After School…What Happens Now?

When August was in later elementary and middle school, the end of the school day would send me into a panic. I was about to pick up a child who was by then unmedicated, who had homework to do that he hated, who was tired and hungry. And there was a younger brother to take care of as well. So there was the same question every day: After School…What Happens Now?

We always tried to get the homework knocked out first. This had mixed results. And the negotiations would rival the purchase of a new car. Food was always involved because when the ADHD medication wears off (it has an appetite suppression side effect) he was ravenous.

But many days homework would lead to rages and running away and battles that were so out of line with the work that needed to be done. It was one of these rages that lead to his eventual RAD diagnosis. And this is something many of you can relate to. Once he started to “spin” as I would call his raging, it would last for hours. It was a long, agonizing process which may or may not have ended with finished homework.

Extra-curricular activities worked well most of the time. He loved sports because he had endless amounts of energy. The problem with that is, if there was a game or a practice that occurred right after school, there would still be homework to tackle when we got home. And the later it got and the more tired he got, the worse the chances were that any homework was going to get done.

As I mentioned, it was one of these after school failures that helped us finally discover August had reactive attachment disorder. We had spent an afternoon after school arguing over homework which devolved quickly. His anger moved into raging and violence. He threw things at me every time I got anywhere near him. I’d never seen anything like it.

The next day we took him to the doctor instead of school and there was a moment when we considered hospitalization. Instead we got an appointment with a psychiatrist and a prescription for Seroquel. For those who don’t know, this is a super-powerful anti-psychotic used mostly to treat bi-polar disorder. We were told to give it to him until he calmed down. I had a friend with bi-polar disorder. She said she took 1/4 of one. August needed four. The psychiatrist we got in to see a couple days later was the blessing that gave us the RAD diagnosis and finally set us on the correct parenting course.

This is a cute way to show early readers what needs to be done in an after school routine.

So these are just some of the things I experienced in trying to manage the after school world. One year we added in tutoring after school. You’d have thought I was taking him to the dentist twice a week. That speaks for itself. What I learned from it is that my unmedicated, tired, hungry child is not in a good place to do ANYTHING. Least of all more schoolwork. But it’s not going to get any better later in the evening. So it’s a matter of pay now or pay later. But there are a few things I found that can help:

  • DEFINITELY food
  • Some kind of outdoor exercise for a period of time (even August knew he needed that!)
  • If your child can do homework after dinner and some downtime would be a better choice, go for it!
  • Have some flexibility on the homework environment. Can they do work outside? Then let them. Can they work lying on the floor? Sure!
  • Be an advocate for your child. If the amount of homework is just too much for them, negotiate with their teacher on what fulfills the needs of learning the material without stressing out your child. Get their therapist involved if necessary.

Here is a great article about ideas for spending time after school. Some of these ideas would be great for bonding and engaging your child and might qualify for school credit depending on what your child is studying at the time. After school doesn’t have to be a crazy, stressful angry time where we are all just counting the hours until bedtime.

I loved this and certainly it shows the complexity of everything that can happen from after school to bedtime! There was also a blank one and I dropped in on the resources page in case you’d like to create one of your own!

Find a routine that works for you and make sure your child(ren) agree to the plan. Their buy-in is crucial to the success!

Until next time,

Shannon

Where Did My Friends Go?

Have you asked yourself, “Where did my friends go?” since you started your journey with reactive attachment disorder? For many of us, a RAD diagnosis wasn’t the parenting experience we signed up for. We dreamed of fun play dates at the park and maybe having neighbors with children of the same age who we would become life-long friends with. And we’d watch our children grow up together and go to the same schools and be on the same soccer teams. The boys and girls would date and go to prom and it would all be like a cute version of High School Musical. Until they go off to the same college and we all watch them, arm-in-arm with tears in our eyes. Then go off and celebrate with many bottles of wine!

Well that’s not how it’s going, is it? For me it wasn’t. From kindergarten through second grade, none of his friends had moms who I had anything in common with. When we moved, the neighborhood seemed more promising. It was over Spring Break during second grade and he wanted to ride the bus home the very first day. There was a boy in his class who lived in the neighborhood who’d help him so I said OK. He jumped off the bus that afternoon saying, “Mom! Can I go to Andrew’s house!” This boy had obviously made an impression and the two of them became fast friends.

He also made friends with the kiddos who lived behind us. And the boy in the cul-de-sac up the street. And a boy a couple of streets over. So you might think things from a friendship standpoint were going well for him. And as a result for me. But as is so often the case with RAD kiddos, being friends with them can be intense. And they can overwhelm their friends with attention, with demands for doing things their way and impulsivity which children don’t always understand. So his relationships with the kids in the neighborhood were somewhat fluid. They’d be fine for a while then someone would just burn out and have to take a break. So there’d be a period of no contact.

As August got older and his behaviors got more problematic, I started to feel some of the separation. It wasn’t intentional; who knows what to say to someone whose son got arrested for stealing a cell phone in 6th grade? Or bringing vodka to 8th grade? He’d switched schools so much that he wasn’t in the same schools as any of the neighborhood friends which further isolated him and us.

Then you wake up one day and you figure out your child doesn’t have anything in common with the neighborhood kids. You can’t coordinate play dates because no one wants their kiddo to play with yours. And After the stolen cell phone his Saturdays were spent doing community service. You can’t chat at the pool about what your kids are up to because there isn’t anything your kid is doing that other kids are involved in.

Any of this sound familiar? Nothing is intentional in any of this. It’s just life. Just the saga of having a RAD kiddo who doesn’t fit in the box of “normal” when it comes to social interaction. And how that translates to your social interactions as well. It can be pretty defeating and isolating when you are dealing with issues your friends and your children’s parents can only hear about and be shocked.

When August first got diagnosed I sought out comfort on social media where I found a lot of parents like me. The only problem was they all seemed to be living everywhere except where I was. And it only goes so far when you can’t crack open a bottle of wine or dive deep into a pint of ice cream over the internet.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have some amazing friends. Some who have seen me through every scream and tear and terrified moment. They hear everything August does and take it all in without judgement or alienation. And I love them dearly.

Here is an idea of why our friends may have a hard time sticking it out. Your true friends may not be able to help you but they will get you and they will stick by you. And the best friends will bring wine!

Until Next time,

Shannon

 

Winning Family Meal Time

August decided for about a week he was a cat. Ate all his dinners off a plate on the floor. Then one day he stopped. Never did figure out why. But every meal was three members of the family leisurely eating our meals and August plowing through his food like he hasn’t eaten in a month. Or like he may never eat again. Some days there would barely be any space between the edge of his plate and his mouth. And it never changed. And a half an hour later he’d swear he was starving. So I was in a constant search for something I could do that would mean winning family meal time.

In today’s over-scheduled world, just getting the whole family around the table at the same time is a triumph. I remember growing up that when my sister and I both became teenagers, everyone at the dinner table became more and more rare. The kitchen floor would be littered with notes from me to mom and mom to dad and my sister to dad informing each other of our whereabouts and pick up times. Remember this was pre-cell phones folks!

When the boys came along, we tried to be good about having regular family dinners. It was important for us to have that time together. We made a big deal about August eating his food and he would enjoy our attention. But very soon after getting comfortable with us, food became part of his battle for control.

I remember one night that we had some sort of meat and August didn’t want to eat it. He put a bit in his mouth but wouldn’t swallow it. That one bite of meat got bigger and bigger and it was maybe half an hour or more we did battle to get him to just swallow. I was afraid he would choke. But food was something he wanted to control. I’m sure it stemmed from lack of food in the time before he was removed from his birth home when he was barely fed and it broke my heart.

On another occasion I was getting dinner ready and August came asking for something to eat. I told him dinner was almost ready and he could wait. He threw a fit and screamed, “You never feed me!” Again my heart broke because obviously that wasn’t the case but he definitely was drawing on some old repressed memories.

So how can we go about winning family meal time? I am going to focus on dinner because with kids in school lunches are rough and mornings tend to be an all out sprint (though a big breakfast on the weekend is my favorite meal!) Here are some ideas:

  • Include the kiddos in meal planning on Sunday: Letting them be involved in what will be on the menu for the week greatly increases the chances they will be on board when it gets served later. Now of course you ultimately get veto power so it won’t be five days of pizza, but getting buy-in will help your job.
  • Include the kiddos in cooking: August loves to cook. He would sometimes ask to cook a whole meal himself when he got older. I know, sometimes it’s easier to do it yourself but they get such pride when they help and again the buy-in helps with making sure they will eat. Plus doing things together is great for bonding!
  • Make meal time technology-free: This is a big one if you have teenagers. No phones at the table, if there’s a TV within sight it gets turned off. Meal time can be a great time to engage in meaningful conversation about the days events, about the rest of the week, about the weekend. Anything that will get the whole family communicating together.
  • Have ideas to talk about: I would always ask the boys about their day at school and what was their favorite part. That would have to be quickly followed by, “And don’t say lunch or recess.” Because otherwise those would always be the answers! I know some families who ask what is one good thing and one bad thing that happened that day. There are many ways to start conversations.
  • Make sure kiddos help clean up: The boys were always responsible for their plates and cups. And they got great about automatically carrying them to the sink, rinsing them and putting them in the dishwasher. That also meant I had to have the dishwasher emptied of clean dishes so it motivated me as well!

There are a lot of ways to make winning family meal time easier. There are meal delivery services and grocery delivery services to cut your time down, particularly if you have a very scheduled house. I also found these ideas from MSN and this blog which had some good thoughts as well.

The bottom line is being together, communicating and having fun is winning family meal time. And sometimes that is all that needs to happen.

Until next time,

Shannon

Practicing Self-care on Holidays

Well this holiday is almost over so I don’t know how much help I’m going to be today. But the topic for today is practicing self-care on holidays. Holidays tend to be the days when we spend a lot of time doing for everyone else. This can make a rough situation worse if you’ve got a RAD kiddo to worry about as well. Whether you’re at your home or at friends or relatives, making sure everything is going right seems to be the norm for us super-parents. So a RAD kiddo fiasco or getting to the end of the day feeling like you’ve run a marathon shouldn’t be surprising. Let’s dive into how we can make these holidays a little easier on us and make sure we are practicing self-care on holidays too.

Say NO. I wish there was more options in WordPress to allow me to turn that word red and make it blink or light up or write it in the sky. It’s a perfectly acceptable word. And used way too little by people in our situation. Particularly if our family and friends don’t really understand what our situation truly is. So when you’re asked to bring your apple-crumble-whatever that has 27 steps and 19 ingredients and takes three days to make…say NO. Your presence with a store-bought Kroger apple pie should be welcome enough.

Manage expectations…yours, I mean. I went to a lot of family and church and school gatherings with my hopes high that this would be the one where August wouldn’t steal something. Or mouth off. Or say something embarrassing about the food or get into it with his father. And most of the time I was disappointed. And why? What kid did I think I brought? What possible reason was there to think that this time would be any better? My love for my son is boundless but my expectations have to be realistic when it comes to his abilities in certain situations. And when I learned (I’m still learning) to do that, my anxiety level doesn’t get so high. And then my frustration level isn’t so great when things go wrong.

Make sure you find some time to be alone and get quiet. My preference would be outside but whatever you find that works for you is great. Some centering time is essential on busy days like holidays when it seems like noise is coming at you from all sides. Maybe you want to do it first thing to try and steel yourself for the day ahead. Or perhaps in the middle of the day to take a much needed break from the chaos. But at night when you’ve survived and everyone is in bed and you can celebrate that you got through can work too! Whenever you choose, take in deep breaths and just be you for a few moments.

I looked for some practical self-care advice to share and this really spoke to me. It’s less practical but it also wasn’t as focused on the “big” holidays as the other articles I found. I hope you enjoy.

Until next time,

Shannon

First Day of School for RAD Children

NOTE: As I enjoy my last few days with my younger son before he heads back to North Carolina,
I have tried to scale back my work a bit.
So today, enjoy a Tuesday/Wednesday combo blog!

We’ve talked all around this for the last few weeks about how to be prepared for the first day of school. But now that the first day is here…what are the best ways to make sure your RAD kiddos have a great first day? The first day of school for RAD children can be overwhelming. The first day of school for ANY children can be! Let’s talk about where the hurdles might be and where to run interference to ensure a great first day experience!

The night before is where you can make a huge impact on how the first day will go. Not only in preparation but in how you set the stage emotionally. As for preparation, consider these tips:

  • Create the “launch pad” (my favorite!) spot where everything for the next day is ready to go
  • Pick out that perfect outfit!
  • Set the alarm with your child (or two or three!)

But here are some other things you can do which can help your RAD kiddo with their fears and anxiety which may be weighing the night before. 

  • Ask them to describe what they imagine their first day will look like. 
  • If they have a friend who will be going to the same school, maybe a phone call or Facetime before bed.
  • If they are smaller, draw a picture of their first day of school.
  • Ask them what you can do that will help them the most. 

The morning of school might seem like chaos and overwhelming for all of you. The best thing you can do no matter what else happens is to keep calm. Focus on your children, keep your cool and make it about their comfort and calm. You can have your nervous breakdown later after they have successfully gotten off for the day.

Some things to plan for that first morning:

  • Make sure there’s a good breakfast (protein is important for good brain function!)
  • Ask them what they want you to do at school. They may want you to be with them all the way to the classroom. They may be ready just to be dropped off. Be OK with their choice.
  • Make sure the morning is about joy. Even if it’s pouring down rain. 
  • Make a plan to celebrate after school is over.

Here are some other fun ideas on of all things a marriage site! But don’t be afraid to let your children – even your RAD kiddo lead the way on what they need on that first day. 

 

Empowering Your RAD Child

“Empowering your child” is a phrase that is used for all children to describe ways to help them learn to use their voice and find their individuality as they move through the world. But for children with reactive attachment disorder this may not look the same. Luckily for me, some super-smart people have thought of some excellent ways to help parents with the task of empowering their children. My job here is to take those ideas and put the RAD spin on how they will work for our special kiddos as well.

This article compiles a great list of ways to give your child the tools they will need to start school confident and strong. Following is my “RAD-ified” version of that list to help with adapting the list to include consideration of RAD behaviors.

  • Give your child a choice – RAD kiddos are control freaks. This is one of the hallmarks of the RAD diagnosis. But choice doesn’t mean running the show. Don’t give them the whole closet to choose from; it’s the blue dress or the red one. And it’s not the whole fridge; it’s peanut butter or ham. Your sanity gets a role here too!
  • Listen to your child – This was huge for me when August was young. One day he got in the car after school and he was complaining about his shoes. He was so angry! He went on and on about his shoes and some kid and just was word salad yelling for 5+ minutes and I didn’t even move the car. I just listened and let him go on and asked a question here and there. And finally I got to the root of the problem…he didn’t make the football team. After he got there and got that bit of news out he was fine and much calmer but he needed to go through that process and have that catharsis.
  • Teach Your Child Body Safety – If your child might have also had some sexual abuse this is huge. There is no age too young to teach about what is acceptable and what is not. Do NOT be afraid to have the tough conversations where this is concerned.
  • Allow Your Child to Take Risks – This is a tough one for our RAD kiddos because they do not have a great sense of boundaries. And they usually have no fear because they have experienced more in their little lives than a lot of us will ever know. But finding their confidence and learning that you will always be there when they step out of their comfort zone requires that they test the limits a little. So you have to let them.
  • Use Your Words Wisely – RAD kiddos are hyper-vigilant. They do not miss a beat. So what you say and do are measured constantly. I have experienced that with August many, many times. Don’t blow smoke but make sure that they know their efforts are seen and you are proud of them no matter what. 
  • Encourage Your Child To Follow Their Interests – Want your child to follow in your football footsteps but they love art? Well, deal with it. Children will stick with those activities which feed their passions. And as much as we don’t want to waste the year’s worth of art supplies, it may not last and we need to understand that. RAD kiddos do not always have the long-term attentions that other children do. It may take them longer to find their “thing”.
  • Allow Your Child to Greet Other in a Way They Are Comfortable – RAD kiddos will not form the same attachments to all relatives and family friends. If they prefer waves or “knuckles” to hugs that’s fine. Also make sure teachers know this as well. While schools have stopped allowing hugging, many elementary school teachers still do it in the lowers grades. If your child doesn’t like it, make sure the teacher knows.
  • Discourage Gender Stereotyping – This one isn’t RAD specific but it’s pretty self-explanatory. Children should know that whatever they want to do and be is not dependent on their birth gender.
  • Encourage Perseverance – August had ADHD in addition to RAD and this is common in a lot of kiddos. Sometimes sticking with school projects or subjects that are harder for them are tough. August hated reading; it was really difficult for him. Keeping him working on it was a constant project.
  • Teach Your Child the “Pirate Stance” – I hadn’t heard this one but I think it’s a hoot! I think having your child stand like they rule the world whether they’re a RAD kiddo or not is a great way for them to feel like they have it together and can conquer anything that comes their way. 

Here’s wishing all the RAD super kids great years this year as well as their super parents!

Until next time,

Shannon

 

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RAD Self-care Sabotage

As parents of trauma-affected children, we live in a constant state of awareness. All our efforts are focused on taking care of them, their siblings, our partners, our jobs, the house and often last and least, ourselves. But what are our RAD kiddos focused on? Sometimes it seems like they have one goal and only one goal: sabotage. 

I know this sounds like an evil plan hatched by a demented Dr. Frankenstein. But there were occasions when August was little where it seemed just that devious and planned out. And  yes, I know it wasn’t. But when you’ve waited all day for a bath and a little quiet and that’s the time he chooses to pee all over the plastic kitchen set in his room, you just have to wonder!

So I want to talk about RAD self-care sabotage. What it might look like. What it might mean and how we can react to it when it might feel so personal to us. 

  • Does it feel like they only need you when you’ve gotten on the phone?
  • Do they talk to you through the door while you’re going to the bathroom?
  • Do they refuse to eat what they ordered at a restaurant but your food looks awesome?
  • Does the one sound they know drives you nuts get louder as soon as you ask them to stop it?
  • Has your favorite shirt, sweater, necklace, scarf been ruined by an “accident”?

I’m by no means implying that all RAD children are lying in bed plotting and planning. However, two of the most recognizable characteristics of reactive attachment disorder are that these children are control freaks and manipulative. They want to push our buttons. They want us to react and explode and get mad. Because that reinforces their beliefs that we don’t love them and we don’t want them. And to sabotage the self-care moments that we most treasure in our chaotic lives is pushing a very big button, don’t you think?

So why do our RAD kiddos choose these moments to inject themselves into our lives? Why are they so skilled at finding the times that we need the solace and relief of our daily grind and pick that time to ramp up their behavior? Because it’s when we’ve let our guard down. Our defenses are weak. Think about it. When is it easier for you to respond to your child having spilled a gallon of milk on the floor, when you are loading the dinner dishes into the dishwasher? Or when you have sat down for the first time all day to read a book for 30 minutes?

Now again, I can’t say for sure that all the times that August did those things that made my head explode, he’d waited in the tall grass for me to relax and look the other way. But there were more than enough examples for me to think it was more than a coincidence. And I think if you look back you might find the same is true for you.

So what do we do? Self-care is vital to our well-being as well as the success of our family. So not doing it is not an option. But making sure it happens even if your children are home might mean making some changes. Here are my ideas:

  • Tag team with your partner. Make sure one of you is covering the kids so the other can get in the needed self-care time and then switch. This may not be an option for everyone but caring for special needs kiddos needs to be a team sport as much as possible.
  • Depending on the age of your children, try and help them understand your plan, your timeline. Just a warning, sometimes this can backfire. But try to phrase it like, “I’m going to relax for 30 minutes and then we’ll go to the park so what would like to do until then?” Because this way you’re giving them control over that 30 minutes (within reason). Not just go away until I’m ready for you.
  • Let them self-care with you. Again, this is one of those that could backfire. But maybe you and the girls could all paint your nails or do mud masks. Or you and the boys could all go for a walk. I know the real point of self-care is time away from the children but the main point is that it is stress-free time and these are activities that for the most part shouldn’t end up in arguments and yelling (I hope!)
  • Confront them with the truth. If they’re old enough, they may know exactly what they’re up to. They know you can’t talk to them or help them when they’re on the phone or in the bathroom. They know how little time you take for yourself. Sitting down and having an honest conversation about your needs and the benefits to the relationship between the two of you and the entire family might just clear the air and get a different attitude going forward.

So take some time to think on whether your RAD kiddo is doing some self-care sabotage in your family and think on some ways you can intercept those efforts to make sure you’re getting the quality care you need. Please feel free to share your stories and ideas. I don’t know everything and we all benefit from everyone’s input!

Until next time,

Shannon

How to Put Yourself First.

As a parent we are trained from day one that our children come first. We feed them, then we eat. When getting in the car we make sure they are securely buckled in before we fasten our seat belts. We make sure they are all tucked in at night (no matter how long it takes!) before we close our eyes. All our focus revolves around the needs of our little ones.

But think about the instructions before you take off on an airplane? The flight attendant is very specific to tell you that if those oxygen masks fall from the ceiling and we’re all scared out of our wits that your first job is to put on your mask and then help that child sitting next to you. Most likely going against every instinct and fiber of your being. The best course of action in this situation is to put yourself first. What do they know that we don’t?

How to put yourself first? For those of us with RAD kiddos we hardly ever see an opportunity for that. But being able to put ourselves first every now and then even for a bit is critical to sustain us for the long journey of caring for these special children.

There are lots of big and little ways to put ourselves first. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. I think the best thing to do is to remember the airplane analogy. And remember that you’re only worth something if you’re healthy enough to take care of your RAD kiddos. So here are some ideas of how to find some easy ways to put yourself first:

  • If you find a few minutes in the house alone, put on some music and sing loudly or dance around the house.
  • Take a bath (if you’re like me, when your children were little, you couldn’t remember the last time you bathed or went to the bathroom alone!)
  • Sit outside at night after the kids are in bed and listen to the night noises, even for five minutes
  • Ask for help from someone you trust. Could just be running to the grocery store.
  • Say no.
  • Read a book.
  • Unplug-no phone, no computer, no TV.
  • Eat breakfast first. Have your cup of tea or your toast or whatever. The kids won’t starve and there’s a chance you’ll actually eat.

I found these couple of blog posts from other moms who’ve seen the need and written about it. Check out this one about a mom who tried it for just one week! And then this article with a video on the benefits of putting yourself first from Forbes magazine. As always, I’ll add these links to my resource page if you want to go back and review them later. 

I know putting ourselves first goes against everything we believe as parents. We immediately thing we’re doing it wrong. But maybe if we put the oxygen mask on first, we will be able to spend more time doing it right.

Until next time,

Shannon

Early Childhood Trauma in the News

I am writing about this because I know that anyone who’s been awake over the last year and has a RAD kiddo has been thinking the same thing I have been. What is going to be the fallout of the family separations that are taking place at the Southern Border? How will this early childhood trauma show up down the road? I am not writing this as political commentary but purely from the standpoint of the psychological aspects of what the children are going through.

It is not part of their plan for these families to be separated. The children are not aware of what is happening and why. The main difference between these children and those in an orphanage overseas is that they aren’t given up willingly. However, the separation from a primary caregiver at a crucial time of bonding without knowledge of when or if they will be reunited is the same.

I found a couple of articles which discuss the short- and long-term effects of this separation on the children. I think as you read them you’ll see astonishing similarities between how the psychologists describe the children and our own RAD kiddos. The first is this one from The Washington Post. What I find most striking is the description of the pruning of the dendrites or nerves of the brain. This is almost exactly how the psychiatrist who diagnosed August with reactive attachment disorder described what the lack of bonding with a primary caregiver did to his brain. Exactly! I couldn’t believe it. So much of the description of the symptoms is spot on.

The second one I wanted to reference is this one from The New Yorker. It’s much more recent having been written just three days ago. The psychologist in this article talks about the effects on both younger and older children and how they are different.

One of the important parts of this article is how it discussed the effects not just to the brain but to all the body systems: the immune system, the cardiovascular system and others. August is small for his age and has hung on to the bottom of the growth chart most of his life. Now we don’t know his genetics so there’s no way to know if that’s just how he is or not. But his psychiatrist told me early on about a condition called psychosocial dwarfism. It’s where children are able to actually will themselves to stay small in an effort to try and keep from having to become independent or take on more responsibility. As soon as I read that part, its immediately what I remembered!

If you Google “effects of separation on immigrant children” you can read lots of other articles on the subject. I am sure you will see your RAD kiddos in the descriptions as well. I hope there will be time for these relationships to be repaired and these children to be healed.

Until next time,

Shannon

What is Self-care?

My house is falling apart. I don’t mean figuratively. My house is literally falling apart. It started last month with the water heater. Annoying but a typical home repair issue. But it took a month to get it fixed. The day it got done…and I mean THE DAY…one of my garage door openers stopped working. It’s still broken. Since then, the water pressure in my kitchen sink has slowed to a crawl.  There’s a leak in the drain of the upstairs bathroom sink AND that faucet sprays water everywhere. The A/C condensate pump is making a loud noise (just got that replaced last year). And there’s a broken window on the back porch.

Oh and did I tell you I have 15 or so relatives coming for the July 4th weekend?

Now I didn’t explain this looking for a pity party…though if you’re hosting I like Merlots and dark chocolate! But in the world of parenting a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder, we’d call this Tuesday. It’s Spring Break right now so maybe there might be the idea that things are calmer but the morning may have started with the raging because you picked blue socks for them to wear instead of yellow. Or the plan for the day is a trip to the zoo instead of the pool. Or that camp they were begging all year to go to they now refuse to attend. Or it’s yet another battle over taking medication. It could be something very minor to you but it has become a catastrophe to them.

If you manage to handle that crisis, your day has just gotten started. Maybe you have a 9-5 job to get to. Already stressed and frazzled, you have to pretend to waltz in like you got a full night’s sleep, woke to birds singing and a calm quiet cup of coffee while you leisurely read the morning paper before you got ready and came on into work, ready to hit the ground running. 

Maybe you are at home with your littles (which we all know does NOT mean you don’t work!) and you’re trying to do some housework while they play outside until you hear the screaming. Which is about five minutes in. You rush outside, mediate whatever issue has arisen and go back to your chores. Lather, rinse repeat. Every five minutes for an hour until you realize this is accomplishing nothing and you surrender and get ready to head to the zoo.

Now an outing with a RAD kiddo can be like trying to nail jello to a tree. Their impulsive nature and fearlessness will always lead them to wander off or try things that scare you. It’s hard to remember in those moments that it’s not them really; it’s how RAD has them wired. You run after them and shout cautionary demands all day until you can’t put together a coherent sentence. 

Back home, you may or may not attempt a family dinner after this kind of a day. Bless your heart if you do. Because you still have bedtime to get through. and RAD kiddos are not sleepers. If you get them down without a double digit number of attempts, take the win. 

So with a day like this, where yesterday looked pretty much the same and tomorrow is likely to be a repeat, what can you possibly do for self-care? How can you keep your head above water, your sanity intact, your willingness to get up tomorrow and do it all over again preserved, when every day is chaos and stress?

Well, in my case, I painted. Not pictures, I’m about as creative as a rock. But I have wanted to finish painting my stairs and upstairs hallway and landing which I started two years ago and yesterday I got on it. I don’t know how to fix an A/C unit or a garage door or a leaky sink. And I don’t have the money to do all of it at once anyway. But I had the paint and the time so I painted. And the satisfaction of seeing some progress on that project that I’d put off for so long felt so good. Seeing that one spot of my house looking complete and pretty helped me feel calm and relaxed for just a little while.

So here are my tips for self-care, not big grandiose ideas like massages and manicures (though definitely do those things every chance you get) but little ideas for self-preservation:

  • Do a thing, anything. Wash a dish; even one. Put away one piece of clean clothing.
  • Do another thing, anything. Wash a second dish. Hang up a jacket. Fold a towel.
  • Breathe. Inhale for four counts. Exhale for four counts. Do it as many times as you can until the screaming starts again.
  • If your children are old enough, go in your room and lock the door. Lie down on your bed. Laugh. Cry. Scream into a pillow. But have some kind of large loud emotional response to your day for two minutes.
  • Keep a joke book in your purse. Bad jokes. When things with the kids are getting tense pull it out and read some. People cannot be angry with each other when they are laughing together. DO NOT use your phone for this purpose.
  • At the end of the day, write down (or if you’re not a journaling-type), think about 3-5 things you are grateful for.

We deserve combat pay. I firmly believe that. We have the invisible-and some visible-scars to prove it. But we persevere because of our intense love of these also deeply scarred sweet children of ours. We cannot protect them without protecting ourselves.

Until next time,

Shannon