How I broke up with our therapist, allowed my kids
to be quitters and ended up happier and healthier
by Denise Kendrick
Last year my parents offered to stay with my children while my husband and I attended a conference. I was grateful that my newly adopted children would be able to sleep in their own beds and stay on schedule while we traveled. I dove into cleaning, pre-cooking meals and decluttering to prepare. I spent hours creating a detailed daily schedule of my six elementary-aged children’s activities and therapies. I searched the calendar, referred to sports schedules and dug through backpacks for project due-dates. I color coded appointments by child including driving directions for ball fields, choir rehearsals, orthodontists, orthopedists and schools. As I gazed at the final copy of this beautiful spreadsheet I felt the urge to frame, or at least laminate, it. My pride quickly dissolved as I realized what this spreadsheet really meant.
We were over-scheduled.
And yet, I always felt like we weren’t doing ENOUGH for our kids. I walked through most days feeling guilty. My sixth grader fretted that she was the ONLY band student not taking private lessons. My 9-year-old’s play therapist suggested therapeutic horsemanship for her self-confidence but the intake process seemed daunting. The paperwork for an upcoming Special Education Admission, Review and Dismissal sat unfinished on my desk. We were doing so many good things, but every night I fell into bed feeling overwhelmed and inadequate.
My parents survived that crazy week watching our kids, but we knew it was time to make a change. My husband and I began discussing every commitment we faced in a given month. I conceded that there were a few activities my children simply did not enjoy anymore. For the past six months I’d been pushing my son to stick with percussion although he rarely practiced. We sold the drums on CraigsList, cancelled lessons and moved on with our lives, all happier for it. Next, we began to calculate the true cost of participating in certain activities. Although our daughter had a scholarship for a children’s chorus, her participation cost us an hour roundtrip in the car, $20 in gas, and, often, $40 in last-minute fast-food dinners. We decided that choir at her middle school was sufficient for her age and interest level. When the season ended we did not re-enroll. I was delighted to realize that this process would free up our finances as well as our schedules, but I still felt burdened by our adopted children’s therapies, tutoring and medical appointments. Since these commitments seemed nonnegotiable, I congratulated myself on at least reducing our daily chaos and moved on.
By culling a few activities here and there we started to find breathing room in our schedule, even occasional open evenings to spend blissfully laying around the house. One of these lazy evenings I took my 8- and 5-year-old sons fishing at a pond in our neighborhood. I helped each of them select a bobber, hook their worm and cast out into the little pond. After turning to help my older son unhook a small sunfish I turned back around to discover that my other son had been busy while my back was turned. In the blink of an eye my younger son had reeled in his line, gotten the hook tangled in the lures and extra hooks in the tacklebox, attempted to cast the line out again, and now stood with a hairy, tangled mess of a fishing line. I quickly realized this epic birds-nest-sized tangle on his rod would take an hour to undo, so I handed him my rod and reel and sent him on his way.
I had a moment of clarity as I watched him there on the dock, sheer joy on his face as he wildly swung my rod around in an attempt to cast. There were some things in my children’s lives, not easily untangled, that were holding us back from enjoying life. I had prioritized counseling over bike rides, tutoring over play dates, play therapy over Play-doh. In my earnest efforts to “un-do” years of neglect, trauma, developmental delays and learning differences I’d put my kids’ childhood on the back burner. The very obstacles I was trying to help my children overcome were calling the shots!
It was time to set the tangled rod aside and enjoy the day.
So I broke up with our therapist. I told him “It’s not you, it’s me” to soften the blow. We backed counseling down from weekly appointments to once a month. We quit tutoring and spent more time reading together snuggled up on the couch. We felt the affects of these changes almost immediately. I realized we had underestimated the emotional toll counseling and therapy had on our kids. After expending so much effort in appointments they came home cranky and emotionally drained. As we cut back on therapy we saw our kids use more of their emotional bandwidth to connect with siblings and build friendships.
One year later, trauma still rears its ugly head in our home. Attachment is tenuous. Homework is a nightmare. The tangles aren’t gone, but we’ve stopped focusing on “fixing” and turned our attention to living. I don’t think we’re done with therapy forever. We’re surrounded by incredible resources and we will continue to research and advocate for our kids. But this is working for us right now. We’ve given ourselves permission to allow healing to happen through daily interactions and long hours at the park. So, if you’re looking for us on a sunny afternoon, you’ll find us down by the pond with a line in the water. a
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Denise Kendrick is a graduate of the University of North Texas and co-founder of the Embrace Ministry in Dallas, Texas. Kendrick and her husband Bruce have nine children, by birth and adoption, ages 1-22 years and two adorable grandkids.
Diego Fuller Shares his Story
of Foster Care, Family
and Finding his Calling
By Kim Phagan-Hansel
When asking founder and publisher Richard Fischer about the feedback he gets from the readers of Fostering Families Today, an adoption-resource publication company, he runs to the back off his office at 541 E. Garden Drive and brings out a stack of thank you letters from kids who have been adopted after being featured in his magazine..... more
Is your foster care village
on the same page as you?
By Denise Leffingwell, MSW, LCSW
Many children in foster care today will need the support of mental health services as a result of the abuse and neglect that brought them into the foster care system. These vulnerable children have often experienced numerous traumatic events and clearly at least one, if not more, disruptions from attachment figures. What may not be as obvious is the critical role foster parents play in helping their foster children heal. With the right training and experience, the 24/7 care a foster parent provides will always trump the 50 minutes a child may spend with a therapist each week — even more so if the therapist is not well informed and experienced in working with children from the child welfare system. .....more
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