With the oversized ring of keys, I look like a janitor – in my home, no less. Not something that I envisioned as a parent. But a necessary action that created boundaries for my children.
Safe and reasonable.
The challenge began when my six-year-old son with FASD and early on-set bipolar disorder regularly darted out the back door in just his underwear. Eventually he cut his foot on a rock in the landscaping. As blood dripped onto the fresh blanket of snow, he screamed repeatedly. Trapped in fear, needing to feel safe.
You don’t love me. Pick me up. I’m cold.
I had to act. Now, before my nosy neighbor called Child Protective Services. Again.
A double-keyed deadbolt was my option to keep him safe – with the blessing of our case manager. And it did, except for the one time I forgot to re-lock the door. That night he sprinted to a busy street where fast-moving cars awaited. Thankfully I caught him just in time.
A tragedy avoided.
Then my last two sons joined the family the following year. That’s when the sneaky behavior began and spread like an infected wound among my other four children with FASD. Each day I found food – opened and partially eaten. The waste alone was discouraging, but the onslaught of bugs was the breaking point. That summer we fought a losing battle. A banana behind the couch. A hot dog under the bed. Thousands of unwelcome pests flying in the air.
Giving the suspects an extra treat or two to eat in bed didn’t reduce the behavior, like sometimes will work with kids who’ve experienced hunger. It did just the opposite for several of mine. They wanted more. And more.
No doubt, early childhood trauma leaves a trail of fear deep within the brain. Especially in the middle of night when sleep doesn’t come easy. Food – or the perceived lack of it – is a common trigger.
Safe and reasonable
I crafted a new plan. After a dinner-like snack every night near bedtime – during which time everyone claimed to be completely satisfied, I secured the boxed snacks. But the locks I used didn’t hold. My #2 son broke them, as if the new barrier was an invitation to take without asking. To disregard rules. To assume control and then lie about his misdeeds.
Did you actually see me do it?
Upon realizing the enormous amount of time being spent on arguing and clean-up – literally and figuratively, I created a second pantry in my laundry room. Secured with a durable lock.
Yet bags of frozen fruit, boxes of cakes mixes, cans of vegetables and jars of anything soon found their way to the usual hiding places. Opened and barely touched. More waste. More bugs.
Now the unthinkable. I removed anything readily-edible to the locked pantry – including the can opener and sharp knives. I also barricaded access to the refrigerator with a rope lock.
The locks worked again.
However, I heard sounds at 2:00am a month later – only to find my #1 son using a screwdriver to remove the refrigerator door handle. My outward laughter hiding my growing frustration.
With an increasing knowledge of attachment issues, I refused to give my sons the abrupt reactions they were desperately pushing me to make. Ones that they would internalize. Ones that they would later use as justification for their behavior.
Then my bedroom became the target. Although I hid my wallet, certain tools and other valuables, my kids found them. Nothing was off limits.
Impulsive behavior on steroids.
Shaming my kids only increased the behavior. Grounding had no effect, as did restitution. In other words, my newest sons lost trust in me and felt empowered to strike again. Targeting me. Convinced I was the bad guy who never wanted them in the first place.
The cycle became viscous. Mindless destruction which I rarely witnessed firsthand. Worse yet, my most impaired son became the fall guy – easily recruited to do anything his two older brothers asked.
Day by day, I grew mentally exhausted – waiting for the next shoe to drop. Truth be told, my home was becoming a battlefield.
The locks worked again.
At the end of the day, I could outsmart them – without saying a single word. At first, I considered video cameras and motion alarms but refrained. My two older sons would somehow manipulate them. My daughter could feel violated with her history of molestation.
More locks to the rescue! Without hesitation, I called the locksmith to install deadbolts on every closet and some bedroom doors.
For extra protection I purchased a safe for my bedroom closet. No more missing money. No more unauthorized credit card charges. No more misplaced gold rings or Swiss watches. No more lost birth certificates or Social Security cards.
To satisfy my sons’ concerns, each received a foot locker with a combination lock. They could easily store personal items and prevent siblings from touching or taking them. Best of all, my days of playing referee would be greatly reduced.
Why had I waited so long?
Why hadn’t someone told me the truth about kids from hard places?
Within hours, the new fortress proved impenetrable. My keys never left my side.
Within days, I reclaimed my position as the adult in charge. My children regained focus and connected with me. In time, they learned to asked me – their parent – to fulfill their needs. A reasonably request could be delayed, but it would never be discarded. Never.
Predictability and trust returned, quicker for some than others.
Predictability and trust remain today.
A few simple locks saved my children from their own-worst enemies. And they saved my sanity too. DCP
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 learn more about Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love, Craig’s soon-to-published memoir about raising 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 Andrew Peterson Goes for the Gold