Assumptions: The deck is already stacked against you

Navigating the mental health system on behalf of our children, especially those with extreme behaviors, is like traversing hostile territory. The assumptions mental health professionals make about us and our families are quicksand sucking us into a quagmire of misunderstanding and bitterness.

Here are just a few assumptions that have been made about me:

  • You need basic parenting instruction and training; forget your idea of common sense, and trust the ‘professionals’
  • You’re being selfish and need to snap out of it; you’re not putting your child’s wellbeing above your own
  • You treat your birth kids better than your adopted child; that’s why he’s acting out
  • You don’t feel affectionate towards your adopted child because something is wrong with you emotionally and mentally

Of course, the worst, and most pervasive, assumption I’ve encountered is, “You’re mostly, if not entirely, to blame for your child’s behavior.”

Ouch. This one is perhaps the most difficult to grapple with–don’t we often secretly believe, or at least wonder, if it’s true?

As parents we must accept responsibility where appropriate, but with some perspective. Blaming the parent–especially an adoptive parent–is way too easy of a fall back position for a therapist. Lack of progress with your child can be blamed, not on their methods and approach, but on you. It also removes any agency and responsibility from your child.

Trust me, mental health professionals are making assumptions about you from the moment you walk through their door. The deck is already stacked against you. So, forget being charitable, assume the worst, and keep your guard up.

Blaming the parent–especially an adoptive parent–is way too easy of a fall back position for a therapist. Click To Tweet

Don’t overshare

Be very cautious about sharing sensitive information with your child’s therapist. It’s easy to think of them as objective. They’re not.  If it comes to taking sides, they are on your child’s side. Don’t do what I did and blurt out at your first appointment that you don’t feel maternal affection towards your child. If you do, that’s almost certainly the ONLY thing they’ll focus on going forward. They’ll immediately conclude this is the cause of your child’s extreme behaviors, not considering that it might be the extreme behaviors that has caused your lack of affection. I see a therapist myself now, and that’s where I blurt out everything and get the support I need.

Keep a journal

It is critical that you start keeping a journal. Start today. Every time you see a therapist or doctor–document the date, time, who you saw, and a summary of what was said. If your child’s teacher, foster parent, or caseworker calls you take out your journal and take notes. I once had a case worker insist my son hadn’t exhibited any behavioral problems in the last month to justify pulling his services. I was able to pull out my journal, flip it open and ask: “Well, what about last Wednesday when Juan called me to report that Devon was trying to stab a peer in the head with a pencil and had to be restrained?” I went on to list multiple incidents from the time period in question. His services were renewed.

Don’t believe it

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Your own feelings of inadequacy and guilt are likely to be your biggest weakness, especially when some of your most self-judgmental thoughts are affirmed by the assumptions underlying the advice mental health professionals give. You’ve been living under a great deal of stress and instability. You may be traumatized by what you’ve been through. 

Listen to the advice you are given and take what’s of value, but don’t automatically believe everything you are told. Just because they’re the “professionals” that doesn’t mean they speak gospel. You know your child and family best.

How have assumptions affected your ability to get help for your child?