Below I am posting a letter from a CALO parent. She shares some of her feelings on the treatment process and what it is like to parent a child with a traumatic history and corresponding emotional and behavioral problems. In her own words:
Lately, I have been spending time on the Attachment and Trauma Network (ATN) web site, where I listened to a radio interview with Nancy Spoolstra, ATN’s founder, as a build-up to a 2007 conference on parenting traumatized children.
Much of the content of the interview was familiar, but I liked hearing it broken down for the layman, so to speak. In addition, some of what was said reminded me of the lessons I am only just learning or have yet to learn.
Nancy described how oftentimes our kids at an early age appear to merely be “strong-willed” children, and that we parents lack the frame of reference for what is really going on. I recall that when my troubled (and troubling) children were little I read a range of books from Dobson’s “Dare to Discipline” to “How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk.” I still think there was much of value in those books, but none addressed the “hardwiring” issue that seems to be manifest in many of our RAD or traumatized children. So I spent years of frustration trying one technique after another and spending thousands on counseling and psychotherapy; and feeling worse about myself and my ability to parent.
The message I had internalized was that by loving them enough and by setting up the structures around them, my kids should be fine. The fact that they weren’t fine reflected badly on me.
The bottom line was that for a variety of reasons – both biochemical and psychological – my kids were unwilling to be parented. The normal reciprocity and safety of a child/caregiver relationship had broken down. The loss and grief issues they were experiencing had not been addressed, but rather had crystallized into an attitude of being the only ones looking out for themselves. They were unfamiliar with and resistant to intimacy.
As our children get older the stakes get higher. As teens they are much smarter and more mobile than hard-to-manage toddlers! And thus they are able to get into more dangerous and unhealthy situations. Our RAD teens are able to push all the right buttons to manipulate us and push us away as a survival mechanism, but it is one that ultimately turns against them. We parents then scramble to try to get them the age-appropriate help they need and to keep our families safe at the same time.
We must learn to parent with “love and logic,” as Spoolstra says. But – and this really stuck with me – we also have to put the burden of responsibility on the child. Our children might decide to work through their issues, but our kids need to be willing to risk it.
I am grateful that today I have the resources to help me understand and deal with my family’s reality, and to offer my children tools for healing some of their pain. My hope is that they will begin to face their future with confidence and optimism. But I now realize that so much of what has happened, along with the current emotional life of my hurt children, is beyond my control.
I am not immune from sometimes feeling overwhelming guilt – especially when blamed by others. However, I am humbled knowing that I am only one of the players in this drama, that I am still learning my role, and that I must turn to others for insight and support.
- Susan H., CALO parent