Tuesday, November 26, 2013


By: Jane Samuel

‘Tis the season – for thanks giving that is. I see friends posting things they are thankful for each day on Facebook. There are probably similar lists on Twitter, Tumbler and Google+. I suspect my teens are being flooded with them on Instagram and my own email and snail mail is filling up with Thanksgiving letters from various non-profits, all worthy of a little monetary love AND thanks for their work making this a better world.

But here I sit with my busy life, wondering how I am going to get all my cleaning, cooking and decorating done while also tending to a child who can be a bit emotional depending on the day, the situation and even the food she has eaten. Thanks’s giving – that act of being grateful – is the last thing on my mind. Besides I am a born worrier, so I would rather worry about this or that, than sit down and list the things I am grateful for.

That is, until I consecutively opened two emails that made me pause. The first was an email from the school principal – aptly called “weekly words”. This week’s was about report cards. Just a few short paragraphs long, her gentle instructions on the best words to use when a report card is stellar - OR not - were so wise. I needed her words of instruction, because report card time in our house can be challenging with a child with learning differences who lags way behind where her siblings were at the same age.

I sat there thinking of the times I have said, “Wow!  You are so smart” to my older two children and the times I have fretted over the younger one who has spent her whole life tested by her past and the developmental delays it left her with.

But it wasn’t until I opened the second email – a Thanksgiving newsletter from Orphan Voice (a non-profit we support) that the entire picture came together in my mind with regard to our “challenging child.”

That of her learning and our being thankful.

The past 11 years have not always been rosy for her – or us. Adopted after 12 months in a poor orphanage there was a lot of developmental and emotional trauma that needed to be healed. Even now, there are still bumps in the road, and the uphill battle to learn despite severe memory and language processing deficits is, well, always uphill.  Unlike our other two children who have mostly sailed through learning, the younger one has caused us on numerous occasions to adjust our definitions of “normal”, “smart”, or “intelligence.”

But it is at times like this, when the focus is not on the dark clouds but the silver linings in life that I realize how thankful I am for this sweet being in our lives AND the lessons of life she has taught us.

Yes, she may be old enough for sixth grade but be in fifth and read at a third-grade level.

Yes, she may not get “letter” grades like her siblings who are in normal curriculum schools.

Yes, she may need to be reminded on an hourly basis how many inches are in a foot, how many days in the week, and what season comes after this one.

Yes, she may be a bit over the top at times emotionally and need redirection.

BUT, she has the work ethic and the love of learning that I wish all children had.

And, she has the compassion and care for her fellow human being that I only wish I had one-half of.

And that is a mighty good list of things to be thankful for!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Because It Is Hard

By:  Gari Lister

“We choose to go to the moon . . .  not because it is easy, but because it is hard . . . because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.. . . " John F. Kennedy, Jr. (Sept. 12, 1962 at Rice University)

Today is the 50th anniversary of the day that President Kennedy was assassinated, and this famous quotation is one of many played on television over the last few weeks here in Dallas.  It resonated with me – and you can probably guess why.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Orphan Sunday vs. Orphan Reality

By: Julie Beem

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. – James 1:27

The church my family attends doesn’t have an orphan/adoption ministry.  In previous years I’ve mourned that because as our church family has watched closely for the past 15 years all the challenges our daughter (and family) have faced with her complex trauma and attachment struggles, I have felt we’ve not been the best “poster family” for promoting adoption.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The "L" Word

By:  Jane Samuel

Driving to school this morning my youngest (chronological age 11, emotional age – always open for debate) and I were discussing her father’s upcoming business trip Asia. Pulling up to a stop light, I glanced sideways and did a quick check of her demeanor. While she has gotten much better in the past few years about family members coming and going in her life, I still try to be on the lookout for signs that an upcoming loss - albeit a temporary one – might flip her internal emotional balance on its end. “Trigger her” as we say in the therapeutic parenting business.

Friday, October 11, 2013

I'm So Strong . . .

by:  Julie Beem

“I’m so strong that I could destroy this whole house.”  His declaration was matter-of-fact, not launched as a threat but to gauge my response.  “Really?” I responded, “why would you want to destroy my house?”  “Because I’m powerful enough.”

Knowing that I was conversing with a child who has experienced trauma cued me to say what I thought he was fishing for (a safe, in-charge response).  “Well, I’m strong enough not to let anyone destroy my house, because we have a safe home here.” I watched that message sink into his brain and saw his whole body relax. It was then that he was able to follow through on the request I had made of him “Sit down and eat your lunch.”

Friday, October 4, 2013

Hugging A Stranger on the Plane

by:  Julie Beem
No, this isn’t a blog about indiscriminate affection.  And no, this is not a mom you will read about in a sensationalized report on “underground adoptive/foster families”.  But it happens much more often than most people know.
Coming home from the ATTACh conference days ago, I plopped my exhausted self in the aisle seat next to a married couple and pulled out one of the adoption books I had acquired at the conference.  The cover had the words “adoptive and foster parents” on it.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Letting Go

by:  Jane Samuel

She calls me from the spa-sleep-over-birthday-party and I am not surprised.  There is a catch in her voice and she is asking me to bring money. I don’t question. I just get in the car and drive to her.

When I had pulled up in front of her classmate’s house two hours ago to drop her off, she looked unsure. There were girls on the front lawn that were not her close friends. But she turned to me and with her words and conviction climbed aboard that fine line she is now trying to straddle between the small world of a child with learning disabilities and emotions too hard to predict at times and the world of cool tweens. “Mom, I have to go. This is the first girls’ sleep-over party I have been invited to by the kids from my school.”

Friday, August 30, 2013


By:  Jane Samuel

I knew the minute my husband pulled out of the lot and darted across the street to drop me at the pharmacy that it was a bad idea. Our youngest had run back into the retirement home where my father lived to retrieve a forgotten item and my husband thought it would be quicker to pull across, drop me, and run back and get her while I shopped. Problem is he didn’t tell her. He just figured he could get back before she noticed. Wrong.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Resilience – Inborn or Learned – Part 2

by:  Julie Beem

The listing of factors that make children resilient from Resilience Theory: A Literature Review by Adrian DePlessis VanBreda  made total sense to me.  But the paragraph of conclusion supposedly based on these factors did not:

Clearly, children are not defenceless against stressful life conditions. There are many factors which can assist to ‘buffer’ (Rutter, 1985) children against stress, and which assist them in growing up to be well-adjusted and happy adults, who work well, play well, love well and expect well (Werner in Dahlin et al., 1990, p.228).These resilience studies stand in contrast to “the overwhelming bulk of developmental research[which] has been devoted to exploring the pathogenic hypothesis, ie that risk factors in the perinatal period, infancy and early childhood are predictive of disturbances in later childhood and adulthood” (ibid.). Resilience Theory: A Literature Review at page 11.

Wait a minute!  Children are not defenseless against stress because they have resiliency factors.  But those factors are primarily good nurturing, healthy bonds with primary caregivers and others early in their lives that help give them that positive self-image and world view, the coping skills, the internal locus of control.  As the parent of a child who did NOT receive this in early childhood/infancy, I can attest to the fact that those are the stuff of which resiliency is made of.  So to say that the developmental research, and things like the ACE Study stand in contrast to resiliency theory is still confusing to me.  Children who do not have opportunity to build healthy attachments, who do not have adults in their lives to serve as stable caregivers, who are separated from their primary caregiver during that first year are at risk, just like developmental research shows time and again.

Resiliency is made/learned, not inborn.  It just is.  And the push toward building resiliency in traumatized children and adults is a noble one.  BUT, we really need to understand how much at risk each person who lacks these healthy beginnings is, and how challenging it is to build the capacity for being resilient is, when those early attachment underpinnings are not there.  It is not as simple as just decrying all the research that shows that children are at great risk when they have adverse early childhoods (ones with abuse, neglect, poverty, maltreatment, lack of food, lack of healthy attachment).  Apparently Resiliency Theory’s own research shows that healthy attachment, attention by caring adults, and positive treatment by caregivers and teachers are major factors in building a child’s capacity for resilience. So, shouldn’t the focus really be on what can be done to build healthy attachments?

If I were defining resilience it would be the ability to “bounce back” from or cope with major life stressors due to the capacity that was built in a person’s infancy and early childhood through healthy attachments and nurturing care that helped that person to view themselves as competent, the world as a basically good place and to hone their positive and flexible coping skills.

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Resilience – Inborn or Learned – Part 1

by:  Julie Beem

There’s a lot of talk about resilience being the antidote to trauma.  Lots of workshops, books, and training programs talk about building resilience in kids as a way to counteract the impact of trauma in their lives.  On the surface all this seems to make sense, but it’s always puzzled me.  What did people mean by resilience, and why does it appear that my child has none, even after years of parenting her?

Friday, August 2, 2013

Dos & Don'ts: An Adoptive & Foster Parent's Letter to Family and Friends

ATN is delighted to include another post from Carol Lozier.  Carol, a member of ATN's Board of Directors, is a clinical social worker in private practice in Louisville, Kentucky.  Her website, www.forever-families.com, offers a blog, free downloadable tools for families, an excerpt of her book, and a supportive community of adoptive and foster parents.

by:  Carol Lozier

Have you ever noticed that adopted and foster kids are especially cute? Their beautiful eyes, cute noses, and charming smiles often call attention to them and to their family. In the midst of this attention, adoptive and foster parents often hear remarks of how their parenting could be more effective, or possibly that they are expecting too much or too little from their child. Understandably, parents are caught off guard as they are hit with a critical comment, and sometimes are not sure how to address them.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Real Illusion

By:  Marc Deprey

Perhaps our suffering is a wake up call that our investment in what we call reality—feelings, forms—is misplaced. We are more than just individual life, but life itself. I’m always struck with the limitations of language and the assumptions inherent within. Words relate to the experience of physical reality. Yet much of what words mean is metaphorical. You see a tree and call it such, but what is the reality of a plant that is connected to the ground and the air and sun for food?  At an atomic level there is no “place” where the “tree” starts and the “not-tree” begins. Atoms are 99.9% space. What we see are merely vibrations that seem like dense forms.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Go Big: Self Care to the Tenth Degree

By:  Gari Lister

What is a good mom?  Here’s how I would answer a questionnaire on how I was a good mom today:  I drove my ten year old an hour and twenty minutes each way to skating camp; I tried really really hard to talk to my twelve year old about sensitive pre-teen things I cannot share here; I fed my kids mostly healthy gluten free meals; my house is reasonably clean; I taught my middle daughter how to complete a job successfully; I gave the girls all kinds of brain-strengthening vitamins; and I went to yoga.  Ok, maybe I wouldn’t include the last item.  But maybe I should. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

What's in a Name? Part 4 - Is Keeping a Wrong Label OK?

By:  Julie Beem

Many of the parents who contact ATN have children with multiple diagnoses and we're frequently puzzled about which ones are the "right" ones.  I'm included in that group.  My child has an alphabet soup of diagnoses, including autism spectrum and ADHD/OCD/Tourettes (aggravated by her trauma.)  Fortunately for us, we had professionals who also recognized the RAD, PTSD, DTD components and pointed us in the right directions for treatment of those.  Yet, her developmental and processing struggles continue.
Getting a completely accurate diagnosis in today's climate (where trauma-based disorders are underdiagnosed) is very difficult.  So when I put on my "Mom" hat I will tell you that advocacy toward the most accurate diagnosis only takes you so far.   Advocating for and pushing professionals to diagnose our children accurately with RAD, PTSD, Developmental Trauma (or the new diagnosis in the DSM: Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder) can be exhausting, and maybe not that beneficial.   If all my child had ever been diagnosed with was Developmental Trauma Disorder (the diagnosis I believe to be the most accurate), I would have been up a treatment creek without a proverbial paddle.  Who in my city would have known how to treat her?  What therapies and parenting strategies would have been recommended to us?  And would the school have even bothered giving her an IEP for something they've never heard of?

So, Mom to Mom, I will say that I have come to embrace other diagnoses that can help get my daughter the help she needs.  Autism spectrum has been a huge one for us.  My daughter has developmental and processing issues that are usually associated with Autism.  Yet, every evaluation she's ever been given yields the results of "borderline" on the autism scales.  But those evaluations have led to an Autism eligibility on her IEP and to speech, social skills, and OT (sensory-based) services through our school district.  Could I have pushed for these services without that Autism label?  Yes.  Would it have been harder?  Infinitely!
My point is this:  diagnoses are important for getting services and making decisions on treatment.  If you recognize that your child's school district, doctors or other service providers will provide what your child needs with a diagnosis that may not be 100% accurate, then maybe it's not such a bad thing to let that one stand.

When I put on my Executive Director hat, what I said above makes me cringe.  I long for the day that RAD, PTSD and Developmental Trauma will be widely recognized disorders, and those diagnoses will bring with them the needed services and interventions to put our children quickly on the path to healing.  And that day will come...as our movement builds and our collective voice gets stronger.  But in the meantime, innovative Moms will do what it takes to get their precious children what they need!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

What’s in a Name? Part 3 – Misdiagnoses/Misunderstandings

By:  Julie Beem
My child has __________________ (pick one or several: Bipolar, ADHD, autism, ODD, anxiety, executive functioning problems).  When parents of traumatized children turn to professionals for diagnoses and treatment, coming away with at RAD or Developmental Trauma Disorder diagnosis isn’t a sure thing.  If I had a dollar for every time a parent told me, “but my child has only been diagnosed with ADHD,” I could fund ATN’s activities well into the next decade.  Nearly every child I’ve met with attachment or trauma problems carries an ADD or ADHD diagnosis.  Don’t misunderstand me, children can have both attachment & trauma problems and ADHD.  But do they always co-exist?  No.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

What’s in a Name? Part 2 – To Label or Not to Label

By: Julie Beem

“You don’t want her labeled for life.”  This sentence is usually spoken by your child’s grandparent (out of sheer concern for you and your family) or by a school official (who may be trying to block access to special education services).  Either way, crossing the threshold into “labeling” your child is a difficult thing for many.

Friday, May 17, 2013

This Ain't My Mama's Broken Heart

By: Gari Lister

Four years ago today -- May 17, 2009 – my 17 year old daughter broke my heart and changed my life forever.  She packed a bag, told her little sister not to tell us, and ran away from home with a boy she’d met a handful of times – a boy who murdered two people within a few months (literally).  I didn’t realize what a pivotal moment it was right away; I thought it was just another episode in a series of Katya crises.  

We responded as we always do to crises – efficiently and intensively.  Within 24 hours, we rallied the troops: her friends, contacts in DC and in law enforcement, not only locally but also nationally.  And in addition to the official channels, we got the local press to run an article, wrote an ad for the papers we thought she might see, and made a flyer.  I’m a litigator and strategist and my husband is a press hack who loves networking; when faced with a family crisis, we do not mess around.  When the police told us they had tracked the boy’s phone to North Carolina, we put the “littles” (our two younger kids) in the car and drove there with hundreds of flyers.  We charmed the local police into giving us local addresses, and we papered the town – each flyer with a hand-written note asking Katya to come home.  She came back the following Saturday.

We learned lots of devastating things that week, but one of the hardest for us to understand given our action mentality was the fact that she had told the boy’s family that we wouldn’t look for her or come after her.  She thought we had gone through too much for her, and that we would be glad to have her gone. 

But we moved on from our inability to understand, and we pretty much went through the next several months in crisis mode: we sent Katya to Outward Bound, which helped for a short time.  She fell for another messed up boy, started skipping school, and after three truancy cases dropped out of school and moved out.

And about that time, crisis over, I collapsed, physically devastated from the stress and heartbreak.  I spent all winter in bed, too tired to do much of anything.  I couldn’t carry luggage for two years, and I couldn’t go for long walks, let alone run.  It’s taken me three years and lots of yoga to recover.

So why write this?  Because I have recovered, and I am stronger than I ever was.  And I have learned two lessons.  First, our traumatized kids need us to be strong – not only emotionally, but also physically.  We can’t help them if they can kill us.  And Katya almost killed me.  If she had, where would my other kids have been?  So sometimes, the best thing you can do for your traumatized child is go to yoga.  Or go run.  Or go riding.  Anything to keep your body strong enough to handle the stress.  Don’t make the mistake I made in all my action – don’t overlook your own oxygen when you’re focused on landing the plane.

And the second lesson is that Katya ultimately ran away – and is still running away – not because of me, not because of the boy, but because she does not believe she is “worth it.”  That’s not new – any expert will tell you that – but I think it is a concept that gets lost in all the therapy.  My kids know they’re messed up – and if they didn’t, how many times do we remind them (with the best of intentions)?  Katya taught me that we have to not only help them heal; we have to also help them believe.  And to believe, they need to be fabulous at something -- anything.  So now my top priorities aren't only therapeutic -- they're also volleyball and ice skating because those seem to be my girls’ “things.” 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


By: Jane Samuel

Last week I took our middle daughter out of town for four days to attend her close friend’s confirmation – in another country. Despite all her healing I still worried this trip would be too hard on our youngest – now ten-years-old and adopted at one.  Luckily for her – and I – she was naïve as to how far away I would be (a long plane flight) and only knew I would be back in “four sleeps.”

As I prepared to leave I thought about the distance we had covered since the days when at one, two, three-years-of-age she would have walked off with the Maytag repair man - and did in fact affix herself  to the leg of a stunned contractor as he tried to leave our house one afternoon after fixing our washer. I knew then I couldn’t leave her, even though she seemed to care less if I did or not.

Or the days at six, seven, eight-years-of-age when we moved into, “Mom, don’t leave me!!! I can’t sleep without you.” I knew then that I couldn’t leave her, because now we finally had an inkling that she did care, that she was attaching, and I wasn’t going to let her down no matter what. We didn’t even bother to go away, or hire sitters for years, unless we knew we would be back home two hours later for me to put her to bed. The times we accidently stayed out too late we would arrive home to find her still wide-awake, her ever-hypervigilent-soul waiting to see the whites of Mom’s eyes before she closed her own.

Or the past two years when she had done enough healing that she cried just a bit when I had to drive across state after state visiting colleges with our oldest. I finally could leave her, but made sure it was only for a night. And I called a lot. 

Now, last week, we were finally at a time when she could hug me good-bye as I dropped her at school and more-calmly-than-not state, “I wish you didn’t have to go. Couldn’t you just send Dad in your place?”

So I headed to the airport with our middle one, more focused on getting us to Europe in one piece - with our passports and cash still tucked safely away - than I was about our youngest falling apart.  I knew she would be okay.  That she knew I was coming back.  That – barring any tragedies – I would be back in her room to read her a story, sing her three songs and kiss her goodnight in four sleeps.

Having no ability to call turned out to be a bit more troublesome to me than I had expected. I had always been used to being able to call at the end of her school day and at her bedtime to make sure she knew I was still her mom. Now I was miles away, with no long-distance card, and limited Wi-Fi. I itched to send her a text on her new little iPod. I mourned the loss of her voice over the phone line. I longed to be able to Facetime her and let her know I loved her. The emails I sent instead to my husband seemed insufficient. I worried she was dysregulating. I worried that she would think I had left her forever.

I shouldn’t have worried so much. She did have a moment or two of upset, but calmed down, my husband dutifully reported. She did tell me after the trip that she had been afraid I would die. “Understandable,” I told her as soon as I could hold her again, “it is scary when Mom goes away. But I am home now!” And she seemed okay with that.

But the best indication that she had survived was the message on my iPad the second night I was in Denmark. I was just getting into bed and noticed a text on it from earlier in the day. “Mom. I luv u. BMITW,” it read.

I didn’t tell her I had to have her older sister decipher it. It didn’t matter. I was now BMITW status.
“Woot! Woot!” As they say here in the south. I am not only her Mom; I am officially – despite leaving her for four sleeps – the “best mom in the world!”

Friday, May 10, 2013

Batten Down The Hatches

by: Julie Beem

It’s nearly Mother’s Day.  And thanks to retailers, schools, churches, we hear the message of “celebrating your mom” broadcasted from the rooftops.  In a normal world, this would be a great thing.  Motherhood is truly one of the highest callings.  But what about children for whom their first relationship with a mother didn’t go well, didn’t last, produced trauma?

Friday, May 3, 2013

Getting Their Ticket Punched

By Marc Deprey

I’m not sure this is some great revelation, but this idea came to me this morning and it put a lot into perspective for me. We all know as adults (or at least I hope we all do) that we can’t expect the world to fit to us, that we know down deep that we need to fit the world and meet its basic requirements. That’s a fundamental truth we accept almost unconsciously and it allows us to navigate things pretty successfully overall.

But we forget that this was not always true for us. When we were born, we got a free pass as far as any expectations. Back then, we had no ability to fit into the world. We were completely unable to meet any of its requirements. As a baby, we depended solely on caregivers to meet our needs unconditionally and our caregiver had no expectations for us either. Our needs were anticipated, our moods quelled, our excretions removed—we could do whatever we wanted whenever we wanted to and not face any consequences.

As we grew up things changed. More and more we were expected to understand limits, be respectful of others feelings, to be civil and flexible. Now doesn’t it seem interesting that our kids with attachment trauma cannot do these very things? Is it possible that since they didn’t get their unconditional free pass at the very beginning of their lives, they are still waiting for it to happen? That they are insisting that their ticket get punched now?

If there is any central issue that characterizes my kids’ dysfunction it is their complete lack of flexibility and cooperation—their inability to meet the world. They assume the world must fulfill their needs, that things must line up neatly, and on their schedule, that parents are here to do as instructed, to please them and never correct them or upset them. It’s as if they are demanding to be able to be like babies, but with kid bodies, appetites, vocabulary, etc.  They’re insisting that they get what everyone else got, even though it’s simply too late to get it. 

Why?  Because they’re living with a ticket missing the first hole.

With their ticket unpunched, they look for the train conductor who will never come--stuck on a train that doesn't move, baffled by their plight. We tell them they must grieve this loss and move on, but because they are unable, they wait and wait. We wait with them--stuck on the tracks--in developmental limbo.

Monday, April 29, 2013

April 29, 2013 -- Fourteen Years

By:  Kathleen Benckendorf

ATN is delighted to welcome Kathleen Benckendorf as a guest voice on Touching Trauma at its HeartKathleen, a parent member of ATN's Board of Directors, is a relentless researcher and seeker of answers. An engineer by education and experience, Kathleen has also trained as a bodyworker and in as many other therapeutic approaches and interventions as she has been able to convince the providers to let her attend. Her website, www.attachmentandintegrationmethods.com , describes these approaches and others.

Fourteen years ago, a sibling group of four was placed in our home in an adoptive placement. They were 11, 9, 8, and 4. They joined our biological children, aged 9 and 4.

With our first child, we thought we were great parents. Our friends told us so. Our firstborn told us so by her behaviors – she was compassionate, compliant, charming, responsible, and fun – everything a parent could wish for. With our second child, we realized it really wasn’t us – he was obstinate, ornery, stubborn, and strong-willed, and considerably more challenging to raise. Our adopted children dispelled any remaining thoughts we had about our stellar parenting abilities. At first, we thought the challenges just came from blending two families, and the logistics of raising a large family. But there were other things… things that our bio children would never have considered doing… and we realized that the children our parents had told us not to play with, the children from whom we sheltered our children – were the children we had brought into our home. And all the standard parenting tools we’d ever learned were powerless to change their behavior.

In the first months, there was foul language written on our driveway with the chalk we had given them to play with – language not used in our home. There were fights between the two youngest, both formerly the babies of their respective families – behavior that continued, and escalated, until their early teens, to the point we couldn’t leave them at home together without someone there to keep an eye on them. On more than one occasion, they ended up on the floor with hands around each other’s throats. There were sexual acting out and promiscuity, fights at school, truancy, and failed classes. Two dropped out of high school and have had children out of wedlock. Some are living on welfare; some have spent time homeless. One spent time in multiple residential facilities before age 18. At one point, the three adult adopted children were forbidden to live in our home, and we were seriously considering an out of home placement for the youngest, then still a minor.

It has been HARD. Nothing has strained our marriage like differing opinions on how to handle parenting our challenging children – or how much support to provide adult children when we didn’t approve of the way they were living. We have to live with knowing that our bio children sacrificed a relatively carefree childhood because we adopted.

On the other hand, at least in some ways, I know that like in the song from the musical Wicked, “I have been changed for good.” I’m not sure I’d be able to hold that perspective if some things hadn’t improved, but I know that I have grown and changed. I no longer automatically think awful thoughts about parents whose children are misbehaving in public. I have learned much about dealing with difficult people – because the same methods that work with my kids work with other people too. My own learning has put me in a position to help others.

For those of you still deep in the trenches, I want to tell you there is hope. I don’t have enough space here to tell you all our journey, but we’ve come farther than I would have believed a few years ago. All but my youngest have graduated high school or earned a GED, and we expect the last one to graduate soon. All four of our adopted children are attached to us and enjoy spending time with all the family. They keep in touch. They even call or text appropriate messages on Mother’s Day! One that I never expected to be able to trust, I trust completely. One is successfully raising her own children, working, and going to college. Some are still making some bad choices, but that is their life and we no longer own their choices or their consequences, and we are able to love them in spite of. We are reclaiming our own lives. May you also find healing for your children and yourselves.

Friday, April 26, 2013

What’s in a Name? Part 1 – the Radish

By:  Julie Beem

The argument discussion rears its head every now and then, so I wasn’t surprised to see it come up again in an online group I belong to.  Someone in the group took offense over others in the group referring to their children with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) as “radishes” or “radlets”.  Then others in the group took offense at being “shamed” because they were just referring casually to their children.  And a war of words ensued.

I’d like to offer some food for thought to everyone, regardless of your opinion. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

My Life May Not Be Perfect, But I’m Not Going to Complain About it Any More

By Gari Lister

Too many mornings this spring I have found myself waking up and saying, “My back hurts, I have a headache, I’m tired.”  And I can’t even count how often I have picked up the phone and vented about something big . . . or something small.  My kids refuse to eat their supplements, my youngest throws a fit (she’s 10), my husband eats the last strawberries . . .  you name it, I vent, I complain, I whine.  Or let me correct that: I vented, I complained, I whined.

Friday, April 12, 2013

A Therapeutic Top Ten List: Why Therapists Should Incorporate Parents into Therapy Sessions

ATN is delighted to welcome Carol Lozier as a guest voice on Touching Trauma at its Heart.  Carol, a member of ATN's Board of Directors, is a clinical social worker in private practice in Louisville, Kentucky.  Her website, www.forever-families.com, offers a blog, free downloadable tools for families, an excerpt of her book, and a supportive community of adoptive and foster parents.

Today’s post is written to my colleagues -- therapists who work with adopted or foster children and their families.  In educational workshops parents are instructed:  Remain in the room during your child’s psychotherapy. Yet, most therapists are trained to do the opposite.   Most therapists meet with the parents and child separately, and then work with both parties together for a short time. While this practice is commonplace, it is not optimal for adoptive or foster families.

A long time ago, I decided to keep parents in the session.  At first, it did feel odd but not only have I become accustomed to it, I prefer it. So with that in mind, here are my top ten reasons therapists should incorporate parents into their child’s session:

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Shake Off the Bad Mood

By Gari Lister

This morning I started off my day with a cascade of nastiness from my usually reasonably-fun-to-be-around fifth grader.  “I’m not going to eat those pills.  Are you serious?  Is that what we’re having for breakfast?  Well, of course, we’re going to be late because of her [the sweeter younger sister].”  First, I spent a moment thanking my yoga teacher for helping me to understand equanimity. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Third World of Mental Health Care

By Marc Deprey

This Sunday, my daughter was given a new regime of meds to address her increased oppositional and violent behavior.  Unfortunately, the wrong drug was written on her prescription and between that drug and all the other changes made she went into a severe manic episode. Over two days she just got worse and worse. By Monday night she was seeing things that weren’t there, trying to jump out of her window, screaming, and trashing her room.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Grace . . . fully

By Julie Beem
When she looked at me, her eyes were filling with tears.  She had just heard me say, and expound upon, the idea of reviewing your therapeutic parenting responses at the end of the day to see where you had done well and where things had not gone so well.  “Just like professional athletes,” I advised, “we need to review those game tapes every day, learning from what worked and what didn’t.”

Friday, March 29, 2013

Rules . . .

By Gari Lister

Experts advise that kids with developmental trauma need calm, stability and predictable limits.  And in fact I know my youngest does better when she knows her schedule, and exactly what is expected of her.  The problem is that peace, stability and a well-ordered life are not always easy to come by in a household filled with a bunch of poorly behaved dogs and cats, not to mention the children or broken appliances.   For that reason, I’m always a little defensive about our organizational dynamics.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Manner of Goats

By Marc Deprey

I don’t know everything about goats, but I do work in land conservation and deal with landowners who face problems with invasive species of plants and livestock issues. What I do know is that goats are nature’s eliminator. They really do eat anything and everything.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Hope Overcomes Heartbreak

By Gari Lister

My post last week was scary and sad for some of you, but please do not confuse heartbreak with a lack of hope.   I have a huge amount of hope for our kids, and for the progress that we are making in helping them.  For every child like my Katya, there are many, many more children who can and who do heal.  My youngest, in fact, is a poster child for healing – at 10, she is perhaps a little odd, and she is certainly a little quiet.  But she has an amazing sense of humor, she loves to ice skate and take ballet and she can talk my ear off when she wants to – a far cry from the little girl who screamed for hours every night when we brought her home and from the 5 year old who didn’t and wouldn’t talk.  Now, yes, we haven’t lived through her teenage years, so perhaps there are crises yet to come.

Friday, March 15, 2013

How Many Kids Do I Have? . . . Month Two as a Throw-Away Mom

By Gari Lister

Our oldest daughter, Katya, has been gone nearly two months.  She packed the car with everything she could find, changed her phone number, blocked us on facebook, and disappeared into the urban Dallas wilds.  In many ways, our life is back to normal, and I have adjusted to my new status.  Only a few weeks ago, I couldn’t stop myself from pulling away from the little girls in subtle ways.  I finally realized I was petrified they too would throw me away, walking away without a backward glance.  I’m mostly now able to accept the risk.  

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Why Trauma Wouldn’t Let Me Attend the Trauma Conference

By:  Marc Deprey

Last Sunday, my son went into a rage so severe that he assaulted me and destroyed my car’s windows and body with head-sized boulders. He was arrested and taken to Juvenile Hall. It’s the first time I’ve ever been assaulted—by anyone, let alone my own child—and this is his first arrest. My daughter, who is also afflicted with developmental trauma, has been especially reactive this week beyond her usual explosiveness and destructiveness. So the trauma I have been experiencing this week has been so severe that I got sick (my immune system is probably in full retreat) on top of it all. Yesterday, I just gave into reality and cancelled my trip to the Trauma conference.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Are Dead Children the Benchmark for Adoption?

by: Julie Beem

This whole Russian adoption ban issue is ridiculous! 

There, I said it.  I suspect many of you were thinking it.  A knee-jerk political reaction designed to make Americans in general, and American adoptive parents in particular, look like violent, evil monsters.  The Russian government uses the deaths of 15 Russian-born adoptees as the fuel to stop thousands of adoptions and to insist that they be allowed to come to this country to provide oversight on our adoptive families.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

How Possible is the Impossible?

By: Nancy Spoolstra

Last weekend I saw the movie “The Impossible” with my husband and very pregnant daughter. The movie is about a family of 5 that miraculously survives the Indian Ocean tsunami intact … no family member perished. Most families were not nearly so fortunate. The movie is all about relationships. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house … at least among the movie-goers who were healthy enough to be in relationship with one or more other people. I left that theater wanting to hug each and every member of my family who is near and dear to me. And it forced me once again to examine the dichotomy of my family dynamics. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

A Swing and A Miss

By:  Marc Deprey

In my last entry, I listed a number of potential subjects to talk about on this blog and of course, I’ve decided not to talk about any of them today. I just want to talk about the heartbreak of never really being close to your kid.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Why I hung up on my son

by:  Nancy Spoolstra

It has been nearly five years since I regularly blogged at adoptionblogs.com, and I have been excited to resume blogging, although on a less rigorous schedule. So it was surprising to me that I was struggling to get this first blog written. I think I wasn’t quite sure how or where to start. As many of you understand, five years can be a long time and a big change in our families ... or, it might be five years later and the same old, same old. In my case, I am five more years down the path of redefining my life without the daily reality of breathing the same air as one or more children with severe attachment issues.

Friday, February 8, 2013

It Doesn't Hurt to Laugh

By Anna Paravano-Frise

Ok, let’s face it:
“Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t.”  (Hershey’s)
Kind of like that nutty guy on the ceiling in the movie “Mary Poppins” who sang, “I love to laugh!” I really do love to laugh! I love anything and anyone that makes me laugh. BC (Before Child), I really bought into the notion that “laughter is the best medicine.” Life can be such a serious business so I made it a point to watch comedies and comedians as a way to release stress, fight depression, or simply have fun. Yes, I loved a good drama but when times got tough, I used laughter as one of my coping mechanisms. 

Science tells us laughter is a good way to change our body chemistry – literally “changing our minds,” if you will.  Adding some levity to our lives can actually improve our health and the overall quality of our lives. So, laughter was one of the really basic and cheap ways I found to take care of myself in the down times.
Since becoming a therapeutic mama to a traumatized child, opportunities to laugh, joke, etc. came few and far between.  

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

I'm Perfect...I'm a Failure

By Julie Beem

LuLu and I build gingerbread houses.  We build them for the annual competition at her virtual school.  She’s a serious competitor.  Prior to the houses we built for the last competitions, I had absolutely no gingerbread house experience.  It has been a trial by fire – and a lot of work!  But the interesting thing is that it’s been a fruitful adventure and one that showcases some of her talents.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Attachment -- Barbie Style

By Gari Lister

Our attachment therapist a long time ago suggested that if my girls had a difficult time with my massaging and touching them, I could have them rub lotion on me.  Well, I started out with lotion, but I have three girls so . . .  the lotion turned into nail polish, and the nail polish turned into hair styling, and the hair styling turned into makeup.  Every so often, one of my little girls runs into the bathroom and runs out with a lotion or a blush or a handful of hair accessories and gives me a hopeful look.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Where to begin?

By Marc Deprey
 Well, here it is, the moment I’ve been thinking about. How to start my contribution to ATN’s new blog? I could write about the experience of parenting two kids, eleven months apart with Developmental Trauma Disorder and the whole whack-a-mole nature of that day-to-day experience. I could write about the fact that I can only take time to write this when my kids are asleep and I’m exhausted, or the idea that being around them wears me down to the core (and that I can’t imagine I’ll have any core left sometime soon).

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Maybe I can't be 1st -- but how do I get on the Waiting List?

By Anna Paravano

I’m going to be completely honest here.   Whenever I go to a presentation, participate in a discussion group, or talk to a psych, and someone says, “Remember, you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before you put it on your child,” I just feel like decking them. In truth, my first thought is, “Do you even have kids?!?!” and then I want to deck them.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Never Let Them See You Sweat

By Julie Beem

Every Monday my daughter (let’s call her LuLu) goes to a social skills class.  Most of the children are on the autism spectrum and that seems to work fine for her, even though I truly believe her developmental issues are trauma-related and not true autism (or at least not entirely autism-related).  It’s a nice bit of downtime for me, given that she’s in virtual school and I’m her daily learning coach.  Chatting with the other mothers is my own social break.  One of the mothers recently revealed that her daughter was also adopted and did it in the context of exploring why she acted the way she did.  We’ve since discussed ways that her daughter’s autism diagnosis doesn’t quite “fit” some behaviors and maybe there was something more there.  (Yes, I believe there is – early childhood trauma.)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

No, My Kids are Not Like Everyone Else’s

by Gari Lister

Until today, my first blog was going to be uplifting.  I have three girls affected to varying degrees by their early trauma in orphanages in Russia and Ukraine, and things seemed to be going really well.  We just finished a wonderful vacation with the two younger girls, and the third had returned home in October after years of living “on-her-own-traumatized-child-style,” which means she dropped out of high school and generally could not handle being part of a family.  Unfortunately, though, we made the mistake that all of us moms and dads of traumatized children sometimes do.  We forgot.  We forgot she wasn’t like other teenagers, or us, or even the 11 year old (she’s 21).  We forgot how messed up her brain is when she makes decisions – or doesn’t make decisions.  We believed that she could handle what seemed so simple – feeding our cats and cleaning up after them.  She doesn’t have a job (long story), and we agreed to pay her to feed them so she would have a little spending money.  We asked neighbors to keep an eye out on things, and put our dogs in boarding.  

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

2012: It was a Good Year for Trauma

by: Julie Beem

Let’s say Goodbye to 2012…one of the best years for early childhood trauma we’ve seen in a long time.  Yes, I suppose you could see that as a crass, rather heartless prospective.  But parenting traumatized children is an isolating experience.  You feel as if you’re on your own private island of despair with a child who you long to reach, to comfort, to heal – and you’re pretty sure that the rest of the world has no idea what this is like.