Maybe I need to address this differently.
I know that YOU are at your wits end. YOU have tried everything. Nothing, I mean, NOTHING works. Nothing! I know that sickening feeling in my bones–that exhausted, weary, battered feeling of despair and powerlessness that seeps into everything you say and do. It makes your work an escape, your marriage a war zone, your parenting a desperate nightmare you never wake up from.
This is the point where the rubber hits the road and you are challenged to stay in the game of life with your extremely emotionally disturbed and disturbing child. You have been hit, bit, spat upon, and that isn’t even the half of it. You have felt rage, the depth of which you never imagined. You have wanted to (or maybe you have) hit your precious child. You want to leave your marriage, kill yourself, run away forever, or you may even fantasize about taking the whole family over the side of the bridge together. You endlessly feel regret, focus on how it used to be, and wrestle with overwhelming tidal waves of guilt and shame, as you ruminate about life without your child.
Okay, maybe YOU haven’t experienced all of that, but plenty of it, right? I could tell you to get help, but I know you already have. YOU are doing everything you can think of and nothing is working to make your child the one you thought you were adopting. I know you thought that therapy and love and a good family was going to change that little brain that was harmed before s/he ever came home to YOU. And now you think none of that works and none of it matters.
What can I say to YOU that will make it better? Maybe nothing, except, “Me, too.” YOU are not alone, but it sure feels like it. I know this is going to seem impossible, but there are a lot of things that you have to do for YEARS before change occurs and, even then, your child is still likely going to need more parenting than one or two people can provide.
1. Get regular respite. YOU cannot do this without space from your child for your own amygdala to get out of cascading neurochemical flooding. I am talking about weekly childcare so you can go out; hire a daily in-home child-care worker to help with daily routines; find weekend respite once a month, etc.
2. Enlist family and neighbors to learn about complex developmental trauma and emotional dysregulation in children from difficult beginnings. Family members can only be helpful if they are educated and informed. When someone asks if they can help, say yes and get them up to speed on what YOU really need.
3. Face it: YOU have to be a therapeutic parent. YOU don’t get to be just a mom or just a dad. You actually must practice trust-based parenting strategies and sensory engagement consistently–consistently. Use life scripts. Use routines. Use correction strategies. Do it over and over and over and over. It matters, but it takes years sometimes for the scripts to kick in and the strategies to make new neural pathways. That is what you are doing for your child–creating new neural pathways. That is hard work that requires playful engagement and repetition to the point of tears. Do it like a meditation.
4. Get help for your marriage, if you still have one. Our children split their parents and parents turn on each other. YOU cannot be in a relationship war and simultaneously stay out of parenting hell. You need more than a “pretend” united front. Get help to get more.
5. If you are feeling even half of what I wrote about above, then you are likely suffering from Post-Adoption Traumatic Stress. It is a REAL thing. You need help, or YOU might actually hurt someone. At the very least, your child will not get better without you healing your knee-jerk reactions. Those are trauma induced reactions. YOU need to help yourself–put the oxygen mask on yourself first. Consider: yoga, meditation, neurofeedback, medication, therapy, Brainspotting, EMDR.
6. If YOU really have done it all and you cannot find a way to live with the chaos, look for residential treatment. This can help when YOU cannot give another ounce. I know it feels like abandonment, but it isn’t. YOU are always going to be the parent. You will be engaged in treatment until your child comes back home to you. It is not a magic bullet. Trust me on this. But, it can help everyone’s trauma resolve and routines to be established. There will be plenty of work left when your child returns home. Did I mention trusting me on this? Been there, too.
7. Be gentle on yourself and on your child. Children are not like this to “mess” with YOU. They are like this when they have been harmed in the early years. You are not like this because you want to “mess” with your child. You are traumatized, too.
This is hard, unfair, unreasonable, scary, and life altering, but YOU can do it. I didn’t think I could, and I did. So can YOU.
Ce Eshelman, LMFT
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