adoption disruption, Attachment Disorders, family

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

rehoming

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, family

Family Divided: Adventures in Rupture and Repair

Marcus in one of his sweeter moments. He is cuddled up in the blankie I bought him.

Marcus in one of his sweeter moments. He is cuddled up in the blankie I bought him.

Is there a protocol for this? How does one navigate the waters of almost-used-to-be children? In his time-honored, often repeated cycle, Marcus is back in contact. He wants to visit. He wants back in. Again.

His 18th birthday comes in less than a week. I’m sending money for his birthday present (he wants a tattoo about a friend that was murdered in his old neighborhood.) I have promised this since he was 16. I have never missed a birthday or holiday no matter where he was or how he was feeling about us. It’s important to me that he knows our family is a constant in his life.

How does one solve an equation as complicated as this one. And how does one count the cost? The cost to my teenager. The cost to my family. The cost to my heart.

He comes to us when he wants something. Marcus can’t discern the difference between his wants and his needs. The survivor in him urges him to meet his perceived needs by any means necessary. This could be $50 for clothes, a haircut, sunflower seeds or a car. I’m glad he knows to come to us. I wish I could teach him the difference between “needing” a new video game and needing bail money. If we deny one will he still know to come to us for the other? I hope so. We are about to find out.

How much do I give and how much do I allow him to take? He wants a day visit. Breakfast until dinner. He asks me with such timidity, such trepidation. But is this real or is it all manipulation? He hasn’t asked after his siblings. He will probably never apologize for being physically aggressive towards me. Marcus never apologizes. It’s one of the ways he keeps his heart safe. I get it. It doesn’t mean that I like it.

How would I handle it if he came for the day? Would Sean show up as well? Inevitably, the visit would end and my teenagers would walk away from me. Again. Can I handle that again? Could anyone handle watching them walk away over and over again?

But if not me, then who else? For Marcus, there won’t be another “mom.” There won’t be another family to be there for him when no one else will. If I walk away I will truly leave an orphan behind me. Sean, on the other hand, has his biological father on the sidelines. This is the same father Marcus has. He told us to adopt Marcus, because he only wants Sean. He is still fighting for Sean, no matter what Sean wants. Sean isn’t talking. Marcus is. Marcus hates that man with a burning vengeful rage.

And that leaves us. The safe place. Home. I want to be mom-enough to handle whatever heartbreak is thrown my way. I’m not sure that I am capable. Before he comes home for a visit, he needs to have some boundaries. He can put my emotions through this roller coaster ride, but not my littles. My littles deserve peace.

The newfound peace in our home is fragile. It’s new. Our littles have more of our time and attention. They are more easily soothed and they express less anxiety. Luke and I have more time for each other. We have an extra hour when the littles go to bed for talking, dancing in the kitchen, having a glass of wine or making love. I no longer spend an hour massaging the teens’ post-football practice aches. I don’t tuck Sean in and go back over and over for at least an hour to soothe his nighttime anxieties. How can we be there for the teens and still preserve this delicate family balance?

That’s an equation I can’t solve. How could I? Where do I draw the line between him and me? How will I know if I’m doing the right thing? How would anyone?

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

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adoption disruption, family, grief, parenting

Switching Shampoo: Grief in Disrupted Adoption

So, Luke is pissed. Pissed. Mad, steaming, angry, seeing red, blow-a-gasket, pissed. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen my husband this mad in nearly a decade. Today just happens to be one of those days. He is typically calm and steady. He is always the voice of reason. Just, not so much today. His exact words were, “Of course I’m pissed! I’m sick of them! They did this to you on purpose and I am pissed at them! All I hear about is them and look what they’ve done to you! Do you see me calling them? I won’t do a thing to help them. I’m not going to play their games.” He is, of course, right. They were trying to hurt me as deeply as possible, thus making it easier for them to walk away. The “they” he is referring to are Marcus and Sean. Our 17 and 14-year-old boys who recently disrupted out of our home.

It worked. I am but a shadow of myself these days. This day, in particular, has been difficult for me. A friend’s 14-year-old son attended a social function with her recently. He obligingly took pictures of us grown women acting like silly children. He held his baby cousin most of the time. Sure, he rolled his eyes at his mother and poked fun at her, but he was there.  He was right there with her. I went home and cried for hours. Today I’m mad and prickly. I’m snapping at everyone for no reason and I can’t seem to get back on track. I feel like there’s a cartoon storm cloud brewing over my head and I’m just spoiling for a fight.

I sometimes feel that my intense level a grief over these teens is a huge inconvenience to him and to the rest of the family.It can hit me so hard over the smallest things. I look at the door knob on our basement door and remember Marcus installing it. I stumble across Sean’s favorite chicken salad sandwich in a picture at Dunkin’ Donuts.  There are times that it consumes me so much that I cry. I spend time alone. I go into our room and shut the door to be alone. I can tell that I am not myself. In our family I am usually laughing and baking brownies and singing crazy songs. I always find the bright side, the half-full glass, the silver lining. Lately I can’t seem to find my own smile.

It occurs to me that I can switch back to my old shampoo again.  Sean was so hyper-sensitive to smells that I had to switch hair products. This was to keep him from gagging on long car rides with me. I still buy the Sean-approved brands of shampoo and conditioner, out of habit. Why am I doing this? Why am I holding out hope? Why can’t I let go? My therapist tells me that I don’t need to let go. Grief is a process. I am grieving the loss of a child. But, wouldn’t it be easier to let it all go? Wouldn’t it be easier if they just weren’t my problem anymore? Sometimes, in my deepest, darkest places, I admit this is true. It would be so much easier. If we had never become this entangled with them, if I had never fallen in love with parenting these chickens, wouldn’t things be better right now? They would be, but that isn’t the point.

All anger is born of fear. I admit that I am angry at the teens. It comes and goes. I am angry because I fear that they never really loved me, even a little bit. I am angry because when I am in my darkest place, I fear that I didn’t actually make any impact on them. I am afraid that I wasn’t a good parent.

Luke is afraid, too. He is afraid for me. He is afraid that the fun-loving, optimistic wife is MIA and he wants me to come back. I am precious to him and he wants to protect me. Of course he is mad.

If I am being honest, the hardest part was losing Sean. When Marcus left, I wasn’t all that surprised. He has struggled back and forth with loyalty to his biological mother for a long time. He went through a phase before where he got incredibly close to me and then just completely cut off contact. He always seemed to have one foot out the door, in case things didn’t work out. Not so with Sean. Sean was my cuddle buddy, my cooking buddy, my constant companion. Now he is my yesterday, my memory, my once-upon-a-time.

It’s not as if they are dead. They simply don’t wish to be in our family. They can’t handle being in any family. The question is, how do I move on? How do I come back from this? And then my fear creeps in. Do I ever come back from this? Can I?

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

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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, family, fostercare, parenting

We Like Big Butts!: Adventures in Healing for Our Family

littlesfair

Does it get better? Will there be mornings when I stop calling for Sean not to miss his bus? Maybe a morning where I remember he is gone before I start checking that he is ready for school?

This weekend Luke and I took our Littles to the “Big E” along with Seth and Catlyn. We went on rides and played games and ate impossibly unhealthy foods. We laughed and the children caught bead necklaces when the parade went by. We stuffed ourselves full of Kettle corn and zoomed down a slide twice as tall as our house!

Luke grinned and belly laughed with me and kissed me with abandon. Our kids squealed, “Ewww! Gross!” as children are supposed to do.

In short, we had fun.

We did pass by certain rides or food booths that brought up memories from last year. That is when I thought of Sean and I missed him. We saw things Marcus would love and I missed him, too. I wonder of they look back and think about all of the fun we’ve had as a family? Do they miss us as well?

At the same time, we saw our Littles relax and bond. Carl held Mary’s hand to make sure she wouldn’t be afraid. When they went on the little roller coaster together, she got so scared that she screamed for me the  entire ride. The whole time Carl held her hand and told her she wouldn’t die and that he was there and he loves her. That story is beautiful to me. It reinforces that siblings belong together. It lets me know that they are healing.

Yfootballcfootball

The next day was their football game. Luke and I were sure to change our Little’s names on the roster so they would be announced with our family last name over the loudspeakers. After the game Carl was so proud that they announced his name during his many, many tackles. Mary said, “Yeah, they knew who I was, too!” She also commented that while she was cheer leading, she saw me jumping up and down shouting, “That’s my son!” to strangers.

Despite all of the turmoil, I think they are beginning to feel secure. I suspect they are attaching. During in-home therapy the littles were asked if they had any questions as to why Sean and Marcus aren’t living with us. Carl asked, “Why were they so mean?” I did my best to explain that Sean and Marcus were scared to get close to a mom and dad because they had been hurt so much before by a mom and dad. I said they were trying to do things that would push us away so we wouldn’t love them anymore. Carl looked incredulous. “Well it didn’t work!” he exclaimed.

As for Mary? She had a question about the family, too. She asked, “Mommy? Why does Daddy like big butts so much? ‘Cause he Really likes yours!!!” And if THAT is the most pressing question about our family? Well then, I guess we are doing alright! Although maybe Luke should lay off singing Sir Mix-A-Lot to me….but this Mommy’s got back and she cannot lie!!

yarypigs

**Names have been hanged to protect the privacy of those involved.
If you’ve ever thought about fostering or adopting, I encourage you to start your adventure!

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adoption, family, fostercare, parenting

Seeking Sean: Understanding Why He Can’t

book

The Mother’s Day gift Sean made me with a deck of cards.

Why? Why on earth would he despise being in our family?? I have compiled a list of the horrors our family inflicted upon our teenage son, Sean. The perils of family life he faced include, but are not limited to:

1. Having to shower on the daily. Yes, that’s correct, we do enforce proper hygiene particularly for those in the throes of puberty.

2. Family dinners. That’s it. We just sit down at the table as a family. You don’t have to eat but you have to show up.

3. Taking out the trash. His only chore.

4. Be respectful to your family members, at least decently so.

Before he left, these seemed to be his triggers. I feel like the real list of complaints he has boil down to one thing only. The revised (and I believe truthful) list is this:

1. Having a mom and dad who set limits and enforce boundaries.

He couldn’t get used to it. He complained about it all the time. Ever since Marcus left he began threatening to do the same. It was usually about how if he didn’t get what he wanted or do as he pleased, then he didn’t want the family.

We sat down that day and made a little book about what our family responsibilities and roles are. Mom, Dad, the littles, and Sean all had a page. We wrote it together. We talked about it and agreed to it. That was the last thing we did with Sean, as a family.

Now, his place is empty at the dinner table each night. The last I heard he actually went into the same foster home Marcus is in. At least, Marcus will be there until October 24th, when he turns 18. Then he is going to his older bio-sisters home for a “big party.” Part of me is happy they are together. Part of me is cringing inside because my 14-yr-old baby is back in “the system.”

I want to make sure he is going to therapy. Given the history of Marcus’ mental health care during foster placement, I doubt it. I wonder who goes to him at night when he has nightmares? Who watches the cooking channel with him in the evenings? Who will hang up his art work and buy him all of those expensive art supplies? Who will hug him and tell him he is a wonderful boy?

No one. That is what a mom does. That is what he did not want. Sean used to wait for me each night for almost 45 minutes while I put the littles to bed and sat there until they slept. I didn’t want them to be scared. He didn’t want to be scared, either.

We would watch a movie or HGTV. The last movie we saw was “A Monster in Paris.” It was an animated musical and Sean sang all of the songs while cuddled up. I didn’t make him snuggle up or hug me. I didn’t chase him around to watch TV. He craved that time with me. Sean used to make little art projects for me and he would just glow when I put them on the fridge. Being his mother is rewarding but also exhausting at times. I would tuck him in at bedtime and rub his back. I would try to leave 2 or 3 times and he would beg for me to stay a little longer because he was scared. Just like a small child.

Some nights (when he was especially anxious or triggered) I was so exhausted my eyes would close and I would nod off while standing up. It took so long to put him down for the night. Now I lie down early to read or write before bed. I have time in the evenings. I still wish I appreciated the times he needed me, no matter how exhausting.

Sean didn’t like limits and rules. He didn’t like that Mom and Dad set them. He didn’t like it that Mom and Dad had “off duty” time at night to be with just each other. Sean wanted to be our only child, soaking up all of our attention. That tells me that he does want to be loved. However, he wanted to be our equal. Having control and being separate from “the kids” was a big sticking point for him. That tells me that he absolutely does not understand love.

Having a mom and dad is hard for all of our kids. It’s a foreign concept to them.  That would be like someone dropping off an exotic elephant and expecting me to know what to do with it. Even though showering and taking out trash are not torture, it must feel like it to someone who just can’t understand. The care, the limits, the very oversight of us must have smothered him.

I saw him one last time when he was in-patient. I brought him his favorite sketch books. I said what I needed to say. He looked bored, indifferent even. But I know my Sean and I saw that he was holding back tears. I was a mess just crying and distraught.  The conversation went something like this:

Me: I really do love you, you know. Very much.

Sean: Yeah. (Eye roll) I love you, too.

Me: I want you to know that you are very, very wanted. It was never a question of that. We always wanted you.

Sean: Yeah. I know.

Me: I’m so sad that you didn’t want to be part of a family. That it was so hard for you. I’m sorry it worked out like this.

Sean: Okay.

Me: I want you to be happy. I really hope that you find what it is you’re looking for.

Sean: Okay.

Me: I don’t know what else to say to you. I promise we will take very good care of the littles.

Sean: I know.

Me: You’re a great kid, Sean.

(Long pause)

Me: Do you want me to go?

Sean: Yeah.

That was the last of it. I can accept that he doesn’t want parents right now. I can accept that he wants to be with Marcus or maybe be like Marcus. I can even accept that he doesn’t want contact with us. He didn’t need to say anything to me that day. I needed to say what I said to him. What I cannot accept is the facade that being in a family was so awful for him that he just doesn’t care. I know he cared. It must have been harder than I can imagine but I know that it was good for him to be with us.

I can’t say if he will ever be with us again. Who knows? I can say that this experience was the hardest. It taught me that what we are doing with these kids, for however log we have them, is worth it. My joy, my love, my memories? They are worth the soul-shattering grief I am feeling right now. That time was worth everything. Being “mom” is worth everything to me.

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

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adoption, family, parenting, PTSD

Smashing the iPod: Adventures in Accepting My Own PTSD

   ptsd2

My first thought is “Oh god, it finally happened. Someone’s been stabbed.” It was around 3 AM and Sean was standing over my bed with his arms stretched wide. A thick liquid was pooled on his head and dripping down his face. His arms and hands were covered in the stuff. I didn’t even hear what he was saying to me. My heart raced in terror and panic. I just began to scream and grab at Luke, my husband.

Glue. It was only glue. Sean had apparently woken up in the middle of the night and attempted an ill-fated art project that ended with the explosion of a bottle of Elmer’s. After crying hysterically and cowering into my husband, I realized what was happening. Just glue. I got out of bed and helped clean off my perplexed teenager. “It’s OK, mom. It’s not like this happened at a frat party or something,” he said. Not at all reassuring but, OK.

The thing that got to me was my reaction. I actually believed that Marcus may have stabbed Sean or Sean may have stabbed someone. It was my first thought. Waking up to children standing silently over the bed is nothing new. They do it all the time. They wake up and want to make sure they still have parents. It’s never scared me before. It’s slightly creepy to have someone watch you sleeping, but I understand why they do it. My reaction is new. I’ve been doing that a lot lately. I’m jumpy at loud noises. If I hear the kids yelling I often dread that it’s a fight or a tantrum. Usually it isn’t. But that feeling in the pit of my stomach? That’s new.

It started when Marcus finally moved in. It wasn’t his fault, certainly. I was afraid of him, though. I loved him but I was scared. As he began to chafe against family life, his anger was directed at me. He walked around with barely concealed rage just at the sight of me giving hugs to the littles or offering him snack. Sometimes he lashed out and punched his punching bag or the wall. The day he left he assaulted me by kicking me and throwing his phone at me. At the time I remained calm, yet firm. We are a house of no hurts and he would need to use a coping skill and take some space. He honestly didn’t leave a mark on me. It wasn’t until the next day that I realized how jumpy and nervous I was becoming. I haven’t slept well at all since then.

All of our kids have expressed aggression at one time or another. Little Mary used to have severe and prolonged violent episodes due to her trauma history. It wasn’t her fault and it was just as hard on her as it was on the rest of us. There were months in the beginning of bringing our children home where she would scream and attack me and rage for literally 5 or more hours. Living at home and walking through that with her was like living in a war zone. I was relieved to go back to work because no one was hitting me there. I spent the months of August and September sweating in long sleeves and long pants to cover all of my bruises. But all of that is long in the past. Our children still rage from time to time but the daily prolonged violence is gone. So, it’s all over, right? Then why don’t I feel safe in my home?

Sean has had a few outbursts but not many. Normally he is sweet and affectionate and loving. He is the child who is filled with hugs and snuggles. He is also the child who is over 200 lbs and is physically intimidating. Sean lost it last week. That’s not the worst part for me. The worst part is that I lost it last week. 

Sean had been upset for a few days about “having to be in a family.” He didn’t earn his electronics privileges over breaking some rules, and refused to hand over his iPod. He grabbed his things and started packing up to leave. I snapped. I yelled at him. I don’t often raise my voice at all but I yelled that if he wanted to leave, fine, take it up with the social worker. Then I snatched the iPod right out of his pocket. He shoved me and hit me and broke a window. Sean tackled me to the ground and I cut my leg on part of his bed. Little Carl started punching me and then Sean punched him and then Carl and Sean were fighting. Luke came in to break it up. He blocked Sean from chasing me. Mary ran and hid in her room with the door locked. I scrambled away and locked myself in the bathroom.

That’s not the worst thing by far. I was upstairs with the stupid iPod just shaking with rage. I was furious at being the “target.” I was mad at the fact that I felt weak and helpless and preyed upon. Why did I always get the bruises and the blood? Why? None of our kids target Luke presumably because he is larger and stronger than I am. I was furious with Sean but mostly furious at feeling so weak and vulnerable.

Everything I’d been holding in just hit me at once. I did the most illogical thing I could think of. I smashed the iPod. Then I dumped it into the tank behind the toilet and sat down in the floor and sobbed. Luke handled the whole thing like a pro. He was calm and assertive and let me hide in the bathroom while he handled things. I am so thankful that this man is the other half of my equation.

The police came. The ambulance came. Sean went to the hospital psychiatric in-patient unit. He has been there for a few days now and he is insisting that he won’t return home. Without Marcus and Sean in the house there really isn’t anyone to hurt me physically anymore. I still jump when a door slams. If the perceived threat is gone then why am I still scared??

I decided to see a therapist that I know and trust because I can’t seem shake this fear. I’m ashamed, really. I haven’t lived through even an iota of what they have lived through. I am a strong and stable adult. I should always be the calming influence in their lives. I shouldn’t yell and smash iPods. I most definitely shouldn’t be losing children. Losing Marcus was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. If we lose Sean? How do I even come back from that?

My therapist listened to my story and my symptoms. She told me I have PTSD from suffering my own trauma with our children. She told me I was a good mother, and I so needed to hear that. She told me that it was OK to be human and have reactions. She told me that it was OK to grieve for losing Marcus. She told me it was OK to grieve for Sean. Most of all she gave me permission to feel my feelings. I can’t and shouldn’t just “let it go,” because I love my boys. I will always be their mother. A part of me will always hold out hope, no matter what the boys say right now. The therapist says that I will still feel “jumpy” like this for a while and it may take time. I’m going to continue to see her because even though I haven’t been through what our children have, I know that I am affected by this. I need help, too.

The best thing happened with Little Mary, though. She saw me crying about Sean and she came over and snuggled up. She began to rub my back in broad circles, as I have done so many times for her. I heard her parrot my own words back to me, “It’s going to be OK. You are safe. I will stay with you until you feel safe. Here, have my blankie as a coping skill.” I was so proud of her. I think I might even be a little proud of myself this week. I’m not proud at all for losing it. But PTSD? I can acknowledge and accept the effects that this kind of intensive parenting have had on me. I can acknowledge that intensive therapeutic parenting has had a huge impact on little Mary, in a miraculous way. I am flawed and I am tired. But I am mom, and I will survive this, too.

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