Thursday, December 24, 2009

Parents Want to Return Adopted Child

It’s a shocking story: Tony and Melissa Wescott of Oklahoma want to change the laws to allow them to return their adopted child. The boy was unnamed in the article, but let’s call him “John”.

John, an 11-year-old, has been diagnosed with several severe mental health issues and this family is living in fear of him. They’ve found several knives under his mattress and he had set a trash can in his room on fire.

John had been in foster care, and when they adopted their son, documents disclosed by law from the Department of Human Services indicated that the boy "has no difficulty with attachments and he knows right from wrong .... He does not demonstrate any significant behavioral problems which would be considered abnormal for a child his age.

"(The child) has not received counseling services and these services have not been indicated as a need for him at this time. (The child) is developmentally appropriate."

"We were told he was a normal boy who would have the normal adjustment issues any child in foster care would have," Melissa Wescott said. "We have been his biggest advocates and strongest fighters. But we are scared of him, and that hurts us."

Problems arose shortly after the adoption. Doctors diagnosed John with reactive detachment disorder, disruptive behavior disorder, major depressive disorder, post traumatic stress disorder and fetal alcohol syndrome.

The Westcotts sent him to a psychiatric hospital and he is to be released next month, but the family wants him to be returned to the Department of Human Services so John can get additional help. This family cannot afford the kind of help John needs.

The family joined a group that is lobbying the state to allow adoptive parents to return custody of foster children to the state in special circumstances. Advocates say adoptive parents should not be punished if children have major disabilities that were not known or disclosed prior to adoption.

The North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC) indicates that when one adopts from the public foster care system, kids can have “…a multitude of significant, lifelong problems including: reactive attachment disorder, fetal alcohol syndrome and/or effect, learning disabilities, sexual aggression, and mental health diagnoses. Most adoptions are successful; however research shows that three to ten percent of all older child adoptions will end in dissolution.”

Sometimes it’s in the child’s best interests to be removed from the home and provided with residential treatment or therapeutic foster care, and there are times that one must have a legal dissolution of the adoption placement.

People who adopt via the foster care system depend on honest and accurate reports from the Department of Human Services, and when the DHS does not provide an accurate picture, they should be held responsible.

That’s the story, and here’s my input.

I’m an adoptive mom and have been in touch with a lot of people over the years and asked about this topic. When I was writing my book, several people contacted me about various issues they were facing and I did a lot of research. Many adopted kids seem to adjust well and not have major issues, but some have some very deep problems that can’t be predicted.

Our adoption was from birth and our son only knew our home and our family. Whatever happened after that, well, it’s our responsibility. People who adopt assume certain risks. When you adopt, you have to take the birthmother’s word for it that she did not drink, do drugs or engage in other dangerous behavior while pregnant. You hope the birthmother is honest about her medical history and, if you’re lucky, you learn the birthfather’s medical history, too.

Two families have been in touch with me regarding their adoptions. One family has two children adopted at birth from different birthmothers. The older child has some minor issues, but the younger one is already a danger and he is 6 years old. He has extreme tantrums and has tried to harm each member of the family. The parents have hidden whatever they feel may be dangerous and locked up kitchen knives. They lock him in his room at night and lock their own doors against him so they can sleep, but they worry about what may happen if there’s a fire or other hazard. They’re living in fear of this child and the last few years have included visits to all kinds of experts to diagnose and treat him.

The second family has a 12-year-old son who was adopted at 8 from the foster care system and another child who was 2 when adopted, is 10 now. They turned to this option as it seemed a financially viable way to build a family and they are good-hearted people. The younger child has needed a lot of therapy but seems to be on a good path, but the 12-year-old may be returned to the state. Like the family in the story, this family was told the boy had some issues but treatment would help him. They later discovered that both parents were addicted to drugs and alcohol; he’d been placed in 12 homes in a 4 year period and had already been through 2 failed adoptions. The past 4 years have been a nightmare for this family. He has threatened them and pulled knives on them - when they locked up the knives he used forks. Almost anything can be a weapon, and they are more fearful the older he gets and the bigger he becomes. They are terrified of him and living with fear and regret. This is destroying their family. Isn’t the DHS responsible for this mess by intentionally withholding information that would have altered the decision to adopt?

What is your opinion?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sue Scheff’s Blog

You can find a few good blogs via trial and error, but I’d like to save you some time and direct you to some sites with great information. I’ll occasionally highlight a blog for you and hope you have the time to review and possibly subscribe.

I’ve been reading Sue Scheff’s blog at and highly recommend her site. She has short articles that are useful and insightful. Her work is born of personal difficulties with her own daughter.

If you’ve found this resource useful or have another you’d like to spotlight, please comment below.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Was on Dr. Joel Wade’s Radio Show, KSCO AM 1080

Last night I was a guest on Dr. Joel Wade's radio show. He has experience as a Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Los Gatos and uses those skills as a Life Coach and author.

I called in early to be sure my sound was okay, and I had a chance to talk with Joel about his work and his radio show. He was very nice and it was easy to see how well he listened and how carefully he chose his questions. He had already read most of the book, so his questions during the show were completely on target and he cited specific examples from the book. We had a general discussion about parenting skills and teens, and it was interesting to learn from his style of interviewing. It was a pleasure speaking with him.

Joel's website is, and at some time in the future, he hopes to have downloads of his shows. I hope he gets that running soon! Meanwhile, check out his book, etraining, ezine and other products on his website.

After the show, I wrote and thanked Joel for being such a gracious host. He wrote, "It was a lot of fun, and a very interesting conversation. You were a fantastic guest, and I think people listening got a lot out of what you had to say. I hope that a lot of listeners visit your site and read your book - it really is an excellent book, and a great resource for parents dealing with tough kids."

This was a wonderful experience, and if you know of someplace I can speak in person, over the radio or on TV, please contact me.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Teen in Trouble Calls After Bust

It was his usual Saturday night: hanging out with friends, going out to eat, going somewhere and getting stoned. His parents knew all about this routine but felt helpless to stop it. They’d tell their son they disapproved and worried about him, but nothing seemed to register.

And then came the call.

The 17-year-old and his friend were being rowdy in a store, and as they were leaving, the friend took a bottle of liquor. They didn’t get far. The security guard held them till the police came, and the security system confirmed what happened.

Now the parents are waiting to hear their son’s fate. At a time when they’d love to enjoy family time at the holidays, they’re unsure of what will happen. Maybe he’ll have to attend a drug counseling program, maybe he’ll be in jail. Their state is no lenient with kids in trouble, so there are a lot of possible penalities to consider.

Where’d they go wrong as parents? What’ll happen to their son? Will he have a record? Will he learn from this experience? These are all questions that have been swirling around this couple. Please hold them in your thoughts, and if you’ve had a similar experience and can share some insights, please post a response.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Parents Sending Teen to Therapeutic School

I received an email from a parent of a 16-year-old son. They'd had enough of his lying, stealing, mouthing off, disrespect, trouble-making at home and at school, his drug and alcohol use. They found a therapeutic school via an educational consultant, and this boy will be picked up tonight by escorts who will take him to the school.

The parents had to reach a point where they were desperate to turn their son's life around and they needed to protect themselves, too. This is a difficult decision, filled with fear, concern, anger and resignation. There's a certain relief they feel that they know where he'll be, but they're very anxious about the upcoming scene when he's taken and the words they're sure to hear.

This family isn't wealthy and they're using savings and family loans to get their son on a better path. Please keep them in your thoughts.

If you have had a similar experience, you can share anonymously here.

Parents and Common Frustrations

It's so frustrating, isn't it? We are decent human beings, we have children because we want them, we do the best that we can do for them, and some of them, well...

People are born with personalities and inclinations. When a person is inclined to misbehave, sometimes get into very serious trouble, they'll have to fight a lot of internal demons to stop themselves. Some can do it, some can't. Some mature and grow out of it, some don't.

Criminals had parents, too. Sometimes the parents were terrible and sometimes they were parents who did their best. It's a boat we're in as parents: you teach them good values and morals, you talk about society and the law, you coach them and try to get it through their heads they are harming themselves and sometimes others. And then it's their decision to do whatever it is they're doing.

I saw a news story about a woman whose kids had harmed another, and she was crying and apologizing. She was devastated to know that her kids were capable of seriously hurting another person. Her own family was torn apart in a public manner. I wonder if there were some troubles at home, too. Displays of anger, drug use, whatever it was. Or were the kids very good at hiding what they were really like? Were the parents in denial? Did they feel they had no control over the situation? Were they seeking help, reading whatever they could, asking friends, family, counselors?

It makes me crazy when a teen or young adult does something inappropriate or illegal and some people ask, "Where are the parents?" The truth is that by the time they reach these ages, you have to hope that they do know better as they're out of your sight/control for most of their waking hours.

What are your thoughts?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Still Working on that Broken Heart

I write about family issues because it also helps me. Yes, it can be very therapeutic to know you’re not the only one with family difficulties, to review what you did, what you wish you did, and learn from the process.

Thanksgiving was always a family holiday for us as it is for many people. Some people dread the squabbles that will erupt, but we didn’t have that problem. Our son loves a good meal so that part wasn’t an issue, either.

For the past 2 ½ years, we’ve been estranged from our son. I don’t want to go into the details, it’s enough to say we have no contact and I don’t see it changing anytime soon. It’s painful and lonely, and there’s no substitute for having him in our lives, but we try to cope with the matter. It’s hard to accept.

I hear how he’s doing and know in general what’s happening in his life and it pains me to say that I don’t see much personal growth on his part. I hope that will happen in the future, but it clearly isn’t there now.

This Thanksgiving was spent with extended family as we’ve done before. And as in those other times, my son will be hovering in my mind rather than sitting nearby. I enjoy the time with family while missing him like crazy and worrying about him as always.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Troubled Teen Pulls Through

I do various workshops and presentations and after one of them, a woman told me the story of a family she knew.

The parents had hoped "Ann" would grow out of her difficulties or maybe she'd just get married and move out. There were no high expectations of Ann as she was female, but her brothers were encouraged to achieve in school and in business.

At 20, Ann was not working, had left college in her freshman year, and her boyfriend was abusive. The father had run out of patience and told her she had two weeks in which to either get a job or move out. The mother was appalled and upset, arguing with her husband that her daughter should just stay at home, that at least they would know where she was. The father prevailed and Ann moved into a rented room with a friend. She found a job and bounced from job to job over the next three years.

At a certain point, Ann looked at her friends and compared her life to their lives. They had completed college or had been working in one job for awhile. They were growing up and moving on, but she felt “stuck”. She signed up for a class at the local college and learned how to study for a college course. Although it took her several years to complete her undergraduate degree, she did it because she felt the drive, she understood the value, and she felt proud of herself for each accomplishment.

“Ann” is now an executive, and she is the one who relayed this story. She learned many years later that the disagreements between her parents brought them to the brink of a divorce and it was terribly hard on both of her parents; they worried about her constantly. They felt tremendous pride and joy when they attended her graduation ceremony, and her mother died a short time later.

Ann said she is now dealing with her own difficult teen, and her experience has given her a special insight into his difficulties, how she can best help him and how he needs to help himself. And she’s ready to give him the toughlove he needs to be responsible.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Did the Self Esteem Movement Create an Entitled Generation?

I've mulled over a lot of things I've experienced as a parent and a lot of things I've read, and would honestly say that I did do some things well and there are some things that I would absolutely change.

I have some serious concerns about the self-esteem movement and what the effects are on our kids.

Self-esteem is the way you think about yourself and this impacts the way you feel. If you think you're a good painter, you feel good about that skill and your confidence. If you have a poor image of yourself and your abilities, it manifests in low self confidence and underachievement.

The self-esteem movement was a good idea run amok. The idea of encouraging children to think well of themselves sounds like a good idea, but, like many things in life, it has to be earned to be appreciated.

Our son "J" was born in 1988, and I took him to Mommy and Me and toddler classes. I guess others were reading books I hadn't read, but I remember the teacher and other moms saying "good job" whenever a child did anything. It didn't matter what the child did, but the rewarding phrase was said. Kid finishes a project, eats his food, plays a game: "Good job."

At home, if J picked up his toys, I said "thank you" or "that looks nice". I felt that if I said "good job" to everything, then when he'd really do a good job of something, then what would I say and how would I make that meaningful?

We noticed that when he participated in team sports, even if their team lost, everyone got ribbons and sometimes trophies. I guess the theory was that they wanted all the kids to feel like winners and therefore, it'd magically give them self-esteem and confidence, but I think that backfired.

If the ultimate goal of parenting is to raise a child who can operate in this world, overpraising for simply existing isn't going to help. After all, how many managers stand around waiting to tell people they did a good job? I can tell you from an HR perspective that some do but most expect you to do a good job, and if you do an extraordinary job, then maybe you'll be noticed. There are expectations that you'll perform as you should, that poor work will be adversely noted and good work will be rewarded.

Young people steeped in the self-esteem movement resent not being continually verbally rewarded and when they simply complete a project.

I believe that good self-esteem and confidence result from completing projects, overcoming obstacles, leaping over barriers to success. It can't come as a result of continuous praise from others: you have to know it, to feel that accomplishment.

What are your thoughts?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Rewarding Kids’ Good Behavior

My last post discussed consistency in parenting and I focused on punishment. Linda, a friend I’ve known since our kids were small, responded to that post with some interesting thoughts. I had intended to talk this week about rewarding good behavior and how important that is, and Linda’s responses gave me a lot to think about.

Linda pointed out that sometimes you have to look really hard for some way to compliment your child, to comment on something good he or she is doing. Kids can get into streaks of behavior where all you see are things that are driving you nuts, that you worry about or are outright dangerous. It’s so easy to slip into criticism and forget to say anything nice.

I’ve been guilty of that at times. I hate to admit it, but that’s the case.

When I wrote the book, I interviewed a woman who had some interesting things to say about managing behavior, both her own and her son’s. Sue has two grown children from a previous marriage and their relationship is cordial. She was eager to share what she had learned and some of the changes she’s made in her parenting style with her young son. I’ve edited Sue’s remarks for this blog to share a bit of what she said.

“Charles is seven, and in the last year, I recognized that what I was doing wasn’t working. With Tom it wasn’t working, but I wasn’t fully cognizant and I wasn’t willing to change it, so with Charles, I try more to understand what might be causing his misbehavior. I studied some of Alfred Adler’s work, he is a psychologist in Austria, and he says that all people have two basic needs: to have significance and to feel like they belong. All behavior is motivated by those two things. When a child is misbehaving, it is in a mistaken attempt to get that significance and belonging, so if I can figure out what is going on for Charles, I can work with him. I have a chart and it is based on how I’m feeling about his behavior. If he is annoying me or irritating me, more than likely he wants attention. Then I spend time with him or assure him I will give him special time.

I might need to finish what I’m doing. But it goes back to how can I help him see his significance and belonging, so that he doesn’t have to misbehave?

Parents are constantly nagging the kids. With Tom and Alan, it was just the constant nagging, and micromanaging, and me getting more and more upset, wondering why don’t they just do it? What I have learned is to have Charles create a morning routine and make a chart for it, and he is responsible for the chart.

When you involve people in decisions that affect their lives, they are more likely to go along with it, and you are more likely to get the behavior you want if they had a say in it. I try as much as possible to let him make the decisions about when he will do things and how, because I really care about the end product, and how he gets there is his decision. He is a unique person so whatever works for him.”

Do you have some tips you can share or some thoughts on the matter?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Consistency in Parenting: It’s Not Always Easy

I met a woman who had been a professional nanny for several years. I asked for her thoughts about successful child-rearing. She said parents must be on the same page, be consistent, and have appropriate rewards and punishments.

It seems like such a simple and obvious message, but it’s so important to remember yet so easy to "forgive and forget" a little too soon.

Have you ever looked at your child’s face, knowing he or she deserves to be grounded and you start feeling sorry for them? Maybe you cut them a little slack, let them watch a little TV or play a game. Before you know it, they’re not grounded and not thinking about whatever they did or didn’t do.

Maybe you had a family party planned and you felt the punishment could wait till after the party, and once the party is over, you start to forget the child’s punishment or it seems silly to enforce when you’ve just had a great time.

It isn’t always easy to be consistent as a parent and it is very easy to feel sorry for your child, to identify with the feeling of punishment rather than remember to correct the child’s behavior.

It’s important to keep your eyes on your child’s future, not just the current situation. If you want your child to eventually understand the rules of society, how to be a good employee, how to be a good spouse and parent, that child needs to first understand your family rules and parents must have the rules and enforce them consistently.

Your child will test you at times – that’s what they do! Having these rules won’t prevent every problem but this will help avoid many issues.

Kick “Meth Kid” Out

Recently, a woman called to talk about her son. She knew what she should do but doesn’t have the courage to do it.

“Jane” and her husband are professionals and successful in their fields. They live in a very expensive area and many people would assume they have a perfect life, but their 20 year old son lives in a guest house on their property and he is into meth. She knows he smokes it and sees people coming and going into the guest house at all hours. I asked why they tolerated this, and she said at least she knows where he is and he’s safe.

I remind people I’m not a therapist; I’m another parent looking at difficult situations. If someone asks me for my thoughts, I give them. She asked, and here’s my advice: kick him out.

She was shocked and asked how I could suggest such a harsh measure.

This kid isn’t “safe” and won’t be safe as long as he’s on heavy-duty drugs. Meth houses can blow up. He’s got people coming and going so it’s likely he’s dealing. She has a drugged-out kid, strung-out strangers on their property, and the possibility of a home explosion or police busting this kid.

I asked, "If you have a choice, would you prefer to kick him out or watch his descent into drugs and endure the probable disaster coming your way?" For me, the decision to kick the kid off the property is difficult, but it’s the better of the alternatives. And she’d heard similar advice from others.

You have to make a lot of difficult decisions as a parent, and this is one of those situations that should never be tolerated, no matter how harsh the alternative may be.

Do you have thoughts or experience in a similar situation? What happened? You’re welcome to comment confidentially.

John Rothmann's Show on KGO Radio

I had the privilege of being a guest on KGO Radio’s John Rothmann’s show.

How’d it happen? I’m a long time fan of KGO Radio and had seen John do a presentation about his book, Icon of Evil: Hitler's Mufti and the Rise of Radical Islam. (That’s a fascinating book, by the way.)

I emailed him on a Monday about my topic of parents dealing with troubled teens and hoped for the best. He left a message that night requesting a copy of the book, and he said he couldn’t promise anything. I mailed the book Tuesday and John called Thursday evening, inviting me to come on the show Friday at 11 PM. He had read the book and felt this was an important topic.

Bill and I drove to San Francisco and found the station offices. It’s a nice building and their lobby has a case filled with broadcasting awards.

John was so warm and welcoming to both of us. He’s got a ton of energy and a big booming voice! He’s also (dare I say it?) a sweetie-pie. He asked if I’d been interviewed on the radio before and the answer was no. I’d called in occasionally on talk shows, but being a guest is a different matter. He assured me he’d lead me through the process.

I was not intimidated by the broadcast booth. After all, I watched Frasier for years! Have to say this was different. More desks and huge microphones along with computer screens and three TV screens on the wall, too. The hosts have a lot of information they can review as they’re talking, and that was another interesting thing to learn.

I was a little concerned that no one would call in as many people with difficult teens do not want to identify themselves. John said not to worry if no one called, we’d still have plenty to talk about.

Being a guest for one hour on a commercial radio show is not like being on an NPR show for an hour. KGO is a news talk radio station, and there are two news breaks per hour, traffic, weather and commercials. Because I’m a regular listener, I knew I had limited time in which to make the points I hoped to make and answer questions, too.

John was FANTASTIC! Now let me share why: he knew I was a novice, he cares about the topic, he advised me during commercial breaks about the topics he’d like to touch on next, and he gave me a little information about callers. My husband was sitting in the room, too, and we both enjoyed getting to know John a little. He lives close to work, has two kids and is happily married. He had arranged his work-life to spend a lot of time with his kids, and they’re very close. You can just tell he’s a kind person.

There’s a link to the edited podcast on my website. John suggested I edit the commercials out and upload onto my website.

If you’ve heard the podcast, please let me know what you think and if anything struck you in particular.

If you know someone I should contact to appear on more shows or speak in person, please let me know. You can find more information about that side of my work at