when there’s no defense: sad, mad, and loss

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The unedited version of this post was first published Thursday, February 3, 2011

On Sunday, some of my brother’s friends came to visit our church. They brought with them their two little boys, both of whom are foster children. They were adorable, attached to their foster parents, but by now, I have learned to recognize the signs of traumatized children. When I went down to the nursery to pick up Raniah after the service, one of the little boys was trying to turn off the DVD player, and a little girl who was helping in the nursery was trying to stop him. He was hitting her, yelling at her, and I could clearly see the horrified look on her face. I wondered what she would go home and tell her mom after the service. I really had to restrain myself from asking her to give him a break, which is silly, because she’s just a kid herself with no capacity to understand this. What went through my head is all the stuff this poor kid is going through, the trauma, sadness, and pain in his little life, and how everyone is just going to judge him by his behavior. Because sometimes sad looks like mad. This is one of the things our therapist has said to us from the beginning, you read it a lot in adoption literature, and I just read a blog post about it this past week. (When Sad Looks Like Mad)

For Brenden, sad looks like mad an awful lot. I want to defend. I want to explain his bad, weird, and crazy behavior to everyone I meet. For awhile, I thought it was just because I was embarrassed by what people would think of me and my parenting skills and techniques. To be honest, there is definitely some of that there. My parenting skills are far different than what they were with my oldest two. Some of the things that I currently allow, I would never allow with my first two children. Some of the ways that I currently parent are definitely not ways that I would've chosen before. I do what Mr. B needs. I parent him how he needs to be parented. It's gonna look strange to some people; sometimes it even feels strange to me.

I'm trying to let go of the urge to defend. It's no one else's business. I don't have to defend myself, and I do not always have to defend my children. Sometimes it's OK if people think badly of them or of me. It doesn't matter what people think as long as we're doing what's right. What's right for us is not going to look like what's right for other people, that's for sure. But do I want to defend at every moment? You bet I do.

I want to explain all the stuff that's gone wrong in Mr. B's life. I want to describe the horrors of the life that he was used to living. I want to go into the research about how trauma literally changes how a child's brain form. How their brains work differently, how they are coping with the pain in their lives, and why their sad looks like mad. I want to take them through the identification exercise that we do in training, brought back to my memory by another blog post (The List) in the past month. Since I can't do that with everyone I meet, I'll just do it here. Follow along, for kicks:


First, write down the name of the most significant person in your life.

1. Wendell

Write down your most important role.

2. mother

Now, write down your greatest support group. Church, family, a friend, etc.

3. family

Write down your heritage.

4. Christian

Next, write the word “knowledge.” This represents the information that gets you through the everyday tasks of your day.

5. knowledge

Then, write down your favorite place.

6. home

Write down “Cultural Information.” This represents everything you know about your culture.

7. cultural information

Now, write down “Resources.” This represents all your material possessions, everything you own that has worth.

8. resources

Next, write down “Values.” This represents your faith, concepts of right and wrong, priorities, likes and dislikes…

9. values

Last, write down the activity that brings you the most joy.

10. playing games with my family, just hanging out


Now, mark off the four things that you think you could do without.

1. Wendell

2. mother

3. family

4. Christian

5. knowledge

6. home

7. cultural information

8. resources

9. values

10. playing games with my family, just hanging out


"Now, it's OK. You're gonna be fine; we're going to keep you safe."

Go ahead and mark off two more.

1. Wendell

2. mother

3. family

4. Christian

5. knowledge

6. home

7. cultural information

8. resources

9. values

10. playing games with my family, just hanging out

"Sometimes it's not safe to live with the people you love. You just have to learn to trust that we're safe. We want you to be safe. We have a better, safer place for you to live now."
Go ahead and mark off two more...

Who of you has gone through that much loss? What right do I have to expect more from my children who have endured such loss? What defense could there possibly be for this? Fostering and adoption are, in reality, comprised of pretty terrible things. There is pain. There is grief. There is loss. There is bad behavior. Because sometimes sad looks a lot like mad.

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