What it sometimes means to parent a traumatized child

By Ken Huey | Added March 9

I have a friend who works with me on an advocacy council. The council is one looking for ways to improve treatment for traumatized children. My friend, Julie, is an attorney and mother of two adopted children. One of the children, a girl named Angie, has a history of abuse prior to placement in Julie's home. Julie and her husband have struggled to help Angie and have suffered setbacks at times. She had a setback just recently and wrote a powerful email describing her sorrow. With her permission I am reprinting it here with names changed. It serves as a reminder of the difficulty some of us face when parenting traumatized children. It is personal and poignant and it makes me want to do a better job creating a healing environment for these kids. Here is Julie's experience in her own words:

My life was kind of keeping even keel until Friday.  Angie disclosed in therapy that a boy at school had molested her.  It fit with what we were seeing.  She was pooping in her underwear and urinating in her room.  She does that to keep safe.  I could not figure out what had triggered it.  When we went into therapy, she drew a really awful picture of herself filled with trash for lack of a better word.  She was very reluctant to disclose, but, when she finally did, there was visible relief.

After discussing it with the therapist, we both called the principal to let him know.  I was very clear that I know that Angie has more sexual knowledge than the other kids and that she does lie (quite often) so I didnt know if the boy she named had really done it or it was someone else, but I knew something had happened to her because of her behavior. 

Anyway, in the end, when I went to get the kids from school, I saw the other mom in the hallway crying.  The principal had interviewed her son and said that Angie had actually grabbed his hand and tried to put it down her pants.  He said he walked away.

For whatever reason, my heart absolutely broke when I saw the other mom crying.  Absolutely.  I know we have issues we have more than our share of issues but when I saw the other mom cry, I realized our issues had spread for the first time to another family.   It crushed my spirit.  I dont know why I reacted the way I did.  I knew on some level that this would happen someday, but it made me so sad to see the pain in her eyes.

I tend to believe the other child.  Angies story was not very consistent.  I do think something happened, but, given the two childrens histories, it is likely my child who instigated.  And, if he wasnt the one who touched her, there could very likely be others who did.  Just her soiling behavior signifies either a traumatic memory or an event.

I have asked the school for years to not send her alone with other students when she goes to the restroom or to special ed.  No one listened.  Friday, the principal told me that this had opened some eyes for the teachers.  I was devastated.  I didnt want to open any eyes.  I didnt want any of it to happen.

Today, I feel like throwing up.  I am not even sure why.  Like I said, I knew it was coming in some form in some way.  I have seen her do similar things at home.  But, doing those things at school feels like a new level, like we are spreading the chaos.

I am sad for the pain Angie must feel to reenact or solicit or whatever she did.  I am sad that I will probably never know the real truth.  I am so sad that my little girl has these issues that taint her ability to make friends and feel like she is one of the kids.  I feel such love for her and such pain for what she has been through.

I also feel so sad at the supervision it will require to keep her safe.  They are now assigning her someone to walk her everywhere.  Thats very smart.  But, its kind of sad, too.

Its weird how life is going along fine and then, one day, one event, kind of guts you and makes you feel so humbled all over again.  This has really hit me and I am not even sure why.  Just so very sad about it on so many levels.  And, yet, so expected. 

We had already planned a trip to Chicago for the weekend because I had a huge trial this week.  We went with a friend and her child and a lot of the weekend was spent supervising like a hawk.

Yet, the sweet thing was that one afternoon, I reached out my hand to Angie and she took it and just held on.  I think sometimes the grief I feel is the grief from *knowing* what abuse does to child.  If thats not bad enough, it happened to a child I love.  Sometimes the reality of that just jolts me and today is one of those days.

Thanks for listening my friends.  I really appreciate you all so much.  You are amazing beyond amazing.  No one ever tells you enough.  I am proud to be with you fighting on behalf of our kids.  The work we do is so important.  I feel like I am on a mothers team that no one ever wanted to join.  But, if I have to be on it, I am blessed to be on it with you.


About the Author

Ken Huey, Ph.D. Owner, Founder and Senior Vice President

After completing his BA in English, Ken Huey received a Masters degree in Counseling Psychology from Florida State University. He then earned his Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy from Purdue University. Dr. Huey has been working with troubled youth since 1994. He started his career in the helping professions as a therapist in community mental health. He then spent time in a private practice focusing on family preservation/in-home therapy. As part of that practice he also worked on custody evaluations and provided expert witness testimony for courts in Indiana. Dr. Huey moved to Utah and began work with troubled youth in a residential treatment setting. He joined Provo Canyon School at the beginning of 2003 and was named as their Director of Business Development in June of 2004. He left Provo Canyon in July of 2005 and joined West Ridge Academy as their Director of Clinical Services. Being adopted himself, Dr. Huey was always drawn to the large population of other adoptees in treatment. He ultimately became convinced that this population needed specialty care and in November of 2006, Dr. Huey helped launch CALO. Dr. Huey has presented at conferences around the country on issues of parenting, couples communication, and residential care. He serves on the boards of the Attachment and Trauma Network (ATN), the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP), and the Association for Treatment of Trauma in the Attachment of Children (ATTACh). He and his wife, Jo, live in remote Linn Creek, Missouri, and are the parents of 6 children. Prior to the Huey family arriving in Linn Creek, the population was 280. The Huey family increased the Linn Creek population by 3% (288). Chiggers and ticks are their only neighbors.

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