Tuesday, March 9, 2010


No one told me that I’d be sitting in closets or standing on my head

If you were to describe the day to day “job” of being a foster parent, I doubt that you would include “ability to sit in a closet crosslegged” nor “flexibility and strength necessary to do a handstand” and yet in my day to day activities of being a foster mom, I have done both. You are thinking, this woman is a little crazy. She must not know how to be a good foster parent. I wouldn’t need to employ such craziness. But I must tell you that I think it is just this foolishness that allows us to get through everyday. My DS2 has many labels attached to him as a result of the abuse and neglect that he has experienced. One of the labels that he carries represents his distrust of adults, his need for control, and his general defiance. Of course, I ask you after 14 homes, how would you feel? Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) can be very frustrating to deal with, but we have found humor to be a rather effective tool. If I come back at him in an authoritarian fashion, I can pretty much guarantee you a disaster, but if we can laugh, we can usually make some progress. So I’m thinking that instead of having RAD stand for Reactive Attachment Disorder, perhaps we can have it stand for Radical Alternative Displays of Affection. Ok, so I added an extra “A”, but you get the point.

The two specific situations that I mention are just that two of many. I am not recommending specific actions, but just that we think a little outside the box and as traumatically that previous adults have treated our children, lets dramatically show them that we will go to any length for them.

The closet situation evolved when DS2 misbehaved and went to his room for a cool down period. I gave him 5-10 minutes to relax and refocus, but when I went to talk to him at first I could not find him. His room was empty, but I knew he was there. I quickly located him sitting on the floor in his bedroom closet. I will not psychoanalyze to decide if he was there for the comfort of a confined space or if it was a form of control to watch me squirm looking for him; regardless, there he was. When we started to talk, he was as defiant as ever – negating everything I had to say. Then I switched gears and made a comment about getting in the closet. His frown suddenly became a questioning smile, “You wouldn’t come in here. You can’t fit in here.”

“I’ll bet you I can.”

He looked questioningly at me.

“Make room.” It was as if as I got in the closet, all the tension left the room. After he stopped being shocked that I was in the closet with him, we were able to talk about the issue that had landed us in the closet.

The headstand was a visual representation of our ability to choose. DS2 woke up one morning and as I tried to coax him out of bed, he said, “Today is going to be a terrible day anyway.”

Visions of being called by the principal at 9:10 jumped into my head. Some days were difficult enough without him heading in to them in a bad mood. “Remember,” I said. “Our mood is our choice. You can decide to have a bad day or you can decide that you are going to change your mood and have a good day.”

“It’s just a bad day. I’m going to have a bad day.”

I took a breath (a very helpful thing these days), “Come on get up. Shake it out. Do a dance or stand on your head. Do whatever it takes to change your mood.”

“What was the last thing you said?”

“Stand on your head”

“How is standing on your head going to change your mood?”

“Watch!” I promptly got a pillow and stood on my head, lifting my legs up and against the wall.

“That doesn’t count. Your feet are against the wall.” He marveled, but challenged.

I wondered if I could do that. I hadn’t achieved that in many, many years. I tightened my abs, prayed my shirt wasn’t going to go over my head, and pulled my legs from the wall. “Ta da” I got back to my feet. “See it worked,” I winked. “You are smiling.”

I never did get a call from the principal that day and DS2 seemed to have a relatively good day.

Now you may say that these actions are extreme, but I say what has happened to him is extreme and he desearves to know that there are adults that will go to any length to let him know that he is safe and loved. RAD - - - Radical Alternative Displays (of Affection). Instead of getting caught up in their RAD, lets use our RAD.

I would love to hear stories of how others have used crazy ways to get past the frustration of defiant, angry children.


Carrie said...

very cool! you are great at what you are doing, God bless you for it!

Dawn said...

Thank you, Carrie.

Teresa said...

I'm just starting to process of becoming a foster parent myself. (So far all I've done is made the phone call and read the information packet the sent me). Eventually, I'd like to adopt children as well. Now, I can fit in a closet, but it's been many years since I've done a headstand, I'm not positive at my ability but I guess we'll find out when the time comes... if not, well perhaps a silly dance will work instead :)

It's great what you are doing. How long has your foster son been living with you now?