Nov 26

Sometimes My Child Needs A Different Mother

I’m frustrated and sad because I don’t know how to help you with this. I don’t like to see you in pain, but I don’t know what to do.”

Have you ever wondered if your child would do better in life if they had a different mother? Perhaps we all have. I have often had the thought that I am too soft to be good enough as a mother, that I have too much empathy that has gotten in the way of me giving my three children what they need. But having this thought as it applies to my oldest two children has been occasional and minor, where as this thought has, at times, been overwhelming when it comes to mothering my youngest daughter, Sarah.

Sarah is now in the seventh grade, her second year of middle school, the hardest year of middle school for most girls, and almost every school day over the past three months has been a challenge. My girl has had major mood issues her whole life, anxiety that manifests as angry outbursts, and ADHD. She has had many interventions over the years, but the most effective, it seems, has been riding horses. With horses she is able to relax, to be accepted, to learn about communication, among many other things. But medication has also been necessary and something she fights every day. Continue reading

Oct 18

The Mess I Am In: Balancing the needs of my ETL kid with those of her siblings.

Three kids which includes two teenagers, two girls, one twelve year old. Boy, girl, girl. Say no more. I’m losing my mind.

In years past, I worried that our neighbors would call the police because there was so much yelling, screaming, and crying on the part of my youngest daughter who has ADHD and a mood disorder. Some days our household felt like a war zone. This was not just contained to our home. Our ETL daughter regularly melted down at school and when she got anxious/overwhelmed the result were fits of rage which the teachers/administrators had a hard time understanding. A child who collapsed in a puddle of tears in the corner of the classroom in response to the same feelings seemed to bring about sympathy where as my child’s response resulted in judgment against here and us, her parents.

Things have gotten better. My ETL daughter still struggles with learning issues that are associated with her ADHD and mood disorder and she faces social challenges on a daily basis at school and at home where she feels lonely much of the time, but her melt downs have majorly decreased and are confined (for the most part) to life at home. The melt downs are occasional now, not daily. Her anger more contained. Continue reading

Sep 14

Letting Our Kids Suffer

by flickr user andyarthurLast night I attended my first parent group as a parent. Professionally I am a clinical psychologist and have been doing parent groups on and off for years for those parenting teens with eating disorders. This all came to a halt a couple of weeks ago when I started a two year sabbatical from working to be home with my own three adolescents. So when word got out that a parent support group was starting at my 15 year old daughter’s alternative high school, I thought Why not go? After all, you can never get too much support while parenting teenagers.

The group facilitator, a school co-director and talented adolescent therapist, introduced the idea of letting your teen sort things out by themselves. We all went around and talked about how difficult it is to see your kids suffer, how everything in your being wants to take their pain away even though logically you know that struggle is part of life, a valuable part of life. All of the nine or so parents there could relate to this concept. It might help for you to know that all forty of the teens at the school (tiny, I know) are there because it did not work out in “regular” schools, whether public or private. The students at this wonderful, creative, wacky, nurturing, and sometimes counter-culture school did not fit in socially, have learning differences, have had some trauma, or struggle with anxiety or depression to some degree. These are kids (and parents) who have already been through a lot. I am one of those parents. Continue reading

Sep 07

Stay at Home Mother: First Day on My New Job

On the upside, I sit in my favorite coffee shop at 10:30 in the morning on a weekday writing for the first time in months. When I bought my coffee a few minutes ago, I put 25 dollars on a gift card (a gift to myself) suggesting that I expect to be able to do this on a semi-regular basis. I wear flip-flops, black yoga pants and a dark green t-shirt. Sun glasses propped on top of my head, I suppose I am wearing the uniform of a stay at home mother and I must say, it is comfy. Just how I like it.

On the downside, I have been weepy all morning. You see, this is the first official day of my new job. For the next two years I have walked away from paid employment. I am someone who hopes not to lose my mind, someone who hopes to improve on the balance in our family of five which includes a dad who works long, long hours, me, two teenagers in high school, and one preteen with ADHD in middle school. I hope for basics like cooking more nutritious meals (or cooking at all), being a mother who can breath, more support for completing homework, a presence when a random teen decides to open up, flossing my teeth, some yoga, as well as developing my writing. If you are snickering at my unrealistic expectations, I understand.

Last Fall I wrote for this blog about my ambivalence about working and mothering three intense kids, one who I comfortably think of as high need. At that time, I decided to stick it out with my job as a psychologist who, for the past decade plus, has worked with kids and teens at a local medical center. Even after my decision to stay at work, however, I continued to be preoccupied and torn in two different, demanding directions. Then one day in June, with my husband’s full and loving support, I sat at my desk at work and thought if I don’t just do it, I will remain stuck and nothing will ever change. I decided not to stay in my job based on fear, but to make a change despite the fear. So, right then and there, I wrote a letter of resignation and sent it off to my manager. When we met later that day, I told my manager that I could stay until September in order to facilitate a smooth transition for my patients and the department.

The relief of this decision lasted about one day. Maybe two. This was then replaced by a constant state of feeling terrified. Continue reading

Apr 26

You’re nuts. I’m not. Mixed Feelings About Taking Your Child to Therapy

As I sat across from my new 12 year old patient and her mom, I saw the look of dread in the girl’s eyes and in her body language. Sweatshirt hood was up, looking down into her lap, arms crossed. I am a psychologist and work at a medical center in an eating disorder’s program. I have seen this look of dread many times over the years.

“Oh, she didn’t want to come today,” the mom explained almost apologetically.
“Only crazy people come to places like this” her daughter blurts out, the first words I have heard from her.

“Well, I can totally understand why you would feel that way,” I said. “A lot of people feel that way about coming here, but actually most kids and teens who come here are just like me and you, just normal people with the normal variety of challenges.” The girls shoulders relax a bit. “It takes a lot of courage to ask for help,” I say. A little bit of eye contact now. And we have our starting point. Continue reading

Mar 09

My Daughter’s Hair

by Rachel Penn Hannah

My 11 year old daughter’s hair is a barometer for her moods. It tells us all we need to know. Sarah’s hair is dark brown, medium length straight hair, but it is oh so fine and tangles easily.  Since she was old enough to have hair to brush (at about 18 months) this has been a battle, even going so far as to chaseher around the house with a hair brush. Then after years of battle over all things ADHD related (and then some), we gave up on the hair. Truth be told, we were never that successful anyway. We still instructed, but did not enforce. I am sure there were many times in Elementary school that Sarah’s parents (us) were judged for letting her go to school looking like a rat family had taken up residence in the back of her hair. And certainly it did not help the poor child – who already has a hell of a time socially – to make friends. My mother once had Sarah over for the afternoon and when introducing her to her next door neighbor she felt extreme embarrassment about Sarah’s appearance. She called to let me know that Sarah was not to come over “looking like that” again. What she didn’t realize was that it had taken us a week’s worth of energy just to get her up, dressed, medicine taken, and to her house that morning. Hair? Forget it.

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Jan 20

Events That Change Everything

Transformative experiences mark the entrance from one phase to another. There are many such experiences that you can try to prepare for. Having a baby, getting married, and moving out of your parents’ home. Some preparation is possible, though many feel that despite knowing ahead of time of the change to come, despite in many cases even making the choice to venture into new territory, they still feel unprepared. Other events come as a shock, like a death or a natural disaster or even the revelation that your child has special needs. They are completely unexpected. One’s life is changed for better or worse and often in combination.

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Nov 03

Events That Change Everything


Events That Change Everything

Rachel Penn Hannah

Transformative experiences mark the entrance from one phase to another. There are many such experiences that you can prepare for as much as possible. Having a baby, getting married, and moving out of your parents’ home. Some preparation is possible, though many feel that despite knowing ahead of time of the change to come, despite in many cases even making the choice to venture into new territory, they still feel unprepared. Other events come as a shock, like a death or a natural disaster or even the revelation that your child has special needs. They are completely unexpected. One’s life is changes for better or worse and often in combination.

I decided to survey my children (ages 11, 14, and 16) about significant events in their lives that have catapulted them from one stage to another. Their responses spoke deeply to who they are. My almost 17 year old son smiled and said “It would have to be before this past summer and after this past summer.” What came to my mind when he said this was the upsetting realization that occurred at the beginning of the summer that he had gotten involved in drugs and alcohol and the wake-up call this provided our family, the rally to put together a treatment plan for him, the dramatic constriction of his freedoms, the huge amount of time we have spent together since, and the activities that were put together that involved him doing volunteer work and leadership training and going away to a wonderful camp. My boy is sometimes overly optimistic, like when he says it will be no problem for him to get caught up on his school work despite his unmedicated ADD (“I got it covered mom”), but his response to this question spoke to how valuable this optimism can be. For him, this summer saved him and uplifted him and transformed him and he already remembers it fondly.

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Oct 07

Stages of Dress

Rachel Penn Hannah

Youngest daughter comes home from her first ever slumber party. She is ten years old, has ADHD, and has never been invited over to a girl’s house to play (not counting cousin). Girls have been invited over to her house to play to test the waters, but no invites to reciprocate.

Daughter is over the top excited when mother and father pick her up. Daughter had been preparing for days, carefully picking out birthday presents her friend would like: a large box of popcorn, a book about horses, neon green nail polish, and a small make up kit. Then daughter wrapped them individually, putting boxes inside boxes, each with a riddle folded on top.

Daughter says she did not fall asleep until 3 am, then woke up at 6 am with the rest of the girls. “It went well,” mother and father were told when they picked daughter up at the front door. Suddenly their spirits were light as air in contrast to the heaviness and dread they had struggled with through the night.
Daughter talks non-stop during the car ride home. She talks about the many things they did together, but mostly about “talking almost all night.” Mother could see daughter’s face in the rearview mirror and saw a wide-eyed thrill when daughter said, “And we gossiped.” “Oh it’s not good to talk badly about people,” mother felt compelled to say. Daughter looked confused, quickly saying, “we gossiped, Mom, you know, we talked about people but we didn’t say anything bad about them.” “Oh”, mother and father say in unison.

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Sep 08

Balancing Work and Parenting High Need Kids

Rachel Penn Hannah

To work or not to work? Unfortunately, that is not the question. I have to work. Having two kids in a tiny, alternative high school that can better address their learning issues is expensive. Plus I have a younger child in middle school who might need private school in the future. I have been fortunate to be able to work half time, 12 hours one day and 8 hours the next work day. My husband and I both have professional careers, but his more than full-time hard work allows me to work less so that I can be home with the kids on most days. It sounds like a luxury (and compared to many situations it is), but with three kids with learning issues plus adolescent issues and one of these wonderful children with a mood disorder diagnosis even this work situation can seem to be too much.

I have recently taken a family medical leave to care for my son. He is 16 and is struggling with some substance abuse issues. When my son was in sixth grade the psychiatrist tried to find an ADD medication that my son could tolerate, but was unsuccessful. She then predicted that drug and alcohol use could be an issue in the future. The neurologist that treated my boy after a traumatic brain injury when he was 14 warned that his brain would now be more vulnerable and that drug seeking behaviors often follow neurological trauma. And the reality of these risks came to bear on the first day of summer, June 10, this year. My son took ecstasy, called us to come get him because he was having a bad reaction, and had to be rushed to the emergency room for treatment. Thankfully, after several hours with IV fluids and other attempts at medical stabilization he was okay.

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