Upon being adopted, my oldest son wanted to bond with me. Yet he didn’t understand the give-and-take of relationships – nor was he willing let down his guard.
That would mean trusting on something else’s terms.
That would also mean giving up his misplaced sense of control – long associated with emotional survival.
In other words, the many layers of early trauma are hard for a child to remove.
After a roller coaster of a decade, my son’s fear-of-the-unknown proved a more powerful force than my love. And one thing fueled that fear more than anything else – triangulation.
If you missed my introduction of triangulation, here’s the link.
Within a year of my son’s placement, I realized the immense challenge before me. For him to accept my reasonable boundaries – and internalize the concepts of personal responsibility and accountability, he needed to hear a consistent message.
Instead, some of the adults in his life chose to question me. A few cast blame. Even fewer fully grasped the long-term effects of trauma and the subsequent lack of attachment.
That’s when my son’s game started. “Make up a story and discredit me.”
Interestingly, our journey didn’t start the way. His first teacher – a recent college graduate who understood trauma – welcomed him into her fourth grade classroom. She sat him with students who would accept, not judge. She connected with him throughout the day – being mindful to stay one step ahead of his anxiety.
With home and school on the same age – without any possibility of triangulation, my son made tremendous progress academically and socially.
But the transition to middle school was a disaster – too many teachers with different styles, too little time to communicate. His arguing in the classroom spilled over to home.
That’s when he said I changed. I was no longer on his side – which seemed trivial after all we had accomplished together. Yet his words held a deeper meaning.
Fearing a total loss of control, my son refused to let me win – even though I thought that we were on the same team.
One night he cut his hair but stated at school the botched job was mine. Two teachers fell for his tale and offered to take him to the barber.
Totally unaware of my son’s trap, they put triangulation into motion.
They set a dangerous precedent.
Soon my son lied about permission slips, library books, class projects, lunch money – you name it, while pointing the finger at me. Several times each month I found myself on the defensive when teachers phoned.
With no one calling his bluff, my son became empowered in the worst possible way.
Within a year he became physical aggressive in the home – first with me and then his siblings who weren’t able to defend themselves. After he used a fork to draw blood, I called the police – thinking the show of authority would leave a lasting impression.
The officers believed his story, not mine.
As the violence escalated, his stories became more convincing – especially when my son demanded to speak to them in private. A 13-year-old boy had become too smart for this own good.
Still, the officers believed him. “You seem to be the problem,” one eventually said to me.
Nevertheless, the tentative bond between father and son grew stronger with therapeutic parenting at home – only to be undone with the next round of triangulation.
Two steps forward, three steps back.
All that changed when my son once again accused me of not feeding him. Even with a long history of unsubstantiated claims, a child welfare investigator believed him and tried removing all six of my children.
Turns out he had threatened a younger brother to lie with him.
Long story short – just my oldest son was removed – and only temporarily.
After giving another brother a concussion, he went to a residential treatment center where he became a master of triangulation – earning privileges for doing nothing. Thinking he could do no wrong, he later battered a police officer who refused to believe his crap. The outcome was a two-year stint in juvenile prison.
The game was over.
Thinking back, I appreciate the adults who listened to my son. He needed to be heard. But most were too quick to trust his words – before verifying the facts.
The simple act of verification could have been stopped triangulation in its tracks before it ever began. DCP
“Trust but verify!”
Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE
To follow Craig’s journey in raising his six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love
To follow my son Andrew’s inspiring story, “Like” his special Facebook page NoLimitsAndrew – Andrew Peterson
To watch Andrew’s amazing ESPN 14-minute documentary, click here. Andrew Peterson ESPN Documentary