adoption

Emotions: Mine or Hers?

I forgot that I had feelings. No, I’m not being sarcastic. I actually forgot! Who does that? Am I some sort of automaton? I really and truly have been-hyper focused on my daughter’s current emotional upheaval. Keeping an eye out for my own safety has caused me to lost track of my own emotional barometer. In the epitome of irony, this is what happens to kids from hard places. They become so stuck in survival mode that they cannot interpret their own feelings without support.

Therapeutic mom-me is on hyper-alert lookout. I check for dysregulation. I help identify feelings and provide my children with the voice they need to share said feelings. I offer do-overs. I engage playfully with a sort of perma-smile that I didn’t even realize I was wearing. Don’t misunderstand, I do have fun and smile with my children. It’s just that recently, I’ve been hyper vigilant for signs of danger with Mary. Is my 10-year-old hearing voices? Is she disassociating? Is she about to attack or become violent?

I orchestrate her world so carefully in order to provide her with a chance for success. I allow her to stay suffocatingly close to me at almost all times. She has been craving me and panicking when she is more than a few inches away. Her fear of losing me is so acute that I, in turn, begin to fear an imminent psychiatric hospital stay for her (in the end, my fears were realized.) The tighter she clutches me in, the more violently she will push me away when her emotions turn.

And then come the outsiders. People who just aren’t in our family and/or don’t practice therapeutic parenting. Professionals who have never heard of the work of Dr. Siegal or Dr. Karyn Purvis. It’s hard for me to comprehend there are those who’ve never read The Connected Child, because it has been a game changer for us.

They don’t understand the value of connection as opposed to compliance. I’m not raising automatons, I’m raising emotionally intelligent human beings. I am providing them with the tools they need to regulate their feelings. I am the external modem helping them to sort information and identify what their body is feeling and how to get their needs met. The only way our children will learn to emotionally regulate is through practice, practice, practice. Sort of like a sports player needs to practice in order to improve. Our kids are in survival mode. They are learning to feel safe. I work so hard to disarm their fear. But in the process, have I become the automaton?

No one ever suggests that sleep deprived mothers of newborns should “return their horrible creatures to the hospital.” No one ever says, “Well this one is up all night. Why don’t you get another one. A good one. A baby that is better than this screaming thing.” But for adoptive facilities different. I’ve heard similar sentiments many times.

“Well, you knew what you were getting into. This is what ‘those’ children are like”

“Kids in the system are damaged goods. They won’t ever be normal. Why would you want a kid like that in your house?”

“I could NEVER do what you’re doing. I just couldn’t put up with it!” (By the way, yeah, I know. You definitely couldn’t do what I do. You’re just not mom enough!)

“Do you ever think about just quitting? After all, they weren’t born to you. It’s not like they are your real children.” (This one came from a primary care physician of mine. FORMER, obviously.)

“He/she is so defiant. You need to spank them to teach some respect. If they don’t work out, can’t you just trade them?”

My all time favorite comes from a social worker. She said, “Well how much is too much? At what point do you feel you’ve had enough? At what point do you decide this isn’t the right fit? At what point do you give up?” Of course I asked her the same question about her biological son. She was stumped.

It creates this defensive wall inside of me. A wall that shows other people my optimism that our children are healing. That we can find solutions. That we are so happy to be parents to these amazing kids. All of these things are true. It just isn’t the whole picture. I don’t tell about the sleepless nights. I don’t talk about the bruises. I just don’t. I can’t stand to have people judge our daughter.

She’s my precious girl. She isn’t “bad” she is hurting. And we are fighting together, as a family, against trauma. So, no, I never let those other feelings show. My perma-smile conveys only the wonderful parts of adopting children from hard places.

Today a psychologist held a mirror up to my face. It was the Doctor assigned to our daughter’s case during her inpatient stay at the psychiatric hospital. She asked me how I felt and how I was dealing with the stress. The question confused me. This is our normal, it’s not new and scary for me. I mean, right? I’m healing from my second major back injury. I’m exhausted. My father died this summer. And now my daughter hears voices that tell her to kill mommy. She tantrums frequently. Her brother isn’t sleeping through the night. He stays up to scream at us for being stupid idiots that he hates. I’m lucky to get to bed at midnight! For him, I have a firm voice and firm boundaries. For everyone else?  I am wearing my, “We can do this!” mom-smile. All. The. Time.

“So how does this feel to you? Take off your therapeutic mom hat. Let the clinicians handle the therapy. What is your emotion about this?” She hypothesized that part of the reason my daughter is so mad at me is because I am always analyzing her. I’m always reading her emotional cues and adjusting accordingly. I’m being a therapist more than I’m being just a mom. I am out of touch with my own feelings.

Still, I feel that TBRI is important. It’s second nature to me. I hated her ideas about using a token system to help Mary stop attacking me. How on earth would a token system keep her from hearing voices? I will never give up therapeutic parenting. I listened to the doctor, but then I expected her to listen to me. So I sent her a copy of The Connected Child in the mail.

She had a point about my feelings. She was way off-base with the stupid token system. She also misunderstood that trauma is fear, not defiance. I’ve spent so much time focused on TBRI and keeping our daughter out of the hospital that I lost track. I am asking her to check her “engine” to see how it’s running. When I am I checking my own? I expect her to share her feelings, but do I share mine? Nope. I’m always the strong mom. Firm, nurturing, forgiving, and never out-of-control.

When did this happen? It wasn’t on purpose. I just sort of forgot about my own feelings. I spent so much time advocating for Mary and convincing others that she isn’t a bad kid, that I forgot. I spent so much time researching the work of Dr. Siegel, Dr. Karyn Purvis, Deborah D. Gray and Bryan Post, that I forgot!

I spend so much time explaining the hurt and fear behind Mary’s behaviors, that I forget my own feelings. I feel like I should be reading more, researching more, and finding more therapeutic resources. I spend so much time educating other professionals (my own PCP, pediatricians, ER staff, intern clinicians, emergency response teams) about the effects of trauma that I forgot about my own. I, too, have been traumatized.

Mary’s psychologist made it clear that I should share my real feelings with Mary. It took me a few minutes to see that I’d been so defensive I couldn’t admit that I was scared and sad. My children have taken the domestic violence they experienced in their childhoods, and have turned it on me. Their “safe” person. The one who will love them, no matter what. Except now I am in the domestically abusive situation scratching my head and wondering how I got here. The doctor asked me to share these feelings honestly with my daughter. So I did.

Mary came into the session and I was already crying. With tears streaming down my face I told her how much I missed her at home. I told her I missed her fuzzy cat slippers. I missed her little chicken noises in the morning. I missed the creative off-key songs she invented in the shower. I told Mary that I loved her. I also told her that I was scared about her coming home. I was really scared that she would hurt me someday. Both of us would have a hard time recovering from that. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to help her. And love. I love her so damn much.

I cried. I sobbed. I am by no means a pretty crier. I have streaming tears and booger-bubbles. My eyes get red and puffy. I sob until I hiccup, and my mascara runs raccoon-style, all over my face. It’s a rather alarming sight and I try to do it as little as possible. I braced myself for Mary’s reaction.

Then, she did the most profound thing. She took a tissue and wiped away my raccoon makeup. She took a swipe at my puffy eyes and my bubbling boogers. She looked into my eyes and told me how much she wanted to come home. She told me how much she wanted to be safe. This doesn’t mean she will be. Some things are beyond her control. But, it was a moment of deep connection. And I didn’t even have to create it. I just shared my truth.

We are bringing her home tomorrow. It was hard to say goodnight and leave her there. I stumbled home and finally got off of my walker and into my bed. My body felt too spent to do much beyond quiet reading. I looked at the new book on trauma and physiology I’m reading. Then I looked at my new horror novel with creepy houses and severed heads.

You know what? I went with the severed heads.  The only therapeutic thing I’ll be doing tonight is grabbing a glass of wine to drink while I read this trashy paperback. I’m off duty. Tonight I’m just getting reacquainted with a very important person. Me.

If you liked this post, feel free to vote for it here.

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

**To learn more about TBRI (Trust Based Relational Intervention) go to http://www.empoweredtoconnect.com

 

 

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family

Monster Feet in the Night

The force is strong with Carl tonight. He is trudging up the stairs into our bedroom about every hour or so. I hear a quiet, “Mommy? Daddy?” and squint my eyes open. There is Carl standing in the doorway in Star Wars Pajamas and monster-feet slippers. Yes, the force is strong. The force of wakefulness.

All manner of emergencies happen. He has a stomach ache. He needs to blow his nose. He had a bad dream while he was awake  and he cannot fall asleep. I know exactly what this means. Mary has been gone for a week straight now. I believe that Carl is afraid because he was separated from his sister for so long in foster care. The 11-year-old boy who is a fierce athlete by day, has become a frightened child with monster-feet slippers at night.

What he really needs right now is a little nurture. What I really need right now is a little sleep. He asks to sleep with the cardigan I wore that day. I hand it over while realizing I’m missing about 8 cardigans because the children like to sleep with the smell of mom. I’m either going to have to go shopping, or go digging around under their beds. But first, I really need to sleep.

“Do you feel safe now? Do you have everything you need?” I hear Luke say this as he escorts Carl back to bed for the 6th time. And it’s only 1:00 AM. I do not know how people with infants do this! Luke then asks Carl to please stop coming up the stairs and knocking on our door. He explains that we all need to sleep. If Carl can’t sleep he can do one of his crossword puzzle books or read for a bit. Carl agrees in a sincere and determined voice.

2:00 AM rolls around. I am woken by something. Carl is standing at the bottom of the stairs (not going up) and whisper-yelling, “Mommy? Mommy!” Well at least he isn’t banging on the door to our room. He has a headache this time. I administer tylenol and take him back to bed. Hey, he attempted to follow Dad’s directions.

3:30 AM comes and, believe it or not, I am woken again by a little whisper-shout from the bottom of the stairs. “OK, Kid.” I say, “You’re scared. Grab the nesting materials from our closet and set up a place to sleep on the floor near our bed.” He agrees with palpable relief.

It’s that little high-pitched voice that gets me. Soon it will change and deepen. He will only be my little guy in Star Wars PJs for a little longer. Carl rustles up a soft bed made from a large down-feather quilt and several different kinds of “nesting” pillows we keep on hand for the kids. It’s usually used for watching movies. We don’t co-sleep, but whatever. Did I mention the part about 3:30 AM?

Finally, we sleep. The next morning I stumble downstairs like a bleary-eyed zombie. My face feels puffy. Carl is industriously putting his things in his backpack and getting ready for the day. I can’t seem to manage actual words so I grunt and mumble my way over to the couch. That’s when Carl hands me a fresh cup of coffee. Just the way I like it. My little big guy is now dressed in Nike sports gear and operating kitchen appliances.

Soon the days of monster-feet and the little voice will be gone. He is growing so quickly. Adopting kids from hard places is a long, difficult journey. But it’s amazing. It’s moments like these where It’s nighttime again, once more. These are the moments I can reflect and write about our lives. It’s all worth it. He has learned to show empathy. He has learned to trust. He has–wait…is he up? AGAIN?! Yes, he’s up.

What I meant to say was:

Please send coffee!!!!

 

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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adoption, mental illness

When It’s Not Enough: Adventures in Getting Help

Yhosp1

It’s not enough. I’m not enough. All of the work we have been doing for the last 3 years is not enough to help our Little Bit. 10-year-old Mary is starting puberty. She is also starting to unravel in terms of her mental health. She is back inpatient again at the psychiatric hospital. So, yes, I feel like I am not enough for our girl right now.

During her last meltdown she locked the door to her room and then jumped out of her window. Barefoot. Mary then got into a fight with our outside garbage bin (she won) while screaming at me. I couldn’t stop her. She ran a mile to a friend’s house in bare feet screaming that she needed the police because her mom was trying to kill her. Of course the police came with the ambulance. But they came to take her back to the psychiatric hospital.

We have used up all of the local resources. We have In-Home Intensive Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Services (IICAPS.) She’s been through trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT,) Family Systems therapy, ongoing trauma work, Intensive Outpatient Treatment (IOP,) Partial Hospitalization Placement (PHP,) medication management, and many inpatient stays. Was that all one sentence? We’ve also read every book, checked all of the research we could find on developmental trauma, and parented therapeutically using the Trust Based Relational Intervention model (TBRI) No matter how many acronyms we throw around, she is still stuck in a downward spiral.

I am helpless to heal the deep wounds she carries from trauma. They will never be entirely healed, let’s be honest. But we want to get her to the point where she is functioning at home, as opposed to being in fight/flight mode most of the time. I think puberty has started to re-trigger some of the trauma that she had already come to terms with.

Our entire goal is to keep her safe. We want her safe at home, not inpatient. I did find a great model for attachment and trauma work done in the home. In-home services are the most effective for our daughter, but most programs are not specifically  trauma-focused. Even if they are, it is not for complex, developmental trauma. Thank goodness I found the Attachment, Regulation, Cooperation model (ARC ) through The Justice Resource Institute (JRI.)

JRI is dedicated to helping children and adolescents mental health. They are one of the leaders in the field of research on developmental, complex trauma. (Often referred to as C-PTSD. More letters, I know!) Unfortunately, they won’t take insurance. They won’t take cash. They only contract through the Department Of Children and Families (DCF.)

So we are asking begging for their help. We are in the process of applying for voluntary services. I’m not sure what will happen, but I’m hopeful. We are in the fight of our lives right now. It isn’t us against our child. It’s us fighting with our child against the trauma of her past. The question is not if we will continue the fight. The question is whether or not the state of Connecticut will join us.

So here I sit, typing away my jumble of letters and acronyms. Since when did the alphabet take over my life?! All that’s left to do is wait. And hope. Will you hope along with us?

ynote2

 

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

**If you want information about ARC or JRI you can go to www.JRI.org or www.traumacenter.org to learn more.

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parenting

Bra-gate: Puberty and Sibling Rivalry

My son is rolling around and whining on the floor, like a pained animal. All because he isn’t going bra shopping. Yup. He’s pretty upset. Mary is 10 now, and at the beginning stages of puberty. She needs bras. Badly. I can’t drive, so Nana and Papa are up. Aaaand now I’m home with a whining and moaning 11-year-old boy who doesn’t understand puberty (you can read about our sex talk here.) Carl is lucky he’s so darn cute!

He is consumed by his anger that his sister is doing something he is not. She is going somewhere without him. Clearly the world is a very harsh and unfair place. As he attempts to explain how very, very unfair this is, I try to explain a bit about girls and puberty.

Carl: OOOOohhhhhh. Why can’t it be ME?! Why can’t I be the one to go with Nana and Papa? Why do I have to be stuck here with you?!

Me: I love you too, honey. Mary needs new clothes. Fair isn’t everyone getting to do the same thing. Fair is getting what you need. And Mary needs to buy bras. She’s starting to grow breasts.

Carl: Well why did she have to do that? I want to!

Me: Honey, boys don’t usually grow new breasts.

Carl: That’s stupid. Why does she get new shirts?

Me: Again, she needs clothes to fit her changing body.

Carl: But she never changes! She is still annoying!

Me: No, it’s her body that’s changing. She needs bigger shirts now that she is growing breasts. You got new pants when you got taller during your growth spurt. Remember?

Carl: It’s still not fair. I want to do it.

OK. Well, if he really wants to go and buy some bras, then it’s fine. I lay a few of mine on the floor and ask him which style he would prefer? Just so we know what kind of bra to get him when Nana and Papa take him bra shopping. I explain sports bras, underwire, front clasp, halter style, etc. I say, “I support you, honey. I will always meet your needs. If you need to go bra shopping then you can.”

Carl freezes and a look of pure terror dawns on his face.

“GROSS!” he says,”Mom bras! Now I’m scarred for LIFE!”

And there ends the story of bra-gate. We collapsed into full-belly giggles and decided to watch TV instead. We laughed about it for the rest of the night. I hope Carl gained some insight about girls and puberty. I also hope he has less anxiety over his sister and their rivalry.  And would you believe that he never brought up bra shopping again?

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy involved.

 

 

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adoption

Disconnected Parenting and Other TBRI Misadventures

momnkids

My mom with my “chickens.”

She’s screaming at the top of her lungs right now. Deep, guttural, animal cries that are meant to be heard by everyone in the vicinity. When I approach my daughter, she screams at me that I never allow her to get her anger out. I am bottling up all of her emotions. Sigh. I’m too tired to name the feeling and ask her what she needs. I’m too tired to give her choices or a compromise. Instead, I say, “Well in that case, carry on.”

Meanwhile, Carl is carrying on in his room. It’s so unfair. How dare I separate them when they are fist fighting? How dare I enforce limits on him when he attempts to physically intimidate me? How dare I suggest that there is a better way to treat women than attempting to scare them and dominate them? What gives me the right? He needs a chance to think it over. Normally he would do this near me with a “time-in. I just cannot, so he is yelling, “If daddy were here he’d see things differently!” from his room.

Daddy isn’t here.  Right now I think they are just being kids. All kids occasionally misbehave. I’m the one who needs to think it over and try again. It is my responsibility to help them regulate. It’s my job to teach them respectful behaviors. I should be helping them practice using kind words to express their feelings. But I’m on my own today and worn out.

Our kids are learning about how to have relationships like other kids learn how to play a sport. Practice, practice, practice. With that said, daddy would be having none of this. Despite Carl’s view about how to treat women, my husband does not feel the same. Our children were adopted at an older age. They spent more time in their biological home where other viewpoints were the norm. We are trying to undo that model of thinking and replace it with positive behaviors. I can only hope someday that Carl will follow Luke into the land where men are respectful, kind, and not scary. We certainly role-model and practice these skills with him.

I’m  making an attempt at being a connected, loving parent. It’s called TBRI or “Trust Based Relational Intervention.” But all I’ve succeeded in so far is putting on headphones with soothing music. And, yeah, we are all “taking space.” We all need some time apart. Even me. All of the time-ins in the world were not helping today. At this point we are all on edge. It’s all I can do not to yell back or burst into tears. Here I sit listening to soothing Spa sounds. I’m sipping decaf coffee. I purchased a book for myself on my kindle. I need to be calm before I can connect with a “soft voice and soft eyes.” I need to regulate in order to help them regulate.

I’m in the same boat as my children. I’m counting the minutes until Daddy gets home! Lucky for me, my mom makes an appearance at the door. I’ve already warned her about the screaming children. Who would willingly come over to the house today? “I’m brave. I can take it,” is all she says. For my mom there is no problem too small, no behavior too big. She will always back us up when trauma triggers threaten to ruin our day.

It’s finally quiet. Carl is working on a word search in his room. Mary is on her bed. A bit of time away from the anger and the screaming helped me. Being with my mom helped me more.” Don’t they deserve the same?” I think to myself. After some coffee and conversation, my mom leaves. I feel ready to try again.

They need me as much as I need her.

As I head to the kitchen, I feel a “thwack!” On my head. It’s a paper airplane launched from the upstairs loft. It contains a sweet note from Mary. In the letter are a list of coping skills she can use next time. It also contains an apology. It ends with a #Mommyisthebest.

We all come together as a family and group hug for a few minutes. We sit down to dinner and laugh and talk until my husband gets home. We brainstorm ways we can stay regulated as a family. We talk about farts. We each appreciate each other for one thing that the other did today.

I don’t feel like  #Mommyisthebest right now, but I’m working on it. It must take lots of practice to be like my own mom! Good think I’ve got do-overs just like my kids. I’m ready to try it again, but with respect this time. .

Oh yeah, and now Daddy’s finally home. “It looks like you’ve all had a great day,” he says without a trace of sarcasm.

https://fulltimetired.com/roundup/?vote

FTTWR

**TBRI or “connected parenting” strategies mentioned come from the book The Connected Child. You can also learn more by clicking on the link above.

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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