Five-ish Things That Kids Learn in Families


“What we remember from childhood we remember forever…”   Cynthia Ozick, American writer 1928.

Young children, and teens, sometimes have values, priorities, behaviors and feelings that they have to unlearn, or re-channel if they have been exposed to traumatic life events, or unhealthy behaviors by their parents. It can be a long, slow process but don't give up.  Healthy life skills, coping mechanisms and trust building come from watching you, as well as, being given opportunities to experiment, grow and change. 

The parameters of ‘normal’.

Family life is a microscopic version of the world. It’s where children and teens learn to interact with others. Learn how they fit into social and work (chores or working for others) relationships.  It’s where they learn boundaries and where they learn to evaluate what is acceptable, unacceptable or just plain bizarre behavior.

Often, if tragedy or abuse occurs in a child’s life, they tend to expect bad things unless we help them put things in perspective. It should be every parenting adult’s goal to help kiddos see that life is a series of possibilities–not just a steady stream of problems.

How to handle feelings and conflict.

It can be especially hard for youth who have been threatened or punished for “talking back” to engage in any conversations that they know would have triggered a violent reaction in their mom or dad.  However, their day-to-day success, as well as all ongoing and future relationships rely on their learning how to give and receive feedback honestly, respectfully, and at appropriate times.

If kids yell obscenities, hit, walk away when you are talking with them, or demonstrate other extreme behaviors create a cooling off period, and then explain rules of engagement.  Let them practice when they are calm saying “I” statements that don’t threaten or demean. Role play examples they can relate to such as, “I feel scared when you yell, like you just did.  I know that the odds of a plane crashing are very slim, however, it makes my stomach hurt when you make fun of me for not wanting to fly because that’s how my parents died.  It’s my turn to decide what movie we are going to go see since you choose last week. Was there a reason you want to choose this week too?”

Feelings are honest.  It’s okay for children and teens to be angry, mad, sad, glad, silly or whatever.  What’s important is how feelings are expressed by words, voice tone, body language and timing. They learn respect as much from watching and listening to how you talk to others, and about others as they do from lectures or coaching. If a birth parent is, or was, abusive they may need professional counseling.

Being responsible isn’t easy.

Kids learn from experience–so even when it’s painful let them try new things or re-try old things in new ways giving them more and more control and responsibility. Let them make mistakes. Let them learn about natural consequences, and most important set them up to succeed.

Not all their efforts will be painless, or pretty, but from each attempt they will learn. Show them trust and respect by honestly praising successes (even partial) and together talk through events and feelings when things don’t turn out so well. Be open to their suggestions and be flexible.  When you can’t ‘flex’ explain “why”. Is it too expensive, are you overbooked, or is it simply too dangerous, illogical, or against your values?

Learning to be a good winner or a good loser.

Don’t believe the drivel that anyone can do anything they set their mind to.  I am 5’2″ and will never be 5’7″.  At seventy, I’m too old to become an Olympic champion in anything.  They too have some skills and gifts and some restrictions. If they have been cut from the high school varsity basketball team help them access the situation.  Would extra practice or coaching help?  Would joining a ‘rec’ team improve their future chances in high school, college and beyond?  Are they simply, at 5 foot, too short to compete unless they get a growth spurt?

Additionally, everyone cannot be best at everything.  If they try something and fail then they will have learned a little more about themselves and be better prepared when passed over for a job promotion or maybe learning that there are physical reasons that they cannot eat sugar without serious health consequences.

Sometimes winning comes easily.  They will be better served if they learn early on how to share the glory in a team sport or turn the spotlight to encouraging others.  “I am the greatest” (you fill in the blank) comments can quickly turn off others.

Values and ethics.

We live in a world where everything we do is quickly picked up, passed on and/or critiqued by others on social media.  It’s not easy to be bullied at school or work, but it’s mega multiplied when the bullying jumps to cyber and your child is exposed to ridicule from those he/she interacts with every day.

Since we can’t control everything that happens to our children as youngsters or young adults, we have to help them develop the self confidence and self worth to ride out the storms. Teens don’t always believe that character counts more than immediate popularity. However, surrounding them with family, mentors, good friends who share your family’s values will help them mentally shrug and walk away or calmly say, “that’s not cool”.

Let them know that they aren’t victims and that asking for help from God or others takes courage and strength but we all need others…and we all can help others.

Met earlier this month in Seattle with a number of other grandfamily members (and Donna Butts from Generations United) at the Casey Leadership Retreat. Amazing people. Amazing organizations.

A letter from mom.

To my daughter.

It’s been nearly three years since we last talked.  A lifetime before that you got hooked on drugs…and then on alcohol. A lot’s happened in the past twenty seven years.

Yesterday was Father’s Day and I was, as happens occasionally, alone at church.  The tears leaked out when the music started.  You were there–but only as a whisper in my heart; a memory in my mind.

My life is better than I would ever have thought possible but sometimes the old dreams I had for you, for me, for us sneak back in and I mourn for what could have been. Sometimes, I shut these un-beckoned dreams of everyday things down, and sometimes, like yesterday, I let them stay awhile until I have to say goodbye, so I can survive.

Your oldest son, Chad, became my youngest son long before I adopted him. Maybe he and I started bonding as mother and son when I used to bring him home to babysit overnight and bathe away the smoke, and let him spend a day in dry diapers. Maybe it didn’t begin until I watched him tuck his little hand in the engulfing one of the transport volunteer who returned him to his foster home after the state stepped in. I’d like to think, even though he never looked back, that Chad knew I was there then and that I would always be there whenever he needed me.

Back then, I thought you’d make it.  Back then, I didn’t realize that drugs don’t give up.

At first, I was just another grandmother raising my grandson.

Abused by his birth dad.  Abused by you.  Chad deserved better…all kids do.  I spent my savings on attorneys.  I was strong during court hearings and sobbed my way through the nights.

He was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress at age four.  He and I lived through years of his waking up nightly screaming from nightmares he couldn’t explain. We made it through years of his being afraid to let me out of his sight and his “I love you,” to me fifty times a day which was his way of saying, “I’m scared…”

Trauma and drama…drugs don’t give up.

Then I adopted Chad to keep him safe, and  because I loved him with my whole heart.

Cutting.  Suicidal.  Punching holes in walls. Swearing at me.

Remorse. Rewind. Replay once again.

We made it through. Now he is a man.

Yesterday, I wished him Happy Father’s Day.  His little girl is now 18-months-old and a charmer.  I see in her your self-determination and a bit of your curly hair as twice a week we (my husband (her beloved Papa)) and I take care of her so her mama and daddy can go to work.  

What you’ll never know is baby kisses beat drug highs, and even messy diapers are better than alcohol lows.

I miss Chad’s half sisters–your daughters, my granddaughters.  From you, them, and Facebook, I know the oldest lost her virginity at twelve, her slightly younger sister, who I always wanted to scoop up and cuddle because she seemed so sad, posted, “Why can’t anyone see me…I’m hurting too”), and their baby sister who you said told her fifth grade counselor that she had been raped.

We’ve all been raped, tattered and torn. Meth, opioids, alcohol—drugs abuse  families.

I won’t give up, but everyday I try letting go.

 

 

Stop feeling guilty for loving, or not loving, a family addict.

BreakersThe continual drama and trauma that surrounds addicts, takes its toll on the emotions and relationships of the users’ partners, parents, siblings, and their kids.

The ‘normal’ progression of parenting roles changes from caretaker to coach to cheerleader to mentor and friend. With drugs or alcohol the progression regresses, especially for grandparents raising grandkids, eventually forcing a decision between care-taking little ones or their parent.

For years I’ve couldn’t articulate how I felt about my daughter because I vacillated between, sadness, guilt, anger and wanting to believe she would change leaving me saying, “I’m done,” followed up hours, days or months later with, “one more time”.

When I discovered she was first using, first arrested, first pregnant, first on public assistance, first in prison, first embezzling from a friend who gave her a job, and so on it was difficult. I grasped for every excuse for her behavior, until the “firsts” turned into reruns and spinoffs. Eventually I admitted, when a counselor asked me, that I didn’t like my daughter’s behaviors, didn’t like the person she had become. I still couldn’t say I didn’t love her–it seemed inexcusable for a mom and “un-Christian like”.

Today, I think love can’t survive long-time when you are being lied to and emotionally abused. Love can withstand your heart being broken, but possibly not as you watch your grandkids’ hearts on the line. Watching them cry when mom or dad is arrested and their picture is on the news, or as a second-grader they are left sitting forgotten on the school steps, or as a high schooler they try to ignore their drunk dad in the stands at school at 9 AM when their playing basketball. It’s also really, really difficult when you see your other adult children and their kids being hurt by your choices regarding the addict’s choices.

My daughter is not in my life anymore physically but I still pray for her most days, and still hope that she turns her life around. I’m just done holding my breath or wanting to be part of the up and down process.

“I love him/her.  I hate him/her.”  

You don’t need anyone’s permission, or approval, to feel a certain way. And you don’t owe anyone–including the addict, or other children, an explanation.  Unless others have been in your shoes, they can’t imagine the pain, the tug-of-war of emotions, or the struggle to survive.

It’s easy to continue to ‘love’ the memory of the child we raised, the partner we married. What is harder to define, and accept, is how we feel today. Sometimes we are mad at the user, other times we try overly hard to protect them, and sometimes we even tip over to enabling bad behaviors. Sometimes. we are just plain done.

In the end, if you parent minors–yours or grandkids–then their needs must come first.  Don’t let emotions stop you from doing the right thing, and sometimes it takes an outsider like a counselor, pastor, social worker or trusted friend to help you prioritize, help you succeed in following through.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Depression stalks grandparents raising grandkids…

Approximately 2.7 million grandparents are raising nearly 7.8 million children.   If you are one of them, take care of yourself.  Don’t minimize the stress of loving your adult child, your grandkids and having your dreams destroyed. Statistics show many grandparents are clinically depressed at least sometime in their journey. To avoid, or overcome, depression see a doctor and tell yourself often, “I count.”

Surround yourself with pictures, sayings and people who make you smile.

Do what makes you feel good.

Go motorcycle riding, camp, join a book club, or go shopping.  

My grandniece years ago said, “Sparkle is my favorite color”. Made sense so I started wearing jewelry to mow the lawn, pick up kids at practice, or grocery shop. I also try to buy a few new things each season, when I find a great bargain, that make me feel good about myself.

Get yourself & your problems off your mind.

A mom in an Oregonian news story caught my attention, “I’ve cried. I’ve been on meds. I’ve put him (her son) in treatments…and I couldn’t do any t100_2116hing else. And if I can’t help my own kids…” then added the reporter, “you help someone else’s child.” She did.

The story went on to talk about her buying gloves for a homeless young man on a cold winter’s night and doing other acts of love when she saw a need. She inspired me to start looking.  Took cosmetic samples from ‘gift with purchase’ to women’s shelter. Volunteered to speak at grandparent support groups, and washed toys in our church’s nursery after services.

Exercise.

“I Made It Through The Day With No Crazy Thoughts…I made it through the day without obsessing over my son.  I didn’t cry or fall apart.  I exercised during my lunch hour.  Thank you God for this gift today, ” said another mom, Tricia, on TAM Healthy Moms website.

My supplemental medicare insurance pays gym membership…so three or four days a week I wake up early and go to Curves and workout. Good company, smiles and sweat have made me thinner, stronger, and happier.

Try something different.

We are all students and all influencers. Brené Brown, interviewed in Costco Magazine said, “You can’t say, ‘Here’s vulnerability, here’s grief, here’s shame, here’s fear, here’s disappointment. I don’t want to feel these.” She explained that it’s important to, “Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be; embrace who you are.” I’m adding, embrace parenting. Re-direct your dreams. Don’t let “raising grandkids” take over all the other pieces of your life.  Carve out time to read, or play hockey, or practice guitar–even if it’s just fifteen minutes a day before the sun comes up or once a month with the guys. “The magic is in the normal moments,” says Brown. 

Say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.

IMG_1947The bible says, “You have not, because you ask not.” So ask God and people for help. Everyday say, “Good things are going to happen to me today.” Smile when they do, and say thanks when you go to bed if you found a lost earring, got a coupon in the mail just when you have to buy a new mattress, chatted with a neighbor, or enjoyed a jelly-tasting good night kiss.

Awesome Things Happen when Raising Grandkids.

Dark times happen–or you wouldn’t be parenting your child’s child. These dark times can be scary and depressing. But, wow, the dark makes the littlest things sparkle, and it often forces you onto wonderful new paths.

Years ago, I was broken heartedly loading my three-year-old grandson Chad, and his possessions, into my car to drive him to to live with his alcoholic birth dad. As I struggled to keep from crying Chad pulled a match box car from his pocket saying, “Grandma this is for you.”

Eight months later, the courts returned a physically and emotionally abused Chad to my custody.  His counselor said his daily tears, fears and angry outbursts were a result of Post Traumatic Stress.  It was another two years before I heard Chad laugh-out-loud in response to something he was watching on TV.  Sparkles to my ears; sparkles to my heart and I still have–and treasure–that little car.

Lots of tough times in between then and now, but looking back a lot of good things wouldn’t have happened if the gift, and challenge, of Chad hadn’t come into my life: 

♥ Traded a career in corporate America to became a work-from-home free-lance writer.  When Chad was eight, he and I went on an all-expense paid press trip to Hawaii with just twenty-five dollars in my pocket. Got to do things, I could never afford–then or now–on my own.

♥ Wrote three books–the latest, Raising Children of Alcoholics & Drug Users, I co-authored  with Chad.

♥ I speak nationally to grandparent groups and the professionals who support them.  Inspires and humbles me every time.

♥ I participated in a White House briefing in 2015 on needed revisions for foster and relative-care families.

♥ Re-married and now have seven kids calling me “mom”.  Gained 18 more siblings (including spouses) and have rafted at Glacier, enjoyed high tea at Lake Louise, and even went to Australia and New Zealand–fifteen years after our promised ‘honeymoon’ was postponed and very low budget but there!

♥ Made life-long friends through Chad’s school, scouting, church and sports activities; most of these parents are younger by a decade or two than Bob, my husband, or myself but youthful & older parents give each other balance.

♥ Attended first ‘Mom’s weekend’ when Chad was a freshman in college. Special forever memory.

♥ Danced the mother/son dance at Chad’s wedding–a five star heart memory.

♥ Deepened my faith life and now I’m at peace, rather than constantly worrying and trying to figure things out.

♥ Hear “Hi mom” whenever Chad, or our other kids, come through the door and “I love you” texts are exchanged–things I thought lost when my daughter, who I adopted at birth, got caught-up with drugs & alcohol.

Sure there are a lot of bad memories and downsides:  A Christmas Eve day in a CARES evaluation waiting room while Chad was being examined by doctors, years of interrupted sleep, lots of lost friends, my daughter rushed to the hospital for an overdose and heart-wrenching courtroom testimony about her life, reduced retirement funds, and so on but each day passes into oblivion and we move on.

Like me, someday you’ll find yourself in a totally different place than you would have been if you had not stepped in and parented your grandchild(ren) or another child needing your love.  I’m guessing you will find it bittersweet–but more sweet than bitter.

You never trade one child for another.  My adult daughter (Chad’s birth mom) is in my thoughts most days, and I pray that God has placed someone in her life to help her–and my three granddaughter that I don’t get to see–through the things I could not. Hardest thing I’ve ever done is to not try to find her after more than twenty years of being in and out of touch.

Bad memories eventually fade if we let them; good memories become great over time.  In the end, love and memories are all we really leave behind.  I adopted Chad. What a gift to me.

“Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful.”  Annette Funicello.♥

Raising Children of Trauma.

“When I used to get so angry it was like I was drunk and didn’t know what was going on.  Later I’d think, “What just happened?”  I didn’t know how I had gotten to the point of being out of control half of the time,” said my grandson 22-year-old Chad Dingle, co-author of Raising Children of Alcoholics & Drug Users.¹

It was crazy scary, frustrating, and always a long, slow process of talking Chad down after he got so angry that he’d punch a hole in the wall or scream mean hateful things at me growing up. We’d talk sometimes for hours, and sometimes a few minutes, depending on his age and rage. Things would then settle into a truce only to soon start up all over again. With the help of counselors, I was able to keep him and the rest of our family safe but it took a huge toll on everyone.

Both of Chad’s parents had problems with drugs and alcohol, and after age four I tried to shelter him from them most of the time; however, his past and their continuing choices, caused Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) triggers that took years to overcome.  Only recently did I learn that to these children, “stern warnings can become  louder and brusquer and discipline can seem harsher.”²

I always told Chad that regardless what his parents did, he was responsible for his own choices and actions.  Giving him consequences was tricky because I knew why Chad was the way he was…neglected as an infant and physically abused as a toddler but he had to develop self-control and a sense of right and wrong.

Alcoholics & addicts hurt their kids.

Why? Not because they don’t love their children but because their addictions override their desire/ability to get, and stay, sober.  They do things to feed their habit that traumatizes their children.  For example, the Adapt Report©, a diagnostic multi-discipline tool currently being field tested by Dr. James Kagan, M.D., scored Chad’s personal trauma history as “very high”.  In part the commentary read, “…experienced 6 out of a possible 10 traumatic childhood events known to be associated with poor mental health and developmental outcomes.”  It noted that his parent(s) were 1) incarcerated, 2) separated, divorced or deceased, 3) verbally, emotionally or psychologically abusive, 4) physically abusive, 5) struggling with substance use and 6) emotionally neglectful, unloving, or threatening abandonment or removal of child from household.

Why trauma-informed parenting helps.

Even young infants learn survival skills, such as not crying when hungry or hiding under the bed when dad’s mad, instead of relational or developmental. Research shows trauma changes brain response to real or perceived danger. The victims never totally relax even when when just awakening from sleep and they accelerate through the arousal stages of alert, alarm, fear and terror faster than a race driver shifts gears. 

How you parent greatly increases, or decreases, a child or teens’ anxiety and tendency to overcome inappropriate responses such as dissociating (withdrawing into themselves and even physically hiding to avoid a drunk dad or a strung out mom) or by hyper-arousal and aggression.  They need to learn from you skills to substitute for the missing checks and balances in their brains.  They have to learn social awareness, empathy, and how to self-sooth.

Basic parenting tips.

Always say what you are going to do, and then do what you say.  Be consistent, calm, and predictable.  Schedules are as important as rules and consequences; posting them helps.

Pre-empt challenges with choices.  “You can choose to do your homework now and go to the basketball game tonight, or you can choose to stay home and do it after dinner.”

Be nurturing and offer physical comfort to the degree they seek.  For example ask for, don’t demand, a hug and if they reject your attempt don’t make it a big deal, “I guess you’re out of hugs–well maybe tomorrow you’ll have one to give away,” or go for a fist bump or high five as your first step to establishing physical connection.

Incorporate frequent breaks.  “Want to shoot hoops for ten minutes?” or, “You’ve earned a break, what would you like to do for an hour?”, even, “Let’s get a snack, okay?”

Final thoughts.

I’m not a counselor.  I have no formal training in medical or mental health. I wrote this as a mom who adopted a traumatized grandchild and spent/spend time with professionals who generously share their time and expertise.  I always urge professional counseling.  What I’ve written is just a conversation starter.

Contrary to what you might think, the younger the infant or child is when subjected to trauma, the wider the impact and resulting problems. Infants cannot change their own dirty diapers or make themselves dinner…a five-year old can open a box of cereal or tell a neighbor they are hungry.  A one-year-old may learn not to cry, but they can’t go out the back door when dad staggers in the front door swearing.

Let your grandchildren talk about past experiences and emotions.  Emotions are facts and there is no right or wrong way to feel.  How emotions are processed and expressed is the issue.  Help them feel safe in talking with you and a few select others in their lives.

Teach them how/who they can contact (911, neighbors, teachers, etc.) to get help if a situation turns ugly.  Never tolerate actions that endanger you, other family members, or themselves.

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¹Dingle, Chad.  Raising Children of Alcoholics & Drug Users. ©2015.

²http://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-pediatrics-trauma-guidelines-idUSKBN16R2B5

What to do when grandkids blame you…

Blaming other people is a kid thing.  Most outgrow it, but addicts don’t. So when your grandkids blame you for their birthparent’s problems remember that it probably originated from something mom or dad said to them–or because of immature and wishful thinking. Instead of stressing, take up their challenge. Picture yourselves engaged in a Scrabble™ game.  Grandkid starts play with ‘blame’, daring you to respond. While it may be tempting to take the “S” from your letter rack and stick it under the “B”, don’t do it.  Open up the playing field by finding words/mental phrases that help you keep your emotional balance:

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B –  Bring it on…this is an opportunity for us to talk.

L Lies and love.  I can deal with both.

AAnalyze, Attitude, Approach, Action, and Accountability. All skills I will teach you to help you walk a different path than your mom/dad.

M-E – as in Me.  I count too.  I will earn your respect, but until then I will settle for your showing me, and others in authority, respect because it’s the right thing to do.

Bring it on.

Keep them talking so you know what they are thinking and feeling and who is influencing them (mom/dad, a certain teacher or friend). Listen to what they are saying, and what they are hiding.  Don’t lecture. Ask non-judgmental questions and keep your responses brief. Correct only vital misinformation in an age/stage appropriate manner. Better to come in the backdoor another day if things are emotionally charged.

Lies and love.

Children of addicts and alcoholics have lived in a world of lies.  Lies from mom/dad. White lies from family (possibly even you?) trying to protect them. Unintentional lies of promises broken from a society that says, “We’ll keep you safe.”  You have to break the chain of lies. Always be honest or they will never re-learn how to trust.

Love won’t blind them long term to their parents’ faults.  They will eventually see the lies told by their parents, and the distortions in their thinking. Only years of you being there–saying what you mean, and meaning what you say–will lead them to understand you don’t lie and you aren’t to blame for their, or their parent’s, choices.

“A” game strategies.

Teaching children life and communication skills benefits your relationship, and influences their every future relationship (work, family, friends). So help them  to analyze what they see and hear, develop healthy attitudes (ethics and values), learn how to approach others (communicate), and take both appropriate action and accountability for that action. Don’t worry if you occasionally blow it by getting upset…or if they don’t seem to be listening. Develop strategies and stick with them.

Limit digital contact with parents if every tweet, text, or phone call undoes your progress. Be there for as much face-to-face contact as your legal circumstances, and their age, allows so you can challenge parental lies on the spot.

Pick your battles and consider possible consequences of your words before engaging. Sometimes grandkids are just venting, sometimes testing, and sometimes heading off a cliff.  Triage and dismiss petty comments with a “You may be right.  I might have misunderstood, or let’s ask your mother next visit?”

Every time they hear,  “I may be wrong.  Convince me.  I was wrong.  You are right,” they eternalize it and start processing their own feelings, and emotions, differently.  Gradually their communication skills will improve, and they will see that you are fair and not to blame.

Don’t skip important discussions but try to find a logical time to introduce them–unless there is an immediate safety issue.  Lysa Terkeurst in her book, The Best Yes, says that repeated choices become our circumstances. Avoidance is a choice. Timing is also.

M-E

Lyrics from Kelly Clarkson,who had a rocky relationship with her birth father, song Piece by Piece resonate with me:

“But piece by piece he collected me
Up off the ground…
And piece by piece he filled the holes that you burned in me.”

It is a compliment when your kids feel safe unloading on you, blaming you. Doesn’t feel good, can’t let them get away with it, but it is progress. Never give up but know when to temporarily give in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New clothes, new confidence for foster kids.

Open by appointment only for foster children, aging-out-of-foster-care youth, and needy infants/children the Bloomin’ Clothes Closet in Oregon City offers young visitors dignity, a life experience unknown to many of them (shopping), and oh yes, new clothes and a backpack.
 
“Only jeans and prom dresses are gently used,” says co-founder Patti Serres, explaining that the rest of the items in their constantly changing ’boutique’ from undergarments, shoes, coats and even blankets and pillows to sweatshirts and shorts, are new.

 

All qualifying youth from birth to early twenties–residing in Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas counties are welcome but must be referred by a school, social worker or other agency.

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The day I visited a middle-schooler was expected and volunteers had already filled a bag for her with sparkly new Nike’s, a week’s supply of undergarments and assorted hygiene items as well as the softest pj’s and coolest pillow.

Behind the gaily-colored colored ‘curtain’ in the dressing room (update 2017:  Oregon City High School’s wood shop class as a senior project are going to are going to turn a large walk-in closet into a boys locker room so that male clients feel even more comfortable) they had placed multiple tops and bottoms that were her size. From them she could select two complete outfits to take home along with a scarf and item of jewelry of her choice. 

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For many kids it’s a unique experience, to have clothes that no one else has worn–and no one else at school will recognize as hand-me-downs from other students.  It’s also fun to be ‘princess or prince’ of the hour and have your own personal shoppers who just want to make you feel special and valued.

Every year three hundred 18-year-olds ‘age out’ of foster care and have no legal, permanent family in Oregon alone.  25-30% of these young people will be homeless and unemployed for their first year.  “For these young adults the difference between getting a job, and keeping a job, can often be our, thanks to a recent grant, ability to offer them clothes that meet dress codes at individual places of business and/or help them fit in with co-workers,” says Serres.

Some of the volunteers, like Serres, solicit donations from local businesses, others do everything from hosting fund-raisers to stocking the showroom and are as joyful as the kids.

Took me back to another ‘curtain’ experience.  A few years ago one of my granddaughters, who had been living basically in a house with her mom and a number of other people for the prior year–but all of her life was shuttled between one parent and then the other as they each cycled up and down in the drug and alcohol world,  came to live with us at age sixteen.  We picked her up many miles from where we live.   Because her clothes were few, and mostly inappropriate, the next day found us in the mall shopping.

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Chad, her half-brother who I adopted when he was young, was then twenty-two.  He went along standing on the outside of the dressing room curtain as his sis walked in and out modeling outfits.  “Too tight, too short, very nice but only for special occasions, okay with leggings, or you look good,” were typical comments.

‘Sis’ wasn’t always happy with what he said, but I remember the pride she took in having her big brother there. We tried to teach her about how clothes send messages, and how people are often judged by their first impression. Self-respect and fashion can co-exist but many of the media stars make it difficult for today’s parents. Sis didn’t get it because survival–not self respect–was her way of life. Sadly, a few months later she left not liking our rules around curfews, and how you treat others–especially family.  Throughout the experience, it was reinforced to me, that self-respect is something learned at an early age by showing and talking about little things.  Little things that really matter.

12065836_10154017072801992_701020676556001271_nPhoto courtesy of http://www.bb4kids.org/

Bloomin’ for individual young people, and as a clothes closet, can’t happen without someone planting the seeds, cultivating the young plants, and harvesting. Thanks for volunteering, or being a foster parent or stand-in (and stand-up) parent.  From you, the kids among us are learning kindness is an action, as well as an attitude.

 

Five Things Kids of Addicts, or Alcoholics, Absolutely Need to Hear.

1. You are not Your Dad and are not responsible for things He does.

Shared genes don’t dictate who you are, or will become…or make you responsible for what your birth dad does. 

You do not owe anyone answers about your parents, or their behavior, regardless if the person asking is a family member, friend, stranger or teacher. Always acknowledge questions respectfully by your words, voice tone, and body language, but only share what you want.    “I don’t know. ”  “Thank you for understanding that it hurts to talk about my dad,” or “If this is really important I’ll give you my mom/grandpa/foster dad’s cell number and you can talk to them,” are all appropriate responses to insensitive inquiries.

2. only your mom can choose to quit.

As much as you want your mom to stop drinking, or using drugs, you can’t make her quit. I tried, others tried.  Addictions are hard to break…but help is available.

Your mom drinks too much (or uses drugs).  It’s not because she doesn’t love you, or because of something you did, or didn’t do.  It’s because her body now is used to the chemical changes drugs or alcohol cause and she physically needs the temporary escape or ‘high’ feeling that she gets when using.  This craving overrules logical thinking and even terrible consequences like losing you or being in prison (whatever is applicable). Depending on child’s age, and circumstances, this can lead to a discussion of problems in her getting a job, dangers of seeing her existing friends, or a need for counseling to face problems.

3.  YOU AREN’T A VICTIM.

Life is hard, but you can do “hard”.

Everyone eventually has tough things to face.  You know Kevin’s mom commited suicide, Jax is  bullied because she is overweight, and others have terrible diseases like cancer.  Remember how we saw on TV that some dads are killed protecting our country.  You can choose to stay mad (or sad) or blame your dad/mom for how you act, but you can also choose to accept responsibility for what you do. You know how you’ve been hurt, so you can help others who are hurting.

Again for older children or teens more discussion can be helpful, e.g. “In NO HERO former Navy SEAL, Mark Owen, wrote, “Only focus on your three-foot world…focus on what you can affect.” Good advice.  Don’t dwell on what might happen if your dad returns. Get good grades so you can go on to be the game developer you want to be, and learn to control your temper.  It’s my job to keep working on the things that will make it so you always live with grandpa and I.  The attorney says he thinks it will only be a few more months until the judge lets that happen.”

4.  life isn’t fair.  get over it.

Listen.  Be honest.  Don’t preach.  Honor their feelings.

“I agree it sucks that you have to spend every other weekend visiting your mom and she won’t take you to your lacrosse games.  I have talked with your caseworker and am trying to see if we can change visiting times, but for now we have to do what the judge tells us.”

If your child, or the grandchild you are raising, is unfairly accused of something, and after presenting their side are still over-ruled, then maybe it’s time for one of the, “Pick your battles”, “I can go to bat for you but the consequences may be…” or “It’s a tough break but what can you do differently next time so when someone says something mean about your dad so you don’t get in a fight and end up suspended?” speeches.  Follow up with a hug and “I love you” or whatever physical contact they will accept.

If an unfair accusation that would impact the rest of their life (like a sexual aggression, troublemaker or slow learner) is made then go to the mat both for, and with, them.  

5.  You can trust me.

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You can tell them that you are not their addicted parent and can be trusted, but they won’t believe you until you show up, and follow up, time after time after time.  

If you promise to be at a game–be there.  If you promise chocolate chip cookies–make them.  If you say they will lose video time for hitting their little brother and they hit their brother, then get the facts but give the consequence. Make the video time loss reasonable for their age and circumstances–but do it.  Be consistent and do it again, and again until the message comes through that you don’t hit others.  The more natural the consequence the more impactful.

If they get into trouble outside your home, always listen to their side of the story before commenting or making judgment.  Teachers are people, kids set others up…don’t assume an adult or other child is always right.  Ask questions, and expect factual–not purely emotional–answers. However, also remember that children of alcoholics and addicts have learned to lie as a means of survival.  Be their advocate, but don’t blindly defend them.

Praise effort, progress, and any little thing you honestly can until they start growing in self-confidence and life skills.  Let them hear that you notice what they say, and what they do. Compliment their achievements in front of others and reward good behavior.  A lot of champions are made because they don’t want to let their coach or family or teammates, who believe in them, down.  Talk them up, don’t tear their parent down.

Letters and journaling.

Had the best conversation with a high school senior talking about family traditions.  In her family everyone puts a memento, or letter, in a keepsake box when a child is born and then when they turn eighteen the family gets together and each item is opened and shared.  It’s fun, personal…and priceless.

Writing letters is something I’d encourage you to do.  For years, people have told me they loved the letters to Chad (my adopted son/grandson) that I put at the end of each chapter in my first book, Second Time Around: Help for Grandparents Raising their Children’s Kids.  

It’s a legacy you can hand your child/grandchild/niece or nephew down the road and it really releases a lot of feelings for you.  Letters can also be an answer to a problem one grandmother recently asked, “How do I counteract lies my daughter says, like “Your grandmother took you?” when reality is she abandoned her.”  If she had written letters to her grandson or granddaughter, she might want to share a letter dated years ago that substantiates, not only her story but also reaffirms how very much you love her. The same goes for letters to sons and daughters.  Be sure to capture the happy, the positive, the sweet, as well as all the dreams you hold for them.   If you’re like me there will be a lot of letters that you’ll tear up too…because somethings are too heavy, too hurtful, or too personal to share with them–or to have someone find after you are no longer around.  

Following are  a few excerpts from my first book’s letters I wrote (copyrights apply):

First week:   “I cried so hard that I sank to the floor where I’m writing this, too heartsick to get up and too scared of what’s going to happen, to sleep…The biggest horror to me is that your mom doesn’t seem sorry or appalled by what she did…I pray to God you are safe tonight wherever you are and aren’t afraid.”

Maybe six months later:  “Today I took you for a blood test to see if you are HIV positive…”

Several years down the road:  “I went to court and told the judge why I didn’t think your mommy can keep you afe.  I didn’t want to tell him.  I didn’t want to hurt your mommy.  You see, in my heart she’s still my little girl.  But I had to.  I had to keep you safe, and your unborn sister safe.  When you are angry you are violent.  Remember when Bobby (now IMG_3322my husband and Chad’s adopted dad) was lying on his side on the floor and you kicked him so hard he collapsed or when you shook your rocking chair until the arm broke?…”

When Chad was six:  “Never think of yourself as a victim–you aren’t.  You have the advantage of knowing pain so you can help others.  I love your laugh.  It was silent for a long time so I stop and smile whenever I hear it.  When you are dating, always, always, always respect yourself, your date, and the little souls up in heaven who are waiting for you to someday be their daddy.”

Now Chad and his wife, Jessica, are waiting for the birth of their first born.  Can’t wait to write him/her a letter welcoming them.  I love them already.