Monday, August 12, 2013

Starting High School

The Princess goes back to school in ten days.  Ten.  1 – 0.  10!  I cannot wait.

She, on the other hand, is as anxious as anxious can be.  Poor thing.  I know in my head what it’s all about.  Starting high school for any neuro-typical kid is hard enough.  Add trauma and developmental / social delays (a.k.a. immaturity beyond the immaturity of a NT kid) and we’re right on the edge around here.

Anyone else in these shoes? 

On one hand I can hardly wait to get her out of here and back in school for 8.5 hours a day.  On the other, I’m anxious for her, too.  And on the third hand (trauma mamas need at least 3 hands), I’m scared to death wondering whether or not she’ll pull some really big and really scary stuff now that she’s getting older.

For now, I’m dealing with a 15-year-old who behaves like she’s four and wants the privileges of a young adult.  She’s stupid lying and giving plenty of bad attitude.  She’s defiant and moody.  She’s a big ol’ pain in the butt.  And before anyone reminds me she’s a teenager, let me remind you she is my SIXTH child.  Plus, I was a challenging 15 year old.  I know how a witchy hormonal teenager behaves.  I know it’s not pretty even for NT kids.  My kid is not an NT kid.  This is different.  I’m not just blowing steam or venting or whatever you want to call it.  I’m writing because this is part of trauma parenting and despite what the Staples commercials say, this isn’t necessarily a trauma parent’s “most wonderful time of the year.”

I’m writing it to remind myself.

I’m writing it because I need to remember there’s more going on than just my kid being a pain in the tushy.

She’s scared and she doesn’t know it.  She can’t identify it. 

She told me the other day, “I’m sorry I acted like that.  I just get so ‘mad’ sometimes and I don’t even know why.”

I know why, baby.  And I am so sorry you went through what you went through.  I will try to remember you’ve been through more than I can even still imagine and I will try to catch myself and control my own triggers.  (It’s no secret that I hate being lied to.)  I will try hard to stop, breathe and relax – like I remind you to do.  I will do that so I can help you stop, breathe and relax.  I will remind you how great you really are and how very far you’ve come.  I will tell you I believe in you and I will pray that I come to mean it in a way I don’t yet fully.  

I will pray that the LORD will bless you and keep you, that He will make His face shine upon you and that He will grant you His peace that passes all understanding, and certainly any understanding I may know.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

New Look

I am humbled by the recent attention to this blog.  Thank you, dear reader.

I hope you'll enjoy the new look.  I just went to a basic blogger layout.  There was some criticism about the template I used earlier because the background made the text hard to read.  I agree.  I hope this simple layout will be easier on your eyes.  It certainly is on mine!

Much has happened since April and I promise to update you soon.  It's a crazy week here because I started practicing some of what I preach.  I've returned to my roots in theatre and am in a show this weekend!  (I know!  Wow, huh?)

So, tell me to "break a leg," but don't wish me luck (that's a theatre no-no).  I'll see you all next week, Lord willin'.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

How to be a Rock Star Therapeutic Parent

I’ve heard from several moms lately who think they have “failed” as a therapeutic parent because they’re tired and they’ve reacted to one of their children’s many, repeated over and over again behaviors.  There is such a pervasive culture among adoptive parents to be the perfect, non-reactive parent because this supposedly is what truly demonstrates unconditional love.  The ideas that were supposed to liberate parents and children to give them a new beginning and to create relationship have become an unbearable weight for too many tired moms who just cannot live the ideal perfect therapeutic parenting life they’ve perceived others must be living.  It breaks my heart and makes me angry all at the same time. 

Yep, I’m reacting!  Dang it all!  I’m reacting because I’m tired of seeing other moms feel like they don’t measure up and that they’ll never be like the portrayal of someone else’s public self.

If I can get my wonderful fellow trauma mamas to understand one thing it would be this:  YOU ARE AWESOME!  You are doing a job few others can do.  Few people choose to do the job you’re doing because it’s freakin’ HARD!  You are raising a hurt kid with problems and issues and mental and physical trauma that no kid should ever have to endure, and through which no parent should have to navigate.   This life of living with trauma and attachment issues caused by another adult before we knew our children is HARD.  You are an amazing success!

I am tired of parents being led to believe they must become the image they have in their heads of “perfect therapeutic parents” like Heather Forbes or Christine Moers.  Granted, these are very nice ladies.  They are intelligent and charismatic.  They are obviously very capable mothers with lots of experience and lots to share.  But they are not perfect.  Heather Forbes has had to navigate through tremendous personal loss.  Christine Moers may look like one, but she is no more a rock star than you and I are.  I believe both women would admit they react to their kids’ behaviors sometimes, too.  I believe they would admit they do not always disengage.  They do not always feel loving warm fuzzies toward their hurt kids.  I’d bet there are even moments they wish their kids were “normal” and wonder what life would have been like if they hadn’t adopted.  The difference between them and me, or them and you is they earn their livings by teaching the good stuff they’ve learned.  Did you hear that?  Teaching the good stuff they’ve learned is their BUSINESS.  That’s why you see and read all the good stuff.  Yes, it is a business born of love and of wanting to help others, but they are business women.  Look beyond that and know they are also just moms – no better and no worse than you.  Heather and Christine and other business women like them are awesome.  But YOU are awesome, too!

As my kids get older, the more I realize they need to learn the world is not going to give a crap that they come from a hurt background.  If my kids pull the kind of stuff “out there” that they pull here sometimes, they’re going to end up pretty lonely at best and in jail at worst.  People in the world are not going to put up with their reactions and triggers to trauma.  They need to use the tools they have (medication and behavior modification and therapy when it’s appropriate) to navigate the world outside the doors of the home where their therapeutic mother lives.  If they treat someone like a jerk, they’re going to get a reaction.  So here, at home, if I react sometimes – if I ENGAGE (oh, the horror!) – then THAT is therapeutic, too!  They are learning in the safest place possible how other people will deal with their crap.  The fact is, they won’t.  Other people will withdraw relationship.  They’ll yell back.  They might even press charges if things are really bad.  Know what?  So will mom. 

What’s different though is after the time that mom does engage and react, the kids can also learn that love restores.  Love repairs.  Love comes back together.  Respect is built over time.  Trust can be broken and when it is, it is not easily repaired.  It takes time.  Our kids need to learn how to do that, too.

Now, please know I am not saying that it isn't USUALLY best not to engage a triggered kid.  In most cases, I think it probably is best to wait to process what’s going on and to remain calm.  That way, when we do end up engaging, it is much more effective in stopping our kids in their tracks because they’re EXPECTING us to be non-reactive.  It’s almost like the old movies where the hysterical person is slapped in the face to snap them out of it.  The fact that we react sometimes is like a slap in the face to our kids.  It stops them in their tracks. 

Later, we come back together and we process it. 

As my kids get older, they are realizing I am a person, too.  I have emotions.  I have limits.  It doesn’t make me a bad mom.  It makes me a human being – and human beings are who my kids will need to deal with in this life.  They are learning their actions have consequences beyond losing privileges.  Consequences can mean hurt relationships.  It can even mean the loss of relationship.  Both kids have already experienced that consequence.  However, it doesn’t mean they need to get into a cycle of poor behavior and relationship loss throughout their lives.

I remember going into a family therapy session a of couple years back, feeling like I was a failure.  I wasn’t able to be non-reactive 100% of the time.  In fact, I came right out and told my kids they were behaving like spoiled, entitled 4-year-olds.  I said they were triggered and acting poorly.  I even yelled that I was a person too and I was sick of dealing with their crap! 

Our therapist asked how I handled things after they’d escalated.  I told her the kids and I talked later when we were all calm and I explained I was a person with feelings, too.  I told them they could not treat me like they had and expect me to roll over and take it.  I reminded them they can expect respect when they also give respect and that relationships are a two-way street.  I told the therapist we said we were sorry to one another, and that the kids even meant it when they said it!  We repaired and restored the relationship.  It was therapeutic.

Therapeutic parenting means teaching our kids how to have healthy relationships.  Healthy relationships sometimes have conflicts, but they also restore and repair.  If we teach our kids how to do that, then WE are indeed rock star therapeutic parents.

Rock on!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

So What Do You Look For? A List for Recognizing Trauma & Attachment Issues

The following list of often-experienced behaviors of traumatized adopted children was developed by Dr. Arthur Becker Weidman, Ph.d.  He has studied attachment and complex trauma especially in children who were adopted after the age of 18 months.  If you are an adoptive parent and you can check off more than a few of the characteristics on this list, you may have a child with attachment and/or complex trauma issues.

1. My child acts cute or charms others to get others to do what my child wants.
2. My child often does not make eye contact when adults want to make eye contact with my child.
3. My child is overly friendly with strangers.
4. My child pushes me away or becomes stiff when I try to hug, unless my child wants something from me.
5. My child argues for long periods of time, often about ridiculous things.
6. My child has a tremendous need to have control over everything, becoming very upset if things don't go my child's way.
7. My child acts amazingly innocent, or pretends that things aren't that bad when caught doing something wrong.
8. My child does very dangerous things, ignoring that my child may be hurt.
9. My child deliberately breaks or ruins things.
10. My child doesn't seem to feel age-appropriate guilt when my child does something wrong.
11. My child teases, hurts, or is cruel to other children.
12. My child seems unable to stop from doing things on impulse.
13. My child steals, or shows up with things that belong to others with unusual or suspicious reasons for how my child got these things.
14. My child demands things, instead of asking for them.
15. My child doesn't seem to learn from mistakes and misbehavior (no matter what the consequence, the child continues the behavior).
16. My child tries to get sympathy from others by telling them that I abuse, don't feed, or don't provide the basic life necessities.
17. My child "shakes off" pain when hurt, refusing to let anyone provide comfort.
18. My child likes to sneak things without permission, even though my child could have had these things if my child had asked.
19. My child lies, often about obvious or ridiculous things, or when it would have been easier to tell the truth.
20. My child is very bossy with other children and adults.
21. My child hoards or sneaks food, or has other unusual eating habits (eats paper, raw flour, package mixes, baker's chocolate, etc. )
22. My child can't keep friends for more than a week.
23. My child throws temper tantrums that last for hours.
24. My child chatters non-stop, asks repeated questions about things that make no sense, mutters, or is hard to understand when talking.
25. My child is accident-prone (gets hurt a lot), or complains a lot about every little ache and pain (needs constant band aids).
26. My child teases, hurts, or is cruel to animals.
27. My child doesn't do as well in school as my child could with even a little more effort.
28. My child has set fires, or is preoccupied with fire.
29. My child prefers to watch violent cartoons and/or TV shows or horror movie (regardless of whether or not you allow your child to do this).
30. My child was abused/neglected during the first year of life, or had several changes of primary caretaker during the first several years of life.
31. My child was in an orphanage for more than the first year of life.
32. My child was adopted after the age of eighteen months.

My own children have exhibited most every one of the behaviors listed above, including #28.  (Yes, that was a scary, scary time.)  Depending upon which of my two traumatized children we’re talking about, they continue to exhibit many of these even after being home for nearly six years.  It is exhausting for all family members and most of all for the children affected by trauma and their mama.  The behaviors that are most pervasive for my kids seem to be those that are also pervasive in other families with traumatized older adopted children.  Numbers 1-7 are pretty much a given, no matter what family I know.  Likewise, #15-19 dominate the life of many traumatized children/teens.  In fact, many of us parenting trauma have learned to EXPECT lies and demands and while we’ve learned to redirect our children, we are very weary from having to do so all the time.  Another behavior I have seen in nearly all the traumatized children/teens I know is #29.  My kids love blood, gore and violence.  They love dark stories with depraved characters, evil and black magic.  It doesn’t matter that these are things we avoid in our Christian home.  Even though they profess to be Christians themselves, they are still drawn like a moth to the flame.  It is NOT a spiritual deficiency.  It is how their brains have been wired by trauma.  It’s what makes them feel “normal” and not anxious.  Yet, it is also what makes them act out in big ways with big feelings.  They will sneak around to read books and view YouTube videos as well as watch movies we don’t allow whenever they get the chance.
Now, please understand, I am NOT saying that all adopted children exhibit all the behaviors listed.  Please remember, too, that I have parented four neuro-typical children prior to adopting my two from hurt backgrounds.  I know any child can exhibit any of these behaviors.  However, I also know neuro-typical (NT) kids don’t exhibit them on a regular basis, nor do they exhibit multiple behaviors at the same time on a regular basis.  This is NOT “normal” kid stuff.  (Most parents of traumatized kids that I know are especially tired of hearing from those not walking this road that it is.)
I am saying, however, that ALL children I know who were adopted after the age of 18 months or so do indeed deal with trauma.  They deal with attachment issues.  They may not have full-blown RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder), but they struggle with attachment on some level due to trauma.  That may make a reader or two bristle, but I stick by my experience.  Getting adopted is traumatic and it does not happen without profound loss.

However, I am also not saying that adoption is a negative thing.  It is not!  It is wonderful and it is a blessing, even as it is a challenge.  I am saying you’d better make darned sure you are called to adopt before you do it.  It is HARD to knit a child to your heart who has experienced the loss that is involved in adoption.  Do not expect your child to love you back or be grateful for the time, love and things you give him or her.  Ask tough questions from people who live this life before you ever fill out an agency application.  Make sure those people are brutally honest with you.  Pray hard.  Learn more than the social workers require of you.  Read everything you can about trauma and attachment before you ever complete your home study.
If you're already an adoptive parent dealing with this kind of stuff and you need some connection with people who "get it,  let me know.  I know some people and I have some resources to share with you.  If you're anyone else, thanks for reading!  If you want to know more because you want to help a family you care about, let me know that, too.  I also have some resources to share with you.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

How I Spent My March Vacation

I forgot to tell you!  I got away in March.  It was lovely – the getting away.  I didn’t think I’d ever be able to do it – just GET AWAY – just for me – not because I had to go take care of something for someone or fix a challenge – but for ME.  Since before the adoption, I cannot think of another time I got away or got to BE just for me.  I was long over due for some self-care.

It was heavenly.

Well, okay, the delayed planes and the totally screwed up flights home that the airline never bothered to tell me about and that I had to take care of on my own – not so heavenly.  Not feeling well and not getting the sleep I needed – eh, I was physically okay and caught up on sleep in a day or two.  But the getting away – the being with other mamas who walk this parenting trauma road with me – THAT was heavenly!

The Mamas (Yeah, I'm in there.) - ETAAM (now BeTA) Retreat - March 2013 - Orlando, Florida

We laughed.  We cried.  We ranted.  We ate.  We ran, or walked, or sat and cheered one another on.  We talked and talked.  We gave each other gifts.  We received the care and the understanding that so many of us trauma mamas have a hard time finding.  

We talked of times to come and changes to be made. 

Next year – March 7-10, 2014, we plan to do it again – only a bit different – but still, the same.  We plan to still get together – all of us wonderful, amazing, knowledgeable, fun, loving, smart women – and do all this and more.  It does not matter that some are from one country or another, or from the east coast or west coast, north or south, meat eater or vegan, fluffy or hard-bodied, young-ish or old-ish, liberal or conservative, single parent or co-parent, gay or straight, or what our faith or personal beliefs.  What matters is that we come together to love on one another, and “be there” for each other because we all “get it” in a way that folks not parenting a traumatized or attachment disordered child can.

Registration for next year will begin soon.  If you’ve never come to the annual retreat in Orlando, I hope you’ll join us next year at Emerald Island Resort in Orlando (Kissimmee), FL for this weekend that is all about YOU – this weekend that gives YOU a break from trauma and renews and restores YOU.  Come talk with us, laugh with us, cry with us – even pray with us if that's your thing (there are plenty of us that do!).  

I'd really like to meet you there.

Check out the Beyond Trauma and Attachment (BeTA) website at or click HERE to check out the FAQ’s about next year’s retreat.  Registration for newbies starts on May 1st.  Just follow the directions there to email fellow trauma mama, Rachel and let her know what kind of room you’d like, who you’d like to room with (if you know), etc.  You can also message me if you have any questions and I’ll post generalized answers here.  Otherwise, use my gmail account with the same name as the blogspot address identifier you see up there in your browser window.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Beyond BCLC - Active Parenting and FLAC

Four or five years ago, I was in a discussion with some other adoptive moms who were gung-ho about a parenting method for traumatized kids written by Heather Forbes and Bryan Post called Beyond Consequences, Logic & Control.  Frankly, I had some problems with this theory from the get-go.  I come from an academic background.  I like peer-reviewed research and outcomes based practices.  Since the book was based on a limited practice and had no peer-reviewed research to back it up, I was skeptical before I ever read it.  As I read it, I wondered how any parenting method that placed consequences for behavior on the back burner could properly serve any child, let alone a traumatized child, who would eventually need to live in “the real world,” where there were definite consequences for certain behaviors.  It just seemed “off” somehow to me.

Over time, Heather Forbes separated her practice and her writing (BCLC II has Heather’s name only on the cover) from Bryan Post.  Bryan Post faced legal issues with the Oklahoma State Board of Licensed Social Workers for referring to himself as “Dr.” Post.  BCLC Volume I even has his name with a “Ph.D.” following.  However, Post got his “doctorate” degree from a bogus (and now defunct) diploma mill called “Columbus University” (not to be confused with the Ivy League school, Columbia University in New York City where my own hubby earned a legitimate M.B.A., with honors, after a couple of years of full-time studies, hard work, and a rigorous admissions process to get into the school in the first place).  I became even more jaded about BCLC at the time because I despise deceit and I saw Post as someone trying to boost his income and credibility with unsuspecting parents with an incredible and bogus degree.  Still, when Forbes came out with BCLC II, I bought it and read it.  She seemed genuine and her ideas seemed like some that could stand up to the test of peer review should she choose to take that route.  Plus, I’d already put into practice some of the trauma parenting methods incorporated into BCLC that were also being used by other, peer-reviewed practitioners like Dr. Bruce Perry and Dr. Dan Hughes.  But I have always felt the need for our kids to learn consequences and logic and to feel safe because they knew their parents were indeed in control.

I cannot do justice to Heather Forbes’ work in one brief blog post.  I would encourage my readers to check out her book, Beyond Consequences, Logic & Control II.  I believe Heather has a true heart for helping other adoptive parents and that she “gets” how hard raising a traumatized child can be.  She’s been through all the ups and downs with her own child.  However, if I’ve learned anything over the last 7+ years of this journey (pre-adoption through today), I’ve learned that no one method, no one person, no one theory will serve as a one-size-fits-all therapeutic parenting path.

I believe our traumatized kids do indeed need to learn to feel safe.  Sometimes, that means ignoring a behavior in the moment and focusing on the fear behind the behavior.  But sometimes --- maybe most of the time --- our kids NEED to deal with even immediate consequences and they need to be dealt with logically.  I think this is especially important as our kids get older.  You just don’t have the time to mess around with a traumatized 17 year old that you do with a 7 year old, for example.  You need to make connection, but you need to be firm and teach boundaries, as I wrote about yesterday, and the logical consequences life will deal out when boundaries are ignored.  This is where I wish more adoptive parents would learn the parenting techniques of Dr. Michael Popkin and “Active Parenting Now!”  This is the program I teach in our county jail to parent inmates who will gain custody of their children again after they’ve served their sentences.  Like I said above, though, I don’t believe it is a be-all-end-all or a one-size-fits-all parenting program.  It’s a tool like anything else.  There are things we can learn from it and things that incorporate techniques many of us already have learned from more well-known sources like Perry and Hughes.

Dr. Michael Popkin

Popkin’s FLAC method works more for me than the BCLC method.  Modifying this approach to suit my personality as well as the needs of my kids has worked for us.  The BCLC method seemed more like coddling to me and it got us “stuck” when I tried to ignore consequences and logic too much in a heart-felt effort to work on the connection of attachment.  What I found was my kids NEEDED immediate consequences and logic in order to feel SAFE.  (Do not confuse this with the "Love and Logic" program.  It is quite different.  Logic there is more like saying, "Too bad; so sad.  What are you going to do about that."  And consequences are not connected to the behavior.  For example, L&L gives an example where a kid sneaks out of the house and the parent doesn't deal with the danger of that, they give a 'consequence' of picking up dog poop and mowing the yard with a nebulous time for completion.  That is NOT what Active Parenting Now! teaches.)

Our kids needed boundaries and when they went outside those boundaries, they needed quick, firm and logical consequences from me in response.
  When I realized how important it was to control the size of their worlds, depending upon their abilities at the time, we made progress.

The basics of FLAC are this:

F – Feelings:  As a parent, you identify your child/teen’s feelings and you validate them.  It does not mean you AGREE with them.  You simply validate the feeling and identify it – something I found very important to do for my traumatized kiddos who could not identify the feelings behind their behavior.  When triggered, they still have a hard time doing that.

L – Limits:  Parents set the limits.  Kids can have input, especially as they get older and become more able to handle themselves and certain situations, but PARENTS set the limits.  Parents set the boundaries.

A – Alternatives:  Parents guide kids to come up with alternatives for achieving their goals within the boundaries or LIMITS already set.  Parents are authoritative, but working on alternatives allows the family to avoid becoming authoritarian, which leads to conflicts and head-butting that keeps everyone stuck.

C – Consequences:  All behavior has consequences.  No matter what we do or what we say, there is a consequence.  Hopefully, most consequences are positive.  I’m thirsty.  My behavior is I get a glass of water.  The consequence is that my thirst is quenched.  Children learn the world works in a logical manner (at least most of the time) and there are indeed consequences to behavior.  These are not ignored.  The world doesn’t work beyond them.

Active Parenting Now! helps parents teach children responsibility.  Responsibility expands as the child/teen matures. 

R = C +  C

Responsibility = Choices + Consequences

Parents learn to help their child “own the problem.”  However, parents also learn when a problem is primarily the parent’s responsibility and the parent needs to make choices with positive consequences.

Please know I receive no royalties or financial compensation (other than teaching fees when I facilitate a course) from Dr. Popkin or the Active Parenting Now! company.  I encourage my readers to learn more, though.  You can visit the APN website at  You can find links for classes near you or purchase the parenting guide there.  You can also find a brochure with the basics of the FLAC method HERE.  Dr. Popkin also has a biblically-based add-on available to accompany the APN program.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Boundaries II

I’ve had Sheltie dogs for the last 15 years of my life.  My first was a four-year-old named Simba.  He was a rescue who’d been beaten horribly by his first owner and he had seizures – scary seizures.  At the time we got him, we lived in a big old Victorian home.  It didn’t have a fence around the yard.  I had to keep him on a leash when he needed to go outside.  The one time I tried to go out with him without a leash, he took off after an old-order Mennonite family in a horse and buggy and their horse took off running.  Shelties, even over weight Shelties who suffer from seizures, are FAST.  I have another rescue Sheltie now.  He’s somewhere between 8 and 11 years old.  We’re not sure.  We have a fenced back yard now, but we found out he can be really fast, too.  We had to buy baby gates to corral him in the house because if the mailman or the UPS guy comes to the door, he’ll take off after them.  He’s chased the UPS truck down the street twice since we got him eight months ago.  The baby gates provide a boundary that keeps him, as well as the UPS guy and mailman, safe.  The leash kept Simba safe, as well as the Mennonite buggies that went by our old home every day.

We have some pretty tight boundaries for our traumatized teens, too.  Some people think I have them on a tight leash and have told me so in so many words.  Others think we have a pretty high fence around our family.  I think they’re right.  And I’m totally okay with that.

Boundaries help traumatized kids feel safe! 

Let me just say this before I begin.  I know there are readers who will strongly disagree with me.  If you are one of them, I simply ask you to look at the results of my parenting practices.

As we’ve traveled through the last five and a half years of parenting our adopted kids, we’ve learned this in very clear ways.  We knew boundaries helped our older, neuro-typical boys feel safe.  However, we’ve learned more acutely than ever before how firm boundaries have helped Youngest Son and The Princess.

For example, our kids do not have the freedom to come and go with other kids like our older boys did at the same age.  My older boys could navigate the challenges most teenagers face because of their secure and consistent-from-birth background.  I know my youngest two do not have that same background and it makes a difference in how they are able to handle certain situations.

We waited to allow Youngest Son to get a learner’s permit to learn to drive.  He got it last spring and still has it.  He will not be getting a driver’s license any time soon.  He’s not ready and I’m not ready to allow him to drive.  We tried, but it’s not yet time.  And I don’t want to risk allowing him to damage my car multiple times – or risk having him get hurt.  He’s proven he’s not ready.  What kind of parent would I be to allow him to continue to participate in an activity he clearly cannot handle?  Does it show him I don’t trust him?  Or does it show him I know this is a better choice and that I love him enough to keep him away from danger because he’s demonstrated he’s not ready for this?  I think it’s the latter.

We also don’t allow our youngest kids to date.  They’re not ready.  The American cultural phenomenon of dating is not a necessary developmental milestone for teenagers we have learned.  This actually developed over time because our oldest son did not want to go through the date and break cycle.  He chose to wait until he was ready to make a commitment to someone and it was then he pursued a relationship with someone he believed might be a life partner.  Dating wasn’t casual for him.  His younger bio brothers adopted that idea and we, as the parents, adopted it from there.  We believe God was ahead of us in this for the sakes of Youngest Son and The Princess, even as He was for our older boys.

This doesn’t mean our kids haven’t had boy/girl feelings for certain friends.  And we don’t discourage that.  But we don’t allow one-on-one dating situations.  It’s one of our boundaries while our kids are still not ready for the responsibility.

People have asked how we stop it?  Why don’t our kids rebel and have a boyfriend/girlfriend anyway?  The answer is, we don’t need to stop it.  Our kids know the boundaries and they feel safe because those boundaries are firm.  They’ve actually told us so.  We’ve taught them the reasons why.  We’ve taught them that God places His own appointed authority over us and as kids, their primary authority after the LORD is us, their parents.  We’ve also taught them that while the government may say they are “adults” at 18, we know they are not fully ready for all the responsibility of an adult at the age of 18 and their older brothers confirm that.

Just like anyone else, we cannot watch our kids 24/7/365.  But we don’t need to because our boundaries are firm.  Our kids feel safe.  We make the boundaries broader as our kids show they are ready.  If the widened boundaries turn out to be too broad, we reign them back in.  We make our kids’ worlds smaller.  It works.  We’ve learned this as we’ve gone along.

Youngest Son does not participate in any activity that is not adult supervised.  If he goes somewhere (on foot) with a friend, I know where he is and he has a firm time frame for when he is to return.  I use technology.  I know where he’s going and I follow up.  Since setting this boundary, we’ve had zero problems with our son behaving appropriately in the community.  He has a job.  He participates in sports.  He comes straight home after school and he texts or calls me when he’s finished training and is on his way home.  It’s the same time every day.  I know he’s on his way, but he still texts me.  It makes him feel safe and it’s one of our boundaries.

The Princess participates in orchestra at school and may have friends over.  She may also go to spend time at the homes of people I trust.  I must know the kid and I must know their parents.  Time frames are never open-ended.  There is always a specific beginning time and ending time for the visit.  Knowing when she’s coming home makes The Princess feel safe.  Knowing the parents and knowing exactly who she’s with makes us both feel safe.  As long as the boundaries are in place, we don’t worry about her getting into situations where her entire future could be in jeopardy.  The reigns are pretty tight.

We believe in second chances, though.  We are firm, but not rigid.  We are authoritative but not authoritarian.  We want our kids to spread their wings and grow.  Just because a mistake is made once doesn’t mean there isn’t a chance to try again, but we don’t allow the same bad choice to happen again and again. 

I think the reason why our firm boundaries help our kids so much is because their early lives were so uncertain.  There were no boundaries.  There was no safety net.  The big people in their lives couldn’t set their own boundaries let alone set them for the kids.

Boundaries are good.  Boundaries keep us safe.  Boundaries make us feel cared about and loved.

Don’t be afraid to set boundaries with your kids.  One day, they’ll be 25 years old and telling other parents how good it was to be raised with firm boundaries.  You may even have a 14-year-old explain to a peer how inappropriate a choice is because it does not respect their own or another person's boundaries!

Here’s an article I found about helping people with complex trauma backgrounds.  #2 – Firm boundaries!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Upside the Head

I created a card on today.  It was a joke for another trauma mama who does the best she can as a therapeutic parent -- just like any one of us.  Today she was tired of being therapeutic.  Today she didn't like her child.  Today she was done.

I totally get that.  I've been "done" a lot lately.

There are days I get tired of thinking.  There are days I get tired of going through the same dang thing over and over again.  There are days I get tired of reminding my 14 and 17-year-old children that they are safe, they are loved, they are home, and we are family -- forever, blah, blah, blah.  There are days I  just can NOT "stop, think and relax" myself, let alone try to help one of them do it, too.  Sometimes, there are days that string together.  Lately, there are weeks that string together.

I don't know what that means really (other than I am fried), but I am pretty sure it's okay.  It's okay to be this tired.  It's not okay to keep placing myself on the altar of self-sacrifice for the whims of these children, however, because it does not help them.  It sure as heck doesn't help me.  I cannot be therapeutic if I am being abused and allowing that abuse to continue.

Matthew 11:28-30 reads, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out ...? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”  (The Message)

Self care is so very, very important when you're parenting kids with trauma backgrounds.  You cannot parent a child with a traumatic past unless you are okay.  Whether you believe in the bible or not, this is truth.  You need to retreat.  You need respite.  You need a safe place where it's okay to be worn out and get refreshed.

Do that for you.

Take an afternoon.  Take a day.  Take a weekend and use respite care services.  Go to a parenting conference and learn and be with other people who "get" this life.  Don't wimp out.  Don't be a martyr.

And on those days when the therapeutic parenting book on the nightstand seems like a tempting tool to be used for whomping a kid upside the head, remember what Lindsay says --  you are awesome.  Your kid is here.  You are here.  You have not killed him.  You haven't even used the book to whomp him, though you'd like to really, really, really very much do that.  You've done what most other people wouldn't even TRY because you are strong and this is enough -- you are enough -- even on "those" days.  Even on those days, you are awesome.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Natural Consequences

The social worker who checks on me from time to time just left.  She was here for about an hour.  Seems Youngest Son has had some issues with me -- things he's blaming me for, but things he's been told he needs to do and hasn't.  For example, track practices begin on Monday.  He was told last week by me that he needed to go to the athletic office at the high school and get the forms needed for a physical.  He went by the office once and the secretary wasn't there.  So, he didn't get them.  And he didn't go back.  He didn't tell me.  But I was supposed to know.  I was supposed to get the form for him.  I was supposed to set up the appointment for the physical, whether I had the form or not.

I have not set up the appointment.  I do not have the form.  He has not gotten it.  I am not getting it.

The Plains are having a major winter storm today and tomorrow.  The doctor's office is closing early today.  School and the doctor are likely to be closed tomorrow.  Youngest Son works right after school on Friday and besides, the physical form needs to be in at the athletic office at least 24 hours before a student is allowed to participate in practices or any sports activity.  Guess who won't be able to have track practice on Monday?  Natural consequence.  My fault?  I don't think so.

Last night, I went into Youngest Son's room and reminded him we'd be having this winter storm.  Weather where we live is crazy in the winter.  It can be in the 60's one day and two days later, we could be getting 6-10 inches of snow -- like this week.  In order to be dressed appropriately for the weather, you need to pay attention.  He doesn't do that, so I remind him.  I let him know that there would be no snow and no wind when he left this morning, but by the time he came home, there would be a few inches on the ground and it would be very windy and cold.  I told him he should wear a coat because while he gets a ride to school, he needs to walk the six blocks home after school.

As I write this, the snow is coming down fast and furious and it's not even noon yet.  The wind is supposed to be a steady 15 m.p.h. by 3 p.m. with frequent gusts to 35 and blizzard-like conditions developing through the afternoon.

Youngest Son's coat is on the hook in the hallway.  I am not driving over there to pick him up.  I don't do that high school parking lot with hundreds of teenagers driving on a clear day.  I'm not doing it in snow and ice.  Youngest Son has his track hoodie on.  He'll be cold and wet when he gets home.  Natural consequence.  My fault?  I don't think so.

The social worker agreed.

I believe therapeutic parenting for much older kids, like my Youngest Son, sometimes means letting them deal with things on their own.  Sometimes, the dominoes just tumble.  We cannot coddle them forever.  We cannot save them forever.  We cannot talk them down from their ledges forever.  Letting go can be just as therapeutic for them as it is for us.

So, there will be a cold, wet boy who's not going to track on Monday.  He'll be angry -- with me.  He'll blame me.  My fault?  I don't think so.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Treading Water

Happily, Youngest Son is still working.  Still plugging along.  Still serving fish and busy as ever now that Lent is here.  He worked 5:30-8:00 last night for Ash Wednesday.  Of course, while so many things do not merit his attention, the ethnicity of people other than those of Caucasian European descent does not escape my boy.  His first comment to me when he got home and I asked how his night went was, "I've never seen so many Mexicans come in that place in one night!"  I just replied, "Hang on dear, Friday's coming!"  (He works twice that day -- over lunch and over dinner.  There is no school here on Friday this week.)

I have to admit I am surprised, and pleased, that he is sticking with this.  He hasn't tried to get out of work once and he apparently does his job as he is supposed to do it.  His manager is happy with him and the girls he works with all adore him (of course).  He is quite the charmer and funny guy.

He has even been more respectful at home these last few weeks.  I pray it lasts, but I'll admit I have gotten to a place where I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Always waiting to pay for whatever it is that triggers my kids when we all least expect it.  I've been struggling with the fact that I recognize this in myself.  I've wondered whether or not I've lost faith.  I've wondered if I just don't have what it takes, BUT -- BUT --- I have also realized that what I have and what I can do is okay -- that it is what I can do and I don't need to compare that to anyone else, including the "good mom" in my head.  I am a good mom -- even when I drop an f-bomb in frustration and exasperation.  Even when I wish I'd never adopted.  Even when I want to run away.  I am a good mom and I love my kids and they are awesome and I cannot imagine living through the things they've lived through and being as great as they are -- right now -- today -- whether a shoe drops or not.

With that in mind, I am seriously considering putting The Princess back in public middle school.  We have gotten into a cycle of her being lazy (not stressed - not reactionary - not triggered - L.A.Z.Y.) and me being fed up.  I do not like my behavior when I am fed up.  I do not like this cycle.  I have decided I NEED to take care of me, and that I've probably LOST some of me -- no, that I have indeed lost some of me along the last five plus years of this journey.  I want me back and I want her better than ever.  That may mean The Princess gets out of my house 7.5 hours a day.  Soon.  Not sure yet.  But I'm close . . .

I'll keep you posted.

On another note, HAPPY VALENTINES DAY!  Give yourself a gift and take a listen to this BEAUTIFUL love song by Billy Kaplan (that is, Billy Kaplan from Parenting in S.P.A.C.E.).  Have some tissue ready.

Click here or above for the SONG.  Click to learn about Parenting in S.P.A.C.E.

Friday, January 11, 2013

I spoke too soon . . .

Youngest Son got a call from one of the places he applied to for a job.  (As I wrote earlier, Hubby took him around to several places over the last holiday weekend.)  It's a fast food place that serves fish.  If you've read my blog for a while, you know Youngest Son is triggered by the smell of fish.


I never would have taken him there to apply for a job.  Hubby didn't think anything of it.

Fate is a funny, funny thing sometimes, isn't it?

It figures the ONE PLACE that would call without his doing any follow up on his own would be the fish place.

We'll see what happens.  I have decided to let go of much this year.  This 2013.  I've done all I can do these last five and a half years to help these kids heal.  I just keep doing what I know.  I keep learning, but we're getting to a point and I need to let go of some things.  Youngest Son is 17.  I need to start letting go and letting God with some things.  Fish will be one of these things.  If it triggers him, he'll need to deal with it.  I can't protect him from fish smell the rest of his life.  Amen.  So be it.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

All's Well That Ends Well . . .

. . . but there's always trauma drama. 

The GOOD NEWS for me is through all the tests and procedures, my heart was proven healthy.  This is great news, since my Dad and all of my brothers have heart issues.  And since I am older than my brothers, I feel it a particular blessing.  I had a dangerous blood clot in my neck and a few in my right arm, but they are gone!  (Yay!)  I have some follow up stuff to do and some meds I still need to take for a while.  I'll always need to be checked for PVD (peripheral vascular disease), but for now, I'm good to go.  I'm almost healed from the access site, too.  Still moving a little slowly, but getting around the house okay.

So, that's all great, good, normal stuff -- except for if you're raising traumatized kids with attachment issues and anxiety.  To say my illness has thrown things off a bit around here is putting it mildly.  Things haven't been TOO bad -- no reverting to criminal activity or full-blown rages (at least not as of this morning), but we've had some issues to deal with along the way.  And yes, I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Youngest Son has gone into full withdrawal mode the last several weeks.  I wrote about this earlier.  For the most part, we let him live there.  If he gets too belligerent when spoken to, or if he seems he's sinking in depression, we pull him out of his room for some time in.  We play a board game or put a movie on Netflix we know he'll enjoy.  Most of the time, though, he stays in his room and draws the same sports car over and over again, making only minute changes to the color or angle so that he can say, "It's a totally different car."

One of thousands of sports car drawings by Youngest Son.  I've copyrighted this, so that means you can't use it without my permission.  Just sayin'.

For some kids with PTSD and attachment issues, repetitive movement or sound-making is soothing.  For my Youngest Son, it's repetitive car drawing.

Still, I worry so much he will be stuck where he is.  He's done some significant healing.  He's been an exemplary community member and his grades aren't great but they're not horrible either.  He just doesn't seem to have any initiative or drive.  I believe he'd be content to live in our basement the rest of his life, whether he got a job or not -- and I wonder if he'll ever get a job.

Hubby took Youngest Son around to just about every fast food restaurant and store in walking distance over the holiday break.  He picked up applications, filled them out at home, and hubby took him back to deliver them.  Around here, applicants are expected to follow up on their own applications.  If you wait for the phone to ring, you're going to be waiting a long time.  So that's what we're doing.  NOTHING.

Oh, I "made him" call one pizza place, but they were just hiring for drivers.  Youngest Son has had no real motivation to work on getting his driver's license, though he's had the permit since spring 2012.  See, we don't have any cool cars and we're not buying him one.  Why bother?  Right?

As for any overt reaction to my illness, it's been all about not listening.  Even the day I went for my surgery, he was surprised.  "What?  Wait?  Surgery?  What's that?"  Sigh.  Yeah, really.  These are the kinds of things I deal with all. the. time. with my 17 year old son.  The cluelessness is huge.  To the outside world, it looks like we don't include him in anything, or like we don't teach him, don't like him, don't pity him, don't - whatever.  If they spent more than a week of having to actually DEAL WITH this kid 24/7, they might begin to get a clue.  But I realize now, the only ones who understand are other parents living similar lives.

Two days after my surgery, in an accusatory tone, he asked, "Did you not make any BREAD for dinner?"  Um.  No, dear.  I did not make bread for dinner.  I did not make DINNER!  There is plenty of food.  You are a big boy.  You are fine.  And before you ask, I did not do your laundry.  I did not clean the floor.  I did not feed the dogs.  And I did not wipe your butt when you got home from school.  These are all things I am sure you are capable of handling for YOURSELF.  Any more questions?  (Sometimes, I am so not in the mood to be therapeutic, but then I wonder if maybe these kinds of questions back at him aren't just a different KIND of therapeutic parenting.)

As for The Princess, she's been mostly amazing through this whole thing.  There have been a few times when she's stomped off to her room and hidden under her bed, but mostly she's been "too good."  She's done far more than her share around the house and she's done everything for me from make me toast to help me up out of the Lazy Boy.  Yes, there are times she's been too hyper, too immature and too disrespectful to Hubby, but most of the time she's been great.

Quite frankly, she makes a better cup of tea than anyone in the family.

Some really good, caring, and amazing ladies have made meals for us the last few nights and that's been a blessing, too.  If you're one of those ladies, thank you!

I'm getting there.  We're getting there.