adoption, mental illness

When It’s Not Enough: Adventures in Getting Help

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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?

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**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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adoption

Disconnected Parenting and Other TBRI Misadventures

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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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adoption

It’s Time to Hit Your Children

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My daughter is screaming “F**k you! I don’t F**king care anymore! I’m a bad kid and I guess I’ll just stay in my room!” She’s 10. She’s mad. She slams the door and we hear some small pounding. Things are either getting stomped on or thrown around in her room. She alternates between this and then and then crying for me and tearfully begging me to forgive her. I wasn’t even all that bothered. I just asked her to pick up a few toys.

She screams, “I’ll do anything for you guys! I love you!” followed by “You’ll never make me clean up my toys!” After she finally calms down a bit, she cleans her two toys with help from dad. He is with her the whole time. I’m not, just in case she escalates into violence (I have a back injury.)  the screaming and crying part lasts for hours. Finally, she is ready bed.

As she showers, she screams at us that the water is “too hot.” It isn’t, but it is on one temperature setting since she ripped out the nozzle, years ago, during a tantrum of sheer terror. (she used to be terrified of bathing) We sort of pushed the nozzle back on, but it can’t move well to adjust the temperature now. So we are all stuck with warm showers until we can get a new one installed. Soon, the warm shower will calm her and we can talk. She isn’t quite ready to listen yet

Carl got in trouble at school this week. He got angry about losing a privilege, so he went into the hall and started violently beating the lockers with his lunch box. His  vice principal escorted him to the bus during dismissal, for safety reasons. We met Carl’s behaviors with firm boundaries. We met his emotions with love and understanding. It’s OK to get frustrated when you lose a privilege. It isn’t OK to lash out and start beating lockers.

It never ceases to amaze me the unsolicited advice strangers are willing to offer about other people’s parenting. In the grocery store, at sporting events, and even from friends. Suddenly everyone’s an expert. Except, those “experts” didn’t grow up in foster care. They were never hurt the way our children were hurt by the very people they were supposed to trust. So these ignorant oblivious strangers continue to offer their “expertise.”

“Who do they think they are? Don’t let them disrespect you. Spank those kids!”

“Someone should teach them some discipline. Back in my day I would have gotten a spanking for that!”

“Don’t let her/him get away with that. If he were my child, I would slap him a good one on the butt.” 

Ooooookkk.  Thank you helpful strangers, but I think I’ll take it from here.

When Carl got home after getting in trouble, that he had a full-on panic attack. He started crying and blaming the teacher right away. He was crying so hard he couldn’t breathe. He needed his asthma inhaler. Then he threw up all the way to therapy in a bag I supplied. Why? Fear.

It’s pretty simple simple. Sometimes, children who have suffered from the effects of physical abuse will act out when they feel threatened. Even the smallest correction, or perceived rejection, can set them off. Traumatized children are hyper-alert for any potential danger even when they appear calm. It can be confusing for others to watch them go from zero to sixty at the drop of a dime. What we don’t see outwardly is that they are always running around fifty.

They may be acting defiant and violent and scary. But that’s all it is. It’s an ACT. Our sweet, loving, kids are acting out in angry ways because deep down, they are really afraid. They are afraid they won’t get their needs met. They are afraid of being the victim again. They are hitting because they are afraid they will get hit. Sure, they will act tough, and scary. They aren’t. They are scared.

So, no thank you, strangers. I will not hit my already-traumatized children. I will not teach them with fear or intimidation. I will let them have “do-overs” and “time-ins.” We will practice coping skills and problem solve together. We will allow them to have natural consequences for their actions. We try our best to meet them with love even when all they want to do is argue with us. We will demand respect, and model it through our own actions.

Most, importantly, we will prove to them that we are not like their abusers. We will help them practice kindness and obedience. We are firm with their limits, but we are also nurturing. Parents shouldn’t be scary to children who have come from scary parents. Instead, we should be teaching them about working together, and building family through love.

Let me say again that we will not hit our children. Under any circumstances. We will not meet violence with violence. We will not teach them that aggression is necessary to get what you want. Nope. It is not time to hit our children. That time is long past in their lives. And it will never, ever happen again.

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

 

FTTWR

 

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adoption

The Month All the Mommies Leave

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It’s March again, and I can never stop this month from coming! This is the month our children were removed from their biological home during a drug raid. It was a particularly warm March the year they went into foster care. I know this because I looked it up. Carl is 11 now. After living with him for a few years, we’ve noticed that his fear and/or misbehavior increases drastically every spring. As soon as it gets warm, Carl’s “traumaversary” kicks in.

In all honesty Carl’s been cranky in a pre-teen sort of way so far. He yells at us and stomps around, slamming doors. He reminds yells at us for being “stupid,” or “aggravating.” Then my sweet boy runs to me, head hanging down, for a hug or a snuggle. He admits that he is very angry and can’t figure out why. I’m hoping this is the worst of it. things seem to get a little easier every year. I really hope I’m not jinxing myself by writing this!

Anyway, as things get easier for Carl, we are noticing some significant separation anxiety in Mary. I’m not sure if this has happened every year or not. Have we overlooked her because Carl’s reactions were so extreme? Are her reactions more extreme this year because she has started puberty and gone through some medication changes?

All I know is that when I am out of sight, Mary starts to become agitated. At a recent doctor’s appointment my husband brought me to, they sat in the waiting room. When the nurse came to get me Mary started kicking the seat, trying to bait Carl into an argument, and being defiant to Luke. These are all signs that her fear is increasing. Her fight or flight response was taking over.

Luke took her outside to the car, where she could safely tantrum, and get all of her screaming and kicking out. It didn’t last very long and everyone was safe. She just really needed to let her big feelings out. She’s also having big feelings at school about missing me. I sent in a picture of Luke and I that she can keep in her desk, and look at when she is lonely.

Mary has also started to sit outside the bathroom door when I am showering. She is sleeping upstairs outside of our room. We’ve taped a picture of mom and dad on the wall next to her pillow. She’s like an extra cuddly  mom-magnet following me around everywhere. When I do my physical therapy exercises, she does them too. When I sit down, she plops herself as close as she can to me. Short of crawling directly into my ribcage, I’m not sure she could get any closer.

Somewhere, deep inside, they remember this as being the month that they lost a mother. This is why the month of March is a tough one for our kids. As my mom explained to me, this must be the month when our kids feel like “Mommies Leave.”  Every year, I hope their fear eases a little more, as they heal.

Too bad March. I’m not going anywhere! This mom is here to stay!

 

 

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

 

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adoption

Where Do All the Foster Teens Go?

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Sean, at 13, playing with Mary in a pile of packing popcorn.

The month of March leaves me thinking about our former foster son, Sean. He turned 16 a few days ago. We received a copy of the latest foster review for him and the youngest sibling of our children. I assume it was sent to us by mistake, as our 2 have already been adopted. In the review it mentioned all of the things we tried to tell DCF, although they wouldn’t listen. He ran away, was hospitalized for suicidal ideations. I still worry for him.

The worst part was that his reunification had failed. Now his goal is “independent living” rather than reunification. Apparently, Sean had disrupted from his biological father’s home with police called for the fight they had. I had been so hopeful that the reunification would work out for both of them.

I heard from the siblings’ former foster mom (our kids call her “Grandma”) that he contacted her and requested to move back in. She is still a huge part of all of our lives, and our kids visit her for weekends sometimes. She wasn’t able to take Sean back. She had other children in the home and he had already made an abuse allegation once about her (just like us) years ago. That was right before leaving to come to our home for adoption with his siblings

His worker told her they had nowhere to put him and he had been diagnosed with RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder.) In the end, Grandma just couldn’t take the risk. This is all information I got through Grandma, I haven’t heard from him. I thought we might get a phone call, too, but we never did. We probably won’t because he and Marcus are estranged, and we maintain a relationship with Marcus.

So where is Sean now? Staying with a friend’s family who must have agreed to take the foster parent classes in order to have him there? I wish I knew for sure. He is so charming. It’s so easy to get drawn in. I wonder how they will feel about “saving him,” (as he so often said to me) in a year or so. The report stated that this is the first place he has lived that he didn’t feel like he was a “foster kid.” I can’t lie, that one stung.

But still, in all honesty, I just want him to be happy. I want him to be OK. And I really, really, want him to learn to love deeply. I think everyone in this world needs at least one person they can truly count on. The more people you can trust, the bigger your safety net is, should you ever fall. I hope he allows himself to be loved. I wonder often if he is still “shopping” for the best deal he can get with a family. How I wish he had let us adopt him.

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Luke, at 14, with Sean and Carl at our favorite Hibachi grill.

I thought about this as I called my own mother. She was taking me to my neurosurgeon’s appointment. I was scared about getting the results of some recent blood work. There is a fair possibility that my body may be rejecting the titanium implant in my spine. I was so nervous, I asked if my step dad could come too. It always makes me feel better when both of my parents are there. At 35, I still need a mom and dad. And I have them. I’m lucky.

What about the all the other teens in foster care? The ones who never got therapy? The ones with a failed reunification? The ones who just don’t know how to trust in love? Where do they all go? Do they ever stay?

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Sean being his funny, silly, self.

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

 

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adoption

Scars and Secrets: Memories of Child Abuse

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They kept so many secrets in foster care. So many. My son has three tiny round scars on his top left shoulder. They have spread apart and faded as he has grown and his shoulders have broadened. Those scars are not his fault. They are from the metal end of a belt buckle. He was beaten with it in his biological home by “everyone,” he says. His biological mother, his biological father, and many other men that passed through the house.

When his skin browns deeper in the summer sun, they stare at me in accusation. I wasn’t there to protect him. In the winter months they are easier to overlook. Easier to lose sight of, at least for me. Carl never forgets.

Other memories he has of his biological parents are fun. His biological father let him steer the car while driving drunk. Bio-dad had Carl “help” when he worked on cars. He bought Carl little toy Hot Wheels for a collection.  Once, when their biological father was drunk and left a $100 bill under Mary’s pillow for the toothfairy.

But Carl was left alone a lot. When his biological parents were drunk or high, they often left 5-year-old Carl to care for his younger sister, Mary. They would find their own food  in the cabinets while their mother slept and the older kids went to school. Soon after Bio-Dad left, a string of men were in and out of the house. When Bio-Mom wasn’t high and sleeping, locked in her room, she was drinking and partying with anyone and everyone.

These are stories that I have heard from our children and their older biological siblings. Obviously, I wasn’t there, but I believe my kids. I believe their siblings. I know these things happened. Yet, I also know that their Bio-Dad loves these children and his feelings for them are real. Once we started contact with their biological father, things changed a bit.

Our littles both got cards and pictures from Bio-Dad for Christmas. Mary got a birthday card. He promised to send Carl a birthday card as well, only if I told him when Carl’s birthday was. We have decided to let the kids respond if they want to.I continue to send updates and photos.

Carl looked at Bio-Dad’s Christmas card, tossed it aside, and continued playing a card game with Luke. Later on he put it under the coffee table and hasn’t looked at it since then. Mary kept both of her cards in a memory box and seemed really happy to have gotten them.

But their views are very different. Carl remembers being beaten. He remembers more because he is older. Mary was younger. Most of what she remembers came from the many boyfriends mom had after bio-dad. The difficult part with having siblings adopted from the same traumatic background, is that they hold different memories.

Mary has begun insisting that their Bio-Dad never hurt them, it was only their bio-mom. She has begun to build up this fantasy around him (similar to what I did when I was younger.) Both children got into an argument about their bio-dad the other day. Mary insisted he never hurt her, so whatever Carl did must have gotten him hit. His face crumbled as she implied that the abuse was somehow his fault. I corrected her immediately and ended the conversation.

I spoke to them each separately about how different the things they might remember are. Everyone sees things from their own viewpoint. I stressed to Mary that she must never, ever, ever invalidate her brother’s feelings.

With Carl I explained that his memories were his and all of his feelings were OK. He and Mary might feel differently, but she will not be allowed to invalidate his experience. No one should ever be abused physically. It was never Carl’s fault. Bio-dad probably just had no idea what to do as a parent.

Later at dinner that night, Mary started counting all of the “moms” she had. She came up with 4 or 5. Carl scoffed at her and said, “Well I only have one mom!” His feelings may change on the subject but for now he refuses to contact Bio-Dad. That’s OK.

Beyond that, it is up to them if they decide to write to their Bio-Dad. So far, neither one has. I’ve put a moratorium on discussing their bio-home together until we get to the therapist’s office. Until that time they can talk to Mom or Dad alone about their first parents. Good and bad memories are OK. Mixed feelings are OK. Love and anger are OK, even at the same time.

I will continue to casually mention that sending a letter or picture would be nice, but the contact is up to them. So far I haven’t gotten any takers, but I am determined to leave that door open and respect my children’s wishes. Only time will tell what happens next.

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Mary happy with Daddy Luke

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

 

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