In-Spite Of A Dark Disorder, And Bad Choices, I Still Believe In My Kid!

Maybe it would be easier to just give up, concede that his future won’t be different from the present, and stay content to not believe in my son. But there’s something deep within me that keeps hope alive.

Father and son playing at sunset

I’ve just drifted off to sleep. It’s a blazing hot afternoon in Central Indiana and I only have a fleeting 30 minutes until the show my 2 younger sons have chosen, on Netflix, ends. I’ve bargained with them to let me nap in exchange for a show of their choosing. I’ve hit the jackpot. We don’t allow them to watch TV unbridled, at will. They think they’ve hit the jackpot too.

My eyes close, the sound of the TV becomes muffled, and my mind has begun the cross-over to the other side. That’s when I hear it. It yanks me back across the shiny, dream bridge and into reality. It’s my phone on the nightstand next to our bed. It’s vibrating loudly. Even with the ringer off it’s loud. I pull my heavy head off my pillow to see who would be calling me. I don’t recognize the number so my head returns to the groove my head’s created on my soft pillow. Suddenly, a second buzz. A voicemail. “Good grief! Somebody must really need to get ahold of me,” I think to myself as I reach for my phone.

“Hey dad, it’s me,” my oldest son says. “I just wanted to tell you that I got in another fight today at camp. Okay, bye.” I listen again to make sure I’m hearing this right and not dreaming. My second oldest son laughs at something they’re watching on the show, so I know I’m awake. I can’t freaking believe this! I think to myself. Another fight. I can feel the rage begin to burn in me. I told him yesterday, after the fight he was in then, that one more instance and his night is over when he gets home.

I’m so frustrated I want to quit. An hour later, I drive to his camp to pick him up. I’m bracing for something like, “Mr. Berry, we love your son, but he’s too much for our counselors to handle. We can’t have him here anymore.” It’s happened before, so I’m ready for it to happen again.

Believe.

Fortunately, that’s not what happens. They hand me the incident report, wish me a good rest of the day, and we’re off. I walk to the car silently, fuming, ready to go off on him. I know this won’t work though. We’ve been down this road in the past. My son suffers from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, so exploding on him won’t work. He’ll just explode back. And the rest of the night will be containment and restraint. His brain won’t comprehend my outburst. It’s either trying to play catch-up or it’s moved on completely to something else. One thing’s for sure, though, he won’t fully connect consequences to action.

We close the car doors, buckle our seat belts, and I turn the car on. Out of the corner of my eye I see him look at me. Just then he says, “Dad, I’m really sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.”

And that’s when it hits me. I’m reminded of something powerful that keeps me in this fight for his heart: I believe in him!

Hope.

Through the darkness that often comes from a disorder like FASD, the impulsivity, the aggression, the lack of reasoning, or even the mental capacity to understand basic social skills at times, I can’t help but be filled with hope. This disorder, these letters, they don’t define him. They don’t determine his future story. It has yet to be written.

There is hope in the midst of an uphill climb that’s starting to have the makings of a climb to the summit of Mt. Everest. There are so many days of hopelessness. So many days where I wonder, “Is this the best it’s gonna get with him?” It’s not, though. For as angry as I am on this day, I look over at him, and I see an innocent child with goofy ears, bright eyes, and a smile that can light up the darkest night. I believe in him and I’m filled with hope for his future.

Future.

I speak calmly to him as we drive toward home. “I want you to know something buddy. I believe in you!” The words echo in my mind and they couldn’t be more true for me. Over the past few months, even through some big battles, I’ve arrived at this place of hardcore belief in my son. I believe he has hope. I believe he has a future. That’s what makes days like today so hard to deal with. It would be easy if I didn’t believe. In that case, I could just be mad at him, drive home, and continue through the rest of the night as if nothing happened. But I can’t. My belief in him propels me to something deeper. Something raging in my heart. A passion. A longing. A refusal to give up.

“That’s why mom and I want you to stop doing things like this. You’re better than that. You’re a loving, kind-hearted kid. You don’t need to be getting into fights. You have such a bright future.” I look over to see his solemn face. He’s not angry, not blowing me off, he’s actually listening.

With all of my heart I believe the words I speak to him. That wasn’t always the case. There have been many days where I wouldn’t have said words like these, because I struggled to find any ounce of hope. But on this day, with all of my heart, I believe.

His past is over, his present is filled with promise, and his future has yet to be written.

Question: Do you believe in your child, in-spite of tough circumstances? Share your story with us. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Colleen Ncrew

    If we don’t believe in them nobody will. It was a dark moment that I realized all these people in our lives do not get to see the wounded fragile child inside. This crazy kid lets me see that little person. The kid that was left to survive in horrible places. This is my kid and I believe everyday. I also have two mantras lol that she is using now “speak life” and mine “perspective”. Everything in perspective, two friends recently lost their children and each day that is hard I say….mine is still
    here. Many days we call for the rapture but know that God isnt finished with us yet. So one foot in front of the other chosing life words, positive words like we can…. because you cannot allow hate words and hurts to stick, if the joy is sweating out of you.

    • Colleen, I love this. Thanks for your words. 😉

  • Cari

    I love this post and your love for and commitment to your son. The issue of “choices” is one I really struggle with. Choice is a frontal lobe function. At least for my kids- when they do this really big acting out or aggressive behavior, they’re in their fight-or-flight lower brain and there’s no choice there, they just can’t regulate. Once they’ve gone there, they need an adult to co-regulate with them. I’ve found the concept of “bad choices” brings a lot of shame for my son (8), and causes more acting out. It’s a delicate line to walk. We don’t want to imply that they’re not responsible for their own actions, but want them to understand that they are not bad kids and they can’t make the distinction between “bad choices” and “I am bad” (at least at the age they are now). My thinking about these things has really been influenced by Trust Based Relational Intervention and the concepts and strategies therein. It has been life-changing for my family. Wondering how you and your wife conceptualize these things and how you talk to your son and help him understand his own behavior. It’s something that is still a work in progress for us.

    • Cari, thanks so much. I am so glad to hear that this piece resonated with you.

    • Allisonm

      Cari, I have the same issue with the “good choice” “bad choice” thing. It’s one thing if my son has actually made a choice that he can see that he made. We can talk about that in a fun and playful way when he is calm and he might be able to learn something helpful from the situation. But so often, the things that lead to big behavioral symptoms are not the result of his choices, but of decisions made by others. Things like having to go to school because it is Tuesday and not Saturday can throw my son a big curve ball when it happens that this particular Tuesday is a day when he can’t tolerate some aspect of school. Choices by district officials to remodel the entire school while my son is a student there mean that lots of disruption, loud noise, and strangers will be a part of each school day. For a child with PTSD, attachment challenges, and FASD, it can be very hard to roll with things that others his age are able to tolerate with more grace.

      My son is responsible for choices he actually makes and for using skills he actually has in circumstances where his brain is capable of using them. We work hard at enlarging the time and situations in which he can remain calm enough to make choices and use/develop skills. We also work hard at co-regulating and re-regulating so that he can return to baseline more quickly and with less fall-out. TBRI has been a great model for us–especially the part about not issuing consequences for being dysregulated. It helps us keep our focus on relationship, regulation, and positive influence instead of on consequences that don’t even figure in our son’s calculus when he feels unsafe. When he feels safe, my son frequently makes remarkably good choices, despite his impulse-control challenges. When he was six, we were told to place him in an out-of-state residential treatment facility and relinquish our parental rights because no one thought he could live as part of a family. At twelve, our son is learning to read and do math, has amazing salesman’s skills, and a heart as big as all outdoors. I absolutely believe he has a bright and productive future ahead of him. And I believe even more in the God who isn’t even close to finished with my son yet.

  • Sarah Bellinger Denney

    I absolutely believe in my daughter!! When she came to us through foster care, we were told that she, at age 6, would most likely require a residential setting soon and for the rest of her life. I refused to believe in the professionals and believed in her. I refused to believe that these “professionals” could see the entire future of a 6 year old!!!! She did remain in a residential placement for almost 2 years, which led to the FAS diagnosis, a spectrum disorder, a thyroid condition and to discovery her medication sensitivity. We were able to visit her almost weekly and she came home for holidays. Don’t get me wrong, it was TOUGH, but I refused to give up in her, and her bright, successful future. It’s been 4 years since she’s required any type of hospitalization or intervention services. We still struggle every day, but…she is SO, SO, SO much better than those early days. I really believe the best is yet to come! She still has so much to learn, and to teach US!

    • Hey Sarah, we totally get it. Keep loving and believing in her. So cool to hear a bit of your story.