Ally, Attachment, Cate, Juliana, Tess, Trauma

Empowering for Adulthood

Our goal as parents is to raise children who become free and autonomous adults.  Free thinkers, able to regulate, capable of higher level thought processes and decision making.  We want happy kids who turn into happy adults.  When you have a kid from a hard place getting to that point feels as daunting as summiting Everest, and the path to the summit involves a crap ton of work.   That work comes in the form of conscious choices in connection, correction and empowerment for our kids.

How do you empower a kid who comes from absolutely nothing?  The very basis of empowerment is felt safety.  You have to get your child to feel safe with you so that you can move forward together.  This involves taking them back to basics.  When I say this people look at me and wonder “Are you one of those fruit cups who fed your 8 year old a bottle?”  No, pretty sure Ally would have thought that was really weird.  But, I did other things that I might not have done for an 8 year old who had been with me from the beginning of time.

For example, I established rituals with Ally.  Her hair and nails were a HUGE deal to her.  When you’re 8 you’re usually old enough to paint your own nails.  I made sure Ally didn’t.  Nail painting on the weekends became a mom and daughter ritual.  Ally viewed it as my giving care.  She was learning to receive care from me.  Her hair braiding was the same deal. She could have done her own hair.  Instead, I did it for her.  Or we did it together.  Eventually, she learned to give care by helping me braid Juliana’s care.  This is an example of a move towards autonomy.  She could now give care too.

Rituals are a huge part of building trust.  Our kids need things repeated to them hundreds of times before they make connections and internalize what we’re saying and doing.  I do little things like songs and rhythms too.  Tess has one that involves me saying “Hey! I love you! Hey, hey I love you!” in a rhythm.  I would smile, make eye contact with her, and even when she was pre-verbal, it lit her up.  She LOVED it.  When she came home I did this hundreds of times, during diaper changes, while we played, during therapy, and in the hospital quietly in her ear.  Three years later, I say “Hey! I love you!” and she replies back, in rhythm, “Hey, hey, I love you!”  Cate has the same type of ritual, but she says “Hey mama, one night” and I reply “I love you!”  I have no idea how these started, but they’re a ritual, and they’re needed.  Mindfulness, yoga and massage have also become rituals.

Mindfulness, yoga and massage take it to the next level too.  Coupled with massive amounts of physical activity for our kids, these help them learn to self-regulate.  This is something kids from a hard place miss. They never had a mama to rock them to help them calm when they were hurt or upset.  Instead, they cried, no one came, they felt angry and desperate and they internalized that feeling.  That becomes their response to everything, rage.  Self-regulation, and giving our kids that tool is so empowering.

Nutrition is always going to play a huge role in empowering in our house.  The feeling of hunger never goes away when your body was starved.  We eat every two hours.  This drives Joe and I slightly nuts.  We’re feeding our kids like newborns, but it’s just small amounts, a protein/carb combo to keep that feeling at bay.

–Rituals

–Self-regulation

–Nutrition support

Three ways to empower your kids.

–FullPlateMom, who is headed home from training today and can’t wait to get back to her rituals at home.

 

 

 

Attachment, Juliana, Trauma

Correction through Connection.

Before we start talking about correction, as in, of undesirable behaviors, I want to take a moment to wish this girl a VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!

julianaDouble digits, baby!!!

Juliana, you are the reason I’m here, in Texas, learning all I can formally learn, so that I can pass it on to others.  When you came to us, we fumbled SO badly.  We screwed up getting you what you needed in about 18,000 ways.  We have talked about this so many times, but I’m going to say it again, I am so sorry.

We finally found our way through trial, error and some help from the Institute for Child Development here at TCU.  I remember sending videos of you to them and saying “What do I do about this?!?” and them sending me recommendations so kindly that were, basically, “Well, not any of what you’re doing currently.”  We changed everything until we got it right.  We got you a GREAT attachment therapist locally.  We did a crap ton of neurofeedback, and you fought.  You fought so hard every single day to understand what it meant to have a mom after the ones you had in the past failed you SO badly.

When I started to fail too, I made you a promise.  I promised I would do better, that I would go and get help too, because I’m not perfect.  I took myself to therapy and then I told you all about the training I was going to come to that would help me do even better, and that maybe it would help other people help their kids too.  You were sad I was going to miss your birthday, but you are doing GREAT with just dad.

I am so stinkin’ proud of you.  I am so stinkin’ proud of us.

It took you and I YEARS to connect.  We didn’t feel like mom and daughter for a long time.  I felt like a babysitter whose soul purpose was to punish you, and I’m pretty sure you felt like I resented you for breathing.  We were in a horrible cycle.

When Darren Jones of the ICD at TCU put this slide up yesterday, I made sure to take a picture of it to show your dad.  We would often comment on the “vicious cycle” we would enter into where you would act out, I would punish you, you would feel like you were bad, I would punish you more and we would get more and more and more in trouble.

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Then we took you to therapy and we began to view our struggles like this.  You were merely trying to survive and we could start a trend of an upward spiral toward the magical place where you felt safe.

screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-10-18-07-pmCorrecting behaviors in a kid who is just trying to survive looks a lot different then correcting behaviors in a kid you view as “manipulative” or “willfully defiant.”  We, as parents, absolutely need to make that distinction.  We need to find the fear behind the behavior.  We need to be as proactive as possible to prevent these behaviors by empowering our kids (more on that tomorrow).

Sometimes though, we can’t catch it in time, the child blows their top and we, as parents, have to level a response.  The level of response we approach Juliana with depends entirely on where she’s at.  If we can ‘let it go, no big deal’, we absolutely do.  She knows that term, it’s her script.  She will sometimes breathe deeply as she says it ‘I’m going to let it go, it’s no big deal.’

For her, the next level is to get mouthy, usually with a sibling.  She’ll boss and sass and generally poke at them.  In other words, she’s not letting it go.  At this point, we give a couple options.  Do you want to do some heavy work and come on back or do you need a quiet place to read?  Either way, the interaction with the sibling needs to end.  But, in both cases, she’s not sent away unless she chooses, with her own power, to go read on her bed.

Occasionally we’ll get to a third level where she can’t make a choice and we have to choose for her.  If that happens, where we see the full blown flip out looming on the horizon, we drop together and give it ten.  Yes, we do push ups with her.  Sometimes, I’ll suggest jumping jacks, but when she’s dysregulated, jumping jacks sometimes require too much cross body movement.  Either way, this isn’t a choice.  We’re doing it together.  We’re correcting, and connecting through calming engagement.

The fourth level used to be SO crazy common at our house.  It’s not anymore.  Joe and I tried to think of the last time we got to this point.  Neither of us could.  There are quite a few children in our home who came to us from a hard place that spent a lot of time at level four.  At this level, they’re lost in terms of communication.  At this point, we’re putting out a fire.  We are parents, so we’ll hold them.  Sometimes, that would leave me with two black eyes, a bloody nose, a busted lip.  Yeah, it can get ugly.  We wait it out.  We sit there, right in the doorway of the safe place and we wait out the rage.  When it slows, we offer things we know soothe.  Usually, with our kids, that’s food and a water bottle.  “Wow, that was a bad one.  That’s not okay.  We’ve got to find better ways to work through that.”

Those level four days left me ragged.  Those are the days that will break you.  The whole philosophy behind TBRI though is that you’re teaching strategies that will decrease the frequency, intensity and duration of these level four episodes.  When you’re in the moment though, it’s all about survival, for both of you.

Tomorrow I’ll write about how we empower our kids in our home, how we work to get them to where they feel safe.

–FullPlateMom, who still can’t believe her girl is TEN.

 

Attachment, Trauma

Connecting with Gigi

TBRI has three main principles on which it operates.

1. Empower–attention to physical needs.

2. Connection–attention to attachment needs.

3. Correction–attention to behavioral needs.

As a potential adoptive parent, we’re given all kinds of training on empowerment.  Our kids come to us malnourished, starved for attention.  We are told we need to feed them freely, carry them as much as they want, and love them with reckless abandon.

That doesn’t address actually feeling a connection to them.  If you don’t feel it, it’s really hard to fake it.  Yet, we do.  And, we parents rock at it.  Connection is even harder though when your child is non-verbal, deaf or cognitively delayed.  I know so many parents who are struggling with connection in a child with these diagnoses.  It struck me today in training that a lot of what was being suggested, a lot of what we did for Gigi, doesn’t depend heavily on language, because she had none.

Connection with a child from a hard place is dependent on a few things: observational awareness, you need to give yourself time to get to know their behavior patterns, self-awareness, you need to get to know YOURSELF, and the skills of attachment which include giving care, seeking care, feeling comfortable with an autonomous self, and negotiation.

You need to give yourself time, and grace, to get to know your new kiddo.  For awhile, when you’ve just come home and you’re in that tenuous phase of finding your new normal, you know the phase, we ALL know the phase.  It comes between the jet lag and the destroyed house.  It comes with endless days spent in your pajamas, just trying to survive.  That’s okay.  You’re getting to know each other.

Getting to know yourself can happen simultaneously if it needs to, but it absolutely has to happen.  If your child’s behaviors are triggering something in you, anger, rage, sadness, or true depression, it’s time to figure out why.  It’s natural to need to adjust, but sometimes, going through this journey with your child can bring a ton of your own ‘stuff’ to the surface.  Maybe you need order and this child has created chaos.  It’s time to figure out what in your own past creates that extreme need for order.  These discoveries will only help you in the long run, and they’ll help you work with your child now.

The attachment skills are your goals for your child, they are short term and long term.  We want our kids to be able to seek care, and give it.  We want then to feel comfortable with an autonomous self.  We want them to be able to negotiate their feelings, and life in general.  Those are some lofty goals.  They’re even loftier if your kid can’t speak or hear or is significantly cognitively delayed.

It’s time to head back to basics.  Kids from hard places have never had ANYONE teach them about emotional intelligence.  What does sad mean?  What’s happy?  They have NO clue.  They know mad, and that is often their default setting.  Anger is so common.  You can teach them what all these feelings mean, and how to regulate them, even if they don’t speak or can’t hear.

Having a child “check their engine” is a common way to help with this.  That doesn’t work for some kids.  Instead, using pictures of actual human faces looking happy, angry and sad can help.  For Gigi, we have pictures of HER in all those emotional states.  When she is sad, I go and get a picture of her crying and I show it to her.  She is Deaf, so she communicates with ASL.  I am able to sign “You sad.  Face shows me.  Same.”  She learns that this is sad.  She looks like this.  I do the same with happy and angry.  The more she matures, the more emotions she will add.

She has now begun to tell me “I feel sad.  I cry.  I hurt.”  She is seeking care from me at a higher level than just asking me to feed her, which is another way to seek and give care.

We needed to teach her what to do with those feelings.  This is where we implement coping mechanisms.  If I can get Gigi to admit she’s angry, I can use tools in my toolbox, like massage, or yoga, or even the sucking action of her water bottle as choices to help her calm.  I try asking her what would help.  If she is too angry to answer, because she is non-verbal, we go to rocking.  Rocking resets Gigi.  I get down on my knees and cradle her, squeeze her, and rock her HARD.  Because of her deafness she is a sensory seeker, this rhythmic back and forth, back and forth helps her.  Every kid is different, but this is our ritual.  Rocking is also a connecting tool.  She’s touching me, cuddled in, feeling my heartbeat.  Gigi is 4 years old, but she currently operates at about the level of a 2.5 year old.  She needs to be babied.

Connecting rituals aren’t just for when she’s sad or angry though.  We have things we do at bedtime too.  She chooses a book from the book box, I sign it to her.  She lies down and I make a big deal out of tucking her in tight.  She kicks the blankets off an laugh.  It’s playful fun.  Then I sign I love you.  She signs it back and our ‘I love you’ come together and we make a kissing face.  I kiss her forehead and turn out the overhead light.

Connecting through rituals is SO important for a kid who is delayed, can’t hear, or is non-verbal.  They know what to expect.  At training I learned about this book.  I absolutely can’t wait to add it to our library.

51rt3awqz1l-_sx396_bo1204203200_So many kids who can’t hear or are non-verbal have sensory integration issues.  Connecting can occur through sensory activities too.  I linked this Pinterest board earlier.  It is my new go to for sensory activities that can double as connecting through play!

–FullPlateMom, who is excited about correction day next!

Attachment, Trauma

You’re Only Human.

I have a whole post about TBRI training yesterday, specifically about connecting which is a key component to TBRI.  Connection.  I had to work HARD on that, hence the upcoming post.

Before I hit publish on my connecting post though, and I will, first thing tomorrow morning, I just want to send a little message to all of you.  I like to live post a lot of what I’m being taught at this training via Facebook.  I see the comments and PMs about these posts and my heart sinks just a little.

“I’m so tired, Becky.  I don’t know that I can do this with this kid anymore.”

“This is sucking the life out of me.”

“I don’t feel like I’m a very good mom.”

“How will we EVER get past their past?”

I have replied so many times with a question in answer to your questions.  I often ask “Tell me what you’re doing for yourself? What does self-care look like for you?”

I almost never get a reply.  You’re doing nothing for yourself.  This lifestyle, and it is a lifestyle change to heal your child, is sucking everything right out of you.  If you don’t put something back in, you won’t make it.  Your marriage will suffer.  Your family will suffer.

You will break.  

Maybe you don’t need to get past their past?  Maybe that’s not possible.

Maybe you just need to stop living in it.

And, maybe, as you learn what letting go of it looks like, you need to give yourself a little grace.  You need grace to allow yourself some self-care.  You need grace to know that NONE of this is your fault.  Their past certainly isn’t your fault.  Their behavior isn’t either.  It’s not even leveled at you, it only feels that way.

Self-care for me comes in the form of running.  I strap on my shoes like armor and I run.  As I do it, I clench and unclench my fists.  I think about all the things my kids did that day that pissed the absolute hell out of me, and then I let them go.  I let them go into the sweat.  Sometimes, I let them go into the tears.

I have rituals too.  You’ll learn more about those tomorrow for your kids, but I have mine too.  In the last half mile of my run, no matter how long I’ve been going, I crank up the same song on repeat.  The song might change, but it’s always a song that speaks to me about my kids, and what they’ve lived through, and are now learning to live with.

Lately, everything has felt like my fault too.

I am only human.  Sometimes, I forget to practice what I preach.  Lately behaviors feel personal, and I feel like a failure too.  That’s why I’m here now, at this training.  My head knows I’m not failing, but my heart sings a different story.  So, Rag’n’Bone Man’s ‘Human’ resonated and has become the recent ritual.  The volume goes up at the same time the speed on the treadmill does.  All there is left is the beat in my ears and the thump of my shoes against the belt.

I’m only human
I make mistakes
I’m only human 
That’s all it takes
To put the blame on me
Don’t put the blame on me

I’m no prophet or Messiah
Should go looking somewhere higher
I’m only human after all
I’m only human after all
Don’t put the blame on me
Don’t put the blame on me

I’m only human 
I do what I can
I’m just a man 
I do what I can
Don’t put the blame on me
Don’t put your blame on me

I’m only human
I’m only, I’m only
I’m only human, human

You’re only human.  They are too.  One foot in front of the other.  One step at a time.  Together.

–FullPlateMom, who sometimes lets herself forget all this too easily.

 

 

Attachment, Trauma

Building Your Bookshelf

In case you’ve missed the last few days of posts, I am in Texas doing some TBRI Practitioner Training.  If you follow me on Facebook you’ve been getting more pearls of wisdom then you probably ever wanted.  I am in love with this training.  There isn’t one thing that was taught today that doesn’t enter into my sphere, whether that sphere is my home life or my professional life.

I loved how engaged people were on Facebook today.  So many of you are as excited as I am.  Other families need this as badly as I do.  When I learned about TBRI we were in a horrible spot with one of the kids in our home.  Horrible enough that I was ready to give up.

Yesterday’s post was to key people into the need to just start.  Start healing anywhere you can.  This is a holistic approach to Complex Developmental Trauma.  Different kids will have different needs, and I am NOT a licensed counselor.  I can only speak to our process, for our daughter.  We found that some of the techniques that worked with her worked with our other children, some didn’t.  We had to change it up when that happened.

Once we took the first leap to really work toward healing for ALL the kids in our home I read, and read, and read.  I’m going to link the books that I read first here.  We now have a bookshelf in our home for attachment related resources.  I go back to it every few months for a refresher.  I also refer to it when we’re in the trenches, because again, this process isn’t linear.

Here are the books I started with.  Maybe they will help you too?

As you know, this is the one that started it all.

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This book gave me SO much insight into just how trauma impacted my children’s brain functioning.  The amygdala, it’s a tricky little beast.

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Oh my gosh, the sensory needs.  SO many sensory needs.

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And the food issues.  SO many food issues.

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Understanding why they hurt is so important.  These behaviors, so many of them come from a place of hurt.

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So what do you do about it?  Not punish them, that’s for darn sure.  It doesn’t work.  It doesn’t teach them anything.  It’s not connecting anyone.

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I also really value Conscious Discipline.  The techniques I use to lay out logical consequences when clear  expectations are violated involve taking a little from each approach.

I always try to keep in mind the TBRI principles though.

  1.  Connecting with my children
  2. Correcting their behavior in a loving way that will…
  3. Empower them to make a change.

Connecting isn’t always easy.  Tomorrow’s blog post is going to be devoted to all the things we do in our home to connect with our kids who didn’t have secure connections before they came to us.

–FullPlateMom, who is ready to make more connections tomorrow!

AFTER TBRI PRACTITIONER TRAINING, I ADDED THESE BOOKS TO MY SHELF:

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Attachment, Trauma

Where Do I Even Start?

I’m in Forth Worth, Texas.  Phew.  Leaving the crew is always a rocky proposition.  I never know how each individual kid is going to react.  I wasn’t sure at all how to explain my absence to Gigi.  Yesterday, I told her that when she woke up she would drive me to the airport and I would go on an airplane and stay someplace else for six sleeps.

She woke up today, saw me and signed “Today, drive mama airport.  Sleeps, home.”  She’s so stinking smart.  We Face-timed tonight.  I signed ‘I love you’ about one thousand times.  She signed it back and giggled like crazy.

I adore that girl.

On the plane on my way to Fort Worth today I re-read my very dog-eared copy of The Connected Child.  There are so many notes in the margins that were made during times when I was barely making it through the day.  One of the notes said “Where do I even start?”

I flipped the page and this is highlighted…

If, out of fear or embarrassment in admitting there is a problem, you wait too long to take corrective action with your child, you risk becoming too depleted and worn-out to be effective when you finally do take action (Purvis, 2007).

Written below, in my handwriting is another note, start wherever, but start now.

That was written in 2011.  She had been with us for two years and she was still struggling so badly.  I needed to do something.  So, I began with these goals.  We’ve made a lot of headway.

–Disarm your child’s fear response.

She no longer reacts in fear to everything.  We’re still learning her cues though.  

–Establish clear and sensitive parental authority.

I’m the one who struggles here.  Sensitivity isn’t my strong suit.  I often get snappy, and bonding with a child who hated me is a struggle.  But, she listens and obeys because she wants to now, and not out of fear.  

–Provide a sensory-rich environment.

We learned so much from OT.

–Teach appropriate social skills.

We are working so hard on this.  She makes GREAT eye contact now.  

–Support healthy brain chemistry.

Food is such a trigger.  We had to work on this with all of our kids.  Some of them carried a granola bar with them wherever they went for the first few months they were home.  We eat on very strict schedules in our home now.  When we’re out I carry a HUGE bag with me, it has emergency food in it.  The knowledge that I have the bag is enough to reassure our kids.  

–Help your child connect with his or her own feelings.

Emotional intelligence and self-awareness are long-term goals in the Ketarkus House.

–Forge a strong emotional bond between you and your child.

This is why I’m in Fort Worth this week.  I have at least one child that I don’t feel I’m doing well enough with.  

So, I begin learning how to do more than just scratch the surface with these goals.  This is why I’m here.  My hope is that I will be able to go to churches, adoption support groups, pre-adoption trainings, etc, and talk to other families about each of these goals and all the 20-30 things we did to help achieve each one of them.

There is no end point here.  I thought this was a linear process.  I thought there would be a light at the end of the tunnel and we would move past all this.  We won’t, and that’s okay.  The goals change a little, the idea of what “connecting with his or her own feelings” means changes as our kids age.  Maybe at age three it meant not throwing screaming wagers.  Maybe at age ten it means not withdrawing completely and freezing me out.

Each stage brings a new challenge, but I knew I had to start somewhere.

–FullPlateMom, who can’t wait to start again tomorrow.

Attachment, Trauma

Why TBRI? Hope, That’s Why.

In 2009 we adopted our first child from Ghana.  She was almost 3 years old at the time.  She is now almost 10 years old.  She has given me permission to talk a little bit about my experience being the first time mom of a child who lived through terrible trauma.  I will not be openly discussing what that trauma was, that is her story to tell should she choose.  But, it should be said that as a now vastly more experienced mom, I have learned that for my internationally adopted children when I go to their homeland to meet and adopt them, I now assume that they’ve endured horror.  I assume that they have large amounts of trauma in their past.  I assume that their brains will react differently then my children who were adopted at birth and lived through less significant trauma and are secure in their attachment to me as a mom.  I not only assume that, but I tell other parents to assume that too.  Please go into this assuming that you are adopting a child who is coming out of hell.  If they aren’t, that is wonderful, but please approach them as if they are.

You see, I didn’t assume that.  I ask people to learn from my mistakes.  When we brought our sweet little girl home I did everything in the world wrong.  I had learned to parent one way, the way I had been parented.  This involved a lot of love and logic.  The techniques were excellent.  I was parented beautifully, but dismissively.  I was told to go to my room if I was flipping my lid the way all kids do.  It wasn’t a bad way to parent, not at all.  I was encouraged to self-regulate.  It worked well for me.  Actions led to predictable consequences in my childhood.  I was never abused, not even close.  I knew I was loved, always.  My reactions were that of a typical child.  My siblings and I could all be parented the same way.

I applied those same loving but logical, and slightly dismissive principles, to my first four children.  They came to us nearly at birth from domestic adoption placements.  Our first son was the oldest at placement.  He was only four months when he was handed to us.  He had been with his birth mom up until we became his parents.  She is an excellent mom.  She loves him.  She loves all her kids.  Joe and I didn’t understand why he cried so much at the loss of her.  After all, he was so little, that kind of loss couldn’t matter that much, right?

We were SO dumb.

It mattered a whole lot.  But, we fumbled through.  We did all the things we should have done, without really knowing why we should be doing them.  They seemed natural.  He SCREAMED endlessly, so we rocked him endlessly.  We didn’t leave him with anyone else for a good long time.  We wanted him to learn to love us because we were first time parents.  We wanted to be adored.  Selfish motivations, turned out to be good for him too.  He’s almost 14 years old now.  He’s a sweet, social, securely attached young man.

Our second, third and fourth children came to us straight from the hospital.  The trauma was less, but still present.  We, yet again, ignored any impact it might have, but they attached to us securely.  The first four Full Plate kids were all parented the same way: predictably, but lovingly, actions always led to the same consequences.  We fell ass backwards into parenting that way because it was the way we were parented.  It’s a solid way to parent and operates on this core principle… If you are our child and you scream and have a fit, we leave where we are, no matter how inconvenient it is to us, we go home, you go to your room, you’re sad you missed the fun, you never have a fit again because you learned mama and daddy don’t play.  We hugged them, told them how sorry we were that we missed all the fun, we bonded, they felt loved.  

Done.  It was all magical.

Then our Ghanaian daughter burst onto the scene.  Oh my gosh.  I loved her guts, y’all.  I still do.  She was magical too, just like those babies.  She was an adorable, apple cheeked, red haired (from malnutrition), brown skinned, doll.  But, she was so hard to deal with.  Her behaviors made it so very difficult to like her.  Nothing she did made a damn bit of sense to me.  I could send that child to her room until the cows came home, she would just make my life harder.  We did all the same things we did with the other kids.  Our reactions were predictable.  We ignored the fits.  We sent her away to calm down.  We hauled her tiny behind out of so many fun events that we thought for sure there must be something so wrong with her.  She just wasn’t ‘getting it.’  And it wasn’t because she wasn’t smart.  She was smarter than any other 3 year old I had parented.  She knew exactly how to push all my buttons.  And, she really enjoyed physical violence and physically disgusting behavior in those worst moments.  She hated women, so all those behaviors were ALWAYS directed at me.  Joe never quite understood why I found her so amazingly difficult to work with.  She was, often, an angel for him.  Occasionally the cracks would come and he would see those behaviors too, but she never, ever slapped him across the face or peed in his lap.  Never.

I remember Joe coming from work one night after I had been with her all day and my screaming at him,

“WE RUINED OUR FAMILY! WE RUINED IT BY BRINGING HER HERE! WE’RE ALL RUINED!!!”  

We had already committed to bringing home her two first cousins from Ghana, to keep them all together, because we adored them all.  I loved them.  I wanted SO badly to be their mama too.  But, their adoptions would make the number of children in our home seven under the age of eight years old.  The paperwork was in process.  We were set to go back and bring them home in the next few months.  They were two and three times her age.  If we couldn’t do this for her, what in the hell were we thinking adding more children to our family?

Joe and I began to wonder if maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t our newest daughter’s behaviors that were ruining us?  Maybe, just maybe, it was the way we were dealing with them?  Or, in our case, not dealing with them.  So, we took ourselves to a therapist.  In fact, we took ourselves to SIX therapists.  Not kidding.  Six.  None of what they said made ANY sense.  They diagnosed our sweet girl with all kinds of stuff that wasn’t congruent, at all, with what I knew to be true of her.  She did NOT have ADHD.  She did NOT have bipolar disorder.  She was NOT a sociopath.  Yes, someone actually suggested that.  She was capable of loving interactions.  We had seen them, they just came at times that seemed completely unpredictable to us.

So, in a way that would mirror what I would do for Tess just a four years later, and Gigi in the present day, I began to search the world for answers.  I read everything I could about Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD).  It only brought me to a darker, even more hopeless place.  It was incurable, or so they said.  The more I asked other people, the more everyone seemed to know someone who knew someone who had adopted a kid from Eastern Europe.  That fictitious kid, the one they had ALL heard of, was always a mess, someone no one could even deal with.

I was heartbroken.

Then someone we had traveled to Ghana with happened to mention a book someone had recommended.  It had been published just two years earlier and was written by this doctor in Texas who was working with ‘those kids’, the ones that were like mine.  I read the book cover to cover.  Maybe this could help?  This other mama, whose daughter was from the same place, was working with this doctor and her team.  This mama was a teacher.  The strategies made sense to her for all children in her classroom who came from trauma.  So, we took a chance and we wrote to this doctor.  We sent her team endless videos of the behaviors occurring in our home.  We asked her what we could do?

She replied with hope, a gift from heaven.

We began the coursework from Empowered to Connect.  It was life changing.  Oh my gosh.  We had been doing it all wrong, which we knew, but didn’t know how to change.  We learned what attachment is and how much our sweet little girl had missed out on.  She had never had one adult in her life to help her with any of this.

Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 8.04.38 PMShe was floundering at everything in life because she had to fight just for the basic necessities, and felt like she STILL had to fight us, even when we were her new safety net.

All of the sudden, unpredictable reactions became totally understandable.  The spitting in my face, understandable, and suddenly, not her fault.  It was no one’s fault now.  It was all circumstance, circumstance that could be overcome.

All of the sudden, there was hope.

Now, as my sweet girl moves toward adolescence, and gets ready to take the world by storm, it’s time to go back to the classroom.  That classroom is located at my dining room table first, and then I will take all that acquired knowledge and head to Fort Worth, Texas to the home of Texas Christian University, to meet the team that saved my girl.

It is my hope that by learning even more about Trust Based Relational Intervention I can help other mama’s who think that Complex Developmental Trauma isn’t curable.  I want to bring hope to others now. And, I would love to take what I know to other countries, to stop some of the trauma from occurring in the first place.

TCU has given me the first of many assignments over the last two weeks.  I have to look at my own past now, examine my own attachment style and see how it effects my children as I work with them, and all the children I hope to help in the future.

Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 8.04.47 PMI’m learning about my own triggers, and what to do about them.  In my next post I’m going to talk a little about how I examined my own attachment style, and why doing that is so sad and painful, and why it led me straight to finding another therapist, this time, for myself.

The doctor who started it all, who gave us answers for our sweet daughter, is now with the God who she took her strength from.  She died after a battle with cancer earlier this year.  Her team carries on though.  I am so grateful for them.  I’m grateful for all they taught me about PTSD, for all the information they gave to me that helped the amazing professionals at Juliana’s school work so successfully with her, how we all worked together to give her a 504 plan for this HEALTH diagnosis, a 504 plan she now no longer needs.

Yes, you read that right.  Our daughter has learned to successfully self-regulate her fears in a way that makes her 504 plan at school unnecessary.  This doesn’t mean she is “cured.”  These early life experiences shaped who she is.  She will always have these fears.  They’ll creep up at the most unexpected moments in adolescence and adulthood.  We’ve talked about the feelings that having her own children will likely bring about, but she expects them now.  She knows them like a diabetic child knows what precedes a blood sugar low, like a child with epilepsy knows happens to them before they experience a seizure.  These feelings have become predictable for her.  She is empowered to control them now.

She is in control now.  That was the whole goal all along.

–FullPlateMom, who couldn’t have asked for anything more for her daughter than for control over her own emotions, fears and reactions.