Friday, October 4, 2019

Am I A Bad Parent?

Our adoption journey has given me the privilege of meeting and speaking with many parents. Due to our unique circumstances, it is often those parents who have children with FASD or those who's adoption's aren't working out, often due to safety issue's, with whom I have the privilege of sharing our story and hearing theirs in return.

There is one question I am asked every single time. Sometimes the person asks in a voice choked with tears, sometimes the question is laced with fear and sometimes the question is asked so quietly I can hardly decipher what was said. The question is this, "Am I a bad parent?" My heart hurts for these people because I am deeply familiar with that very pain. It is a question I often ask myself. On some level I know it isn't true, but on a deep fundamental level I can't help but believe that somehow my child's problem must be at least partly my fault. As parents we want to "fix" our children. We want them to be successful, to have the ability to make good choices without their trauma baggage weighing them down. We run ourselves ragged in an attempt to aid them on their healing journey, but sometimes healing doesn't come. At least not in the ways we had hoped and dreamed of when we looked into the future. When failure is more common than success, we as parents have a tendency to believe that somehow we must have failed.

We, like most families who began foster care over ten years ago when there was very little taught about trauma, believed that we could heal the hurts in the hearts of the little ones who came through our door. We somehow thought that love would be enough. How many times have you heard that quote? How many times have you heard, "Well if you would love them more," or "If you would love them the same as you love your other children," whatever that is supposed to mean, "They wouldn't have these problems" Somehow the world has gotten hung up on, "Love is enough," when it comes to helping hurting people. Folks, I am shouting from the roof top's, "LOVE IS NOT ENOUGH!!!" Anyway, 10 plus years ago we believed this from the bottom of our hearts. We didn't have trauma training, and the words, Reactive Attachment Disorder weren't even in our vocabulary. We tried to take hurting children and love them so much that they would just have to love us back. At the time the idea sounded logical, in hindsight it was anything but logical. You know how well that theory works, right? It doesn't. And so we began to flounder. What do you do with a child who is terrified of love, or feels he is unlovable? We didn't realize that such a thing was even possible, so I began to think, "It must be me. I must be a bad mom." And the seed grew and grew. That seed was watered daily with examples of why I was a bad mom. My child refused to do anything that I asked of him. As a preschooler, he would go hungry rather than eat the food I made, while happily chowing it down if someone else made the meal. How do you deal with that?

You think of the urine soaked floors in your house, the holes in the walls, the times you screamed into your pillow because you so desperately needed to release the pain building in your heart. The items found stashed behind your child's bed, the misunderstandings with her teacher, the fights your son was involved in because his brain damage means that he doesn't understand cause and effect. And then your mind goes on to think of how well your child can present in public. You think of the times your child raged and threatened you until you arrived at a friends house, whereupon the threats stopped and a smile appeared on his face. People greet your daughter with hugs and she accepts them, but when you try to hug her she either accepts the hugs but then turns around and destroys something that had sentimental value to you, or she grabs a handful of skin and pinches you as she hugs. And you think, "I must be a bad parent or my child wouldn't act this way."

You can't talk to anyone other than your child's therapist about the things that happen in your home because it sounds so absurd, and in public your child looks nothing like what you experience at home. If you do venture to speak up you hear one of three things:
 The ever famous, love them more
 Discipline more - he just needs a good spanking!
Don't worry, my child does that all the time.

You know loving more doesn't work for your child....although from those giving you the advice, it seemingly works for everyone else's child. So you internalize the idea that you must be a bad parent, because this is not working for your child. But we forget that the people offering this advice often have no experience with something that plays a huge part in your child's behavior: trauma. Our hurting children need love in mega doses, but love itself is not enough.

Discipline more. That is such a lovely thing to hear when you are at the end of your rope. When parenting children with trauma, brain damage and/or prenatal exposure, more discipline is rarely the answer. Consequences seldom have the desired affect and what those offering this bit of advice fail to understand is, our children have already gone through horrific circumstances, a consequence likely won't make one bit of difference. However we have learned to take advantage of natural consequences when applicable. If I tell my child not to slam the door and he does anyway and pinches his finger, there is a 50/50 chance he won't slam the door the next time. However, when you take the brain damage from prenatal exposure into consideration, it is anyone's guess if he will remember not to slam the door when he goes through it 5 minutes later. So you feel like you must be a bad parent because you can't get your child to stop slamming doors....or whatever behavior that you child is currently struggling with.

Don't worry, my child does that all the time. This one used to drive me crazy. One therapist explained it this way, "Yes, what your child is doing is typical. What is not typical is the length, severity and intensity of the action." All children have meltdowns, but typically not for hours at a time, over the most minor of circumstances. Even knowing this, it can leave you feeling like a bad parent because your child's actions are getting on your last nerve and according to your friend, this behavior is perfectly normal!

You feel guilty for resenting your child's behavior, this is trauma/brain damage based after all. Your child can't help how he is affected by his life experiences, and so you go back to the, "I must be a bad parent, because what kind of a parent would get so frustrated with their child?" The guilt we heap on ourselves is tremendous.

You feel like a bad parent when sitting in a new therapist's office and she asks for your child's strengths and your mind goes blank. You know your child has strength's but all your weary brain can remember is the pain and anguish of each and every day. 

And if you worst fears become reality and your child is no longer safe in your home and you know that due to circumstances unique to your family and situation, he never will be safe. Despite your best effort's you know cannot keep everyone safe 24/7. Decisions have to made, decisions you didn't even know were a possibility before you entered the world of trauma and prenatal exposure. Your heart breaks because you must be a bad parent if you can't keep your own children safe. This is the point where most parents crumble. This is not what you had in mind when you signed up for this journey. You wanted to aid in healing hearts, not causing more pain and hurt in the lives of your loved one's. All the guilt, pain, shame, trauma, distress and chaos of the years washes over you like a tidal wave and you wonder if there is hope for your loved ones. Failure looms big and black in your face, you feel condemned, judged and left to wither away in the face of this pain.

But remember you are not a failure!

-You kept your child safe to the best of your ability.

-You lay beside your child as he screamed out his inner torment, for which he had no words. Even though you couldn't make it better for him, you were there.

- You sought out one professional after the next, searching for help and healing for your child.

-You bore the brunt of deep emotional wounds, inflicted on their tender souls long before you came into the picture.

-You fought for them as long as you could. Even if your child has crossed that line, the line where she is no longer safe in your home and you need to look into other options; remember love means doing what is best for your child and the rest of the family, even if it tears your heart to shreds.

-You loved them with all you could, using your resources minimal though they may have been, you wore yourself out trying to be everything for your child and just because you were not enough, does not mean you are a bad parent!

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