Every day for 18 years. That’s how long I’ve witnessed my son Travis’s anxiety.
Some days a little – not readily apparent to the untrained observer.
His mask undetected.
Some days a lot – hard for anyone to miss. His mask uncovered.
Not surprisingly, early childhood trauma – like my son’s – can lead to a lifetime of anxiety. It’s often misdiagnosed as ADHD, stimulant medication prescribed.
While Concerta then Adderall increased his focus at school, they also left a trail of irritability late each afternoon – along with increased difficulty falling and staying asleep.
My son couldn’t catch a break.
Losing contact with his birth family added another layer of uncertainty. Revolving through a dozen out-of-home placements with his older brother left him continually on edge. Then delivered to a “forever” family.
The huge personal expectation from society “to make it work” was more than his eight-year-old emotions could handle.
Why would anyone want to love me?
I’ve never learned to love myself.
At the same time, my new son displayed many wonderful qualities. He loved to read. He loved to take things apart, understand their mechanics and put them back together. And he loved to dig in the yard and watch nature grow.
In the certainty of the moment, he could find contentment.
But anxiety routinely affected his day – especially when he couldn’t predict outcomes. With so much “bad” in his young life, he fully anticipated the next round of disappointment around the next corner. No escape possible.
Blame and shame. Judgment. Punishment. Loss of privileges. Separation. Abandonment.
I’d be anxious too. Heavy thoughts easily confuse a growing yet undeveloped brain.
Travis often used an analogy.
I like being a big fish in a little pond. Being a little fish in a big pond doesn’t work. I quickly become overwhelmed comparing myself to others. Then I feel like a nobody when I want to be a somebody.
Such burdens to carry.
Will I ever be good enough?
Many a day I simply wanted to see my son without the baggage from his past. To relax without anxiety. To execute without fear. To be a carefree kid.
Most importantly, to believe in himself.
This summer I finally experienced the next best thing. His six-year-old daughter (my granddaughter) spent a week at my house. The first time without her parents.
Let’s just say the apple didn’t land far from the tree. Genetics at play.
I saw my son through her.
I saw my son through her.
She enjoyed eating – just like him. Yet no rush to clean (or lick) her plate. No grabbing for seconds, certain there wouldn’t be enough.
Never hungry, my granddaughter feels full.
Something my son rarely felt or expressed.
She asked a gazillion questions – just like him. But none of hers were out of the ordinary or bordered on bizarre. Sincere, not forced. She wasn’t on a quest for attention or validation.
Never neglected, my granddaughter feels self-worth.
Something my son desired but couldn’t grasp.
She enjoyed the zoo and wanted to see everything – just like him. Whereas my son struggled to move from one exhibit to the next – taking in every detail, my granddaughter trusted my word. Today’s fun would happen again. No meltdown necessary.
Never forgotten or left on her own, my granddaughter willingly accepts the care of adults and follows their rules.
Something my son feared more than anything. He refused to relinquish complete control to anyone. Otherwise, how would he survive?
She bloodied her knee while playing carelessly – just like him. My son would have concocted a grandiose lie about the wound. Faking pain then assuming I didn’t believe him. My granddaughter, on the other hand, immediately cried for help. Together we cleaned the wound while I encouraged her to be brave – and letting her call mommy for reassurance.
Clearly attached to her parents, my granddaughter displays true emotion – which is the foundation of empathy.
Something my son refused to do. He wanted me to reject him – like previous adults trusted with his care.
Let me finish with a moving story. It proves my point about the power of attachment and trauma-free childhoods.
During my granddaughter’s stay, my son Andrew and I ran a 5-mile race. At the registration table, we each gave our first and last name to receive our bib numbers.
Without hesitation, my granddaughter beamed with pride and blurted for the world to hear.
I’m a Peterson too.
This Grandpa instantly felt a surge of warmth in his heart.
Yes, my six-year-old girl granddaughter has her own special place in this great big world. Priceless.
Her smile is genuine, not contrived like her daddy’s often appeared around the same age. The old photographs don’t lie.
Moreover, she’s loved unconditionally and reminded throughout the day. She’s safe in her parents’ care. And they always will take care of her needs.
Triangulation will never be an issue – like it was for my son.
Upon my granddaughter’s birth, my son made a promise to me. I remember his words well.
My daughter will never experience trauma like me, only love. She will always come first. I will be a father like you.
He’s proving to be a man of his word, while working hard to keep his own anxiety in check. It will always lie right below the surface.
And in the process of being a great daddy, he’s breaking the generational cycle of emotionally-broken children.
We need more parents like him. 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 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