Would we still say yes to being our little boy’s parents knowing all that was in store for our family? Goodness that is such a loaded question. One I have sat and thought about, on some really hard days. On one hand, if I never met him I would never have fallen in love with him. So maybe not saying yes might have been much easier at the time. On the other hand, if I never met him, I would never have been able to love him and that is equally as devastating to think about. But I did meet him and I did fall completely in love in love with him. So here we are and this much I know, I will never regret loving him but loving him is the easy part. The darkest and most painful days of our lives have came with bringing trauma into our lives and home. We have second hand trauma from living in the chaos mental illness brings. It’s not our son’s fault, not even close. Which makes some of the choices we have to make even harder. My childhood of abuse doesn’t hold a flame to the anguish of the last couple years has brought our family. As a women, your identity to a degree is wrapped up in being a mother, at least it is for me. The nurturer, the safe place, the person that fixes the boo-boos, the one her child runs to when they’ve had a bad dream. But I can’t be that for him and it’s so dang painfully hard. As his mom, my arms should be his safest place and they are actually his scariest place. No matter how much it is explained to him, his basic instinct kick in and his soul screams, ‘moms can’t be trusted.’ Which is ass nine backwards for most of us to comprehend, but his early years taught him it was true at a primal level. So each day; I wake up and still choose him, I choose him over my own selfish needs and wants. I choose to do the hard things over the comfortable things for him. I choose my other children too and place our family as a priority above all else right now. I choose to put on thick skin and fight the clueless people trying to hold us back as we are trying to push forward. Daily I still choose him. We have to leave no stone or mountain unturned in the fight to save our son and hopefully I will have a heart that is at peace of knowing we have done everything within us to give him the life he always deserved and hopefully that life will be something beyond what we ever could have hoped for him.
Your child’s story is his to share….
It is and much of it is also our story. Trust me only those closest to us know the deepest and darkest parts of our story. There are valleys of sadness that aren’t shared, mountains of victories left unsaid, days of desperation that only a few have held us through. Moments of great grief that I was literally carried, like, physically held and carried by family and friends, because I Just couldn’t. There are things ahead of us that most know nothing about. But I strongly believe our lives are meant to be shared and I hope I always share our story with dignity and truth, without compromising anyone’s own story. Sharing the hard parts comes with sharing the good. Isn’t it deceiving just a little to only share the victories and blessing, while leaving out the valleys and the storms? I have shared very openly of my childhood of abuse but I also left out a million pieces to the story and yet, what I did share, helped many, healed myself deeper and led me to a healthier and better version of me. A book came from it, a non profit was started and friends were made that will hopefully last a life time. All because I chose to share my heart. We live in a world of secrecy, privacy and where we only share what is safest with those that are safest. But what if our stories have bigger purposes than just for ourselves to learn from? What if what we walk through can help another person? Would you share differently if you knew it would? I know for me personally I am drawn to people that let folks into their own struggles and not just their victories. I share our world openly, because that’s me, I enjoy writing, I love what it has done for me personally and I love you all enough to let you in. One day I hope to share more of it and I pray it helps someone that’s also in the trenches of life. So many of your struggles and victories have blessed me and encouraged me to do more, love deeper and be braver than I was the day before and I am thankful you trusted me enough to let me in. Sharing parts of most areas of our life isn’t a bad thing, it’s an okay thing to do, even if it’s a little terrifying. Each and every time I have shared a part of us, I have always been scared with being so vulnerable, but so far, I have never regretted letting folks in.
Four weeks and two days ago, I looked up to see the strongest man I will ever know, weak in his knees, filled with overwhelming pain and desperation. In that moment, I knew it was as bad as I had thought. We were drowning trying to save our son. Our other children were seeing their parents fading away in front of their eyes, lost deep somewhere in a broken, dirty, trauma filled trench, desperate to save their son. I didn’t know where to turn, or how to get help, I just knew we needed it. I had nothing left.
Four weeks and one day ago, I screamed out in desperation for help. I was sinking, losing and terrified. My breath was gone, my endurance had been pushed to a ability above anything I could ever have envisioned. I had nothing left, but an empty bed.
Earlier today, I sat at a table, each chair was filled with therapists, doctors, high needs caseworkers, behavior coaches and family support therapists. I felt okay until I pulled into the parking lot, a instant sadness and grief engulfed me. I somewhat pulled it together and walked into the meeting. After the hello’s and small talk, our high needs laid it all out in front of me. I am not exactly sure when it happened or how, but as she talked, the room felt more and more as if it had been emptied of all the air or maybe it felt like there was too much air and the room was going to explode, I can’t quite explain it but it felt very real. As the room filled with that overwhelming feeling of pressure, I sat trying to listen to each person talk about their client or their patient, but all I was thinking about were his eyes, his empty bed, his untouched clothes and toys, his dry dinosaur toothbrush. I was thinking about my son. I felt such sadness in that moment, I wanted to leave, I wanted to be anywhere but there. I laid my head down as tear flooded my face and in that instant the room went silent for a moment. In these folders were information on therapeutic homes and they wanted me, this little boy’s mom somehow to pick the best home for him to live in. “It’s our home that’s best for him to live in,” I silently screamed inside. Eventually his team and I narrowed the folders down to a few that met his safety level and location. Towards the end of the meeting someone asked me if I had any more questions for the families and all I could think to say was, “will she pray with him, when she tucks him into bed each night, will she pray with him?” A response was given, “we can ask, when we meet her.” I then signed the papers needed and I walked out to my car where I cried the hardest I have ever cried in my life. I eventually went home, where I just couldn’t, so I put on my very dusty running shoes and started to run. I ran until all the emotional hurt turned to physical hurt. I ran until my head hurt as bad as my heart, until my shirt was as wet from sweat, as my face was from tears. I didn’t want to talk, I didn’t want to feel this. This was not how my family was suppose to be. Love was going to fix him, my arms were the safest place and yet it didn’t and they weren’t. I had nothing left, so I ran.
A HTCT home is a family setting with high needs trauma training and safe guards put into place that the average family can’t or doesn’t have the ability to do. The goal of these places is for both families to work together in therapies and in personal life to help heal the child and his family, while also keeping everyone safe. It sounds good on paper, it’s not the hardest thing to admit that this is bigger than us and we need help. But choosing, sending and letting go, there are no words in any dictionary that can accurately describe the anguish and heartbreak that comes with those words. I had nothing left, but to choose.
Our son is so little and so innocent. He didn’t ask for this trauma or how he acquired it. He isn’t able to do any different right now and this is the safest place for him, we know that. Somewhere in this story there will be a chapter that leaves us all cheering and praising Jesus for the victory in little man’s life. I know our son’s story doesn’t end here, it just can’t. He is worth fighting for. This is our hope and we are clinging to it with all we have. So if you are skeptical or not emotional attached, please fake it in front of us, we need that hope and we need others to have that same hope. We need to set our hearts and eyes on the chapter that leaves us all breathless in a good way. Today we are sad and have nothing left but hope and somehow that’s okay.
Two years! How can it only be two years since I first laid eyes on our boy L? It feels like I have known him my entire life and then some. It was around 11 pm, when my husband and oldest son brought him home and laid him next to me. He was pretty beat up, and extremely exhausted. He couldn’t talk, was scared to death, so he just screamed. I held him for hours that night as I rocked and tried to reassure him that he was safe and okay. The state had told us that night he was only 15 months old. We never question it because, he was so tiny, walked as a new walker would wobble around and he couldn’t/didn’t say anything besides, mama, over and over as he cried. We didn’t find out until five days later that he was actually 2 years and 7 months old. Imagine how scary that must’ve been for him, being taken from the only place he had ever known, even if it wasn’t the safest, he knew no difference. Then he slept in a DCS office for four days as they waited to find a foster home for him. Finally being sent to a new family, new house that was full of Caucasian people when he had been surrounded by only people with skin tones as beautiful as his. This is just a glimpse of his story, but so many kids in foster care share similar stories. They come with nothing, they are terrified, often hurt and extremely abused.
Today is little man’s gotcha day, for us it’s the day we laid eyes on our son. The day my heart said, ‘oh, there you are, I’ve been looking for you my whole life.” To him it was a scary day, a healing day and the start to a new normal as he grieved his life before us. For many other reasons the journey of foster care and adoption have been one of the hardest seasons so far of our lives and yet, I would do it all over a million times, just to say hello for the first time to each of my babies. I still would tell each of you, if you feel called, jump in headfirst. My life is fuller, crazier, harder and richer because of each of the children God brought into our home. We are ending foster care month, so it’s fitting I get to end with one of my favorite days, the day I met my son! Happy gotcha day, I am so thankful and blessed I get to be part of all your tomorrows. Love you!
Welcome to Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) as we awesome parents like to call it. Take RAD, mix in PTSD, anxiety, conductive disorder and oppositional defiance disorder, add a bunch of good hearted, well meaning adults, and you have the perfect storm for CPS to be called and investigations to be done and false judgment by pretty much everyone that is not in your inner circle.
Children with RAD are masters at triangulating the adults in their lives. They thrive on controlling the situation, and learn from an early age (like babyhood) how to manipulate folks to get what they think they need. If that means turning the rest of the world against the people that love them, who would die for them and are fighting like hell to help them, that’s ok, it’s all about surviving life the way they think they still have too. You can’t blame these kids for it either, it’s how their little broken brains works after their early years of trauma. But, knowing all this doesn’t make it any easier on the parents who are watching themselves become the no longer good parents of the neighborhood, by child’s therapist, at school, with family. These loving parents that would do anything for this child have people questioning their hearts. Here is why, the child with RAD is telling everybody what horrible parents they are with words and in actions, all day, every day, it’s what they believe they have to do. I call it shopping for parents, when the child are trying to charm and manipulate every person they see. But really what it comes down to, we (the parents) are no longer safe, because we are pushing emotions that scare the heck out of them, calling them out on behaviors that are not acceptable, expecting them to be authentic and feel those big scary attachment emotions. Any outside adult, friend, family, stranger, teacher, mailman etc. RAD is trying so hard to convince them all, they are good, cute, perfectly behaved and that you do want to take them home. For a better or perhaps lack of words, they are selling themselves to you.
My son, that has reactive attachment disorder is prostituting out his heart, his mind and his body every chance he gets, not so much in a sexual way, but in a real way, because you are safe to him, he can control you, manipulate you with his charm, with his sweet voice and perfect manners and soon you will start doubting what we as his parents are saying. You will start wondering what it is that we are doing wrong or why he is so good with you and horrible with us. You will soon start to wonder if our hands are just too full with the other kids and your heart will feel such sorrow for him. You’ll think he’s starving, he will eat so much and keep asking you for more that you will start to wondering if we are withholding food from him. He will tell you lies upon lies, all to see yours eyes soften and for you to pull him closer to yourself. He will come across as starved for affection, attention and love. He will be a model child for you and he can hold this façade together for awhile. He did all those things the first few months he lived with us too, it wasn’t until we started catching on to his behaviors and calling him out, while having real expectations of him, did we start to see the real side of him. Once he started to feel emotions and have true expectations, we were no longer a safe place because, he could no longer manipulate us and that’s when our world turned upside down. Every time we have a new evaluation, therapist, doctor, coach, teacher or someone new come into our lives, I feel I have to over emphasize that we are good parents in the hopes they will believe us, because, I know once they meet him they’re going to wonder if what we were telling them, is even true. Until you have been questioned about your ability to parent correctly, you can’t fathom how frustrating and lonely the road of trauma can be. It isolates you. Your circle of trust becomes smaller and smaller and your world is forever different. You have now seen firsthand trauma, brokenness and mental illness in your child, a child that you love more than anything in the world, in such a real, raw way and you are forever changed. You quickly realized how uneducated the world is on early childhood trauma, and the devastating lifelong effects these children have to face and the families have to walk through. So the parents keep outsider at arms length a little more, they protect their family unit and do what they know is right because at the end of the day they are what matter the most.
Welcome to the world of RAD.
This is the very real world of reactive attachment disorder. It’s not uncommon, they’re so many parents that have adopted children or have biological children that have experienced severe trauma early in life and this is the world they live daily. The parents that are walking this road are forever changed and yet, most of these parents would still say they would do it all over again, most don’t regret saying yes, most go to bed each night exhausted only to wake and ask God for extra wisdom, extra patience, and a giant extra dose of love to make it through another day. Mental illness isn’t just panic attack, depression and ADHD sometimes mental illness in children is scary, it’s devastating and it’s a lifelong sentence. Let’s keep this topic going, let’s shine a light on mental illness and early childhood trauma, so more people understand it, more people show compassion towards it and maybe more doctors and therapist expand their education about it.
All during our training classes we were asked a few times what the child we hoped to have placed with us would look like. I think they ask this question to see if we have realistic understandings of what is to come. Anyways, I can be passive with my words, so I rambled something like, “A young child who needs a place to feel safe and loved.” Because saying anything else would mean my heart was cold, right? But really, the child that I thought I wanted placed with us was a little African American boy. I don’t have a logical reason for that, he’s just who I saw. He is who showed up in my dreams, who my heart always pictured as part of our family’s journey. He’s who I believed would be the first child to walk through our doors through this process. Why, I haven’t a clue, but it was a face I saw over and over. But, honestly we would and did say yes to any child but that’s just who my heart saw. See that’s the funny thing God didn’t have those plans for us, at least not how I saw them, they were mine. He never saw a boy or an african american child for that matter, He saw two little girls, with a sad little past and giant beautiful hearts that would be the first children to steal our hearts and boy did they steal it. Eventually though this little guy that filled my dreams and other amazing beautiful kids would come into our life, just not exactly how I saw it….But is it ever?
At first, before and during the classes I thought I wanted to protect my heart. I wanted to take children into our home and from the beginning remember and live like it was temporary, because, it just might be. I didn’t want to get too attached. I wanted to love them all well and meet all their needs with love. But I wanted to protect my heart, because they may only be here for a moment. Over the past several months I’ve found my giant brick walls have crumbled away when I see these sweet kiddo’s smile or look at the beauty of their BIG gorgeous eyes or hear their giggles or comb some sweet, crazy hair, I see Jesus’ handy work starring back at me. Why would I want to build a wedge between me and them? These sweet babies are bringing me closer to my savior, causing me to fall harder to my knees in prayers. I said it several times before ‘what if a child comes in to our home and we fully become attached? And if I had to watch them leave….it would absolutely destroy me.’
I still agree, because it did and it will be that way always. How could it not be?
Yes, this is all of me. This is where my fears over power me. This is where my wants are obvious for all to see. This is where my plans for my life seem to be the answers to it all. This is where my time is precious. Where my mind wants to say, stop, because I can’t even think about the heart break if these babies have to leave. This is where the trauma from their pasts causes a giant land slide of emotions to come pouring down on our quite little lives. This is where I scream inside, “I freaking need a time out too!” Where I am tempted to say no, because saying yes will be all of me.
But I am so thankful this is not all of me. This is only where I have no more and where Jesus begin. This is where God’s voice whispers, “It’s not about you.” This is where He answers, “You got this”. This is where my bible isn’t just a good book end. This is where we become aware that our home was provided by Him and it’s not our own. This is where little children can learn the meaning of family. This is where we learn and try to love another family that caused the broken hearts in these babies. This is where our faith is needed and through it all, this is where we fall head over heels, completely, madly in love with children that are not our own.
To these Sweet babies who have captivated our hearts so fully. I’ll love you fully and completely. Even if only for a moment, because YOU are worth it.
If you feel led to love on a child for a moment in time or perhaps forever look into fostering, adopting or mentoring in your area. It will change you forever in the most beautiful ways. I promise!