I started this blog after the videos for Sia’s “Chandelier” and “Elastic Heart” inspired me to tell our story. There’s been a significant increase in the number of visitors stopping by my little corner of the internet since I first published those articles, so I’ve decided to revise and republish them here.
I hope you enjoy reading these analyses of Sia’s music videos as much as I enjoyed writing them! But one quick word of warning – these music videos may turn you into a blubbering, emotional mess! You might want to ensure you’re in a private place before clicking play.
“Chandelier” by Sia
In 2014, hours after Middle and Little left for their first supervised visit with their mom, I saw something that I imagine answers the ever-nagging question, “What does it feel like to be them?”
Allow me to set the scene.
The kids had just left North Carolina for their visit in Texas. It would last three weeks and was supposed to be supervised by one of BioMom’s friends, a woman who sent us extensive documentation proving she worked as a contracted visitation supervisor for the state. BioMom’s friend was under strict orders to act as supervisor 24 hours a day during their visit.
Obviously, this situation was less than ideal… Unfortunately, we’d tapped out all of our resources fighting BioMom for custody in court The attorney’s bill for the initial court date and associated work already totaled $12,000 – we couldn’t afford another day in front of the judge. Additionally, Husband couldn’t leave town – his command wouldn’t release him for leave, and I refused to watch the kids while he traveled to Texas because BioMom had already forcefully removed the kids from my care without permission after orchestrating a very elaborate plot to ensure Husband wouldn’t be able to stop her.
Shortly before the second court date arrived, BioMom agreed to settle the custody issue out of court but only if we agreed to her friend serving as supervisor. We reluctantly agreed to this arrangement, never fully trusting that the friend would do her job but believing that she would at least keep them safe. Middle and Little came back physically unharmed, but the supervisor failed on an enormous level when she allowed BioMom to take the kids to her new boyfriend’s house for two out of the three weeks they were there. The supervisor failed and has been removed from the approved supervisor list.
Even though I worried about them going on the trip for the visit, when they left I actually felt happy.
Yes… that’s right. Even though we were sending the kids into a situation where they might suffer emotionally and/or physically, I felt happy. I felt happy because I was new to the Traumasphere and all it entails. I was tired of the behaviors associated with Reactive Attachment Disorder and C-PTSD – the constant arguing, lying, manipulating, and melting down was driving me crazy. I smiled as I sat in the silence of brought by their departure, looking forward to three weeks of normalcy.
A couple hours after they left, I read an article that claimed the music video for Sia’s “Chandelier” to be the best of the year. So I watched it.
A few seconds into the video, I realized that I’d seen the intense facial expressions and erratic movements of Maddie Ziegler’s character before. I’ve seen all of this in Middle, I thought.
This must be what she feels like all the time.
Cue the guilt.
Was I actually relieved when they left a few hours ago? They are children… hurt children… And over the last few weeks I’ve been treating them like unwelcome guests in my home just because they were trying to hurt me in response to their pain. They are children and I am an adult!
What is wrong with me!?
I spent the next two hours sobbing on the couch, alone, regretting immensely the way I handled Middle and Little’s behavior in the days leading up to their departure. Then I wiped my tears and got to work researching and reading more about attachment disorders and strategizing therapeutic parenting tactics.
This video almost always restores my empathy for Middle and Little immediately. I still watch it frequently when I feel overwhelmed by the immensity of my kids’ behavior. It reminds me that my Middle and Little have been through more emotional turmoil and pain in their short time on this earth than I have endured in 33 years of life. They have so much going on in their little minds.
If you’re struggling with empathizing with your children, watch the video linked above and put yourself in the shoes of a child whose brain operates at this frequency all the time as a protective mechanism, as a reaction to the life lessons his early-childhood experiences taught him.
I guarantee you will feel more empathetic, which will help you parent your kids in the way that they so desperately need.
In 2012, met Husband in Honolulu, Hawaii, where he was stationed – the remoteness of Hawaii duty and his recent separation from BioMom forced him to be away from his children at that time but he was working hard on a plan to get custody of Middle and Little as soon as he returned to the mainland. About a year after we met, the judge in charge of his custody case granted him full custody of the children (BioMom retains the right to supervised visits as long as she completes the court requirements which have been hit or miss).
The joy we felt the day they moved in can not be overstated – Husband could now finally go to bed at night knowing his children were safe and sound in their beds in our home. They would be safe with us.
We anticipated some behavior problems given the things they saw, heard and did before coming to live with us, but we knew their issues would disappear with enough consistency and love showered upon them. We just knew it.
(Did you catch that? That whiff of over-confidence smushed into that sentence, oozing from the tail of every letter written above? Ugh. The naivety of Husband and me back then. I mean, really… the cocky know-it-all-ness of it all is just gross, now, looking back.)
You see, in 2013, we’d never heard of Reactive Attachment Disorder, Complex-PTSD, or any of the early-childhood trauma-related disorders. Husband is the oldest of seven kids and I’d been raising Oldest for several years – we just knew an implementation of traditional parenting tactics would help guide Middle and Little into flourishing young beings who thrived in our stable environment.
(Are you laughing yet? Because it’s okay… It’s okay to scoff at silly assumptions made before my full induction into the Traumasphere!)
We didn’t understand that Middle and Little would fear our safe environment full of love and kindness and predictability and they didn’t understand the concept of a “safe home,” so of course they interpreted all of our rules and structure, our hugs and kisses and tokens of affection, as traps designed to confine them.To Middle and Little, our house wasn't a home - it was a cage.Click To Tweet
So, trapped in a cage, Middle and Little fought against us. Fought against our love. Attacked us. Over and over again.
And every time we thought they were starting to accept our love, starting to feel safe… Every time we thought, “Okay. It’s over. Now we can function as a family and have fun together. Now we can get back to normal. Now we can be happy,” something would happen and we would realize that feeling safe, trusting us, loving us… well, those feelings terrify them.
They were waiting for the stability to evaporate and for things to devolve back into the chaos that surrounded them during their earliest years.
Even now, after living with us for 3.5 years and making huge strides toward healing, the safe environment of our home still threatens them. Just this morning Little had a meltdown for what I once would have assumed to be no reason but now know likely had something to do with reacting against the affection I’d shown him since he woke, or maybe he was somehow triggered by the donuts we ate for breakfast, or maybe he had a nightmare he couldn’t tell me about. I don’t know for sure what precipitated his fit of fear and anger, but I now know that something triggered his amygdala into acting a fool.
Point is, in their eyes, we are always suspect. We can’t be trusted – even after 3.5 years!
And why should they trust us? Any adult who ever cared for them let them down… Even Husband let them down in their early years. Not only did he have to leave for long periods of time to tend to his army duties (and every time he left their little lives fell apart around them), he struggled with alcohol abuse and wasn’t always the most coherent father when he was home.
And because they formed the paradigm that adults will let them down at such a critical young age, they still don’t feel safe, they still don’t feel our unconditional love, and nothing we say or do can take that feeling away. When they get scared that their world is going to be turned upside down, “Fight, Freeze or Flee” kicks in, and they resist our attempts to bond with them. So they test us.
They test the limits of our love every. single. day.
Here’s the simple truth: the brutal intensity of my kids’ emotions plays out in their behavior and sometimes they scare me… At least once a day I worry their behavior will never get better, that they’ll grow up only to hurt themselves or someone else… and that is terrifying.
Sometimes those fears make me want to run away from all the pain and suffering that manifests physically and emotionally. I want to run not only from the pain they inflict on me, but from the pain I see inside of them, lurking underneath the surface, the root cause of their “negative behavior.”
At times, I’ve felt that well-meaning friends and family have secretly wanted me to run away. People have asked me to really consider if I can handle parenting the kids (truth be told? Sometimes, I can’t), if I really want to parent them (sometimes, I don’t!). I’ve been reminded that no one would blame me for walking away from this “situation,” that I’m “just” their stepmom, that I didn’t adopt them, that I have no legal obligation to these beautiful children my husband created with BioMom.
I’ve even been reprimanded for putting Oldest through all this drama for kids that “aren’t really mine.”
But even though these last few years have been the hardest I’ve ever lived… I stay.
I stay, and I do my damnedest to therapeutically parent them so that they can heal.
Many have asked me, “Why? Why are you staying?!”
I have wondered myself. And every time I stop and think about it, I come to the same conclusions.
I stay out of love for Husband.
How could I leave him to do this immense job all on his own? How could I run away from his children when he so openly and readily accepted – and adopted! – my biological daughter who has her own difficulties with behavior? How could I abandon the man who has shown me so much love, who has redefined my definition of love, who would never abandon me if the universe reversed our roles?
I stay out of love for myself.
Could I forgive myself for walking away from these beautiful children who have seen more horrible things in their short lives than I have seen in my entire life of 33 years? Who have been repeatedly mistreated and abandoned? Could I leave them when they so desperately want to love and receive love openly, without fear, to “fit” in our family but just can’t bring themselves to believe we won’t disappear?
No! I couldn’t do that. And I know I couldn’t.
So, I stay for myself – because I know I would never forgive myself .
I stay out of love for Oldest.
While it is true that in the beginning, the chaos that her step-siblings brought to our house caused her great distress, we have revamped our parenting style and put into place some steps for her to take if she feels scared during a RAD meltdown.
The benefits of siblings far outweigh the disadvantages of trauma-behavior, at least in our home. She always has someone to play, someone to share things with and she loves her little brother and sister. That’s a great thing.
The “negative behaviors” of Middle and Little teach her how to deal with peer pressure and other things that kids have to deal with as they grow, things I worried she’d struggle to understand given the nature of her genetic disorder.
She has a family with two committed parents, where she really gets to see the strength of our unconditional love – without having to test those bonds herself. And that is pretty awesome.
And, of course, I stay out of love for Middle and Little.
I can’t even imagine what would happen to them if I left them. I can’t imagine what their minds would do if they woke up tomorrow and I was gone.
They do love me, and if I left, I’d be cementing their underlying beliefs – loving adults will only let them down, hurt them, abandon them as though they didn’t matter at all – into a permanent reality.
Even though I sometimes forget the truth of their love because their expressions of affection look so different than my own, I know that they love me as much as they can. They love me as much as their early trauma allows.
If you haven’t yet, watch the video for Sia’s “Elastic Heart.” Listen to the lyrics and spend some time thinking about children with traumatic pasts and their desire for love.
You can give them that love. You can.
I know it.
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