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!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Choosing Joy - Explaining Age-Appropriate Parenting

Today after Kitty had been in her room pouting for awhile I went upstairs to talk to her.  I woke her up from an escapist nap.

[Note: Throughout this entire conversation, I praised her accomplishments and how far she has come and tried to emphasize the advantages of this shift to age-appropriate parenting. [Therapeutic Parenting Based on Developmental/Emotional Age]

Evil Parent or Therapeutic Parent?
I told Kitty that I'm either an evil parent who is torturing and treating a normal 17yo like crap or I'm a therapeutic parent who is treating her child the way she needs to be treated because of her mental illness and trauma history (and BTW, I think I'm a good parent).

Then I apologized for not being fair to her. I've succumbed to the pressure from others (social workers, teachers, others who just don't "get it," and of course, herself), to offer her levels and privileges I know she is not capable of achieving right now, and acting like they are realistic options; therefore, she assumes the reason she's not getting them is because either she's a failure or I'm an evil parent.

Enjoying the Small Achievements
I reminded her that a reason we've been more restrictive is that we're trying to get her stable before we start adding potential stressors, especially since the baby steps we've taken lately haven't been so successful.

I talked about how frustrating it is for me that when we offer her a baby step, she immediately demands something bigger and is so angry when I won't give it to her that she can't acknowledge or enjoy the smaller step.

We're going to Nebraska to visit Hubby's side of the family (13+hours in a car each way! *eek!*). Since Kitty's biofamily also lives in NE (although hours away), we were going to stop at a hotel with a pool, and take a day to hang out with Kitty's biograndparents (we'd hoped for Kitty's biosisters too, but couldn't get it to work).  before we go on to my MIL's house.  
Rather than be happy that she gets to see biofamily, she's chosen to focus on what she wants that she's not getting.  (She wants to be able to go to her Grandmother's house and stay all week, and maybe stay through her last 2 years of high school and for junior college...). 
Choosing Joy
I tried to gently explain that by choosing to stay stuck and angry, she is forcing me to be even more restrictive (Structure and Caring Support) to help her get and stay regulated. She's losing out on what she wants. Also, if she decides to just "give up" (a frequent threat), then she's definitely not going to get what she wants.

Kitty was getting obviously depressed and defensive.  She was feeling that I was taking away everything she wanted and she had no reason to keep trying.

So I talked about a friend of the family who is going blind. She was a great artist, and when she found out she was going blind, she had every "right" to be depressed and angry and to give up. Instead, she chose to become a sculptor and continued producing beautiful art that made her happy.

{Finding the Joy! - a post for parents about choosing joy for ourselves.}

When talking to Kitty about "Choosing Joy."  She was listening.  She saw that it was in her best interest, but she just can't maintain it. (And that's okay.)

Future Changes
Most of the friends we make and the goals for the future that we make when we're young, change a lot as we get older.  We don't even know what all our options are when we're younger (How many kids want to grow up to be a digital media user experience engineer with a specialty in animation? Which is my admittedly confused understanding of what Bob wants to be when she graduates)

My point was, we don't know how things will change.  Some things we learn by trying them or just from experience.  We could work hard to achieve our goals and still fail. If we give up because we don't get what we want, we may never find the awesome thing around the next corner.

A couple of years ago, Kitty's goal was to be a brain surgeon.  That wasn't a viable option for her (memory, processing issues, IQ...) and she needed to choose another option. {Dreamkiller post - a post about telling kids that their current dream is not going to work} I reminded her of this change in goals and pointed out that things worked out okay back then even though she was angry with me at the time. 

My main point:
I'm sorry that she has to make some difficult choices because of her issues, but if she continues to blame me and be depressed and angry she's making herself miserable. 



Parenting Based on Developmental Age 
I apologized to Kitty for not being fair. Because of her trauma and "issues," she missed out on a lot of the normal kid stuff that Bob and Ponito got to do, and had to focus on and work hard at handling her life. This left little time to learn some of the lessons that kids who didn't have to handle all that stuff learned when they were younger. Emotionally and socially she was a little behind.

By expecting her to be able to do all the things that kids who didn't have to deal with all the stuff she has, (with a quick praise about how great she's done at dealing with it!), I was making it impossible for her to succeed, and I was also getting frustrated and angry with her when she didn't do things other teens could handle - like chores. I would end up not letting her do any of the "fun stuff" because she hadn't "earned it" and that wasn't fair to her.

"Level Chart" vs Age-Appropriate Parenting After receiving a ton of pressure from staff at the hospital and school to give Kitty all the privileges that normally go with being 16, I decided to create a new chore chart with the responsibilities and privileges done in levels. Mostly to get them to understand WHY Kitty was not being allowed to have unsupervised dates or have a cell phone or whatever it was that they felt she was entitled to based on her age alone. Kitty was so dysregulated that she was not able to handle even the most basic responsibilities. [Chores, Responsibilities, and Other Things My Kids Can't Handle!]

Emotional and Social Developmental Delays
When Kitty first came to us at age 11, she was "stuck" at age 4. Not intellectually!  She's smart, but emotionally she was much younger. She needed time and to feel safe to grow up / mature in certain areas, which she did! She's grown a lot in so many ways! She's no longer stuck at age 4 - she can access her physical feelings and a lot of her emotional feelings as well.

When we ask her to do something, she can do it as long as I break it down into smaller pieces ("Empty your trash can. Now, put your dirty clothes in your laundry. Now,..." vs "clean your room"). At first, she could handle only one task at a time. Now, she could handle a short list with only a few reminders. Before, she was so close to the edge, that if we had said, "Who left the butter out?," she had a HUGE meltdown. Now she can admit it was her, and clean it up!!

Learning Disabilities
I told her this was like her learning disabilities. Yes, she has trouble with certain parts of reading (like spelling), but she's reading on grade level. She is NOT stupid! She just needs some extra help with certain things and someday she will probably get to a point where she doesn't even need that help.

While in a lot of ways she was a normal teenage girl, there were some things she still needed help with. She knows that she struggles with a lot of the "responsibilities" of being a teenager. I can't hand her a list and expect her to do everything on it (or better yet, do them without prompting or needing a list!). When she's stable, she can be left home alone for a short time. There have been some issues (fighting with Ponito, putting a metal cup in the microwave, a lot of things having to do with attempts to cook!) that tell me she's not ready to stay home alone for a long period of time, yet.

Now the hard part to explain.

As a good mom, it is my job to parent her where she IS, not where someone says she SHOULD BE. 

Expecting her to act like a teenager when she's not ready yet is not fair to her. In the last few years, when she is stable, she has grown emotionally from 4 to about age 10! and she's growing all the time. When she is not stable/ dysregulated, she needs extra help, about what a 6-year-old might need. 

Concrete / Black and White Thinking
This is where Kitty's Concrete/ Black and White thinking made things super difficult. I had to repeat a LOT (and it still didn't stick) that I didn't think she was stupid or 6 years old. I felt that she needed the emotional support that a 6-year-old needs.


I let Kitty know (repeatedly!) that change is a GOOD thing! Yes, it meant that she wasn't going to automatically get a lot of the "teen privileges," but she also was no longer going to get in trouble for not meeting her "teen responsibilities."
I wasn't going to be upset with her all the time, and she would have a lot fewer chores and expectations. Life would be a lot easier.  
PLUS, she still got to do the fun stuff.  

Even if she'd had a rough day (ex. meltdowns and threatening herself). She would still get to go out to eat with the family. She'd still get to watch TV (although the shows would be more "age-appropriate"). {The truth is that we will still be making decisions based on whether or not she can handle these things - like going to a crowded, noisy restaurant but it will not be a punishment}

Most importantly, we wouldn't be frustrated with her all the time. 

I assured her that from now on, if she felt like Hubby was getting upset with her for not doing something she was "supposed" to do, then I would run interference. If she saw me getting upset with her, she could remind me of this conversation. {And I would chant my mantra in my head, "She's only 6!  She's only 6! She's only 6!"}


Kitty started picking a fight on the way home from a shopping trip I'd let her go on even though she didn't "earn it" or do her chores. The trip was my way of letting her know that I know she tried and my expectations for her really have changed.  The fight was probably because: a) she didn't get to buy something she wanted,
b) Bob did, and
c) the trip took a long time.

We had a discussion about the fight, and I pointed out that the shopping trip had been a treat she hadn't "earned" and she was not getting in trouble for the fight. 

{Note - I did NOT tell her that because of this fight, we wouldn't be making shopping trips like this anymore. We'd try to find ways to get things like this without triggering her (shorter trips, but her something small, don't take her on trips where she's not getting something but Bob is....)}

Acceptance Not Required
As I mentioned, this didn't go over well with Kitty, but it wasn't about her accepting it, it was about me explaining why I wasn't going to keep trying to keep treating her the same as the other kids, and how that meant I loved her MORE not LESS.