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!

24 comments:

CherubMamma said...

Awesome post!!

Dawn said...

Well.

THAT was what I needed to hear today.

My goodness thank-you.

Feiner Michele said...

I agree. I needed to hear that today as well. Thank you.

mamaporuski said...

You are awesome! I am so glad you continue to blog and support us all!

Trauma Mama T said...

You are all awesome, Rock Star Mamas! Claim that. It is the truth. Not just anyone can do this job.

Scott and Kathy said...

Thank you! Few can understand the complexities of dealing with these kids and the depth of their hurt and anxiety. I would love not to react.....but we all do....we are human.

Liz said...

Thank you, thank you for these words. We hold in our heads the picture of what a foster parent needs to be and beat ourselves up when we don't live up to it. So glad to know I'm not the only one. And that engaging can be therapeutic too. Thank you.

Amy said...

I just found you (a God thing I am sure) and really, really needed to see this post today. We are parenting 3 traumatized, special needs adopted children and I am feeling isolated and alone in this journey. I'm praying I will find some resources in some of your other posts that I can use. Thank you so much for sharing your journey!!!!

Trauma Mama T said...

I am humbled that my words can serve as a conduit of encouragement. Hang in there mamas; Mother's Day is this weekend. It may be a bumpy ride, but remember - YOU ARE A ROCK STAR MAMA!

gobbelcounseling said...

I found your blog today and love it! Thank you for everything you are writing! I completely agree that there is no perfect parent, no perfect therapeutic parent, and I freak out at my child a lot, too :) `~Robyn

LoriAnn Danko said...

I so needed to hear that! I have been struggling lately with that very same issue. We have a foster daughter who is classified as therapeutic and almost daily I feel like I fail her. I react because I am a mom who loves with everything I am and have a hard time associating trauma with behavior. It is a daily struggle and I am so thankful for God's grace and mercy. We are all learning and growing together. We are also in the midst of adopting a little boy with HIV from Ethiopia. This blog has really put things into perspective for me and has helped me! Thank you so much!!!!!!

Chantelle said...

Your post was shared by a friend on FB and THANK GOD ABOVE that I took the time to click and read. You spoke directly to my heart and brought such relief to my soul! I carry SO.MUCH.GUILT that I can't be like those other seemingly perfect mothers. THANK YOU times a MILLION. I'm going to print this out for repeat reading and encouragement. I don't feel any where near a 'rock star' mother...not even a little bit... but maybe if I read this every day for a year or so it will start to sink in.((((((hug)))))) BLESS YOU!

MarthaO said...

Would you mind contacting me? Love this post, and your message that you are sharing through this blog. Would love to feature you on RainbowKids.com --Martha at RainbowKids dot com

Jessie said...

Oh you are awesome! We need more brave posts like this for the adoption community and for women in general. Thanks for putting it into perspective and stepping out there. I'm sharing with my friend who needs this too.

"Are These Kids All Yours?" said...

AMEN and AMEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! So very very true!!!!!!!
I am working on my reactions....I am learning so much that I wished I would have known years ago! I love working on things that I know will help my beautiful tribe of 9, but I also know- I AM NOT EVER GOING TO BE PERFECT until I go to heaven.....and that is OK! :) Praise God!

Thank you for posting!!!!!

Laura Johnson said...

I really needed this today. Thank you so much for this encouragment! God bless you!

melanie1229 said...

This was exactly what I needed to hear! Thank you. I'm about all worn out. This was so kindly written. I appreciate you.
would it be alright if I copied this to my page? I'm not as eloquent writer as you.

Keelee said...

Thank you for the encouragement! A respite provider shared a link to this article. Perfect!

Trauma Mama T said...

It has obviously been a while since I've been to the blog. Life took over. Kids. Me getting back into theatre. (I'm actually in a show again and have dress rehearsal for a run this weekend -- eek!)

Thank you all for your kind comments. You have inspired me to get on here again soon with an update (I will as soon as this show is over!).

I will contact you at Rainbow Kids, M!

Rain said...

Wow! Love it when my "secret" is validated. It's a good feeling to know I'm not the only one :)

Vonda and John said...

Thank you. I saw this on Rainbowkids dot com. I will now become a Trauma Mama follower. I have been in my own trauma the last two weeks with a angry child. And I have been hard on myself.

Vonda and John said...

I just saw this on Rainbowkids. A much needed read. I had been totally feeling like a failure and have even requested some FMLA time to spend more time with my kids. Thank you!

Trauma Mama T said...

Vonda and John - I am honored that Rainbowkids.com asked to publish this post on their website. I'm also very honored to have you "follow" my blog. Thanks for stopping by -- and hang in there. This is hard and we are human, but we are rockin' it!

merry said...

I googled "trauma mama" and found your blog and ended up on this post. Being a trauma mama is hard enough as it is. Comparing ourselves to others makes it even harder. Thanks for the affirmations.