Life with kids that have been through trauma and have resulting attachment difficulties is hard at times. There are unique things to keep in mind throughout everyday life.
For example, one of the first weeks I had my kids we went somewhere in the car (shocking huh? lol) I unbuckled P and took him the 3 feet to the sidewalk and showed him where I wanted him to stand while I got C out of the car. (S was in school) While I was showing P where to stand I heard a blood curling scream from the car. Freaking out that C had like died or something, I ran back to check. C was in tears and inconsolable in the car. It took about 3 straight minutes of crying/screaming to figure out what was wrong. C was petrified that I was taking P out of the car but was going to leave C in the car. It took me a long time to calm her down after this and to reassure her that I would never leave her in the car. Something as simple as unloading the children safely from the car can bring out past trauma and attachment concerns. What I have learned to do is to be VERY (almost annoyingly) clear and deliberate about telling the kids what is going to happen next. It seems to have alleviated some anxiety on the children’s part as they know what is going to happen and are beginning to trust that I am going to do what I say I will do.
If everyday things can be this hard, imagine what it is like when more difficult things come around! Life for me as a mom has been difficult the past month. Lots of things are happening within my family of origin that make it hard to be the most therapeutic parent. The holidays are stressful, as they always are, and with a trip and the adjustment to having all 3 kids home all day during Christmas break and being a stay at home mom is a lot of stuff going on. Then there have been health scares of loved ones and travel concerns of other loved ones.
However, by far the most difficult thing and the thing that has been weighing heavy on my heart and mind is the health of my grandma. My grandma is 92 years old and full of strength and sass. However, for the past 3-4 weeks she has been in a healthcare facility. I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say that she is dying. Her health had been declining for a couple of years now, but nothing this fast progressive decline we are seeing now. She now has days, if not hours to live. When this first happened 3-4 weeks ago and they were unsure of the timeframe left, I left Joel and the kids to go and say goodbye as they didn’t know how long she would be in this world. It was our first time apart and I was gone overnight and unsure when I would be back. After less than 24 hours I needed to come home, but was able to travel and see her. I felt so pulled in a million directions, wanting to be with my husband and children and with my family of origin. However these two families were 6 hours apart. My grandma was strong and fought and was able to stick around until family could travel from literally the ends of the Earth to see her. A couple of days ago her health again took a turn for the worse. I am currently waiting on the call that says that she went to be with Jesus. Its a little morbid and really emotionally draining.
All I want is to pack my bags and be there with my family of origin during this time. I want to drive as fast as I can (physically not legally) to support, love and grieve together during this time. If this was even 6 months ago I would have done that. Now however, I have 3 kids and a husband who really can’t care for them alone (no one could). Now I can’t pack up and leave for a couple of days, even for the best of reasons. Now I have to grieve a loss to come on my own. Ok, not really on my own as my husband and kids and friends are here, but it is different grieving with those that are supportive and grieving with those that are grieving too.
As a result I am crabby, more crabby than I want to be (I wrote a bit about this in the last post). Part of this crabbiness is my thinking about being a stay at home mom, and part is this grief process. It is hard, grieving someone who is still here but in a lot of pain and far away. It makes me short tempered, distracted, and tired (oh so tired).
I say all that to say this: With children that have trauma history (especially of neglect) and attachment concerns an abrupt change in behavior on the parents part, can bring out some anxiety and behaviors in the children. I am pulling away in relationship to my children. Not because I want to, but because of being emotionally drained by life. My children have experienced a neglectful caregiver in their lives. I have noticed this week especially as I have been having a harder time, my kids’ behavior is more difficult, which come across as needy, annoying, and frustrating. My husband has even noticed that the kids have been actively trying to push buttons this week. All children do this, I get that. But the anxiety that is emanating from my children this week tells me that for them, something is different. C has been constantly running up for hugs and to tell me she loves me. S has been being more parentified, and P has been more tearful and non-compliant.
So what is a grieving parent of kids that have experienced trauma to do? Let me just be clear that I am making all of this up as I go, but I have figured out a couple of things to do. Well, first step is to have an AMAZING spouse to help, support, and take the lead with the kids for a couple of days. Check! Joel is amazing and super supportive.
Second is to be clear with the kids about what is going on. My kids know that I have a grandma who is very sick and is going to live with Jesus soon. This has started a TON of conversations about what it means to live with Jesus, who gets to go live with Jesus and when Mommy and Daddy (Joel and I) are going to die. Learning how to approach subjects like this in an age-appropriate way is a trial and error kind of thing.
Third is to apologize to the children and spouse for being short tempered and frustrated. Last night I apologized to C for being frustrated and reminded her that the reason I was angry was because I was really sad and frustrated, not angry. I told her that I was sorry for taking it out on her and that I still love her very much. This was an hour after she was supposed to be asleep. After we had this conversation she fell asleep quickly, some anxiety resolved.
Fourth is to, as much as possible, keep things that same. We still go to church, school, ect. We still have the same limits on game time and bed time. We still all sit down for dinner and eat the same breakfast. This helps the kids understand that even when things are tough, there are certain things they can count on.
Life with kids is hard. Life with kids that have experienced trauma is hard. Grieving is hard. Grieving while trying to parent kids that have experienced trauma is hard. But God is great and he is molding my story into a testimony of his awesome power and using me to show my kids his love and power.