Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Professional clients...

The other day I was reading an adoption related article about how different factors can contribute to the potential for the growing adoptee to act out. It was a good article in some ways because the author noted many of the significant factors such as fasd, adhd, early neglect and abuse, mental illness, attachment etc. The article mentioned different therapies that can be used with these challenges and, like most adoption literature, it ended with the implication that if the parents get the right therapy for their child, then all will be well. And that's when my headache started. Image result for crazy lady cartoon

This article repeated the myth, which I've discussed ad nauseum before, that therapy will *fix* kids who present chronic conflict. 

Okay, I make a large part of my income as a therapist so it's pretty safe to assume that I believe that therapy works for some people in some situations. What I don't believe is that therapy will *fix* our kids. I do believe that permanent, stable, committed parenting will help most of our kids reach a safe and positive adulthood - but I don't believe it will do diddly squat during the growing up years. I do believe that supporting the parents, providing them with respite, and providing them with effective conflict management skills will get the family to the finish line in one piece and with relationships intact or at least reparable. 

However, because of the myth of the magic answer, I observe  that while the good intentioned parents are dragging Junior from one therapist to another, nothing changes in the family, but something gets noticed by Junior -- and that is that everyone is seeking the magic answer that will fix his world. This process creates kids and youths who are professional clients - they view themselves as belonging on the caseload of someone who will save or fix them, because they have spent their pre-adoption years being monitored by child protection and then adoption workers, and then their post adoption years are spent learning how to behave in a therapist's office.  Junior becomes trapped by the notion that there is a magic answer somewhere out in the universe that will make everything better - and so she moves into adulthood with this outlandish belief and she is stuck blaming everyone else for the ongoing problems. Really, what else could you expect a child or youth to believe if that is what the parents are taught to believe by the adoption industry? 

But, it must seem like a trick to the young adults, because once they hit the age of majority, society no longer views them as victims of their early years, instead, they are viewed as failures or worse. They have transitioned through each life stage seeing therapists who specialize in working with children, to therapists who work with teens, to therapists who work with adults who continue to struggle with drugs and alcohol, or who struggle with parenting, or who live below the poverty line. They have become professional clients - they view themselves as passive recipients of other people's efforts to get them *fixed*.  

Well, this is one of those few areas I do have ideas for changing this, and again, I've written about this before. We need to stop buying into the myth of the of magic solution and start buying into the reality of supporting parents. We need to accept our kids for who they are in the moment - angry, hurting, confused, unpleasant, sometimes threatening, drug abusing, rude, addicted to social media - and we need to use skills to manage the conflict and the anger they create.We need to role model our understanding that there are no magic answers or right therapies that will replace time, commitment, stability, and emotionally regulated parents who can go the distance with the kids. Its possible. 

Hey, enjoy your day - and know that you are entitled to a better one!! Image result for rose

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Trauma, trauma everywhere...

The other day I was looking for a particular blog that related to adoptive parent trauma; and, by simply putting in a couple of key words, I was presented with over two dozen blogs that are adoption related and have the word "trauma" in the heading. Each of these blogs focused on the emotional trauma of raising chronic conflict children & youth. I am sure if I could find two dozen in 30 seconds there must be hundreds more.

That spurred me to check out a few of the top adoption conferences that are going on this year and see how many are offering workshops that help parents deal with the trauma they develop from raising CCC&Ys.  I couldn't find any other than the one I'm speaking at in October. There are the usual (and excellent) workshops on how to parent traumatized children, and some that talk about how parents can maintain a healthy lifestyle - but not much on how to raise children with chronic mental health issues and none (that I could find) that overtly talk about the heart break, the exhaustion, the marriage breakdown, the financial devastation, the loss of friends, loss of family, loss of self worth, and occasional suicidal ideation that so many Hazardous Parents experience.

So, what is my point? Well, it seems to me that if adoptive parents are strongly identifying as being traumatized by the parenting experience, then what on Earth is it going to take to get the adoption industry to start dealing with that?

I am often asked to speak at adoption events but there is too often the boundary that I can only present on parenting strategies, not about parent trauma. So, I decline. I understand that there is a fear that if prospective parents understood how hard this life is, then they will run for the hills. But you know, I don't think that's the case. I think that most prospective parents wouldn't believe that they would end up as wounded as I was. I think they would believe that their commitment to the child ...and their willingness to learn new ways of parenting ... and their faith.... and their current support.... and their whatever would ensure that they had a very different experience.

I know that's exactly what I thought and nothing I heard would have changed my mind. They would still adopt, and I would still encourage them to do so. The difference that I would present to prospective parents is in what I believe they will need to use down the road. For example, I would encourage them to a) learn about mental health disorders in children and to b) learn that not all, in fact very few, behavioral challenges will resolve with attachment, and that c) that most therapists don't understand adoption dynamics or mental health disorders in children d) that their child will hate them throughout most of adolescence and may even try to overtly harm them e) that therapy to resolve the child's early trauma is important but it will not prevent the child from presenting chronic conflict.

So, I ask again, what does it take to get the adoption industry to change direction? How do parents get professionals to listen? I try to do that through my blog and any other means possible, but it isn't enough. We need to be strongly advocating for ourselves and our children. We all deserve to have our trauma acknowledged and treated. We deserve better than what we are getting.

And, its at this point in my blog when I want to state that yes, I love my children. No, I don't blame them. Yes, they are doing okay in life. I also want to state that I don't believe this is just an adoption issue, I believe that we are victims of society's failure to understand and respond to mental health challenges and that the denial found in the adoption industry is just a reflection of the larger societal problem.  But you know what, I'm not willing to be part of that denial. I'm not willing to stand by and see another generation of adoptive families get fractured and hurt by that denial. I hope you aren't either.

Remember, you (and your children) are entitled to a better day.


Friday, June 3, 2016

Attachment and social media...

I think that anyone who has ever heard me speak publicly knows that I am not on the attachment bandwagon, at least not in the way its held out as magic treatment for kids and youth who present chronic conflict. However, I don't argue that children and parents have to develop an emotional connection and that this is a basic goal in any family formed through adoption. So, my concern around this today is that I believe that social media is having a very negative influence on the attachment process (in whatever meaning that word has for you) and we aren't adapting our attachment strategies to include this.

Let me explain - I've been a therapist for 30 years, and an adoptive parent even longer. I've raised children and counseled families though a variety of trends and changes but up to the last 4 or 5 years, I knew that by providing some basic strategies,a few communication skills, some new ways of parenting, a bit of effective therapy, and allowing time, the parent/child relationship would be established. It might be wobbly and fragile, but it would be develop. However, with the addictive nature of social media, many, many kids and youth spend more of their time communicating with people who aren't present than communicating with people who are. In other words, the time that Junior could be spending in conversation or games, or even tv watching with parents, is now spent on their electronic device.

The time and energy that kids used to put into bonding with their new parents, is now overwhelmed with the psuedo bonding they have with peers via constant texting, snapchatting, etc. Even the basic emotional presence that is required for attachment is shut off as Junior's presence is focused on replying to each text and each chat. Furthermore, the lack of words and the lack of emotional context (other than violence and intimidation) that are part of social media are very appealing to a dis-attached child or youth. After all, any child who has been through the foster system has learned far too early that adults aren't to be trusted and that the only things that are permanent are change and loss. And, while the child bounces through foster care, they are too busy surviving to pick up relationship sustaining skills. So, again, relationships that exist via social media are going to appear to be more familiar, less demanding, and safer to the child or youth than the complex knot of feelings and connection that the adoptive parents are trying to establish. Its as if social media builds a wall around Junior that is as impenetrable to the adoptive parents as the whole set of negative experiences that existed for the child pre-adoption.

As a therapist and a parent I'm putting a lot of thought and consideration into adapting my way of relating to my own teens and my own clients as we pioneer this new reality.

Okay, what are your thoughts and experiences on this?yellow rose
And, remember, you are entitled to a better day.


Sunday, May 29, 2016

Secrets and lies...

Many years ago I was at the forefront of advocating for open adoption and even access. I believed then, and still do, that we can't simply erase the first years of our children's lives and pretend that the relationships (good or bad) with the genetic parents and extended family won't continue to pull at our child. 

Of course, that was back in the age of dinosaurs when the openness and access was done by letter or phone call, or maybe the occasional scheduled visit. It was also done with the adoptive parents' knowledge.

Well, among the New Realities of Adoption is that the communication that now occurs between the genetic family and Junior is likely to take place through social media, without our knowledge, without our permission, and without our monitoring. Junior may well be having daily chats with birth sibs, with birth parents, with aunts, uncles, friends of birth parents etc. and the adoptive parents know nothing at all about it. The only sign may be the increased acting out that results. 

If you think that this isn't happening with your child----- think again. All of our kids learn quickly how to set up hidden accounts that we can't find. And don't think that because your child came from a foreign country that the parents don't have access to computers. They do. It may not be the parents who communicate with Junior - often its a sibling who wasn't adopted or its the grandparents or birth mom's current boyfriend.

The problem, of course, is that if these people were emotionally healthy they would be initiating the contact via the adoptive parents - but they aren't. They may not be out to harm the family, but they sure don't help it as they fail to understand the emotional impact on Junior of their communications and how this can pull apart a fragile attachment and create confused loyalties. Very often the genetic parents lie about how Junior came to be adopted - they minimize their drug abuse or violence and blame the mean old social workers who never gave them a chance to clean up and keep Junior. I understand the guilt and remorse that underlies this, but I also understand the way this makes Junior feel kidnapped and emotionally disoriented. And, for children or youth who also have FASD, adhd, ODD, long term impact of neglect and abuse and all the rest - this added emotional complexity invariably fuels the chronic conflict that the family is already experiencing. 

Even when the genetic family means well, there is still going to be upheaval - any normal 15 year old has complaints about their parents - when you have a pre-teen or youth who also has the above mentioned behavioral issues and then they have free rein to complain to the genetic parents ("My parents don't understand me" "My parents are too strict" "My parents yell at me all the time" "My parents ground me for no reason" "My parents don't trust me") you can be sure the genetic parents are giving lots of sympathy and assuring Junior that they would be soooo much nicer. 

This is a very difficult reality because for the most part, the genetic parents have "issues" just like the children. They may have severe lifestyle challenges, addictions, fasd, and other concerns; or, they may have stabilized their lives.  However, you can bet they don't have boundaries nor do they have respect for the integrity of the adoptive family and most importantly, the capacity to prioritize the best interests of the child. 

Friends, this isn't going to end. This is a reality we have to live with. What I am advocating for here is that the adoption professionals start overtly addressing this and developing strategies to help adoptive parents manage this dynamic. I looked up a bunch of adoption conferences that are happening this year and the only ones I could find that even acknowledged genetic parents were the old fashioned things about how to have openness with a young birth mom who made an adoption plan at baby's birth. Well, that's not good enough.

We need to know how to recognize the signs that Junior may be in contact, and even seeing, genetic parents. We need to learn how to help Junior work through the conflicting messages from both sets of parents, we need to learn how to avoid a power struggle with the genetic family, we need to learn how to deal with our own feelings about this. Oh, so much to do on this topic. 

So, like everything else I write about, this is one more thing we need to be discussing openly and putting on our self-advocacy list. 

In the meantime - do some healthy breathing, hug someone who cares about you, and know that you are doing better than most with the challenges you face. 

You are entitled to a better day. Animated Blooming

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

"Don't give advice to a drowning person..".

I joined the The Caregivers Network when my mom was slowly dying from Alzheimer's. I still subscribe to their newsletter and I received this valuable and relatable piece the other day. "Don't give advice to a drowning person" was the title of a blog by Susan Macauley and said, in part, "It’s clear to me that a lot of the advice offered to dementia care partners is given by people who have never cared with/for someone who lives with dementia and/or who don’t appreciate the challenges care partners face. If they did, they wouldn’t make some of the suggestions they do."

Isn't this totally true of those of us who live with children and youth who engage in chronic conflict? If we even dare to risk telling the truth about the struggles we face we are so often told to take another course in early neglect & abuse because somehow the reason we can't manage our child is because we don't know enough neuroscience; or, to get counselling (whatever that means); or, to be more patient; or, ...or....or....yup, I still hear about other therapists giving suggestions about sticker charts and contracts. 

We often feel like we're drowning  while we try to keep ourselves and our family afloat despite the crashing waves of our youth's rage that drag us back under time and again. If we say we that nothing is working then either the service providers give up on us because they know that if had only followed their brilliant instructions then everything would be peachy; or, in some locations, the child protection services charge on in. Rarely, so very rarely, do they ask us what we need. And even less often, is what we need provided. 

Many of you have mentioned that we need organized and appropriately trained respite and we need effective strategies for managing (not changing or resolving) rages. However, it isn't enough that we talk to each other about that - we need to saying this to the adoption industry as well. The people who have influence over the training of social workers and counsellors need to hear us. 

To that end, I invite you to start speaking up. Church? Adoption support group? Social workers meeting? Agency meetings? Parent panel at major conferences?  If you're attending a conference then don't be afraid to button down some of the speakers and tell them you need more help than another workshop on how to talk to teens, or another attachment workshop. You probably know more about this than most presenters because most of them aren't parents of children like ours so don't feel shy - speak up. Give witness to your reality! 

We don't need advice, we don't need support, we need action.

And, in the meantime - have your best day possible. Animated Blooming

Thursday, May 12, 2016

"No" isn't the answer....

The other day I was having a discussion with another therapist regarding the wonderful training she had recently completed. It was delivered online, over several months, by a  well known expert in early neglect and trauma. My colleague was thrilled with all she had learned and so was I because I am always happy when more professionals learn about the long term impact of early trauma. However, I can never leave anything alone, so I asked her how she intended to use that to help struggling adoptive parents manage the rages, stealing, lying, verbal abuse, chronic conflict, sexual acting out, drug abuse, etc that most live with. 

She blithely explained to me that she would teach the parents about the neural issues underlying their child's behaviours and......and.....I waited.....and waited some more.....and nope.....she didn't get it. So, I explained to her that by the time their children reach middle childhood or adolescence,most adoptive parents have already likely taken the same course, or several just like it and will have a solid understanding of the way in which their child's brain has been harmed. 

What they won't have learned, and what she doesn't seem to understand she should be helping them with - is a) learning what the years of raising a child with chronic conflict has done to the parent's brain and health and b) what the parents can do to manage the conflict and care for themselves so that no one's brain continues to be harmed. Oh, and c)  understanding that the goal for the family is to be still living or at least relating together in a loving and supportive way rather than in a "I've crawled to the finish line so get me out of here now" kind of way. 

Well, that ended that collegial relationship. 

It just seems so hard to get professionals to realize that understanding the child's dynamics is hugely important, but for those children who aren't responsive to therapy during the growing up years, it's vital to provide support to the parents. The parents needs conflict management skills that are appropriate and effective for chronic conflict kids who can't change (yet), and respite so that the parents can sleep a few days without fear, and teachers who understand that kids who negotiate with knives aren't likely to do homework. I know, I don't need to go on, you already know this. So why do I keep writing about it? Because it needs to be public and it needs to be shared over and over again until something in the system changes. Hazardous Parents need specific services that are rare to be found and rarer still to be funded. Silence won't get us those things. Speak up - tell anyone who will listen that you, and your family, are entitled to more. When you ask for respite and you are told there is no funding - write a letter to the relevant politician and to the head of the agency that doesn't have the money, and to your local paper. Write your own blog about this. Give a talk at your church or book club or professional association. Do something, stop accepting "NO" for an answer - you hear it enough from your child or youth - you don't need to hear it from the services that should be helping you. 

Hey, you are entitled to a better day. Animated Blooming

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

We need to be witnessed....

This morning I read an excellent post on a social media site. It was about our need to be seen, to have witness to our lives - whether that is pain, fear, joy...whatever...we need to know that we exist in the reality of others. 

I've long argued that abandonment is the major issues in older child adoption and for all trauma victims. Human beings are pack animals, and when the pack loses sight of us, we become vulnerable and we are harmed. That's what happens to our children - they have been left, they have been vulnerable, and they have been harmed. And after we adopt them, we are left, we become vulnerable, and so we are harmed. 

So, what does this have to do with the new realities of adoption and Hazardous Parenting? Well, I think that in Hazardous Families, the parents become invisible. We get lost in the child's trauma and the industries that are built up around it. Our reality is denied. We are told we have secondary trauma from witnessing the pain of our children's trauma - uh, I don't think so. I am well aware that I have primary trauma from fearing for my life, from social isolation, from living with chronic conflict etc. Okay, I've written about that enough in my old blog, but today, in linking it to the need to have witness to my reality, I was struck again by how we are silenced in our struggle and our pain. 

Don't worry, I'm not paranoid - I don't believe there is a conspiracy to silence us. I do, however, believe that the failure of the adoption and trauma industries to recognize the reality of mental health problems in children and youth has left parents in the lurch. We are led to believe that our children and youth will outgrow their behaviors - and many do. Yet, that doesn't mean that we aren't harmed during the years that they are presenting the symptoms. 

We are also silenced by our love for our kids. I'm sure none of you want to run around telling the world how hard it is to live your life because of your child - you love Junior and you naturally want to protect him or her from your pain. 

We are also silenced because the professionals focus almost solely on the children. Any parenting support provided to us is about how to parent, not about how to heal from parenting. And, of course, when the therapies provided for our kids don't work, the parents are blamed for not following through, or having too high expectations, or not accepting our child, or....whatever. 

When nothing works we often buy into that it was our fault and we accept that we just weren't good enough for our child. And, as any parent knows, if you feel you aren't good enough for your child that leads to feeling that you aren't good enough PERIOD. And that friends, is a clear path to severe depression, more social and emotional isolation, and more invisibility. 

This isn't going change until we stop being silent about what our lives are like. We need to make others see us. We need to stop just talking to each other on our blogs and in our support groups. We need to stand firm that we are not blaming our children for their behaviors but that we are not going to be silent about how those behaviors impact us. I don't know how you can do this but I know what I can do. It started for me with my book "Healing from Hazardous Parenting: How to Fix Yourself When You Can't Fix Your Kid". I also no longer accept speaking engagements about how to parent, I only agree to workshops that are about how to survive (and thrive) as a parent and about the other realities that are present in today's adoptive family life. I'm shortly going to start a blog talk radio program so that other parents can have a real voice and a place to speak. 

What are you going to do? You have talents, you have a voice. Your deserve witness to your pain. 
Animated Blooming
Hey friends, you are entitled to a better day.