He never realized how many seeds he had planted or knew if those seeds had bloomed. He just assumed that because he never saw the flowers that his work had been in vain.

This touched my heart, because I feel like that chaplain. I want to "fix" my children, on my time schedule (now!) and to know that all my effort made them "all better." I have to accept the fact that what I do may not have an obvious effect, but 5, 10, 15 years from now my child may make better choices because I was in his or her life.

My child may make 1000 wrong choices to every right one, because that's the way his/ her brain is wired, but he/ she is still making that one right choice.

My journey 

My rough childhood, my experiences becoming an adult, my education and work experiences as a social worker and in childcare, my love of research, parenting neurotypical biokids, parenting severely mentally ill adopted teenagers... every misstep, every failure, every success, every learning experience, has made me a stronger, better person.

I haven't failed. This was part of the journey. Yes, it often sucks (especially in the midst of it all), but it has made me appreciate my life more and it has made my life richer. I have made deep, intense friendships and relationships that would not have been possible without this journey. I have grown stronger in ways I never knew were even possible.

Sometimes it is not about what we, or even our kids, need. Now I work with other parents on a similar journey. Maybe everything didn't work out the way I wanted it to, but how not to do it might be what I need to share.

Helping someone else.

Hubby and I purchased a company right before the recession. We did everything we could to save it and save the jobs of our employees, but after several years, just before the end of the recession, we finally had to give up. My husband was (understandably) upset -- kicking himself for purchasing this company, feeling guilty because it had failed, and causing our family to be in overwhelming debt.

I think it helped a little for him to step back from looking at this as a failure on his part because it didn't turn out the way he thought it should, and instead look at all the good things purchasing the company did:

  • We employed people during the recession who otherwise would have lost their jobs and been unable to support their families.
  • Not working for someone else gave me the flexibility to take my kids to work with me or leave work early if they needed to be out of school (which was often)
  • It gave us both experience running a company that we used in the future to qualify for better jobs.

The Starfish Story

I gave this advice to someone else recently, and I try to remember to take it myself!

You are a good mom doing the best you can in a difficult situation.

It is in God's hands.

That being said, this is a hard life. I know it sounds impossible sometimes, but SELF-CARE has to be your first priority!

Prioritizing Yourself, Your Family, and Your Child -- In That Order

We get a lot of pressure to dedicate all our time and energy to healing our child.

One thing I learned the hard way,
you can't sacrifice the family as a whole for one child. 

There are a lot of well-meaning people who say you "SHOULD" (or "should not") be doing ____________ for your child, 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.

There was no way to know when we started what would help my child(ren) and what wouldn't make a difference. At first, looking back, I beat myself up over what I did do, what I didn't do, and what I could have/ "should have" done differently. Over time, I realized that even if I'd done everything perfectly my child still may not have healed.


Hindsight being 20/20, I look back and realized that I let the rest of the family suffer to help this one child (or in our case 2 children). I let my health fail. I became overwhelmed to the point that I couldn't function. You can't take care of anyone if you're shut down.

Over the years, my other children got almost none of my attention. I did finally figure out how to Find the Joy and get my own needs met so I could meet theirs, but it wasn't as soon as I wish it had been. As they became young adults, I started to find out some of the things I'd missed and that they had suffered from the lack.

I hope this post helps you.


waldenbunch said...

I agree wholeheartedly. We are not in control of our children. We plant the seeds, praying that God will bring them to fruition. But for many of our children there are years of generational sin that requires everything of them to overcome. Patterns and beliefs were established way before we came into the picture. In the end, God requires our best effort, reliance on Him and our heart to be broken for our kids. The rest is up to them and God.

GB's Mom said...

So true

SanitySrchr said...

This is awesome! So awesome in fact that I had to read it multiple times, as I am sure I will read it again and again and again and again!

marythemom said...

Ooh! This is going in my Words of Affirmation folder! Thanks for the compliments!


Jennie said...


Anonymous said...

I needed that today. Thanks Mary.

Anonymous said...

This is a great post : )

Anonymous said...

I needed this today. And I suspect my husband needs it too. Sometimes I think this is where I struggle the most. I always say this kid makes me feel so dumb. Not because he is a genius, but because despite everything I read and google I just can't seem to make it work. I think because I am still trying to fix him. And maybe that's one of the things I just need to let go of. Thank you!!

MArgaret Lintott said...

Great blog and I would add, have NO expectations, therefore you won't be disappointed!