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!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Finding the joy

A woman on one of my support groups was talking about feeling overwhelmed to the point that she found herself having no patience for her child and yelling at him all the time.  She was no longer able to be a therapeutic parent like she used to be.  In my response to her, I realized that things really have changed for me over the years, and I don't think it's just because Bear is out of the house and Kitty is stable.  I really am in a better place emotionally.

I totally get it.  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.  I was so burned out and overwhelmed that we were all miserable.  Here's what helped me:

1.  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.  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's 17, but emotionally she's only 6). 
Why Won't My Child Just Behave?

2.  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 do all but the most basic of tasks.  I found I was mad at her for constantly demanding the privileges of a teen, but not being able to consistently do chores or other responsibilities.  I wanted to punish her and take everything away (special events, toys, my affection...). I finally realized that I had to forgive her, and let her know that I will no longer be expecting her to meet typical teen responsibilities nor will I continuously justify why she doesn't get typical teen privileges.  
Therapeutic Parenting Based on Emotional/ Developmental Age 
Explaining Age Appropriate Parenting To Your Child

3. Redefine Success. 
Like many 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.

  • Bear may never be capable of living in an unstructured environment and having a long-term relationship with anyone (employers, friends, girlfriends...), BUT he has found a structured environment that works for him (even though prison is definitely not what I'd hoped for him), and he got there without violence.  He graduated from high school, and college would not be helpful to him with the lifestyle he needs to survive. 
  • Kitty may never be capable of living independently, but she is happy living with us and has the option of living with her biofamily if she chooses to try independence.  If she lives with biofamily then her SSI money will be enough that she can live mostly independently (something she can't afford to do where we live because the cost of living is much higher). As long as she has someone willing to help her she should be OK.
  • Bob and Ponito are on the path I dreamed of for all of my children, but if/when they step off that path that will be OK too.

4. Grieve
Give myself permission to grieve for the loss of the children I had dreamed about, planned for, and the lives they should have had. If you haven't read the story Welcome to Holland, I strongly suggest taking a minute and doing so.

5.  Therapy and meds.  
I'm mildly bipolar and I've definitely suffered from PTSD.  I don't take meds all the time, but when I need to I take them.  I saw a therapist who specialized in trauma and did some EMDR therapy to help with the PTSD.  Learning about my own issues, including my own Adult Attachment Disorder, and accepting and dealing with them has helped a lot too.
Self-Care! Caring for The Caregiver

6.  Date night/ respite with someone who "gets it."  
We are incredibly blessed that my mom, who mostly "gets it," takes the kids overnight almost every Saturday night, keeping them through church ad=nd Sunday School the next day.  Honestly, Hubby and I rarely do much more than rent a movie and go to bed together, but it's a chance to recharge our batteries and remember that eventually the children will grow up and leave home, but our marriage, and each other, will still be there, but only if we prioritize our relationship.
Getting Respite
How We Keep Our Marriage Strong

7.  Discovered my Love Language.  
This was huge for me.  Knowing what I need (Words of Affirmation), made it possible for me to focus on getting it.  I tried to teach my family to give me what I need, and they do their best, but they are overwhelmed too and of course, some of them are RAD!  Hubby is the son of a "strong, silent type", I think my father-in-law said maybe a sentence a year to me, and while Hubby's not that bad, and is a really good listener, Words of Affirmation is definitely not his strong suit.  I went outside my overwhelmed family to get what I needed.  I went to the internet, wrote and read blogs, found support groups, went to seminars and trainings... I also helped and mentored others.  It made me feel good about myself, and they gave me the words of affirmation that I needed.
The Five Love Languages

8.  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 others but had felt that 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 helped me with empathy, but the second half gave great practical advice in setting boundaries.)   "Saying "no" is not being negative.  Negative is saying "yes" to things that are destroying you."  
Why Doesn't My Child Feel Safe?
Prioritizing Yourself, Your Marriage, Your Family, and Your Child - In That Order!

9. Find Support from people who "get it." 
You Are Not Alone!! It really helped to have the validation of others, and I sought it out constantly for a long time, before I finally felt OK about this path. I found a forum for those who had adopted special needs children and through that made friends in the blogging community (Life in the Grateful House and Welcome to My Brain), joined a local adoption support group (COAC), then BeTA (Beyond Trauma and Attachment), and finally Facebook groups. Now I admin a FB group called Parenting Attachment Challenged Children and try to help others. This is a good post reminding us that we are an AMAZING PARENT!

10.  Choose joy.  
Every day I try to focus on the positives.  It's hard as heck, but it is important.  I vent, but I try to limit 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 eventually began to believe it, and that makes me feel better about myself.

I look back at the Godincidences (kind of 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 coifed 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.
Her 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.

An amazing post about not letting grief steal your days, and one way a woman keeps mourning about the lives her RAD children could/should have had from stealing the joy in her life.

Grateful Journal - I know several people who post a "grateful journal." Every day, they write down what they're grateful for. It helps them focus on the positives, even when the negatives are overwhelming.

Related image11. Forgive myself.
Not only did I need to grieve that my children didn't have the life I'd hoped for them, but I had to acknowledge it was not my fault. I did everything I reasonably could. Sometimes more than I should.

Yet one of my children did not heal.

Deep down, I felt guilty about this. I knew I had never really emotionally bonded to this child. In fact, I didn't like to be around him. As a mother, especially as an adoptive parent, I was supposed to feel nurturing and loving toward this child, right? What kind of mother am I?

The answer is I'm a great mom! I'm doing the best I can under extremely stressful circumstances and I know you are too. Continuous Traumatic Stress 

Judging myself is not healthy. Allowing other's judgment and shaming to affect me is not healthy. 

I'm not perfect. Who is?! 
I make mistakes. Often!
I'm human. 

Looking back, I can see a million things I could have done differently. There are a ton of "If only"s in my life. The reality is that hindsight is 20/20.

I try to remember to treat myself as kindly as I do the other parents I mentor. 

12. You Have Not Failed!
In my case, for one of my children, healing did not happen. Whenever I start to feel guilty about being unable to heal him, I reread this post - You Have Not Failed

Unconditional Caregiving
In a seminar, one of my favorite RAD Gurus, Katharine Leslie, brought up these points about parenting a child with unhealed RAD (who was therefore not capable of returning any love or affection):

  • There cannot be a Secure Attachment when: The parent receives little or no positive response from the child, and often the child is neglectful of and abusive to the parent. Without either one's needs being met, and unable to "exit" the relationship, there can be little to no feelings of attachment (leaving resentment and apathy).
  • Providing unconditional love to a child without getting anything in return will make you physically and emotionally ill. (If this were a stranger or a celebrity it would be called stalking!). Instead we should practice unconditional caregivingRelationships 
Loving someone who doesn't love you back is not healthy. Despite what society says, not feeling attached to an unattached child doesn't make you a bad parent. Being expected to love your abuser is crazy. In fact, if this child were an adult significant other with the same abusive behaviors, society would be telling you to leave immediately.

My job as a therapeutic parent is not to love this child unconditionally, but to help my child learn how to be in a relationship
Once that happens, if that happens, THEN we can develop a loving relationship.

13. Ignore the "Should"-ers
Not only did everyone try to tell me what I was doing wrong but what they told me conflicted with the next person who thought they knew how to handle it (more discipline, less discipline, be more laid back, you're a helicopter parent, you're overbearing, focus all your attention on this child and he/she will be healed, boys will be boys, my neighbor's nephew's barber did __________ and his child was fine...). 

The worst part was that I was desperate to find a solution to "fix" my kids and I tried just about everything they told me I "should" be doing. I finally started to have faith in what worked for us, even though I was still told constantly that we were doing it wrong.

Why they Act Differently When They're Away From Home

My kids have what I call "Charming RAD" officially known as Disinhibited RAD. That means for my daughter, that she would literally rather die than let others see that they are not perfect --- because it feels like life or death to them.

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

We have to remember that the "should"ers are only focused on the one child. 

  • They don't care about your needs or the needs of your family as a whole. 
  • They work with your child at most 8 hours a day and then go home to their own lives.
  • They are focused on the short-term and are not thinking of your child's future. Once your child moves out of their classroom, graduates high school, is no longer on their caseload... he/ she is no longer their problem. 
  • Most of them have no knowledge of your child's full range of issues and how they interact with each other. They focus on the one part of your child's issues that they have knowledge of and experience with. Yes, children with learning issues can do well in mainstream classes, but when you add trauma, processing issues, depression, brain injuries... Overlapping Diagnoses in Children 
  • They don't know what works with YOUR child. Even if they have tons of experience with kids "exactly" like your child (yeah, right!). What works for other children may not work with yours. My two adopted children are biologically half-siblings less than 2 years apart in age. They have almost identical diagnoses. Yet they require different types of parenting! What works for one may not work for the other.  Therapeutic Parenting, Structure and Caring Support, Level System vs Age-Appropriate Parenting, Using FAIR Club with Kids of Trauma... 

These are some things that helped me - 

Dear Adoptive Parents walking the hard, hellish, lonely road of trauma…THIS POST IS FOR YOU. And ONLY YOU.

Why Do They Act Like That? (If You Find Out I'm Not Perfect, You'll Leave)

Structure and Caring Support

New School Year LetterI give this to teachers to give them some understanding of my child and how to help them. It also establishes that I'm a concerned and caring parent (hopefully) before they decide I'm a bad parent who "should" be doing ______.


Kelley said...

Love this! Love you!

Tereasa said...

I love this. Thanks for sharing it with me.

Anonymous said...

Thank you!!