Monday, June 2, 2014

Helping Families with Tough Kids

Two REALLY great blog posts went around this week regarding families who are parenting difficult teens.  The first was written by Jenn Hatmaker.  If you haven’t already done so, you can read it here.  And yes, please do take the time to do it!  She herself is a parent to “normal” teens, but has a great deal of concern, along with a guest post from another mom of a really difficult teen.  That mom shares some great words of wisdom, support, and strength for other families who are also struggling.

The second post was in response to some of the questions posed in the first post regarding how other people can come together and help lift and strengthen families of teens (and tweens) who are struggling.  That, too, is an excellent post worth reading.  This author so eloquently answers the questions and his responses are spot on.  Among other things, he talks about not asking trite questions if you’re not willing or interested in sticking around for the answers, being willing to hear the truth even when it’s not pretty and handle it in a Christ like manner, and reaching out to help in ways that are actually helpful and not more hurtful for the families

Really...If you've ever wondered how you can TRULY help and understand my family or a family like mine who is parenting some
 very difficult teens and tweens, please read both those articles!! 
Long story short, they both really struck a note with me.  We are asked ALL. THE. TIME. about how we're doing, what people can do to help us, how our kids are doing, etc. It rarely ever changes anything, though.

I realize that situations like ours are very tough to understand. It's human nature for people to believe what they see. That’s why eye witnesses are allowed in courts of law.  However, what most people don’t understand is that in cases like mine, where 90% of what they see is darling, well behaved, and very engaging children whose biggest problem is that they have stressed out, frustrated, overly strict, controlling, and angry parents is really an acting performance worthy of an Oscar award!! They also don't realize that what they do see really IS the illness!! That charming, well behaved, engaging "normal" side they see of our kids who struggle with attachment disorder is actually carefully calculated manipulation designed to hide their own true colors and the shame and guilt they feel over the stuff they know they do. They deliberately do it in order to convince people they're the victims and their parents are the crazy ones. Most people also have absolutely NO IDEA how incredibly destructive it is to our kids and our entire family when they buy into it, too.

As one of my friends pointed out yesterday when I shared a version of my thoughts on Facebook, our kids aren’t the only ones who are award winning thespians, either.  We as parents often are, too.  So many of us, and most definitely myself included, have been so beaten down, run over, judged, and criticized so many times that we plaster on that fake smile…until we absolutely can’t hide the stress and pain any more.

Yet, as the author of this second article mentioned, whether most people want to accept this piece of truth or not, most people really do only ask questions such as “How are you?” or “What can we do to help?” out of social obligation and because they have no idea what else do say.  They say they want to help, but when it comes right down to it, they only want to help in ways that work with what THEY want to do or in ways that are comfortable or convenient for them…and they also know that most people will never actually take them up on their “offer.”

Sadly, during those times when we do find the courage to be honest and actually answer those questions of "How are you?" and "What can we do to help?", the overwhelming majority of the time we learn exactly what was said by the other authors...people really don't want to hear the truth, they can't handle the truth, they don't know what to do with it, or they want to debate the truth, especially when we tell them the best help they can offer is not to give our kids treats, trinkets, or gifts and not to touch them or let them zone out!!  During those really off times when they do hear or see the realities of what we live with for themselves, they either minimize it, tell us “all kids do that”, or turn their backs and don't want to be involved…because, let’s face it, sometimes our truth and reality IS painful, ugly, and consuming.

We've also learned the hard way, I suppose you could say by falling into the trap and touching the hot stove one too many times, that there's also often an ulterior motive driving those questions, too. That ulterior motive is usually "What can I do to change you and make you see and do things my way because your story makes me really uncomfortable amnd I want you to change it so I don't feel so rotten, inadequate, or guilty about being around you." Or worse...that ulterior motive is really "What I'm really looking for is justification for what I see before I report you to the authorities and slap yet another one way ticket through hell on your family!" 

Of course we know that's not always the case with everyone! Believe me, we also know who those of you are who are actually sincere and really are seeking to be supportive of our family and our situations. You're the ones who are still reading, who didn't scroll past this post, and actually took the time to read the attached articles...and then you said something to us about it! You are the ones we are so very grateful to have in our lives, too. 

There is one more thing I would like to add this author's very good response of how you can help, though. When seeking to understand what families like mine are dealing with, please respect our children's right to and need for privacy. Please don't pepper us as parents (or our kids!!) with questions about their birth families and what happened during their early life that lead to their adoption. The truth is that regardless of who the child is or what the details are, their stories are bitterly painful and ugly and our kids carry a LOT of shame, grief, and guilt about all that happened to them. Our kids also carry a very real and very deep seated belief that all those things that happened to them are their fault, too. No matter how ridiculous any of the rest of us think that might be, it's real for them...and it drives a whole bunch of very real issues, too.

So, when seeking to understand our family and situation, please don't take it personally if we are evasive, choose not to share details about their story, or if we put the brakes on conversations about their adoption circumstances or birth families. We do so because it's inappropriate for us to share such things, especially in casual settings, and it's also very hurtful to our kids when we do. If you know us...or you know families like us, please accept what we offer, hold what we do share as sacred, please don't gossip about it or us or them, and don't assume you know what really happened. I can 100% guarantee that if we did share a little tidbit with you, it doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of the real story.

In cases like this, it really is both safe and appropriate to assume that the things that happened were horrible, are scary and overwhelming beyond what you can wrap your head around, and one of many reasons we choose not to share their story is that we know that it would literally traumatize you. Please, please, please try to understand that if just hearing their story from us has the power to do that to do that to you, consider what it has done to our family and what actually living every little gory detail of it has done to our kids. If and when they can finally find the words to talk about those things that happened AND if they feel like they want you to know about those things, they will tell you themselves.

Otherwise, yes, do keep loving us.  Do keep praying for us.  By all means, please do research and learn more about the illnesses and conditions we struggle with.  And then, please don’t keep your distance, even when we can’t participate in or aren’t up for social events, activities, or even conversations. 


Susan said...

You seem like a very smart, devoted and all-around amazing mom coping very, very well with raising two kids who are 100x harder than the ‘average’ happy, healthy, loved-from-conception biological child… and I get that your boys have “attachment issues”, but the symptoms of RAD you list, well, do not seem to line up with the official symptoms of RAD in according to the DSMV or the Mayo Clinic:

I’m curious as “calculated manipulation” to make their adoptive parents “seem crazy” isn’t an official symptom of RAD. Heather Forbes/Bryan Post claim that “not being affectionate on parents’ terms” and being “extremely manipulative” are symptoms of RAD… but they’re not in the DSMV either.

Where did you find the list of RAD symptoms your boys have? Why do they differ from the ones in the DSMV?

(A bit of background: My sisters were adopted from foster care at almost-17, 8 and 7 – my BFF from age 4 plus her baby sisters after spending most of their lives in/out of foster care as their first parents valiantly tried, and failed at that time, to conquer their drug/alcohol demons. All three girls were prenatally exposed to drugs/alcohol and neglected and turned out fine. Like, indistinguishable from loved-from-the-second-I-was-conceived-by-my-biological-parents fine, i.e. honor students, college grads, no psychiatric issues, no run ins with the law, etc. So I’m slightly baffled as to why so very many kids, like your boys, who were drug/alcohol exposed and neglected for a much shorter period of time – adopted as little kids, not high school seniors – ended up with so many issues. It isn’t your fault, it isn’t your boys fault. FWIW, I’m 33 and it only recently dawned on me that my sisters seem to be the exception to the drug/alcohol/neglect exposure rule).

Diana said...

Those are some great questions...and the answers to them are pretty complicated. I'm not a practitioner of anything, but I do live with it day in and day out. The long and the short of it is that RAD is a very complex disorder. As such, I've yet to find any one website or source that presents a truly accurate picture of what it really is and the various ways it can manifest itself. Both my boys present very differently, but both still have the same diagnoses. One is primarily an internalizer, the other an externalizer, and both have symptoms of multiple attachment styles and both types of attachment disorder. That's what makes finding accurate information so tough...both for parents and professionals. Some sources and sites have very little information, some have too much all lumped together, which make it look confusing and contradictory to other sources, some have fairly descent (although not complete) information, and others are just plain off base. What it really takes is a lot of research and study from many different sources, both on what healthy attachment is supposed to look like as well as what happens when things go wrong to be able to really start getting a grasp of it.

That is extremely unfortunate, too, because most people aren't willing to put in that level of research on their own. I was pretty much forced to in order to keep my family from collapsing. Unfortunately, I still see so many kids with what, at least from my perspective, look a whole lot like trauma and attachment based issues being misdiagnosed with things such as autism, PDD-NOS, Bipolar, unspecified mood disorders, or other similar stuff simply because the vast majority of professionals are still not well versed or experienced in either attachment or trauma to even know what questions to start asking in order to catch it. The biggest problem with that is that too many kids and families are locked into unnecessary and ineffective treatments (including high powered medications) or no treatment at all because of it...and the result is that too many families are still getting frustrated and giving up (and going bankrupt in the process) when stuff doesn't work.

Unfortunately, that lack of clear and accurate information also extends to the DSM-V. They certainly didn't do any of our kids any favors with this new version. Instead of helping to clarify the issues, they actually made the descriptions even more confusing AND they rejected the addition of both C-PTSA (Complex PTSD) and DTD (Developmental Trauma Disorder) as official diagnoses, both of which would have MUCH more accurately fit so very many of our kids. That pretty much leaves us still back where we were and in some cases worse off than before the new update in terms of getting help that is actually helpful. :-( If even the most skilled and knowledgeable professionals can't agree on how to describe it, how are parents and families and society supposed to be able to understand it or get treatment for it.

For this reason (that even the professionals can't agree on how to describe it or what to call it) I've also never, ever heard of a child who is ONLY diagnosed with RAD. Ever. It's always part of what we lay people lovingly refer to as "Trauma Soup." All our kids have multiple diagnoses that include things like PTSD, mood disorder, ADHD, cognitive delays associated with prenatal substance exposure, ODD, etc. When you've got that much stuff going on (and the people who are supposed to know what they're doing rejected the one thing that did fit all of it), it's very often impossible to tell where one thing ends and the other begins.

Diana said...

As for why some make it through (and yes, I will agree wholeheartedly that your sisters are the VERY lucky exceptions...and really, honestly, that's something to thank God for) and others don't, I don't think there are any scientific answers for that. A lot of it depends on the type and timing of exposure, the extent of the trauma, genetics, the individual resiliency of that person, social support from other sources, and, well, pretty much which direction the the wind happened to be blowing or what color the waffles were they ate for breakfast that morning happened to be.

Susan said...

Despite the fact that our kids are still little, my husband and I thought it'd be terrific to become foster parents for an older kid or teen -- based entirely on how awesome my sisters are/were.

MAPP classes scared the snot of out both of us. We, sadly, concluded that fostering kids significantly older than our littles is a bad idea.

Susan said...

Ah, so what your kids are dealing with isn't "officially" RAD as it's currently defined (until the next time the DSM is updated). And presumably why many many doctors aren't "helping" your kids, since you and the doctor are looking at the same kid with the same-named problem (RAD) but actually defining in completely different ways. Sigh.