Dear Daughter, I Don’t Enjoy This

Dear Daughter,

They told me that children with trauma and attachment issues would do everything they could to push a parent away and to test boundaries… but this sh!t you put me through; Kid, there ain’t enough vodka in the world. I don’t know why you take it to such extremes. I have always been good at following through on the consequences that I lay out for you, but it’s like you have to keep upping the ante. You keep pushing past my consequences like they don’t mean a thing to you, and I have to make the consequences harsher and harsher to match your escalating behaviour. And when you’ve been warned a thousand times of what will happen if you continue, you do it one more time just to see if I’ll follow through… and so I must, and now you sob uncontrollably because I’m such a mean mom.

The parenting techniques I used to preach to clients, have no effect on you.  Natural or logical consequences are out the window. So much for discipline vs. punishment. So much for getting down to your level. That does not work with you. You don’t need a friend, you need a parent. A strong one.

I want you to know that I don’t enjoy this. I do not want you to think that I am mean. I want to be warm and loving and let you bend the rules and have exceptions sometimes, but I can not. When I do, you are out of control. You do not feel safe, though you have begged for the flexibility. I must be firm with you, and when your behaviour is not appropriate then I must be more firm, and when it escalates then so must I.

This does not come naturally for me. I am spontaneous. I am care-free. I don’t enjoy following a routine or having every part of my life mapped out for me. But I do it for you, so that you feel safe within that structure.

So when you are older and you have memories of those times when “mom was mean”, know that I was doing it for you. Know that I didn’t enjoy it but that it was the only way to keep you from spiralling into an anxious mess. Most importantly, know that I was doing it because I love you.

Love,

Mom

Battle for Control

Lately my daughter hasn’t wanted to go to school. I haven’t been able to figure out exactly why, but her teacher says that all kids are like this in the spring as the days get longer and they want to be playing and not stuck in the classroom. She thinks my daughter is experiencing the same thing as the other children, just to a more extreme degree. She’s probably right. My girl takes everything to the extreme. But, I have to keep my power. I have to always be the one in control, so that she feels safe and taken care of. And so I resort to whatever methods I can to win the battle.

Three times I had to make good on my threats to put her on the deck with her clothes and lock the door until she went to school. Twice she eventually did. The third time the sun was out so she decided to play in the yard instead. Since then I’ve had to up the ante. If she won’t go to school, I threatened to carry her to the driveway and stand there in my pyjamas in front of the passing cars and school busses until she crosses the street. This morning I did just that. This morning she went to school.

I don’t like it one bit. Tossing her things onto the deck and locking the door doesn’t make me happy. Neither does having to embarrass her in front of her schoolmates. But consequences don’t work; I’ve tried them all. Letting her get away with it certainly does not work. There is a reason traumatized kids need high structure; it’s because it’s what makes them feel safe. And so I keep things structured, I make her go to school every day because being flexible doesn’t work for us. I get her out that door by whatever means necessary, and I really have no idea if I’m doing this right or not, but I’m doing the best that I know how to do.

Dear Daughter, I’m Doing the Best I Can

Dear Daughter,

I’ve always been honest with you and I will be honest again in saying that this is hard. Raising a child born to someone else comes with one thousand emotions, guilt being at the top of the list. You were taken from your biological mother because she was deemed unfit to parent you, and so I feel as though I don’t deserve you unless I can do better than she did. And it doesn’t stop at better. No, there were dozens, maybe hundreds of waiting parents but they picked me, so I have to not just be better but the best, and the honest to goodness fact is that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, either. I’ve read all the books, taken all the training, talked to all the professionals and still, I don’t really know if I’m doing this right. I try to view all sides before I make decisions. I try to stay calm at all times so you know I can take on all the problems that are too big for you. I try to put vegetables in your lunch and make sure you’re getting enough physical and social activity. I get up in the middle of the night to kiss away your nightmares. And yet, your teacher sends home a note because I sent you to school without snowpants and I feel like a failure. I lose my temper after dealing with your meltdowns for hours on end and I feel like a failure. You had three teeth fall out this summer and I haven’t gotten you into the dentist for a check-up and so I feel like a failure. I don’t have anyone to remind me that I asked you twice that morning to put on your snow pants, or that we have enough appointments already between the peadeatrician and the therapists and the social worker, or that it’s okay to lose my temper sometimes because after all, I’m only human. I am expected, at least in my own mind, to be perfect. To not make mistakes. I am supposed to be the best mother.

I have to slap myself to remind me that there is no such thing as a best mother. Anyone with half a brain knows that we are all just doing the best we can. I am. And so was she. Your biological mom. She did the best she could and I’m doing the best I can and I guess at the end of the day that’s all you can ask for from a parent. So do me a favour please, and go easy on us both. I promise you, we are being plenty hard enough on ourselves.

Love,

Mom

Dear Daughter, I will Love You Always

Dear Daughter,

Saying “I love you” for the first time was scary. We didn’t know each other very well back then, but I knew right away that my love for you would grow profoundly. I wasn’t sure how to express it that first time, and I was worried about your reaction, but I thought it was important for you to hear that you were special to me. When I finally worked up the courage to tell you that I loved you, I was met with a simple, “Yep, goodnight.” and I couldn’t have been more grateful as I had half expected a scowl or worse. I know it must have been scary for you when you made the decision to say it back, because for a while you dipped your toes in the water, giggling and asking if I loved you and then replying with a simple “yeah” when I asked if you loved me back. That slowly grew to silly “I looooveeee yooouuuuuu”‘s and then eventually to responding to me with a serious “I love you, too”.

Expressing our love is something we do now on a regular basis. I make sure to tell you in the morning and when I tuck you in at night. I tell you every time we say hello or goodbye, and I tell you at random times throughout the day, but yet I can still see the insecurity in your eyes as you question if I really mean it. Some days you prance around the house giggling and reciting “you loooove me” over and over as though it’s a song stuck in your head. Other days, in that same giggling voice, you turn it into a question, “do you looooove me?”. My answer is always “yes”, but yet you keep asking and I wonder how long it will take for you to really believe it. I suppose it’s probably something you’ve heard many times before, often from foster parents who never intended to keep you. You must not have understood that they weren’t rejecting you when you moved to the next home, but rather trying to providing you with temporary love until someone came along who could do it permanently. You must have felt like no one wanted you, and now that I think about it, you often ask me why no one likes you, and I suppose that is why you feel this way. Well my darling daughter, no matter how long it takes you to believe in it, I will love you always.

Love,

Mom

Dear Daughter, Comfort is What I Wish for You

Dear Daughter,

A few weeks ago while you were in your equine therapy session, I watched a DVD that said this, “Aggression is not a behaviour problem, it’s an emotion problem.”. While I already knew this in theory, there was something about the way Dr. Neufeld described it that really sunk in for me. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, and so it was ironic when you crawled into my bed at 1am this morning and started to talk about that very thing. You explained that when you hit, bite or spit at me, it’s not really because you’re angry, but because you’re sad or scared. You told me that when you feel this way, hitting is how your body protects you from getting hurt. You talked about how you learned when you were little how to protect yourself, which was a remarkable statement because you were too young and don’t remember the actual events that caused you to need these skills. I explained to you that when you were a baby, your body got stuck in “fight mode” and now it doesn’t know how to calm down. The grown-up’s call this “hypervigilance” but at home, we call it being scared or worried. I hope that I’m helping you to understand what’s going on with your body and that I’m not confusing you further. It’s such a complex thing for a 9 year old to understand, but you have proven time and again that I am telling you things you already know.

It fills my heart that you have become confident enough in me to share these vulnerable thoughts, and while you’re laying in my arms sobbing I am oddly happy, because your tears are a sign that you are finally breaking through the mad. That, my darling girl, is progress… and all I can hope for is that someday you feel safe enough to live in calm and comfort.

Love,

Mom