One day in 2013 I was contacted by a social worker. I got the news that they had a child that needed care. I cannot put into words how I felt when I saw him. I instantly knew that he needed as much support as he could get. We sat in the room getting to know each other. During the visit, I noticed outbursts over small things, such as a sucker that he wasn’t allowed to have. He reacted with big feelings.
At the end of the visit, I was talking to the case worker and asked if this behavior was normal and asked why it was happening. She said his current foster parents had reported this behavior and that he had attachment issues. I wasn’t sure how to feel. After I got home, I kept thinking about the behavior I saw, and also about how he looked.
On our way home, I realized he needed us more than we could’ve ever known. He didn’t seem to have joy, curiosity, or a desire to connect with me. I thought maybe this was because we were strangers. He was filled with so much rage and unhappiness that it was heartbreaking. Everything we did was a struggle and caused behavioral outbursts such as hitting his head, headbutting, yelling and crying.
Finally, I figured out that if I held him facing away from me on the sofa while rocking and repeating “you are safe, it’s okay to go to sleep”, that he would eventually fall asleep. It was a long process of teaching and showing him that he was safe. It took a while, but one day we were watching a kid’s show on television, and it played the theme song and I was dancing with him. He started to smile, and even gave a little dance. It felt like we connected.
I threw myself into creating tools, reading books, and listening to podcasts in order to help this sweet little boy. I learned how to reprogram his neurological system and taught him to trust me and feel safe. One of the things I did was create a “cozy area” and modelled for him how to say, “I am MAD”, and showed him how to clench his fists and stomp his feet. To help with his communication, I took pictures of household objects, cut them out, and laminated them to teach him how to tell me what he needed. He showed us the picture or pointed to what he wanted or needed. When he pointed, we said the word that went with the picture.
He caught on fast and started to look for the picture himself and eventually began saying the word too. It was an amazing day when we no longer needed the envelopes. The main goal was to be scheduled so he knew what to expect and to eliminate the struggle. One helpful tool was using a morning chart that had pictures of everything that he needed to do each morning. They were laminated and had Velcro on the back. I made it fun for him to move them after doing each step. I also did the same with our nighttime schedule.
Even though we were making progress, I felt like a zombie, or like those memes you see online, a “mombie”. I was exhausted, my body hurt, and I was always trying to stay one step ahead of his rage. Finally, I had a meeting with the case worker and the therapist. They shared their concerns because they saw how exhausted and burned out I was getting. They got him into a daycare where he could be socialized with other kids and I was able to get some much needed rest and time to practice self-care. This is where I realized I was just surviving the day not fully enjoying it.
Time went on and soon it was time for him to start kindergarten. We were so blessed with his teacher, he made some great friends, and he had pretty much stopped hitting his head, but he began hitting and throwing things in class. In the classroom he had a safe place to go when he got upset, and it seemed to work almost all the time. As we got closer to the end of the year, he started to act out by running to the downstairs of the school, and one day he got mad and threw a pair of scissors. We made the tough decision to put him in a specialized program where they could better support him.
It’s amazing to see how far my little boy has come. He is 100% ours now, as we adopted him.
Unfortunately, once he was officially adopted, we lost our team. We were incredibly blessed to have case workers and therapists that reassured me that I was making the right choices. All of that was gone. The last thing the therapist said to me was, “You know exactly what you are doing. This all comes naturally to you”. She told me that she had all the faith in the world in me and my abilities.
I learned that it takes a village to raise a child, and so I’ve made it my mission to help overwhelmed moms let go of the struggle and find ease with my high-level support, strategies, and powerful tools to help them become the kind of mom they truly want to be.
If you are struggling, it’s okay to reach out for help.
My name is Michelle Den Boer. This experience is why I became the Mom to Moms. If you’re interested in finding out how tools can help reduce the power struggle at your house here is a free ebook, Empower Your Kids to Make the Right Choices. You can connect with me on Instagram, I have created a facebook group that is a safe space to connect with other moms.