Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sometimes we can make it worse

First and foremost, let me get something out of the way -

PARENTING TRAUMATIZED CHILDREN IS PROBABLY ONE OF THE MOST DIFFICULT THINGS ANY HUMAN CAN BE REQUIRED TO DO - EVER.

It is hard. It is hard. It is hard, and every single day you will discover that it is quite HARD!

Okay, having said all of that, let me reprint some recent things I've said in my comments (with some added thoughts, now that I have the time to do so). We were having a discussion on how I can remain calm when my kids are acting as though I am running my own little psych ward. These are things I have learned ... am still learning.



Have you read "Beyond Consequences?" It's not one of my favorite books (not necessarily because I don't like the approach, but I don't like the incessant marketing approach of Bryan Post). Anywho, it makes you stop and ask yourself, "WHY do have I have this response when my kid does X-Y-Z?" Why is it that some behaviors are just a minor bump in the road, while others turn me into a pile of goo?

One of my kids can scream that I'm a horrible mom, and I can keep my cool easily. I know I'm a great mom. I know their history. I know that is a fear response. Yet, if someone steals something as tiny as a cracker, my insides start to WIG OUT! My emotional response is off the charts.

I had to dig very deep into that. It was easy to say, "Well, of course I would freak out - I don't want my kids to become criminals!" Maybe. But for me, the deeper reason was because I was the one who felt out of control. If I cannot trust my kids to walk through a room without taking something of MINE, then I start to get palpitations. I start to overreact.
So many of our kids' responses are based in fear ... ours too. I know many people who read books similar to "Beyond Consequences" and find themselves thoroughly ticked off. They immediately chunk it and say it is blaming the parents - that THEY are the problem. But see, that's not it at all.

While some parents have to hold the blame for the trauma their children experienced (I have a friend in this situation, and it is a tough road), that is not the point of those resources and this discussion. It's done. The trauma, no matter whose fault, is done. It happened. But today, at this moment, we are the parents. It is our job to provide an environment of perceived safety to our children so they can move forward and begin to heal. How I talk, how I sit or even how I breathe can help or hurt my children in those moments.

That kind of thinking and internal work has helped my calm to be genuine. However, most of my calm was NOT genuine for a very long time. The best advice I ever heard was, "When your kids are acting nuts-o, do the opposite of what you feel like doing."

That tiny little sentence has made a massive impact on me. I have never, ever FELT like being calm when I have a child describing how they want to bash my teeth in with a hammer, or asking nonsense questions for 12-hours straight.

Never.

I WANT to scream and make a devil face, and perhaps roar a little bit. So, I go CRAZY opposite. I get very quiet. I immediately think about lifting those eyebrows and brightening my face. I move or sit so that I am in a much more vulnerable spot in comparison to them (never stand over them with arms crossed, etc.)

I truly believe that my feelings during those times are nothing compared to the severity of what our children are feeling. And if I can't make the choice and do it, I can never expect them to. By practicing and deciding and DOING it, I have been better able to teach THEM how to do it.


My reactions are based in fear, just the same as my traumatized children. I fear being looked at as a bad mom. I fear being seen as too lenient. I fear being seen as too strict. I fear losing all my social contacts because my life has had a season of major funkiness. I fear having enough room in my home to parent grandchildren who may need me one day. I fear criminal acts being committed at the hands of my children. Even with all the healing, I fear puberty and all it can do to a traumatized child (heck, even an emotionally healthy child!). I fear waking up one day to see our family on Dateline!

And I fear those things because they are things over which, ultimately, I have no control. I just don't. Don't you dare think the things I just listed are a good picture of the dark thoughts I have. Parenting trauma causes some macabre and painful thinking. For those of you who allow yourself to admit to those things, you understand. I don't keep it together a lot (notice I didn't say "always"), because I have no fears. I keep it together most of the time despite those horribly dark thoughts.

That's what I'm asking my kids to do, so why should it not apply to me, as well?

And, yes, THAT SUCKS!

I tell my kids all the time: you cannot help how you feel. Feelings just happen. But you can help what you do when you are having those feelings. And what you do tends to be based on what you believe to be true.

When my child has threatened my life, it was because they truly believed, in that moment, their life was at risk. They did not believe I could be trusted. They do now.

Sometimes we can make it worse. We are not re-traumatizing them, no. But in that moment, in that situation, we can create more chaos. More reactions and less thoughtful responding for everyone. We are the grown-ups. We have to acknowledge that and work just as hard on changing it as we ask our kids to work. Sit and think through how certain things really get your blood boiling and what situations cause an immediate emotional reaction from you.

It's then, that we can get just a tiny crumb of a taste what it must be like for our traumatized children. If we refuse to acknowledge this, or if we flat-out deny it ... well, then the grown-ups have left the building.



(photo by Ann- Kathrin Rehse)

15 comments:

ali said...

thank you.

Hannah_Rae said...

Thank you.

I am so new to this, but I thought I was better prepared than most. I was staff at an RTC for 5 years and had kids do things to me and say things to me that would make most people shudder or run in fear, but they didn't phase me. They weren't MY kids. Somewhere in me I knew that they weren't doing it to ME.

Why is it so harder now that these two boys have come into our home and become ours?

The words don't hurt, most of the time, especially in the middle of a tantrum. It's the disrespect that really gets to me. The defiance. the on purpose stuff. The challenging "what are you going to do about it" stuff.

I am trying to remember my training, at the RTC and in the theatre. I'm trying to remember how to breathe...cuz I've been holding my breath a lot.

This is hard stuff.

Thank you.

Hannah

Jena said...

so many questions.., right now, I cannot articulate any of them... arrrggghhh(said in my best pirate voice)

Diana said...

Once again, my friend, you knocked it out of the park and scored a home run! I'm sending this post on to my husband to read, too :-)

Jena said...

so I decided that instead of asking all my questions(most of which revolved around the theme of, "how did you get to the point you are at?) I should just read the archives.

I am wishing I could print them out and use them as my night-time reading. Its gonna take me a while and provide me with ample excuses to avoid cleaning.

I just read the post about calling sexual anatomy by the right names(from 2005 I think) and it was GREAT!
(yes, I am a dork)

Linda B said...

OK, if Jenna is a dork, I am too. I just started reading your blog not too long ago. So much information! I am going to read your archives too, learning from your writing. I appreciate this post about Beyond Consequences because I just didn't "get it"when I attempted several times to read it. The way you describe it makes sense. And reading your blog is just fun...love your sense of humor! I agree with Jenna about wishing it was all printed out for reading away from the compter.

Chapter Two Manmi said...

That book, in spite of the self promotion that IS over the top, helped me much in the first year of life together with my kids. I now call my kind of parenting "parenting unnaturally" because I have had to change much to meet their needs--and the trauma of adoption at older ages from another culture, well, they understandably had many.
This was a good post.
Thanks!

Christine said...

"Parenting Unnaturally"

Perfect.

That nails it.

Ursula said...

Thank you again Christine. My blood is boiling right now, but since reading your post, it's gone down to a very light simmer. (I know, I already read it once, but it's very helpful)

I too have been reading your archives because I want to know how you do what you do. I want to be calm instead of insanely angry for ridiculous reasons. LOL, I have become like my kids at times, without reason.

I do know what you mean about the dark and macabre thoughts. My kids have revealed my dark side. I realize now that is was always there, as it says in scripture, but I needed the right stimulus to bring it to the forefront. I now understand more than ever why Christ had to die for me. My kids have made my own sin nature much more real and apparent.

Thank you for your constant encouragement and sharing.

Brenda said...

It is so funny you wrote this today. I drove to the next town to go shopping this morning and on the way I was thinking about this very subject and what a great blog it would be. You worded it so well. It is hard. Sometimes we do it. Sometimes we don't. Even though I know what I need to say and do and rarely have those "What do I say?" moments any more, I still have blow outs myself. Tough stuff for sure. I think we have to forgive ourselves and try again.

Dia por Dia said...

Great post! I have to work every single minute on the control thing because while control is important to my RADlings it is equally (ok, more so) important to me and I find myself having these incredible "wig out" responses to things like stealing a piece of fruit or leaving 1 small piece of a chore undone while I can hang in there calmly for days on the raging front. I think you connected a few dots for me. I really appreciate it.

Totally agree on the BC thing BUT I actually think I don't like most of the approach too (and I do basically see the whole thing as 1 approach.)

Hugs,
Dia

Lisa said...

"Own little psych ward" ROTF. Wait! I live in one of those!

Home run sandwich Christine!

Ursula said...

Yes, I'm revisiting again today. I have looked at my own early life, which was quite abusive, in some ways worse than what my kids went through and in some ways better. I know that I was properly cared for in the first 3 years because my mother only like small children, but she REALLY liked them alot. After that, not so much. What I realize happens to me when my RADites do something that sends me off the deep end is that they retraumatize me. I am realizing a little more clearly that I revisit my feelings of complete lack of control over the pain that was inflicted on me in my childhood. I vowed I wouldn't allow those things to happen again yet they are, just in different ways. But I am still equally unable to control the hurt. That said, I believe there is a way in which I can not recieve the hurts as hurts, because they are not physical. Anyway, I'm rambling a bit, but perhaps someone will relate?

Kelly said...

Thank you. I've been reading your blog for almost a year now & have loved your honesty. This post hit me upside the head & it was just what I needed for today. Yesterday I was ready to either murder my adopted children or run as far away as I possibly could...
Thank you for this post & this awesome dose of reality.

Annie said...

I say thanks, too....and want to share it with my husband. How funny that all the helpful stuff in the "Beyond Consequences" book can just about be boiled down to "do the opposite of your first response". And, that is usually nothing. And that nothing can sometimes lead to something better and more valuable.

Anyway - thanks!