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

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

We teach our kids how to value themselves by showing them that we value ourselves.

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, who have no idea what living 24/7 with a child with an attachment disorder is like (even those professionals 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, for my marriage, and most of all, for myself. I was so burned out and overwhelmed that we were all miserable.

Could Have/Should Have
There was no way to know when we started all of this what would help our 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. (Giving Until There's Nothing Left - But My Child NEEDS Me!)

Over the years, my other children got almost none of my time and attention. I did finally figure out how to Find the Joy and get my own needs met so that I had at least some energy left to 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 during the time I was shut down and how much they had suffered from the lack.


SELF-CARE - CARING FOR THE CAREGIVER!!! Airplane pre-flight safety instructions say to put the oxygen mask on YOURSELF first before assisting anyone else.  If you are not taking care of yourself then you can't help anyone else.

As women, we tend to say, “Who has time for self-care?!” We sacrifice our own needs for our children (as our society and all those "well-meaning" people involved in our child's lives tell us we SHOULD).  So 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.

Instead, what we MUST do is ignore the pushback and make ourselves a priority.  It is not selfish.  It is life-saving!  You have to find what works to fill your tank or there will be nothing left.

There will still 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. (You Haven't Failed!)

Things that helped me:
  • 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)!  That's not fair to them and they're probably dealing with their own drained tanks.

    My Love Language is Words of Affirmation, and I discovered that if I help others then 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!
  • Training Hubby to give me what I need. I “trained” my husband on 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 (just like I teach my children!). I started by walking into a room and saying, “This Is Where You Say, ‘Wow! Honey, you look amazing!’” then I’d ask him to repeat. Eventually, I’d walk into 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, “Rawr! You look really hot today.” I had to explain to my friends why I had a huge grin on my face all day! (And why he would text me that even though he had no idea what I looked like that day! lol).
  • 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. {Note: You've heard of Post-Partum Depression? Post-Adoption Depression is very real.}
    Continuous Traumatic Stress - When PTSD Is Not "Post" Yet)
  • 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 and "Should"-ers).  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 and he/she turned out ok.  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 successfully heal/fix your child. All the things you hear about from those "perfect people" who post about their perfect families on FaceBook are total b.s.

    No family is 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 absolutely OK to eat macaroni and cheese on paper plates in front of the TV 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 a lot of parent-shaming from 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 learned that what my family and I needed did change 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 female friends say horrible, critical things about themselves that they would NEVER say about someone else. Be kind and respectful to yourself.
  • Children respect those that they see us respecting; guess what they’re learning if we don’t respect their mother (us)?
Congrats, you have a 100% success rate! - Let Go Live Now
  • 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’re 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! Or last 5 minutes! (Take a hot bath with a trashy novel and a glass of wine after the kids go to bed).
  • Use RespiteGet 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. 
  • GET SUPPORT!!  Surround yourself with people who "get it."  Prioritize these relationships. Real-life, online, 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! 
  • Grieve. Give yourself time to grieve for losing the child you thought you were adopting. Give yourself time to grieve the child that you wanted (who could love you back, heal with your help, be RRHAFTBALL...). Give yourself time to grieve for not getting to be the parent you wanted to be. This is not the life you thought you were getting when you went through the adoption process. This is a loss. Acknowledge it. Get treatment for it. 
  • 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 limit myself to a maximum of 3 vents on any one topic, even fewer if I can. Most importantly, I focus on the positives and Choose Joy, like the little old lady in the nursing home (see below).
  • 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.
    (For help with setting boundaries, 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. 


Prioritize Your Relationship with Your Significant Other.  With any luck, this person will be around long after your kids are out of the home. (Marriage - Keeping It Together)
  • Prioritize respite, date night, Room Time, just spending time alone together. 
  • A minimum of 5 minutes daily when you DON'T talk about the kids. 
  • Decompression time. I try to give Hubby about 10 to 15 minutes when he first gets home to decompress (I used to hand him the baby - dirty diaper first- the second he walked through the door!)
  • Schedule time to talk about the logistics. 10 minutes a day to talk about the kids and schedules.
  • Discover your S.O.'s Love Languages. Figuring out Hubby's love language made it easier to efficiently help him with his own drained tank. When you have limited time and energy, it makes sense to focus on what will help the most, right?
  • Don't depend on your S.O. to meet ALL your needs!  That's not fair to them and they're probably dealing with their own drained tanks.
  • Room Time (they don't have to sleep, just be quiet in their room). 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 teens, 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 a while (and watch something besides Disney on TV!). 


“The squeaky wheel gets the grease/oil” is an American proverb used to convey the idea that the most noticeable (or loudest) problems are the ones most likely to get attention. When you are parenting children with attachment/ trauma issues this is a common issue.

When Bear and Kitty first came to live with us, it was obvious that Bear had some serious issues. He was aggressive and violent and needed line-of-sight supervision to keep everyone safe. When we finally got him into a residential treatment facility (Finding and Funding RTC), we realized that Kitty was struggling just as hard but her behaviors (kicking holes in the walls, attempts to run away, manipulative behavior...) were so overshadowed by Bear's issues that we barely noticed them. While he was gone, we were able to make serious inroads into helping her.

What we did not see was that we were focusing on the squeaky wheel(s) to the exclusion of all else. Because we were always reacting to the latest crisis, or so completely overwhelmed and drained by it all that we were shut down, we lost focus on the needs of the family as a whole. We greatly appreciated the "non-squeaky wheels" because they weren't draining our time, energy, and resources... which meant we could put their needs on a back burner and keep our focus on the squeaks.

The problem with not maintaining and caring for the rest of your "vehicle" to focus on one wheel is that the vehicle will slowly breakdown. With neglect, simple repairs can turn into large, extensive problems. A slow (quiet) leak can go undetected and cause bigger, long-term problems. Looking back, I realized that we missed signs of Ponito's struggle with ADD. Bob felt hurt every time we went to a Parent-Teacher Night and spent the whole time talking to Kitty's teachers instead of viewing Bob's artwork. We also missed the early warning signs of some pretty scary stuff that I only heard about years later, well after the fact.

As a family, we stopped doing fun things together. No car trips to visit family because Kitty couldn't handle sitting in the car for long periods of time. No shopping trips because Bear had to have line-of-sight supervision to keep him from shoplifting (which he hated so was obnoxious the whole time we were out). Both Kitty and Bear got overwhelmed in loud, crowded environments so the kids couldn't go to amusement parks, noisy restaurants, large stores... We used to have large birthday parties with half the neighborhood invited... we tried that once after the kids arrived (Kitty got so overwhelmed that she and one of her younger friends spent the entire time in her walk-in closet playing with Bratz dolls).

Neither Bear nor Kitty could be left home alone or with people who didn't know how to handle them so we rarely went anywhere without out them and didn't go anywhere that they couldn't handle.

Kitty and Bob were in the same grade at school so they were often invited to the same activities. It felt unfair to let Bob do things like go to a birthday/sleepover that both girls were invited to and not let Kitty go, especially when I knew how much it would hurt Kitty. (Now, I realize that it was more unfair to NOT let Bob go to the sleepovers and parties with her friends).

4 Reason Focusing On The Squeaky Wheel Is A Bad Idea:

1. The squeaky wheel may not benefit anyway. 
It is quite possible that no amount of attention, time, and resources will heal/fix/help the child.

There is a point where we realize that we have given too much. I once heard a house parent in a residential treatment center for emotionally disturbed girls refuse to do something a teen was demanding from him. He told her that she was a "bottomless pit of need." At the time, I thought he was a horrible person. Now I get it.

We give and give and give, and they are so broken that they not only can't give back, but they're probably never going to be able to pick up the torch and take care of themselves. 

If we drain our resources and emotional reserves trying to fill a child who can't be filled, then we're left empty. You can't fill from an empty cup. Our kids need a different type of parenting and society's "shoulds" can suck it! We need to prioritize the family as a whole. Think about what's best for all, not just the "squeaky wheel." 

Even if we could be sure that our heroic efforts would help heal the child, is it worth sacrificing the needs of the rest of the family?

2. The squeaky wheel can rob resources from others.
Often, giving even a little more resources, time, and attention, to family members who are not the “squeaky wheel” could go further than giving those same resources to the "squeaky wheel." Just as importantly, those non-squeaky wheels could suffer more without them.
Cheaper by the Dozen 2 movie review (2005) | Roger Ebert
Adding a new member (such as a new baby) to any family will take away some of the resources, time, and attention from the existing family members, especially with a newborn. The difference is that over time, many family units will work on creating a new balance, new memories, new traditions, new relationships... and hopefully will become stronger and work together as a team.

3. The squeaky wheel may not be the biggest problem.
Ironically, the squeaky wheel may not actually be the biggest problem. It simply is the one that is most noticed. We can run from squeaky wheel to squeaky wheel, crisis to crisis, and accomplish very little.


Most importantly, we need to focus on the needs of the family as a whole. Does this benefit the whole family? If it is primarily for one child's benefit, do the benefits to the child outweigh the drain of time, attention, and resources from other areas?

Spend Extra Time with Your Other Kids. Go on individual "dates" with them.  Find times to chat.  Treat them to a little extra mommy/daddy time.  Not only does it help the child but it helps you to get some time with your child that is capable of “giving back” and having a relationship with you. 

Allow Them To Vent. 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. I try to help them process their feelings about living with siblings with trauma/severe mental illnesses/attachment... issues.

Family Therapy. Therapy as a family, therapy for individual members of the family (not just the adopted children). If you find a good therapist, processing feelings and getting an unbiased opinion about things can help with healing. (Questions To Ask A Potential Therapist)

Establish Family Values and Family Rules - It may sound counterintuitive but rules and boundaries make children feel safer and having a family "code" makes family members feel connected. Our Family Values - RRHAFTBALL

Respite - Everyone needs breaks from the stress and pressures of this life. If you want to go on a family vacation or outing, acknowledge that your child may not be able to handle this outing, but rather than “punish” the whole family (and the child) by staying home, find fun alternatives/ respite for your child and go anyway. Leave the child with family, friends, a caregiver (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 this time together to heal and recharge their batteries. We often found that a child's visits to psych hospitals (and residential treatment) worked as respite. (Questions To Ask Caregivers And Respite Workers)

Do Fun Things Together - We're building memories! We're reinforcing the feeling that you are loved and life is worth living. This is important for a happy, healthy, loving, attached family.

Like many families, we discovered that when one child was grounded, everyone was grounded or one parent was stuck at home with the child. When a child is in trouble, it is very tempting to punish them by not allowing them to do fun things; however, what if that child is almost always in trouble? Why should the child bother to try to get out of trouble if the family never does anything fun anyway? We're trying to encourage attachment. Who wants to attach themselves to that?

I can hear you thinking, "My kid's behavior was horrible today! He doesn't deserve to go on a fun outing. He'll think he's won.
I get it. He may not deserve it, but he needs it. 
We tried to balance this so it didn't feel like a reward and wasn't a "blank slate" (we're not going to forget what he did ever happened). 
Plus, if we stayed home, or one parent stayed home, then the family couldn't ever go anywhere or do anything together, because at least one of the kids was always in trouble (always!).
Our solution? All the children were allowed to go on "family activities" (or we found something else for that child to do with a trusted adult if he or she couldn't handle the activity because it was overwhelming or triggering). 
If the whole family was doing something together, like going to the park, or the movies, or out to eat... then the child could go. We wanted there to be obvious rewards to being part of our family. (Katharine Leslie Seminar - Secure Attachment)

Encourage Family Time - The FAIR Club, our family's version of discipline, had built in family time. Part of the FAIR Club Letter the child is given when they enter the FAIR Club specifically addresses this.
Family Time - You will need to hang around the family a LOT so we can show you by example how to be RRHAFTBALL. You will probably be expected to do extra chores and help cook so you can practice being RRHAFTBALL. You will need to make lots of eye contact and use a pleasant tone of voice when speaking with others.


The primary focus of this blog is about therapeutic parenting children with attachment/trauma/mental health issues. I don't really feel I need to post anything here but here are a few posts that might help:

Advocating - Some Notes
Persuasive Writing - How to Get Your Document Read
Structure and Caring Support
Therapeutic Parenting-Behavior Management and Discipline
...check out the right sidebar for more.

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.

No comments: