In one of the online forums/support groups I’m a part of, a mom in the trenches asked this question of the group.  One of the other BDTD moms wrote a beautiful response that I wanted to share with you.  Shared with permission.

  • When your child constantly triggers you and shows you how much they dislike the thought of you, how do you find things to like about them to keep you going? I feel like I should be able to find some redeeming qualities about my child, but I just can’t. This leads me to having negative feelings about myself and my abilities as a mom. We are in our RAD water torture phase of healing, so the little lies and control behaviors never let up

I highly recommend the book, When a Stranger Calls You Mom, by Katherine Leslie, which explains, from a child development PhD who is herself a foster adoptive mom to 4 kids from foster care who had varying degrees of RAD. In a nutshell, we are wired for reciprocal relationships, and it is reciprocity that triggers warm, fuzzy feelings. You can coach your kids into some reciprocating behaviors, and she shows you how. Mostly, it is liberating to realize that there is a reason why you don’t feel warm and fuzzy, and it is beyond your control, really. Why don’t you like this child? Because she’s nonreciprocal and draining and if a man treated you this way, you would dump him. But you can’t do that with your kid. So you feel trapped, which is not a great feeling. I also highly recommend reading Stop Walking on Eggshells. That is about borderline personality disorder, which is where many of our unhealed RAD kids are heading. It helped me understand how truly disturbed my kid was, how horrible a burden she is shouldering with this disability, how it truly was NOT personal the way she treat me like shit–that is all she has to offer! Having some distance, understanding she can’t help it, nor can you, is a huge burden laid down, and it is easier to be nice. I still have ZERO warm fuzzies for her. That’s okay. I care what happens about her, I am there for her, I provided her with everything one could possibly ask for in a good childhood. I set good boundaries with her so she cannot abuse me and destroy our relationship, and now we get along better than we ever did when she lived with us. It is super hard when a mentally ill person lives with you. Do not add the burden of asking yourself to be giddy with affection for someone who is, by their nature, abusive and rejecting and depressing. When I understood, at last, that she was not stubbornly withholding a healthier version of herself, that this very sexualized, depressed, ANGRY, raging, dangerous person was who she authentically was and the best she could do, I dropped a lot of expectations that just hurt us both. Here is what I find admirable in her: despite having this illness, and despite having been suicidal, for the most part, she forges on, something I truly don’t know that I’d have the strength to do. I really don’t know how you live without loving anyone or enjoying anything and relying on sex with dangerous men to feel alive. But she does. She could have done much, much worse things than she did. She does, in her limited way, care for her brothers and sisters, and does not want bad things to happen to them. She showed integrity in getting birth control, understanding that she cannot give a child what they need. Those two books help a lot. Also, another book The Gift of Fear, changed my life and saved me from my RADchild-induced PTSD. As for you as a mother, you soldier on WITHOUT REWARD, which is something the parents of the neurotypical THINK they are doing, they THINK they love unconditionally, but most don’t. Love is more than warm and fuzzy. I have warm and fuzzy for my younger two, whom I adore, and whose company I enjoy. But I provided the same childhood and the same opportunities to their sister, who does not and will not love, who squandered every last opportunity she has ever had, who has been hard from day one, and will be hard to the day I die. THAT is hard core love. You are awesome. Just tired. Because this shit is hard.


A Forever 3 Month Old

As I was researching for an article on attachment and adoption, I reread some books that I hadn’t read in years.  One thing really stuck out to me.  In a study done by  Schaffer and Emerson (1964), they noted that babies 3 months of age and younger have indiscriminate attachments.  They would accept food and comfort from any caregiver.  After 4 months of age, they will still accept care from anyone, but do have a preference for a primary or secondary caregiver.  It isn’t until after 7 months that babies start to develop fear of strangers and develop anxiety when separated from his one or two favorite caregivers.

The first thing that struck me about that information is that I know several excellent foster parents.  I know that it has taken them an average of seven months each time to get a child settled in to their home – and the child is usually moved about that time, or sent back to their biological family for a few months, only to return to a different foster home and start the process all over again.  So once the child has started the attachment process – it’s interrupted, time and time again.

I then thought about my son with RAD.  We brought him home at 3 years.  We had heard of RAD, but only the type that they wouldn’t hug you, look you in the eye, and wanted to kill everyone.  Nobody had every spoken about the kind where the child looks perfectly happy and well-adjusted, always smiling and laughing, but will go to anybody at any time.  The kind where you feel in your heart something isn’t right, but all outside appearances show everything is perfect.  By the time things start to really go downhill when the child is older, you’ve lost valuable years of time that could have been used in attaching and therapy, and the window might have closed permanently for that child.  It wasn’t in any of the multitude of books I read, on any of the online searches I did on attachment at that time, anywhere.  So we thought everything was fine, until everything wasn’t, and we had a RAD diagnosis and chaos in our household.

We had said for years that our child never changed from the day we brought him home.  We may have curbed some behavior, and he may have gained some not so pleasant behaviors as he aged and became more capable, but the essence of “him” and who he was never changed for many, many years.  And now, with that study coming back into mind, it made sense.  He was a perpetual 3 month old during all that time.  He was indiscriminately attached.  He was acting out because he wasn’t attached to anyone and at the same time attached to whoever was in front of him at the moment.  He was a 3 month old emotionally in a 9 year old’s body.  I had never put it together like that before.

I can feel guilty about those wasted years when we could have been doing something, when I was the only one who felt something was “off”, but you don’t know what you don’t know.  You can’t feel guilty for not finding information that isn’t even out there!  Even now it’s rare.  I have to put aside that guilt, and just move forward with what we have now, and where we are now.  I have no time for guilt or regret.  Maybe when the kids are grown and out of the house I can regret the things I should have done differently.  But for now, I have to focus my energies on what I can do now to help him heal.  Identifying where he’s at emotionally, and where he was at, has helped me realize that in the past six months he has grown, he has moved into a different stage.  He has finally changed.  It took him well beyond the general guidelines of how long they can fake it before they fall apart, of how long it is before they start to develop attachments, but then he’s a stubborn little guy, he is, after all, my kid. 🙂

Since I can’t go back in time and tell myself what I now know about attachment and everything I’ve learned over the past 8 years, the best I can do is offer up this information to other parents who might be in the same boat, or to prospective adoptive parents so that they are fore-warned and fore-armed.  You can do this.  You will get through this.  But you need all the support, resources, and information that you can find.

Hang in there.


Box Tops = Love?

Why would I spend an entire morning – a morning without children, my only 2 ½ hours a day without children to get things done 4 days a week – cutting out itsy bitsy little Box Tops for Education, taping them onto the school’s collection sheet, writing my attachment challenged son’s name, grade, and teacher’s name on them?  Is it because I’m that meticulous about the little things?  Nope, that’s definitely not it.  Is it because I had nothing better to do, that I was bored?  No, certainly there were better things I could have done with my time.  Was it because I find that sort of thing fun? Nah.

Normally we rip those things off the cereal boxes and throw them in an old formula container, and when it gets full, dump them in a baggie and one of the kids takes it to school and dumps it in a container there.  No cutting, no neatness, no collections sheets or names.  But in our school if you put them on a collection sheet, all nice and neat, and the child’s name is on it, they get entered into a raffle to win prizes.

See, I woke up this morning feeling like a horrible mom.  I am at the point where I really don’t like my kid, my kid that seems to love to torture me with behavior that drives me crazy, that seems to enjoy seeing me lose my cool on a regular basis.  I love the child, but I don’t like him.  I cringe when he starts talking.  This is not the place I want to be.  This is not the person I want to be.  This is not the PARENT I want to be.  But this is where I am.

So today, to show him I loved him, I did something I’ve never done for his two older brothers, ever.  I spent my entire morning cutting Box Tops and putting them on the collection sheets for him to take to school tomorrow so he can get 20 chances in the raffle of prizes.  Will he even notice, or care, at how much time it took?  No.  Will he say “thank you mom” or realize I did something for him I’ve never done for his siblings?  No.  If he wins a raffle will he say “thanks mom!” because I did it for him?  Nope.  But in my heart, I did something for him, something special, something I’ve never done for anybody else, as small as it seems, and gave up my entire morning for him, to show him that I love him.  Because right now, that’s all I got.  I don’t have mushy feelings, I don’t have inner joy at being his mother, I don’t have words of praise for him for “just being him”.  But, I have Box Tops today.  And tomorrow, I’ll find something else.

Vilifying the adoptive parents

Once again, adoptive parents trying to get help for their child are told the only option “they” have is to terminate their parental rights.  Really?  And what magic doors is this supposed to open that can’t be opened while the parents are still parents?

The media and those “not” in the know vilify parents who give their kids back to the state – not realizing that so much of the time, the state is telling them that’s the only way they can get help for those kids.  Which is, in truth, a load of bull.  It’s how the state gets those noisy parents off their backs from begging for help with these traumatized troubled kids they placed with the family, with all the promises of support and resources.  Once the child is back in state custody, it can all be swept under the rug and the child shoved back into the system, either in foster care, or in jail, never to be heard from again.  Because if the adoptive parents are no longer the parents of the child, they no longer have any rights – no right to information about where the child is, how the child is doing, whether or not they are receiving therapy, if they are alive or dead.  So now there is NO ONE in this kid’s corner to fight for proper resources and counseling and meds and whatever else the kid needs, and the child disappears along with thousands of others into the masses, eventually to end up in our jail system – or our morgues.

“That’s what the social worker’s job is,” you reply.  – Yes.  And they don’t have triple the case load they’re supposed to have, and the ones that do care and want to do a good job – those few who aren’t burnt out – can’t do their job.  And the rest, well, that’s why one was just arrested for child porn.

“The adoptive parents shouldn’t have adopted that child in the first place then,” you say.   –  And the end result would be the same, the child disappears among the masses…. the system can’t support the number of children it has.  And so these “perfectly adjusted” children are placed in adoptive homes that have no clue what they’re getting into, are not prepared, and certainly not trained.  That makes it the adoptive parents’ fault – how, exactly?

“The adoptive parents are obviously not good parents,” you say.  – That’s akin to a plumber telling a heart surgeon how to do his job.  If you haven’t been there, done that, you really have no idea what it takes. That’s not an insult, it’s just a fact.

“The adoptive parents need more training to be able to raise this child,” you say. – That’s what the adoptive parents say too.

“The adoptive parents need more resources and help when things go south, without getting vilified by CPS,” you say.  – Now you’re starting to see the big picture.

“The social workers need smaller case loads so they don’t get burnt out and can do their jobs correctly,” you add.  Adoptive parents and social workers cheer you on.

The bottom line is this, the system is broken.  It keeps getting worse and worse and pretty much the only thing it’s pumping out is the next generation of inmates and criminals, if these kids don’t get proper intervention, counseling, therapy, medication and whatever else they need to deal with their traumatic past.  And who are their birth parents?  Oh, they are the previous generation of foster children who didn’t get intervention, counseling, therapy, medication and anything else they needed to deal with their traumatic past.  The system is based on the wrongful assumption – a MYTH – that kids are absolutely resilient and can get over anything that happens to them.  That is simply ridiculous.  That is so, oh, 100 years ago, and yet in this day and age of nanobots and moon landings and seeing other galaxies with our satellites, we still believe the myth that started before cars were invented.  Knowledge of the brain and how it works – and how it’s wired, brain mapping, and all those things have come so far – and yet, we have an entire system that’s based on the world is flat system.  How is that benefitting the children?  How is that benefitting anyone?  If you don’t want to look at the individual children that are being eaten up in this maw of destruction, then look at what it’s doing to society:  the number of inmates at any given time who were foster children is astounding.  So not only is this system not helping the children, it is literally destroying society!  Yet a majority of these people – when children – if the proper intervention was introduced early enough, and they were helped, not only would they blossom in an adoptive family, they would grow up to be productive members of society, not just another picture in the mugshot database.

Instead of complaining about “crime at an all time high” and “how young people seem to have no respect” and all that – let’s fix the roots of the problem… one of them being the foster care system and what happens to those kids while in it and afterwards.  The entire system is built on crap, and well, gets worse from there.  If we want a healthy society, we need to start with the building blocks – the children.


Everyone else is doing it

So, here we go.  Let’s talk about race.  On my Facebook feed I get lots and lots of posts about how the country is racist, how the cops are racist, etc.  I’m not denying or arguing that, in many places in that country it is so.  And not just against blacks, either, racism is not “white against black”.  It’s anyone who thinks “their” skin color makes them superior.  It can be light-skinned blacks against dark-skinned blacks.  It is everywhere, but it is not EVERYONE.

That’s what I’m tired of hearing.  That if I disagree on a point about everyone being a racist because they’re white or disagree on a point, that they’re racist.

In Ethiopia, being “black” is a bad thing.  (Wait, isn’t that in Africa?)  There if you are “black” then you’re second class, lower, a “slave”… but if you are “brown” then you are ok.  My kids who are from Ethiopia were very upset at being called black when they got to America.

Since then, they have continued to struggle with racism.  It was black people that took them away from their birth parents (in their eyes).  When they came to America, they were very frightened of black people.  I’m not sure what happened in the various orphanages or holding homes they were in, but whenever they saw a black person, they would hide and cry, afraid they would be taken away from us.  Even if it was a neighbor, they would shy away.

When my eldest child of color started riding the school bus, he was yelled at one day by a black child his own age, “Go back to Africa!”  Now this other child had no idea my son had recently arrived from Africa, so it was ironic and funny, and confused the hell out of my kid.

After years of working on the issue of my kids being afraid of people their own skin tone, we finally got to a place where they felt comfortable and didn’t pay so much attention to it.  And then when get screamed at by a large black man in a parking lot “How much money you get for them nigga boys?  It’s all about the money!”  (He said a lot of other things, but that’s about all I can put in print, and it was directed at us, in personal ways.)  So, back to square one with my kids, who are now once again scared that a big black man is going to come take them away from the second set of parents as well.

So yes, my kids have experienced racism – by black people.  It’s going to take awhile to turn this around for them.  (Thank god we have such great neighbors and we can keep reminding them “Miss C doesn’t yell at you and call you names, does she? Mr. D isn’t mean like that, is he? People are jerks, their skin color doesn’t mean anything about whether they are nice or not.”)

Am I naive to think that someday they might end up in a place where due to the color of their skin they will be mistreated?  No, of course not.  And we talk about that with them, prepare them as best we can.  But in their world, the people who have mistreated them were black people.  How do you wrap that up in a nice neat package and explain it to a child?

So when we have these “race wars” on the media, on Facebook, keep in mind that not everyone’s experience is the same.  For my children, their experience is that black people are the racists, belittling them because they have white parents, a Hispanic sibling, even though they are as African-American as you can get, being told they’re “not really” African-American.

Racism is not a one-way street.  It’s not even a two way thoroughfare.  It’s more like DuPont Circle in DC was in the 80s, roads dumping in, veering off, and if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re just going to end up going around and around in circles, never getting anywhere.


Dear Teacher

Let me start out by saying that I am in awe of teachers, of the profession, and I highly respect them.  There are a few teachers in my kids’ lives that walk on water as far as I’m concerned (Mrs. L, Mrs. C) and others that are incredibly awesome.  So this post is not to “all” teachers.  This is for the teachers, a lot of them new, a lot of them who haven’t raised kids yet and for all of them who haven’t raised trauma or special needs kids.

“Dear Teacher:

I’m a parent of a special needs kid.  The special needs my kid has are invisible.  At the beginning of every school year, I write a letter to the new teacher and let them know the things my kid does (lie about everything, steal) and nobody believes it’s my child because they act so sweet at school.  Hence the warning, so you know to check their backpack when things go missing.  I’m not out to vilify my child.  I’m not a mean parent.  But I know my child has problems, we are addressing those problems, and it’s only fair to let you in on the common behaviors of my child so you are forewarned.

My child is manipulative to the extreme.  You will be charmed into thinking this is the perfect angel child, arms wrapped around you for a hug while your wallet is being stolen behind your back.  We understand our child has that affect on people, that’s survival instinct.  We are trying to teach our child that we are there to provide for them, that we can be trusted to always feed, clothe, house them and make sure all their needs are met, but it takes a long time to teach a child to trust adults after their trust has been broken.early on.

I also try to outline what behavior modification methods work for my child. Every child is different, of course, and it took a long time for us to learn what worked best with my child.  I’m not trying to tell you how to do your job, but trying to help you do your job by short-cutting the learning process – the process of learning what works for my kid.  I know the books tells you this one thing “always” works and experience might tell you that another way works, but my child is not your typical student.  Things that work for other students backfire with my child.  We have learned a way that works, consistently, with our child.  The books cannot tell you about my child, about their past, and their trauma, or why they do the things they do.

I want this to be a partnership.  There are things about my child’s past that I do not feel should be shared – so if we make special requests, like “please don’t hug my child, even if they are constantly requesting hugs” – there is a reason, a very important reason.  You need to trust us as much as we need to trust you to to do what’s right in teaching our children.  Get to know us as parents.  Our only interest is what’s best for our child.  We have no interest in telling you how to teach or how to manage any other child in the classroom – only ours.  We are not arrogant in thinking we know everything.  But we do know our child.  We know our child’s past.  So please don’t brush off our concerns or requests.  You have the goal of getting our child through this school year successfully.  We have the goal of getting our child through life successfully.

Thank you for what you do and all that you are about to take on this school year.  I respect and admire you and your profession.

Sincerely, A parent of a child with invisible special needs”

As I think back to the teachers in my children’s lives who I think walk on water – it struck me: they also have kids with special needs.  Their kids are much older than mine, and each of them fought to get their kids the help they needed to be successful.  Even as teachers, approaching other teachers, they were still viewed as “just parents” when it came to talking about their kids and had to fight and claw for their kids.



Parenting takes a village

But then again, sometimes that village is effed up…  The stories of the “free range parents” has died down with people freaking out about other parents letting kids out of their sight for 10 seconds.  (I notice how only the middle class/wealthy people who judge others when the kids walk home from school alone, when the poor kids have been doing it for decades in the very worst of neighborhoods and nobody but their mommas seemed to care… but that’s another story.)

People are getting a little out of hand at “parenting” other people’s children when they really should be focusing on their own.  We were accosted in a grocery store parking lot the other day with our brood of 1001 toddlers and tweens (or so it felt like) trying to get the multiple carts of groceries in the back of the van, get the kids in the van, with a fussing toddler, a kid hitting all the buttons in the van making things go on and off, up and down, another one poking his brother to tears,  and we were trying to wrangle them and not drop the eggs and keep the ice cream from melting in the hot sun and as a man walked to his car with an infant in his arms, one of us dropped the f-bomb.  His car was parked several spaces from us but there were no cars in between. He started screaming at us about how he worked for the state and he was going to follow us home and take our kids away from us because no one should say that word in front of kids.  And He. Wouldn’t. Let. It. Go.  We yelled back at him to mind his own business, etc, more as a way to attract attention for witnesses than anything, because what was this lunatic doing?  He would take a few steps towards us, yell, and as hubs and I would stand together between our van (that was holding our children) and him, then he’d back off.  Meanwhile I was digging through my purse to find my phone to call 911, not expecting to be threatened in the middle of the day in a store I visit weekly!

We did not back down, but neither did we take his bait and walk towards him or threaten him.  We first tried ignoring but then he started walking towards us, screaming and yelling.  When he said he worked for the state, I actually laughed, because my first thought was,what, the DMV?  When I finally got my phone out and got his license plate (tried to get a picture of him, he thought I did but I didn’t), suddenly he wasn’t interested in sticking around and drove off, peeling rubber.  I’m not actually sure his baby daughter was strapped in the baby seat, he had been so focused on us.  What his problem was, I don’t know.  What I do know is my children were frightened, confused, and now the grocery store parking lot is somewhere they don’t feel safe.

If we were hitting our kids, beating them, abusing them, and he called the police or intervened, yay for him.  But we weren’t.  “Normal parents” of “average kids” do sometimes yell and say things like “*&^&! Would you quit!”  No one will ever convince me that “normal parents” do not get frustrated.  When did we evolve to a society that thinks the children are in charge, and that parents should give control over to the kids?  And when is CPS a threat to use against other people to make them parent  “your” way?  Isn’t it supposed to be for abused children, as in beaten, injured, neglected?  Not because you don’t like the fact that their parents swore in front of them!  No wonder so many kids are getting abused and killed in foster care, and many others are being left at home for the same, if this is the kind of calls they’re getting.  (And if he did actually work for CPS, that would explain a lot about the screwed up system… but I highly doubt he does.)  What has happened to common sense?

It’s bad enough as parents of traumatized children we have to be very careful in who is in our circle, those who will support our very special and thought out parenting techniques and not undo the work we’ve done, our methods individualized for each child, and where we take them to so they aren’t triggered, but this wasn’t even a RAD moment, or a trauma kid moment (although thanks to this guy my kids did get traumatized that day, scared that they’re going to get taken away, scared that the big yelling man is going to find them and steal them, etc). This was an every day, normal moment in the life of a parent.

If he really cared about the kids, why did he start out screaming at us?  He could have said, hey, dude, it’s not good to say that in front of your kids, Jesus don’t like it or something to that affect and it would have been cool with us.  He’s allowed his opinion, after all.  But screaming at a van load of kids, their scared faces plastered against the windows, walking threateningly toward them while screaming at their parents – really?  You’re concerned about their fragile little psyches?

Oh yeah, and by the way dude in the parking lot – if that’s how you’re going to live your life and act in front of YOUR daughter, you”ve got a lot more things to worry about than whether or not I swear sometimes in front of my kids.