Saturday, January 18, 2014

Orphans with Parents, and the Two-man Saw

We recently got S and W back into counseling with new counselors. Actually, this is the first time W has been in counseling, besides psychological testing. Both counselors are better than any we've had in the past—hands down. It's like we were in the farm league and have finally made it to the majors. W's counselor, especially, has been very insightful. He pushes W, drilling down comments and words, and is making progress quickly. He has given us a lot of insights that have really helped. He has enough experience, both academic and clinical, to get right through the facade. And he's an expert in attachment theory.

One of the interesting things Dr. D has mentioned is that W is still living as an orphan, even though she has parents. Though he doesn't see S, many of the things he is discovering about W make sense for S, too. They are both living as orphans in many ways. They have parents, but they don't know how to "use" them, so to speak. And their lack of letting us parent them makes it harder for us to bond with them. And this is after 4 1/2 years. 4.5 YEARS! That is a long time.

You have to know that over time we have tried everything, said and done all the things that seem so obviously like they should help. But in many ways they haven't gotten through.  For example, we have modeled saying goodnight, like a typical parent and child do, and we have taught it, but short of making it a nightly rule, S and W are still likely to go to bed without ever checking in with a parent unless they are reminded. This may sound like no big deal, but when you experience it time and time again for years you realize how unusual it is, and why it actually happens. The idea of being parented has still not sunk in. They are living in a family and going through the motions, but still not relying on the family, or feeling true loyalty to the family. They have experienced brain trauma. And that will take a long time, and a lot of baby steps, to undo.

Steve and I think of it this way: it's as if we are on one side of a two-man saw, and the girls are on the other. They are holding as and Steve and I push the saw forward and back, but they are not actually pushing with us, or putting their weight into it. So, to anyone on the outside it looks as if we are functioning like any other saw team. Even for the girls it can be very difficult to understand what they are doing differently from every other saw team—every other family. They are going through the motions. They are leaning forward and back. Their hands are on the saw. What is missing? Why do Mom and Dad look so exhausted on the other side of the saw? But for us it is easy to feel the push and pull that is missing. We came from healthy families, and we have other children who have not been traumatized. We know what it really could feel like if we were all pushing and pulling with all of our might.

These new understandings have been really fascinating. And they make it easier to cope, and easier to know how to react to each bewildering situation. If you can stand back and not take it personally (which is sometimes possible, but certainly not all the time), it's like living in an emotional experiment.


Melissa said...

Very interesting. I'm happy for you guys.

Leslie said...

Wow. Very insightful and visual analogy. I really don't know how you do it. I think it's amazing what you have been able to accomplish. Best hopes for continued progress in the years to come!

Sally said...

It must be so difficult for all of you, but you are wonderful parents and with love and perseverance and a little help from the counsellors, I am sure you will succeed in helping S & W to realise that they are a part of the family and that they belong.