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To Place or Not To Place

I expect to receive backlash from this post, but as I contemplated writing it, I found that the pros outweigh the cons. The ability for parents and guardians to be able to have an open dialogue about placement of their child in a hospital or residential facility is a need that oftentimes goes unmet. Whether it’s due to stigma, guilt, or the feeling of having failed a child – we speak less about the emotional turmoil leading up to placement than we do the everyday battles themselves.

And quite frankly, it is that very place of being in the unknown, the questioning and the decision-making, the wondering if you’re making the right or the wrong choice – that is the time that your emotions are the most raw. Wondering if you were meant to parent this child, handle this situation, manage this mental illness / behavioral problem, etc. It’s in those moments of questioning that we can become muddled and dizzy with what is right in front of us.

When do we contemplate placement? When have we done all that we can do and hand the reigns over to a team of others?

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For me, I sit with these very questions in this moment. After months of making apparent progress, my daughter with Reactive Attachment Disorder put my 3-year-old son in a very unsafe situation. This is not the first, second, nor third time we have faced this dilemma with her. However, this time she reported that she did not feel badly about this and that she doesn’t believe she was wrong. Upon further investigation into the situation, other evidence around her room suggested that this was not a singular relapse.

I feel the betrayal and heartbreak of knowing that my son has been compromised because I allowed myself to let my guard down – because I believed that things were getting better, that she was learning emotions and empathy and how to control her impulses. I let us feel “normal” together… and now I must pay the price for that. I also know that I will be scoffed at for sharing too much personal information about my family and our situation. And yet how else are we to support one another and create a community of help for one another if we limit ourselves to speaking of only what is comfortable – what is “permissible”?

So many parents have emailed me over the past several years, struggling with this same dilemma. They ask for input on agencies and when they should finally let themselves take a break while the professionals give it a try with their child. And I have always said the same thing – this is a personal choice, but when you know you have loved and persevered and done all that you can, and you or your family are still being endangered, then you never have to feel like you’ve let anyone down, including yourself and your child.

The regular world of parents and families doesn’t understand the daily lying and theft – the number of calls from the school you get and the emails from angry parents. They don’t lay awake with anxiety over their child’s behaviors every night or feel physically ill on a regular basis because with every 2 steps forward, you’re forced to take 10 steps back. The regular world sees your child as charming and amiable, while you experience something far different behind closed doors. The inability to connect with your child – to feel honest emotions with them – to cuddle them and to look forward to the future together – these are things that the RAD parent faces.

And sadly, children with this disorder come by it quite often from serious neglect and abuse, cycles that continue to play out as they grow older, forever compromising their relationships with the world. As the parents, we feel guilty for even thinking of handing them over to the state, an agency, or even to a hospital – we know our children didn’t create their diagnosis. They didn’t abuse themselves. They were not in charge of anything that lead them to where they are today…

But neither did my 3-year-old son. And whereas I cannot put my daughter’s abusers on trial because this judicial and child welfare system failed her and my older son in such horrific and atrocious ways, all I can do is promise safety to each of them from this day forward. So, to the best of my ability, that is how I will make my decisions. Whether we place or we don’t, I choose to keep my promise to all 4 of my children. I will continue to fight for change to be made in child welfare and I will continue to advocate for the least of these… starting right here in my own home.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, know that you’re not alone. You’re not a failure and you’re not weak. Do all that you can and then trust that God will utilize whatever else is available to do the rest, even if that means it is no longer in your hands.

We’ve got this and we’ve got each other. Many prayers and much love to you all.

 

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When Sexual Abuse Returns

There are some articles that are easy to write and there are some articles that are easy to read. This, however, is not one of those articles. Chances are, if you’ve clicked on this post upon reading the title, you or someone you love has endured sexual abuse in some way, at some time. This is not the kind of topic that gets a million likes or shares, because the nature of it is so personal – so mortifying in its nature.

And yet, 1 in 4 children are sexually abused before they reach adulthood. Beyond that, every child is exposed to sexual content or contact with another child that has been abused. So when there is a controversial subject that affects every single one of our children, I would be doing a great disservice to you if I chose to take a more “comfortable” approach with my writing.

So, today I choose discomfort. Today, I am also choosing self-disclosure, as much of this topic has affected me, and my family, very personally. But if we’re being honest, it has probably affected you as well. And because of you, I am willing to go to the hard places today.

Shame

            When a child is sexually abused there are numerous feelings that may be attached to that child when he or she thinks of their trauma. Fear. Anger. Guilt. Hatred. Confusion. But the greatest feeling a child who has been sexually abused takes with them for years to come is the feeling of Shame.

            Why, you might ask, would shame be the most significant emotion associated with this form of abuse, especially once the child has been told that it wasn’t their fault?

            The answer may not be something you’re comfortable hearing, but it’s something that you need to know. Whether a child was abused one time or one thousand times, what was done to them wasn’t their fault. That child may even be able to wrap their head around that concept once they’re old enough… but the effects of that abuse are on-going. Behaviors like chronic masturbation, looking at pornography, perpetration, voyeurism, flashing or indecent exposure, engaging in sexual acts at a young age, questioning their sexuality, fecal smearing, problems urinating, bedwetting, seductive play with dolls/stuffed animals/or while playing “house” or “doctor”, self-harm, eating disorders, trouble sleeping, depression….

            Do any of these behaviors have a positive connotation with them? No. Not one. Often times, when we raise a child that experiences these behaviors, we talk to them about what actions are deemed “inappropriate” or “wrong”. And yet, the abused child continues to feel the urge to do these inappropriate and wrong things. The compulsion is so strong that it cannot be helped. So, our children are then given consequences for their “defiance”. Moreover, it then becomes reinforced with the child that their current behavior is more important than their past abuse.

            They may realize that they were not responsible for their initial trauma, yes. But they do feel the full weight of Shame over the obsessions, curiosity, and impulsive actions they experience daily since they were abused. They feel the shame of being considered “inappropriate”, “wrong”, and “defiant”. They question what is wrong with them and take on the full blame of their behaviors – behaviors that would not have been there had someone not violated their little bodies in the first place.

            I have two children that my husband and I fostered and then adopted. We were given very little information about their pasts when they came to live with us, and as time has gone by, they've been able to share more and more glimpses into their old lives – depicting horrible atrocities that would break your heart into a million pieces. And often times, their behaviors are a direct response to the pasts they were dealt.

            And yet I, not having been fostered or adopted, growing up in a safe home, still found myself on the receiving end of abuse from someone outside of my family. I know the feeling of Shame very well, and I can recognize it when I look into my children’s eyes. And even still, I have given out consequences. I have yelled. I have caused further shame by letting my own reactions get the better of me.

            Do you wonder why your child will take a lie to their grave? The answer is once again, Shame. It feels better to lie and not admit to behaviors that you’re ashamed of, to forget that the past ever happened and to refuse acknowledgment that the sexual abuse has, in a sense, returned through your actions.

            And what’s worse is that our culture reinforces sexual trauma on a daily basis. There are countless commercials, television shows, movies, internet clips, radio stations, magazines, posters, bill boards, and everyday people on the streets that promote the body as a sexual image. For 1 in 4 children, those are daily triggers that violate them over and over again as they face the fact that their bodies are nothing more than objects used to gratify someone else’s desires. For 1 in 4 children, these triggers are reminders of their learned powerlessness over their bodies, over sex, and over the ability to say “No”.

            In a society where we spend more time promoting political correctness that we are willing to expose our traumatized children to cities where it’s become legal to walk around topless, to dressing rooms used for males/females/or whatever gender one identifies with, to ads in search engines popping up to display the latest reality star’s see-through outfit….  We, as a culture, have not only allowed our children, our sisters, our wives, our mothers, and our girlfriends to feel powerless, but we’ve reinforced that the shame they’ve held onto means nothing to the world as a whole.

Where Do We Go From Here

            Perhaps you’re wondering where to start… where do we go from here? If you have a child or a loved one that has experienced sexual abuse, you are dealing with a fragile creature that will do whatever it takes to protect their secrets. And yet, you may also be dealing with someone who has become promiscuous or overly open about their past. What better way to take their shame and turn it into something that is now considered their “choice”, right?

            But either way, the hearts of these individuals are being held together by a string of lies, memories, and lack of power.  And what we need to do, what we have to do, is to love them in whatever form they come to us.

            My children were diagnosed with RAD – Reactive Attachment Disorder. It’s a difficult diagnosis that often overshadows other the abuse that they had to endure prior to coming to our home. It’s often easy to treat their behaviors under the guise of their diagnosis instead of the in light of their abuse. So, these are some things that you can do:

1)      Get your child into a therapist's office as soon as you can. Find a specialist that works with traumatized/abused children, and make sure you choose a therapist that your child feels comfortable with. (For example, your child may gravitate towards a male therapist if a man abused him or her… your child may also greatly fear a male therapist due abuse from a man. Each child is different and you need to make sure your child is comfortable. Even if that means you go into sessions with your child until the fear is gone.)

 

2)      Work to reverse the sense of Shame. Remind your child that their abuse was not their fault and that there is a reason for the feelings and impulses they still face to this day. We don’t use abuse as an excuse to engage in these actions, but we begin to remove the feeling of shame by acknowledging the role of the abuse in these behaviors.

 

3)      Teach boundaries. If your child or loved one is expected to interact with the people around them, then enforcing positive boundaries is a must. Passing on “bad touch” is too often considered normal childhood behavior. But in reality, it is something that then transfers shame onto another child. And that is not something that we should accept as part of a normal childhood. Teach, Review, and Practice safe boundaries. Remind your child that they can say “No” to anything that makes them feel unsafe or uncomfortable. Be an example of modesty and take an active stand against people, places, or groups that threaten the boundaries of your children.

 

4)      Remove sexual stigma. If your child has learned from an early age that their body is sexual, that may be the only way that they see themselves – the only purpose they see in their lives. Remind them that their bodies were created beautifully and perfectly. That there is a function for their bodies that goes far beyond sexual acts. That their purpose is internal and not external, and that they are judged not on their appearances, but how they treat others with love and respect.

 

5)      Empower. And most of all, remind your child that they have power. This may be a feeling that is so foreign to them that it is terrifying. Discuss dangerous situations, prepare them for unwanted advances, safeguard them against temptations. Because the safer they feel at home and in their everyday lives, the easier it will be for them to find the strength to say “No”, to run, or to tell someone their broken secrets – the easier it will be for them to heal.

 

If this article has impacted you in any way, please know that you are not alone in your struggle. You are not alone in your Shame. There is restoration and hope in Truth. There is love and acceptance to be found.

Isaiah 61:1-7 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners… to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair... Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance.

Picture by Chirag Rathod

Picture by Chirag Rathod


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