There were so many things I loved about our attachment therapist. Yet, the most significant was the fact that she, herself, was severely abused as a child (she literally made history at the time, in the world of social workers). She had already actually walked WAY more than a mile in my kids' shoes. She KNEW. She could actually look at my children and say, "I understand," and they could not argue with her. Ya' know ... cause she really did!
Granted, there was the flip side. My husband and I also had to take her just as reliably when it came to our reactions and our parenting. When she said, "Yes! What you're doing with this is exactly what they need. Stay with it!" I had to listen, because she truly did know how our reactions would affect our children (even when I was tired of doing it - VERY tired of doing it). Ugh. And when she gently corrected us, and I would want to justify it in my head and maybe only give a half-effort ... I had to look myself in the mirror. I had the opportunity to learn from someone who knew what she was talking about. I could blow it off and try to find ways of justifying my actions, or I could suck up and deal because I was not the expert (people who have lived it and come out on the other side to find healing are the experts).
I hate sucking up and dealing. I like to be right and I like life to be easy. I'm not super human. I'm painfully normal.
Have you watched the first episode, yet, of the PBS special "This Emotional Life?" Please do. It gives you insight into a boy named Alex, who has Reactive Attachment Disorder. He has parents who fought very hard simply to find out what was wrong with their son. Then, after receiving a RAD diagnosis, they had to face what it meant for them, as parents. The father's words keep circling in my head:
"This is not instinctive childcare. You have to learn how to raise these children. And to do that, you have to take all your love and emotion that you want ... and put it on a shelf."
"This was not the dad I wanted to be. That was the hard part, with Alex ... is recognizing that I have to be somebody else who is best for him. And that's a hard thing to give up. But maybe that's what being a dad is."
We chose to parent children with a history of trauma. We had a diagnosis before we brought our children home (not even knowing fully where one of them may land on the spectrum). We knew enough to know there was NO way of knowing what it would feel like to parent them. Not a clue. You can know what to do, but still not know just how difficult it is to actually do it.
I still have to mourn the parent I may never be with some of my kids. Just because we chose it does not, in any way, make us immune to the heartache and difficulty. They ARE healing. They ARE attaching. Yet, we've been taught to let up on those boundaries ever so slowly while they practice, practice, practice, practice bit by bit of normalcy. We cannot predict how far we'll get before they're on their own. We can be selfish and just unleash those boundaries, but the repercussions for them would be horrendous. We will do whatever it takes to help them get just as far as they can get - whatever that means for each of our children. So, I have to take the reciprocal love and honor and respect I so desperately crave as a mother every day ... and set it on a shelf.
I get very upset and depressed some days. There are times it's because I want it for them, and other times I want it for the rest of us. SOME DAYS I DON'T WANT TO SHOW THEM LOVE BECAUSE THEY ARE NOT SHOWING ME LOVE AND IT PISSES ME OFF.
I'm no spring chicken when it comes to parenting, but as the father said above - this is not instinctive. I cannot instill a consequence and expect my child to change their behavior based on what may happen. Attachment issues develop because you have been so severely neglected and/or abused that you learn to completely and totally shut down or avoid feelings just to survive. They have very immature cause-and-effect thinking so they cannot always think through the process and make a decision based on what they want to happen in five minutes ... five hours ... five days. Even when they start to have those developments, they know they can withstand anything you have to offer. Anything. That's why you read about so many parents who have removed every privilege, stripped the bedroom bare, grounded upon grounded upon grounded and ask, "What else can I do? Nothing affects my kid?!"
You cannot make them behave. You can't. Go ahead and try, then come back and tell me how that worked out for you. Think I should just spank 'em? Really? That's a huge indicator of someone who truly does not understand what it is like to experience abuse and neglect when you are completely dependent upon others. They've been through pain. A spanking is nothing. They'll just shut down. It would give them lots of practice in how to do so.
"So, WHAT DO I DO, THEN? If consequences do nothing, what do I do?"
You bond. You keep them close. No, they won't do their chores if you ask (or do them veeeeeeery slowly). So, pay another sibling to do it. Or, you do it while they stay close, and you talk about your love for them and the beauty in them. You ask them to brush their teeth and put on deodorant and they refuse ... so you get really, really close and say, "That's okay. Nothing in the world can keep me away from you." Followed by a big hug and kiss. They won't do their homework. "That's okay, honey. The most important thing in your life right now is getting close to me, and this just gives us more time together. Why don't you sit there while I read your assignment. I love to learn new things." You don't give them any answers, but you read questions or the assigned chapters, and you smile and you share a story or two about your life that comes to mind. Be silly. Be playful.
"But, how will they ever learn to show respect when they get away with all this stuff?"
They're not getting away with squat. Our attaching children only need four things: food, water, shelter and bonding with a primary caregiver. That's it. Chores are not important. School is not important. A made bed is not important. Let them receive the natural consequences of their actions at school. Let the school do what they must. However - at home, your #1 job is attachment. The more they refuse to participate with the family, the more obvious it is that they need more bonding activities with you. Not forced activities, but just a "groove" in your home that minimizes battles and increases peaceful interactions. When they do start attaching, you will see the participation increase. But in the beginning that stuff is. not. important. We do not battle many of these issues anymore in our home, and both of my traumatized kids are now attaching ... because we focused on attachment and bonding above all else for a very long time. Now, their cause-and-effect thinking IS developing. Some of the other stuff does come eventually, but don't expect it anytime soon.
They want a fight over everything, because it will keep a distance between you.
But they need YOU.
They want to gross you out and disgust you, because it sends most people running.
But they need YOU.
They want to scare you (not like "boo!" but like "butcher knife under the pillow"), because none of the other things they've tried seem to keep you the heck away.
But they need YOU.
They need your presence. They need you to show them the act of love (even in the absence of warm loving feelings).
"They need you to recognize that you have to be somebody else who is best for [them]. And that's a hard thing to give up. But maybe that's what being a [parent] is."
(title of post is a quote from Deborah Hage, who birthed two children, adopted seven children and has been a therapeutic foster parent to five other children. Most of the children have been physically, emotionally, behaviorally and/or intellectually challenged. Ummm ... so this would be another person who really does know what they're talking about!)
(photo by kamil kantarcıoğlu)