Monday, March 19, 2012

Am I Parenting Children With Special Needs or Running a Group Home?

So, am I parenting children with special needs or am I running a group home?


We have been parenting children with special needs for over ten years. Like so many others, we have read innumerable books and put in countless hours of research. We have attended long and short trainings given by several of the leading experts in early childhood trauma. We have reframed our entire idea of parenting and family so that it more closely resembles something altogether different. The therapeutic parenting program we run in our home is a personal composite of the most successful theories combined to fit our personalities. It most closely resembles the firmness of a steel box with a velvet lining of love and affection we find in some writings. That, and a whole boatload of sensory motor input and cognitive-behavioral work. If it sounds like a very structured home, it is. Our goal is to point the kids toward healing and connection. As such, we have even had difficulty utilizing respite in our area because our home is more ‘firm’ than 90% of the available settings. That makes respite a vacation for my kids. So not the goal!

Them  (No, this is not an ‘us and them’ mentality, it’s just a catchy way to break up this post.) 
Our children whose behavior has been most affected by trauma have been with us for almost 6 years. Sissy was 9 years old when we brought her home. She has been impacted by genetic factors, prenatal exposure to substances and violence, various trauma, abuse and neglect until she was eight. She is of the clear conviction that her many foster placements were ended by her behavior. The Dukester has very similar genetic and prenatal history compounded by at least six moves prior to 18 months of age (when he came home to us.) He is also diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

In the spirit of honesty, I have to admit that I have judged worried about families who don’t seem willing or able to provide a pretty significant level of structure, something the most successful theories require for safety and healing.

Both of my beloveds mentioned earlier have made progress. Sometimes it has looked like quite a lot. At other times, like now, it is evident that one or both would rather play control games and make sly efforts to outwit the love they can’t take in. Games that are first level safety testing. “Can I interrupt you?” “Can I make you repeat yourself?” Wierd eating things... Basic stuff. After 5 ½ years!

The Current Crisis
Now I am face to face with one fact. I . am . tired. I want to live like a family! I don’t think I am willing to run a group home indefinitely. No matter how much I love my children. If they are going to require that level of structure forever, they might not get it in our home. The extreme vigilance required to keep everyone safe is enough. My vigilance will not keep them from making goofy sideways choices to make themselves sicker. After almost 6 years of full-program, skilled therapeutic parenting, is it still about safety for them? Still about fear and control? Or is it habit? At least one of them has many skills not being used.
Are we now at risk of becoming one of the families I worry about? Of less than necessary structure?

So, what do you think? Is there a time limit on treating a kid like they live in a group home? Is there an expiration date on providing this kind of overwhelming structure? Beyond a certain length of time, in the same environment, do they still benefit? Or do they just come to believe, “This is how these people treat kids!” ???

Just wondering...



  1. Oh...I don't have any answers...just a prayer for you and an ear that will listen and never judge. I understand TIRED. And I know that when I am most tired, I must turn to Christ and beg Him to show up.

  2. Hey, Traci- Thank you so much. We can always use all of the prayers we can get. I will post this comment on your page to make sure you get it, but let me know if you get an e-mail when a comment is responded to, okay?

    Anyway, I have so wanted to comment on this post. But obviously, things have been a little crazy at our house!

    I definitely know that when we are at the end of ourselves is where He so often likes to wait for us. Always so good to be reminded! Thank you again.

    About our kids and faith, your post has made me want to do some research with friends of mine. Something about the normal childhood basis for faith development (at any age) and what early trauma does to childrens' ability to develop a real, relational faith. It seems to me it's all about the mommy. Which is just another hurdle thrown in their way. Maybe why there's a millstone in some people's future!

    Thankfully, God is able! All things are possible!


  3. Hey Michaela - I didn't see your post or comment (no email) :(

    I pray often that I don't hinder George from knowing a loving and merciful and forgiveing God! Sometimes I am so ugly - so un-loving, un-merciful, un-forgiving. My conviction lately has been COMPASSION.

    When Jesus looked upon the crowd so people so desperate for healing and love, he had COMPASSION. Too often, I look at George desperate for healing and love (even though he doesn't really know it, yet), and have anger and resentment for this joureny he is me on.

    I am desperate for Jesus. I am in need of His healing and love so that George can see Christ in me.

    Looking forward to hearing about your research :)

  4. Traci-

    I think I was unclear. It seems to me that faith development is most effectively initiated by a healthy, non-traumatic first-mom experience. Makes our job that much more complex!

    I once had a very wise friend ask me, "Is your God big enough to use even your failings in the life of your children?' Wise words!

    Talk to you soon.