As many of you know, our son, Peter, is mentally, behaviorally, emotionally and physically challenged. His dangerous and violent behaviors have reached new levels of intensity. To protect both him and his younger siblings, we have been working diligently toward finding a place for him to live outside of our home. A little over two weeks ago, we involved the legal system to (hopefully) accelerate the process of finding an appropriate placement for him and get him the help that our family seeks.
For me, this means that I have joined yet another relatively small peer group. Personally, I know only a few parents who have made this tough decision to place a child out of their home. I do have access online to other adoptive moms of large families who have experienced similar circumstances and offer much-needed support, thankfully.
However, our family would also benefit from additional support. Real-time support. Support from people we actually see on a daily basis. Support from people to whom this idea of placing a child out-of-home is foreign (or even repulsive).
So, this post is about how to support us during this difficult time. If you are interested in learning, please read on! If you are not…I’m not really sure why you’ve read this far.
First, offer SYMPATHY, not judgment. Sympathy is the ability to share another’s emotions, especially pity or compassion. Judgment involves criticism. We are supported by compassion, not criticism. We are supported when a person respects that this decision to make an out-of-home placement has been a long time coming, that we do not take it lightly and that is is a last resort to provide protection for our family.
Second, offer SYMPATHY, not advice. IF a person has parented a mentally ill, mentally retarded child with extremely violent behaviors, we will eagerly listen to that person’s advice. IF a person has not parented a mentally ill, mentally retarded child with extremely violent behaviors (and is not specially trained in working with children who are), that person’s advice is not helpful. We are supported when a person fully, honestly acknowledges that he or she does not know even a tiny, tiny fraction of the reality that has led to our seeking a placement for our son.
It seems to me that it is less difficult for people to accept that Peter’s legs are irreparably “broken” (due to his spina bifida) than it is to accept that his brain is irreparably “broken” (due to a plethora of influences). Other than the strange man at Wal-mart who one day suddenly came up to Peter and, after praying loudly over him near the check-out, declared that Peter would be able to walk, most people accept the fact that Peter will always use a wheelchair to get around. But when it comes to accepting the fact that no miraculous medication, behavior modification (including parenting techniques) or therapy is going to heal his brain, people seem to have a much more difficult time.
Perhaps this difficulty in accepting a “broken” brain stems from fear. It is scary to admit that there are real people out there in our daily world who have brains that are NOT typical and who are very capable of violent, irrational behaviors toward us. Surely, those people can be fixed! Surely there must be something that can be done. Something that hasn’t yet been tried.
This lack of acceptance of a permanently “broken” brain tends to lead to the giving of advice. Have you tried…? What about…? I’m going to be blunt here: it is extremely disrespectful of the lifetime of effort by us and the helping professionals who have been involved with us to presume that some casual or short-term interaction with our son will be more effective than our lifetime of daily, hard work with him. This is NOT supportive.
Believe me. We have tried EVERYTHING. This is not a parenting issue, this is not a “teen” issue, this is not a medication issue…I could go on and on.
Which reminds me. Because Peter has developed an amazing facade for public social interactions, people tend to attribute typical thought processes to him. This is a deception. If a person believes that Peter’s thought processes are typical for any situation, that person is deceived. And if that deceived person begins offering advice based on this deception, we are not supported.
Third, offer SYMPATHY. There is no Hallmark card for the grief that we are experiencing. There is no social convention. We are experiencing the death of the vision for our family. Who ever thinks that their family will be separated in this way? I certainly didn’t fourteen years ago when I held Peter every single day for weeks during his stay in the NICU after his birth. I certainly didn’t when I proudly watched him “walk” across the therapy room as a toddler in his first mobile stander. We are also experiencing the death of hope for healing and wholeness. We are experiencing the death of our vision for peace in our home. The behaviors that our other children have had to witness were beyond the scope of my imagination.
And since SYMPATHY involves the ability to share another’s emotions, especially pity or compassion, we welcome honest questions. When a person honestly acknowledges that he or she lacks knowledge of our situation, he or she is ready to accept accurate information. When we share that information and receive sympathy, not judgment or advice, we are supported. And we greatly appreciate that support.
1 Thessalonians 5:11
Therefore encourage one another and build up one another….