How our son went from suicidal and hospitalized to health in less than a year

boy jumpingWhat we have experienced in our family is nothing short of a miracle.  This time last year we were living in a state of daily crisis.  We were on egg shells, wondering when our fragile family was going to break due to the uncertainty of the outbursts we were facing from our son on a daily basis.  Our son would throw fits of rage at us and himself that deeply scared us and caused us to fall into desperation, wondering if our lives would ever be normal again.  We found ourselves going from appointment to appointment, only to have doors closed on us with no solutions.  It wasn’t until our son was admitted to the Children’s Hospital Mental Health Unit for suicidal threats did we start to be taken seriously for his condition.

Those were long, dark days.

Yet here we are, not even a year since the hospital with a completely different boy.   He still has ADHD, and it shows.  He still is on the spectrum with mild Asbergers, and it shows.  But the Oppositional Defiance Disorder is almost non-existent – other than his normal desire to constantly question the status quo, but he gets that naturally from his mama.  He still has moments of anxiety, but he is healthy, functional, and thriving!  What an answer to all our nights of tearful prayers.  He went from wearing all black all the time, to now choosing vibrant colors to wear.  He’s gone from not wanting to leave our house to being more open to going places and trying new things.  It’s not all roses, but leaps and bounds from where we were!  He smiles now.  That’s the biggest change.

So what changed?  How did this happen?

We embraced the fact that this was going to be a long journey not something that could be quickly fixed.  When it comes to battling mental health, you need to realize you’re in for the long haul.  There’s no miracle method, pill, or quick fixes.  It’s long and it’s messy.  Just verbalizing to myself that I needed to pace through this process, forgiving my mess ups, forgiving my son for not getting it right, and embracing the chaos has been huge for getting through this far.  It has now been five years we have actively battled with son’s mental health.  The first four years we were in a war but didn’t realize what we were up against.  As a new parents we thought this was normal family life.  This journey has taken years to get to where we are right now.

We made connection, not correction the goal.  We tried correcting my son’s “behavior” in the early years of dealing with outbursts.  We would send him to his room, telling him when he was going to be a “good boy” he could come out.  One psychologist told me that this was the worst thing we could do.  She then said something I will never forget.  “You never send the hurting away from you, you bring them closer”.  We started bringing our son closer during outbursts, attempting to hold him in his hurricane of anger.  Sometimes it would take hours for him to calm down, now it takes only moments.  We also made family connection the focus in our day to day lives, meaning we slowed down our personal lives completely to have more family time.  I limited my evenings out to two nights a week. We put down our screens and made sure we were completely available to both our boys when we were all home.  We went on more walks and outings, talked more, and snuggled on the couch each evening for “movie time”.  Making connection stronger in our home has made it easier when we’ve needed to bring correction, as both our children’s trust and “love tank” has been filled enough to receive it when needed.

We brought our son home and decided to home school for now.  This was a bold move.  It was February. The fights and anxiety attacks around going to school were only getting worse.  The amount of stress we were all facing around school was starting to become overwhelming.  We would often have to carry our son out the door kicking and screaming at times to get to school, only to pick him up from school completely wiped from the energy it took him just to function all day.  The teachers were doing their best to accommodate  him, but he was wasting away, and his behaviour was getting more risky and rebellious each day.  Bringing him home to home school has probably been the biggest factor in nursing him emotionally back to health.  In the beginning weeks of home schooling, he spent a lot of time sleeping when needed.  His nutrition got back on track, sleep patterns improved and so has his willingness to learn.

We started medication.  I’m happy to report that in Canada doctors are not “throwing” medication at children.  In fact, it’s taken us a few years to finally have our son on medication that is working for him.  I’m thankful that our psychiatrist tried every option before medication.  However, medication is not a miracle pill.  I liken it to dieting: 80% is what you eat, 20% is exercise.  Likewise I have found that 80% of mental health comes from environmental factors and 20% from the medication itself.  Medication without working actively on making the home environment healthy will not be as effective.

I’m finding my own mental health.  There’s nothing like having children to see your every weakness come to the surface.  I never realized how mentally unhealthy I was until faced with this crisis.  I have also dealt with depression, marital conflict, and anger in my adult years – all influencing the environment my son has grown up in.  It’s humbling to look inside and know that your own shortcomings have failed the one person you swore you would protect.  Since hitting my soul’s rock bottom and admitting my own failure and lack, I have made my own mental health top priority.  I decided I needed to get up earlier than the rest of my family to have morning quiet time, reading, prayer and to do my exercise.  I have chosen bravery to face my own inner turmoil and have invited God into it to heal and work.  I am not afraid or ashamed of my brokenness.  I am facing it with bravery knowing that it does not have to be my destiny. Just this alone has changed the emotional state of my home.  My emotions seem to dictate my family’s emotional well being.  When mom is well, so is everyone else.

We have limited screen time.  No parent wants to do this.  What would we do without the screens that keep a hyperactive child occupied so we can finally get something done?!  However, I have done extensive research and have found my own experience with my boys: screens only magnify the issues we are trying to combat.  Limiting screens has taken intentionality on our part, but has been worth the calm state of mind both our boys experience as a result.  Another blog on this to come.

We watched God do what we couldn’t.  I remember reading a book on the origins of ADD written by one of my favorite authors, Gabor Mate.  It was a hard read as everything I read about regarding the reasons for ADD in our society I am guilty of.  It was momma guilt on steroids.  Every turn of the page almost had me in tears lamenting what I could not fix.  Then I heard a whisper in my ear saying, “But Jesus….”  I know some of you reading aren’t religious.  This may sound strange, but it was as real as real could be, and it brought hope to my soul to know that I didn’t have to get this all right.  I could be human with shortcomings and parent my child through storms of brokenness and come out on the other side.  I didn’t have to be perfect or have all the answers, someone would be carrying me.  I’m only so resilient on my own.  There were times I felt so desperate and helpless I wanted to run away.  I needed those words right at that moment to say that everything was going to be ok.  Looking back through our journey, I can only stand in awe of what Someone greater, outside of myself has done.  I did my part, then He showed off.

All of these together have brought us to where we are presently.  Things aren’t perfect at our house.  We are still committed to the work in progress needed, but we are on the other side of crisis.  If you are struggling with your child, I want you to know that there is “the other side of crisis”.  I write these posts for you; to cheer you on, bring you hope, and know you are not alone.

 

 

One way you can effectively communicate to an impulsive ADHD child

not listeningTypical scenario raising two boys with ADHD: impulsive behaviour going from zero to sixty and only looking to get worse.  Mom enters the scene, tells her boys to stop.  The word “stop” reaches their ears but doesn’t seem to register.  Mom gets closer, gets down to their level and says it again, “stop”.  The boys look at her, stop for a moment, then proceed like they didn’t hear her at all.  Hyperactivity shows no signs of simmering down.  Mom’s “STOP” starts to get louder and more intense but it doesn’t phase the boys at all.  They are on a rollercoaster ride and can’t get off.  Problem is, so is Mom, but she’s on a rollercoaster of frustration and it’s about to get LIVE up in here.  Scene ends with Mom losing it.  The boys stop, then look at their Mom then at each other like, “What’s her problem?”

Press repeat.

Does this situation sound familiar?  If you have a child with ADHD then you have probably experienced the same scenario.  ADHD is defined by poor attention skills, unable to control impulses, and hyperactivity. They may experience frequent memory lapses, lack social skills, and make jokes when it’s not appropriate.  Their emotional states go through up and down swings of emotion.  It is literally a deficit of attention, a disorder in life skills. Their attention is situational on whether their interest is peaked or not.  Here’s the thing, they are not purposefully inattentive or disobedient.  Neurologically, there are forces that inhibit them from control.  “I want to control myself but my mind won’t let me” (from Scattered Minds, Gabor Mate). “ADD is not a problem of knowing what to do, it’s a problem of doing what you know.” (Improved Delay Responding, Russell Barkley).

That’s all great to know, but how do we teach our children how to function in a world that requires them to get a grip on their impulsiveness?

The other day I was beside myself trying to communicate with my boys about how their careless behaviour was driving my frustration through the roof.  I was asking for their cooperation and didn’t know how to communicate in a way they could understand.

That’s when I grabbed a glass of water. waterfilling

I said to my boys, “Let’s pretend this glass is me and the water is my frustration level”.  When I see behaviour is getting out of control and I tell you to stop. When my words aren’t being heard my frustration starts to build.”

I poured more water in the glass wateralmostfull

“If my words continue to not be heard, my frustration only grows until finally it’s reached the top and overflows.  This is where I’ve had enough”. (you may see crazy-mom at this point)

They looked at the overflowing glass of water, seeming to understand. wateroverflow

“I don’t want to have the kind of relationship with my boys where I am always overflowing with frustration.  It’s important we listen to one another’s words and cooperate so we can enjoy one another as a family”.  I reminded them of this so they would remember that I’m not trying to “fix their behaviour” as much as I am seeking to save the connection of our family.  Frustration only separates the divide between child and parent, which then only increases bad behaviour.  It’s a vicious cycle and I was tired of being in it.

Now when my boys are out of control and my words aren’t reaching them, I grab a glass of water and show them where my frustration level is.  This visual has been effective.

What helps a child with ADHD more than anything?  Dope.  That neuro loving Dopamine we derive from loving connections.  This is what they need.  Frustration only blocks it.  Once we can communicate past frustration, connection can happen once again.  The good news is that our children want this desperately.  They want to do good, we just need to keep being creative to help them see that through.

Three ways to get past the judgment of other parents

JudgingotherwomenYou don’t need to have a child with special needs to be a parent who has experienced judgment.

When it comes to parenting, there’s nothing more disheartening or disturbing than feeling the “eye” from others questioning your methods. I remember a well intentioned young adult approaching me once while out for a walk with my boys by a icy pond.  He wanted to let me know that my son was at risk walking on the (very strong I would like to add) ice and that he was surely going fall in the water and get hypothermia.  “I feel you are quite negligent”, he said.  It took every ounce of self control not to lose it as I was already having a rough day.  I responded with a snarky question, “Are you a parent?” and then went on to tell him I appreciated his concern, but we were good.

I’ve had many other well intended souls give me advice on what they think I could be doing better.  “Have you thought of giving them less sugar?”, “Have you tried such and such a product?”, “Have you ever thought of seeing if they need demonic deliverance?” (for real, someone asked that).

The glares, the concerns, the ignorant statements are not going to go away, so here are three helpful tips in how to get past it and move on.

  1. It’s important to come at parenting from a place of worth.  The glares are only feeding the lies you are constantly telling yourself: “I suck”. They wouldn’t affect you if you didn’t struggle with this belief.  Are we so fragile that one look can destroy us?  That an ignorant comment from a stranger can create such shame? Many days I can give a sobbing “Ye, ye, YES”.  Many times our reactions to outside criticism and downright hurtful words take root inside only because of the self doubt we keep choosing to believe.  Constant questioning our ability to parent will torment us.  We need to build our lives on the foundation of our worth as a child of God so when the waves of criticism crash into us, we will not be moved.  I am enough whether I’ve had a good parenting day or a rough one.
  2. Remember, no one woke up this morning wanting to be a jerk.  People mean well. This perspective has saved my heart from becoming judgmental and hard towards people.  Sometimes people’s responses come from their own shame they have felt from others.  It’s hard to pass anything else on when you’ve experienced no different.  And when people give you advice, chances are you’ve tried everything they’ve suggested.  Instead of being annoyed think: “Wow!  I’ve done my research.  I’m resourceful.  Not to mention I’m that dedicated to my child’s success in overcoming their obstacles.”   That’s a good parent right there :)
  3. Don’t let fear of what others think dictate how you treat your child.  This has been my greatest weakness.  My children will do something completely embarrassing, such as drop an f-bomb in a park of toddlers (for more on that, read the blog before this one) and I let the expectations of other parents overcome what I feel I really should do in that moment.  When this happens, its because I am caring more about what I look like to others, rather than how my child feels and what they need.  It never ends well.  It usually ends with my child feeling embarrassed or ashamed because I’ve made certain the judgment of the other moms are appeased.  I will show them I am the boss!  I will prove my worth!  I will not let anyone think I don’t have control over my children! ….  but I will lose connection with my child in the process. It takes a big gulp of humble pie to put blinders on and care more about your child in those moments than yourself.

My heart has felt great sorrow many times over with the overwhelming shame that accompanies judgment – especially when it has come from people close to me.  Yet in the moments I have chosen to sacrifice my pride for the betterment of my child, I hear a whisper “That’s what love looks like”.  Love is hard, but that’s why it’s worth so much.

So friend, know your worth, be confident in what your child needs, and know you’re doing an amazing job.  Stay brave.

Four rules that will change even the most chaotic home

chaotic home

We’re standing in a long line up to go to the pool when I see my sons in the corner of my eye playing with the pay phone.  My inner alarm triggers and I call out for them to stay away from the phone.  All looks well until we make it past payment only to find a security guard on the other side waiting for us.  My youngest had called 911 from the phone and the security guard had quite the speech prepared for me along with the glaring eye.  “What kind of mother are you?”, was spoken without words.  This happened not even a week after my youngest had called the police from our home phone, having the police show up at our door.  I was out at the time.  My husband texted me, “The police were just at our door.”   Note to husbands: this is not a good thing to text.  This would be now the second time my husband has texted this to me as a result of my youngest schemes.  He has a knack for trouble and my heart isn’t that strong.

My two boys are playing at the park when all of a sudden my youngest pulls his brothers hair, and hard.  Out comes the F bomb, megaphone style for all the toddlers, and their mothers, to hear.  From there it’s all slow motion to me; the look of horror from the 2 year olds, the mothers shifting their glare from my son to ME looking like a hoodlum in my hip hop teacher work attire.  “So that’s how you speak to your children?” Oh the judgment.  But then my eyes lift from my embarrassed state to my son completely horrified at the shame he has just experienced.

I have plenty of these. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought, “Why did we leave the house?” after coming home from similar moments,.  Different story, same feeling: embarrassment and shame statements like “What am I doing wrong??”.  It’s in these moments you see other families through rose coloured glasses.  The girls dressed in white, walking down the mall perfectly with their hand in their Mother’s while my boys either run through people like  moguls or using the mall as a parkour course.

The greatest barrier I have had to overcome in my parenting life is getting over what I wished my sons would be and embrace who they are.

I’m not saying the above scenarios are ok and I should just brush them off, however, if I don’t live by the truth that every child would do better if they could, then all I am going to communicate to my boys is shame.  Shame will tell them that THEY are a problem.  My boys both struggle with mental limitations.  They get frustrated and don’t know what to do with it, thus throwing fits of rage or breaking down in tears.  They lack the ability to problem solve when faced with something that overwhelms them.   My job isn’t to wish they “knew better”, but to help them “get better”.  Many adults struggle with thinking kids should just know better.  The ones who do get celebrated, and the ones who don’t get shamed.  As a parent, I see how easy it is to fall prey to this.  It’s a constant discipline to not resort to shame, and get down in the dirt WITH my kids to see things from their perspective and learn how to problem solve together.  (you can read more about this in my blog: The two things you can do right now to help solve issues with a difficult child).

So here are four rules, or rather, PRINCIPLES I like to use to help my boys.

  1. I know you want to do good.  Stating this verbally to my boys reminds them that I know they didn’t wake up wanting to be a jerk on days they are spewing horrible words towards me or one another.  It tells them that in when they call 911… AGAIN, that I know they aren’t trying to cause trouble.  I call out the good in them and correct the behavior.  It keeps connection strong and opportunity for me to hear their side.  “Oh you mean you didn’t think 911 worked from a payphone?  Well now you know that 911 works not only on the house phone and payphone, but it works on every phone, ok?  You understand that now?”  Phew, a nod of understanding learned through a hard lesson.
  2. Your heart matters more to me than your mouth.  My boys both have a problem with bad language.  However, it comes out in times where they don’t know how to manage their frustration or their anger.  I’ve told my boys that the most important part of ourselves is our heart and we need to guard it well.  When I hear harsh language it tells me that their heart isn’t doing well. We don’t correct the language, we work on the heart and how to manage frustration/anger.  If I believe they want to do well and give them the tools to do so, positive language will follow.
  3. Home is safe.  If we can’t make mistakes at home, then where will we make them?  When I am embarrassed yet again for something my boys have done I need to be thankful they experienced that with me and not out on their own.  If they know they are safe at home to not be shamed for mistakes, and given the proper direction to move forwards, there’s greater chances of them becoming who both they and I wish for them to be.  They can’t be shunned for feeling anger and frustration.  They need someone to show them what to do with it so one day they can not only function, but thrive as healthy adults.
  4. If you say “no” to me, then I will be saying “no” to you.  One of the greatest battles I experience with both my boys is opposition.  “NO” is a common answer to things like, “It’s time to get ready”, “It’s time to brush your teeth”, “It’s time to do school work”.  It’s hard to work with a strait-up “No” (with a foot stomp and arms crossed).  I used to get flaming mad.  My British upbringing told me this was outright disrespect and I would be up in arms demanding they listen to me only to find the arms stayed crossed, the foot would stomp again and the “NO” would get louder.  I have learned a much better response that not only works, but teaches them that in life “no’s” create more “no’s”, but “Yes’s” will invite more fun, creativity, and happiness.  So my simple response to them in their “NO” is this; “That’s fine.  However, I will also be saying ‘NO’ to you for the rest of the day if ‘no’ is the direction you would like to take”.  They know what this means.  NO your friend can’t come over, NO you can’t play your video game, NO you can’t have a treat.  They know it’s not to be mean, but to show that NO’s block out everything.  Their “no’s” quickly become “yes’s”. What’s really important here is not their compliance, but to afterwards show them what collaboration and cooperation does.  I often reward their yes’s with more fun and activities they’ve been wanting to do.  “Yes’s” create fun!

All of these principles get to the root rather than just shaming behaviour.  They also keep connection at the core of the relationship.  I’m not perfect at these by any means.  Living in constant chaos and their battle with toxic negativity can be challenging, but these four principles have changed my parenting for the better.

 

 

Saving my son from depression

Togetherness

Togetherness

It’s been four intense years.  It feels like an eternity longer.  My face shows it.

If you have a child that struggles with clinical anxiety/depression you know of the exhaustion of which I speak. It’s not only the intense emotion that rises and falls unpredictably (and never goes with your schedule), it’s forever living in the unknown.  It’s the days upon days of feeling like you’re living in trauma. Who will I get today, let alone this minute? Dr. Jekel or Mr Hyde? Hiding the knives because of a threat once again to kill himself, and us.  Fear floods.  Shame whispers; “It’s all you, you know.  You’re the reason he’s like this”.

“How do we rebuild the ruins of a family devastated by depression?”

I’m here to say in the midst of crisis that the ruins of a family can be rebuilt, but get ready for a marathon run, not a sprint with easy answers.  It will take bravery, but bravery you never realized you already have.  This is going to give it a chance to show itself in all its glory and surprise you.

Four years ago I lived in tears wondering what kind of parent I was.  My son was out of control, throwing massive fits of rage where he wasn’t afraid to hurt myself or him.  He was particular, fussy, and had a “glass-empty” outlook on life.   We decided it would be beneficial to get him assessed, so we forked up $5000 for an assessment to avoid a two year wait because we needed answers, and immediately.  The assessment gave us the answers we needed.  What a relief to feel we weren’t “bad parents”.  Indeed we had been dealing with something that was bigger than us.  As selfish as it sounds, you will never know the relief it is to a parent to discover that you aren’t crazy.  Our son was diagnosed with ADHD (along with every boy in the world), Oppositional Defiance Disorder, Depression and on the slight spectrum of Asbergers.  Phew.  We could now move forward in working with our son in the way he needed and be done with all this drama.

We could finally breathe… or so I thought.

Turns out, I needed a PhD in order to understand the complexity of my son’s issues.  Knowing what we were dealing with wasn’t going to be enough.  I still found myself in despair over his uncontrollable anger and low moods.  I started to read book after book.  I researched all I could about O.D.D., ADHD, depression and anxiety (this hasn’t stopped).  I worked with his school to get him on an I.P.P. (Individual program).  Every time it seemed I found something that worked, it would be soon be shattered by the unfortunate mental state of my son who was clearly wasting away. We would go from appointment to appointment hoping that THIS ONE would give us answers, only to find we were turned away or there was uncertainty as to what to do. I was sinking under the waves of the unpredictability.

 

I was carrying our families mess on my shoulders and dying inside.

It all hit hard when one day we decided to take our psychiatrist’s advice to take our son to the hospital when he again threatened to hurt himself and us.  I remember the ride there like it was yesterday.  Kicking, screaming from the back seat, throwing all kinds of profanities at us.  I remember the feeling of desperation, wondering if my son would ever be well? Wondering if our family would survive this….?  He was admitted to the mental health unit where he ended up spending three weeks.  It was exhausting going to the hospital for every possible visitation hour and figuring out what to do with our youngest child.   Every day he would ask the same question; “Why am I here??  How could you do this to me?!”  We would again explain why he was there, but nothing we said seemed to help him understand.  He went from an angry, outraged boy to a scared, fearful boy whose anxiety was now through the roof.

We were hopeful again when they decided to try medication, but again let down by the zombie it turned our boy into.  After being released from the hospital and seeing the medication wasn’t working, we were thankful when the psychiatrist decided to take our son off the medication, replacing it with probiotics and iron supplements.  We appreciated her desire to do this naturally, but were frustrated yet again as we had tried as much natural remedy that we knew along with intentional connective parenting.

Why wasn’t anything working??  Would there ever be any relief?

The school year started and my son’s anxiety sky rocketed.  Every day was a fight to get him out the door.  He was slowly corroding away on the inside and didn’t know how to deal with his inner turmoil at school other than to get into trouble.  I saw him quickly declining, making bad habits and choices that, if continued, could lead him down a path I’ve seen in youth at risk I’ve worked with.  If there’s one thing I know about youth labeled “bad” or “troubled” is that they didn’t start that way, nor ever desired it in the first place.  The same was true for my son.  He was trying to attach himself to anything that would bring temporary relief to the pain he felt inside.  Somehow being “bad” made him feel good.

I needed to intervene or I was going to lose him.

I made a bold decision to take him out school and start home schooling.  Never in a MILLION years would I have ever considered home schooling either of my boys, but this was an emergency.  For the first week he slept a lot, spent more time frustrated than making any progress, but that was ok.  The goal wasn’t to finish math, it was to bring his anxiety down. His escalated fits became less intense, declined quicker, and became less frequent.  I’m happy to say that something finally worked!  I’m not saying all children with anxiety should be home schooled, but I will say this:

In rebuilding a home with a child dealing with depression and anxiety:

  1. Bring them back in.  Any child struggling with anxiety or depression isn’t mentally capable of performing normal tasks like everyone else.  They can’t just “suck it up” or do their homework, or focus on learning fractions when their mind is like sinking sand.  You can’t focus on minuscule things like the tidiness of their room or the fact they swore.  They need to be reconnected back to a safe haven where they can be nurtured and given space to breathe and belong.  We would never expect someone recovering from a major illness to be up to par.  And all the more, how are children to learn to cope if we keep putting pressure under them to perform and keep up?  No wonder so many are struggling with little improvement without being drugged to the hilt or turning to weed to cope.  Bringing our children back into us doesn’t mean homeschooling, but it does mean doing whatever it takes on the home front to start back at the beginning: creating an atmosphere of safety and refuge for them to be restored.
  2. In the midst of their frustration and anger draw them closer.  I give my son permission to feel. I don’t try to “fix” his anger.  He needs to feel it.  I lean into him and tell him he’s safe.   If I can, I hold him and tell him nothing will break my connection with him.  One psychologist told me this; “When a child is angry, they are hurting.  Don’t send those hurting away from you”.  Powerful stuff there.  I think the danger is if we think that bringing them closer is going to make everything better.  It’s not.  Now you stand there in the mess and take it for the team.  It’s so much easier to send them away.  However, let me clarify: this doesn’t not mean taking abuse verbally or physically.  I have put my foot down many times my son has hurt me physically and verbally.   I am the one to remove myself, making myself very clear of the way I will and will not be treated.
  3. Slow down your life.  Free up your schedule as much as you possibly can.  I have had to come to the place where I will not sign my son up for anything as he can change his mind rapidly.  I don’t force him to go anywhere he doesn’t feel like going at this point.  This isn’t forever, but until anxiety levels settle this has proven to bring security to his emotional well being.  Many parents may find it hard, but whatever you can let go of during this season, do it.  My and my husband’s very presence at home calms our son. I have had to sacrifice some of my work in this season, but my son’s health depends on it.  Less Starbucks for me.  Not a sore price for my son’s soul.  I also wake up a few hours before my kids so I can pray, have a peaceful coffee, exercise, then be ready for whatever the day holds, good and bad.
  4. Let go of your expectations. Many times it’s been my expectations for my son to “get over” how he’s feeling that has actually caused more anxiety to arise.  He softens and calms when he knows I have “no strings attached” to how he performs on the day to day.  To some this may seem risky, like children would take advantage of this.  Some might, but I believe what our son’s psychologist said to me before leaving the hospital: “Every child would do better if they could”. I believe that because when I give my son room, he is always looking for ways to shine – and looking to see if I notice.

 

Are things perfect around here?  Not in the least, but I can say I’ve seen my son transform from what I described in the beginning of this post, to being more optimistic about life, having more energy and the drive to think better.  It’s been a 180 degree turn around and for that I am forever thankful.  I’ve changed too. I realize now that working with our son is for the long haul.  I’ve stopped trying to get to the “quick fix” and surrender to each moment we get to journey with him.

We have created an atmosphere in our home that says “You are safe. You are welcome.  You belong”. And that alone, consistently over the long term, has made a huge difference.

If you’re in a similar journey, I want you to know you have what it takes to make it through.  You are brave.  Keep going, friend.  I’m cheering for you.

The two things you can do right now to help solve issues with a difficult child (that doesn’t cost any money)

preteen angerIt has been said parenting isn’t for the faint of heart.  They weren’t kidding.  This is hard stuff we’re in.  Add behavioural difficulties on top of it and its enough to drive yourself to anxiety or stiff drinks (I’ve experienced both).  When you’re a parent of a child going through behavioural challenges, you don’t have a whole lot of time to read or research tips that can help you in your journey, which is why I have decided to write this blog.  I have, and will continue to blog on the subject as it’s been a method for me to solidify my learnings in my own heart, as well as provide hope, help, and encouragement to you in the struggle.  I don’t claim to know it all or be a professional in the field, but I hope my words can in the very least communicate, “It’s not just you”.  You are not alone

 

So, ready?  Here are the two greatest nuggets of wisdom I have not only read about and researched, but have experienced as success for myself as of late.

 

1. Get curious about your child’s issues

Our children did not wake up wanting to be difficult.  This may surprise us because difficult behaviours seem very intentional on their part, but I assure you every child has a heart to connect with their family and do well.  If this isn’t a reality, something has been damaged or has made this difficult for them.  The key as a parent is to get curious as to WHY.  It’s brave terrain to be open to what you may discover.

I’ve done a fair amount of reading on many different ideas doctors have as to the origins of where ADHD has come from (because that’s one of my son’s diagnosis’).  Environment seems to keep coming up as something all varying opinions can agree on.  If this is the case, then my son has experienced an environment that has enhanced his mental struggle.  When I read this, it all sounded great in theory until I realized that that would lead directly back to ….. me (gulp).   Half shocked and appauled I decided to be brave to ask my son this question I felt I should ask:

Me: “Son, what do you remember of me when you were little?”

My son: “Yelling at me, yelling at Dad, swearing, unhappy”.

Me: Silence.  Shame overtakes me.  I swallow deep, I can’t seem to breathe.  Words aren’t coming.  I don’t know what to feel other than horrible about myself.  What kind of Mother am I??  I’m not fit for this.  I think of all the phrases that start with “I can’t”…  But then I get brave and respond by saying;

“Son, I am so sorry”. 

His reaction revealed this seemed to be enough for now to keep conversation lines open and connection’s bond tighter.

 

This is a hard blog to write because this means I have to admit I was wrong and had a part to play.  This is hard for many parents.  No one wants to admit we don’t have it all together.  The truth is, when my oldest son was born I had just lost my business, three members of my immediate family had all passed away who I was very close to,  I moved to a new city where I felt very much alone, and having conflict in my marriage on top of it all.  Add a newborn with no sleep and you could easily say I was battling depression.  Fast forward a few years later where my son’s mood and behavior started to show to be a challenge and me having no idea how to deal with it – and you can only imagine how many ugly words slipped out of my mouth in my frustration.

 

That’s my story.  You may find you have no part to play in your child’s behaviour.  You may discover they’ve been struggling with peers or stress at school, but the key is to be open to hearing what they have to say as it reveals the WHY the behaviour is manifesting.  From there, communications lines are wide open, your child feels heard, and solutions can be discovered.

 

2. Take care of your mental state first

The greatest thing I have learned after owning my own shortcomings in parenting is to get curious about WHY I’ve been struggling as well.  Going on a journey of healing and wholeness is the best gift a parent can give to themselves and their child.  After all, the only person we control in this life is ourselves.  I have found greater success in working on myself rather than draining myself of all my energy trying to make my child behave better.

This has caused me to look at my life through the lense of my child who desperately needs a mom who can keep it together in the midst of his emotional storms.  I had to examine the way I was living my life and make changes to create a better environment at home that was less stressful.  Here are some of the changes I’ve made that have made a world of difference in the amount of peace that inhabits our home, but even more, in myself:

– I chose to be out less and home more.  This meant limiting my evening outings away from the family to 2 nights a week.

– I chose to only work during school hours and be there to pick up my kids every day.  Not everyone can do this, but for our home I know my children do best when I am present after school.

– I make sure I’m eating healthy and exercising on a regular basis.  When I don’t do this, I quickly notice how my intolerance level rises at alarming rates.

– I get up before the kids on school days to have morning coffee in silence and I meditate on scripture.  If my cup isn’t filled spiritually, I’m hopeless.

– My husband and I have been working hard on our marriage.  It’s a work in progress but we’re learning to stay calm when stress hits and to talk things out.

– I’ve been learning how to calm myself down when my buttons are being pushed or when stressful situations are on the rise.  Slow breathing, speech that is calm.  I’m learning to be proactive rather than reactive.

– I’ve got real about my negative emotions, disappointments and continue to surrender them.  I’ll admit there are many days I dislike the cards I’ve been dealt.  How many times have I cried out, “This is too much for me to handle”.  Being honest about these feelings rather than repressing them is healthly.  I believe the reason for my anger in the past have been because I didn’t get real about how I was feeling.  Somewhere I starting to believe that to be brave meant to deny myself of negative emotions.  That being said, I choose not to stay fixated on these thoughts by surrendering what is completely out of my control and embracing the strength my Creator wants to give me.

– I’ve limited our family outings dramatically to make life less busy and stressful.  My son’s anxiety cannot handle too many extra curricular activities and outings.  A busy lifestyle for him equals his anxiety doubling so I have made sure that our life has simplified and relaxed.

 

I’m not perfect at any of the above by any means, but by focusing on bettering myself these areas I have seen dramatic changes in my son and his desire to connect with me.  When he has an episode, it escalates and falls much quicker than before, not because I have done anything to help his behaviour, but because I’ve been focusing on mine.

 

My greatest encouragement to you today is to stay brave through the storms of parenting.  Our children are worth it and you’ve got this.

 

In your corner,

Connie

 

The number one thing you can do to guard your home against the dangers of too much screen time

screenWhat do I argue the most about lately with my nine year old?

Screens.

 

Not about the screen itself, not about how much time he takes on the screen, but what the screen steals from our home.  It steals his desire for connection with us and enthusiasm for family outings.  Not wanting to go to a friends house with us to visit, little interest in going places most kids would be excited about like the zoo or viewing spectacular Christmas lights.  No desire for outdoor or indoor play and adventure, and when there is a push from myself to do something together like our advent calendar or a game, it only ends in an argument.  Can you relate?

 

In our case, it’s not only an issue of screens, it’s an anxiety issue.  We have a boy who struggles with anxiety, depression, and ADHD.  To him the screen is a safe place to interact with friends, play creative games like Minecraft, and create animation.  For anyone dealing with anxiety (which is almost 1 out of every 5 youth in schools today), the screen becomes a safety net.  No wonder kids are having such a hard time with friendships.  The problem is when we let them use a screen to shield them, we are only contributing to anxiety and the continuation of interpersonal issues such as bullying – which is really only a product of children not knowing basic skills such as empathy.  This is related to the decreased amount of face to face time we all are missing in today’s society.  Today, community is something we fight to carve time for (or give up on because it’s too hard due to busy-ness), rather than something that is a natural flow of life.

 

Up until now I have never limited screens in my house.  In my particular parenting style I want to teach my kids how to manage their freedom, yet at the same time I morn the days we remember of playing outside till dark.  My five year old asked me the other day what computer games I played as a child.  I found his reaction of shock humorous when I told him we never had a computer…. we had SWINGS.  That being said, screens are a part of our children’s world and whether we like it or not, they are here to stay.  They are now the way in which we live, get information, learn, and communicate (and don’t all us momma’s LOVE the intelligence google search has brought us?!).  I believe the answer is for us to guide our children on how to balance it, or as I say in my home stated above, “know how to manage our freedom”.   It is urgent we coach our children in this when they are young so that when they are older and exposed more to the dangers of the internet such as pornography and cyber bullying, they have the skills to navigate well.  And by “older” I mean by the time they are ten, sometimes even earlier.

 

Our greatest tool as parents to guide our children are not more how-to’s.  It’s not limiting screen time like clockwork or taking it away completely. It’s Connection.

 

Connection is your glue that will guard your home always.  This weekend, I had to take away screens due to my children mis-using their freedom.  There was upheaval, there was protest, there was outright war.  However, what replaced the screen was an invitation to connect.  One rule I remember hearing and will always live by is this: never take screens away without replacing it with something better; yourself.  Many parents just take away screens and have their children “figure out” what they are going to do.  This isn’t wise.  It will only cause resentment in the child and temptation to hide things from you.  We need to remember why we want the screen gone in the first place: to get back to the heart of face to face connection.

 

A child that is connected to their family are less likely to become prey to at risk behaviors and rebellion.  They may still dabble, but connection creates “strain” they feel on the relationship which is healthy.  The issue comes when I hear from youth at risk that their parents “don’t even care”.

 

Mentally, connection is important because it develops the pre-frontal cortex which has been designed to connect us with people.  Face to face is the greatest way we develop the prefrontal cortex.  This development is vital in order to integrate the lower part of the brain where the most primitive and powerful emotions such as fear and rage are ignited.  It has more of the reward chemicals associated with joy – dopamine and endorphins than almost any other area of the cortex.  It regulates emotion.  It is vital for self awareness and empathy. When’s its connections are ruptured, it lacks capacity to regulate emotion resulting in fear-based, reactive emotions to flood our minds, influence our thinking processes and control behavior. (adapted from Gabor Mate’s “Scattered Minds, the healing and origins of ADD)

 

In other words (if you didn’t get a word that meant) YOU are your child’s dope (amin).  Don’t let them get it from screens or anywhere else.  Dopamine (where we derive the slang word for marijuana, “dope”), are the happy chemicals that rush the brain.  We love this feeling and were meant to get it from interpersonal connection.  The lack of connection will have us running to unhealthy sources to get it.

 

So now, get off your screen and go connect.  After all, it’s us who sets the example of screen time.  We need to manage this freedom as well.  And remember, you are everything your child needs.

 

How being known BY God changed my whole perspective on faith

being knownGrowing up in the evangelical church I found myself a young person being encouraged to know the ways  of God.  To seek after Him and know His word.  All very valid aspects to my Christian life to this day, but for some reason I found myself floundering in my faith for a decade wondering where was the freedom that Christ promised?  Why did I struggle continuously with the same issues?  Why did rejection and shame seem to get the upper hand in my mind regardless of how many hours I would spend in His word or quoting scripture?

 

In the past few years I have discovered greater freedom by switching my focus from just merely knowing God to allowing myself to be known BY Him.  Allow me to explain the difference.

 

Knowing God:  Focus on knowing His Word, what He says, an emphasis on what is truth – not only being right – but getting it right.  For me, this focused my life much on “should’s”: I should read my Bible, I should spend time with God, I should pray for how many hours a day…..   These should’s ironically only led me further away from God while I drowned in shame. I chose to run from Him because I clearly couldn’t get this Christian thing down good enough.  How could I face Him?

My striving to know God became an obsession with believing the right things, being able to hold myself up in a debate with someone of different beliefs, and held a strong emphasis over my behaviour.   The outer appearance of how I was doing was of utmost importance driving my approval-addict to go into overdrive.  I would be the Christian poster child to all, even if it meant my relationship with God was based solely on how I was “performing”.   I became so fixed on truth and getting it right that there was no room for grace for myself or others inside or outside of my belief system.  When someone “failed”, I believed it was because they didn’t know God enough. When I faced my own failure, I sank into two years of distance from God.  Clearly I didn’t know Him enough either and felt He could feel nothing but great disappointment with me.

Ironically, this focus on knowing God for me was driven by two key aspects of the Fall from the Garden: Fear and Shame.  One thing I know now is that God never uses aspects of the fall to draw us to Him, yet those were my two largest motivators in my faith.

 

When Adam and Eve ate the fruit they were not supposed to from the garden, their minds instantly became aware of the roots of sin: fear, shame, and pride.  Shame revealed to them they were naked.  Fear told them to hide from God and pride told them it wasn’t their fault.   What was God’s response?  Was it, “You FOOLS!!” or “How could you have done this??”.  No, His response was “WHERE ARE YOU?”  He knew exactly where they were, but here lies God’s heart for us to be known BY Him instead of striving on our own.  In His statement, “Where are you?”, He was saying; “Why are you running?  Don’t hide from me, come to Me and allow yourself to be seen, even in your mess”.

 

Allowing ourselves to be seen by God may be the bravest thing we will ever do. It means coming to the light and allowing Him to peer into every crevace of our soul that has attempted to look good, as well as the parts we have not yet tried to redeem, or the parts we have chosen to ignore.  Standing before Him in our nakedness, allowing Him to gaze right into our eyes despite whether we feel we’ve had time to fix ourself up for Him.  Coming to Him as is; imperfect, incomplete, broken, hurt, angry, confused, addicted, bitter and inviting Him INTO all of it.

 

Why do we find this so hard?  Because we’ve become experts at self redemption.  We want to fix our issues and then present ourselves to God confident that He will accept the great job we have done with our clean up job.  The problem is that in our attempts for perfection lies the greatest imperfection.  The root: pride, shame and fear of BEING KNOWN.  The great deception is that we can save ourselves.   We need to understand that sin isn’t “being bad”, it’s missing the mark; it’s rooted in all our attempts at saving ourselves.  From focus on building our own kingdoms, to doing this in the name of “being a good person”, to drinking ourselves to forget our misery.  All of it comes from the same root – but it all has the invitation to come to the light and take a tall, cold drink from Him.  A drink that we’ve truly thirsted for.

 

Christianity is not about being right, it’s about being known.

Christianity is not a change in direction, that we have so often heard, but a change in connection.

Jesus did not come to make bad people good, but to make what is dead in us come alive.  Jesus is God’s answer to “Where are you?”.  In Christ we find out who we are and what we are living for.  He becomes our author, our definition.  A faith rooted in ourselves will always struggle with personal worth and calling, but a faith that is based on allowing God to cover our lack, remove our shame and fear and make us whole is a faith that makes one truly brave.  It’s where we allow ourselves to be found.

 

Jesus doesn’t want you to invite Him into your life – He is inviting you into His.  It is Christ, not religion that saves us.  We focus our thoughts on how we feel in God’s presence, but have we thought about how He feels in ours?  You could say our entire Christian faith puts emphasis on serving Christ, but do we ever stop to ponder how God serves us with His great love?  He prepares the banquet, woo’s us with his love, washes us clean.  He is very much interested in a two way relationship.  If you have a hard time imagining that, it may reveal your attempt at self redemption you may not have realized. Jesus takes the concept of “seek Him with all your heart and you will be found by Him” one step further.  GOD SEEKS YOU.  He pursues you.  He comes and prepares a table for you to come and find Him and rest for your weary soul.

 

What is the secret?  What is the key, the ONE THING we must do to receive?  Have faith to just receive.  That’s it.  Allow yourself to be seen, be known by the One who already knows you.  Almost seems to good to be true, but that is the gospel: Cease striving and know that He is God.  Lean back and surrender to grace.

 

I will close with an illustration from something I learned through our son’s psychologist.  When our son with special needs would scream, hit, or be out of control we would send him to his room to “get it together”.  When he was ready to be a good boy he could come out and join the family.  This is the way I was raised.   She, however, told us that we were breaking connection with him – the one thing that could bring healing to his troubled mind.  She said instead of sending him away, we were to bring him closer in those moments and tell him nothing would break our connection with him.   The reality of “being known” by God became real to me through this.  God doesn’t send us “to our rooms” to get it together.  He holds us right there in our mess; when we’re hurling profanities, kicking and screaming.  He will never break connection with us, and just as my arms would soften my son’s rage, His arms break the ground of our hardened heart.  The warmth of His arms allows us to be brave to sink in and surrender to his embrace once again.

 

Being known by God.  Take a breathe and allow yourself to be seen.  May you be found in Him once again.

A look into the secret world of disconnected youth

disconnected youthYouth at risk programs and facilities are overflowing with addicted and hurting youth.  In 1995, Woods Homes had 400 youth involved in their programs. That number has now grown to 20,000 according to Madelyn McDonald.  In a CBC Special Report it was noted that 8000 young people in Calgary go into the health care system each year because of mental health issues, many of them are suicidal. Yet this only reveals a portion of the problem.

 

The problem is worse when we look behind the doors of every day, average homes across Calgary.  Youth are more stressed, worried, depressed, and anxious than ever.  Some are so scared to leave the house they need to be escorted to school. Some cope with their anxiety with self harm or try to ease it with marijiuna.  Schools are overwhelmed with the amount of students with special needs such as O.D.D., A.D.H.D., Conduct Disorder, Anxiety Disorders and youth on the spectrum of Austism. Parents feel helpless trying to find solutions to the issues their children are facing while keeping up with jobs needed in order to live in Calgary.  Some parents feel they need a Phd in order to know how to guide their children through their struggles.  Parents, too, are stressed, tired and exhausted from this chaotic life.  Trying to find time to research help and resources becomes a seemingly impossible task while trying to manage life.  These factors only further the root problem of disconnection.

 

None of these youth woke up one morning and wanted this.  Their parents didn’t either, so why are they there?  “No problem can be solved by the same level of consciousness that created it” (Albert Einstein).  If disconnection has created the problem, then we need to look at connection to solve it.

 

My company, Mpact Movement reveals the show, Letters, looking behind the closed doors of Calgary’s seemingly “perfect world” to connect the dots to the solution that intimate connection can bring to families.  The show will bring to light roots that are causing these hard struggles that every day families are facing.  With powerful storytelling through original songs created by local emcees Rebecca Dawn, Rubix and Cam the Human, along with urban dance, Letters tells the vulnerable story of three Calgary teens suffering from disconnection.  Our hope is that every youth who attends the show can identify with one of the characters and find encouragement to find resilience.  We also hope that parents who watch the show will leave with hope and ready to do whatever it takes to fight for their children.  The show will inspire families that hope can prevail against all odds, and that in the fear families are facing, there is courage to overcome.  In addition to the show, the program will also include direct resources to community supports that can help parents and their children.

 

The show will be held at the Big Secret Theatre at the Arts Commons September 30-October 4, 2015.  Tickets and more information can be found on Mpact’s website at http://mpactdance.com under “our shows”.  You can also find Mpact on instagram and twitter at @mpactmovement.  See #lettersshowyyc.

I would love for you all to be there.

Mpact Movement is an artistic movement company that thinks differently.  We are about inspiring community change through our movement with a message.

 

What could really solve youth homelessness… it’s not another program

homelessyouth

Does connection speak to the issue of youth homelessness and youth at risk?  Does connection speak to youth struggling with mental illness?

Indeed, it does more than we know.

 

Staggering stats reveal only the most severe outcomes of what it looks like when connection is void.

Out of 689 homeless youth across Canada interviewed:

43% had previous involvement with Child Protection Services

68% came from foster care, group homes

42% described growing up in a chaotic home environment

37% witnessed substance abuse in their families

There are 65,000 homeless youth in Canada and anxiety is reported as a debilitating condition for them. 33% suffer from Major Depressive Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, high rates of suicide

 

Wonder how this effects YOU?

 

Check this out: It costs $30,000-$40,000 a year to keep 1 youth in a shelter

That is costing taxpayers 4.5-6 billion dollars annually!  No youth wakes up and wants homelessness to be their reality. No parent wanted this for their child either. If no one really wants this reality, that means this can be avoided, but how?  Yes to youth resiliency and putting support systems in place for youth already at risk or on the streets, but what if we could prevent youth homelessness by helping families find health and connection again?  Getting a family back to health could save our country 6 billion dollars.  Maybe it’s time to take a closer look at this type of prevention.

According to Raise the Roof’s Youth Homelessness In Canada, The Road to solutions, they state, “Prevention and supports are key: Youth who are left unsupported – lacking role models, employment opportunities, educational options, access to safe, affordable housing and, all too often, in poor health and suffering from a crippling lack of self-esteem – frequently become a cost to society. Providing support now could prevent these young people from becoming homeless adults and sinking permanently into a costly cycle of homelessness and dependence on the state.  Research has demonstrated that the key to helping youth move toward the path of opportunity frequently requires appropriate interventions at the “critical moments” in a young person’s life.  Prevention addresses the key triggers of youth homelessness, which are tied to family-related issues and systems reform.”

In a recently released study, Jeff Karabanow, a professor at Dalhousie University, stated that “family life prior to street entrance was characterized by:

  • – physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse
  • – violence and substance abuse within the home
  • – family instability, including numerous transitions and moves (i.e., divorce, separation, introduction of step-parents and step-children, moving residences, changing cities and shifting living arrangements).

Prevention is the key to solving youth homelessness.  How can you and I help prevent youth homelessness?  It’s easier than you think:

  • 1. Fight for your family.  Do whatever it takes to keep your love on and stay connected. Get counselling, access mental health help, etc.  It could keep your own children from becoming at risk.
  • 2. Take care of yourself as a parent; look inside, be willing to face challenges with bravery and honesty.  Be proactive to stay health physically, emotionally, and mentally.  Eat properly, exercise, get a good sleep, take a mental health check to see if medication or counselling is needed.  Aquire good coping skills to stress that avoid alcohol and altering substances. Healthy parent, healthy children.  How many families are torn and youth in distress just because parents couldn’t cope?
  • 3. Don’t have kids of your own?  Become a part of someone’s attachment village.  Families need “aunties” and “uncles” who become positive role models to their children.  Get involved in youth mentorship. 22% of homeless youth say they don’t have a positive role model in their life.  You could change that.

CONNECTION brings resilience.  That’s something we can all contribute to and make a difference in our own sphere of influence that will naturally ripple out to affect our communities and city.

I am making a show about family connection that you may be interested in. Where there is connection, people thrive. Where it is void, all kinds of unhealthy attachments arise. We want the audience to go away with determination to fight for their families and keep their love on. What inspired the creation of this show was the question I thought one day while leaving an at risk youth program. I wondered how many youth at risk could actually have been helped earlier if parents were given tools to help their child? This is something I’m realizing through my own parenting journey with my son. His ADHD, O.D.D., depression and slight Asbergers make life challenging and I can easily see if we weren’t able to find help that he could fall through the cracks as a result of us putting our hands up in surrender. I know what it’s like to watch my son writhe in self hatred and suicidal threats. I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of his uncontrollable aggression. I identify with parents who have had to hide the knives, who have spent many a night having no idea where to turn for help.

How many youth are dropped off at youth shelters or At Risk Programs with parents who just can’t cope any longer? What if those parents could be helped? What difference could be made if parents were given resources? We could save a parent, which could save a youth. Our goal is for every parent to leave the show with a new found courage and determination to do whatever it takes for their family. We also wish to provide a list of resources in the show program so they can take immediate action after being moved by the message. That is sometimes half the battle for stressed, tired parents; not knowing where to look for help, and having no time or energy to look for it.

How many youth struggling with anxiety and/or hypersensitivity need someone they identify with? Our family therapist states it well and I agree, “Every child would do better if they could”. My son once said to me; “I’m ashamed of who I am”. He often wonders, “What’s WRONG with me and why can’t I help myself??” Empathy is powerful. When a youth can identify with someone who understands, there is a beginning of hope and a journey to face the road to health. In the show, Letters, the characters face the same struggles many youth do to create this Empathy. Our goal is for every youth to leave feeling they are not alone and with a new sense they have resilience to face the future.

We also hope that the show can open new lines of communication parents and their youth. If communication lines can open up, parents can “collect” their children again, as Gordon Neufeld talks about in his book, “Hold Onto Your Kids”.

Our show, Letters, coming up at the Big Secret Theatre in just over 2 weeks (Sept 30-Oct 4) is about this exact message.  Get your tickets and become a part of the change.  Tickets can be purchased by clicking here.

Stats provided on this blog post can be found at:

http://www.raisingtheroof.org/raisingtheroof/media/raisingtheroofmedia/documents/roadtosolutions_fullrept_english.pdf

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