Finding Hope

Parenting Challenging Children

Maybe It’s Not More Limits but More Safety

Posted By on January 11, 2014

“Limit setting has much to do with normal development conceived in terms of ego skills including frustration tolerance, delay of gratification, and impulse control” (A Freud). Awesome, right? That’s exactly what we want for our children that struggle with intense emotional dysregulation. So, especially for our older children, let’s add more limits. The problem is that normal development was derailed.

“Moral development depends on a sufficient amount of early attachment experiences that provide an enduring sense of safety” (Sandler)

Normal healthy development takes a predictable pattern where early childhood experiences find the child’s need for love and care being met. When this consistent pattern is in place, a sense of safety is provided. It is in this context of safety that a parent’s need for limit setting can be accommodated by the child and even sought after as child pursues their natural wish to explore their environment with a wish to be safe (Burlingham and Freud).

When children have experiences early in life where their need for love and care were not being met consistently, safety is jeopardized. Traumatized kids don’t look like they have wish to be safe. They often engage in high risk behaviors that are fueled by the fact that they don’t think someone else can provide them safety. And yet, often when we are looking to improve a child’s behaviors or help their moral development we are thinking in terms of limits instead of safety. However, when a child that has missed out on the crucial developmental milestone of trusting their needs to be met, will find it difficult, if not impossible to use those limits to improve their ego skills. I believe a sense of safety must be securely in place before a child will see those limits as a way to tolerate frustration, learn to delay gratification or help them with their impulse control. Again, these are all the things we need them to acquire to help them regulate their emotions.I think it’s intuitive with an older child to set limits, have rules, expectations, incorporate rewards and consequences but those that have raised children that suffer from early childhood trauma knows how frustrating this part of parenting can be, as the children don’t respond in a developmentally typical pattern. Just because a child, or even an adult, missed important developmental milestones, doesn’t mean they can be skipped or suddenly expected to work backwards. Certainly raising an older child, one is confronted with a more difficult task of creating a safe environment while recognizing appropriate limits.

My caution is simply this: it is often easier to just want to take care of the behavior rather than provide a enduring sense of safety. A feeling of security and safety must be established before we can expect a child to respond developmentally appropriately to limits and strengthen their moral development. This can take years. It’s also why early intervention is key and why we often make our children’s world so small (think infancy). Each time we put them in a situation they can’t handle, it compromises their feelings of safety. Once again, I am not saying limits are not needed, I am just suggesting that next time in a moment of frustration you want to impose more limits consider their need to feel safe. This is more than physical, it’s a psychological sense of safety that builds trust.

“Reading the Signs When Things Are Falling Apart”~brave girls club

Posted By on November 23, 2013

2-please-be-gentleWhy does this seem hardest with the people I love the most?

Sometimes it’s hard to ask for what we need or explain what we are feeling~it would be so nice if we walked around with signs instead of communicating through confusing behaviors. Sometimes things are not what they seem.

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It would be so nice if we were more gentle with each other, recognizing that we are doing our best.  But, I get impatient. I get hurt. I get demanding. I get frustrated. I suppose my best can look different every day but your’s can’t. I can see how I am at times unfair and terribly judgmental. It’s given me some things to focus and work on.

For one month I am going to try to look at each person I interact with as if they have this sign hanging around their neck. I’m going to see how it changes me.

Miracles

Posted By on October 21, 2013

In October 2011 we dropped off this very scared little girl who sought no comfort from the adults around her….

v1v2Her heart was numb

while my heart was breaking.

 

In October 2013, I picked up this young woman to bring her home. For Good.

Our hearts were tentative but vulnerable and brave and loving. Miracle for both of us.

 

DSC00272At 11 years old when we dropped V off, she

wore size 6 jeans. When I brought her home at 13, she is wearing 14/16. Miracle.

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V is more regulated, focused, motivated and sensitive than I have ever experienced. And so

am I. Miracle.

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And without much practice, I can nearly do a perfect braid. Miracle.

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So although I don’t know what tomorrow will bring and neither does she, we are

both learning to live in the present and enjoy the journey.

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The transition home, while only a week, has been remarkable. Miracle.

“I’ll Be Going To College Soon”

Posted By on October 9, 2013

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The last Skype therapy session I had w/V focused mostly on her coming home and what that would look like in reality and not her fantasy expectations. It was a hard conversation but necessary in understanding how we were going to work together to make this successful. As we were wrapping up V’s final thought was, “Well, I will be leaving for college in a few years.”

I was shocked into silence. I thought, “Here we are talking about coming home and she’s already thinking about leaving again. In six years.” I was a little angry. And then a few days later I was talking to Jay about how we were going to manage having V back home and the conversation went to sending her to summer school and considering boarding schools. I was doing the exact same thing, just not in her face.

I think it’s a testament to how hard this transition feels for all of us already. We haven’t even been together, the plane for this journey hasn’t taken off and we are all thinking about the emergency exits. And I think that’s fair. We were all in a situation where we didn’t feel safe for a lot of years. I just hope my perspective can focus more on the horizon and less on the illuminated lights leading to the nearest emergency exit.

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I am. I know. I hope. Part II

Posted By on October 5, 2013

“Seven years ago I took my daughter out of an institution but the institution didn’t leave her. I am racked with torment visiting facilities that will once again put her in a place where no family exist.”

I wrote this two years ago while V sat in a psychiatric hospital. It was a very lonely and painful endeavor.

V will be coming home for good in 7 days.

I’m not very excited.

I am scared.

I am worried about how this will impact the boys.

I still am still sad and hurt by what I lived through with V.

I am not paralyzed by the uncertainty~I just know it’s not going to be easy.

Victoria didn’t “graduate” from her program. I honestly think she would need to be there for 5 years to address all of her issues. The facility didn’t recommend bringing her home ( they aren’t paying for it) but I knew it was time. I don’t know if it’s going to work but I do know she needs the opportunity to make relationships in her family work, grow spiritually and develop morally. These are three things that can really only be accomplished best in the walls of our home. The same walls that witnessed things no family should have to endure. What no little girl should ever have to experience.

But underneath all of this trepidation is a hope that has never ever left me. Not even on the nights when I sobbed in my bed as I hung on for the light to come, whether it was the sunrise or God’s presence. The things is, as I have walked this road, I can’t deny the presence of a Heavenly Father who has never forsaken me. I wish everyone could know of and experience Heavenly Father’s guidance, love and comfort. And a continuous hope from His Son.

V wasn’t the only one learning and changing over the past two years.

I have learned that inducing shame cannot ever provide lasting change and only brings momentary compliance.

I know that building relationships is not about perfection but forgiveness.

I know that we all have an innate need to feel connected and we often struggle to feel it, ask for it to be met or trust it.

I know not to get caught up in the content and focus on the emotions.

I know I will need a lot of support and have been blessed with family and friends who have been devoted and unfailing in their service.

I know that support will allow me nurture my other relationships in my family and not get sacrificed by V.

This isn’t all that I’ve learned but it’s all I can come up with tonight.

I am as excited to share the rest of this journey with you as I have been the last five or six years.

I’ve hired her former aide to home school V for as long as she needs. I am in no hurry to transition her into public school. While she is better regulated emotionally, she still struggles with relationships, especially peers. It is still hard work to get her to feel connected but she can get there. Her lack of trust in relationships still makes it hard to ask for her needs but she is working hard on that. She doesn’t rage, pee in random places, or destroy things. She still struggles with lying and feeling remorse. But she is more willing to work through her struggles and accept help from caregivers. So really in spite of my fear, trepidation, worry and sad~there is a part of me that is so hopeful for what is possible. And I know V and I are feeling the exact same things. It isn’t the first time we’ve been mirrors of each other.

I’ve decided to invite V to start blogging here with me and carefully and sensitively let her tell her story. Emotionally she is still very young but she is very smart and insightful. And she wants to tell her story. I’m hoping we will start this weekend.

Welcome to another chapter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hope on. Journey on.

Posted By on August 23, 2013

I feel like this will be my mantra this school year as I have one starting college, high school, middle school, my second year of graduate school and mostly, bringing Victoria home.

There is so much uncertainty in bringing her home…the unknown and the traumatic history want to freeze me in fear.

I feel like I dropped off a two year old and am picking up a five year old that scores in eighth grade math and tenth grade reading. Her high intellect and low emotional maturity continue to cause her to be challenging and perplexing.

The emotional support she will continue to need will be challenging for me. I will not be able to replicate the facility she is in. I don’t want to.

There has been tremendous growth in her and I since she has been gone. That isn’t to say that she doesn’t still have big struggles, she does. However, her ability (and mine) to manage them is so much better. It is this faith, that allows me to hope on.

I’m working on my next blog post which tries to capture what I’ve learned in the past two years. It has far more to do with connection than consequences. And everything to do with relationship, repair and empathy.

 

 

 

As Scared As She Is

Posted By on August 2, 2013

Sometimes, I am as scared as Victoria is when it comes to connection. I have good reason. And so does she.

It isn’t super helpful for her therapist to remind me that I am the adult and I’ve got to take the high road. I would rather she say, “You are the one that has to facilitate repair and connection. How can I help you get there?”

I sometimes get frustrated with myself that I still get annoyed and resentful. I am proud of myself that I don’t stay there. It really is about letting go of expectations, inviting acceptance and practicing empathy. And I’ll just keep going back there until I find myself never leaving.

V was home for almost 2 weeks. It reminded me of how much support she still needs and how I carry most of the burden.

And that scares me.

So what do I do with this fear?

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This isn’t me but I’ve just recently learned the art of sculling. And I have found that it makes me very, very happy. It doesn’t take away V’s struggles but it clears my head. There is something so satisfying doing something for myself, using my body to navigate, feeling peaceful and serene and I can’t help but find God in the details. And those details remind me of his unrelenting grace so that it’s impossible for me not to feel empowered by Him. I can’t explain it but I feel it. I didn’t set out to learn to row as a spiritual experience but it’s become a beautiful benefit. I’m not that great with only five lessons under my bow :)   but that’s not a prerequisite for satisfaction.  And it’s on the Great Salt Lake, hardly the Charles River. And still the salt and brine flies are no deterrent.

So there are so many ways I’ve learned to overcome my fears of disconnection with V which include reducing my shame and finding things that make me genuinely happy. I have no idea how I happened upon this unlikely rowing club on the Great Salt Lake. I just know I need to keep looking for things to help me chase away the fear.

 

Forgiveness Cannot Be Used As A Crass Currency Of Exchange

Posted By on July 21, 2013

I’ve been reading a lot about grace, repentance, forgiveness, justice and mercy. It reminds me of the time in my life where I was reflecting on my need to forgive Victoria. I write about it my book, “Love Lessons”. How could it be that I needed to forgive a five year old? I have since learned and continue to learn that forgiveness has far more to do with me and my ability to love rather than the contingency of an apology that may or may not ever be given. When we refuse to forgive or accept forgiveness, we are choosing to withhold our love. When we fail to love, pride steps in and requires them to earn back our love. That is a steep price for a five year old. That’s a steep price for a fifty-five year old. And a what point do we finally consider them deserving? That is a dangerous judgment to be made by someone that is holding a lot of hurt and resentment. Because what happens, is that to protect ourselves we make it nearly impossible for mercy to be given because justice can never be served. And relationships stay broken.

For me, this has been the most difficult and thus the most rewarding lesson I have learned in my journey with V. It started with her and has been extended to others. The process is still hard because it hurts. But this is what I keep in mind. We are all here wired for connection. Despite our faults, defense mechanisms, fear, anger, and imperfections we want to love and feel loved. Our existence is refining us in relationships. So I know when I begin to feel disconnection in any of my relationships, I have got to figure out a way to maintain closeness. (I am certainly not talking about abusive or dangerous relationships. I’m talking about people that are stuck in a fear of vulnerability). And I can tell you that each time I have risked closeness, there in lies the opportunities for healing. And the possibility of getting hurt. But the hurt doesn’t disable me in anger or fear. I find a way to keep coming back because I trust in her potential, and I need our relationship and want her to be successful. I love her, deeply.

The problem is when their fear scares us, we become paralyzed and the relationship suffers. But I believe that what was broken in a relationship, must be repaired in a relationship. So I have got to be the one that models patience, grace, and empathy and in doing so, V begins to learn, patience, grace and empathy. It is not easy nor quick. I had to find out how to disarm my fear. This was a psychological process that was transforming when I worked with V’s therapist, Max. But it was also an intensely spiritual process where I really began to learn how having a very personal relationship with Christ could transform me in ways I never thought possible. I could see V as He does and know that He could take away my hurt. Not just for an occasional injustice in typical relationships but even for the chronic injustices with V. And I honestly believe, no matter how intentional it looks, V’s deepest desire is to feel love and have connection. It is not to intentionally make my life a living hell and for her misery to keep me company. Something is keeping her stuck there and I have been placed in her life to help her out. It is often a taxing burden and a heavy cost. And yet, how else would change and improvement take place in her or I if it were easy?

I have often said even if V never gets better, I am better because of her. And yet, she is getting better. Happiness has given way to anger. She isn’t destructive or out of control. She is more calm and focused. But she still struggles with relationships and needs a lot of support. And we have decided to bring her home in a few months. I have many worries I’m sure will show up over the next few weeks and months but I also have a lot of faith in my own growth and maintain hope for what is possible. And I know, without a doubt, she will continue to require from me grace, mercy, forgiveness and empathy which allow me to provide her the closeness that she needs to heal.

 

Finding My Way To Help Others On Their’s

Posted By on June 12, 2013

My own evolution in theory and thought is amazing to me. The way that it is all coming together for me is both exciting and scary. The excitement of truly understanding attachment and forming my own conclusions about how healing takes places is so rewarding. I can with forgiveness look back at what I did so wrong but I was so limited in my knowledge and abilities. And at times, even with the knowledge, my ability to do was hindered by my own trauma history.

To cause hurt and attachment injuries, trauma doesn’t have to be a natural disaster. The hurt from trauma is often fueled by shame. A sense of being unworthy, unlovable and insufficient. We don’t walk around proclaiming our shame. We try to hide from it by covering it up by looking really good or really angry. Sometimes we don’t even know where it’s coming from so we blame it on the next best thing in our lives, the people we love.

I’ve seen it in marriages. I’ve seen it in V. I’ve seen it in me.

It isn’t easy loving someone and pulling them in closer when you are getting beat up by their shame. It minimizes, dismisses and looks like it doesn’t care. And if we aren’t secure in our own attachments, we react and feel unwanted. We all have a need to have emotional connections but sometimes, for some, it is so scary. I cannot stress the importance of attunement. There are many different definitions but the most recent one I’ve heard and loved is “going where their emotion is” and really figuring out what is going on with them. Children with deep attachment injuries are so provoking. It is so difficult for parents to go in and help them navigate their emotions. No one prepared me for that. No one taught me how. No one told me that V would rather kill me than let me walk into her vulnerability. But I eventually found out the long hard way, wounding myself in the process.

If we don’t have or are unable to access an attachment figure that is responsive and emotionally engaged we are wired to respond with fear. This fear looks like over-regulating or under-regulating. I simply call it dysregulation. Our kids need us to co-regulate them. We are doing a huge injustice in not preparing parents to walk this thorny path. Our kids cannot heal until a healthy alliance is made, which is creating a safe place. I continue to see parents fighting shame with shame often because the child invites it and we think they deserve it. It is a vicious cycle and no one will ever get better. Proximity to a secure attachment figure tranquilizes our nervous system so it is no longer reactionary or dysregulated. It takes a while for that process to happen so our kids will trust it. But I’m learning how that is done through empathy. We need to know that we are not alone. Physically or emotionally. And so often, in protecting myself, I did both to V. But I simply didn’t have the tools or know what was going on. Isolation is disorganizing and causes one to lose their emotional balance. It never teaches them “a lesson”.

Our kids need a constant reprocessing of their emotions, to help create meaning for them and eventually new responses. They need help understanding why they are doing what their doing. Most of the time, they really can’t tell you. It is so reactionary and impulsive. And to ask a parent that isn’t prepared or supported to simply step into this role and keep showing up while getting beat up emotionally and often physically, is unfair, painful, exhausting and damaging.

I don’t know where my path is leading me but I absolutely know it will include helping, supporting and loving parents so that they can help, support and love their children.

 

 

Shame, Tennis and Me

Posted By on June 7, 2013

I’ve blogged a lot about shame and vulnerability. Mostly V’s but not really me. As I reflected on my book, Love Lessons, I realized when sharing my story, I was sharing some of my shame. It took an incredible amount of vulnerability to share my story, my shame. But I had to. It’s the only way to get rid of it. Which brings me to today and my willingness to be vulnerable here.

resilienceIf I saw this photo, I may quickly judge the person as being prideful but the truth for me is that each one of these trophies is evidence of my resilience to shame. This is just one area of my life where shame won out. When I was growing up with three older brothers, athletics was a dominate theme, just not for me. Although I believed I was every bit as athletic as my brothers, no one else really did. For whatever reasons, I wasn’t given the same opportunities. I didn’t have enough self esteem to take the initiative on my own. This isn’t a post to bash my parents, it’s just how it happened. (Now in saying that my younger sister that came along six years later was given many opportunities that I wasn’t. For many years my shame had a field day with that)

My point is, my own shame has limited my opportunities. Five years ago, I finally decided to go take tennis lessons. And certainly, not to my surprise, with a lot of practice,  I was good at it. But tennis is an incredibly mental game and it’s almost as if my shame thinks it has a free ride. I have lost three singles matches in the past two days. My shame was in rare form: “You are too old to be playing against a 24 year old”, “You just don’t have a competitive edge anymore”, “You just aren’t as good as you used to be”, “You were the runner up in a tournament with two players, that doesn’t mean anything”.

Let me tell you about that blue trophy…I have just gotten back into to playing competitive tennis after being in school the past two summers. I play in a league and I also enter tournaments to challenge myself. I very much enjoy the competition. But I haven’t played much. My shame doesn’t care about that. I entered a tournament this past week. There were only three entries which was highly unusual and disappointing. To make matters worse, one girl scratched and that left only two of us. We decided to play the best out of 3. The first match went a little over 2 1/2 hours and ended in a three set loss for me. Not feeling too discouraged but very sore, I was ready the next day to play my best. I lost in two sets. But I still got a trophy because as you realize, there were only two of us.

My shame wanted to minimize anything  good that could have come out of this experience. And I nearly let it. But my resilience stepped up and said, ” I played my best”~sure I’ve played better but today I gave it my all. My resilience said, “You showed up. You got in the ring. That’s what that trophy means”. And finally my resilience said, “You learned some things here that will you make you a better player. That will push you  to improve”. And that’s exactly what being resilient to shame does: it doesn’t beat you up, it pushes you to become. There is a big difference.

So these trophies sit in my piano room and I can’t imagine anyone ever notices them. Which is fine with me because they would think it’s about winning and I know the truth: It’s about overcoming feelings of worthlessness and having the courage to try.