Lessons Learned: Letting Down My Guard TOO Soon

December 12, 2015

by:  Craig Peterson

Alex and Travis school picsEveryone at the elementary school was ready for my two newest sons.

The principal had the facts. She “got” it. After several lengthy meetings, the teachers also understood and prepared for a smooth mid-year transition.

Most likely, they felt sorry. Who wouldn’t after reading the one-page summary I provided? The 20 placements in 5 years caught their attention. Yet it was the story of older boy being beat with the buckle end of the belt that created instant discomfort throughout the room – calling people to immediate action. I could almost read their minds.

“We have to save these innocent boys.”

I then met individually with the fourth and third grade teachers who accepted the challenge of welcoming and integrating my sons into their classrooms. These two women – one a seasoned veteran and the other new to the profession – bent over backwards to help.

Always one step ahead of each potentially damaging situation!

After a great start at school, I let down my guard. Like many parents who adopt, I wanted my sons to be “normal.” Surely, their problems were in the past – ancient history that no longer mattered.

In other words, I didn’t play the pity card again.

But I should have – over and over. Trauma doesn’t fit neatly back into a box. It resurfaces under stress. The possible triggers at school are endless and easily misunderstood by many professionals who haven’t lived them. Words are powerful. And if not carefully chosen, they easily shame and cut to the bone.

When typical problems – associated with an unattached child – began several years later in middle school, no teachers connected the dots. They assumed my sons were just like every other irresponsible adolescent who would learn from their mistakes. Yet they still needed a nurturing hand – one with minimal judgment and lots of compassion.

Both desperately wanted to succeed and make me proud. But at the same time, my new sons felt a deep emotional need to control practically every situation.

Talk about a textbook definition of oxymoron!

Worst of all, my sons’ survivalist tendencies became more pronounced each time they were re-traumatized.

“Never again” was the refrain stuck in their heads.

Although the two tried to appear confident, they were not. Their self-esteem was as phony as the hugs they initiated.

Everyone couple of years, my sons and I lucked out and encountered a teacher who understood trauma. All were female. Although they believed in accountability, each chose the right intervention that wasn’t too heavy on consequences. Backing my sons into a corner would never change their mindset – or increase their output.

When homework was missing or incomplete, the teachers calmly listened to the lame excuses, refrained from debate and asked for it to be submitted the following day. If the problem persisted, they arranged a face-to-face meeting with me and them.

So simple and easy – without any triangulation! And a valuable conversation ensued.

Lessons learned – wishing I had another chance.

D. Craig Peterson is a retired ATN Board Director. You name it, Craig has a story to share in achieving success and learning from mistakes as he raised six children to adulthood...all while maintaining faith and believing in unconditional love. He understands the ups and downs of learning challenges, special education, psychotropic medications, ADHD, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Bipolar Disorder, Reactive Attachment Disorder, sexual abuse, juvenile justice, residential placement and so much more. In his upcoming book Adopting Faith: A Father's Unconditional Love, Peterson details his journey in raising six children who brought unbelievable challenges from their birth families and the foster care system. His parenting is a combination of typical and unconventional strategies." His blog is here: https://adoptingfaithafathersunconditionallove.org/