Luckily, today was an in-home-counselor day for the girl, so she had several hours to explore the situation with her therapist. After dinner, the counselor suggested my daughter could share with me what they’d discussed.
She was obviously uncomfortable, so we pulled out a game of Uno and talked while we played. I always try to remain level-headed and objective when she talks about how she sees the world, but sometimes…
My daughter shared that she is jealous of her brother because he gets all the attention and she feels she is entitled to more of the attention because she is older. As the therapist helped her share her feelings (she provokes her brother to get him in trouble because she is jealous of him), it became evident that she’d colored a picture of herself as neglected and ignored, while Hubby and I showered our son with attention.
Photo by Adam Koford
First off, he’s been in hot water for the last several weeks due to trouble at school and ongoing infractions at home. The attention he’s getting is the kind I’m sure he’d prefer to skip.
Second, while he’s had early bedtime almost every night in the last three weeks, she’s had Hubby and me to herself for almost an hour every night. We ask her what she’d like to do and the answer is always, “Watch Girl Meets World.”
I shared this information with the counselor, then advised my girl, “if you’d prefer to play a game or just talk after your brother goes to bed, Daddy and I would be happy to do that. We only watch TV because that’s what you’ve been saying you’d like to do.”
She backpedaled quickly. “No, no, it’s okay, I like Girl Meets World. We can still watch.”
“So…” I say, “in what way do we give your brother more attention?”
She couldn’t answer.
“I think you’re right; he’s definitely had a lot of attention the last few weeks; we can start giving you the same attention. We’ll put you to bed early and make sure to get on your case as soon as you step a hair out of line.” (We’ve been on that boy like grease on a teen’s face: everywhere and all day long.)
And then I went for it.
“Let me tell you about one of my earliest memories. I was probably about two and a half, and my parents had some friends over for dinner. They put me to bed and went to the living room to play games or talk or whatever it was that adults did before HD cable.
I woke up maybe an hour later to hear them all laughing. I hopped out of bed and wandered into the living room to see my mother bouncing
my baby brother
on her knee. He was grinning and drooling all over his blue onesie. I couldn’t believe it. Obviously I was older. Why should HE get to stay up later than I did? I didn’t even drool.
Of course, I didn’t realize that babies need to eat every few hours. He probably woke up and needed a diaper change or something, then feeding, then had to be jostled back to sleep.
they had the nerve to put me
BACK TO BED.
I stayed mad at that drooly little bugger for years. He ruined my fun, got all the attention and nobody put him back to bed early.
All because I didn’t understand the way the world truly works…or that babies can’t wait.
So, here’s what I think. You’re mad at your brother for showing up and ruining your fun.”
Her face stretched in shock. “How could you KNOW that?!?”
“Because I was a 12 year old girl with a younger brother. And also, when you arrived, you told me some stories about things you enjoyed with your birth family.”
She wrinkled her nose. “I don’t remember.”
“Well, you might not have the memory anymore, but you certainly had it when you got here.”
“Sometimes little kids just make stuff up and think they remembered it,” she shrugged.
“Based on the amount of anger you had about it, I don’t think so. I think you are really angry at him and you take it out on him, but it’s not even real. He doesn’t ruin your fun and he doesn’t take your attention. You get just as much and maybe more attention. What’s making you so angry?”
She frowned. “My feelings.”
“Nope. Remember, Counselor Bob talked with you about how your thoughts create feelings and feelings create actions. You THINK you’re getting less than your brother. You THINK you deserve more because you’re the oldest. You THINK Daddy and I are being unfair. Are those thoughts true?”
Shrugging again, she said, “Maybe not.”
“I guarantee you, they’re not true thoughts. Another way to say that is
So what do you need to change so that your feelings will be different?”
I can tell she’s getting it. Reluctant, she sighs, “my…thoughts.”
We finish the game of UNO as she dissolves into hysterical giggles, throwing herself around and almost banging her face on the table’s edge several times. I admonish her to be careful, worried she might end up with a bloody nose. The therapist looks at me, eyes questioning.
“This is what we get when she has to discuss something uncomfortable.”
Or when her worldview lens gets cracked yet again.
One of these days, she’ll knock that spiderwebbed lens right out and see the world the way it really is.
I just know it.
(Photo: Steven Depolo)
This last year with our girl has been H-E-double hockey sticks (or any other L-shaped item). Some is normal kid stuff. Times four thousand. I’m pretty sure some of it is hormones; after all, she’s turning eleven. She is becoming a lady. Or, rather, a LAADI, which involves the following:
- Awful Attitude
- Disobeying Intentionally
Annnnnnd, she hates me.
Actually, we all (parents and counselors) know that she harbors an incredibly deep anger toward her birth mom. The spite and hurt are plain in her actions and her eyes. Her oppositional behavior has been escalating. She ignores or does the exact opposite of almost anything I say. She finds underhanded ways to prod her brother into a meltdown. She feels better when he is the “bad one” and she is the “good one,” which is how she sees their places in her world.
She says she enjoys the feeling of “sneaking” or deceiving us. Admits with abandon that she does her two daily chores (filling the dog’s water bowl and cleaning dishes) “in a slow or wrong way” on purpose. And the dishes…I mean, we have a dishwasher. It’s not like she’s scrubbing pots.
This year has been American Water Torture (since we’re in America, that seemed like a more appropriate title). Not waterboarding. I’m talking about that drip-drip-drip landing on the forehead. The insanity of waiting for the next drip to drop. Some of the issues are very small, but they are CONSTANT. I’m exhausted and irritated.
On vacation, the kids—who usually get along pretty well—fought every morning. On the third morning, Hubby and I realized we could solve this. “You stay in your room until we come get you.” Morning four, I woke before seven a.m. and didn’t release the hounds until after 9 a.m. Two hours of blessed peace. It was amazing.
Until then, I was unaware how much I needed a break. I gained new perspective. Our girl has been getting incredible amounts of attention for her shenanigans. We talk to her, try to reason with her, try to dig out the impetus for her behavior. And sometimes we yell, like when the dog’s water dish is empty and it’s 97 degrees outside. Not proud of it, but hey, I try to be real.
Here’s the epiphany I reached while walking on the beach. (Alone. Ahhh.) She will continue to make these choices as long as she perceives some benefit (attention).
Hubby and I discussed. Here’s what we told the kids:
- You are 9 and almost 11. It’s time for you to be more responsible.
- We should not have to ask you whether you washed your hands (with soap), brushed (with toothpaste) or are wearing underwear. We also should not have to stand over you OR go behind you OR encourage you during your chores.
- A responsible 9 or 11 year old deserves a later bedtime.
- 4 year olds require someone to watch them every minute and tell them what to do next.
- 4 year olds get an early bedtime. Really early.
- You decide (via your actions) whether you are 9, 11 or 4. Once you make that decision, your bedtime that day will be adjusted accordingly.
- If you act like a responsible 15 year old, you will get a responsible 15 year old’s bedtime and possibly some privileges (not including learning to drive) on non-school nights.
Our son took this to heart and has been doing things like holding the driver door open for me, making sure my feet are in, then closing the door. We just returned from vacation, so we all had extra chores yesterday to get the house back in order. He did his in record time.
Our daughter has not, thus far, decided to act like a 9, 11 or 15 year old. Luckily for her, we had to be somewhere last night and tonight which means she hasn’t suffered the bedtime, but tomorrow night we have nowhere to go, so…
This morning, en route to the counselor’s office, I felt like smashing my head against the steering wheel. Many times. I just want her to be a happy and successful kid. It’s a team effort, and she’s NOT PARTICIPATING.
During vacation, Hubby tried to help her grasp the idea of “thinking of others.” It didn’t go well.
“I think of others all the time. I think about whether they’ll like my shirt, or whether they’re going to talk to me, or…” She just didn’t get it. After several tries, he suggested that she make a list of the ways she knew I thought of her and cared for her. She actually came up with a decent list, which encouraged me. It’s progress. Then he asked her to make a list of the ways she shows her care for me.
He then asked for a list of the ways she shows the opposite of care. “I lie to Mama. I do the opposite of what she says. I’m rude to her. I do chores in a bad way so she’ll do them over.” (That last, for the record, does not happen. She’s hoping.)
The list kept growing. I’m glad she acknowledges the issues, but it also concerns me that most of this is conscious. There were a couple people who experienced my pre-teen rebellion, but it was rarely directed at my mom. In my pre-teen hormone frenzy, I probably didn’t always treat her right, but it was generally not intentional…she fed me (her chicken tetrazzini, probably misspelled, was AHHHmazing). I knew better than to bite that hand.
So, back to the counselor’s office. On arrival, she was out of sorts before we entered the building. She realized the conversation that was about to happen. (I was hoping the counselor would leave me in the waiting room to read blogs on my phone, but no dice.)
We settled onto the cliche—I mean, the couch. The counselor prodded, our girl evaded. I mentioned she’d been asking about her birth parents over the last few days. Suddenly, she said, “Well, the reason I’ve been disobedient is because I keep thinking about my birth parents and then I get angry and then I don’t want to do anything so I take it out on Mama and Daddy.”
So, tonight our in-home counselor suggested that in addition to ADHD, possibly our girl is a little OCD.
I said, “Maybe so. Or maybe she’s P-O-S-S-E-S-S-E-D.”
I was joking.
The counselor nodded seriously. “You might be right.”
“What?” I choked.
“Oh, I think you’re totally on the right track. She definitely is.”
“Are you kidding?” I asked.
She narrowed her eyes at me. “What, you don’t agree?”
“Um, I was sort of kidding.”
“I’m not. She’s totally pissed off,” she said. “You don’t think so?”
I laughed. “No, you’re totally correct, but that’s not what I spelled.”
Glad we cleared that up.
Image from RVANews
This morning, I bit my tongue. Hard.
Well, at least figuratively.
The last few months have been okay, but there’s been an overarching feel of something I just couldn’t quite identify. Thanks to another blogger, I’ve finally got it.
Thank you, Sandy. (There’s the link to her blog.)
APATHY. (And taking a page from one of my favorite bloggers, I give you my Song of the Day.)
It’s been difficult to get our daughter to accomplish anything, especially the last few weeks. Unless I stand over her, chores take forever. Three days to clean her room (which wasn’t that bad to begin with). Four hours to put away laundry (granted, she needed to hang up quite a few items, but it should have taken half an hour). Requests to perform simple tasks bring grumbling and eye rolls. She does the bare minimum in her school work and her handwriting has tanked.
It’s difficult to teach cause-and-effect to a child who lived in foster care. Taking away electronics, toys, TV time, etc., for infractions has very little effect. When you grow up with nothing, you get used to it. Early bedtime is mildly annoying. I can almost read her mind. “It’s not like you’re locking me in an empty room. You people leave the door open, lights on and answer me if I say good night six times. Whatever.”
Part of the problem is that she gets more attention if she doesn’t do her chores. Well, chore.
We used to alternate weeks; one week, she fed and watered the dogs, then our son took it for a week. We noticed a pattern. On his weeks, the dogs were fed and watered. He was consistent. On her weeks, she was also consistent–in NOT filling the water buckets or food dishes. We had to remind her, and unless we stood next to her, the dogs’ water access was not guaranteed. Last spring, in an attempt to motivate her, I told her that watering the dogs would be her chore until she did it on her own, with no prompting, for one week. She’s still watering the dogs…some days. If we don’t prod her, she doesn’t do it. (My husband or I have been giving the dogs water without her knowledge–no need to turn us in to PETA.)
Finally, we got frustrated enough to mention it to the kids’ counselor. She was shocked that a) we’d allow this to be an ongoing problem and b) filling the water bucket is our girl’s only consistent chore. She explained that the issue was either with us or with the dogs, then asked our girl whether she would give the dogs water if they could speak and ask for it. “Definitely!”
“If you would give the dogs water if they ask, but won’t do it when your parents ask, then you don’t want to listen to your parents. Why?”
The counselor didn’t back down. I love this woman.
Our girl finally said she didn’t have a reason not to listen. Combined with the other behaviors we’ve been seeing, this added up to one thing: control. The counselor announced, “You’re trying to control everyone. Here’s the thing. Do you pay any bills?” Our girl shook her head. “Do you buy the food?” Another shake. “Do you clean the whole house, do the laundry, buy gas for the cars or cut the lawn?” Multiple shakes. “Right. If you don’t do any of the big responsibilities, you don’t get to control any of the big stuff. When you grow up and pay the bills, THEN you get to decide whether you do a chore. For now, you do what you’re told. When you drive your own car, THEN you decide if you want to show up on time. For now, you’re not allowed to make everyone late. Your parents tell you what to do, and you do it. Got it?”
I wanted to kiss her, but that might have been weird.
The counselor also told our girl that it is ridiculous, first, that she has only one daily chore, and second, that it’s not getting done. She’s aware of the RAD, so made it clear: “This isn’t coming from them. This is coming from ME. You are going to get more chores, and you’re going to do them. You’re going to do your best in school. You’re going to work hard to follow directions. You don’t get to do fun things unless you do your part. Understood?” Affirmative nod.
Things have been better in the last two days since the chat. Yesterday, both kids were late getting ready for school (which equals earlier bedtime), but I told them they could earn some of the later bedtime back by behaving at school. Both kids piled into the truck that afternoon with cries of, “I was good at school today!” and I realized we might be going about this backwards. What the counselor said to us finally became clear– we give them everything, then take it away when they don’t behave. We need to start out with nothing, then reward the good behavior. This is especially true for the girl, who thrives on attention (any kind).
We’re not going to assume Friday is Movie&Pizza Night. Friday night is Nothing Night, until they earn a movie and pizza by doing their part. Bedtime is now an hour earlier than usual, but they can earn a later bedtime as they move through their day.
Ready to leave by 8:15? Stay up ten minutes later. Ready to leave by 8? Twenty minutes later. Didn’t use your strategies to check work before turning in your math and got a D? No minutes. Teacher confirms that although you have a D, you used some of your strategies? Ten minutes. You would have had a D, but used your strategies and found mistakes, bringing it to a C? Twenty. Had a fair day at school, with no major issues? Ten minutes. Your day was stellar? You get twenty for that. Got a note home from the teacher about how amazing you were at school? Bedtime is thirty minutes later!
Our son will be finding ways to stay up until midnight.
The girl is definitely not happy about the changes we’ve already put in place.
This morning, I told her that her new daily chore is to empty the dishwasher. (Some of you, like me, will roll your eyes a bit…we didn’t even HAVE dishwashers, right?) She turned from me to face the wall, arms folded, and grouched, “I never thought my life would be this…” she trailed off, and I chuckled, walking around to see her face. “What, hard?” She nodded slightly and turned her back on me again. It took all my self-control not to laugh out loud.
(Insert bitten tongue here.)
I have seen poverty first-hand. Know the types of things some of my friends have had to endure to survive. Experienced, for short times, the devastation of developing countries. Calling her life “hard”…I have no words for the explosion of incredulity that happened in my head.
Yes, these children had a very tough beginning. Understood hopelessness, experienced an American level of poverty, lived through neglect. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not minimizing that.
But the last four years, they have lived a charmed life. We go on amazing vacations, including a trip to Disney World, a place most kids can only dream of visiting. They attend a wonderful school with teachers who actually care–and put up with their nutty behavior because they understand the underlying issues. Each has a (huge) bedroom, a closet full of really nice clothes, tons of toys, and pets. We provide everything they need and most of what they want. During the school year, we’ve allowed school to be “their job.” They do occasional chores, but for the most part, they leave messes for others to clean up (which I’ve done; yes, I know, I’m part of the problem).
As usual, blogging leads me back to the root of the problem: me. My own apathy. I’ve been letting it happen, because it’s just easier than fighting. But the winds, they are a-changin’…and they’re not bringing Mary Poppins.
And honey, when you’re 13, we’re heading to Cité Soleil, Haiti or Korogocho, Kenya, so you can see “hard” with your own eyes.
Apathy no more, baby.