Dads need respite, relief, fun too!

We hear about the moms needing time off from the kids, to relax, to regain some strength, to have fun with their friends… because it’s assumed moms spend the majority of the time with the kids, but even so, dads need a break too!  Even if the dads take over on the weekends, like mine does, it’s still hard!  It’s exhausting, emotionally, physically, mentally, and add that on top of the stresses of supporting a family, the job and all that other life stuff – it adds up!

Maybe men don’t talk about their feelings, their frustrations, their fears about their childrens’ futures.  That doesn’t mean those feelings, fears and frustrations aren’t there.  That doesn’t mean they aren’t taking a toll mentally, physically and emotionally, even spiritually.  Men need emotional recharging as much as women.  And men don’t usually get it from buying a new purse or getting a manicure.

In my house my spouse loves hunting.  So every year he goes hunting with his buddies out in the woods somewhere in the middle of the mountains where there’s no buildings, no work, no electronics, no plumbing, and most importantly, no women or children.  Whether he brings back and elk or a deer is secondary to the recharging he gets to be out in nature, hanging with his buds, being manly in hunting and providing food (insert a Tim Allen grunt) and just being away from it all.  I used to think it was dumb, a waste of time, until he put it into language that I could understand – it was how he recharged.  Now I’m all for it.  I make sure nothing interferes with his hunting trips.

That’s his thing, hunting.  Whatever your significant other’s “thing” is to recharge, support him in it.  Maybe there will be a compromise in time spent, money, and maybe you’ll switch off weekends.  Whatever.  But you both need a break.  You both need to recharge.

And don’t forget – you also need to build your relationship together as well.  All these elements are important for surviving this challenging, exhausting life.  But you can do it.  Prioritize – and don’t put yourselves, or your relationship, last.

Keep it real.

-realmom

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I lie to my kid all the time

Or so he thinks.  My child dealing with attachment issues/Reactive Attachment Disorder/DSED/ODD hears me lie all the time.  If I say, “If the weather stays nice, we can go play at the park this afternoon.”  A severe thunderstorm comes up at noon, and it rains sideways all afternoon, obviously, we’re not going to the park.  Obviously – to me, not to him.  To him, I lied.  I said I was going to take him to the park and I didn’t.  Black and white.  No gray.  No caveats.  No exceptions.

When we are dealing with our kids who lie (and I think of Meghan Trainor’s “Your Lips Are Moving”) and they are convinced of the truth of their statements, even when confronted with proof of the lie, they will stick to their story, we need to remember – this is a brain issue.  It appears as a behavioral issue, it drives us crazy as a defiance issue – but this is a brain/thinking disorder.  It didn’t really occur to me that way until my child burst into tears after an event such as the one described above and he was crying that I lied to him again.  It absolutely flabbergasted me.  How could we possibly go to the park in such weather?  But to him, in his black and white thinking, in his crazy little world, there were no exceptions. I had lied.

That doesn’t mean we accept lies and say, oh it’s ok, you have a brain disorder.  It’s not like a seizure.  There still needs to be consequences and learning and training and explaining.  But maybe, if we view the lies from the point of view that it’s quite possible that in this child’s mind, he is telling the truth, because his thinking is screwed up, his mind is miswired, it won’t upset us as parents so much. It won’t feel quite so personal.  Now for some children you can tell that they are lying on purpose.  For others, you’re simply not sure.  It’s for those “not sure” situations that you might want to sit back and take a moment to breath, and think that maybe the kid thinks he is telling the truth.  His mind has convinced him this is the truth and his survival depend on convincing you this is the truth.  Yes, it’s delusional.  And just like monsters in the closet, it is no less real to him.

If we don’t take the lying so personally, which is extremely difficult as parents, perhaps we can calmly talk our children through the steps of reality.  Perhaps we can at least model the steps they need to take in their thinking, even if they can’t take it right now.  Over time, maybe it will sink it.  But if nothing else, at least us realizing that this is part of the brain disorder, part of the trauma brain, we can keep our cool and handle it better.  Just a thought.  Or maybe I’m just talking to myself, and that’s ok too, because I definitely need to remember this.

Keepin’ it real.

-realmom

Why I call my kid…

Bad names sometimes when I talk to my support group, my fellow trauma mommas.  People, those who don’t understand, would be shocked to hear me say such things.  They never hear me say such things.  And NEITHER DOES MY CHILD.

We all think them.  We all get frustrated, upset, angry, have a bad day, whatever.  I don’t care how perfect your child might be, at some point you’re going to be upset with him or her.  You’re going to get angry.  And you’re going to think a bad name in your head.  You won’t say it, but you will think it. I can pretty much guarantee even Mary Poppins had a few choice words about her charges behind closed doors.  So how much more for those of us with children who seem genetically engineered to push our buttons every minute of every single day?  Poke,poke, push, push, until we lose our temper?  We’re not perfect.  Everyone has a breaking point.  Their goal, they think their very survival depends on them breaking us to the point where we lose control.  As therapeutic parents it is imperative that we retain control in front of the child, to not show anger, to not show how badly they have frayed our nerves.  How do we do that?

For me, I let those choice names and words out in a safe environment.  An environment where the people I am speaking to know that I am venting and letting all the crap out of my system and letting it go, an environment where I am safe and those words will go no farther, an environment where my child will never ever know about or hear those words.  I never want my child to hear the things I sometimes think.  But I need to express them, get rid of them, somehow.  So I swear like a m^&*^g trucker.

That’s not for everyone.  I’m not saying it should be.  Everyone has their own way of letting things out, of letting things go.  For some, it’s running until they collapse.  For others, I don’t know.  But what I do know is stuffing those things down, and not dumping them, purging them, is dangerous.  Letting them float around, festering, on the edge of your thoughts, they just might slip out.  A lot.  At least they did for me.  Once I started getting rid of them, expressing any anger and rage in a different environment, away from my kids, and saying the things I wanted to say and be done with it, I never had the strong urge to say it TO my kids.  I could shove it down for later.  I knew i could say my piece and get rid of it.  I could focus on the “right now”, which was maintaining the goal of therapeutic parenting.  Calm, cool, collected, not overly emotional.  I never ever wanted to say those things to my child.  EVER.  But I am not perfect.  I would lose control once in a while and say things I regretted.  Later I would apologize and try to mend the relationship, but when the relationship is already the problem… how many hits can it take?  I don’t know.  I couldn’t risk it.  I had to find a way to deal with my own shortcomings, my own failures, my own triggers that my child was so successful at setting off, and finding a way to bypass those so I could be who he needed me to be.

I don’t publish it on Facebook.  I don’t say it to strangers.  I don’t say it to teachers, neighbors, or anyone in the moms group.  But I do have a select few that I can be “real” with, who know and understand that I am not perfect, that I have failures and shortcomings, and this is a big one, who can let me fail and yell and struggle without judging me for my words or bad attitude, and let me get it all out, spew out that poison, and be done with it.  That’s how I keep it from my kid.  That’s how I keep it from festering and growing.  Some view it as wrong, or evil.  I understand.  For me, it became a survival tactic.  And so I continue to – keep it real.

-realmom

Growth… not perfection

Been bumming a lot this week. Finally figured out why today. It’s spring break, and not that the kids were being out of control, or fighting more than usual, or any of that – my mood was actually because I was grieving and didn’t realize it. I was grieving what I had always envisioned “spring break” would look like when my kids got to be this age, the things we’d do, the places we’d go… instead I have line of sight 24/7 on one child, and he can’t be allowed around the neighborhood children, two of the siblings are constantly at each other (trauma bond), and the third and 4th are mentally disabled/sensory issues. So we don’t get to do the things I’d thought I’d be doing with 12, 11, 10 yr olds (and a 3 yr old). We aren’t going to Disney, like my neighbors, with their 5,4,3 yr olds who have a blast, we didn’t go to the zoo, like our other neighbors, with their middle school kids, we didn’t go on a big drive through a few states to see friends… we kept it low key and simple around the house. And that makes me sad… for them, and for me. Once I identified the emotion, though, it was easier to handle the “bitchiness” I was feeling, the irritableness, because that’s how my grief was coming out, my sorrow was masquerading as anger…..

And I learned. And I grew. Growth, not perfection.

-realmom

“The” Retreat

I belong to a support group of moms with traumatized children, most of them adopted, but not all.  We have an online support group, and about 100 of us get together in Florida every year for a few days for a retreat/conference.  There’s classes, there’s self-care activities available like massages, manis and pedis, there’s a lot of people to connect with and get to know.  And of course it’s in sunny Florida, for most of us, in the winter time, that’s the most sun we’ve seen in months!  The first time I went on this retreat, I went very last minute, having no idea what I was getting into but knowing I needed help and these moms had experience and knowledge I didn’t have.  I went to pick brains, to absorb all the knowledge I could.  I had no intention of making friends, building relationships, that was the last thing on my mind.  I’d gotten so used to not having friends who “understood” that our family was different, that things didn’t work the same in our family, that we couldn’t do the things other families could do, that I guess I just assumed I’d be off to one side like I am at most social functions, unable to connect or even relate to most of the moms.

I did learn a lot that year, but what I gained the most was relationships. People who understood what we were going through.  People who could laugh with you with the dark humor you had to acquire on this journey over some of the things your child has said and done.  People whose kids are actually WORSE than yours in some cases!  There was a connection, an understanding, a kind of friendship in the foxhole instant comraderie.  We understood.  We were understood.  Long explanations were not necessary.  We didn’t need to educate each other on what “RAD” meant or how we really did need to keep an eye on our child 24/7 for the safety of other children.  Other people who knew what it was like to have your house smell like pee 24/7 because your child felt it necessary to pee places other than the bathroom.  And nobody – NOBODY – said, dismissively – “Oh, all children do that.”  I didn’t understand before how freeing it could be to have someone understand.  To really understand, to KNOW what you are going through.  I didn’t know how blissful it could be to not have to monitor every word out of your mouth, making sure you didn’t let something slip about what your kid did and terrify the neighbors.

I also learned that not only do we all understand…. we all make the same mistakes.  We spend so much time giving of ourselves to these kids, (that includes dads too), so much time wrapping ourselves around our families to protect the bubble as best we can… that we forget to feed our own needs.  We forget that we have needs, not just wants, but actual needs that must be met before we can continue.  We need to take care of our health, eat healthy,exercise.  That’s a requirement.  Health is so important for us to continue on this journey – and so many parents are literally sick from the stress this life causes.  Mental health is just as important.  Almost all parents (and siblings) will develop some degree of PTSD when living this life.  We need to deal with that, we need help sometimes, we need rest, we need time away from the stress, a mental reboot.  We need time to focus on our marriage or significant other, we need to feed that relationship if it is to survive.  We need to have friends, humans are social creatures.  We need to allow ourselves the luxury, or the seemed luxury, of having friends and having time away from the family.  We need this for our own mental health and sanity.  We need to fill our spiritual coffers, whether that be with religion or communing with nature… we need it. And we need to allow ourselves some financial little luxuries, to “reward” ourselves now and again, whether it be lattes at Starbucks or a girls’ night out.  We need those little rewards as well.

It’s not selfish, or narcissistic to feed ourselves food.  Neither is it selfish to feed our emotional, mental and spiritual health.  It’s the only way we’re going to survive this journey with half a brain left.  And no one can do it alone – we need each other.  Find your tribe.  Take care of yourself and let them fill you up when you can’t.  It’s the best thing you can do for your kids.

-realmom

the a**hole gene

I know I might get a lot of flack for this one, but hear me out first.  My spouse had an uncle, we’ll call him Uncle Joe.  Now Uncle Joe had 7 brothers.  And every one of those brothers referred to Uncle Joe as an a**hole.  As my FIL had put it, “He was born an a**hole, and he’ll die an a**hole.”  In fact, everyone in the family, and friends of the family, all knew Joe was an a**hole.  That’s just who he was.  So my spouse and I started joking around one day, that he had a special gene, called an a**hole gene.  Lucky only one of the 8 brothers had it!  And it was awfully lucky it wasn’t transferred down to my spouse! (who was adopted, hence the hilarity of the joke)

When we began to realize that things were not quite right with the child, we began to joke that he had inherited the Uncle Joe gene.  He was born with it and he would die with it.  Just between the spouse and I, we would quib “It’s Uncle Joe all over again!”  (The children had no idea who Uncle Joe was, he died before they were born/adopted, as had most of his brothers.)  It became an inside joke, to help us through the times when we couldn’t figure out why the child was being so difficult and so destructive and so downright mean to everyone and everything.  Dark humor is still better than crying.

Years passed, therapists have come and gone, and the child remains the same as he ever was.  Defiant, rude, mean, spiteful, destructful, oppositional, would tell you he’s not on fire even if he is just because he prefers to lie.  The Uncle Joe gene joke had come and gone, but it came back to haunt me.  What if “this” was how he is?  What if this was the best it ever got?  What if this was truly it?  What if there truly was an a**hole gene and my kid got it?!

Those were some sobering thoughts, let me tell you.  Could I accept that this was the best it would ever be?  Could I accept him as he was, right here, right now, meanness and all?  Could I love him despite it?  Could I love, accept and even nurture this child whose sole purpose (it seems) is to annoy, frustrate, anger, and hurt me every minute of every day and twice in between?  Could I accept that this was who he was, and continue to give him everything I gave my other kids, my attention, my time, my full on love, hugs, kisses, jokes, funny faces, love notes in their lunches, special times together, special gifts for no reason?  Because there are no guarantees here.  We can seek all the therapy and help and read all the books and attend all the seminars in the world, but we are not guaranteed success.

This is where it got religious for me.  You don’t have to be religious to get the idea though.  Unconditional love.  There’s a verse in the Bible where Jesus says, there’s no greater love than this, that you lay down your life for a friend.  And that’s what I have to do.  I have to love him, accept him, for where he’s at – unconditionally.  It’s not something we do in today’s world.  We love conditionally.  We like and unlike and thumbs up and thumbs down, friend and unfriend, follow and unfollow.  I have to love him without any expectation of return.  No thank yous, no niceness, nothing that hints of him recognizing all the things that I do for him every day, the sacrifices we make for him.  I have to love him through the mean and the pee and the irritating.  I have to lay down my life for him – I have to put down my irritation, my desires of what I want my child to be, what I’d rather be doing instead of being in therapy with him, or the principal’s office, or yet another meeting with the teacher about behavior, I have to lay down my expectations for returned love, even returned civility, for him.  This doesn’t mean I leave him without consequences for his actions or without expectations of him acting appropriately.  It means letting go of my feelings of frustration, anger, disappointment… I lay them down so that I can give to him what he needs me to be – his mother.  It’s a daily struggle, and I fail more often than I succeed. But I continue to try to be the mother he needs me to be… and I pray that someday, he will become the person he was meant to be.

Hang in there.

-realmom

Not the kind of mom I thought I’d be… but I’m growing.

Today…. When my teen screamed at me, I screamed and yelled back.  I’m not the kind of mom I thought I’d be… but I’m growing.

Today…. I called my kid “stupid”.  I’m not the kind of mom I thought I’d be… but I’m growing.

Today….I didn’t want to be a mom.  I’m not the kind of mom I thought I’d be… but I’m growing.

Today…I spoke to my child in an angry voice.  I’m not the kind of mom I thought I’d be… but I’m growing.

Today…I dreaded summer break and having to deal with my kids the entire day, for 3 months.  I’m not the kind of mom I thought I’d be… but I”m growing.

Today… my child tried to tell me a story he had made up while I was working on something.  I told him to go away, it wasn’t important.  I’m not the kind of mom I thought I’d be…. but I’m growing.

Today… I turned on the television instead of playing with my kids.  I’m not the kind of mom I thought I’d be, but I’m growing.

Today… I didn’t want to get out of bed.  I’m not the kind of mom I thought I’d be, but I’m growing.

Today… I learned to apologize to my child when I make mistakes, when I lose my temper, when I do things I shouldn’t have.

Today… I learned to let the dishes sit, put my work aside, and listen and play with my children.

Today… I learned that being a parent is hard.  Being a parent of special needs kids is exhausting.  It’s ok to take time out for myself and recharge.

Today… I learned I’m not perfect, just like everybody else.

I’m not the kind of mom I thought I’d be… but I’m growing.

Stealing – and Feeling

A mother posted: “Last night, I awoke to find one of my sons in my room stealing the electronic devices. (I have suspected for some time that people were coming into our room in the night for bad reasons, but told myself that would be a bridge too far and that I shouldn’t think that.) It was his second attempt that night, as the first time, I saw him come in and foolishly assumed he needed help. He lied and said he had a sore throat, I believed him, gave him medicine, and comforted him. Later, I awoke to have the same child rummaging around in my very dark room, looking for the ipod. Of course, though he was caught red handed, he would not admit it. (I didn’t push it.) I also know that his brother was in on it, because the one who I caught tried to distract me while I heard the footsteps of his other brother go back upstairs. I feel so, so betrayed. The worst thing is that this was my son who seems to have feelings for me. It isn’t a compete RAD child… So, I just don’t know how to proceed. I am completely devastated. Feeling the same grief for the loving family that we prayed for. Hating that my kids view me as just an obstacle to overcome on the way to doing whatever the hell they feel like. And fear that I am losing my third son as well… Do I even bother to talk to him about how I feel? Do I try to make some lesson out of it? or do I just continue marching on, knowing that no matter what I say, or how hard I try, that things just aren’t going to change.”

I’m sorry. You feel hurt and betrayal. And that’s ok. I will say one thing that “we” hate hearing – but this time it’s true. Even NT (neurotypical) kids steal from their parents, and lie about it sometimes. Brothers who normally hate each other will band together for a common goal against mom and dad. So if even they will do it, how much more will our damaged, not quite with reality kids? Even though you do have a bond and attachment with the child, children are innately selfish and don’t think outside of I want and I want it now. Our kids are just 1000x worse. That doesn’t change the bond you have with him from his perspective, it doesn’t come into play at all for him. Yes you should talk to him how it hurts you, how it feels to be betrayed, how it hurt your heart. Absolutely, in language he can understand (emotional age). Remember 1 -2 sentences is all you’re gonna get before he tunes you out – make them count. I am going through this myself with my middle child, who I thought was attached, and puberty just started to hit and he’s been doing mean things to me personally – like throwing away my brand new shoes into the garbage at the curb on garbage night so they couldn’t be retrieved… stuff like that. It hurts. Hell yes. For us it was the sign that my son needs to be in counseling (he hasn’t up until now, didn’t seem to have any major issues, home since 2008, age 11 now, but knew eventually things would start up). Just cuz we were expecting him to eventually act out didn’t change that it hurt when he did, because it was so personal, directed at me. It shocked me, actually, I thought it’d be regular acting out like his brother, not so personally mean. Is there hope for my middle child? Yes, I believe with the help he’ll be fine.  Yes you continue on, march on, BUT YOU ARE WRONG when you say no matter what you do or say, things aren’t going to change. That may be the short term, but you are in this for the long term, the big picture, and looking at the child’s whole life. What do you DOES matter and DOES make a difference when you look at that child’s entire life. You may not see any results til they’re 30. But you are planting seeds, that hopefully will take root and grow. Keep planting, keep tending those seeds. They DO matter. It will always matter

This is truly what unconditional love is. Although your heart hurts for her, you HAVE made a difference in her life, you continue to make a difference in her life, and I believe things would be so much worse for her if you were not her mother. At least she had/has a chance, something she would not have had otherwise. She still has a chance. Her brain is still growing, changing. She’s still under 18. Hang in there, hon.

-realmom

“What does green vomit mean?”

This was posted by a friend of mine online.  She’d been suffering from massive headaches and was throwing up, and knew we had several nurses in our group and was wondering how urgent it was that she get to the doctor (very).  Nope, she hadn’t eaten jelly beans or wasabi sauce.  This was stress, pure and simple stress, wearing down a body that is simply not created to handle the amount of stress that living our lives creates.

We may know the mantra: self-care, self-care, self-care.  But how do we get self-care when we have to have line of sight supervision for a child?  How do we get self-care when we can’t even pee alone, much less meditate or relax?  Self-care, you say?  How about a full night’s sleep without an alarm going off?

These are the things that aren’t the brochure we were handed, the one filled with sad looking children who just “need a family to love.”  This was not in the fine print at the bottom somewhere that you missed when you signed the dotted line.  Not only was it not in the brochure, it will be declared your fault that these issues even exist (if they are acknowledged at all) by the very agency that provided with said children.  “You just need to raise your fear threshold,” your social worker tells you, as you cry over the phone, begging for help in knowing what to do when one sibling is bound and determined to literally murder another, as you sit in the ER watching the child get stitches from the baseball bat his sister had decided to use for a weapon this time (stolen from a neighbor’s garage).   “You’re too strict with them.  Let them be kids,” you’re told.  “All kids do that stuff.”

So, it wasn’t in the brochure, and the very people that promised us all the support and help we needed after adoption disappeared into thin air as soon as the dotted line was signed.  Now what?  You’re on your own.  You are, but you aren’t.  Finding a network of other families who understand is critical.  Sometimes online is enough, to vent, to cry, to share stories that would horrify “regular” parents.  But sometimes, we need a break.  An honest-to-goodness, no alarms on the doors, no line of sight supervision, break.  My friend is the perfect example of what will happen to us if we don’t.

So network, peeps.  Switch kids once a month, get at least one night of rest.  If you have NT kids as well, farm them out to friends and family for a few days and let your trauma kid be with those that understand.  It takes a village to raise a kid, is the saying.  It’s going to take more than a parent or a couple to survive raising these kids.  The only thing we have is each other, right now.  While some of us have the time and energy to fight for more resources, to fight for respite places, qualified providers, money money money for these things, we are, knowing the rest of you can’t even breathe, much less write a well thought out and organized, detailed letter to your congressman.  We are fighting, not just for our own family, but for all of us.  In the meantime – we need to lean on each other.  Yes, the stress will come back, the headaches will continue – but maybe with just that little bit of time off, it won’t be so bad.  And maybe with the promise of getting time off again, we can make it through til then.

Hang in there, peeps.

-realmom

Hero to Zero

Too many parents start out their adoption journey feeling like they’re doing a good thing, reading all the books, attending all the seminars, preparing for the worst case scenario (or worse yet – being blindsided)… and when reality hits, and the child is uncontrollable, violent, unlovable, doesn’t want you, tries to destroy or hurt you….   They feel like they’ve gone from Hero to Zero.

That’s simply not true, my friends.  You are a Hero.  You will always be a Hero.  Your Hero status is not dependent on your child loving or even liking you.  Your Hero status is not dependent upon your child’s healing from past trauma and abuse, or mental illness.  Your Hero status is not dependent upon whether or not that child remains in your home and under your care until adulthood.

There’s no guidebook here.  There’s no rulebook, there’s no experts, and the learned people can’t even agree on what’s best or a diagnosis – so what hope do we mere parents have?  We have hope.  We have love.  We have a parent’s heart.  We will do whatever we can, sacrifice everything, for that child.  We will fight and claw our way through so many layers of bureaucracy and red tape and plain ole bullshit to find help for our kids.  We will take the verbal and sometimes physical punches.  We will soak our pillows with tears at night, and in the morning, get up and do it all over again.  We will do it because this is our child.  However they came to us, whatever age, whatever fashion, they are ours.  Even if we don’t feel like continuing, even if we don’t feel like we can go one more day, even if we don’t feel like we can take one more step – we will.  We will continue to hope and pray and love this child, in the face of the worst behavior and hate thrown back at us.  We will continue to care for this child even when we feel we have nothing left to give.  That is what earns the hero status.

And when the time might come when your child is no longer able or safe to be in your home, and needs to live elsewhere, that does not rob you of your Hero status!  When your child needs a different environment to heal, whether it be a psych hospital, and residential treatment center, a therapeutic foster home – that does not rob you of your Hero status!  You’ve earned it and it will not go away.

It’s not Hero to Zero – it’s simply, Hero.

-realmom