What started out as a good idea quickly turned into the most intense challenge of my life. All the pieces seemed to be in place.
I was living alone in a great house thanks to my business, working from home so I could be with her all day, I had friends professing their support…but none of that mattered to her. Of course, it didn’t. Her world had been turned upside down, she’d been through terrible things, and my fantastic life wasn’t going to matter to her. What she needed was love, stability, and infinite compassion.
And to my horrible shock. I didn’t love her. I felt no bond. After the first week of quiet, she raged, fought, acted out…all things I was expecting. But what I wasn’t expecting was that me, by myself, seemed to make her worse. I became the sole focus of all that was wrong with her world and she hated me.
At least, that’s how it felt. But I wouldn’t give up. Until I began to realize how much the cards were stacked against me, us…her. Placing her with me had moved her out of her home county, so she’d lost her place in line for in-home therapy. We couldn’t expect to see anyone for another 2 months. It had already been 3 months of screaming fits and breaking things.
I got her enrolled in pre-school to give her and me a break from each other and get her around other kids, who typically seemed to make her happy. But for all she gained being at pre-school, leaving became a massive trauma.
I’ll never forget the day I came to pick her up and I realized that I wasn’t enough for her. That I never would be.
She saw me, while she was out on the playground and lost it. Threw herself on the ground, screamed, kicked, cried. The teachers stared at me like it was my fault. Like I was supposed to be able to do something about it. I waited until she gained a little composure, realizing that I was the trigger and that pushing myself on her was only going to make it worse for everyone.
“I know you’re sad to leave. I’m sad, too. I know how much you like it here. We’re going to wait 5 minutes and then we’re going to go have dinner, some sleep and we’ll come right back tomorrow. How does that sound?”
She wiped her nose and nodded.
“Okay, kiddo. Let’s head to the car.”
Boom. She was back on the floor, screaming, crying. I started to walk away, to give her space since she’d added flailing around to her symptoms. The teachers were, once again, nowhere to be seen. I was on my own with this one. The terrible part was, those teachers new I was a single, first-time foster parent. I’d told them, asked them for feedback or advice. And they’d all professed to help, congratulated me on my bravery, and abandoned both of us when it got hard. I hated them.
As I walked away, my kiddo wrapped her hands around my ankle, still screaming and crying. I didn’t realize what she was doing until I was quite literally dragging her across the linoleum floor of the classroom. I had no idea what to do.
More calm talking and quiet coaxing got us out to the front of the school where my car was waiting. Setting clear expectations for her, praising her when she gained control, giving her concrete things to think about that I knew she liked. Every cognitive trick I knew as a therapist, everything I read while researching being a parent of a child who was emotionally disturbed.
And then I opened the door to the car. Another explosion. She was clearly stuck in a cycle. Couldn’t find her way out of it. I was useless, as much a trigger as I was a soothing element. Her vision narrowed and once again, I was the representation of all that was wrong with her world, and rendered completely ineffective.
I called my social worker, she called the most experienced foster moms. And I heard the worst thing I could possibly hear.
“I don’t know. I’ve never heard of a kiddo doing something like this before. Just hang in there. I’ll check in with the county about that in-home therapy order.”
And she hung up. I cracked. My kiddo was crying, I was crying. I was stuck in the parking lot of the school because she refused to get in the car seat, was strong enough to unbuckle herself and strong enough to resist me putting her there to the point that I’d end up hurting her if I tried any harder. Not to mention the emotional damage I’d cause if I did force her….we had to come back the next day, after all.
An hour and a half later, I was still stuck in the parking lot. I watched every single parent and teach walk by me, staring. No one helped, no one did anything. The just watched my sinking ship, probably grateful it was me and not them. Finally, the last teacher left the building, glanced over to us, didn’t break her stride and flung out behind her
“We’ve all been there.”
The fuck you have.
I was instantly furious. What happened to all the “it takes a village to raise a child” shit? Where was my fucking village? And then I remembered where my village was. I called my parents. My dad was there in 15 minutes without a single judgment or question. I walked around the corner so my kiddo couldn’t seem me. She instantly calmed. My dad put her in the car seat. And it was just that easy. At least that part was.
That’s when I truly understood what it meant to be a single parent. Just because you’re the only parent, doesn’t mean you’re the only one parenting.
My kiddo was eventually placed in a home with a family that had other kids, both foster and biological. She instantly improved, modeled her behavior more after the older kids and found emotional stability that she’d never found with me. I was thrilled for her.
And devastated. That’s when it really sunk in. I wasn’t enough. I wasn’t good enough, smart enough, loving enough to be a single parent.
My house was empty, my heart was shattered and I fell into the worst depression of my life.
And then I got my IRS letter….