The Family Christmas Letter

‘Tis the season, right? In comes the floods of cards and letters from your friends and families with their pictures and the letters. The family Christmas letter. In the last decade or two it has replaced the card. It’s now the way to sum up all that has happened during the previous year. Because just wishing you the best for the coming year wasn’t getting it done. And food and little league and school pictures on social media weren’t enough either. The family Christmas letter is that place that puts a neat red and green bow on the whole year.

But, oh, the pressure! One of my favorite sayings for RAD families is , “Don’t compare your real life to someone else’s highlight reel.” And never is that more true than receiving the family Christmas letter. Have you done it? You open it up and your heart sinks. Here’s how it goes:

Bob and Trish both had amazing years. Bob got a promotion (AGAIN!) And Trish was named volunteer of the year in the county school system. She chaired the Fall fest, the Spring fest, the prom, graduation, the boosters. And she raised the most money of any parent in all the fundraisers! Little Sophie is already on pointe in ballet at three years old. And Bobby Jr. is being scouted by the Cardinals from his all-star performance little league this year. He’s getting straight A’s in fifth grade and has made his commitment to Christ at Our Lade of Heavenly Perfection Church. We are so proud…

Whew!

Now of course this is a huge exaggeration but doesn’t it feel that way sometimes? Doesn’t it feel like everyone else is living a life that just sails along so smoothly with children that never have any troubles? The biggest thing to remember is that it’s really not happening that way. These families are not living these perfect lives all day, every day. And while you may want to run away and get adopted by them, the grass is not always greener on the other side.

If you were a fly on the wall in one of those “perfect” family homes, I am sure you would hear some disagreements. I’m sure you would hear the children get in trouble. And of course I am sure you would hear stress and anxiety in the voices of the parents. Because no parent can go through life without worrying. It comes with the job. Yes, a lot of it has to do with our children. But a lot of it also has to do with how we choose to respond to that stress and anxiety as well.

So what can we do? It’s December 13th and we may not have one decoration up or one gift bought. Maybe you haven’t sent any cards and the thought of doing a whole letter give you a headache. You know what? That’s OK. Keeping up with the Joneses isn’t your job. Having the perfect house with the perfect tree or perfect Menorah and table might make you feel a little better but it’s not the most important thing that’s necessary for your holiday.

Do you need to send a letter that ducks the reality of your RAD family life and paints a rosy picture of your lives? Of course not. Don’t send one at all if you don’t want to. I haven’t sent one in a while. Of course I have this blog so anyone who wants to know what’s going on can just peek in here! You don’t have to compete with anyone and you don’t owe the world some white-washed summary of your life. You are raising traumatized kiddos and fighting everyday for the healing of their little minds. That’s your successful year. Don’t worry about whether or not anyone else thinks it means you’re not doing anything. The people in your life who matter know. Your children.

Until next time,

Shannon

Talking to Family about Gifts

This holiday season it is impossible to get away from the barrage of ads and offers of everything that a child would ever want. And every TV, radio, newspaper, onscreen ad, store and mall is filled with ads and products designed to encourage buying. And lots of it. So how do you talk to your children about keeping the buying to a minimum? And even harder, how about talking to family about gifts?

When August came home and then Spencer was due right after Christmas, we were like a UPS depot at the house. Just about the time the presents stop coming from August’s arrival, then came Christmas. We were a name drawing family. But my grandmother thought that everyone should buy for August AND for Spencer who hadn’t even been born yet! I put the stop to that. I didn’t want to start the boys down the path of expecting a blow out Christmas every year. So, I explained that the boys would go into the name draw just like everyone else. August hadn’t even met most of his relatives yet. And I was going to be too pregnant to go back East for Christmas so it was going to still be a while before he did.

It helped a little bit. But then there was Spencer’s birth followed by Valentine’s Day and Easter and I swear it was Memorial Day before the boxes stopped coming. So early on it was hard talking to family about gifts.

So what do you do when your family needs to understand the unique situation with your RAD kiddo where gifts are concerned? As August got older, he’s figured out the connection between asking for gifts, getting gifts and emotions. And with manipulation being one of the RAD tools of the trade, it is very easy for them to use that expertise at the holiday season. The idea that love can be “bought” is very easy for them to grab onto.

Hopefully you’ve had some conversations with your family already about the different attributes of RAD so tailoring the conversation to the holidays shouldn’t be so complicated. Explaining that RAD behaviors don’t get suspended during the holidays shouldn’t be hard. In fact, it might be good to prepare your family that they might be heightened.

But back to presents. Talking to family about gifts will mean setting some ground rules about cost. And the type of gifts you want your RAD kiddos to receive. For example, we were concerned about August’s fascination with guns. So we asked that he get no video games with guns or toys that were guns. Sometimes that meant over-ruling his list! Of course we didn’t always let him know that. And his list was always huge so most of the time it was easy because there was no way he was going to get everything on it.

As he got older he started wanting money. We wanted to make sure it was for a specific purpose and that he was being practical. One year he wanted a Nintendo DS. My grandmother thought it would be cute to give him $50 but all in $1 bills and in multiple packages. The woman behind us at GameStop wasn’t nearly as pleased when he counted out all those ones to buy it!

The point is that there is definitely an opportunity with the holidays for the structure and rules you have put in place for your RAD kiddo to go off the rails. Well-meaning family need to know that it’s important to honor your wishes even in the season of over-indulgence. And if you get the, “But it’s just…” don’t back down. Make sure you explain plainly and clearly how much it can set back all the progress you have made.

So I tried to find some websites to help with ideas but really couldn’t find anything that made any sense for RAD kiddos. Which wasn’t at all surprising. We will be talking more about holiday traditions and how to navigate them in the weeks to come. So hang on and steel yourself for the season of peace and joy!

Until next time,

Shannon

Hangover Remedies – For ALL the Hangovers

I took last week off for the Holiday. I hope you had a great Thanksgiving with as little drama as life with a RAD kiddo will allow! After a big holiday celebration, there is definitely a recovery period. Here are some ideas for hangover remedies – for all the hangovers you might be suffering from.

Workout Hangover

  • Ice and more Ice: If you took some time off from your regular workout routine and you tried to make up for it all at once on Sunday, you may be feeling it. While a nice hot soak in the tub may be calling your name, the aches and pains will respond better to ice packs. They reduce inflammation and disrupt pain signals.
  • Tart Cherry Juice: A 2016 study showed that an ounce of tart cherry juice taken twice a day for eight days resulted in less inflammation and muscle damage following an intense workout. Cherry juice has anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Get back at it: Keep at it. An easy walk or bike ride will get blood flowing to the sore areas and help with healing.

Sleep-Deprivation Hangover

  • Lay off Carbs and Caffeine: Your body will crave bad foods when you are sleepy. Stick to proteins for constant energy and coffee is OK, but just one cup. And getting out in the sun will help your body clock reset and shake your sluggish feelings
  • Aromatherapy: Inhaling peppermint and rosemary oil will give you a quick boost. These scents increase alertness and memory function.
  • Have a Chat: Go visit your neighbor or co-worker, schedule a playdate. Social interactions have a positive affect on your body’s clock. Even ten minutes can give you a lift in cognitive function.

Stress Hangover

  • Change the Story: Take a break and make sure the conversation in your head is real. Are you making a bigger deal out of whatever you’re thinking than it really is? A quick gut check can help get you in the right head space.
  • Settle Down: Find a quiet place to do some deep breathing. It calms your sympathetic nervous system and switches off your fight or flight response.
  • Get Moving: A quick walk will not only provide a great distraction, it boosts your immune system. Just a few minutes will clear your head and calm your nerves.

The Food Hangover

  • Eat!: The temptation is to not eat again after packing it in at Thanksgiving. But that could and probably will backfire. Better to eat a moderate meal high in fiber and low in salt. And drink plenty of water.
  • Get Moving: Works for just about everything. It speeds up digestion as well as releasing endorphins which boost your mood. When you feel less bloated, you’ll start to feel better.
  • Try Ginger and Mint: Ginger has been found to ease nausea so some ginger tea or grating fresh ginger in warm water can be helpful. Peppermint oil can help with bloating, gas and abdominal cramps by calming the GI tract. But it can exacerbate reflux so if you are prone to heartburn skip this one.

Talking Hangover

  • SHHHH: Texting and email means that we hardly ever have to use our phones as phones. Of course that’s up to the RAD kiddos to decide whether you actually get to do this. But as much as you can, less talking and with quiet tones.
  • Rehydrate: Sips of water with lemon, decaffeinated herbal tea, sugarless gum will help stimulate saliva flow and lubricate your vocal chords. Try not to clear your throat because it will aggravate and already injured throat.
  • Steam: A steam room or a long hot shower will both help moisturize your throat and make it feel better!

The Nightmare Hangover

  • Take a Cold Shower: When your sleep gets disrupted and anxiety starts creeping in, bad dreams are more likely to follow. A cold shower can shock your system, like changing the channel in your brain.
  • Get it out of Your Head: Writing down your dream and how it made you feel allows you to reason out what you dreamed. It will calm any fear and anxiety it may have caused.
  • Analyze It: Change your thoughts about your dream and you will change your feelings about it. It will instantly calm your nerves. Decide what your dreams meant in more realistic terms.

Bet you didn’t realize all the hangovers you could be dealing with? Making sure you recover from these before the next holiday wave hits will make it easier to survive the season. And it will help you be the best you can be for your RAD kiddos as well! Happy holidays!

Until next time,

Shannon

Did You Survive Halloween?

Halloween is always one of those holidays that can be some of the most fun or one that you absolutely dread. Scary stuff, loads of sugar, staying up way past bedtime…what could possibly go wrong? This year, with Halloween coming on a weeknight it adds to everything with then getting up and having to go to school the next day. So did you survive Halloween?

When August was little, Halloween was better than Christmas. Not something he’d ever experienced in Russia, the prospect of going door-to-door and having people just hand over candy? Too good to be true. He’d almost bathe in the pile of candy he’d have after the haul. I’d have to steal away a bunch of his candy and hide the rest so he didn’t fall into a sugar coma (unfortunately that also meant eating too much myself!)

I made August’s first costume. I had plunged into the mommy thing and I thought that came with some magical sewing skills I didn’t actually possess. So of course, I chose what I thought was a simple enough tiger costume with a velcro back closure, elastic arms and legs, a stuffed tail and a hood with ears. Doesn’t sound so bad, right? I was literally sewing him into it Halloween night. It wasn’t perfect, but he looked adorable and it was perfect for me to do it! And then his brother wore it, it had a good life in the dress-up box and then as costumes for a friend’s two children. So I guess I did OK!

When both boys were old enough to trick-or-treat then it got even more interesting. Because it added arguments over where to go, how long to stay out and negotiations over candy to the mix. Because one parent had to take the boys and one parent had to stay and hand out candy so some compromises had to happen. August has always had boundless energy and stamina so staying out as long as possible and running from house to house to grab as much as he could would always be his plan. Having a younger brother who wasn’t as quick and didn’t have as much staying power was just a drag.

Certainly the most frightening thing was when August was old enough to go out by himself. Trusting that August would be polite. That he would be respectful at those houses that just leave out the bucket with the sign that says, “Please take one”. That he will stay with the friends he leaves with and stay in our neighborhood. All those normal parent worries that are magnified times a million when you have a RAD kiddo.

So how do you handle Halloween? Have you ever just had to cancel it completely? Did you ever end up far away from home with a raging child and a long walk ahead of you? A meltdown in the costume aisle? RAD takes the joy out of so many occasions. Our visions of the perfect family holidays get dashed by one tantrum, one manipulation, one controlling behavior.

Halloween works the same as all holidays. Set reasonable expectations. Don’t fantasize a picture perfect day. Have a back-up plan. Make sure the family knows all the rules before setting out so there’s no attempts (well, less of an attempt) at negotiating when you’re away from home. And already have a plan for that candy!

I hope you had a great holiday! Now it’s full steam ahead into Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas!

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

Good Grief! Another Holiday…

Yes, Labor Day is Monday. Another holiday is upon us with all its potential pitfalls and disasters surrounding gatherings with friends and families. And while we don’t like to expect the worst, of course when you have a RAD kiddo you have to stay on alert for “which kiddo” is going to show up at any holiday function. So with that, good grief, another holiday!

Labor Day is generally the last big party of summer. The time to close down the pool, put away the patio furniture (depending on where you live) and for some children the last hurrah before school starts (if it hasn’t already). Sometimes it’s a cookout with the family. Maybe it’s a block party with the neighborhood. It could be a pool party at the country club. Whatever it is, it could be a crowd of people that may or may not be up to speed on your RAD kiddo’s behaviors.

So it’s Monday afternoon and you’re at the pool and there’s hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill and things are going fairly smoothly. All of the sudden, there’s a shriek and you see that your RAD kiddo has ripped a pool noodle away from another child and whacked them with it. And now you’re in damage control mode. You’ve got to make sure the child is OK. Then, you’ve got to apologize to the parents. You’ve got to figure out why this happened. So you talk to your RAD kiddo. And if it’s like the other times, the answer makes no sense.

Now what? Do you go home? Can you recover from this and salvage the day? Will the parents trust your child with their children now? If you punish your RAD kiddo for what they did, will they accept the consequences or will there be rage? Do you want to take the chance? And…good grief, another holiday!

There are no simple answers to these questions. If your RAD kiddo is like August, it seems like every holiday is a brand new challenge. I couldn’t look back on Independence Day to consider how he might act in this scenario as evidence. In a perfect world we could know whether our RAD kiddos could handle themselves in these situations but unfortunately that’s not our situation. We live in the world of the unpredictable, on edge and ever-changing.

What’s the answer? Ditch the Labor Day festivities in order to avoid the potential explosion? Could there be a way to run interference? Well I don’t have a definite answer. I don’t think you should ditch the party unless you can do something way better like fly to Hawaii. And I think we all know there’s no way to prevent the blow-up if it’s going to happen.

But here are a couple of ideas that might help calm the potential storm:

  • Do something with your RAD kiddo over the weekend prior (may just the two of you if possible) that they want to do and talk about the upcoming party and what you expect
  • Keep your RAD kiddo close by at the party. If you keep them engaged with you and show them what you’re expecting of their behavior, they will have less chances to forget!
  • Make sure they have their own toys, pool equipment, etc. You don’t have to go crazy but jealousy is a RAD kiddo’s kryptonite.
  • Make sure you’re praising their good behavior often during the event. The more you catch them doing good, the more likely they will continue!

After Labor Day it’s less than two months until Halloween when we start the holiday dance all over…with buckets of candy! Ack! Have a great weekend!

Until next time,

Shannon

Holidays with RAD Children

Tomorrow is Independence Day or Fourth of July. I was chastised not to call it that by a friend who reminded me that it’s also the Fourth of July in France and Italy and Nigeria tomorrow but not a holiday. We don’t call Christmas December 25th; why do we call Independence Day by the date and not the name? I have pondered this and he’s right. Now I’m trying to get better. But I digress. But it is a big day for getting together with extended family and friends. This for many of us RAD parents is sure to send our blood pressure into the stratosphere like a bottle rocket. So, how to handle the over-stimulated, over-sugared, over-peopled family get-together?

Since no two RAD kiddos are alike, there’s no cut and dry answer. Every child has a different trigger. The key is managing expectations and making sure you are as much as possible not creating a situation destined for failure. There may be some things that are just not in your control. But there is a lot that is. Here are some tips and tricks that I have found useful in the past to keep my sanity and help keep the peace. Also some other ideas I found helpful in my research.

  • Pay attention to the food going in your child. My grandmother had chocolate EVERYWHERE. All at the height of your average 5-year-old. Her theory was if you don’t say no, then it isn’t a forbidden thing and children won’t be begging for it all the time. Yeah, that doesn’t work with a RAD kiddo. August can eat his body weight in candy without getting sick but it sure would wind him up. Which for an already hyperactive kid seems impossible but isn’t. It may be tough to socialize but it’s definitely worth it to keep a close eye on the sugar and caffeine intake.
  • Make sure you know if there are will be any triggers in attendance. August’s grandfather collected state coins. And had several small pocket knives. Their house was like walking into a diamond mine. His impulse control (what little there was) went out the window at their house. His grandparents had a house full of antiques and collectibles and it was hard to know where everything was stashed. In the chaos of a large group of people it was easy for August to slip away and go snooping. We missed it early on but once we knew his affection for shiny things we made sure he was searched before we left.
  • Have an exit strategy. “Expect the best, prepare for the worst”. Heard that before? When August was very little, transitions were the worst. He’d get caught up in playing with friends or playing a game and when it was time to go, all hell broke loose. He would launch into a tantrum of epic proportions. The wailing and screaming and kicking were something to see. All the 10 minute, 5 minute, 2 minute warnings did nothing to stop the exact moment of terror that occurred at that time of departure. We enacted what we referred to as “scoop and run”. This meant making sure everything else was in the car, all the good-byes had been said and nothing else needed to be done before we literally scooped him up and ran for the car. Faint cries could be heard in the distance as we drove away. Make sure you know how your child deals with transitions and plan accordingly. 
  • As awful as it sounds…host the event at your house. It might seem like I’m suggesting the worst possible pain for you but truly it might be the easiest situation for your child. Keeping them in their comfortable space with their things where there is no transition time to deal with and you have better control over food. It may be best. While it seems like more work on the front end to have all the people in your house, set strong time boundaries, hire a caterer or make sure people help with food. This may create the best day for your child and ultimately you.

The big thing to remember is your RAD kiddo is wounded and some of what they are reacting to at the holidays is coming from a hurt place deep, deep inside. This article is a great explanation of how all that connects and manifests during the holidays and may help us keep a grip when we might want to explode! 

Since I just saw August last week I won’t be able to go see him tomorrow. I will be consoling my dog who is deathly afraid of loud noises. And I have 15 family members coming for the weekend. August will call and get to talk to them and we will miss him terribly. Hopefully we will have him with us for Independence Day next year.

Until Next time,

Shannon

 

Mother's Day

And all I was told was, “Something happened.” I was afraid to go downstairs. But there were three yogurts and the three of us laid in bed and ate yogurt together and had a great breakfast. It was wonderful. Of course I did have to go downstairs eventually and I found this: 229674_1999357910235_610622_n But the fact that they tried this hard made my heart melt even more. August will never understand how much Mother’s Day means to me. That for seven years I didn’t think I’d ever be a mother. That getting the call with his court date the week before Mother’s Day in 2001 (and finding out I was pregnant two days later) was the most amazing 48 hours of my life. I wish he could feel how full my heart is when I think about being his mom. And how much it breaks that he can’t. If he could I know his life would be so much different. Mother’s Day is a time for celebrating our mothers, or those who have served that role. Remembering the mothers we’ve lost and acknowledging what a vital role mothers play in the development of every human. Understanding Reactive Attachment Disorder brings the role of mother to a whole new level of importance now for me. I have been robbed of much of that bond with my child but nevertheless I would not be a mother without him and for that I am truly blessed. Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers and mother souls out there. Thank you for caring.]]>