Category Archives: relationships

Girl Meets World and RAD Part 1

If you grew up in the TGIF generation (USA early 90’s), you might remember that theme song. In our house, the TGIF jingle signaled time to crowd in front of our little TV for Boy Meets World.

 

Sometimes I feel like I’m in my own show, Casey Meets World.

For five years and four months, I’ve searched for a way to reach our girl. We’ve powered through a trauma counselor, a mentor, a play therapist, outpatient counseling and in-home counseling. I’ve read every book recommended by every counselor, friend or acquaintance…and then some.

We’ve utilized an occupational therapist, speech therapist, psychiatrist, psychologist, nutritionist, neurologist and several other “-ists.”

Three months ago, we descended to the proverbial bottom of the canyon to find rock. Rappelling without ropes, if you will.

She flat-out refused to do anything I asked, and in fact did the exact opposite of EVERYTHING. Her behavior was out of control in ways I won’t describe here, but if you’re experiencing RAD, know that you are not alone.

You’re not crazy, and neither is your child.

Primal need for protecting herself (or himself) runs unbelievably deep. However, when you find your family unraveling at the seams, underlying reasons for a child’s behavior don’t matter as much as the emergency of the moment.

By the time a family reaches the cold, dusty bottom of that deep, dark pit, all anyone can do is scrabble for purchase, trying to find a way back up crumbling walls.

We finally admitted to ourselves that our tween needed more help than we could provide and we had to consider a therapeutic setting outside the home.

Back to the beginning for a moment.

Upon the children’s arrival, I began re-reading books by a respected psychologist. As a teen (I was a little weird in choice of reading material for my age), several of his books helped me understand myself better. Nothing in the books worked for these kids. NOTHing. Finally, in absolute frustration, I emailed him, with a subject something like, “Help! We adopted two kids.”

I don’t remember the exact time frame, but shortly after I sent the email, my phone rang. His secretary asked, “Will you be at this number in twenty minutes? Stay by the phone.” And twenty minutes later, he called me.

I’m not one to be awed by position or title. I’ll chat up a CEO or a streetwalker with equal interest. Everyone has a story. Everyone is human. Nothing about who you are makes you more or less valuable than the person walking beside you.

However, I do recognize that people are busy. I’m a mom, a recruiter and a blogger, and I barely have a spare minute. As yet, I’ve never published, never been a sought-after speaker on radio and in person, never been the end-all authority voice about, well…anything. And I’m sure that’s not a definitive list of his responsibilities. I can’t imagine being that busy.

I was floored that he’d take the time to call a random individual, considering the hundreds of email he must need to sort.

He gave me some advice I’ve never forgotten.

Be clear with the child that you understand their motivation.

If you know they’re being disobedient so they’ll get the attention they crave, don’t be afraid to say,

‘Hey. I know you’re acting up because you need some attention. (Fill in the blank with behavior) will only bring negative attention. Do you want negative attention, or would you rather ask me to spend time with you for a few minutes?’

Be open. Let the child know you’re aware of their game. Explain cause and effect, and let them know where the behavior will take them.

Following the above advice, we explained residential therapy to our girl. We showed her pictures of RAD Ranch (not the real name, but if I ever direct one, I am totally calling it that), where children with attachment issues live on a working farm, attend school and have physical consequences for bad behavior. If you act like a poopie-head, you might get stall-mucking duties. (And for those of you not well-versed in ranch speak, that means you’re shoveling poop.)

She didn’t believe us.

With crazy-impeccable timing, the director of said ranch rang our home phone at that moment. While I discussed our situation with him, I heard Hubby ask her, “do you know who’s on the other end of that call? This is no joke.”

Returning from the call, I explained a few of the details to Hubby, in front of our daughter. She watched our conversation, head swiveling as though viewing a tennis match, as we took turns discussing pros and cons. Finally, we turned to her.

Continued…

 

 

 

How to Bond when Your Child Won’t

I have finally found the key to bonding with a RAD child.

Abject terror.

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Photo Credit: Martin Keamy Fanbase

 

Parenting a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder is a roller coaster.

After five years, we’ve attained what I consider a significant level of progress. She no longer voices thoughts of…uh…removing…me from her lifescape.

While still she displays obvious preference for Daddy, most of the angst directed my way these days appears more related to pre-teen hormones. I’ll take it.

During our first year, I bought a fresh coconut because the kids wanted to know what the inside looked like.

Those suckers are tough to open. I ended up outside on the patio trying to crack it with a hammer.

As I bludgeoned the nut again and again, doing my best not to hit my nose on the bounce-back, she began screaming,

Bash her head in! Bash her head in!

I looked up to see her staring at me. The chilling smile on her face disturbed me more than the words.

If you’ve ever seen The Bad Seed (which has always been one of my all-time favorite oldies—there’s an ironic twist for you), you have a taste of what RAD parents experience.

We try to remember the audience when telling stories of our first years; the idea of a child standing over you in your sleep freaks some people. Go figure.

Hubby and I met another RAD family this weekend; we laughed about inviting people over for dinner and needing to retrieve the knives from lockdown in the master bedroom. Shook our heads over the crazy paradox of a child performing extreme levels of misbehavior specifically in order to get a consequence, which makes her feel safe. It’s a little mind-blowing. And exhausting, since it never ends.

Having someone understand is refreshing.

They’re still locking up potential weapons. We gave up ages ago, after realizing they can do just as much damage with everyday household items.

At this point, I think we’re beneficial enough to their daily lives that they wouldn’t actually harm us, although I’m pretty sure “the demise of that woman” is still a daydream theme on occasion.

A couple years ago, as we had a pre-bedtime snuggle, my son wrapped his arms around me, tucked his head into my shoulder and said sweetly,

Mama, I love you. I’m sorry I wanted to lock you in the house and burn it down when we first got here. I would never do that now.

Warms a mama’s heart.

Our son has definitely bonded with us since the adoption day (3.25 years ago) and says he doesn’t even want to think of the “other” family anymore. Our daughter is still a work-in-progress. Her level of anger makes sense (she’s two years older and has more trauma).

Every time we make an advance in our relationship, she freaks out and pushes me away again.

This cycle is very typical of RAD kids. I know about RAD, I understand the reasons for RAD and I even learned about RAD long before we had the kids. I’m cognitively prepared.

Emotionally, not so much.

The constant push-away is wearing.

My honey-badger self-preservation instinct kicks in sometimes. Don’t-care-don’t-care-don’t-care.

But not caring doesn’t work well when you have broken kids. I have to allow myself to be vulnerable in order to reach her.

I’ve been praying for a tender heart and an opportunity to connect. This week, we found affinity in two very opposite and unlikely places.

First, that comment about abject terror—not kidding.

Our family went to an amusement park and I bribed her with ice cream to ride a coaster with me. Halfway through an insane loop, I looked over (hoping she hadn’t passed out). She was screaming but I couldn’t hear the words until the coaster slowed a little.

“THIS. IS. AWESOMMMMMMMMMMME!”

As we exited down the ramp after our ride, she leaned against me. I checked her face, looking for signs she might fall…or puke. Nope, just a hug.

On the next ride, as we zipped down a steep hill, she grabbed my hand and held on tight. For the whole ride.

Walking down the ramp, she proclaimed, “I rode with you, so now you have to ride the drop-tower with me.”

My aunt would call this poetic justice. Years ago, she and my uncle took me to MGM Studios and I dragged her onto the Tower of Terror. Twice. She’s an excellent auntie.

I love roller coasters but I’m no longer a fan of straight-up heights (and now have even more appreciation for my aunt).

The drop tower ride takes a slow haul straight up something like twenty stories with plenty of time to peruse the landscape and imagine my broken body on the asphalt below. Then, after moments of suspense, hydraulics release in a fast-rush drop to the bottom.

During the excruciating rise, my daughter asked with a sly smile, “Do you like it? It’s really high, isn’t it?” She’s perfectly aware of my height-a-phobia. I admitted that heights aren’t my thing, but she rode the coaster with me and fair is fair.

Sometime after that ride, she started walking with an arm around my waist.

 

Then, a few days later, she approached with a knitting kit, a gift from my brother.

Quick backstory: my mother-in-law once attempted crochet lessons for me. I proved inept. She gave up. 

“Can we learn how to knit?” She handed me the inadequate directions. I attempted to follow the whomever-wrote-these-did-not-speak-English instructions. Even the diagrams made no sense.

Thank God for Google. In case you want to learn knitting:

After about 15 minutes, we had both learned how to cast on and work the knit stitch. Later that day, we visited a flea market. I found a second set of needles so we could practice together.

Our work is uneven and I’m not really sure what we’re making but we’re progressing.

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Photo Credit: Casey Alexander

Knitting is the polar opposite of riding a roller coaster. And yet, it had the same effect.

Tower of Terror Aunt happened to be visiting during the knitathon. I voiced surprise that the thing our girl and I finally found in common was knitting. 

My aunt pointed out,

It’s something you had to learn, too. You’re not already ‘better at’ it.

I realized she was correct; our girl constantly moans about how she’s “not good” at things—mostly thing she hasn’t tried or hasn’t practiced—and how everyone else is so much “better” at whatever she’s attempting.

She finally feels we’re on even ground.

So, the key to connection is finding things I suck at.

Stop your snickering. Yes, I realize this might not be a difficult proposition.

In other words, if I haven’t tried or can’t do it well, she and I can try it together.

Three days in, she expressed a little angst about how I was “getting so much better” than she was (after I’d practiced all day while she played in the pool). Since then, my lack of practice is intentional. In spite of my competitive streak, I know I don’t have a need to excel at knitting.

I have a definite need to connect with my daughter.

Orchestrating our progression and allowing her to be “better” is a small sacrifice. Knitting together knits us together. (Sounds like a 1960’s cross-stitch wall hanging…)

I’ve started making a list:

  • Cake Decorating (right up her alley).
  • Running (she’ll definitely be better at this).
  • Playing guitar.
  • Dancing (again, she’ll be better).
  • Ice sculpting (with a chainsaw—yeah, baby).
  • Skydiving (I might leave this one to Hubby).

I’m actually looking forward to trying new things with my girl. This will be fun.

Come to think of it, I’ve never been on a cruise…or gone to Aruba…or swam with dolphins in the open sea…or…ooooooh, Morocco…

Trouble connecting with your RAD kid? Try something new, together.

And if all else fails, there’s always the Tower of Terror. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adoption Isn’t Pretty

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Photo Credit: Patrick

I get a little sick when I read articles about pretty families adopting a bunch of kids from difference sources (international, domestic, foster, birthmom, etc.).

The adoption isn’t what makes me ill.

Nor the number of children (usually very high, in these articles).

Not even how they acquired the kids.

The thing that really bugs me is how happy everyone seems.

Unsuspecting, good-hearted people read these articles and think, “Wow, they just adopted enough kids to have their own sports team. Look how happy they are. Everyone gets along. So cool!”

And then they find a real-life adoptive family and tell them how amazing they must be.

And then they sign up to be foster parents and can’t figure out why things aren’t hunky-dory.

What happened to amazing???

And then they think,

“If that family could take in fourteen and a half kids who now succeed in school and have fabulous manners, 

WHY DO I HATE BEING A FOSTER (or Adoptive) PARENT RIGHT NOW?

Preparation and expectations.

I know, I know, I keep going back to this like a monkey with a crack habit.

First of all, if you are in the middle of all the

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many adoption (or foster) situations entail, please don’t give up. And also, when you read these joyous articles of how their children are together creating a solution to world peace, don’t be fooled.

Don’t get me wrong, there are probably a few really happy families out there who have created Shangri-La in their living rooms.

Let’s just look at the facts, though.

EVERY adopted child has experienced loss, or they wouldn’t be available for adoption.

EVERY adopted child has (or will have) feelings they can’t fully comprehend. These might include anger, grief, denial, abandonment and low self-esteem.

It’s almost impossible for a child to emerge unscathed from a situation that makes them available for adoption.

Traumatized kids need help learning to understand their emotions—and eventually, how to deal with them.

Let’s frame this in perspective.

Put the following adults in a house and make them live together with no prior contact:

  1. Two divorced adults whose partner cheated on them. Non-cheaters were still 100% in love.
  2. Two adults whose parents abused them.
  3. Two adults who had a great life and relationship with parents; both parents just passed away.
  4. Three adults whose spouses died.
  5. An adult who experienced physical harm at the hands of a stranger.
  6. A rape victim.

At first, they’ll all be civil and get along. After a while, it won’t be all sunshine and lollipops.

If you don’t believe me, watch any of the ridiculous (we all know they’re scripted) reality TV shows. Even adults without apparent trauma can’t get along for more than a couple weeks.

And yet.

  • We expect children with similar losses and abuses to move in with people they barely know (sometimes just parents; other times, with other kids) and surf along. No problem. Hakuna Matata.
  • We allow the fairy tale stories touted by the media to make us feel bad about how things go at our house.

 

Here’s the honest truth:

1. ADOPTION is the absolute toughest thing we’ve ever done.

2. There’s no such thing as an adoption fairy tale. Or if there is, I don’t know about it.

3. Adoption will not be anything like you expected.

4. Adoption will be MORE than you expected. More angst. More tears. More trauma. More grief. More celebrations. More relief. More joy. More “I’d do it all again for this kid.”

5. Adoption requires support. Asking for help does not equal weakness.

6. Adoption isn’t (did I mention?) pretty.

7. Adoption is HARD.

8. ADOPTION IS WORTH IT. 

Yes, it’s tough. If you’re in a rough spot, trust me, I get it. Some days, sinking under the bathwater and just…staying…can seem enticing.

I want to be the best mom I can be, so recently signed up to chat with a counselor. Parenting kids of trauma is no joke. Like I told the counselor, we’re in a really good spot right now, but I can’t fully enjoy it, because I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Because it always does.

We get to a point in which we can relax a little, breathe a little deeper, and then BOOM there goes the shoe. (Sometimes it’s more like a steel-toed boot, and instead of just dropping, it drop-kicks us in the Aston Martin…)

But I have to live in the moment, because we DO have “those moments.” The breakthrough. The understanding. The forgiveness. The clarity. The diagnosis.

If you’re in the same situation, I hope you’ll find a little peace here. Know that you’re not alone. We all teeter on the edge sometimes.

And if, like me, you’re waiting for that “next big problem,” let’s learn to forget about the other shoe.

Tomorrow has enough troubles.” Right?

Focus on today, and breathe. God will take care of tomorrow (or for that matter, the next five minutes).

I promise.

*Although I write from my adoption-related experience, one of my blogging buddies pointed out that much of this applies to biological children, as well. What are your thoughts? 


How about you? Feeling overwhelmed? Tell us about it below. We all feel better knowing it’s not “just us.” (Hey, even me…)  🙂 

 

 

 

 

I Can’t Hear You…

I ask the usual question as the kids clamber into my truck.*

*Yes, I drive a truck. It’s big and black and bad@$$ and NO I’m not a redneck. I just like my truck. And also Hubby thinks it’s hot. So there’s that.

How was your day?

All the parenting books encourage me to “ask open-ended questions!” in order to elicit enthusiastic and long-winded answers from my children. Obliging my curiosity, they answer with enthusiasm and long-windedness:

He: “Mmmph.”

She: “Ehhhh.”

“Come on guys,” I wheedle, “I know something happened today.” Then it hits me. Ahhh.

“Did your teacher have to speak to you about behavior?”

“It’s all Ellie’s fault,” he explodes. “Stupid Ellie made me have silent lunch!”

I try to catch his eye in the mirror. No dice. “So…how did Ellie make you have silent lunch?”

“I knocked a magnet off the desk,” he says, “and I tried to catch it before it hit the ground and my hand whacked it instead of catching it and it flew across the room and then Ellie said I threw it but I DIDN’T throw it and it was an accident, just an accident. And then I got silent lunch BECAUSE OF ELLIE. IT WAS HER FAULT!”

I wait for him to breathe. “Your teacher seems very fair. I don’t think she’d give you silent lunch just because Ellie said you threw a magnet.”

He wails in rising crescendo as tears fill his eyes.

“If Ellie would stay out of my business 

I wouldn’t have had silent lunch.

IT’S ALL HER FAULT because she gets IN MY BUSINESS ALL THE TIME!”

I try to hide my smile. Good thing I’m driving.

“So,” I say, “your teacher told you, ‘I’m giving you silent lunch because Ellie got in your business,’ is that right?”

“Mmph. No.”

By this time, we’ve parked at the house. I turn around. “Look at me.” He does, defiant. “I think you’re not telling me the whole story. Tell me from the beginning.”

He sighs. “I knocked the magnet off and it went across the room. Ellie said I threw it. I said I didn’t. I called the teacher over, like you said to do when I have trouble.”

I nod. “And what did the teacher say?”

“She said it wasn’t a big deal and not to worry about it.” He leans back, arms folded. “But it WAS a big deal because Ellie keeps getting in my business!”

Ah. Lightbulb.

“And did you tell the teacher Ellie was ‘getting in your business’ after she said it was fine?”

“Yes,” he growls, “and then she gave me silent lunch. See? It’s Ellie’s fault!”

“You told her about Ellie just once?” I ask.

“Well…no. I wanted her to do something about Ellie and how she gets in my business so I kept telling her about it.”

I see he’s beginning to comprehend the problem. “How many times do you think you told her about Ellie?”

“A bunch of times.”

“And what did she say?”

“That I should forget about it and get back to work. But Ellie ALWAYS does it. And then I get in trouble,” he grumbles.

“So, let me make sure I understand. You hit the magnet accidentally. Ellie said you threw it. The teacher said not to worry about it. And then you kept complaining about Ellie to the teacher and wouldn’t stop when she told you to let it go. Does that sound about right?” I scoot around further in my seat so I can see his eyes.

“Yeah.”

“So,” I said, “look at me. Tell me—and be honest—whose fault was your silent lunch?”

He glares. “Hers,” he begins, then falters. “Mine. My fault.”

“Why?”

“Because I wouldn’t stop talking when the teacher said to stop.”

“Exactly.” I sigh. “Why do you care so much about what people say about you, anyway?”

“Because they’re in my bus—” he begins.

“Stop.” I say. He looks up. “The last five or six times you’ve been in trouble, it’s because you’re pitching a fit over someone ‘in your business,’ but if you’d just let it go, you probably wouldn’t be in trouble, right?”

He nods.

“Do you actually get in trouble when kids tell the teacher you’ve done something?”

He shakes his head. “Nah.”

“Right. Because you guys are in the FOURTH GRADE. Everyone knows that fourth graders are some of the biggest tattle-tales ever. The teacher isn’t going to give you a consequence unless she—or another adult—sees you. Right?”

Eyes wide, he says, “All fourth graders are tattle-tales?”

I nod, solemn. “It’s true. Everybody knows it. So why do you care what they say? You know, you should care about the people who can affect your life. Do you know who those people are?”

He shakes his head.

“Your teachers. Of course, you should be nice to the kids in your class, but when it comes to what they think of you…the teacher is where you should focus.  No matter what grade you’re in, don’t worry about what other kids say. They’re just kids. And a bunch of them will end up in jail, anyway, so who cares what they think.”

Eyes wide, he peers around my seat. “In jail?”

I grin. “Well, that’s what happened to some of the kids I knew. On the other hand, some of them ended up in government. Almost as bad. But don’t go to school telling your friends they’re going to jail. I don’t need a call from the principal.”

Laughing, he says, “So. I should just worry about what the adults think of me.”

“More or less,” I agree. “Be kind to all your classmates, and if they accuse you of something, just ignore it. Make your teacher happy. You’ll get into less trouble. And seriously, a teacher might even give you a job reference someday.”

He hops down and opens the driver door, squinting up at me. “No kidding?”

“No kidding,” I say, as he climbs up next to me. “In fact, I saw my tenth grade Biology teacher just last month. She told me she remembered a science fiction story I wrote. That was over twenty years ago. You never knew what someone might remember; make sure it’s good.”

He hugs me. “I’m glad we talked about it. Can I put my fingers in my ears and say, ‘I can’t heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeear youuuuuuuu’ when they bother me?”

I grimace. “No, please don’t.”

“I’ll try to do more ignoring. But I’m not very good at it.” He shrugs.

“Yeah,” I say. “Sometimes I have a hard time ignoring people, too. You know, when they found out we were adopting, some people told us not to do it. What do you think we did?”

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Photo Credit: Luca Prasso

“You ignored them,” he crows. “Good thing, too. Huh, mama?”

Yep. Good thing.


 

So. How was your day?

 

 

Preventing Adoption Disruption, Part 2

Continued from Part 1

  • Keep Sibling Groups Intact

In general, keeping sibling groups together helps prevent disruption, although there are a few exceptions.

According to Adoptuskids.org‘s fact sheet about sibling groups, children placed separately are at higher risk of emotional problems; siblings placed together are less of a disruption risk.

One study listed in James Rosenthal’s paper followed 47 children placed as part of sibling groups. None disrupted.

  • Be Reasonable in Your Expectations

Forget the Brady Bunch, June and Ward Cleaver, and Andy Griffith. Think CSI, NCIS, Law and Order.

There IS no perfect family. Adoptive situations tend to magnify imperfection. Everyone is stressed. After the honeymoon phase (six months if you’re lucky…three days if you’re us), kids with trauma are black holes waiting to implode, behaviorally speaking.

The most sobering finding in this study* concerned the prevalence of behavioral problems…Children often experienced behavioral problems many years after placement.

Therefore, parents adopting a child with behavioral problems should anticipate the possibility of continued problems rather than a marked decline following an initial adjustment to the home.

Behavioral problems are the single largest source of stress for families who adopt older and special needs children

James A. Rosenthal, Outcomes of Adoption of Children with Special Needs (Emphasis mine.)

*Rosenthal, J.A., and Groze, V.K. Special-needs adoption: A follow-up study of intact families. New York: Praeger, 1992

Get ALL the information ahead of time. Request pre-adoption education beyond just the home study process. We got a taste of possible issues during that 10-week course, but in-depth classes, suggested/required reading material and workshops about RAD, mental illness, behavior and PTSD would have been invaluable. Demand copies of all paperwork (medical, info regarding previous placements, etc.) BEFORE the adoption is finalized.

Our social worker balked at sharing background information because she didn’t believe we would “last;” therefore, she kept vital information from us regarding behavior, number of placements, nature of reasons for removal from foster families, etc. I was fairly certain our kids required occupational and speech therapy, but the social worker blew us off. When I received the full file, I found that another foster parent had the kids evaluated but never followed through. Had we known, we could have started therapy much sooner.

  • Find an Advocate

If your social worker isn’t supportive, request someone new. Our first worker left us feeling inadequate and ill-prepared. The second worker helped us finalize adoption less than six months after she took our case.

Advocates don’t have to be social workers. A family at our church became one of our greatest supports. We barely knew them when the kids arrived. The husband is a now-grown adopted child; he had a greater understanding for our situation than most people. He and his wife continue to show our family kindness at times when we need it most.

An ally in your corner is essential.

(Rosenthal’s study) found that social workers’ ratings of parents’ capacities were highly predictive of an adoption’s outcome.

If they had doubts about parents’ ability to deal with an emotionally nonresponsive child, the adoption was more likely to disrupt.

Practice Notes, Vol. 21

  • Plan for Respite Care

Respite care is time (hours, days) away from the children. This is not negotiable. You must have time to yourself. Yes, this is one of the “two most important” points.

We all want to be Superparent. None of us is. Take time away from the kids, for everyone’s sake. A few hours to recharge or even to grocery shop without hearing “Can we get this? Or this? Or this? Are you buying this? Why? Are you getting that? Why not?” can give a whole new perspective.

Finding group support is another great way to recharge. An agency near us provides once-a-month support services. Parents meet in one room; activities keep the kiddos busy in a separate location.

Put respite care and childcare into place before adopting. For single parents, create a “tag team” support system. – –MN Adopt Fact Sheet

Another adoptive mom and I occasionally “trade” kids. It gives her adopted son a chance to shine, as he’s on his best behavior outside their home. For parents of RAD kids, chances to encourage their children can be few and far between. I make sure to praise him in front of her at drop-off, which gives her the opportunity to give him positive feedback. It’s good for everyone.

Parenting traumatized children can be traumatizing.  So we need to work on our own “stuff”.  This means finding (and doing) what sustains and heals us. This can/should include seeking your own therapy; finding times to retreat/get away from your family and stressors; exercise and healthy living; doing something just for fun; connecting with your partner and friends.  Many of us may view this is selfish or a waste of time.  But remember that you are the greatest catalyst for your child’s healing.  That means that your child and your family need YOU to be strong, energized, healthy.  You can’t give more than you have — so replenishing, refreshing, and regulating yourself needs to be a top priority.

Attachment & Trauma Clinic, Therapeutic Parenting

  • Don’t Give Up

This final point is most important. So many others have counted these kids out. Some days are hard. Some weeks are difficult. Some years are exhausting. With determination, though, we have seen improvement. It’s a roller-coaster, for sure, but hang in there. Nothing worth having comes easily.

Finally, have you or your system given up on any children? Given up on finding a permanent home? In other words, how many alternative planned permanent living arrangements are you overseeing? Are you absolutely sure that the young person doesn’t know anyone that he or she wants to develop a close caring relationship with? Have you asked them lately? Are you sure there aren’t adults who have known or know the young person that would not be willing to develop or strengthen a caring relationship with the young person? Have you asked them lately?

David Sanders, Casey Family Services, delivering plenary address at the Third National Judicial Leadership Summit in Austin, Texas. (Emphasis mine.) 

Your turn!  I’d love to hear your ideas for eliminating disruption. Add your voice below.

How to Stay Married for 15 Years…Part Last

Continued from Part 2

  • Find a Mentor, be a Mentor

As I mentioned in Part 2, a more experienced couple came alongside us during a difficult time in our marriage. They recognized our struggle, having experienced dark times of their own. Without them, we might not be together now. (And insanely happy, I might add.)

In the last few years, we’ve been able to “pay it forward” by helping several other young couples through difficulties. We don’t spout wisdom or platitudes. We don’t give advice unless it’s welcomed. You might be surprised, though, how often people just want to know they’re not alone.

Reach out. You’re not alone. 

  • Do EVERYTHING Together

I’m totally kidding. Mutual hobbies are fun, as is time snuggling up for a movie, but everyone needs a little time to themselves.

When we were first married, I used to hang out with Hubby’s car-restoration buddies. I migrated from sitting on a greasy office chair in a big garage, to reading in the friend’s house and finally to waving goodbye as he headed off for some guy time.

Don’t get me wrong; we love to be together, but he needs time with the guys and I need time with the girls. We each need time alone without kids.

This weekend, Hubby took the kids to an event by himself because I was invited to a friend’s house. Another weekend, I took the kids to my aunt’s house.

Plan time for what YOU love. You’ll enjoy “together” time even more. 

  • Do the Taxes

Do you remember Full House?

In my favorite episode, toddler Michelle is upset because her best buddy, Uncle Jesse, wants to spend more time with his new wife. When Michelle asks her Uncle Joey why Uncle Jesse and Aunt Becky are unavailable, Joey says the newlyweds are doing their taxes.

Michelle asks, “Will they be doing taxes every night?”

Joey answers, “For the first couple of months…”

Several of the cards we received at our wedding referenced “doing taxes.” I love our friends.

Intimacy—in all its forms—is crucial for marriage survival. This article on ForeverFamilies should be required reading. (Read it.) Physical intimacy—SEX—(oh my gosh she said that) within marriage is important.

And yes, I said within marriage. Sure, the “fun” doesn’t disappear if you don’t have a ring on your finger, but the absolute trust and bonding that should happen is missing. Can you really give yourself completely to someone if they might walk away tomorrow? Great sex makes a healthy, happy marriage healthier, happier and more fulfilling. And it’s fun.

If you’re not regularly “doing taxes”…try it. Trust me. 

  • Guard Your Health

Taking care of ourselves while we have some ability to sway the balance in our favor is paramount. Of course, we don’t have real control over what happens in the end.

My uncle, in his 80’s, told me,

If I’d had any idea I’d live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.

In early marriage, we were in pretty good shape. In 2005, a doctor informed me I have Lupus. I freaked out for a while, took medication as prescribed, wore SPFLatexPaint and stayed out of the sun.

Our jobs required more time. Eating habits suffered. Gym time became obsolete. We both gained weight, a little at a time. The kids came to live with us and suddenly we ate more fast food in a month than we’d eaten in previous whole years. Pounds of candy and chocolate appeared for the children at every holiday, and we helped them eat it.

Then we had a bit of a scare as Hubby was diagnosed with Diabetes. In the last two weeks we’ve done everything we have been “planning to do” for the last several years…eat right, join (and go to) a gym, get better sleep.

We feel better, smile more and feel less stressed.

Don’t wait until you have a reason. Take care of yourself NOW.

  • Don’t Die

Sort of a no-brainer, I know.

We’ve had a couple near-death scares this year. First, our unintentional stunt-driving incident.

The last two years, we’ve remodeled most of the house; taking out walls, repairing bathrooms and completely restoring the kitchen. Most of these tasks were precipitated by leaks. The previous owner—let’s just say he made some…mistakes…while building the house. Like using less-than-stellar pipe connectors. And wiring the house in unexpected ways.

The second near-death scare happened last week. Hubby turned off the appropriate breakers to install new receptacles in the kitchen, bringing us to project completion. I turned away for a moment.

*FLASH* *POW*

The kitchen exploded in light and noise. I turned back to see Hubby, fingers blackened, holding the receptacle piece and panting.

Also, he was grinning. What a weirdo.

“Did you see that? I almost DIED!” he laughed.

I was not amused. If I ever see the previous owner again, I will kick him where it hurts. The receptacle was wired into another breaker marked for upstairs.

We start getting the diabetes under control, and he gets electrocuted. Super.

So yes, this may seem elementary, but here’s my final piece of advice: if you want to stay married for 15 years, try not to die. 

If you missed the earlier advice, you can find it here: Part 1 and Part 2.

Ok, your turn! Give us the best advice you’ve got.

 

How to Stay Married for 15 Years…Part 2

Continued from Part 1

  • Don’t Speak

Needless to say, we broke up.

Seven years later, I saw him. We chatted (in real life, not online) for a few minutes and exchanged addresses. I was attending college out of state. For two years, we made casual connection via letters (yes, on paper, written in pen). I tried to explain what I’d meant, all those years ago. He said I did a better job this time.

We were both dating other people.

Life happened. We lost contact again.

During that time, our respective relationships ended. I decided not to date anyone seriously for a year; at the end of the year, I prayed.

“God, if you could send me someone exactly like him, but a Christian…that would be perfect.”

God did one better.

Him.

A year later, we were dating, doing our best to follow God. Together.

 

  • Speak

I wanted to marry him when I was thirteen. I wanted to marry him nine years later. When he asked me, on Christmas Day, I couldn’t speak.

We’d discussed engagement and even picked out a ring but he fooled me. “Let’s wait to get engaged until you finish your Master’s degree.” Next year.

Then he bought the ring, created an elaborate, beautiful scavenger hunt and asked me to marry him. I was so shocked and overcome, I stood with my mouth open, gasping like a landed bass.

When he’d waited long enough to be concerned, he asked, “Are you going to answer me?” With one word, I gave him my whole heart, forever.

A year later we tied the knot. Jumped the broom. Got hitched. Smashed the glass.

Best. Decision. Ever.

  • Feed Him before Midnight

Learning the rules of cohabitation is one of the most important lessons in marriage. Food guidelines are especially important to communicate.

A mentor during my college days informed me that “healthy dinner together” is key for family togetherness. Research from Cornell University shows she was correct.

Determined to get it right, I cooked elaborate meals upon arriving home each evening.

Two problems:

  1. we both worked long hours (7 pm or after) and
  2. Hubby had hypoglycemia; he needed to eat frequently to maintain sugar levels.

We rarely dined before 8:30 pm, and often ate much later. When Hubby breezed through the door around 7 pm and made himself a PB&J, I took offense. My homemade chunky pasta sauce wasn’t worth the wait?

Hindsight, and all that. I should have prepped meals to pop in the microwave, enabling us to eat earlier.

As it was, we had a daily tiff about the sandwich because I saw it as a personal affront to my culinary skills. He just needed to eat something. Anything. For a while, he acquiesced to my inane request and waited for dinner. During which time I made the acquaintance of Mr. Hyde (also known as Hungry Hubby).

Have you seen the candy bar commercials “for when you’re hangry” (angry because hungry)? It’s a thing.

I learned we could both be happier if I had a PB&J waiting for him. We still ate dinner together. Win-win.

 

  • Don’t Fight

Argument. Screaming match. Fight. Spat. Tiff. Row. Scrap. Knock-down-and-drag-out. Rumpus. Squabble. Brannigan.

Doesn’t really matter what you call it. Our first years were peppered with provocation. We both grew up in…vocally demonstrative…families. Angry? Yell. Mad? Yell. Annoyed? Yell.

The greater our passion surrounding a topic, the higher the decibel level.

I once heard a preacher say, “Church is the only place people shoot their own wounded.” He was wrong.

In the art of war, Hubby and I were Picasso and Van Gogh. We tossed barbed words, insinuations, blame and comparisons like grenades. We wounded each other with abandon.

Sometime around year five (during a lull in the storm), Hubby asked, “Have you ever noticed? We only yell about stupid stuff we blow out of proportion. If an issue is important, we work together to solve the problem.” He suggested we decide to stop screaming. We agreed.

Other than a stint in year seven when we were both acting like idiots (and I’ll admit freely that I was being the bigger idiot), we’ve managed to uphold our arrangement.

One of my proudest moments: last year, a counselor asked our children how they feel when “mom and dad have a big fight.” The kids looked at each other, confused, then said, “Daddy and Mama don’t fight.”

With a condescending grin, the counselor said, “Sure. So…how do you feel when they yell at each other?” The kids shook their heads.

“When they argue,” he tried.

“Daddy and Mama just work together on everything. They never fight,” the kids told him.

Since then, we’ve had a couple arguments (mostly stemming from occasional hormone fluctuations during which time I may become…unreasonable), but overall, we hold to our agreement.

Feel free to steal this idea; eliminating fights is great for the blood pressure.

  • Fight

As I mentioned above, Year 7 was not our best.

We almost broke up for good. Hubby had a bag packed in the trunk of his car. We discussed logistics. He said I could keep the house. I said I’d probably move out of state. We thought we had no options.

It’s easy to feel alone in the midst of a struggle. Even more so when it involves marriage; you’re separated from the person who should be your best friend.

If you’re smart, you don’t involve mutual friends, family members or work colleagues (they’ll take sides, hold lifelong grudges and give bad advice since they have no vested interest, respectively). That means, though, that you experience solitude in the grief.

Thankfully, a slightly older couple befriended us with the intent to mentor us. They could see our struggles; they’d been in similar straits and recognized the signs. Thanks to their care and committed support, we survived.

Help came from two other odd sources:

  1. Recognizing that a large percentage of our troubles stemmed from my issues, I went to a counselor who looked and sounded like Elmer Fudd, but everything he said made sense. 
  2. Our good buddy freaked out, telling Hubby, “You can’t leave. You’re the only normal married people I know!”

Fight, but not each other.

Another friend told us to be like mules.

“When horses are threatened, they freak out and run around, accidentally kicking each other. Predators can take them down. Mules put their heads together and kick out at the danger. Keep your heads together. Your spouse is not the enemy.”

Here’s what we learned: Love is a choice, not a feeling. Fight for your relationship. Anything worth having comes at a price. We fought—against our own selfishness and desire for an easy out—and won.

If you’re thinking about divorce, this guy has some good advice.

Fight FOR each other.

Continued…

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