Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Stepping Back Into the Light

Yes, it was therapy day for The Princess and I this morning.  If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know therapy has not been a very productive or fun time these last couple of months.  Today was different.  The Princess was engaged, made appropriate eye contact, paid attention as much as her ADHD would allow her to do, and she PARTICIPATED!  She was even pleasant.  I believe our happy, sweet girl is on her way back.

We have eased out of using Seroquel XR 50 mg/day over the last month, and have slowly added Abilify.  The Princess has another med check on Friday, but I believe this is working for us.  She is also on Focalin XR before school and a generic (not slow release) Focalin after school.  Abilify is usually added to an anti-depressant.  She is not on one of those now, but the Abilify seems to be helping anyway.  (Maybe tomorrow, I should do a post on medications?  I could list those I know and what they’re used for and let you know how effective they’ve been when we’ve used them.  The thing is, there are on-going adjustments that are made as the kids’ systems get used to the medications and they become less effective over time.)

I’m proud of my girl.  She’s working.  It’s hard.  She’s not always conscious of what she’s doing or how she’s behaving, but she wants to be.  She responds well when she’s approached in a manner that displays teaching rather than irritation or condemnation.  She just wants the freedom to be who she is, but she needs to learn the tools to help her mature and navigate the world.  Today, she was willing to start working on that again.

I feel like we’re stepping back into the light.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Trauma Triggers

The ministry team at our church asked me to share a list of things I observe as trauma triggers in The Princess and Youngest Son, and to also list things I’ve observed as trauma triggers in other adopted children.  Below is the list I gave them.  (I didn’t want to overwhelm them with too many things all at once.)

I'm posting the list here so others can refer to it.  You may want to share this with a teacher friend, or youth ministry team leader you know.  Perhaps, you’ll add some things of your own to this list in the comment section for this post.  I will add some myself with an (*) after the list I gave our ministry team.

Universal Trauma Triggers (things I’ve seen most internationally adopted kids, and many foster/adopt kids react to on some level)

Blood, gore, dead babies, dead animals, dying people, people starving in Africa (pretty much any topic you THINK they SHOULD know about should really be discussed with the parents of traumatized kids first).

Orphan care ministry (triggers survivor’s guilt).

Talk about the “blessing” of adoption (triggers guilt for caring about bio family).

Movies about adoption, movies where adoptive parents are portrayed as evil or mean, movies about orphanages, child trafficking, sex trafficking, child abandonment.  (Parent permission before showing movies might be a good standard practice in children’s and youth ministry.)

Talk about a child being adopted – even if everyone already knows it.  Adopted kids don’t want to be the topic of discussion; they just want to fit in

Loud noises, alarms, sudden changes, changes in routine, new teachers/leadership can also be triggers for many adopted kids.

Do not assume adopted kids, especially older, internationally adopted kids that lived in orphanages, know what you’re talking about.  Their world knowledge is VERY limited and it will take significant time to “catch up” on things most people would think “everyone” knows.

*Holidays, especially Halloween and Christmas.  Birthdays, pretty much any celebration, especially if it isn’t all about them.

*Too much “stuff.”  Our kids are overwhelmed with too many choices – everything from a full menu at a restaurant, to too many clothing choices, and too many toys.

*Affection from people other than family members.

*Gifts – even little gifts like a piece of candy.

*Rewards – especially if they’re for doing something any well-behaved kid SHOULD be doing anyway.

Triggers more specific to Youngest Son and The Princess (but can also be triggers for other adopted kids, too):

Talk about suicide, especially suicide by hanging.

Talk about alcoholism, prostitution, divorce.

Talk about their birth country.

When people ask them what their “actual name” is – yes, this has happened in youth group.  Their “actual” names are the names they have now.

Questions about their orphanage or their life in Eastern Europe, including questions about their birth family.  (Youth group members need to learn this is inappropriate conversation.)

Certain smells can be triggers, including fish, fried potatoes, and anything burned.

Questions about therapy or medications.

People assuming they know what is being talked about – for example, The Princess became very upset about hearing one of the youth leaders had a miscarriage – not because she understood what that was, but because she felt stupid, and like “everyone was talking in jibberish.” 

*When one of our older boys comes home to visit.  (It messes with routine, territory, and attention issues.)

*Any new recipes Mama T tries for supper.

*Painting the house, or moving the furniture.

*Other kids not having coats on when it’s cold outside.

*People leaving their animals outdoors.

*When a child is being publicly disrespectful – like in a store.

Other ideas?  Please do share below.  I love on-topic comments!

Monday, February 27, 2012

ADHD in Internationally Adopted Children

My daughter is diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit/hyper-activity disorder).  When I explain her diagnosis to professionals and close friends, I always emphasize the H.  Youngest Son is diagnosed with ADD.  He is not hyper, but he has a very difficult time paying attention and is easily distracted.

ADHD/ADD is similar, but different in internationally adopted kids vs. typical kids.  My kids definitely have it, but maybe your internationally-adopted child is dealing with post-institutionalization issues rather than ADHD?  I tried to write an intelligent-sounding article to explain this, but cannot come up with anything as nearly well-written as the following article by Dr. Boris Gindis.  For more great reads by him and others with much more knowledge than I, visit

Please note:  Dr. Gindis is located in New York, but will do phone consultations with parents.  He is very caring and was very helpful to our family during our first year or so home.
Notes on ADHD in internationally adopted children by Boris Gindis, Ph.D.

 ADHD in post-orphanage children is a matter of great practical significance and is an emotionally charged issue for adoptive parents. I have to point out that the core of ADHD - impulsivity, restlessness, and inattentiveness - may be symptoms of many other disorders, or just one of the characteristics of post-orphanage behavior, or social adjustment. Thus, it is a mistake to think in terms of "What is the singular cause of this behavior?" and not "What are the multiple causes?" There is no doubt that many international adoptees have genuine ADHD and may respond well to a traditional treatment that, in most cases, is just medication. Nevertheless, there are other explanations and other treatments of what looks like an ADHD behavior in international adoptees.

One thing that most orphanage survivors have in common is poor emotional and behavioral self-regulation. Hyperactive, disorganized, and disregulated behaviors that are typical for children with ADHD, may in internationally adopted children reflect the impact of abnormal environmental factors of orphanage life on development. I personally believe in a significant social/cultural influence on the origin of this deficit: it is due, at least partially, to the lack of modeling, mediating, and assistance usually provided to children by a caregiver in the family-based upbringing.

Language also plays a critical role in the development of self-regulation, because it allows children to gain some control over manifestations of their feelings, helps them inhibit impulsive responding and behave in a more organized way. Therefore, the issue of specificity of ADHD in post-institutionalized internationally adopted children is a complex one and more research and more careful thinking is needed. It is likely that we are dealing with what could be defined as an atypical attention deficit disorder in children who have a very atypical psychological profile stemming from an atypical background and development.

Look at what Michael Rutter and his associates have found. He studied a sample of Romanian adoptees for approximately ten years. They found a high rate of what they called "inattentive-hyperactive" behavior. They pointedly avoided calling this ADHD, since they found significant differences between this condition and ADHD as it is manifested in "typical" Canadian and American kids. For example, in "typical" ADHD, there is a high correlation between the inattentive/impulsive behavior and aggression (70% co-morbidity), while in the adoption sample, the kids were not aggressive. Similarly, in "typical" ADHD, the overwhelming majority (again, over 70%) of affected kids are boys, while in the adoption sample boys and girls were equally affected. These researchers were very careful in their conclusions about this, but expressed concern that IA kids were being lumped with, and treated like typical ADHD kids when the etiology and symptoms are probably different in significant ways. All children in that study showed improvement over time, with some - catching up completely and others remaining - below their peers despite considerable gains.

It has been well-established through hundreds of studies that the most effective treatment for children over the age of 4 with ADHD is a combination of medication and behavioral therapy. There are some children who don't have symptoms severe enough to warrant medication and can get by on behavior modification alone, but for children with a more serious condition, medical management is needed. I do not see here a place for moral or social value judgment: as one parent stated: "If your son had diabetes, you would give him daily medication without giving it a second thought. ADHD is a medical issue, period." On the other hand, medication doesn't cure ADHD, and as many people have said, "pills don't teach skills." Stimulant medications shouldn't be used as an alternative to teaching a child how to behave and learn in the classroom, particular with ID children were an issue of self-regulation is so urgent.

I believe that social skills training along with language therapy are the most promising counterpart to medical treatment for an IA child who has symptoms of ADHD.

Dr. Boris Gindis is a child psychologist specializing in psycho-educational issues of older internationally adopted children. He is chief psychologist at the Center for Cognitive-Developmental Assessment and Remediation, the lead instructor at Bgcenter Online School, the author of many publications on international adoption issues and frequent presenter at conferences and workshops.
Article Source:

Friday, February 24, 2012


Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.  ~ John 14 : 23 – 24 NIV

As responsible parents, we teach our children to obey us and to obey the adults with earned authority in their lives.  Children need guidance, discipline, and teaching.  Sometimes, that teaching comes in the form of sweet, easy interchange between parent and child.  Sometimes, it can come in a sudden, quick, and even loud command such as “Don’t touch!  HOT!” when the child is grabbing for something that could burn him.

In therapy with my kids, I’ve learned I cannot always expect obedience from my traumatized kids.  They just can’t do it every time, all the time.  They need to process things, and question things.  They still don’t know everything one would think a 13 and 16 year old teen would know.  My 16-year-old son, was completely FREAKED out two nights ago when he saw a search light beaming into the sky in the middle of town.  He (seriously) thought it was aliens coming to “get us.”  The beam was to announce the re-opening of a restaurant that was closed a couple of months for remodeling.  In addition to that, my 13-year-old asked me when Leprechaunukkah (St. Patrick’s Day) was on the way home from school yesterday.  They’ve been home 4.5 years, but they’re still learning about the world.  They’re still far behind in emotional development as compared to their chronological age.

I can understand their difficulty in obeying.  I’m going through something very difficult.  Yet, clearly, over and over again, I am sure the LORD is telling me wait and to let Him work.  I hate it.  I’m pretty sure I could fix things.  I’m pretty sure I know what I’m doing.  Yet, my Father tells me to stop, to obey him, to wait.  To trust.  UGH.  So, I obey.  It’s not that I’m not tempted to grab the bull by the horns and shake it.  I am.  I want to stop feeling like this.  But my Father knows better, and I know that I do NOT know as much as I'd like to believe.  So I obey and I wait.  And I shake off the dust from my feet.

My kids had to grab the bull by the horns too many times as young children.  They had to take care of themselves.  There was no one who knew better and looked out for their well-being.  Obedience was only a tool to get something they wanted, or avoid something they didn’t want.  It wasn’t about discipline – about learning how to BE in the world.  It was about manipulating circumstances so they could survive.  If I have a hard time obeying a benevolent and perfect Father sometimes, why wouldn’t I understand that they find it so much more difficult to obey me?

We all mess up.  We all do and say things without thinking.  We’re all too often too selfish and we all too often do not “bear one another’s burdens.”  I want what is best for my kids.  They’re learning to trust that and I have to be patient while they learn.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

25 (more or less) Things to Keep Your Hyper-Vigilant Teen Busy Over Spring Break

Remember:  This is copyrighted! (C) TMT

I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to spring break – sort of – a little – maybe not so much.  Now that I’m home full time, I’m looking forward to not having to drag myself and two teenagers out of bed and then out the front door for a week.  I’m looking forward to doing a couple of things with them locally that are free or inexpensive (remember, I’m not working outside the home).  I’m not looking forward to the possibility that my kids (or one of my kids) will become dysregulated due to the lack of routine.  I know I cannot afford my youngest kids the freedom to come and go during the break like I could with their older brothers.  (That would be way too scary and trigger their abandonment issues big time.)  I also can’t arrange a bunch of playdates – at least not for The Princess.  She’s struggling enough.  The last thing she needs are several other kids coming and going or a bunch of sleepovers.  (I’m thinking one, maybe two max.)

Since the kids will be home with me much of the time during break, I’ve come up with a list of things to do when the “I’m bored” monster rears its whiney head.  Read through to the end – there’s a surprise waiting (but don’t skip ahead!).  Maybe some of these ideas will work for your teens:

Helpful Things to Do

     *Clean out the kitchen cabinets – Go ahead, put the spices in alphabetical order.  Take everything out of the frig and wipe the shelves down.  And while you’re at it, wipe the cabinets down, too.

     *Go through your drawers and closet and pull out all the clothing that’s too small or that you just never wear so we can get it to someone who can use it, or take it to the thrift shop.

     *Go through the books and pull out the ones you’re too old for now.  We may keep some.  We may donate some.

     *If your kid is gentle enough and good with electronics:  Take the side cover off the PC tower(s) in the house and use one of those air can sprays made for electronics to clean out all the dust that’s collected inside the tower.

     *Rearrange the furniture in your bedroom.  Get your sibling to help you.  (Ah, team work!)  Now help your sibling.

Crafty Things to Do

     *Make an easy (and so cute) button bracelet out of old buttons and a piece of elastic (uses thread and easy hand sewing).  

     *Make some button barrettes with store-bought barrettes, buttons, and a hot glue gun.  

     *Tie dye some old tee shirts (pull them out of the pile the kids gathered when they went through their drawers and closets to clean them out).

     *Find six rocks of similar color and size – flat, smooth ones work best.  Take craft paint and paint an “X” on three of them and an “O” on the other three.  Now you have a tic-tac-toe game to play on the driveway – just draw a grid with a piece of chalk and use that same grid over and over.  OR – for rainy days, take an old pillow case and glue felt strips on it (with fabric glue) in the shape of a grid.  You can store the stones inside the pillow case.

     *Make a rolled paper (from magazines) cross.  

     *Make a fabric collage.  

Things to Brighten Someone’s Day

     *Make up “Random Acts of Kindness” Baggies.  Get some snack size baggies and put a few pieces of candy or a couple of mints inside.  Write a one-sentence note of encouragement.  Put a few baggies in your bookbag to take to school and give one to another kid (or teacher) who looks like they’re having a rough day.  When you give it to them, only say, “Just because.”

     *Take one of those baggies to the widow who lives across the street and knock on her door.  Ask her if you can help her by getting the dead leaves out of her bushes – or if there is something else she’d like you to help with (take Mom along to knock on her door with you).

     *Take one of the baggies to the young mom down the street and ask her if she’d like a little break.  Offer to play ball or draw on our driveway with chalk with her little ones for an hour.

     *Call your church or local rec center office and ask if there are some odd jobs you could do for them around the building one afternoon.

     *Walk around the block with your sibling.  Take a couple of trash bags and wear some work gloves.  Pick up any trash on the sidewalks or in the gutters.

Quiet Things To Do

     *Roll coins.  Pick out the wheat pennies as you go along (makes the task more interesting and it lasts longer).

     *Draw a comic strip about . . . (pick something that would interest the child).

     *String popcorn and then put it on a tree outside.  Watch the birds (and squirrels) come!

     *Find some pine cones,  put peanut butter on them and roll them in birdseed.  Hang them from a tree.  Again, watch the birds come!

     *Write a note to your pastor or principal and thank them for the job they do.  Mail it in the “regular” mail.

Fun Things To Do

     *Make tattle monsters out of tissue boxes.  (Since you know the kids will get on each other’s nerves and you don’t want to hear it all day.)  Have them write any tattles on a piece of paper and put it in the monster’s mouth.  At the end of the day, pull out the tattles and decide which ones are worth having the monster tell Mom about.  Put those back in his mouth and give it to Mom to handle however SHE chooses.  (Always use the caveat that anything dangerous should be brought to Mom’s attention IMMEDIATELY.)  

     *Make emotion stress balls.  Use balloons, Playdough, and a Sharpie.  

     *Plan and arrange a scavenger hunt.  Invite 2-3 friends to participate.  (Get Mom’s approval for what’s on the list.)

     *Pitch a tent in the backyard.  Invite 2-3 friends over for a “camp out.”  So what if it’s March.  Do like the Boy Scouts and dress appropriately and bring a warm sleeping bag.

     *Have an airplane making/flying contest.  Look up designs online with Mom.

Add Your Own

Okay, my brain is starting to hurt.  Play along, please!  Add your own ideas below.  I’ll put all the names of those who comment below into a basket and draw one name on the first day of Spring Break (here it’s March 17th).  The winner will receive a $10 Amazon gift certificate from Trauma Mama T.  Want another chance at winning?  Share this blog post link on Facebook and comment that you did so.  Get another chance by telling about this post on your own blog.  (Again, tell me in your comment that you did so.)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Preparing for Graduation from DBT

Senior years are exciting, and can seem really long.  Most young people just want to get them over with and move on.  I remember.  Graduating from therapy is a little different.  Still, there is preparation to be made so that the person launching out is ready.

Youngest son had his every-other-week therapy session this morning.  He’s really been doing well.  I’ve written a little bit about Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.  In fact, I picked up a brochure at our local mental health campus this morning and will share its contents below.  Well, to get to the point, we made a plan for Youngest Son to graduate from therapy and community based services.

Beginning in March, he will attend therapy once per month (every 28 days actually).  His community case worker will see him every other week instead of every week.  He will make a plan for his life over the next 6-7 months.  In the summer, his caseworker will cut back to once per month, too.  By the time school starts in the fall, he’ll be on monitor status with our family doctor overseeing his meds instead of the psychiatrist.  That is the plan.  I think it is a good plan.

Youngest Son is aware of the connection between his past and his present – much more so than his younger sister can even begin to be aware.  He told his therapist about a dream he had where his friends from the orphanage and his friends from school were together and he was facilitating a game between the two groups of guys.  They were making friends and Youngest Son was helping that to happen.  That’s BIG, folks.  That dream shows him integrating his two worlds and making a peaceful, happy connection between the two.  This is just one example of the progress he is showing.

We could not be to this point without having gone through the last four years of learning to parent him very differently than we parented the older boys.  We could not have gotten to this point without attachment therapy, and without incorporating some of the therapies that WORK with adopted kids. 

Will his attachment to us ever be 100% secure?  I’m not counting on that.  But I see a young man who’s going to make it.  It looks different than I thought it would – or than I prayed it would for too long a time – but he’s going to make it.

I just keep thinking of the story of Jonah and the big fish.  We’ve been in the belly of a whale too long.  But now, thankfully, we’ve been spit out.  We’re heading to Ninevah.  This is happening in SO many ways for our family right now.  Youngest Son’s progress is just one of those ways.  I am so thankful.

Okay, here’s what the DBT brochure from our mental health campus says:

What is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy?

In Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), your experience and feelings will be validated while you’re encouraged to develop more adaptive ways of solving problems and managing behaviors, thoughts, and emotions.  If you struggle with self-harm behaviors – such as cutting, having frequent suicidal thoughts, or even attempting suicide – or struggle with trauma symptoms, depression, anxiety, chemical dependency, or an eating disorder, DBT may be an effective treatment.

Balancing Acceptance and Change

The DBT consultation team at XXX strives toward nonjudgmentally and respectfully assisting you in building a life worth living.  We assume you’re doing your best and want to improve.  We strive to balance acceptance and change by teaching the skills of mindfulness, distress tolerance, validation, dialectics, emotion regulation, and health relationships.

Treatment Components

Standard DBT includes:
               * Weekly or bi-weekly individual therapy with a therapist specially trained in DBT
               * Weekly DBT skills training group
               *Telephone coaching as needed
               * A consultation team for support and accountability of the therapists

Research suggests that combining these treatment components increases the success rate for managing symptoms.  XXX prefers that if you enter DBT, you will be committed to all components.”

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

More About DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) and Ch-ch-changes

We are making choices for change in our household.  Some of those changes are forced upon us and we don’t like them.  They hurt.  Some of those changes are a result of getting ourselves into situations where we could hurt someone else, as well as be hurt.  Most of the changes have come from a sweet surrender, very connected to our faith, and our belief about the way God heals our family – how he refines gold.  If you’re just coming to the blog for the first time, this is an on-going theme for me these last several days.  The unexplainable JOY that has settled upon my soul in this full release cannot be explained in words.  There is relief, but it is not simply relief.  There is release, though it is not just release.  There is forgiveness from the One who matters most and there is unimaginable love for those who’ve harmed us, and continue to harm us, but those circumstances do not matter.  Again, it’s hard to explain.  Truth remains and some of that truth is uncomfortable.  Bitterness is gone in this household, at least.  The only word I have for it is “joy.”

As I wrote last time, Youngest Son has been doing very well these last several months.  Last year at this time, things were hard.  We were just getting into what would be a very difficult time of him going through a period of stealing, lying, shutting down, and being hateful.  At the time, a friend said some hard things to me, and I wasn’t ready to hear them.  Over time, God worked on my heart to understand the hurt that my son had endured and how it had changed his brain – for life.  No praying, pleading or begging to God was going to change that.  God had another plan.  It was not that He COULDN’T change it, but He doesn’t work that way, and I was slow to learn it.  The damage done to my son was not going to heal in the way I wanted it to heal.  Instead, God would lead us both to an acceptance of what is, what happened to him, and that he wasn’t the “same,” nor would he ever BE “the same” as my typical children.  Still, Youngest Son was his own unique, awesome, amazing kid.  He was a survivor.  He’s a smart kid and he’d learned to survive.  Since he was so smart, he could also learn to thrive.  He could heal THIS way – because God was in the business of refining gold!

We did more than two years of attachment therapy, and therapy that combined techniques from well-known adoption therapists such as Heather Forbes (Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control), Daniel Hughes, Becky Bailey, and others.  We used what worked for us.  Not everything from every well-known clinician did work, but we used the things that helped us develop a connection.  Physical punishment never made a connection.  Time in (even if I was tired and didn’t want to do it), made the connection.  (That’s not to say that time outs did not have their place, too.  They still do.  I’m the one who needs them most often, so I don’t end up letting ALL my buttons get pushed and wind up doing something ineffective or harmful).  Validating my kids’ feelings worked.  Telling them to just “stop,” or just “obey,” or just “get over it,” only aggravated the situation.  They couldn’t JUST stop or obey, they had to have their feelings validated – even named for them because they could not name them alone.  They were too developmentally delayed emotionally to do so.  Natural consequences worked (still do).  Restitution worked, though it was hard.  Punishment only made matters worse.  It did not mean the same to my hurt children that it meant to my older, well-attached, biological children.  It felt like rejection.  Rejection meant using survival skills.  Survival skills were meant to build walls and stop more pain for the child, but they ended up causing more pain for all of us.  We still don’t have all this figured out or completely mastered, but after nearly four years in therapy, we’ve gotten a pretty good handle on a lot of it, most of the time.  I wish I’d had it more figured out at one year, or even two years home.  We could have been that much further along. – Ah, but I guess we’ve all learned at the rate we CAN learn.

After Youngest Son went through all those things, we decided it was time to be more directive with him in therapy and in our parenting.  Our therapist was using Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) with teens and adults, and we decided to give it a go with Youngest Son, even though it would be flexible when/if his needs changed.  This therapy technique was originally developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan, Ph.D. (1993) and was initially used to help people with borderline personality disorder.  People with BPD usually struggle with other problems, not unlike the challenges our older adoptive kids face including complex trauma, anxiety, hyper-vigilance, depression, self-harm behaviors, out-of-control emotions (“big feelings” like rages), even substance abuse and suicide attempts.

When the brain is changed by trauma (read more about childhood trauma and the young brain HERE), it becomes hard-wired in a way that it processes emotions and events differently than the typical brain.  When something happens that triggers the brain back to that traumatic event, whether it is conscious or not in the person experiencing the trauma, the individual responds in reflex.  It is truly a reflex reaction.  DBT helps the person and his caregivers validate that reflex and those big feelings, and accept them.  When the person and his caregivers have learned to accept that past trauma, and that there is a profound difference in the way that person’s brain will always process triggers, then the healing can begin – the gold can be refined.  The older child can begin to use cognition of the triggers to gain control over behavior – even learning to be happy!

Our son has worked this year on being mindful of the things that trigger him.  He is working on interpersonal effectiveness by learning to respectfully and properly ask for the things he wants, accept when the answer is no (without TOO much begging and bargaining – he is, after all, still 16), and even accept correction when his behavior warrants it!  For example, yesterday after church, the kids were in the back seat of the car, bickering and just being plain nasty to one another.  Exasperated, I said, “Can’t you guys take ONE 10 minute car ride and THINK about treating the other person they way you’d like to be treated?  Can’t you TRY to be kind?”  Youngest son said, “Yes Ma’am.  Sorry.”  (I nearly had a heart attack.)  The Princess said, “But he started it!”  (Yeah, we’ll keep working with her.)  This example shows that Youngest Son has made great strides in regulating his emotions so that a trigger does not turn into a full-blown shut down (or rage).  By being more aware of the triggers, and accepting of an awareness of who he is, he is increasing his tolerance of the things that stress him.

In DBT therapy, the therapist is “in charge.”  It is more directive.  It is not so open-ended. 

The three fundamentals of DBT are 1) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy where the teen learns NEW behaviors – behaviors that show him that life is WORTH living; 2) Validation (Acceptance) where the teen is taught by the therapist to accept their differences, to use cognitive behavioral strategies and also to accept and validate new skills and behaviors learned.  [Note: this is a VERY simplified explanation.  For more detail, see the links posted below.]; and 3) Dialectics which teaches us that everything is connected to everything else (everyone is connected to everyone else), change is constant and inevitable, and with work, we can take even opposite thoughts, feelings, and perceptions and form a closer approximation to what is true and move forward.

A big challenge for hurt kids is getting “unstuck” from the age, stage, and developmental process the child was in when the trauma occurred.  When triggered, a child will revert to that age and stage and be unaware he’s done so.  This is why our kids will behave much younger than their chronological age when they are triggered.  DBT helps get them “unstuck” from those rigid ways of thinking, because it accepts those rigid thoughts, and allows for another arrow to shoot off into a more healthy direction.  It is accepting that life gave you lemons and trading those lemons for limes to make limeade.

The goals of DBT are to instill a closely-held belief that life is worth living, and that a good life now is not dependent upon having had a good life all along.  To do this, DBT organizes treatment into four stages:

1.      Gaining control of one’s behavior by reducing and then eliminating life-threatening thoughts and behaviors, and by eliminating behaviors that interfere with treatment.  (For Youngest Son, this was “controlled” by him with shutting down and refusing to participate in treatment.  When we because very firm and directive with him, he complied.)

2.      Moving from being shut down to being able to experience and express emotions.  By shutting down, they may think they have control, but they are taught instead that their traumatized brain has them in a state of “quiet desperation.”  Here the therapist and his caregivers become very directive so that the client experiences all of his emotions and is able to label them without shutting down.  This is the hard part.  In letting the emotion out, the client also then needs to learn to not allow those emotions to take over.

3.      Making it through ordinary life – working on ordinary life problems, rehearsing how to behave, what to say, how to do it.  THIS is what enabled my son to say, “Yes, Ma’am” on Sunday.  He had to be taught – firmly – how to do that.  Eventually, just yesterday, he was able to do it on his own.

4.      Moving from feeling incomplete and like something is missing to connection and completeness is something we are still in process for with Youngest Son.  For him, that connection began last summer when he made a real commitment to a Christian faith.  For other teens, it may be something different.  I happen to believe God makes the biggest difference in a refined gold healing.

Just as therapists are directive in DBT, parents must be keenly involved.  As parents, we must experience this therapy for ourselves.  As our kids go through these stages, we can, too – if we’re willing – if we’re not afraid to let go. 

Personally, I’ve equated it to being like Jonah.  I was called to Ninevah, but went running my own way and ended up in the belly of a stinky ol’ fish.  I’ve been spit out.  We’re heading to Ninevah where we belonged in the first place.  Our gold is being refined.  (Okay, so that’s not a mixed metaphor, but is there such thing as a mixed “biblephor?”  Eh, it works, don’t you think?)

Saturday, February 18, 2012


It only took me four and a half years, but I finally got Youngest Son and The Princess’ state birth certificates in the mail this week!

Before the adoption, I was SO organized.  I drove my family batty with how organized I was.  I remembered things.  I remembered names and appointments.  My mental, emotional, and spiritual cups were full.  I was grounded.

Um, not so much since the summer of 2007.  Sometimes, I wonder where I've gone.   

I’d had SO many papers to get together and keep together as we prepared for the adoption, and even through to the day I stepped off the plane at JFK with my kids,  When I got home, I threw everything into a box and never looked at it again, except to pull out a certificate when I needed it.  Hubby pulled out receipts when he did our tax returns.  Other than that, it all stayed in the box.

Youngest Son is looking forward to getting his driving learner's permit.  I’d meant to file the kids’ adoption with our state a long time ago.  I’d meant to get them birth certificates as a “registry of foreign birth.”  It will make getting a driver’s license, or a marriage license a lot easier.  But that was always a “someday.”  “Someday” they’d need these certificates.  They didn’t NEED them in 2007, so I wasn’t in any rush.  I didn’t mean to stay in no rush mode for 4.5 years, though.

Ah, but it’s done.  Both kids have state-registered birth certificates now.  They can get copies (for a $30 fee) whenever they want.  Trying to get copies from their birth town in Eastern Europe would cost much more, and be much harder to obtain.

It may seem silly, but going to our local district court office, getting the judge to sign off on the forms, paying the fees, and finally getting the certificates from our state capital felt really good!  The thing is, now I feel like it’s time to get everything else organized, too.  It’s time to make some changes around here – not just in terms of becoming more organized again, but in getting BETTER.  I’m tired of being tired.  I need to be better.

This week, I also began organizing here at the house.  I’d already gotten all the kids’ adoption paperwork and certificates into a 3-ring binder with clear plastic sleeves.  Everything is in one place now.  We call it “The Blue Book” because the binder is blue.  I started the reorganization process by moving furniture around in one of our larger rooms.  After that, I bought some of those cubical things that ClosetMaid makes and put them together (all by myself!).  I found the perfect color cloth bins and I got down to business.  I have far to go.  Once you start organizing, you realize how MUCH there is yet to do -- but it’s begun.  Changes.  Good changes.

I’ve also decided to make some changes for my daughter and myself.  We will begin homeschooling in August, as I’ve mentioned before.  She is no longer going to Sunday night youth group – at least for a while, as we work on things that need changing in her life.  I have stopped looking for a job outside the home.  I am seeking out new friends.  I am very much feeling called to serve other adoptive families and support them in whatever way I can.  Not sure exactly HOW that's going to happen yet, but God makes a way when He has a plan.  Changes.  Hard changes.  Good changes.

There will likely be more changes.  Hubby and I are discussing some things.  I’m taking baby steps.  But I’m ready for a change.  Good change.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Standing in the Gap

The following post is very much focused on my faith and prayer life in regards to healing hurt kids.  If this is not your belief, I respect that.  I am simply dealing with some things as a real person who happens to be a Christian, working with and loving on other real people who happen to be Christians, too.  I promise I'll get back to writing about therapeutic parenting ideas soon.  This post contains the story of Youngest Son's turn around and how he's been doing better.  So, if you're interested in that, you may want to continue reading.  If not, that's okay.  See you tomorrow!
A friend asked me about a post I wrote the other day.  In it, I expressed my frustration with folks who do not parent traumatized kids telling me I should be praying for my children’s healing.  I said I wished people would understand that the traumatized brain is changed for life.  In another post, I explained the brain science behind this and the development of a child’s brain at birth, at age five, and at age 12+.  I explained a different kind of healing – one in which we, as parents, join in work God is ALREADY DOING in refining gold (I Peter 1:7).  I expressed my wish that people would not plead their own will, begging God for healing as they believe it should be, asking God to make their child typical (my new word for normal).

This friend (not an adoptive parent) asked what I would say to another adoptive parent that DID want everyone to just see their child as typical, not treating him or her any differently than another other kid, even as they do plead with God to heal their child into their own image.  He is working with a couple of kids who clearly need support that is different than support he gives to typical kids.  I replied that I would still stand with that parent in respect of their wishes -- that I would stand in the gap in prayer for them.  Their child is not my child.  Their calling is not my calling – even if we walk in similarly styled shoes.  I would not impose my beliefs upon them for their child, even as I would hope they would respect the work we are doing.  However, an adopted child IS different.  The child knows it even if the parents do not want to do anything differently to parent them, or to test them and get them additional support.  Ask any adult that was adopted.  They'll tell you they wished their parents had a better clue.  

I told my friend I would stand in prayer for these parents and for their child, asking God’s will for healing -- in the way He chose to bring healing into that family.  My friend asked if I thought that might upset some people that I wasn’t praying for healing with them?  I smiled and said, “Ah, but I am doing just that, my understanding just looks a little different. Besides, I wouldn't lord over them with prayer.  I'd pray in my private place.  If I had the opportunity to pray with them, I would verbally pray for God's edification and support.  I pray for people much more on my own, alone with God than I ever pray publicly with them.  It's just who I am.

I’ve simply learned God’s complete healing often looks different than I wish it would look sometimes.  When, I look back over the last 50+ years, I see God’s hand of healing happened in many ways that were different than I ever would have orchestrated myself.  So what if it didn’t look the way I wanted it to look sometimes, it all worked for the good to those who knew, and loved Him, and were called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).  If praying according to the Word upsets someone, or if praying along the lines I have seen in the bible that God teaches His people to pray upsets someone, then I would be sorry those parents are upset, but I will continue to pray to God on God’s terms.

He asked more questions and we got to a discussion of how my understanding of healing had changed last year, when I gave up my dreams for Youngest Son, and surrendered myself to whatever God’s dreams might be for him.  My friend  said I should tell that story, so here goes:

About a year or so ago, Youngest Son was stealing some pretty expensive electronics from classmates, youth group members, and his family.  He may have also taken things from other places.  We will likely never know the complete story.  What we do know, we’re pretty sure is 50% true and 50% lies.  I struggled with this boy since the day I picked him up at the orphanage in 2007.  He always challenged me.  He was always surly to me.  He always was sneaky and did whatever he wanted to behind my back, especially if I told him not to do it.  He was always “innocent.”  He always “didn’t know” what, why, how, or when something happened – or who did it.  We knew.  We’re not new.

He treated me like dirt.  He was always angry at me, no matter what I did or said.  We fought.  I didn’t always parent him the way I knew I had to.  He pushed my buttons and I yelled and said things I shouldn’t have.  He said lots more.  It hurt.  I wondered if I’d ever really love this kid.  I wondered if he would ever show ANY signs of attachment to us.  I wondered if he would end up in jail.  I told him I would report him to the police if I ever caught him stealing again and that I would press charges if he ever stole from us again.  I mean it.  I also told him I would NEVER bail him out of jail if he got arrested.  I mean that, too.

We talked.  We fought some more.  He fantasized about his life in Eastern Europe and how everything would have been just fine if he’d been left there.  He said he’d have a job, an apartment, a car, and a girlfriend by now.  He was delusional.  He couldn’t remember that at age 12, he’d had about the equivalent of a third grade education.  How he thought he’d be ready to be on his own at 16 is just plain – well, ‘don’t want to use that word. 

We had him tested with a battery of good neuropsychological and developmental/educational tests at a reputable mental health facility.  We increased meds and he went into a directive type of therapy called DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy).  It was a gamble.  It wasn’t really anything like BCLC (Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control) by Heather Forbes.  It was more than responsibility parenting by Dr. Michael Popkin.  It was much more task oriented cognitively and it FORCED him to think, to talk, to draw, to write, and to play games like Trouble and Sorry with therapeutic rules that made him talk and think even more.  The reason all this was a gamble is because everything we’d learned about dealing with hurt, older adopted kids from a post-institutionalized background told us this approach was a recipe for either total shut down or off-the-wall rage.  Surprisingly, and very happily, we got neither.

I remembered something another adoptive mom told me long before we brought The Princess and Youngest Son home.  She adopted three girls from foster care as older kids.  I had them in my AWANA group.  She said, “The biggest thing I want to teach my girls is to stop being the victim.  I want them to deal with the hurt and heal, but I don’t want them to use it as an excuse to stay messed up and perpetuate this victim crud into the next generation.” 

I don’t want my kids to be the victim either, but I had a hard time letting go of my pleas to God for healing of my son in my own image.  So, I continued to pray, and ask for prayer to this end.  I BEGGED.  I cried.  I moaned and groaned to trauma mamas I trust.  Most of them commiserated with me.  I’m glad for that.  I needed it so I didn’t feel so alone.  I still need it.  We trauma mamas need that from one another.  Sometimes, though, we need something else.  That’s what happened when one friend said to me, “Mama T, what if this is the child you have?  What if this IS Youngest Son?  What if he’s never going to be the dream you have?  What if God has a different dream for him?  A different kind of healing?”

I didn’t want to hear it.  I was hurting.  I wanted MY hurt acknowledged. 

She was spot on.

It took me a few weeks, but I realized my friend was correct, and God had used her to speak truth to me.  He placed these kids into our family for His reasons.  He was at work long before they ever got home.  I had to surrender my selfish dreams for healing for my kids in my own image to His much more effective plan for refined gold healing.  Youngest Son’s brain was not going to change.  Trauma creates a neuropsychological process in the brain that does not change.  It is a reflex like any other reflex.  His healing is coming by learning to process those reflexes.  For Youngest Son, it was in being VERY directive and giving CLEAR instructions, with only a couple of things to work on at a time, that started to make a difference as we prayed for support to THAT end.

Last summer, Youngest Son apologized to his brothers for the lying and stealing.  He worked to make restitution.  He worked to restore relationships.  He wanted an honest relationship with God – a real one, not a holier-than-thou showy one.  He told other people he was glad he’d been adopted into our family.  (We have yet to hear it – baby steps.)

Being very directive with Youngest Son has made him feel more in control, even though it would appear to most that his therapist and his parents are the ones in control.  Since he never got that kind of guidance as a young child, he never had the opportunity to learn to make good decisions.  Like a younger child, he needs to be told what to do and how to do it.  It is only then that he can begin to THINK about HOW the things he’s doing make a difference in how he feels and how he navigates the world.  He has goals in his treatment plan and his caseworker reminds him of those goals every two weeks.  He’s working.  He is very consciously working.  He gets very direct instruction on HOW to do that.  He feels successful because he’s doing well.  We still have work to do, and I’m still always waiting for a shoe to drop, but he’s making it.  He’s come such a long way.  I am so proud of him.  We are attaching.  He is MY boy!  He is healing because we gave up on asking for our vision of what his healing should look like, and gave into God refining gold.

I am confident The Princess will get back on track.  We just have to figure out a strategy that works for her.  Prayers are appreciated as we go through adjustments.  She’s changing meds and there is just so much going on with her.  I have figured out that part of the gold that’s being refined is my patience with her.  I hate that.  Frick (as Christine would say.)

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Parenting hurt kids can be really, really hard sometimes.  It can also be very isolating.  I sometimes get criticized for being such an open book.  My brother teases me (good heartedly) that I should open up and tell people how I really feel.  I do not remember a time in my life when I was any different.  Sometimes it gets me in trouble and sometimes people don’t like my “openness.”  On the other hand, I am amazed at the number of times a total stranger has trusted me with their deepest hurts.  Maybe being open is one of my greatest weaknesses as well as one of my greatest strengths.  If I happen to come to love you, I will love you deeply.  I am so blessed to have had that love returned, too.

If you ever feel like you just don’t “fit in,” know you’re not alone.  You're not isolated.  I’ve felt that a lot – and for a long time.  However, feelings aren't always what is true.  

This morning, I cried out to the LORD and said, “I need you to come to me with skin on.  God, I need an angel.”  He sent me a couple of little angels to hold today -- very special kids -- loved, redeemed, adopted.  I had a wonderful visit with their mom – a godly woman -- a real woman.  God sent me himself through her  -- God with skin on.  

Things are HARD right now. 

My friend listened to me.  I listened to her.  It was a two-way connection.  We were giving as well as receiving from one another.  Such a blessing.

My friend is the mom of ten kids.  Five were adopted.  Some have very significant special needs.  She is quite a bit younger than I, yet she is wise beyond her years, and she has taught me much.  We met six or seven years ago, while we were both in the beginning pursuit of adoption.  She is a gift.  I do not get to see her as often as I’d like. 

I am so blessed to have friends close by, and close by enough, who walk in similar shoes as I.  Parenting hurt kids is often not easy.  Yes, it is rewarding.  No, I would not trade it for the world.  Yet, I still feel alone and isolated too often for my liking.  Still, I am blessed to have friends both online and nearby who are there for me, and love me, despite my many faults.  Thank you, friends.  I am not unaware of the gift you are to me. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Random Stuff

I’m having a hard time gathering thoughts these last few days.  I have a lot I could write about, but none of it seems to be coming together right now.  I chalk it up to stress, lack of sleep, not feeling well, and dealing with Bozos.  My patience is thin.  I am reminding myself every few minutes that I, too, am a Bozo. Except for the grace of God, and some experiences I never would have been able to fully imagine five years ago, I would also have no clue about the needs of hurt kids.  No graduate school counseling program, no youth ministry major, no teaching degree gives one the education I’ve gained these last five years.  Yet, I have SO much to learn!

The Princess is still struggling.  She’s still dealing with mean girl stuff.  She’s mad at everything and everyone, but she’s especially angry with me.  I won’t give her a cell phone.  I won’t buy her a bunch of makeup or a pair of boots with high heels.  I won’t let her date at age 13 and I won’t let her go out around town without an adult I trust.  I won’t let her have sleepovers except with people I know will be safe for her, and I keep those few and far between.  I’ve pulled her out of youth group because it’s not safe for her.  I am mean and over protective and old fashioned. 

I’m making plans to begin homeschooling The Princess because her grades have dropped, her behavior has escalated this year, and she’s getting deeper into a social “thing” (I have no word for it) that is just plain destructive.  We went through rough times with her brother when he was in middle school.  He is doing quite well now that he is in high school.  He’s consciously working to be better – to GET better – and he is!  She’s consciously decided we’re the ones with the problem and she’s just fine.  Her therapist and I decided it was time to very methodically TEACH her what PTSD is and why she struggles.  Again, I have some things I could write about here, but I’m having a hard time putting my thoughts together so that they would make any sense to you, dear reader.

I’m struggling, too.  I’m tired of being told by Christians who haven’t parented hurt kids for any length of time that my kids can be healed.  I’m tired of people asking me what’s going on, or what our needs are, but then not listening to me.  I’m tired of otherwise intelligent people NOT GETTING that complex trauma CHANGES the brain – for life.  Yes, God could choose to heal my kids.  He could choose to heal my brother who has Down Syndrome.  However, I haven’t seen any evidence that this is His choice for ANYONE with Down Syndrome, or C-PTSD, or RAD.  I accepted that about a year ago, and was FINALLY able to grab hold of A NEW HOPE for my kids.  

We are being refined.  We are learning what we need to navigate this life, but we will not be “healed” this side of Heaven from the things that have happened to us because of the evil someone else has done.  God can make for good what was intended for evil, and HE IS doing just that with my kids (they’ve come SO far!), but trauma DOES NOT “heal.”  As a friend told me yesterday, people who keep preaching that to me just don’t get the nature of God.  Sometimes, He allows things into our lives so that our gold can be refined.  What Christian hasn’t heard that sermon before, or read that bible passage?  Why do so many think God’s answer SHOULD be healing?  Why do people fight so hard for what they wish could be, rather than accept that God’s purpose may be different?  Why do we put so much energy into resisting, and praying, and pleading for OUR will to be done, rather than join Him in the work He is ALREADY doing?  Why don’t people realize THAT is what healing really is?

I’m meeting with someone today to discuss a proposal to train youth and children’s workers in area churches about the unique needs of hurt kids and older adopted kids.  I have a couple of professionals, as well as another therapeutic parent, lined up to serve on a panel to provide this training.  I’m not sure how the meeting with this person today is going to go.  

I’m also preparing to teach a parenting class to a very special group of parents.  They happen to be in jail.  I wrote a grant proposal for this project last year.  The granting foundation really liked the project.  I’m excited – and scared.  It ought to be very interesting.  At least I’ll have a captive audience there.

Friday, February 10, 2012

When The World Gets Smaller

Last week, when The Princess stayed home from school with me, she felt protected and safe.  She poured her little heart out to me and the little girl still stuck inside felt protected.  There wasn’t a lot of “stuff” going on around in her big world, and she was able to process the things that were happening while in the smaller world of home.  She needed a break.  As soon as she got back to school, things ramped up again.  School is not a safe place for The Princess right now.  Her needs are not being well met there, and I’m tired of “reminding” everyone all the time that she does indeed have special needs.  Since they don’t get to see the fall out (or they ignore it like one teacher did last week), they don’t think there’s anything wrong.

I’ve considered homeschooling The Princess for a long time now.  In fact, I almost pulled her out of public school in January.  I wrote about that struggle a couple of days ago.  It’s a tough decision, but the decision is made.  She’s definitely staying home for 8th grade.  I’m enrolling her in either Alpha Omega’s or ACE’s online academy.  (Leaning toward AO, but not sure yet.)  I’m getting her involved in the local homeschool group, and I’m keeping her away from kids that bring out the worst in her, for at least a little while longer, so she has time to catch up emotionally and hopefully mature to her chronological age.  Her brother came a long way this last year.  In fact, he's been pretty amazing and he's working hard at therapy and in using the tools he's been taught to navigate the world.  I’m hoping for the same in our girl.

Last night, she was going on and on -- just constant chatter -- about boys, and clothes, and mean girl stuff.  She was telling me what she was going to do, and what I was going to buy her, and how things were going to be at school next year.  (Obviously, she forgot WHO she was talking to.)  

I was not going to do it this way.  The talk about homeschool was going to be easy.  I was going to use the calm, sit-down, “we’re doing this to help you” speech at a time when she was quiet and all was well with the world.  Instead, big mouth me blurted out, “But you’re not GOING to XYZ School next year!”  [Cue loud braking sound.]

At first, the claws started to come out.  I could see the rage coming up from her.  I pulled myself back in and calmly said, “And just so you know, I’m not playing the rage game today.”  [Again, cue loud braking sound.]  She quickly realized that wasn’t going to work.  (‘Must be doing SOMETHING right.)

I explained she was going to be homeschooled and that we were going to do a lot of it online with an accredited Christian academy with certified teachers helping us.  I told her about activities and friends with the local home school group.  I told her there would be no need for the list of things she said she "needed" for 8th grade at the middle school.

Next came the pleading and the bargaining.  “But I’ll only have to go to 8th grade at home if I get my grades back up and act better, right?  I’ll still get to go to high school, right?  I want to go to high school!”  I reminded her I don’t make promises other than that I will be here, love her, and take care of her in the way she needs me to, always -- as long as I'm alive.  I am not promising what school will be like in 9th grade.  I am working on 8th grade.  HOWEVER, once we started homeschool, it would not be my preference to go back to public school.  She tried to bargain again.  I said, "I’m finished with this discussion."

I reminded The Princess that I was making decisions to help her do well in life, not to punish her, or to make her life miserable.  She zinged me with, “Yeah, but Dad thinks you’re going to make your own life miserable.”  

I asked her if she WANTED me to be miserable.  She said, “No.”  I said, “Good, because HOW I feel is up to me and I choose to look forward to my time learning, going places, and having FUN with you next year!”  Smile.  Smile.  Tilted head, with shoulders up, goofy smile.

She decided to spend the evening in her room, sulking, writing notes and tearing them up, and reading.  That’s okay.  This morning, she was telling me all about the book she was reading and she was being my sweet girl again.  

I haven’t homeschooled since my youngest bio-boy was in 8th grade.  That was five years ago.  I’m going to have to shake some mental dust off and get organized, but I’m jazzed about it.  Six months to prepare.  I can do this!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Twenty Things My Adopted Kids Wish Their Biological Family Knew

If you’re an adoptive parent and you haven’t yet read Sherrie Eldridge’s book, “Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew,” you’re missing some good insight.  The book will not reveal all the things adopted kids wish their parents knew.  Some adopted kids (now adults) disagree with some of what Eldridge writes.  However, the book will give you some knowledge of what it feels like to be adopted, and some seeds for thought as you try to understand the heart of your child.  I highly recommend you read it.  (I get no financial gain by saying that.)

There is a flip side to the 20 things adoptive parents should know, at least for my kids.  My kids experienced significant trauma at the hands of their birth family and the people that family allowed to become a part of their lives.  Because those adults didn’t handle things well, they ended up in an orphanage system that was often harmful and hurtful.  The things my kids have told me about their caregivers are about the only thing that makes me want to go back to their birth country.  I would very much like to give certain women there an education they’d never forget.

The thing is, my kids don’t care about those people very much.  They were temporary “mamas.”  They were hired help.  They weren’t family.  It is family that caused the deepest pain and left the biggest scars.  It is to family my kids wish they could communicate the things they want to be ingrained into the soul of people living in Eastern Europe.  Here are 20 things my kids wish their biological family knew:

*You caused me more hurt and pain than any child should ever have to bear.  You are ALL responsible.  Those letters you send me now only cause that pain to deepen.  If you loved me so much, why didn't you take care of us when our parents could not?

*I am ashamed of you and I am scared to death I’m going to end up like you, even though I have a good life and parents who know how to love me now.

*Even though you’ve caused me so much pain, I still love you and I still wish we could be together.  I grieve that loss deeply every single day.

*Sometimes I grieve losing you so much, I take it out on my Mom and Dad.  I wonder if that would make you happy?  When my anger is over, it makes me ashamed that I treated them that way.  It’s you I’m mad at!

*I don’t talk about you that often, but when I do, it’s hard for me and for my parents.  They don’t like seeing me upset, so I hide that I’m thinking about you.  I think about you every day.  My parents know that and even though it hurts us both, they still try to show me it’s okay to remember you and talk about you.

*Even though I think about you, I don’t want to talk about you most of the time.  Sometimes, it feels like my parents and my therapist are prying stuff out of me and that makes me even more mad at you, but then I grieve for you right after I get mad.

*I am really mad that I wasn’t worth enough to you for you to register my birth.  (The Princess)  I am really mad that everyone relied on me to remember when my sister was born.  (Youngest Son)

*Even though my parents tell me you were not allowed to see me anymore when I went to the orphanage, I wonder if you didn’t come to see me because you didn’t love me anymore.

*I worry all the time that my new Dad will die, or that my Mom will be with other men.  I freak out whenever my mom goes away on a trip.  I hate it that my Mom and Dad are planning an anniversary trip this year and I am not going with them.  I’m scared they won’t come back.

*I put up a good front in public.  I’m a good Eastern European and the only emotion I show is when I want to let someone know they’re bothering me.  Most of the time, people outside my family don’t know I’m any different than any other American kid – unless they hear my accent.

*You gave me no sense of control, so now I fight to have a sense of control.  It’s hard for me to let my parents care about me and it’s hard to care about other people.  I do care.  A lot.  But it’s very hard.

*I like it when people say I look like my Mom and Dad.  I like it when people say I sound just like my Mom or that I’m as smart as my Dad.  That’s okay.  I don’t like it when you write my parents’ names in letters to me.  They are my Mom and my Dad.  Call them that.  However, I also like it when people in my family tell me I’m as handsome as my Papa or as smart as my Babushka.

*I love my parents.  They drive me crazy sometimes.  I drive them crazy sometimes.  But so do my brothers.  My mom says all teenagers drive their parents nuts and all parents embarrass their teens.  We’re a normal family that way.  I love my parents and I still love you, though I don’t understand that.

*I don’t like telling people about you.

*My parents make my birthday special, but I always feel bad on my birthday, on other people’s birthdays, on holidays, vacations, or any celebration.  You did that to me.

*I hate it that I don’t know my medical history or the truth about my first family’s medical challenges.

*Even though I know I’m forever home with my real family now, I get really scared that I’ll get sent back to you.  I have nightmares about it.

*When I make poor choices, I wonder if I’ll make the really poor choices you made when I’m an adult.  My parents reassure me that I can choose to have a good life, but I’m still scared I’ll be just like you.

*I need extra help because of the things that happened when I was little.  I blame you, but I forgive you.  I do this over and over again.  Sometimes I do it multiple times per day.

*Even if I decide to search for some of you someday, you are not my real family.  My home is here.  I don’t come from here.  I come from you, and so they cannot replace that.  My beginning is with you.  But remember my real home is with them. 

I imagine some of these 20 things will strike a nerve or two with some of my readers.  I ask you to consider the raw, traumatized, developmentally delayed, teenage emotion and thought behind these 20 things.  They are from the perspective of my two particular teenage children who suffered a very traumatic background, and who are home only 4.5 years.  These are raw emotions, but they are honest emotions.  This is what being real is all about.