Updated: Jul 15, 2022
God always knows exactly what kind of encouragement I need, exactly when I need it, and last week, I really needed encouragement.
I know God is behind it because there’s no way I’m lucky enough to have so many good coincidences happen so often. Before I explain, I’m going to start with why I needed encouragement in the first place.
Last week, I quit my job as “Giver of Education” to my son. If you’ve been following my blog, then you know I’ve been homeschooling him for almost two months. The plan was to do this through the summer to help him catch up on writing and reading, and to make sure he didn’t get too behind in math since he’s spent most of his Junior High years in a Day Treatment program.
I’d gotten used to the fact that Monday’s were going to be rough, and although I dreaded them, it’s one day a week, I can handle that. What I can’t handle, apparently, is three whole days of arguing, name calling, refusing to obey, refusing to work, refusing to listen, and then running away for four hours. Nope. By Wednesday morning, I couldn’t even see the line he’d crossed, it was so far behind us.
I was feeling pretty rotten on Wednesday. Because first of all, none of the tools I’ve learned worked to get my son to calm down and get the week back on a better path. Second I’d told myself to let him be, to let him choose to do his work, or sit around being bored all day. But then he started arguing with me and refused to go to his room like I asked (ok yelled), and instead went out to the back yard.
I should have let him chill out in the backyard, but something in me snapped. I ran after him, demanded he go to his room, and when he simply stood there saying “I didn’t do anything” and laughing as steam started pouring from my ears, I knew for both of our sakes I had to put some space between us.
So, I went back in the house, grabbed my purse and keys, and left. I didn’t tell him where I was going, but I left. I went grocery shopping. I was gone less than thirty minutes, but when I got back, he was gone. I caught my husband up on the day’s events and he came home early from work for the second time that week. He went out to look for our son, and I stayed home in case he came back.
Knowing that my husband was there, my adrenaline fueled system finally relaxed a little and that’s when the guilt hit. After a horrible three days, I’d gotten in my car and left my son without telling him where I was going and when, or if, I would be back. I imagined the thoughts that might have gone through his anxiety driven head. Thoughts about two previous mother’s who’ve abandoned him, and left him alone. And I wept bitter tears at the thought that I might have caused him to think, for even a moment, that I might really have left him.
Guilt at knowing I couldn’t keep homeschooling him if things continued to be this bad, and feeling like I was giving up on him. In other words, I felt like I was, in a sense, abandoning him in the area of education. Guilt for putting our family in this situation in the first place, knowing my husband had doubts about it. And last of all, guilt for not being strong enough to get up one more time and keep going.
There is a really good chance that all of this is related to the upcoming holiday that I’ve learned to dislike immensely: Mother’s Day. After the first two mom’s abandon you, trusting a third is nearly impossible. So, when the day to honor mothers rolls around, well, let’s just say I’ve been tempted to print business cards that say “We’re skipping Mother’s Day this year, please don’t talk about it around my son” and handing them out to everyone I see.
After my son finally returned home and we talked together as a family, we all tried to relax and recover in our own ways. My way was to pick up a book. A book I only found out about because several months ago I started following other parents on Twitter who have adopted children with special needs.
Normally, I don’t buy non-fiction books. They usually take me several months to read, and I prefer to read my books quickly, like in one lazy Saturday afternoon. But I bought this book because I wanted to support a fellow parent who had kids like mine, and who was also just starting out on this author journey. I honestly thought the book would sit on my shelf for years without being opened, or would end up on my shelf with only one chapter read, like many other non-fiction books I have.
But, when I went to my pile of “to-read” books, this one was on the top of the pile. I’d put it there, because if I’m going to buy a book, it has to sit in the “to-read” pile for a certain amount of time before I can put it away and never read it.
The book is The Children Who Raised Me by Shivonne Costa. When I picked it up, it was to see what book was under it, but I stopped. I stopped because that still small voice said, “You’ve grown a lot since you’ve been a mom.” That’s it. Nothing more. So I thought, “Ok, I’ll read this one. I know the book is about a family who has adopted children with needs similar to my child’s. Let see how this woman has grown from her experiences.”
Four and a half hours later, it was well past my bedtime, but I didn’t want to put the book down. I forced myself, knowing I had to be up early the following day. I read through her brief life story before she had kids, and the story of her oldest adopted boy that first night. Almost half of the book. Thursday, I again read until way past my bedtime and had to force myself to stop even though I only had a mere 37 pages left.
This woman went to school to help kids like my son, and then adopted two children who had similar issues to my son’s, after she was unable to have children of her own. When she describes what if felt like to be the parent of these kids, versus the social worker, or the therapist, something in me cried out, “Yes, exactly yes. Thank you!”
I did not go to school to work with these kids professionally, but I’ve worked with plenty of people who have and who don’t seem to understand that I’m too exhausted to deal with yet another chart, but Shivonne gets it.
When she describes different conversations she's had with her kids (how babies are born) I laughed.
When she talked about what she called “The RAD Factor” and how her kids responded to different situations in ways that aren’t “normal” because of the trauma they’ve endured, I cried. I’m not talking a little lump in my throat, or getting teary eyed. I mean, I had to put the book down, get up and get some tissue before I soaked the pages in salty tears and snot.
She is an amazing writer and I think I would have cried even if I didn’t have my own RAD factor, but I’ve never been able to explain Reactive Attachment very well without people telling me they still don’t really understand, so to read about these other kids and the struggles the whole family has faced made me grieve for the situations that caused the trauma in the lives of these kids, Made me relieved that there are others out there who understand why there are days when I want to lock myself in my room and not come out. And happy because there are people out there who are helping, caring for, and never giving up on kids like mine.
I truly believe Shivonne has a gift for writing about the struggles parents of kids with special needs face, and the struggles the children themselves face. So many times these kids are considered “bad kids”, but they aren’t. That’s why I can tell people about the struggles we’ve had in our home and everyone…literally everyone, says, “huh, I don’t see that at all, he’s such a great, helpful, kind kid.”
Unless they’re his teachers. His school teachers have seen it all and then some, but they too, send home reports of how helpful and kind he can be.
By the time I went to bed on that horrible Wednesday, I hadn’t even read half the book yet, but I was encouraged. I was able to put away the guilt (mostly) and begin to remind myself of the following:
1. I’m not alone in this. I have God, and if I had nothing and no one else, that would be enough. I have my husband, who has been doing this a lot longer than I have (13 years to my 4), I have my mom, and my mother-in-law, and even though they both live in different states than us, they are always there to listen to us vent, and to encourage us. I have my friends, who don’t fully get what we go through, but who are supportive and willing to chat, or get me out of the house for a girl’s night. And I have my church. I’m so grateful to belong to a church who loves on my kid
2. This was a bad week, but it’s not the worst week we’ve ever had.
3. I don’t want to stay upset. I want to recover, apologize, and forgive as quickly as I can because holding onto all the negativity just makes me feel worse, and doesn’t help any of us as we continue to build relationships and form attachments. This sunk in more when I continued reading the next day and she described how she went through a period where she stopped connecting with her kids, and became a person who was angry all the time. I’ve been there too, don’t want to go back.
I wasn’t one hundred percent better, when I went to bed that Wednesday night, but I wasn’t stuck in a rut of self-pity, guilt, and unforgiveness either. In fact, I’d say today (5 days later) is the first day I’ve felt totally like I’m myself again, but each day has been progress. I know this because I was thinking that maybe, MAYBE, after we have several good days (weeks) of the new schooling program, we can reintroduce the mom-teacher. That’s the stubborn, never-giving up self I know.
If you are a parent of a child with special needs (your own, or adopted) and need some encouragement, I highly recommend this book. If you know someone who has kids with special needs and you want to understand what they go through, I highly recommend this book. If you’ve ever posted that thing that goes around social media about how kids with special needs just want to be loved and accepted, I highly recommend you read this book so you can get a better understanding of how you can love and accept them. If you’re a therapist, doctor, psychologist, psychiatrist, or other expert in dealing with these kids, I highly recommend you read this book.
If you ask me how you can help me and my family, I’m going to ask you to read this book. Then we can have lunch and talk.
To find out more about "The Children Who Raised Me", and Shivonne Costa and her family, click here.