Finding a Good Therapist is Hard Work ​

I remember us being so nervous about going to see Dr. Shannon.  Maybe it was because we so badly wanted her so badly to help us finally figure something out.  Her office was so cute, she had four rescue dogs, and paintings of each one hung on the wall, my kind of person! She also had this huge playroom for kids loaded with amazing toys and a ball pit; it felt like you were in an attic hidden away safe.  We went together with all four of us.  While my husband and I sat initially with Dr. Shannon, my stepdaughter played with her little sister in the playroom which made them both very happy and relaxed.  After our short interview, we took our daughter who was four while Dr. Shannon joined big sister in the playroom.  They were in there the better part of an hour.  

Finally, Dr. Shannon emerged and sent our little one back in so the adults could debrief.  I will never forget the feeling I got during that discussion.  You see because the mom had gotten the kitten for my stepdaughter and made a thing about it we were worried that the same thing that happened to the first cat would happen with the second cat.  Which was because she was now predominantly at our house when she would go back for every other weekend visits and request her first kitty sleep with her, her mother denied her reporting that it would be upsetting to her little brother.  Not surprising this now 12 years old requested that she get her another cat of her own, thus the second cat. 

There was now equal time left of school to the time she had spent at our house, and she was very conflicted about leaving her cat.  We suggested she stay an extended period now at her mom’s knowing we were sacrificing her schooling but trying saving her emotional world by getting a good bond with the new cat.  Talk about being between a rock and a hard place. We positioned it to her in a way that it was only fair that her mom had an equal opportunity to support her in school and maybe at the end of the school year we could come together as a family to again discuss where she should live predominantly.  I will admit we said it would depend on where she did better in school not realizing the pressure this put on her.  We are not psychologists clearly, and we did not see the invisible injuries she had to fully understand how unfair this was to her.

Dr. Shannon sat us down.  She explained that there were very valid concerns and she was happy to work with us.  She said based on some of the things shared that my stepdaughter was a great candidate for EMDR, modality of therapy that later helped me recover from Chronic Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing.  She explained there was trauma for her and this is what is keeping her from thriving in school and making it difficult for her to transition between the homes.  She commended us for seeing some of the emotional struggles, but she also told us that we were essentially using her as a guinea pig and that it was not right to base it where she is to live on her grade performance.

WOW. Talk about an eye-opener. I felt so bad; my husband cried I think.  I didn’t realize; we were so exhausted from the constant battle to get her grounded enough to learn at school.  We were going through a weekly battle with her mom where everything was received as a personal attack and would fall on deaf ears that we lost track of what was truly helping or hurting her. She made us feel a tiny bit better by saying it was without doubt that she saw how much we loved her and that our hearts were in the right place. Whew but man I tell you I felt like a proper jerk.  A child needs to know that they can choose to live where they feel most comfortable and happy regardless of their school performance.  Duh, of course!

The conversation then went something like this.  Dr. Shannon confirmed that she felt confident with some intense family therapy we could get back on track and amend custody/visitation to reflect what was in the best interest of my stepdaughter.  The custody and visitation papers were now over 15 years old which anyone could argue didn’t fit well any longer.  Dr. Shannon said it sounded like things were amicable enough given that we had negotiated on our own to switch things up.  There she suggested we get my stepdaughter back to our house.  She said she had concerns about her feeling safe at her mother’s based on what was shared and for therapy to work she needs to feel safe.  The new schedule with her being at her mother’s for the cat was only a couple weeks old. 

I immediately said but wait what about the cat! She is not going to want to leave her cat! Once I again I capitulated in bad stepmom land when Dr. Shannon looked at me and said well is it a problem if she brings her cat to your house? That was an immediate no without any thought or consideration not wanting to look like the evil stepmother.  My husband and I looked at each other and again said, of course, no problem with the cat.  But secretly I am thinking but what about our 12 year old dog, he’s never lived with a cat how is that going to look and what about our landlords, I wonder how they will feel about a cat.  Once again we are back to better to ask for forgiveness situation than permission, and we confirmed we would do this strategy and work with Dr. Shannon to get us all into a better space. 

So we were set.  We gathered the girls and went to breakfast nearby.  We profusely apologized about making this arrangement be about her grades.  We were so sorry for doing this to her.  We said if she wanted to come back to our house she was welcome and we would work it out with her mom.  That was another thing; we thought that it was very important for her to find her voice with her mom and we were putting her central in these conversations.  But it was a lot to ask given some of the trauma she was trying to process, and we didn’t realize how impossible at that time it was for her to advocate for herself.  She immediately said yes but can I bring my cat???!!!  I knew it; I knew this would be the first thing out of her mouth.  We said yes you could bring your cat.  So we emailed the mom giving her an update on the therapy session letting her know that what was going on.

Unbeknownst to us jerking the chain on the cat was a really bad idea.  Never mind jerking the chain on the daughter moving house.  The cat set the mother off, like off the handle off, like I am going to show up with the police at your doorstep in 12 hours if you do not bring that cat back off.  We spent hours on the phone three-way with Dr. Shannon, the mom and her daughter discussing why she is not allowed to have her cat.  At one point I was sitting with my toddler daughter at the dining table helping her eat while this conversation was happening.  My stepdaughter starts screaming at the top of her lungs “I HATE YOU! I HATE YOU! YOU TAKE AWAY EVERYTHING THAT I LOVE!” My tiny very aware and outspoken four year’s eyes bugged out of her head, and she whips her head to look directly at me and says “Oh Momma, that is not a nice thing to say to your momma.”  It was too late for me to do “earmuffs” on her the damage had been done, she witnessed it.  Oh, boy did this make an impression on her.  It was repeated for a short period, which was unpleasant but we were able to correct it and give perspective.

It eventually got to a point where I threw in the towel and had to make the executive decision to bring the cat back.  I was the one that drove my stepdaughter back to her mother’s to return the cat.  She cried so hard it was traumatizing for both of us and probably the cat.  Upon arriving she could not bring the cat to her mom’s door, so I had to do it.  Ugh. But whatever, that last thing I wanted was a crazy irate cat lady at my door with the police the following morning.  So I locked my stepdaughter in the car and brought the cat up to their apartment which I had never been.  I knocked on the door.  The stepdad answered, made no effort to cooperate with a nice cat handoff and just stared at me with this condescending look.  So I reached in as far as I could and dropped the cat into their apartment saying here is the cat and left.  Later in family court, they wrote in their declaration that I threw the cat into the house! Honestly, can this be any more dramatic, I think not. 

Have you seen Black Fish? Remember the Momma whale crying for her baby whale? This is what my stepdaughter sounded like.  She cried and cried and cried.  Rather she wailed and wailed and wailed well into the night until 2:30 AM to be exact.  Then she just whimpered for the remaining sleepless night.  We all woke up exhausted and feeling foolish that with all the cat drama we forgot to get her backpack for school. Poke me in the eye with a pencil, will you? After all that we have to now ask for the Mom to bring us the backpack.  Ack!!