A Missing Person: When Your Child Can’t Live At Home.

Parenting children from difficult places is no easy task. When your child’s past trauma causes him to have to live somewhere else, it’s even harder! How do you navigate through this difficult season (and reality) of life?

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This week is exactly what a family vacation should be. Well, almost exactly. As I snap a photo of all the smiling faces I feel a knot tighten in my stomach. A man behind us marvels, “Wow 5 kids!” I nod and smile, but my mind is with the one who isn’t here. The hollowness I feel is vast. I’m surrounded by so much love but still feel the emptiness of missing the one.

There is no question that this is the most peaceful vacation we’ve been on since my son was 2 years old. His absence has brought an almost instant sense of serenity. That realization in itself is disturbing. The contradictory feelings of deep love and gripping anxiety have lived in my heart for nearly a decade.

Before my son came to live with us, he lived through unspeakable trauma. His disjointed memories of terror have played out in a drama of sorts. Mom, Dad, Brothers and Sisters play various roles, as our son tries to sort through the fear that now resides only in his mind.

Fear is the rudder that steers his every move. It’s at the core of who he has become. Fear is in the edginess of his voice. It’s in the way he snatches more food than necessary. Fear drives his need for more. More food, more clothes, more toys, more attention…more control. Fear was the mother that bore the hyper vigilance that now lives in his every move.

The fear I see breaks my heart. I long to take it away; to insert the trust of a loving family into his broken soul. It doesn’t work that way and I know it.

When he was a baby, I sewed my own wrap and wore him close to my heart. I wrapped him tightly to my back anytime we were in public. As a pre-schooler I cradled him in my arms as he raged and fought. By elementary age I found myself gently removing fistfuls of my hair from his clinched fists. I talked softly as the fear and fury slipped from him each time he boiled over. By his pre-teen years the fear had turned to violence, the tantrums threatening the safety of siblings and self.

As we drew our attention away from our son, we surveyed the ariel view of our family. We began to comprehend the toll that his fear had taken. Like the aftermath of a storm, our other children were also suffering the destruction of our first son’s trauma. Tattered and torn, our entire family had been limping along on this journey of raising a traumatized child.

After years of searching for resources, we were tired and broken. Each time we allowed ourselves hope, that hope was quickly dashed. Our son’s IQ was too low or too high. Our therapist didn’t believe in Attachment Disorder. The psychiatrist doubted his diagnosis. The caseworker thought we were the cause of the trauma. The police babied him. The habilitation provider quit. Special schools wouldn’t take him because he was too young, too complicated, too aggressive, or too smart. Finally, with only the tiniest bit of hope, we prayed desperately for a solution. The Lord answered our prayers and a place opened at a boarding school. They prayerfully accepted his application and for the first time in years we began again to feel hope for our son, our family, and our future.

Our son is doing well at his new school. He is provided with a structure that no family can create. He is provided with gentle firmness. Finally he is learning skills to deal with his fear. He is living in the present, not in the place of remembered fear. The rest of our family is learning a new way to relate. We are also living in the present, not bracing ourselves for the next tantrum, and just enjoying what each day has to offer.

So that leaves me here, snapping the picture, feeling the emptiness. Inside the emptiness is something new- HOPE! This empty picture is just for now. It’s a temporary loneliness filled with the anticipation of a new future. One in which we ALL enjoy our vacation. One in which we all heal together. This empty picture is about growth, renewal and restoration for us all.

Question: Have you walked a similar road? Are you dealing with severe behavior in one of your kids, or, living with the reality that your child can’t live at your home currently? Share your story with us. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Brian N Jennifer Rhodes

    My heart breaks just a little more as I read these stories of your son– but I thank God for the hope He has given you. I thank Him for the healing your son and the rest of your family are receiving. I thank Him that your story gives hope to others. As always, thank you both for your transparency. Continue to be encouraged that your ‘beautiful mess’ brings hope to so many. God bless you all!!!

    • Brian thanks for your kind words. Our hope is that our experiences and stories can have a huge impact on others walking the same road! Thanks for your comment.

    • Kristin Berry

      Brian and Jennifer,
      Thank you for your encouragement. We are so thankful to connect with so many similar families here. This life truly has been a blessing!

  • BlessedMom

    When we began fostering, my heart was in keeping siblings together. When we took in a sibling group of 3 we were overwhelmed. As time passed and behaviors surfaced, one in particular was determined to get himself out of our home. As his behaviors escalated, we were faced with the question, “Are we sacrificing him for the sake of the other two if we let him go?” “Are we sacrificing the well being of other two if we keep holding onto what we can’t manage well?” I had to realize that keeping siblings together wasn’t always the best thing. My goal might be the wrong thing for them.
    You described the struggle to find appropriate placement so very well. There was no one that could provide us with respite without hurting his progress. Because of his background, his options were limited. Because he was determined to sabotage, what we did find didn’t work out for him. Eventually, what was supposed to be two weeks of respite for us turned into a year long admission to residential behavioral, academic regression, learning new behaviors from those around him and repeated inpatient admissions. In his absence we thought we’d have a break. Instead our heart aches for him, we wish we knew better how to help him, we long to know what the future will look like. We finalized adoption for the others without him. His struggling sister has started thriving in his absence, but his resilient brother is lost without him and has began imitating his behaviors hoping he too will leave our home and they can be together again. It’s impossible to balance. What helps one hurts the other. The idea of him coming back into our home, which is his plan right now, is both exciting and frightening. I want to help so many children, but a lot of days, I wonder if three is more than we can handle.

    • We understand that mixture of terror and excitement. We don’t want things to return to where they were a year ago but we also want our family together. Totally get what you are going through. Let me encourage you by saying that it is worth it and even when it feels like you cannot handle it, God somehow gives you another days worth of strength. Keep up the good fight!

    • Kristin Berry

      Oh my goodness. You are describing our story as well. I’m so sorry you are dealing with these seemingly impossible decisions. I don’t believe that God made a mistake in giving you these three children, even if the safest place for your one son isn’t at home. You are just fighting for him in a different way than you expected. We wish you the best on this difficult journey.

  • Amy Comeau Bevier

    We were in a similar situation. We’ve learned a lot about our children’s past thru their behavior in our home. We are piecing together what we imagined they experienced and it’s not a pretty picture. It just breaks our heart. We have 6 adopted children, but do have one who was emotionally, physically, sexually abused. After 2 years of trying to help with many different services, we placed her in a state therapeutic foster home program with the long term goal of being reunified with us. In this program, her behavior did not change, it got worst, then they chose to drug her. However, the other 5 became peaceful and the environment in the home changed. We really struggled with having her return to us for her safety, as well as the safety of others. How do we choose the 5 over the 1? If she was out biological child would we make the same decision? Probably not, because she wouldn’t have been abused the way she was. We felt like failures and we questioned our faith, were we taking maters into our own hands and not trusting/allowing God to heal her. It’s a tough road, one that I’ve never known anyone else to go thru. So it feels very scary and alone. We’ve faced lots of judgment and lack of understanding. Believe me, this was not our desired outcome when we set out to adopt a total of 6 children. But here we are. We’ve been praying and God has provided a placement, just like yours. We are so thankful for these schools/programs that exist. I believe they need to be made aware of so people can be supportive of them. The school our daughter will be moved to this summer is called The Still Creek Ranch in Bryan, Texas. They provide a home for boys/girls and are completely non-profit. They have no debt and operate solely on donation. Their “restore her” program is amazing. I recently came back from visiting them and for the first time I feel hopeful for my daughters future. God is the Ultimate healer and redeemer. He couldn’t heal her in our home but he used us as vessels to fight for her, to keep her out of the foster care system and place her in an environment for her to heal and learn about him. I’m completely thrilled and excited about her future. PLEASE check out the Ranch, and if you can DONATE or spread the word. Have a fundraiser for them. They love to talk about their amazing ministry.

    • Amy, thank you so much for your transparency and honesty. So glad to hear that you have found a solid and structured place for your daughter. It’s not an easy road but you are right- God is the ultimate healer and redeemer!

    • Kristin Berry

      Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. It is so good to know others who are going through similar situations. It is also so wonderful to hear that you have found a place for your daughter to be safe and find hope. I am going to look into Still Creek Ranch. I have never heard of their ministry but it sounds great. Our son is at Teen Challenge. They are amazing as well!

  • Garrett N Soulen

    The only comment I have to make concerns your heart. Every word you spoke on paper reflected the love and compassion and concern you have for your son. So yes, he not physically present, but present, and always be present, in your heart, your thoughts, your continued love for this young man. Take comfort in knowing he is now in God’s hands and by the sounds of things, God is working miracles in his life. One day you will see, instead of a fearful child, a young man filled with confidence, hope and love for those who loved him first. God Bless.

    • Garrett, thanks for all of your beautiful words and your concern. It means a lot to us. We are grateful.

    • Kristin Berry

      Garrett, Thank you for sharing the Scripture as well as your own encouragement. We appreciate it! We have such a beautiful support system and so does our son.

  • Garrett N Soulen

    Mike, I can’t say why, but I believe God was talking to me through the Daily Verse and Comment of The Berean – it comes out of the Church of the Great God. Today’s verse is Genesis 8:1

    8 “But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.”

    I couldn’t help but think of you and this blog. So with your permission, I will enter the comments made concerning this Verse.

    It is good to first consider that God’s faithfulness covers animal life as well as human life. He upholds “all things by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3). He does not simply create and then leave His creations to their own devices. His obligation to all life and its care and sustenance continues unabated.

    Though the words of this verse are few and simple, to those who feel lost in the depth of an ongoing trial a world of meaning lies here: We are not lost to God. Noah, his family, and the animals were virtually imprisoned in the ark for months, pitching about alone on an endless sea. Nothing broke the skyline. Noah could have easily thought himself as forgotten. Though he could remind himself that God had promised him protection, where was God now—now when the gray days and black nights dragged by and wherever he looked he saw only empty waters and a sky that seemed to hold no hope?

    Have we ever found ourselves seemingly cut loose from all moorings, adrift in a sea of problems from which, as far as we could tell, God has vanished? Have we ever begun on what seemed like a great adventure only to be swept away in a flood of sorrow, loneliness, perplexity, and disappointment that seems as though it will end only in despair? Perhaps we have felt as Asaph did in Psalm 77:4, 8: “You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. Has His mercy ceased forever? Has His promise failed forevermore?”

    God, however, did not lose track of Noah, and He will not lose track of us! The story of the Flood does not end on a note of hopelessness. The Flood abated. Mountaintops appeared, and the ark came to rest. Their physical survival assured, Noah and his family resumed life on an earth revived and cleansed of sin.

    We may never have to face a trial of this magnitude, but God’s faithfulness promises another great assurance: It guarantees that all our trials will be in proportion to our strength. God pledges through Paul in I Corinthians 10:13:

    “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

    David writes in Psalm 103:13-14, “As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.”

    God will never lay on us anything beyond our power to overcome. He knows how much pressure our hearts can stand. Do teachers give college-level assignments to a first grader and expect them to perform? Men are careful not to overload a truck, horse, mule, or ox. Will God be any less merciful and faithful to us, His children He is creating in His image? He clearly recognizes His obligation to the work of His own hands to supply our needs and shape the burdens needed to prepare us for His Kingdom.
    Thanks and God Bless.

  • Allisonm

    We adopted three siblings who have severe trauma and attachment challenges. It was an all or nothing deal–either we could finalize on all of them or send them back. Their state was unwilling to consider anything else. We wanted all three, but have faced everything others have spoken of in terms of the time, energy, safety, and resource concerns. For us, violence and aggression were there at the start and tapered off only after a lot of therapeutic intervention. I have a background in advocacy, so we have been pretty good at getting or crafting the services we need. But the severity of our family’s situation is such that even the best services don’t fix anything and healing is a long and treacherous road. The learning curve for us as parents has often felt like a concave, vertical cliff.

    We have had to consider out-of-home therapeutic placement for each of our children at some point and for our now eleven-year-old son often. He has been in an after-school partial-hospitalization program for trauma and attachment for the past almost eight months. He is in a school program tailored for his emotional disability and gets picked up by his therapeutic program early in the afternoon. I pick him up at 6:00 p.m. He lives with us. His progress has been amazing to us, given the tempest of the last seven years he has been a part of our family. There have been some big bumps in the road, but his violent and destructive behavior has given way to positive coping skills and the ability to actually express some feelings in words. His ability to learn has increased dramatically. The program includes family therapy and we are starting to have fun together. Our children are developing more positive relationships with each other.

    We have avoided placing our son outside our home because we don’t want to undo all of the attachment work we have done. I’m sure you didn’t want that either. But so far, we have been able to find ways to keep all of us together. That may not always be workable, however, I am far more hopeful now than I was eight months ago. It is too bad that there is such a disparity in the services that are available in different states and even within the same state.

  • Janes Chiarelli

    Hello. My husband of almost 7 years, cheated on me and left me for her and is living with her now. He said he hasn’t been happy in years but never told/showed me he was unhappy. We have a 4 year old son that missed his daddy so much and cries for him to just come home. Our son even crawled all over his car crying “daddy stay home with me.” And he still left. He just keeps saying “he’s never coming back, no matter what.” I didn’t know what to anymore..he left me 5/7/15, the weekend before mothers day this year and it broke my heart and I keep praying to God and he keeps telling me “be patient” I was still trying smy best but it was hard when this was hurting my son so badly. I have told my sister about this and she gave me some advice to contact a very good and powerful prophet who can help me pray for my husband to come back and be happy with us again which i did and i contacted the prophet. he prayed for me and my husband cam home begging me to take him back and now we are happily living together and a family. all thanks to the prophet and his email is (prayerstosaverelationship@yahoo.com). May God bless you abundantly!