|Picture by Oscar Keys|
"How are you doing?", it's a question I get asked almost daily. We all do. By your office mates, the check out girl at the grocery store or your mom when you call her for your weekly check-in. "How are you doing?" Often times we respond with a simple, "fine" or "good". But the truth is never that simple, not for you or me. And for some reason it takes a few rounds of back and forth in the conversation before we really get to the heart of what it is that we are feeling, if we get there at all.
How am I doing?
I feel like I'm treading water in the ocean and my legs are exhausted. If I stop, I'll drown so I keep treading water because it's all I know how to do. Pumping my legs round and round, trying to keep my head above water. (Of course I'm not actually treading water but it's the best analogy I can come up with.)
I'm running a successful business, my wife and I are trying to make time for our marriage while we navigate parenting a child from the foster care system that has experienced so much trauma in his short life and expresses himself through defiance on a daily basis while also parenting our two other kids (who are thankfully going through a calm period in their lives-knock on wood). We have a lot of balls in the air that we are juggling and somedays it feels like they all might go crashing to the floor at once.
Things have not gone as we had hoped and planned for. The child that we visited for five months, twice a week and participated in family therapy is not the same child that currently lives with us. Physically yes, it's the same child, but behavior wise he's different. We never saw the defiance, anger or the negativity when we visited him, but now it's constant. There are no triggers that will set him off, an everyday request like "Get your shoes on, it's time to go to school." will spin him into an argument. It is extremely difficult and stressful to be around every single day, I feel as though I'm walking in a mine field and at any moment I might step on a bomb. My guard is up all the time, and I personally don't like to live with my guard up.
To be honest, I don't like the type of person that his defiance makes me become. The type of person that calls out demands instead of talking or discussing, which is more my style. I prefer to parent from a place of love and kindness. But he's never known love or kindness and so it feels foreign to him and different and what he has learned is to defy what is different. To push it away in order to protect himself. We received training, I've read more and continue to read more books on his diagnoses, we've been counseled by doctors and therapists and I want to believe that we are the right family for him, that we can give him the safety, support and love that he deserves and that will make him see that he can live a happy life. But each day, I feel like the waves are getting bigger and my head comes closer to sinking under.
"How are you?"
I'm going to stop asking this question to other people when I see them because I don't know if I can answer the question myself without it feeling like I'm taking a seat on the therapy couch or avoiding answering truthfully and giving a blanket "fine". I'm going to replace it with "What is new in your world?". That's a question that I can answer without breaking down into tears. That's a question that propels us into conversation and connection. So...what is new in your world?
When I work with this kind of behavior in the school setting I often find that extrinsic rewards are helpful in training for the intrinsic rewards. Perhaps setting up a reward system for positive behavior will work to lessen the occurrences of defiance.
I have a biological child that argues with me, scrambles my brain, gets aggressive when she's mad, and stomps on all of my buttons many times a day. Our other child is calm as a cucumber. It's tough! She drives me absolutely bonkers. She's an extrovert, I'm an introvert. She's a hare, I'm a tortoise. I drive her bonkers too. She thinks I'm slow, boring, and she hates being home with me. She lusts after the lines of kids going to different after-care places after school. "Mom! Sign me up to go on the Y van with my friends!" "I'm your Y, honey. We go home to eat lunch and rest." "NOOOOOOOOO!"
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