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.
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*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