I still feel an ache that’s tearing apart my heart, the pounding in my chest as I hold in tears all day.
Today our therapist said the words that I’ve dreaded to hear.
“I recommend a group home.”
Like a punch in the stomach those words fell at my feet, I refused to hold them, to even consider their meaning.
So you may be wondering what happened. It’s not as bad as you think, or is it?
We’ve had a rough week as my son has been trying to cope with the stress of middle school starting next week. Small things like not having a place for his lunchbox in middle school and considering a switch to paper bags for lunch leave him unsettled, tipping a balance in his world since things will be different than last school year.
His response is the same, he takes it out on us. The usual stuff, taunting, causing his brothers to scream, “LEAVE ME ALONE!”
Combine that with a long summer of less structure (modification plan not enforced enough), too much time with his brothers and boredom and we’re left with a stew of yuck.
We go through our usual steps. We try to calm the situation, but when he doesn’t want to comply the situation escalates, usually with a smile on his face. I have to lock him out of the house where he can calm himself down away from us. Usually he fights us and pounds on the door, then minutes later he goes for a walk, plays with the hose or builds stuff outside in the backyard. Once I see that he appears settled, I let him back inside with the family.
Theses aren’t wild rages like the past, it seems to be intentional acts. He feels bad inside so he wants us to feel bad too. When he doesn’t feel in control of his feelings, he likes to take control of his surroundings by creating conflict with us. It’s a pattern of behavior that’s hard for him to break and hard for us to endure.
Today our therapist got a first hand look of this pattern. As we discussed his recent behavior at home, I could tell that he didn’t like the direction the conversation was headed, so he started picking on his little brother right in front of her (all 3 boys were present). As he initiated the conflict, his little brother responded with screams and fits. He continued. The therapist tried to encourage my son to stop the behavior, to make better choices for his own happiness, but my oldest continued to escalate, all with a smirk on his face. I think he was pleased to see that his actions were successful at stopping the therapy session, now he was in control.
As the session went on, the pattern continued to get more intense. Nothing dangerous, just completely defiant. She explained to him that his parents may need to send him to a group home if he doesn’t learn how to manage his behavior. He then started to throw legos at his brothers, I watched the therapist intensely to see how a “pro” handles these situations. At times my son took off, leaving the office, but would return to continue his disruptive behavior. Another time she asked him to leave the office, which he seemed to receive as a moment of rejection, only escalating his behavior. When he started chasing down his screaming brothers the therapist told us to get in the car and leave our son with her, hinting that I should return in 10 minutes.
As I gathered my younger children together and moved them to the car, my middle son grabbed me and with tears in his eyes said, “You’re not going to send him to a group home are you?”
I explained that it was only a threat the therapist made and that we would be back soon and that everything was going to be alright.
But I was lying. I didn’t know if it was going to be alright. As I pulled into a parking lot down the street, out of sight from the therapist’s office I bowed my head in prayer. I started to imagine the worst. I was terrified that my son would go into a violent rage with the therapist and she would call the police. She doesn’t know him like we do, so she may not know how to handle it or what triggers to avoid. Would he get arrested? Would my son hurt her because he felt abandoned by us? As I peered down the street I felt dread and begged for God’s help.
After 10 minutes, I pulled back up to the office and I saw the blinds to the bathroom window disheveled, then a moment later, my son’s face peeking up at us. As I approached the door, the therapist greeted me and told me that she had a talk with my son and was recommending a group home. Then proceeded to escort my son out of the bathroom and into our car telling me she will call me with the contact info for the home.
Feeling overwhelmed and in shock about the whole situation I nodded my head and climbed into my car.
I didn’t want to scare my kids anymore than they were, so I refused to cry, though that’s all that I could think to do.
Once home, my son explained that the therapist locked him in the bathroom and talked to him through the door. He cried as he explained how frightened he was and how he thought that we were leaving him forever and that she was taking him to a group home.
When we got home there was a message on the machine from the therapist informing me that she had already contacted a crisis group home that could take kids from 4–6 weeks. Because he was only 11 years old, she needed to seek approval for him since they only accept kids 12-18 years.
At this point I was confused, why was this necessary? Why did his defiance indicate a need for a crisis center? He wasn’t doing any serious harm or damage? He wasn’t manic, even she agreed. The situation started to feel like a run away train that was headed down the wrong tracks.
Later that night, the therapist called me and informed me that he was too young for the home. During the call I explained that we were not ready for this step but we’re looking for tools to help our son within our own home. She respond, “Oh, I thought you needed a break and some more help with him.” She said that I didn’t have to do this alone and that there would be 5 adults at a group home that could take him for behavior modification.
I have so much more to say on this, but I want to spare you every detail. But I can say that both my husband and I feel strongly in our gut that having our son leave our home for behavior modification would be the worst thing for him. His deepest pain comes from feeling rejected (an experience caused by a sudden end to his most precious friendship 4 years ago—due to his illness), we all agree (therapist included) that this rejection has led to the predatory behavior we see today. If we as his parents send him to a group home, he would experience another rejection, only deepening the hole that we’re trying to come out of.
My son has a lot to learn—years of living with a mood disorder has destroyed his self esteem. Combine that with his challenges in processing feelings and a habit of responding in the only way he knows how, with anger, he needs time to heal, to cope and to learn new ways of responding to stress while being surrounded by the love and support of his family.
Like a dog with a torn in its side, it will bark, nip at our feet and behave in an unpleasant manner. Solving the problem with a cage will not help the dog, instead the thorn will only dig deeper. If you want to help the dog behave well, you need to start by removing the thorn from his side.
That’s what my son needs, his thorn is a deep rooted belief that he is not worthy of friends, that he has made too many mistakes to be loved and that he will never get better. I believe if we can help my son by removing his thorn, we will at the same time be able to teach him not to bark.
This is my son, a child I love dearly. I see the angry person, but I also see the boy with a broken spirit. I am not giving up on my son. I’m not looking to be rescued, I just want to help my son.