My heart breaks when I hear your frustration and desperation in the face of your traumatized, attachment challenged child’s continual shenanigans. I remember those feelings with stark clarity. There were times when raising my children where I felt quietly suicidal, and a moment when homicide was a secret thought. I am not joking, nor proud, nor taking it lightly. I was attachment challenged to the max with no idea how to make things different. I felt helpless, powerless, angry and despairing.
Parents usually snicker a little–or roll their eyes in exasperation–when I call their child’s behavior shenanigans. My use of that silly word marks the shift in my own child rearing experience: from one of hell and anger to one of love and compassion. Before thinking shenanigans, I thought bad, horrible, embarrassing, hateful, and criminal about my children’s behavior. My own feelings, thoughts and beliefs about what was happening was creating my reality, destroying my beautiful life. During that time I blamed my children. It was their crazy behavior that was ruining my life. And, the more I thought that way, the more I believed myself. The more I believed myself the more hopeless, angry, and desperate I became.
Here are a few things I learned to embrace that changed my parenting life and probably the hearts of my children:
- My children (and yours) are seriously impacted by abuse and/or abandonement before coming to me
- Their brains are different because of trauma, and need long-term therapeutic parenting
- My brain is different because of trauma in my own childhood
- Their shenanigans are like toddlers in bigger bodies
- Shenanigans are not personal assaults on me
- My task as a parent is to give consistent structure, nurture, and acceptance
- It is not my children’s job to meet my needs for love, respect, power, and control
- It takes a long time to create safe relationships with traumatized children
- Safe relationship is the only way to create the conditions in the brain for positive change
- I can love my children, even when they don’t know how to love me back
- I can love my children, even when they do shenanigans
- I can love my children, even when they disappoint me
- I can love my children, even when adopting children turns out to be unfathomably hard
- My children’s birthright is my love, acceptance and compassion
- My children’s shenanigans are not who they are
- Seeing their shenanigans as who they are interferes with loving them into health
I hope this helps you do some deep investigation into your own feelings, thoughts and beliefs. The only person you can change is yourself. In so doing, your children can become more and more who they were truly meant to be.
Ce Eshelman, LMFT, is an attachment therapist, adoptive mother, stepmother, guardian mother, dog/cat mother, grandmother, not her husband’s mother, and author of:
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