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I’m thinking a lot about what it means to have a traumatized teen enter my home. I’ve told him that in this home we don’t have sex with kids or hit them.  I’ve told him the household routines he can expect. I’ve made sure that coming to my home was his choice, not exclusively an administrative decision by the Department of Child Safety. I’m trying to be consistent and even-tempered rather than arbitrary or over-reactive. So far, so good.

I’ve tried to wrap my head around what Dr. Bruce Perry and others say about what his life experiences have meant to his developing brain. I am trying to understand what it means to give him time to trust me since that is job #1 for these kids from hard places. I’m trying to give up my expectations that I can also trust him. That’s the rub. I am now living with someone who, by definition, I cannot trust. Can you trust someone who doesn’t trust you? No way. I now have to try to think like he does and to anticipate and document when and why things go awry between us.

Am I mature enough to encounter his manipulation, irritability, argumentativeness, and outright lies without losing my temper? If I lose my temper, any progress we’ve made toward trust will take a hit. I’m not a saint. How will I get him to “parallel” with me at the sink, in the car, or any other moment? How will I learn not to lecture? I have so much to offer this person but he won’t accept any of it yet. Can I really find enough to celebrate about him to find positive things to say, while also knowing how much he will fight to reject what I say? Am I strong enough, confident enough, committed enough to move past his missteps over and over to prove how much I value him; to rally my hope in the face of apparent “failure” or will his “failure” be experienced as my own “failure”?

Until he trusts me, my words will fall on deaf ears; he is that suspicious of my motivations. Am I guilty of being suspicious, too?  His background is so alien to me.  Am I going to be able to keep a quiet sense of humor about the quirky strategies he has developed to navigate his earlier world? Will I be able to suspend judgement and endure his rejection without losing hope that I might make a difference for his future? Will he ultimately be able to hurt my feelings enough to get me to reject him? If he lies about me to any authorities (school, DCS, police, e.g.) will I be able to recover and not take this betrayal to heart? The greater irony is that the closer he gets to trusting me the more likely this is going to happen!

Finally, am I clear enough about just where I draw the line? Holes in the wall? Injury to a household member? Suspected or confirmed theft (self-provisioning)? Am I willing to sacrifice the peace we have found in our family to the chaos he brings to it? What are the costs to the other kids who live here? In residential treatment, we used to wonder if a given teen was “too expensive in the milieu”; meaning was he or she so disruptive, so provocative that there was very little left for anyone else who lived in the same space.

I have carved out a life that works for me. Am I willing to make the adjustments he needs so his healing can begin or do I really expect him to find a way to fit into my life as it is? Do I have the energy and time to make sure his teachers understand and care about his unique needs? Is it enough just to ask these questions or do I really need to decide on the answers today? What does it mean about me if I change my mind later?

There is something about this that is an interesting distortion of how we usually think of intimacy. The commitment we make to these kids is meant to be the source of a life changing encounter. We are tasked with a more than healthy dose of self-examination daily: Have I slept well? Did the traffic leave me in a lousy mood? Am I taking good care of myself so I can be present for others? Is it OK to protect time for myself when his needs are so great? Am I angry at my partner/boss/sister/neighbor? Is that anger contaminating my other relationships?

These days when our escape mechanisms are so limited by this pandemic, I think of you and your households and hope these thoughts bring you some sense of being understood; of being heard and cared for. Our kids need you. The future of our society needs your efforts and commitment to these kids from hard places. Please know how much you are appreciated. The kids probably can’t recognize what you are offering but don’t let that stop you.

News:

  1. Friday night Happy Hour continues (check your email for the link) and we have added a monthly training session to satisfy your licensure requirements, curiosity or life-long learning goal. Reach out to kristi@azafap.org if interested in membership or either offering.
  2. Certificates of attendance are issued for the training hour (held at 9 pm on the last Tuesday of the month). July 28th will consider Auditory Processing Difficulties (as requested by Kate). Watch your email for the registration opportunity.
  3. This shut down continues for those of us who understand what is at stake. Others seem to struggle to grasp that. Still others, like the teens in your home, have begun to climb the walls. You are in my thoughts. Reach out if you need an ear: cathyt@azafap.org.

Thanks for listening. Take care of yourself.

Cathy