It was the call that every parent welcomes, not the one we dread.
My young adult daughter was on the other end. She had made a poor choice and was dealing with the consequences. Yet this time she wasn’t complaining or blaming me. Nor was she asking for sympathy or money. In other words, she owned the problem and wanted me to hear directly from her, not someone else weeks later. Then she went one step further.
You told me this would happen. You tried to warm me. But I didn’t listen. I know better now. Thank you for not giving up on me all these years and teaching me the right way.
Fact is she did listen to me. Sort of. How else could she remember our conversations of long ago? However, the over-riding problem through the years was her inability to internalize my message and make it her own.
And the cause? Her past trauma (from FASD, early neglect and three years of intense molestation) got in the way every time. Triggering intense anxiety and fear. Creating a lack of worth. Minimizing confidence.
Not exactly the tools to make an age-appropriate decision.
Living in the moment was all my daughter could handle. That’s how she had learned to survive before coming to my home.
But I refused to wallow in pity. I refused to stop trying. After all, I was her parent and the one responsible for her care.
During our roughest moments, I even gave her journey a name. I called it The Delayed Effect – knowing one day she would arrive at her destination, if I remained involved. Not demanding. Not indifferent. Not bitter.
Simply present where I could observe and be available at the opportune time.
No doubt, my daughter chose the hard way – which I tried my best to avoid. It was the same bumpy route like many teenagers and young adults who eventually learn from their mistakes. Unfortunately, that same maturity doesn’t happen as quickly in individuals with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, Complex Trauma or other brain disorders. Nor is it guaranteed.
A huge deficit in “cause and effect” reasoning often remains – an invisible yet alarming part of their disability.
Yes, she progressed. Just very, very slowly. Small wins that others didn’t notice. And then finally! After a long decade, she surprised me with her insight and sincerity. That was a huge accomplishment, because some people never get there. They find themselves in a deep hole with no easy exit. Or worse, they wind up in prison.
But getting my daughter there wasn’t easy.
With one incident following another, I felt like I was banging my head against the wall. Jumping out second story windows. Disappearing into the night. Arguing the obvious. Choosing which classes to fail. Fighting. Stealing. Self-sabotaging any possible success.
In a word – toxic. Treatment didn’t work. Medication didn’t work. School suspensions didn’t work. Juvenile detention didn’t work.
We would talk. I would listen to her fears. She would respond honestly and emotionally. And then the process would start all over again, as if we never communicated.
But we had. In hindsight, that tenacious effort made all the difference.
I could have stopped caring or turned my back, as several professionals encouraged me to do. Instead, I tried differently. We needed time. We needed consistency. We needed laughter. And we needed unconditional love.
My Revised Parenting Plan
- Each day I focused on her positive behaviors – no matter the insignificance. Followed by a compliment without too much praise. My new rule was two positive comments for every less-than-positive one that I offered.
- Shame was entirely out. She already felt lower than low – so why would I target her fragile self-esteem?
- Consequences had little to no effect. She’d already endured significant loss in her short life – so taking one more thing away would do nothing to change her behavior. I know because I tried. Setting reasonable expectations and being flexible worked much better.
- When her mood was conducive to a father-daughter outing, we hit the sale rack at her favorite department store. She even indulged me – trying on every piece of boring clothing that I suggested, before choosing an item or two that we both deemed appropriate.
We laughed with each other. We respected one another. We connected like never before. And that connection was the one thing that would ultimately keep her safe – perhaps alive.
An Unconventional Path
At 16, our long-time female pediatrician convinced me that birth control was no longer an option. She was right. No pregnancies materialized.
At 18, I became her legal guardian. Her initial anger faded once the guardianship allowed me to advocate on her behalf, when she really needed someone on her side. Otherwise, privacy laws would have turned me away. Eight years later the guardianship was no longer necessary.
At 20, her boyfriend’s grandma provided a place to stay. My daughter was safe. When grandma needed a vacuum, I showed my gratitude and bought her one.
At 23, she finally agreed to intense therapy: EMDR – Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and DBT – Dialectical Behavior Therapy. (Click on blue for more info on EMDR and DBT.) Over six months of treatment – with newfound cooperation, her daily responses transformed. From being purely emotional to noticeably rationale.
Most importantly, I never stopped showing empathy. I never over-reacted to her choices. I never lost touch.
Soon we began texting every morning and every night. In a miraculous turnabout of roles, she always needed to know if her brothers and I were doing okay.
Today I have a loving daughter who’s never going to be perfect. She’ll still going to make mistakes. Yet she’s beautiful on the inside and out.
And that’s a transformation definitely worth the wait! DCP
That tenacious effort made all the difference.
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