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My Fifteen Year Old Son Has Returned From Foster Care

by Zoe
(London)

I have bipolar disorder and my son was not a planned or wanted pregnancy, however when he was born I bonded with him normally and thought he was the best thing that ever happened to me.

My mother helped me raise him until the age of eight when she could no longer help very much and my bipolar disorder became worse. As a result of this my son ended up going into short and eventually long term foster care for six years, during which time we saw him for only six hours every two months.

My son had two long term foster placements which both broke down. In the last one he developed problems with his school attendance and this became so challenging for the family along with his argumentative ways that the placement came to a sticky end with him being placed into a temporary assessment unit near where I live.

His behaviour there presented a challenge for the staff who were also positive about his good qualities and personable nature at times. My son is intelligent, can be very charming and funny and his social skills are good...he knows how to get on and relate with different people.

Rather than be placed in another, permanent care home also in my locality, my son chose to come back to me. He is now ensconced in his room upstairs but seems so traumatized by his experiences in care and life in general that he doesn't want to go out, mix with friends etc. Also he simply doesn't have good friends in this locality any more because he was avoiding school while at the care home.

He has developed a pattern of sleeping much of the day away and playing on his X Box at night. He also watches YouTube etc on his laptop and listens to a lot of hip hop music.

I cook him the evening meal and he comes downstairs for that. This is the only real quality time I spend with him because of his current lifestyle choices.

I battle depression myself much of the time and try to minimize the effects on him, but this situation inevitably depresses me too at times. I have a partner who also has mental health problems and my son has begun to try and avoid his company.

I know my situation must sound pretty bad but please help me if you can.

Thank you for reading.

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Looking After Yourself First - Part One
by: Annie Desantis

My dear Zoe,
My heart goes out to you, you and your son have a challenging road together. However you can only focus on what you CAN do, and trust that there will be healing of some of the trauma for him, simply by his choice to move back in with you.

You can't rescue him.

You can't fix his past.

He is the only one that can deal with his stuff, and the decisions he makes about himself/life based on those experiences is his process and you can't change that.

You can however build a relationship with him NOW, that will most likely go a long way to healing some of that anyway.

It sure sounds like you have a full time job managing your own stuff, plus you have a partner with mental health problems, so your household is running on empty.

So the first thing you have to do is look after YOU. The better you feel, the more energy you will have to be available for him - and your partner. But if you are battling your own demons, you won't have much energy left over, then you start feeling guilty, worried, and it all gets too hard, so all that just fuels your own depression.

So the best thing you can do for you son, is show him how you deal with your own problems. Make a list of the things that help you to feel better and post that up on the fridge or somewhere where you won't miss it.

It takes a HUGE effort sometimes to take action, but depression needs action to shift. No matter how small, do one thing as soon as you notice yourself feeling down.

Your list might have things like:

Take a shower - and imagine all the blackness washing down the plug hole.

Maybe take a walk or go outside and sit in the sun for 15 minutes - sunshine is really important to give you some Vitamin D, which helps hugely with depression.

Put on some upbeat music that makes you want to move and dance, and shake off the dead energy.

Maybe gently rub some moisturizer onto your face, or your hands, sending love and good stuff to yourself.

Your list can have anything you want on it that helps you to shift your energy up a bit.

You are probably aware of the things to look for when you feel you are starting to swing in the other direction and are moving into a manic phase, and hopefully you have some good support networks, and a counselor that helps you to manage your own issues?

Part Two Follows . . .

Looking After Yourself First - Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

I would not worry at all about your son not wanting to spend time with your partner - he does not have any investment in wanting a relationship with him, he has chosen to come home to build a relationship with you, and because the alternatives seemed too risky. So that is the priority, if he gets to know your partner and chooses to have a relationship with him down the track, fine, if not then let it go.

If you can, try to do some fun things with just you and your son. It would be good if he could get some sunshine too, with a night time lifestyle he will be chronically short of Vitamin D and it won't help. You can even get shots of Vitamin D from the doctor now, but it would be better for him if he actually got outside, and even better with you.

All you can do is keep inviting him to spend some time with you, you can't force him, and if you get mad with him he is likely to resist you more. He probably has some very deep seated stuff around being abandoned and not being loved, even though he had some good stuff with you and your Mother in his early years. He is likely to test you at some stage too, early on he will not be so likely to rock the boat, but after the honeymoon period has worn off, he will push back to test if you really are going to be there for him this time.

Feeding him is a really REALLY good thing to do. At a very basic level, food = nurture, and the first thing a Mother does is feed her little one. So that is a great building block. Make it a requirement that he eats with you, so you nurture that quality time bit by bit. That is the time to tell him he is important to you, that you know you have a lot to learn about being a parent, about him, about dealing with your own problems. Listen more than you speak, and show him you care by being open to what he says.

Tell him you want to spend time with just him on a regular basis, and you want to do something that is fun, and ask him for suggestions.

You can show him your list of perk me ups and invite him on a walk in the afternoons, or to join you in something that you would like to share with him. You can even bribe him with an ice-cream or something!

He has clearly developed ways to cope by disappearing into X-box worlds and online activities that help him to focus on something that is not painful.

Part Three Follows . . .

Looking After Yourself First - Part Three
by: Annie Desantis

Is he doing any schooling at all? Is there any alternative types of schools in your area, or even online schooling?

Of course it would be really good if he continues with his education, but I would not recommend you put yourself in the position of being the police woman who has to force him to study or go to school. Put the ball back in his court, and tell him you know he is intelligent, you know he has a lot to offer the world, and you are concerned he is not going to school. Ask him what he thinks might be a better alternative, or how he can continue learning. There are lots of learning options other than ordinary schooling (which actually to a large degree is not particularly helpful for many kids!)

Try to make every interaction with him contain something positive. Building his self esteem by noticing his strengths will go a long way to helping him build a positive belief system and start to think about the future in a better light.

But you also have to be telling YOURSELF positive things. Make it a practice every day to say something good about yourself as soon as you wake up. Even if it is simply, "Well done body, you woke up today!"

When you go to bed at night, find something you did during the day and give yourself a pat on the back. Even if the day has felt like you were climbing mountains, "Hey! I made it through a tough day, AND I cooked a meal. Well done!"

It may sound silly to be praising small things, but our unconscious mind has a billion crazy thoughts running all the time - I talk about our Mad Mind Munchkin - and taking conscious control and very deliberately recognizing the good things in your day, or about yourself can be very powerful - no matter how small it is.

The best thing you can do for your son, is be the best YOU that you can. The more you take care of you, and fill yourself up, the more energy you will have to help him deal with his stuff.

Does he have a counselor or someone he can talk to, or has he got to the point of not trusting that social services are really acting in his best interests? He really needs to see someone that is separate from the enforcers - someone that helps him to focus on making new choices, building on his strengths and healing that past.

What kind of help do you have? You might need something different now you are full time parenting again. Maybe there are parenting courses around, although you may find them more pressure in terms of having to do it "right".

Part Four Follows . . .

Taking Care Of Yourself First - Part Four
by: Annie Desantis

Your son has his own journey in life, and strange though it may sound to you, I actually believe we have chosen to share this life with those closest to us. Even though it seems SOOOO hard sometimes, trusting in the bigger picture - whatever the hell that is - can shift the focus away from the concerns of day to day struggles.

He will work his way through his issues in the way that is right for him, just like you are doing the best you know. The more you both learn and grown and expand, the more your relationship will deepen and heal.

It is all about baby steps, and each of those tiny movements contribute to the whole. Keep reaching for feeling as good as you can, don't be so hard on yourself, just do the best you can at the time. Now is all you have, and each moment is a new one, so don't worry about what went wrong in the past, and don't worry about things that might go wrong in the future. Just make your now moments as kind to yourself and those around you as you can, remembering it is always a new moment.

Go Gently Zoe,
Annie D :)

PS: You are very welcome to comment back.

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