Scratching the Surface

The scratches on the back of my hands have been driving me crazy. Maybe it’s because I look like I lost a fight with a cat. Maybe it’s because one of them — right hand, sideways, just below middle knuckle — zings whenever I stick my hand in the pocket of my jeans to grab my cellphone. Maybe it’s because I’m sure people will notice them, and I don’t particularly want to explain to casual acquaintances how I got them.

They come from my four-year-old son.

It’s becoming harder and harder, as he gets bigger and stronger, to restrain him in a way that keeps him safe and prevents him from hurting me when he’s raging. It’s become nearly impossible to keep his brother safe from scratches, since he can go from happily playing to screaming and raging with no provocation.

If I thought, for even a moment, that he could somehow work through his anger and fear by scratching me, I’d let him. It would be an easy choice, to let him transfer his pain to me instead. Any parent would do it, I imagine. But that’s not one of the choices.

We’re working with a new therapist. She thinks that PTSD best fits his symptoms, and certainly fits his history. We had previously assumed we were looking at symptoms of attachment disorder. Though neither diagnosis really changes his treatment, it does change the way I think about it.

I think of attachment disorder as something that happens to children when they aren’t given the love they need during early development. I see myself sitting in a lecture hall, during my undergraduate years, taking Developmental Psychology. We learned about attachment. I see myself sitting in our pre-adoption MAPP class — I think it stands for something incomprehensible like Massachusetts Approach to Partnerships in Parenting, whatever that means — learning about attachment disorder. It’s something I knew to expect.

But when I think of PTSD, I think of soldiers coming home from war. It’s hard to translate that image to my son. He has, however, experienced a very literal battlefield. He was taken from his mother, ostensibly for his safety, and placed in a foster home where he was brutally assaulted.

I’m almost never angry at my sons’ mother. Her own life is very much like my sons’, except she stayed in foster care until she was eighteen. I don’t know how anyone could expect her to be able to give a child the care that it needs. Despite all her failings as a parent, though, she loved her sons. My older son remembers his mother fondly. He has happy memories of things they did together, and he knows that she loved him.

My younger son has none of that. He barely remembers his mother, and only from supervised visits in a sterile playroom at the offices of the Department of Children and Families. If he remembers anything, he remembers the battlefield of a foster home and a daycare that allowed him to be assaulted.

And it makes me so fucking angry.

And that’s what I see when I look at the back of my hands now.

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About Mark

I'm a stay-at-home dad with a husband and two young sons. When I'm not driving the kids to school or camp or swimming lessons or cleaning up bathroom accidents, I try to remember to update my blog.

Posted on April 12, 2012, in Life, Parenting. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. help4yourfamily

    Wow, I have a gay, geek dad (but he is my bio dad) and I’m a therapist for kids with tram and attachment disorders. Cool. I’m not your or your child’s therapist nor am I trying to be but can you please make sure your therapist is literate in attachment issues? Many are not and if they aren’t they can make things worse. One way you know the therapist is attachment literate is that you are always in the room with your son. Hope I’m not overstepping bounds and if you don’t want to okay my comment that’s cool. Best wishes to you.

    • You’re not overstepping at all. We’ve had experience (with our older son) with therapists who weren’t really familiar with childhood trauma, and while it didn’t make things worse, it wasn’t much help.

      Our new therapist has a lot of experience with young children and trauma, so we’re hopeful that this will be a good fit. It was actually our local elementary school’s psychologist who helped us find her. After meeting with my son the first time, she said to me almost exactly what you said: “We need to find someone with a lot of experience in childhood trauma, or they’re going to make things worse.”

      It wasn’t a piece of advice I’d heard previously, so I’m glad to hear it echoed by another professional.

      • help4yourfamily

        AND attachment- I don’t want to be a nudge but I used to be only a trauma therapist and didn’t know about attachment and for kids with the history you describe you need someone knowledgeable in both. Lots of people miss the attachment part! My advice would be to make sure your therapist is familiar with the group Attach and, like I said, to have you or his other dad in the room all the time. Skilled therapists in attachment and trauma do a lot of work through the parent to help you two become his main attachment resource whereas traditional therapy can become more about the relationship between the therapist and your child. Hmmm….I think I have a post here. Maybe I’ll write about this for Monday- tomorrow’s post is already scheduled to go. Anyway, good to make your aquaintance- gay dads rock. The boys are lucky to have you 🙂

  2. help4yourfamily

    I wrote my post tonight for you and other parents in the same boat to help differentiate the kind of therapist that helps kids best depending on the issues and how to find that therapist. All the best.

  3. Hi Mark, I really like your PTSD analogy. When kids are being brutal with you it’s hard to empathise with them. I think seeing them as soldiers who’ve come back from war may help. Because they have. And they learnt to fight, it’s become their instinctual response.

  1. Pingback: This is the Story of a Scar « Gay. Geek. Dad.

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