Secondary Trauma

13288213_10210132049676488_898116405_o.jpgLast week my 17-year-old son’s mother died. She was only 42 years old. Seven years ago his mom had a heart attack then which led to a stroke. These horrific events led to her going into a hospital where she would spend the rest of her days and my son and his 7-month-old brother went live with his aunt.

As my son came into his teenage years, his aunt couldn’t handle him and he needed a stable home with a strong male presence. So one day, he came home with my other son and he just never left. We now have guardianship of him.

Last week, we had to watch our son kiss his mom goodbye and make the decision to take her off of life-support.

Upon learning that his mom had passed, I started to take on his symptoms of loss, grief, and anger; I hated to see him like that. His loss brought back my own feelings of what it was like to lose my own mom at 14 years old.

While “in my feelings,” I had to find the strength to help him deal with his. He came to me with tears in his eyes, using some very profane language, and said, “Dad, I am mad as %^&$! The problem is, I don’t know who to be mad at.”

As I sat and processed what he was saying and going through, I used my own feelings and hindsight to tell him exactly what I would have wanted to hear, as if I was talking to my own14-year-oldd self.

I told him, “Son, it is okay for you to be mad. You can be mad at everything. You can be mad that your mom is gone. You can be mad that your dad went to prison. You can be mad that it didn’t work out with your aunt. It’s ok and very normal to be mad at the crappy life hand that you were dealt. You may not see it now, but you will learn from all of these experiences and it will turn you into a very strong, humble and resilient young man.

“Over the next few days, your friends are going to want to be there for you, but you will not want to be bothered. My advice to you is to let them. During your time of need, your true friends will step up and your extended family will all congregate to one area. Go there and listen to them. Listen to the stories that they will tell about your mom. Find out who her best friend was and chat her up. You are going to want to put as many positive memories into your mental rolodex as possible.”

As I am dealing with my feelings and helping my son deal with his, I decided to try to focus on a silver lining. He is attached to us and, because of this, it is probably the first time that he felt safe enough to actually come to us and ask for help.

He told us his true feelings. He felt safe enough to seek care. He was intimate and able to turn to others in his time of trouble.

As a foster parent, we must recognize the full power of secondary trauma. Recognizing our own feelings will help your child deal with theirs.

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Graduation

13250492_10210120239581243_922018816_n.jpgIt’s been one year since my son Troi graduated from high school. I am happy to say that he is gainfully employed and living on his own.

As we embark on this graduation season, I’d like to give some words of encouragement to the foster parents out there:

You are doing a phenomenal job and please keep up the good work.

That said, the odds of our kids actually graduating from high school are stacked against them and downright scary. After a kid turns 18 in foster care:

  • 1 in 4 youth experience homelessness.
  • 1 in 4 males spent time in jail.
  • 3 to 7 different placements on average.
  • 6 different schools on average.
  • 46% drop out of high school.

If you knew my son Troi’s story you’d be amazed.

If you knew my son’s struggle, you’d give him a standing ovation.

Troi beat the odds and graduated on time with his class, despite all of his struggles, obstacles, and barriers.

He is a Goodson! He is my kid! Stacey and I poured love, guidance, and support into him. Because of that support and love, he beat the odds. We broke that horrific cycle and, for that, we should be proud.

If you are a Foster Parent then stand up and applaud yourselves. You guys are the Real MVP: Most Valuable Parent.

Who does he look like?

13183088_10209986108268044_1637207708_n.jpgAs I walked past the bathroom in my narrow hallway that leads to my bedroom, I noticed my son checking himself out in the mirror. I stopped and watched him pick his mini-afro out perfectly and smile at himself in the mirror as if he were posing for GQ magazine. He just about caught me watching him as I almost choked on the cloud of Axe body spray that permeated the small bathroom.

But as I recovered, I was then overcome with sudden sadness; my son has no idea who he looks like.

He has never met his dad. And although he has an older brother that looks a lot like him, there was just something missing.

Although we are two black men, we don’t look anything alike.  I wonder what it is like for him when people asks who I am and he tells them, “That’s my dad.” I’m sure he has gotten used to the side-eyed glances people use to quickly compare us in question to his response.

So one day I asked him how it makes him feel that he doesn’t know who he looks like. His answered floored me.

“I look like me. I look like God. He made me in his image.”

I can’t imagine not knowing what my dad looked like, my family looks like, or my extended family looks like. It’s something that I never questioned. As my son is now coming into his own, he identifies my family as his. I don’t think that it bothers him one bit that he doesn’t look like us. He is a part of TeamGoodson, and that is all that matters to him.

Support System

Baby_Shower_boy_frontI remember my niece announcing to the family that she was pregnant and the craziness that ensued in the later months. During that time, she had not one but three baby showers. Friends and family from all over the country came to the parties with gifts for both mom and baby. I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, that newborn baby will have a very large, and loving support system.

Six months later my wife and I decided to adopt our thirteen and fifteen-year-old sons out of a residential facility. For some reason, I was hoping to receive the same amount of love and attention for my two boys from the friends and family that showered my niece with it just months before.

I couldn’t help but think, “Where is my baby shower? I want one too!”We knew the traditional ways of supporting your family is different with adoptions versus newborn. Nonetheless, we were still welcoming new children into our home and, in an attempt to address the elephants in the room… eeerrrr I mean to celebrate the occasion, we had a party and invited everyone. To my amazement, not everyone came.

adoption_child

As time went on, I also noticed that my circle of friends was changing. Family members that had once been mainstays in our house started creating space. Friends were leaving more and more time between their visits. What happened? Do they not like us as much?

I believe that in some ways, it was a two-way street. Our friends and family didn’t understand all that my wife and I were doing. They couldn’t comprehend the challenges that our teenage boys faced. Because they didn’t understand, it became hard for us to confide in them about our day-to-day issues.

So my wife and I sat down and made a very intentional list of who our support system would be. By the time our list shook out, we noticed that many of the people on it were foster and adoptive parents themselves. Those that weren’t, the friends and family who had stayed around, had really stepped up and even started coming to trauma informed training classes or foster and adoptive kid panels to get a better understanding of how our family worked.

My wife and I had to decipher the difference between our support groups. We didn’t lose friends, our circumstances just changed. When we get dinner with certain people, we don’t talk about the nuances of parenting a child that has experienced trauma because they wouldn’t understand and it is not fair to them for us to try to make them “get it.” We reserve that conversation for our friends and family that do “get it.”

They say that it “takes a village to raise a child,” and  I believe this to be true. We just worked to make sure that our village, compiled of people like our Grandma, Aunt, Sister, BFF, school social worker, and coach,  are individuals who understand the barriers our kids have overcome and have an understanding of what we need them to support us through.

We didn’t lose our support system; if anything, we fostered and gained a new community of friends.