We’ve been down this road in the past. Several times if I’m being honest. But now, we’ve decided to change our entire approach to parenting our child.
I’ll never forget December 15, 2014. I sat alongside my wife in a cozy office, in another state, clutching both of my knees with my hands so tightly, I’m sure they left a mark. Just outside the window to my left the gray conglomerate of trees, left naked from winter winds, glistened with a fresh coating of frost in the early sunlight. I would normally take in this type of beauty, and marvel at the winter stillness, but not today. I could hear the intake person ask me questions. He must have repeated himself several times. But it was sort of like watching a movie where everything slows down, even the dialogue and facial expressions, and the protagonist only hears echoes of someone’s voice, not clear words.
I couldn’t speak, couldn’t express, couldn’t even look up from the ground where I had fixed my eyes. If I did, I was sure the flood gates would open. I was fiercely holding back tears. Even when my wife asked me a question, I barely squeaked out a word. All I could think of was my child being left behind at this place as we drove away. My mind flashed from this to me as an 11 year old, and how desperately I never wanted to be away from home. I imagined what I would have felt like if my parents had done this to me. All of these thoughts…these emotions…collided in my brain as one massive storm.
The hardest part was, we knew we had no other choice. Our child often made choices that put others in danger. There were days of peace, but those days had become very few and far between. We knew we had to make this decision and we knew this program was the best possible place for healing to occur. But man, did it hurt. Never more than that moment did I feel like a failure.
Fast forward several years, this child is older and is finally home. It’s still hard, and there have been moments that have tested us. But we know this isn’t his fault. His trauma history dictates much of his present behaviors. We know that, and we respond with much more grace. We’ve had to tweak our life in order to help him with his needs, a task that we do without question because…well…this is our child and we love him! If he had a terrible disease and the only way to a cure was to drain our savings, and fly across the ocean to a doctor in Europe, we would do it. So we’ll take the same steps with this.
Over the past few months we’ve determined one thing, as we’ve worked hard to rebuild trust and form a connection with him:
We’re not going to send this child to residential treatment again. Period.
“We won’t do that again,” we say calmly to him. “We will continue to fight for you and work to connect with you even if it’s hard at times. We love you and that will never change.”
We will continue to use those therapeutic parenting skills we know to build trust, connect even in the midst of a fierce storm, and respond in a way that helps him re-regulate.
For some of you, you’re reading this and relating it back to your situation. You have a child who cannot keep himself or herself safe, and quite possibly is putting the rest of your family in danger. If you’ve read our past posts on this, then you know what we have to say….when you can no longer keep them safe, or the rest of your family safe, residential treatment needs to be an option. In fact, that is the only criteria we have for choosing RT. To be honest, one reason we have chosen to work hard to build a connection with our child (first and foremost)….understand his trauma history and how it affects present behavior….and apply behavior management strategies is that we really haven’t found a residential treatment facility that holistically helps. Most are based around containment and, let’s be honest, that doesn’t foster healing. At all!
We’ve come to believe in connection, healing, and the transformative power of trauma understanding so much so, that we are designing a brand new online course called Trauma Knowledge Masterclass that releases in a few weeks.
I reflect back on that winter day in 2014 and I know one thing for sure: I love this kid. I’ve been to some dark places as a parent, mostly due to my lack of understanding. But I’ve come through it and gained a deep understanding of what has happened to him in the past, and how it’s caused him to sometimes fight against me. That’s not his fault. My heart gushes with compassion. Even when his behaviors are impulsive, or agitated, or even mean, I can step back and ask myself some questions that remind me of the why behind all of it. And because of that, I choose to fight for him.
I choose to never again send him away.
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