Feeling Like A Failed Parent

This was not the post I had planned for today. I started writing it Saturday after a very long week last week. Some things happened with August and I ran out of antidepressants and I wasn’t sure I’d make it out of bed. And for the first time last Thursday I said these words out loud, “My son is a psychopath.” And now I’m feeling like a failed parent

Not my proudest mom moment.

I suppose this needs some explanation. The last couple visits with August had made me uncomfortable. I know Reactive Attachment Disorder inside and out. I have read and studied it for years and I understand what it looks like. This wasn’t RAD. I talked to him about various things some of which dealt with his behavior and how it affected people in his life. He said outright he didn’t care if he hurt people. He didn’t care if he used people for what he could get from them. Maybe it was for show. Maybe it was to look cool or strong. But it seemed all too real.

He talks about life after prison. His clothing, his lifestyle, how much money he will have. It’s all the best of everything. That is what he looks forward to. Nothing is about relationships with his family or friends. Nothing is about making a better life or repairing the damage he has done. He is not missing being separated from us at all. He says, “I love you” at the end of visits and phone calls but it’s always to hard to believe. 

I am still trying to piece together what has happened but near as I can tell he’s pulled some friends and friends of other inmates into some scheme that has gotten him and them in more trouble. He obviously didn’t care that he knew what he was doing was illegal and also illegal for them because he did it. Though I’m not completely sure he knew what he was doing. And it might mean extended time for him. I don’t know. Our conversation today revolved around his anger that he was in solitary and that maybe those he got caught up with might say something that would get him in trouble. 

Here’s the thing. July 5th. On July 5th he was six months without a conduct issue and was going to be eligible to get into a program which would get him moved to another dorm with stricter regulations which would help him stay more focused, and the program completion would get him reduced time and the possibility of a sentence reduction. But here we are instead.

Psychopathy isn’t the actual psychological term. It’s actually Antisocial Personality Disorder. For information about it, you can check it out here.  It is distinguished from sociopaths by severity and contrary to made for TV movies, they are not always violent serial killers.

But now I am sitting here wondering what validity I have as a parent to be writing to you all. I know my child is wounded from harm that I didn’t cause. That his brain is physically damaged. But it is also harm I couldn’t heal. And he harms others with seemingly no concern for their well-being. I started writing because I thought I had something to give to parents to help them avoid some of the mistakes I made. To provide a resource where parents could come together and learn some tools that would help them along the road to healing their children.

But I sat in that visiting room and listened to him. And now this has happened. And now I feel like such a fraud. 

Taking care of ourselves also means knowing when we’ve done all that we can for our children. His father has been much better at that. I keep wishing and fighting and hoping. Maybe in vain. Looking for that spark of empathy that I hope will magically appear maybe when his brain fully develops. My therapist years ago said that maybe August sabotages his progress in there because he feels safe in there and he doesn’t really want to get out. In there he doesn’t have to make choices of right or wrong where he has repeatedly made the wrong ones. Maybe when he voluntarily decides to take the medications that will help his brain function better things will change. Or maybe it won’t and I will finally have to realize I’ve done all that I can. Can a mother ever do that? 

Pondering the next time,

Shannon

 

Re-re-tooling

So it’s a new month and that means a new blog design, right? Yep. I did it. If you haven’t heard from me in a while that must be why. Well, of course it is! Much more of course than that has happened over the last few weeks so sit back and as Ricky Ricardo would say, “I’ve got some ‘splaining to do!”

I started this blog as mostly a labor of love. A catharsis for my own heart and mind. It then evolved as I wanted it to become a place where parents and extended families of children with Reactive Attachment disorder could come for comfort and resources and connection. Most of the RAD sites I found had been live for a few years and then fizzled out. I imagined the parents stopped either because the children healed (hopefully!) or it got overwhelming or they just got older and the topic got harder to write about. But I couldn’t find anything newer than a couple years ago. But I am interacting with families going through this daily right now and children in the foster care system (one of the primary producers of children with RAD) aren’t going anywhere.

So I doubled down on my efforts to create this site, this space for those families. I started a course to learn how to blog successfully. I am creeping through it but I am learning how to write more effectively to my target audience, how to get found through the chaos of the great world wide blogosphere and much more. Not to say that I do not love the continued support of you all who have been with me since the early early days as I have built this chrysalis. But I am now ready to become a butterfly!

A couple of changes I am planning to make. First of these Monday posts will be changing from “All About Me” to “Mindfulness Monday”. This is for a few reasons. First, self-care doesn’t have to be just about yourself. It can be about helping others. It can be about learning how to communicate with your partner. It can be about finding ways to get motivated to get things done. It can be about caring for something you care about. Anything that brings you peace and calm is self-care. Also, I hope to invite some friends in to write more posts. Not because I don’t like to write or don’t have a lot to say. Anyone who’s met me knows that! But through my blogging course and other networking I have met some amazing folks with some amazing talents that you all just have to get to know!

So where has all this great new boldness come from? Well, the same person who wrote the blogging course, Ruth Soukup, just came out with a book called “Do It Scared”. And the message of the book is…well, the title. But the beginning of the book starts with an online analysis of what kind of fear predominantly drives you to avoid doing the big things in your life. Mine was procrastinator. Not the kind of procrastinator that puts off things till the last minute (though I certainly can fit that description too). But the everything has to be just right, research over output, needs to be perfect before it starts type of procrastination. Which explains why I’ve redone this blog so much. I just can’t get to where I think I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. But I’m jumping in anyway and I’m going to keep going regardless. I highly recommend the book. You can find it at bookstores, with your prime subscription or your Target addiction.

Keeping this in line with the theme of this blog, last Monday was “Gotcha Day”, the 18th anniversary of the day August’s adoption was legal. I remember it like it was yesterday. Standing in the courtroom in the run-down building in Monchegorsk while a lot of people talked very fast in Russian and then WHAM! I was a mom. Then two days later, a child I had spent all of fours hours with who didn’t speak the same language as me was placed in my arms to be my child forever. Talk about doing it scared.

This week I will go visit him. It will involve a pat down and metal detectors and walls with metal bars and locks and thick steel doors and guards with guns. I can give him one hug and kiss and I have to wait while he’s strip-searched before and after our visit. Talk about doing it scared.

But I did and will do both of these things for my son who is my forever child now and always.

Until next time,

Shannon

Jealousy…

When Harry Met Sally. And if you haven’t seen the whole movie, what’s wrong with you? But it’s the scene in the restaurant where Sally convinces Harry that maybe, just maybe, not all of the girls he’s been with have had actual orgasms. That maybe some of them were faking it. She proceeds to show him how they might have done that. Right there in the restaurant. Now that part of the scene is hilarious but immediately afterward, a sweet little old lady-played by the director Rob Reiner’s mother in case you didn’t know-delivers one of the best lines of the film. To give you a little Monday giggle and make sure you read the rest of today’s blog, here’s the clip. The point of that little story is jealousy. We’ve all felt it. That little (or big) green monster has reared its ugly head probably more times than we want to confess. There’s always times when it seems a relative or a neighbor or a friend or a co-worker has it all together and you just can’t measure up. When you’re a parent with a RAD kiddo, it seems like it’s happening ALL THE TIME. When August started having school trouble, my jealousy stayed in check pretty well. I mean, shouldn’t people feel sorry for me and my sweet injured boy who is struggling so? Then we had to hold him back a year in school and then the run-ins with the law started and somehow his sweet injured self wasn’t so cute anymore. And as much I tried to keep myself from it, I started to feel jealous of parents in church and in my neighborhood who didn’t have to worry about taking their child to his probation meetings on Saturday mornings or the alcohol diversion program at 13 years old. And fast forward to today, I have just in the last month shared with my new church family that August is in prison. I’m watching friends from high school become grandparents and announce their children’s college graduations and weddings. And here creeps that large green monster once again who robs me of being able to feel true joy for them in the midst of my grief. Not surprisingly, today is again an attempt to provide you all with some helpful tips that just maybe by typing them I will get some help for myself in the process. Here are five ways to handle jealousy when it whacks you upside the head (which may not be what it feels like to you, but does to me!)

  1. Be a copycat. When something wonderful happens to a friend and you are immediately jealous, use that. Follow your friend’s example. Maybe you walked into your friend’s house and she’s completely renovated her kitchen. You may not be able to do that but you can change something that will make you happy. Buy new hand towels or a new curtain. If a friend is going on a luxurious cruise, plan a fun weekend getaway. Do something similar enough to make you happy.
  2. Practice gratitude on social media. Holy moly do NOT compare your life to someone’s life on Facebook! That is for sure a recipe for disaster! Studies have shown a direct connection between depressive symptoms and the longer time people spent on social media. So use social media, but spend some time using it to be grateful, do some “Today I’m grateful for…” posts. It might lighten your perspective and you might enjoy the responses!
  3. Focus on your strengths. One of the things I have to keep reminding myself through everything with August is that he’s alive. And he’s healthy. Everything else feels like a hug parenting fail, yes. But now I’m trying to turn my experiences into something useful for other people and hopefully over time I’ll have more lessons to share as August and I continue to grow and heal. Spend time doing what you are good at and what makes you feel good when you don’t feel like you measure up in some other way.
  4. Wallow-briefly-then move on. Be a good friend to yourself. A friend wouldn’t let you stay in a negative space; so follow your friend’s advice. Have a little pity party then get up off the mat and get back to thinking good positive thoughts. Thinking positive is a much better space to operate from and it will serve you much better in the long run.
  5. Don’t hate, congratulate! There’s enough happiness on the planet for everybody. My favorite saying is, “It’s not pie.” If you stay jealous and angry you will miss all the good things waiting for you. And you will miss out on good times with those friends and your kiddos and they will miss out on the wonderful that is you. Let them have their moments and be first in line to applaud.
I’m not for one moment going to say this is last time I’ll ever be jealous now. I will say that even writing this makes me feel lighter about how I feel about my own situation so I hope it might be helpful to one or two of you. If so, let me know in the comments, that’s what they’re for! Till next time, Shannon    ]]>

Finally Another Visit…

Next time you find yourself feeling annoyed by a noisy environment-voices, phones, traffic, lawn mowers-try this one-minute exercise to shift your experience. The idea is to tune in to sounds around you rather than attempting to shut them out. Sit up tall, close your eyes, and let your face relax. (You might feel a connection between your jaw releasing and your ears softening.) Breathe naturally and think of yourself as a sort of receiver, taking in all the sounds around you. Try not to favor one kind of sound over another. Whether it’s chatter or clanging or honking, just hear it. Is it possible to experience this “noise” the same way you might experience the sound of a river flowing? Can you relax and accept what’s around you without wishing it were different? See how you feel after just one minute of sitting with this quality of openness.

It’s a new month. Spring is trying it’s hardest to get here permanently. Always a time for hope and new beginnings. Till next time, Shannon  ]]>

A New Blog is Near!

  • Self-care
  • Education
  • Family
  • Well…everything else!
  • With these in mind, I have plans for four posts a week in the categories of:
    • All About Me Monday (self-care, balance)
    • Teacher Tuesday (Education, teacher information, homework ideas)
    • Whatever Wednesday (This will be topical information based on the week’s news, feedback from readers, information I get that I want to share, personal stories)
    • Family Friday (Marriage, siblings, mealtime, discipline)
    I would love your thoughts and ideas of other topics you might like to see. I will also start offering takeaways for teachers and parents as soon as I get rolling with doing four blogs a week! Whew! As always, thank you all for your support as I set off on this new adventure. It is truly a labor of love and I feel you cheering me on! Peace, Shannon  ]]>

    The Future

    “When the past no longer illuminates the future, the spirit walks in darkness.” -Alexis de Tocqueville

    Parents of children with Reactive Attachment Disorder are no different. They have the same dreams for their children. Before they receive a diagnosis there’s no thought that the future might not include everything they are dreaming of. After the diagnosis, and as the reality sets in, the ideas of the future start to take on a very different view. What kind of therapy will my child need? Will my child be able to be in regular classrooms? Will my child be able to continue living at home? Will we have a relationship as our child becomes an adult? Will our child be able to heal? All of these questions and so many more have gone through my head over the years with August. Because of his violent and volatile behavior, I can add some even scarier thoughts. Is this the night the sheriff shows up to tell me he’s been killed? Will he get angry enough to physically harm me? Will I get angry enough to physically harm him? Will time in prison make a difference or make him a better criminal? I know as most parents do that at some point we have to let go and know that we have done all that we can do. What our children become is at some point out of our control. I have been watching on Facebook this week as many of my friends are moving their children to college for their freshman year. August would be a junior this year if things had gone as planned. I can’t even get him to complete his GED. He doesn’t see the point. I continue to ask and prod because that’s what parents do but I also know that it’s not my choice to make and if he doesn’t see the value nothing I say is going to matter. I have been thinking much about the future recently because I am considering the future of this blog. The last few months have been very cathartic. I started writing at a time that I needed to write for me. And if anyone found it helpful that was fine but it really didn’t matter. I needed to write. And it served its purpose. But over the years since August has been diagnosed I have had people tell me I should do this or that I should be a therapist for others who are dealing with similar situations. My experiences with law enforcement and the school system have shown much need for educating about children with RAD and I always imagined finding a way to work with these groups. So here’s the deal. Going forward I will still be telling my stories but I am going to fold this blog into a website designed for other families and anyone who is involved with a child with reactive attachment disorder. My vision is to create a community of resources for parents, teachers, law enforcement, extended families and others. There would be advice from professionals as well as hands-on tools that families can use. I have seen other blogs that are for home-schooled children or children with special needs that are mostly medical but I really want to focus on RAD because it is so very different from medical issues and from any other mental health issue and still so unknown. And that’s my plan for the future. If you’d like to be a part of it here’s how you can help. Please subscribe to my blog if you currently just read it off of Facebook or LinkedIn. I don’t want to bore you with the details but it helps. Please share it! You may not know anyone with a child with RAD but someone you may know might. If you are a praying type, always welcome. I hope you’ll stay tuned to see what my future holds as well as August’s.

    Map out your future-but do it in pencil. The road ahead is as long as you make it. Make it worth the trip.

    -Jon Bon Jovi

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    What comes out of that mouth…

    Warning: Some of the following uses some colorful language. Apologies to those with sensitive ears/eyes. You have a small child who has a chubby little face with a precious smile and kissable cheeks. At this stage you don’t know what the future holds and occasionally you’re getting kisses from this button mouth and he’s funny and curious and charming. 12107036_10209179370107980_3794553278057878597_n Fast forward a few years and you’re sitting in a restaurant in Hollywood, CA where you’ve paid a lot of money to go and you’re trying to have a special moment and you get this: 10550373_10204464359515662_1887139728_o Much of it is normal sullen teenager but changes have started happening that are not what you expected. There is rage. There is hatred. He’s on medications that treat the symptoms but the cause lives in his body like a parasite you cannot kill. And words come out of him sometimes like he is possessed. And you wish that he was because then you could blame the devil inside him and not the sweet boy you wish he still was who is now saying he hates you. When August first got diagnosed I thought, “If I’d just never put him on the school bus…” He learned a lot of his colorful language there. His father and I were very careful not to curse in the house though as his RAD emerged that got harder and harder! When he would be raging and want to push our buttons he would just say, “shit, shit shit” over and over again. That’s when I learned from his psychiatrist that putting soap in a child’s mouth isn’t appropriate any more. As I have mentioned in past blogs we did as much harm as we did good early on in learning about RAD and how to parent August effectively but in that instance it was the only thing that made it stop. This was when he was maybe 10. He went on to use many more curse words but for some reason early on that was his favorite. He seemed to like the sound of it best. As an adoptive parent you fear hearing your child say, “You’re not my real mom.” It’s like a dagger to the heart. Children have the ability to fill you with more love than you ever thought possible and also take it away in one breath. With August, for better or worse, that became one of the least horrible things he said. He talked in his middle school years about killing us, killing himself, wishing we were dead, all of which prompted his placement in the residential treatment center in Missouri. When we got ready to leave, I hoped for a tearful goodbye to show some signs of attachment and he was able to provide another kick in the gut with, “If you’re not going to take me with you then just leave.” As a high-school age man-child he felt entitled to use all the curse words he knew. Which were plenty. “Fuck” became a punctuation mark, an adjective, a exclamation, you name it. He didn’t care that it upset me, that only made it more fun. He didn’t care about using it at school or with the police. That adorable face became unrecognizable to me whenever it spoke because it spewed hatred-filled, awful words. He manipulated and threatened and spoke with no feeling in his voice at all. But you could feel all the hurt in every word that came out of his mouth. All the pain he didn’t know how to process. All the loss and anger he feels and doesn’t know what to do with. It’s all in there trying to find an outlet and he is trying with every horrible word to control it. Not letting anyone else help him and making it worse every time he pushes someone away with the hurtful things he says. Since he’s been in prison much of that has not changed. He’s tried some amazing cons on his father and I to get money. When we don’t fall for them the tirades are pretty amazing but at least now I can hang up the phone. But more often there are these pleasant, calm phone calls. He asks me first what I’m doing and how I am. We talk about books and movies and my garden and my job. We talk about the family. When we visit together we talk about the past and things we used to do. He tells me about things that happened when he was living on the streets that both scare me to death and break my heart. Both of the phone calls and the in-person visits end with his saying “I love you” first. With a tone that says he means it. Hard to know for sure but I think so. I’ll take it.        ]]>

    Finally, A Visit!

    “It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” –Nelson Mandela

    There are many different combinations of people visiting. Some are obvious; boyfriends/husbands and girlfriends/wives, parents/sons, families and fathers. It is both heartwarming and heartbreaking to see children visiting their fathers here. They have pictures on the wall obviously drawn by children who have visited and there are murals painted all around to make the place seem less sad. Nothing about the faces or demeanors of the people seem hopeless or tragic. Everyone has on their, “Everything will be OK” looks. August finally walks in. He’s wearing a khaki jumpsuit. He’s always been skinny and other than a few more tattoos he looks basically the same. The hug feels great. We sit down and chat. It’s not really awkward because we talk all the time. But it’s slightly weird. We haven’t been in the same room in almost 1 1/2 years other than a courtroom. He’s recently gotten a tattoo on his neck-a cross in the middle with a devil on one side and an angel on the other. The angel is naked. I guess if your son is going to have an angel tattoo on his neck it’s good that she has a nice rack. I try to talk about important things. He tries to listen. I try to get him to think about his life. He tries to say the right answers. What he thinks I want to hear. We keep things civil. I hope that these visits will propel him to want to get out and do the things he needs to do to make that happen. He has come into the visit having to go to the bathroom so the visit gets cut short because as soon as he gets up the visit is over. We are together about an hour and a half and it is glorious. As horrible as so much of parenting him has been, I miss him every day. I miss seeing his face and his smile. I miss going to movies with him and when he liked to help me with things. They were such brief moments but they were glimpses of who he could be. I get to go every two weeks will be so helpful for me and I hope for him. Again, not a place I ever thought I’d be. Amazing the lives we find ourselves living.  ]]>