Attachment Disorders, family

The Prodigal Son…Cancels?

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I would consider myself a fairly decent mom, even pretty good at predicting my children’s trauma-based actions. Not this time. I entirely missed the mark. Last week I wrote about Marcus asking to visit. After a lot of time and planning, he was finally coming this weekend. He sent me numerous messages about how excited he was. I really believed it was happening.

He is the oldest biological brother to our 2 adopted siblings. Our relationship with him is haphazard at best. At one time he lived with us. We wanted to adopt him. We tried. But the closer we got to him emotionally, the more he seemed to fight against that bond.

The day he left was the day his adoption worker from our state was coming to meet him. He was 17. On that day I truly believed he sabotaged his adoption because remaining in the foster care system was more familiar and easier to him than committing to being part of a loving family.

He threw an enormous tantrum, threatening to kill us and bury us in the backyard. (I guess he knew all of the best places since he had painstakingly cleared out an area of forest and landscaped it in our backyard the week before.) At our house, he had been the one to grab the tool bag eagerly and enjoy fixing things around the house with “Pops,” my husband.

He called me a whore, and a b**ch and a c**t. He told his younger siblings that he hated them and he would kill them, too. He slammed doors, threw things, kicked me and threw his iPhone at me, shattering it. I actually think he didn’t mean to make contact with me at all. His big scary tantrum was more along the lines of putting on a big show. Later he apologized to my husband saying, “You know I didn’t really mean to throw the phone at her, right? That part was an accident.”

He got his way that day. He had done this many times before. He would get really close to me, discuss his feelings about his biological mom with me, or simply let me in on an emotional issue with a girlfriend. For a few weeks we’d be closer than I ever thought a teen and his mom could be. Then, he would drop all communication and act as though he hated me and couldn’t stand the sight of me. He’d cut off contact, only to resume again in a few more weeks, asking to return or visit (we always said a joyful yes, but with behavioral boundaries.) But that was from 16-18. The closer he got to 18, the more he tasted his freedom.

Like so many other foster kids, he aged out at 18 and began life on his own. After that, our relationship actually improved a bit. Our communication was spotty, but when he had a problem, he always came to me. He bounced around to a few different places. I assumed, with a fair amount of certainty, that he was back on the streets hanging with his old crew. He’d put selfies on FaceBook throwing up the symbol for the “Bloods” a notorious gang. Whether he simply admired them, or was involved, I’ll probably never know. He was always wearing their colors of red and black.

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Over time, I began to think of him as the son who just left the nest early. He called and messaged us when he could. If I squinted my eyes really tight, and let my vision go blurry, I could almost see a son who was off to college, or the military, or the peace corps, and checked in when he could. He had asked for visits before, but this one seemed so real to me.

That was, obviously, a fantasy. There are many sides to Marcus. He loved family dinner we had each night. He took pride in our family and our home. He decorated his room immaculately with all of his favorite things. He played board games for hours with us, as if he couldn’t get enough. Our family took him to science centers, zoos, and museums. He was delighted and amazed by the reptile show at our local library.

These were all of the amazing memories I was reminiscing about when he called to cancel his upcoming visit. I had to stop and question myself. Why had I really believed he would show? He’s a few weeks away from moving somewhere new. We are trapped in this cycle where he gets close and then pulls away. His issues with attaching to a family are too complicated to let him enjoy a typical family relationship with us. This is what complicates his ability to allow himself to be loved.

My daughter told her therapist that she thinks he didn’t get adopted because he was “too dangerous.” This gave us the opportunity to explain that no matter what Marcus did or said, we would have gotten help and we would have adopted him. It just wasn’t what he wanted anymore, and we respected that. Mary agreed there was less swearing when he wasn’t in the house. She loved his happy, playful side, but was scared of his short-fused anger. Me, too, I told her. But no matter what, we will always love him.

The only good thing that came out of this was that he texted with both of the Littles and told them he missed them. They sent silly pictures of their faces back and forth. They saw the texts where he wrote, “I love you, Ma,” to me. Good or bad Marcus knows we are here for him. And maybe that’s all that really matters right now?

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Whenever he is ready, our door is always open. 

 

 

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

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adoption disruption, Attachment Disorders, family

5 Reasons The 20/20 Segment, “The Forever Family,” Failed

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They failed as journalists. Call it what you will, but they failed. Investigative journalism has a responsibility to shed light on all sides of a story. Shedding light on RAD? Fail. Shedding light on the horrors of re-homing? Fail. Sensationalizing the pain and suffering of little children to boost ratings? Success.

Elizabeth Vargas and her team botched this past Friday’s segment “The Forever Family.” In the opening introduction, they ask the question, “If things don’t work out with your adoptive children, can you simply give them back?” This question was never answered.In my opinion, these are the 5 biggest errors in their show:

1. The lack of information on RAD.

There was a panel of parents discussing this disorder. 20/20 basically glossed over this part in 30 seconds. They describe RAD as “the inability to form attachments.” That is not correct. It certainly makes it very scary and difficult to form attachments, but it isn’t impossible.  There wasn’t any compassion shown to a little girl so drastically traumatized that she killed a guinea pig and wanted to kill her brother. She suffered from complex trauma and abuse. This girl deserved to have her story told with compassion.  Information about how and why a child could get to this point should have been brought to light. She deserved to have her story told with an explanation and with compassion. 

2. Where was the responsibility of DHS?

The segment have no information that DHS attempted to put supports in place. The social worker clearly had knowledge that the girls’ situation was dire before the adoption. What did they do to preserve permanency for these girls? Why would the Department decide not to investigate an “exorcism?!” The department suggested that these parents place cameras and motion detector alarms on the girls’ bedrooms. Does this creep anyone else out?! They must have been prepared for problems.

3. Mental health professionals

Where were they? Why is it that a psychiatrist or psychologist specializing in RAD and complex trauma wasn’t on the show? They did not shed any light in the fact that there are very few mental health professionals who specialize in complex trauma, particularly in adoptive situations like this. The lack of education and resources for adoptive families and traumatized children is deplorable. Children with these issues often slip through the cracks without getting the help they need. Superficially charming and sweet, they impress perfect strangers while manipulating situations. These are survival skills that mask huge depths of pain and grief. These children are hurting and they need help. They need permanency.

This segment showed a foster family who had these girls during the charming, or “honeymoon” phase. The oldest was already in intensive care. That is due to major trauma, not just “a few outbursts,” as the social worker stated. Putting the girls all together again without preparation and therapy was/is a huge DHS mistake. Why would their therapists not have any plan for this? It’s simple. They were probably not adoption specialists or complex trauma specialists. Putting them together again triggered their survival skills and memories of the abusive environment. Those poor children. A properly trained professional could have helped in this situation, but they are few and far between. Why not shed some light on that?

4. The Re-homing disaster

Often, due to the “abandonment” law, there is no hope or support for adoptive families. Without proper resources to treat this rare disorder, the children can become worse. The closer they get to caretakers, the more they begin to react. Love is terrifying to them so they try to destroy it any way they can. They are surviving the only way the know how. Adoptive families are woefully unprepared for children who are this hurt. So they seek help and relief any way they can. They are surviving.  20/20 did nothing to show compassion for the fact that families often cannot get proper mental health care for their children. Adoptive families often cannot get proper DHS support for their families. Left with little support, and fewer options, families re-home. By shaming these families, and leaving virtually no way out, we are dooming innocent children to scary and uncertain “re-homing” situations. Making it illegal? Yeah, OK, that’s good. Now how about making a legal requirement for DHS that would provide support for families post-adoption? ABC did nothing to inform about what I consider to be a national issue. They were too focused on the shame-and-blame game.

5. This family

I think many adoptive families would agree that we wouldn’t want the Harrises to be the face of adoption and/or adoption disruption. At first I was glad ABC was going to do a price on the problems of re-homing and RAD. But the segment that aired was worthy of just about any glossy gossip magazine at your local checkout counter. Yes, this family is strange. No, I cannot identify with them or with all of their choices. I was probably the most horrified by their continued reference to their biological children as “their own” children. Worse still was the mother who said, “My children were the ones we were gonna safeguard first and foremost.” What? How were these people confused about who their children were? Why didn’t they bond with their girls? Even worse, why finalize instead of waiting to get help and support in partnership with DHS for these girls?

ABC makes it easy for the rest of us to say, “I could never be like that family. No way. Not me.” They are so unrelatable that it makes it easier for the viewer to stay in the comfort zone of “I would never.” It makes the viewer feel better about themselves. Add to that the happy ending with the new family. I would hazard a guess that these girls are better off in a home without boys close in age. But, are they “cured” with a new family? Probably not. Instead, they are with a family that must have had the resources and training to stick it out. With trauma that deep it takes at least a year to see improvement. Sometimes, it doesn’t improve at all, no matter what the parents do. The Harris family or the Cleavers might have failed just the same. ABC just sent the message to struggling families everywhere that they are the problem. I want to state that RAD is the problem. The child’s past trauma is the problem.

It’s too bad that 20/20 did not use this platform to shed light on Reactive Attachment Disorder. It’s too bad that their platform was nothing more than a thinly veiled ploy to make viewers think, “Well, at least I’m not as bad as those people!” 20/20 had the opportunity to touch upon the mental health crisis in our country. They could have, and should have, done a better job with this segment. Yes, Elizabeth Vargas, a six-year-old little girl can be terrifying. She can attempt murder, exhibit super human strength in her rage, and injure herself and others. It is not the fault of the child. Instead of asking if this could happen Ms. Vargas should have been asking how does this happen? And how can we make it better for these hurt, traumatized children?

**Pictures courtesy of ABC 20/20 official website

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adoption, adoption disruption, Attachment, Attachment Disorders, family, parenting

The War Against RAD: An Open Letter to Rosie O’Donnell

Behind closed doors: Rosie O'Donnell's adopted daughter says her mom is a ' phony' in public who would put on a happy face, but then ignore her kids at home

Dear Rosie,

I am sorry for your loss. You have lost the most precious thing to any mother. You have lost a child. My hope for you is that Chelsea will eventually realize what her actions have done. In the meantime, be strong, Mama. From one adoptive mother to another, I feel for you. In the midst of everything I am sure that your biggest concern is for your child. Isn’t that always the way? We put them first. We are mothers.

I am sure I’m not the only Trauma Mama out there with a strong suspicion that your daughter may suffer from an attachment disorder of some sort. Of course it’s not my business, nor is it the public’s business. However, when it’s out in the media, I just hope people consider all sides. We never talk about RAD in public, do we? Mental illness is considered to be private, a family secret to be concealed. I wonder why? Adoption is wonderful, but adoption is also hard.

It’s curious to me that at 17, she had a 25-year-old boyfriend with a history of drug involvement. I can see where any parent would try to circumvent this kind of unhealthy relationship. I can also see where a mother might distance the family from a birth parent making public accusations. I believe that in this case the mother even admitted to being on heroin at the time of pregnancy and the birth of Chelsea. I am sorry for your daughter that the start of her life was so traumatic.

I have seen Reactive Attachment Disorder up close and it does terrible things to a child. An attachment challenged child will push away the very people they love the most. They will view love, affection, and nurturing as the enemy. Reactive Attachment Disorder is the driving force that causes our children to seek relationship after relationship with friends, family, and romantic partners, only to sabotage them purposefully. Reactive Attachment Disorder whispers in the ear of our children that they will never be safe, never be loved. It tells them to make claims to the rest of the world that they are happy and well-adjusted. Then it traps them in permanent loneliness, causing them to lash out against all who try to love them. it is a war we fight against the disorder.

There has been a lot of media around the “different side” of you that Chelsea saw at home. She has “exposed” the fact that you liked arts and crafts and that you presented a happier face to the world. Don’t all of us present a happy face to the general public? Especially in times of strife or turmoil at home? I know I do. I love all of my children and I wouldn’t change a thing. That is the truth and it is what I tell others who ask me about adoption. The truth that I don’t tell, that I hide from the public, is that sometimes it is really, really hard. I may blog about it, but I can’t share within my immediate circle. At home, we battle against RAD.

Sometimes, Reactive Attachment Disorder wins. Our children leave us either physically or emotionally. Then we are left wondering if they will be alright. I have to believe they will be. The hardest part is letting go and seeing where they land. Chelsea went to her birth mother and then back to her boyfriend. She is probably in the windstorm of Reactive Attachment DIsorder. I’m sure she will be tossed around from place to place, never finding enough to fill the void inside. Eventually, I believe she will come home. To you and to your family. I believe this because I want to believe I will see my boys again. I must believe that they can heal.  I wish only safety and healing for you and your family. Sometimes, Reactive Attachment Disorder wins. I hope it loses this time.

Love,

Another RAD Soldier

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adoption, Attachment, Attachment Disorders, family, fostercare, parenting

Will Our Teen Bury Me in the Backyard?: Adventures in Attachment Challenges

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We often hear how charming our newest teenager is. How sweet and hard-working he is. “He is SUCH a good kid” or “I wish my teen would behave that way.” And it’s true…in public.

Attachment challenges are the hardest type of challenges to explain to anyone outside the home. Attachment-challenged children can’t handle the intensity of love. They depend only on themselves and push others away out of fear and discomfort. Our kids often show a very different face to the outside world. Lying, stealing, manipulation, and aggression towards caregivers are just a few common characteristics in the home.  Our little chickens went through stages of physical aggression with us as well. With Marcus we see mostly manipulation, threats and control issues.

Here’s the tough part; these behaviors are only revealed to primary caregivers. Outside of our home Marcus can engage strangers in lovely conversations and generally charm anyone. He is funny and lighthearted. He laughs easily and cracks jokes. He can then display his utter disdain for his caregivers.

Well to be fair, mostly to me. He loves Luke and wishes to have my husband all to himself. Marcus claims that if only he didn’t have me, he and Luke could run the house together. He fantasizes about one day getting to fight with Luke, or going to a bar with Luke. He talks about all of the trouble they could get in together. He doesn’t have a concept of what a father’s role is. The idea that Luke would never do any of these things is beyond comprehension for Marcus. Why wouldn’t a father-figure drink with him and leave the rest of the family?  He cannot understand what my husband sees in having a wife or why he doesn’t leave me.

He will “parent shop” often. Marcus has only been home since June but he already has plans to try to live with his riding instructor. Or one of his old teachers. He spends most days telling me that they can cook better or that they would love to have him live with them. Unfortunately, Marcus doesn’t understand relationship boundaries. He either loves or hates with equal ferocity. He doesn’t understand that teaching horseback riding and adopting a teenager are two very different things. He is checking out his options.

He will hug ex-foster parents, old PO officers, social workers. Basically all people who he proclaimed to hate a few months ago. He used to tell us these people were out to get him. They purposefully wanted to see him fail. Now he passes out hugs like party favors.  For me he flinches away and threatens to hit me if I touch him.

Marcus has a big problem right now with his younger siblings. He cannot take the emotional intensity of our loving relationships with them. He hates watching hugs and compliments. He can’t stand it when we won’t hit them and often threatens to do so himself.

Violence is the only intimate act he knows. He uses it to intimidate them and trigger their fears of being physically abused. He mocks their emotions, laughs at their fear and shuts out their love. Violence is all he is familiar with in the family. When our daughter kisses my head he stomps into the basement and slams the door.

Where is the boy who once called me “mom?” Where is the kid who cried over the phone and asked me to move “home” with us because he wanted to “Have a mom and dad who cared?” Where is the boy who fixed Carl’s bike and played dress-up in footy-pajamas with Mary?

He is gone. His fear of love shows itself as anger. Rage, aggression and control are his survival skills. He cannot let his family get too close. After all, close connections can hurt if they are broken. Now that Marcus is here he fills outsiders with tales of our evil ways (dinner as a family?! The horror!!) and petitions for a better option somewhere else.

Some of the things he says or does to hurt me are beyond cruel. And why? Because of my audacity to love him. I love him in spite of the horrible things he says to me or says about me. I cannot change my unconditional love for him. I cannot change the way I show love to my husband and my other chickens. And I cannot change his mind.

Marcus will turn 18 in October. Although we see some minor improvements, I think it is very likely that he will leave. Are we hurting him more than helping him by forcing him to watch his younger siblings enjoy a childhood so different from the one he experienced? If he leaves, will he stay in contact? Will he visit? Will he have everything he needs? I cannot predict this. I cannot see our future right now. I cannot reach him. Not yet.

All I can do is hope for the chance of “someday.”

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

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