I used to hate medication. My oldest started a stimulant for his ADHD as a six year old and I felt like I had failed. I must have not been patient enough in my parenting, kept him on a gluten and dairy free diet consistently enough, or not made informed enough choices in the hospital resulting in a traumatic birth.
Somehow medication meant I was not enough. Besides “we all know” how overused psychiatric medications are. I only added to the problem.
Several years later we had two foster placements with constant meltdowns and anxiety, but they were toddlers and too young to even consider medication. I met a group of essential oil using, organic dieting, all natural parents who wanted to help.
As I typically do, I went all in. I spent hours researching the uses of oils and you could smell us from a block away. I learned about diets and leaky gut syndrome and was blending GAPS diet meals for one of my foster daughters to put through her feeding tube.
And it worked. We saw great improvements in everyone. As long as there were no holidays or routine changes, no doctor’s appointments, and the weather was nice, we did okay. But the moment someone had a birthday or a storm cloud rolled by, it felt like their emotional worlds fell apart.
Back to therapy we went. This time I was hoping with therapeutic play, and occupational and physical therapy three times a week, we would get somewhere. I doubled down on my trauma informed parenting books and wrote out a detailed routine.
These things all helped, but we continued to struggle. Wailing meltdowns happened hourly. The effects from prenatal exposure, early neglect, medical trauma, and multiple placements had permanently rewired their brains. No amount of fixing could cure that.
At four years old, I took my daughter to the local regional mental health center for an appointment. We sat in the waiting room across an armed guard and several prisoners clad in orange jumpsuits and shackles. I held back sobs as she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and given a mood stabilizer.
It felt like waving the white flag in defeat, but it was a lifeline. Her meltdowns lessened to several a day, and we felt like we could breathe a little as a family. Mental health effects everyone in the family.
We eventually moved her to a children’s clinic and with it came many more diagnoses and a hodge podge of medications. Two of my other children, one biological and one adopted, also receive counseling, psychiatric care, and special accommodations at school.
With the majority of my children needing this level of mental health support, I still struggle with thoughts of not being enough. I wonder if I did something wrong. Maybe you feel this way too?
I work at mindfulness and taking captive my thoughts. Remembering that for my child with asthma, I don’t hesitate to get the medication and care he needs. I’m also not afraid to talk about it because I understand it’s no one’s fault he has asthma.
It’s not my fault my children struggle with mental health either. The same questions a blind man’s parents struggled with two thousand years ago, I am wrestling with today.
John 9:1-3 tells us:
“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. “
I don’t believe this verse is telling us God caused his blindness in order to show off a miracle. Rather it happened as a result of living in a broken world. And Jesus does what he does best and creates purpose from this family’s pain.
Through this lens I begin to see medication as God making beauty from ashes, instead of evidence of my failure. He gave the ability to develop medications, diagnose, and treat. It’s all from him and he get’s the glory.
Mood altering medications are not the cure I may never seen until heaven. But they can be a robust tool in helping our children reach their unique, individual potentials. I am confident that God has good plans and a prosperous future laid out for my children, and for us, medications have been part of that.
Here are 7 things you need to know when considering mood and brain altering medications for your child:
- There is no one size fits all. What works for one individual may not work for another. Trial and error is a normal part of finding the right fit. Stimulant medications work great for some kids, and for others it spikes their anxiety. Most mood altering medications take six weeks to see full effect, so this trial and error process can be lengthy.
- With the correct medications, your child’s symptoms will be improved, but they likely will not go away completely. This is normal. Medication is one part of the treatment plan and should always be used with therapeutic approaches at home, school, and with a counselor.
- A simple genetic test can be done to help speed up the identification of the correct medication. Three years into the journey with medications, my daughter had a genetic test run through her psychiatrist by a simple at home cheek swab we mail in to the lab. Genetic tests are not fool proof, but can be a great road map in finding what medication will, and will not work. For my daughter it was remarkable accurate to what we had seen.
- Mood altering medications can cause either weight loss or significant weight gain, and trouble either sleeping or staying awake, depending on the medication used. We have seen all these extremes with multiple children and it can be hard. The right psychiatrist can tweak dosages and give you tips to navigate these side effects.
- More than one medication is often necessary to either balance side effects, or treat different conditions. You child may be on one medication to treat anxiety, another for ADHD, and a third to help with sleep. A good psychiatrist will only make one addition or change at a time so you can see the effect it has.
- You the parent are a crucial part of the treatment plan. Parents carry some of the most valuable feedback on how a medication is working. Speak up for what you are seeing, be open to learning, and suggest alternatives. If there is a communication breakdown with your child’s doctor, don’t be afraid to seek recommendations from other adoptive parents and find a new one.
- Mental health comes with a stigma. It is an invisible illness that often causes social isolation for kids. Be proactive in affirming their worth, and find peace within yourself that they won’t fit the mold. Celebrate what success looks like for them.
To learn more about navigating your own difficult emotions when parenting foster, adoptive, and special needs children, you can get my book, Faith Forward Adoption, on Amazon.