I was surfing around Facebook this past weekend and stumbled upon posts with parents venting about kids’ behavior. The “kids” may have had trauma backgrounds, may have neurocognitive challenges and some had both and more. I could practically hear the frustration through my phone and laptop screens. I empathized deeply.
I’ve certainly posted here about my frustrations around Hope’s more challenging behaviors, and how they were really, really difficult to cope with, so I get it. I have a love/hate relationship with online adoption support communities, but I do think that online support groups are important because we all need safe spaces to just release the big emotions we have in trying to cope with what inevitably feels like very personalized behavior designed to destroy us. It’s natural to feel that frustration. It’s natural to need to vent.
What struck me, though, is how easy it is to go down the rabbit hole of seriously thinking your kid is out to get you, to impose consequences that serve to push the kid further away and to really think there’s nothing going on but what you see on the surface.
Pro Tip: There’s always something going on below the surface.
I learned some time ago that Hope’s behaviors typically weren’t about me at all, but they were a form of communication with me. Parenting Hope through trauma and ADHD was and is…hard. Of the over 2,000 days Hope and I have been a family, I experienced some level of emotional upheaval for at least more than a good third of it.
Way more than a third of it if I’m brutally honest.
This has not been a walk in the park, nor has it lived up to the parenting experience I thought it would be. It’s been, in many ways, better than that notion and way underachieving in other ways.
It took me a long, long time to understand and appreciate that Hope’s most challenging behaviors were really her trying to tell me that she was struggling, that I needed to meet her where she was, not where I thought she should be. She was, and sometimes still is, scared and unsure of the circumstances and her place in those circumstances. She didn’t always have words, so she acted out. She still doesn’t have many words, but she will apologize for not being able to tell me what she needs. Sometimes it’s like we play out charades as I run though a list of potential challenges trying to guess what it is she needs and whether I can do something that will relieve her stress.
Hope was never out to get me in those moments when she was acting all spawn of satan and ish. She was calling for me to save her.
As we spend some time venting, we’ve got to remember that kiddos need us. That they are, in fact, often telling us what they want and need. They don’t want to be acting out. They don’t feel good about any of it. They aren’t trying to stay in those dark places.
According to the US CDC, nearly 10% of kids have an ADHD diagnosis. And although only about 3% of kids have depression and 7.1% of kids have anxiety, there is a high likelihood that if you have a diagnosis for one, you will have a diagnosis for another with a side dish of high incidence of behavioral problems too. For those of us parenting adopted children and/or children with trauma or ADHD, it might seem like these stats are low. They are relatively low; it’s just that we all hang out together, plugging into communities with other parents who are living the same experience. It ends up feeling like it’s a lot more people because we are plugged in.
There was a conversation I had with Hope one time when she was trying to explain what ADHD felt like without meds and what her depression feels like. It was heartbreaking for her to vocalize what it actually felt like, but it helped me understand that as frustrating it is, as much as I feel so personally attacked with some behaviors, as disrespectful as it feels, what Hope feels in those moments is so much worse. I pondered it for weeks.
Our kids don’t want to have behavioral problems. Our kids would love nothing more to be “normal.” Our kids want to blend in. They don’t always have the capacity to keep it together. They don’t always have the skills to even perform normalcy. We have to support them and create space that will allow them to get as close to it as they are able.
It’s ok to vent. Really, it is absolutely ok to vent, just remember that they aren’t trying to be assholes. They aren’t.