We all have much to be thankful for this holiday season and every day, but this Thanksgiving Day I was especially blessed to see the toil of a year hit Amazon Kindle Edition. Maybe no one will read it. Maybe only my closest friends will read it. Maybe everyone will hate it or think it is poorly written. But maybe, just maybe someone who is going through trauma with their children will read it. Maybe a friend or family member who doesn’t know how to support those they care deeply about will read it. Maybe, just maybe, it will ease the agony of just one person or provide a sense of companionship in the depths of a lonely road. I don’t know what will come of it, but our story, Don’t Say Dumb Shit: A Parent’s Worst Nightmare is out there. Regardless of the opinions of others, if sharing our story helps just one soul out there, it is worth it.
The holidays. For some, the holidays are filled with warm and happy plans filled with family and friends. For those of us who have faced incredible difficulties with family members, the holidays are a source of stress and sometimes grief for who we once were.
This time last year, our family was facing the holidays with one child hundreds of miles away in a mental health residential care facility, while our other child grappled with PTSD, severe depression, and staying alive after disclosure of sibling abuse. It was a difficult time, indeed. We had always spent Thanksgiving with his family and Christmas with mine, but the reality of our situation dictated a change of plans. We spent Thanksgiving with one child and Christmas with the other. The devastation to our parents because of our trauma meant that we forged our own holiday celebration, instead of following family traditions.
My husband and I carefully balanced the holidays between both children, one at home and the other in a residential facility, and tried to maintain some sense of normalcy. My youngest daughter and I celebrated the holidays and her decision to choose life and self love by getting matching semi-colon tattoos. We worked together to make a traditional Christmas dinner with all of our favorite foods. (It’s difficult to make a full Christmas dinner, with all the trimmings, for only three people.) On Christmas day, we opened gifts with one child, instead of two. We tried to focus on the positive and were grateful that both of our children were in a safe environment, even if it meant distance from one.
This year, as we face the holidays again, things look much different. Our oldest is out of residential care and lives with a friend, 30 minutes away. Our youngest is on the long and difficult journey to wellness. On the surface, things are “better.” However, we are far from being a reunited family unit for the holidays. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s celebrations that have always been filled with family, friends, and traditions are now hollow reminders of how fragmented our family and friends have become post disclosure. Because our oldest is no longer in residential care, we now face the old expectations of family members that we all attend events together.
Even though a year has come and gone, our children cannot be together. Healing is an ongoing process, and our family can only heal as quickly as each member.
As joyous as the holidays are for many people, navigating events and expectations while still dealing with the grief and after math of trauma is humbug hell. After much thought, I have devised a few tips for families in similar situations:
How to Navigate Humbug Hell
- Take inventory of what you have. When a family has suffered great devastation, it is essential to look at what remains, not what has been lost. Family and friends may have disappeared. The holiday landscape may look like a foreign land. However, take inventory of what you have, be grateful for what remains, and focus on creating a positive future.
- Enjoy traditions. Bake cookies, buy silly holiday pajamas or slippers, go shopping, and decorate. Just because things are not the same doesn’t mean you have to give up traditions you have always enjoyed.
- Make new traditions. If you’ve always spent the holidays at the home of a family member and that is no longer an option, make a new traditions. Go out of town. Take a drive to see Christmas lights. Buy a new board game or find an old favorite. Have a deluxe movie marathon, complete with popcorn, homemade pizza, candy, or your favorite snack foods.
- Explore other options. If you don’t want to go it alone, look around. Are there events in your community or at a local church? Push yourself to attend one of these events, visit a nursing home or hospital, or invite someone else who might be alone for the holidays over for a visit. You never know, you might make a new acquaintance.
- Set boundaries. Family/friends may not understand the lifestyle changes that are needed post trauma. If a specific person is a trigger, set boundaries and don’t feel guilty if you need a little extra space.
- Reality check: Hallmark movies, sitcoms, and social media posts depicting holiday bliss is the exception, not the rule.
- Rest. The holiday hustle and bustle is enough to make anyone say, “Humbug!” Take time to rest. Sometimes the expectations that cause the most stress are self imposed.
Take time to reflect on the good times and memories of the past year. More importantly, dream cast into the future. We can’t always fix our family, but we can enjoy the present and plan for a better tomorrow.
Our oldest daughter is a pathological liar. She has lied about anything and everything for as long as we can remember. The stories of her outrageous and mundane false tales would take days, possibly weeks, to explore, and those are just the ones we caught her in.
Telling the truth is one of the most valued traits we tried to instill in our children. In spite of our efforts to encourage truth telling and appropriate punishments when caught in lies, the lesson never “took” with our oldest.
When you have a child who lies incessantly, you can’t believe anything s/he says. No matter how big or small, we must always second guess the tales she tells. The story could be true. It could be a partial truth. It might be completely fabricated. Regardless, whatever comes out of her mouth becomes her truth, whether there is an ounce of honesty or not.
Over the years, the scope of her tall tales increased. She lied about friends, she lied about school activities, she lied about our home life, she lied about sickness and injury, she lied about her sister to cause her problems at school, she lied to get her way, she lied to get out of trouble, she lied about lying…seemingly, she would lie about anything to anyone, without provocation.
During the past year, we discovered that not only did she tell lies, but that she lived a double life. She gave the appearance of being a model student at school and church; however, she was secretly abusing her sister in an unspeakable fashion. We took swift action to ensure safety and to get help for each child. This resulted in our oldest spending time in a residential facility and currently living with a family friend. Obviously, she will never be able to stay in our home again. We have sought professional help for both children and are doing as well as can be expected.
But the lies haven’t stopped. She has continued to lie to family members, friends, clergy, and to those she has forged new relationships with over the past few months. Most frequently, she lies about what happened in our home, for self preservation, of course. While I can’t blame her for not telling the truth about her actions. I do resent the outright lies she has told to friends and family that paint her father and I in a monstrous light. We did not kick her out of the house for a misunderstanding. We did not kick her out of the house because she made one single mistake and now we won’t let her “live down” her past. We did not kick her out of the house because she had sex. We did not kick her out of the house for any other reason she might give. We had her removed to a residential facility, in hopes of getting her proper help, because she abused her sister and is a danger to our home. That is the only reason she is not living with us.
She continues to live a double life. She is a wonderful employee and remains very active in a local church. However, she lies about her work shifts so that she can meet someone at a hotel. At 17, she shouldn’t even be able to get a hotel room in her name; yet she has. (We saw the video surveillance.) She lies about her whereabouts, who she is with, and what she is doing. She is very intelligent, so there is little to no trail to help determine the truth. Without hiring a PI to follow her constantly, we have no way to know what she’s really doing.
How do we parent a perpetual liar who is nearly an adult? We hold her accountable when we can. We try to remember that we can not control her actions or the lies she continues to tell. We advise her of what is right and wrong. We remind her of legal ramifications of the behaviors we fear she may be involved in, but we have no proof. And we pray. We pray a LOT. We pray for her safety. We pray that she will make wise decisions. We pray that she never re-offends in the future. We pray she will one day get the mental health help we know she needs. We pray she never becomes the victim of abuse or sex trafficking, because her double life behaviors certainly put her in jeopardy. We pray she doesn’t get involved in drugs. We pray for the people in her life to be a positive influence. We pray she stops living a double life. We pray she find happiness. We pray she becomes a successful and independent woman. We pray she understands that we truly love her. We pray.
Parenting is hard at any age and stage. There are lots of guide books and theories to help determine the best course of action along the way. We try to avoid the pitfalls of our own parents, while making the best informed decisions we can. The fact is, if your child is a pathological liar and could have a personality disorder, as many professionals have suggested could be the case in our situation, the suggestions of others don’t fit the situation.
We parent our nearly adult child with a wing and a prayer. May God guide and protect her as she moves into the next phase, adult life. May God provide peace to us during the dark times and hours that we worry. May God provide insight to those she comes in contact with to provide guidance and help her see that she needs professional help. And if that day comes, may God provide wisdom to the professional community to provide a proper diagnosis that may very well save her life and the lives of others.
Why are parents, especially mothers, saddled with blame and guilt for the actions of their children?
Good parents mold, guide, and direct their children. It’s true that some parents choose to not be engaged or have limitations to their involvement for a variety of reasons, and that this can impact behavior. However, sometimes, children of the best parents STILL do bad things. I’m not talking about elementary bantering, refusal to pick up their room, or making prank phone calls. I’m speaking about actions of adolescent children that affect the lives of others. When this happens, the blame game begins. Surely, there is something or someone who prompted the bad behavior. The child is not the primary culprit. Frequent scapegoats: parents, media, and peers. Do these things play a role? Certainly. However, in spite of the best parenting efforts, some children make bad decisions that forever change the lives of someone else. I am the parent of such a child.
My oldest child appeared to be a model student. She always made the honor roll and frequently had a 4.0 GPA. She was an active member of an after school activity and our church; however, she had few friends and had always been a loaner. Other than seeming to prefer isolation during the adolescent years, her teachers saw nothing unusual. They chalked up her preference to spend time with books, rather than peers, as a sign of maturity and independence. Little did they know the child we lived with at home was quite different.
At home, she frequently exhibited massive mood swings and was continually angry. This wasn’t a new trend to go with the age and stage; it had always been. We constantly struggled to steady the waters. Her anger was explosive, but didn’t result in physical aggression toward us. She often lied about anything or nothing. When caught in a web of lies, she was defiant and accused everyone of being against her. Even when physical evidence was present to prove the lie, she would declare that she didn’t know how the physical evidence got there; she hadn’t done anything wrong.
This became the norm. We walked on eggshells to keep the peace. Unless we had physical evidence she was lying, we had to ignore our gut instincts or pay the price with additional days/ weeks of extreme attitude. I know what you’re thinking…”No child of mine would behave that way! I would take the attitude right out of her! You just need consistent discipline and positive reinforcement.” We thought the same thing, but worked. Grounding, additional chores, loss of technology or other privileges…nothing. Clearly linking the negative behavior with an appropriate consequence didn’t work, after all, someone else was always to blame for her behaviors. Consequences made her mood swings and eccentric behaviors increase, yet we were consistent. That’s what good parents do, right?
Things escalated and we were growing more concerned by her mid teens. At one point, she threatened physical harm to another student at school. As a mother, I knew in my heart something was wrong, this was more than a simple misunderstanding between kids, and so our journey for outside help began. We sought out counseling, but counselors dismissed my concerns. Our daughter claimed she had no idea why she was in counseling. She hadn’t threatened anyone at school; the other students lied and the teachers believed the. She didn’t do anything wrong and didn’t need counseling. After a several months of weekly sessions, her behavior had only worsened at home. Counseling wasn’t worth it. She would say the right things in her session, of course all of her communication was withheld from us. On the rare occasion that the counselor would speak with me, she would indicate that she felt her coping skills were improving. When I would discuss the increased hostility at home because of counseling, that was supposedly normal. Eventually, the counselor felt that our daughter was doing much better and we could discontinue appointments if we wanted. I explained this in the car. Of course, she didn’t want to continue.
After a few moments of silence, she said, “If you ever try to make me go back to a counselor, I’ll make sure the other ‘Brittney’ comes back.” I swear, I felt a chill sweep through the car. She just referred to herself in the third person. I tried to remain calm.
“What do you mean the ‘other’ Brittney?”
“You know exactly what I mean.”
Her voice was not the typical voice of my daughter. It was cold, calculated, and threatening. What was happening? What is wrong with my child?
The next school year, she transferred. Maybe a fresh start would help. It did, but only for a short time. It didn’t take long until familiar stories unfolded. The problem wasn’t other children or her teachers; she was the problem. All the while, she maintained good grades and was the model student, according to her teachers. We It’s middle school. All kids are difficult at this age. Right? Yet, at home, we walked on egg shells more often than not to avoid conflict.
The details of these years is too long and complicated to describe here. We ended up having lab work completed to rule out a hormone imbalance. We started weekly counseling again, at what should have been a better facility two hours away from home. We had a complete psych evaluation, as we had reason to believe she had a personality disorder. (Results indicated that she shed herself in an exceedingly positive light; therefore, they could not determine if she had a personality disorder.) Our reports of her behavior were not of concern. Rather, the mental health professionals were only concerned with how the child felt. The only reports of her behavior that mattered were what she provided. Parental input didn’t matter. After many months of two-hour treks to counseling, we were advised that if she didn’t have a certain level of “buy in” into therapy, it was of no use. She seemed to have improved and no longer wanted to continue sessions. She had learned how to work the system. Counseling stopped, again.
Eventually, the truth came out. What had been our worst fears were not bad enough. She had been secretly harming another child. Over time it increased to excessive violence. The other child, fearing for her life, kept the secret for quite some time, resulting in a crushed sense of worth, physical, mental, and emotional trauma, suicidal thoughts, and PTSD. Thankfully, she broke the silence, undoubtedly saving her life.
By now, you expect to hear how the law stepped in, investigated, and brought justice. No. That’s not the way the story unfolds.
You see, the child she hurt was her sister. Yes, I am the mother of a victim and a perpetrator. Because the girls were not six years apart in age, the police didn’t deem an investigation as necessary. CPS claimed to not deal with child on child violence. We were left alone to decide what to do.
We swiftly took action to protect our youngest from further harm and to seek professional help for both children. But the questions and statements from the psychiatrist suggested the victim was lying, that we allowed abuse, or that our parenting was to blame. Children, especially girls, don’t do this sort of thing.
We took many steps to help our children and continue to do so. Our oldest can not live at home.
The professionals did not listen. I was only a ranting mother who I’m sure was seen as overreacting. After all, I should be grateful she wasn’t doing drugs, getting in trouble at school, or sneaking out to be with boys. What would I, an educated professional and the mother of a child, know about anything? I even referenced the DSM to discuss potential issues, yet it all fell on deaf ears.
Our story is a long and winding road we must forever travel, but we are not alone. More importantly, we know that we did everything within our power and resources to get help throughout the years. But most importantly, we understand that we did not cause our oldest to behave in this manner. We are not to blame.
We are the parents of a victim and the perpetrator who chose to exercise her free will to use coercion and force to harm another.
We love both fiercely.
We choose to preserve life and safety over the opinions of others who try to cast blame and shame that our oldest no longer lives in our home.
Unless you have walked this path, you cannot imagine the heartbreak and tears that water every step of the journey.
What will come of our journey?
Tears regularly water the lonesome path. I could allow silence and solitude to cover each step with weeds to hide pain and isolation. But I choose to speak out.
Who decides what horrors must be hidden? Culture? Society?
Who decides if I must hide in the shadows of shame cast by my own child who willfully hurt another?
It’s not you.
Before you decide to throw stones at me or my family, I ask that you remember the victim and the deep loss that you will never comprehend. Instead of casting judgement and throwing stones, quietly lay your stone on the ground in memorial of the violence and devastation that has occurred. We are grieving. We will continue to grieve. Place your stone on the ground in memorial and hug your own children more tightly tonight.
I will raise my voice to bring awareness to sibling violence and abuse. The victims of sibling abuse and their parents need not hide in the shadows of fear and shame.
Speak out for the victim.
Speak out for the perpetrator.
Speak out and get help for your family.
Speak out for yourself.
Speak out for hope.
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