Lower the Drawbridge


Blog VulnerabilityBy SB

Vulnerability.  I hate that word – everything about it.  I run from it. I build walls – miles-high at times – in case anyone might see me vulnerable.

I was brought up by a Scottish-American mother, a force of nature.  I was taught and conditioned to be a strong woman.  I am meant to be In Control and On Top of Things.  This is lifelong and forever because A Mother’s Work Is Never Done.  If something is broken, I am supposed to Fix It.  If something hurts, I am supposed to Kiss It and Make It Better.  I am supposed to have Eyes In The Back of My Head.  If I am having trouble and I am supposed to Pull Myself Up By My Bootstraps.  I am supposed to Cry In The Shower So No One Knows.  As a mother, I am only as Happy As My Saddest Child.  A Clean and Orderly Home Is A Happy Home.  I am supposed to Rule My House with Firmness.  My family is supposed to be My Greatest Work.

You get the point.

I have a constant stream of these messages playing in my head.  They are from an earlier time, a time why my own mother was a stay at home mom in a house of relative ease, with no major issues.  These messages don’t really translate to this life I am living now, raising a child with FASD.  Yet they play over and over and over and over again in my head, every day.  This internal soundtrack sometimes becomes my own worst enemy.  It happened this week, when we were preparing for a home visit from one of the therapeutic services we have finally been able to access.

Family matters are meant to be personal.  We are supposed to Keep Our Business To Ourselves.  If something isn’t quite perfect, we should Sweep It Under the Carpet and Put Our Best Foot Forward.  We are supposed to Show The World Our Smile.

That’s awfully hard to do when your windows are open and all hell is breaking loose, things crashing, a string of expletives coming from a child who is not even supposed to know such words exist.

That is awfully hard to do when you are sitting in yet another appointment, explaining yet again in painful detail about bizarre and concerning behaviours of your child, the details of how you cope, or don’t cope. Discussing the argument you and your spouse had or the time you did it all wrong.

It’s impossible to do as you swing open the door to your home and let in another visitor to observe, wondering if they will notice some doors are actually literally partially unhinged?  When you are feeling kind of good that you noticed and cleaned the dried spit on a glass pane before they arrived, but you are aware there might be other pockets of concern somewhere within view once they arrive.  And while the major puffballs of fur have been recently attacked by the last-minute vacuuming, you are all too well aware you still haven’t got to the root of what you fear is a pervasive smell of Dog.  It’s no longer possible to find every splat of dried bubbles that might have hit the walls or ceiling in the bathroom.  That ship has sailed and let’s be honest, you gave up trying a long time ago.  On the level of biohazards that might exist in your home, stray soap is not on the list of the worst offenders.  Far, far, FAR from it.  You just changed sheets (score one for the home team) so you are pretty sure there will be no food surprises under the covers, should she end up in the bedroom being shown how many flips can be done on the bed (with pulled-back covers).  But still you breathe a sigh of relief when in fact she was shown this trick and nothing fermenting was uncovered or smelled despite the recent episode with the bottle of spilled pickled onions that soaked through the mattress.

No, this home life isn’t at all what you had planned.

There is a tendency to hold back, hold it in.  You know people think you “over share” when you start to tell some story about some thing that is not typical, not the “norm.”  You see their faces take on that “try not to show you are shocked/surprised/repulsed/out of your depth” look.  You have to trust that they will listen and not just take away the more sensational headlines – just like the news media does nearly every single time they cover the lives of people with FASD.

Yes, it’s different.  Yes, it’s hard.  And yes, it is, in fact, your life.

So you have a choice.  You keep that smile on your face while you put your best foot forward and eventually walk right smack into a wall.  Because you will – it is impossible to act like it’s Business As Usual without eventually hitting a wall.  You know this, because you have already been there, done that.

The reality is, you need help.  More importantly your child needs help – will ALWAYS need help (even when you are not here).  By pretending it’s all okay, you are depriving your child the chance at his or her best possible outcome.  They have to learn to ask for help.  They will have to lean on others and let people into a messy and chaotic world.  They will have to TRUST that others care more about them then the state of their house.  They have learn that it’s okay to be imperfect.  And they will learn that lesson by watching you, by repeating whatever mantra it is that is the narrative in your own home.  You have to forget about your mother’s house and focus on the home you have.

That’s where it gets real.  That’s where the vulnerability comes in.  To help your own child, you need to break down those walls, let others see you at your worst.  Despite everything you were trained to do, whatever rulebook you have inherited, you have to shed those expectations.  You must show your vulnerabilities again and again to a too often unkind and uncaring world.

Because out there in that crowd, there are people who can help, people who can understand, people whose bubble splats are up there on the ceiling too.  They will be there, hidden among too many who might not be helpful and who might in fact be judgemental.  You need to armour up and go looking anyway.  You will never find those people your family needs hiding behind the illusion that everything is “normal.”

And the reality is – there’s no such thing as “normal” anyway. We need to teach our kids to love themselves as they are.  That starts with us taking that first step – loving ourselves and celebrating our lives as they are too.

“Welcome to my world” – how many times I have said that as my mother would have, tongue in cheek, self-depracating.  But “welcome to my world” can also be a positive statement of affirmation and a doorway to the future for our children.

Because really, my world is pretty darn amazing too – for those willing to look past the unidentified marks on the walls.  Our house and its striving, growing, messy, manic, chaotic swirl of emotions and movement is a place of love.  And Home is Where The Heart Is.  And Every Man’s (and Woman’s) Home Is a Castle.  I will let down the drawbridge if it means letting in the supplies and help and support that we need, admitting that It Takes A Village to Raise a Child. Showing our children that it’s okay to be who we are.

So, welcome…






6 thoughts on “Lower the Drawbridge

  1. Thank you for this. It resonates so much with me. I’m so afraid of letting down that drawbridge, that I’m currently wallowing in my tiredness after a week of no sleep for my boy, resulting in no sleep for me. He finally fell to sleep at 4:30 am this morning and I am beyond sleep. So I got up around 6 am, had a long soak in the bath and am currently walking around downstairs on tip toes so as not to wake the sleeping dragon. Today is going to a long day, hopefully he will catch up on the lost sleep from the last week. It’s hard to ask for the help as it feels like I’m failing when I do x x May be it’s time to let down my drawbridge. Oops can hear him getting out of bed. Quiet time is over for me x x x


  2. I am so on a similar journey to you that a lot of it could have been my blog too if I had the ability with my words to openly express like you. But here goes I will try because I know that you do understand.

    I too, am having to share my world with a therapy service, and that is so difficult when so much, particularly at home. is going wrong. The feelings of fear of judgement, guilt that I am not ‘good enough’ and the embarrassment that I am struggling and failing, and becoming increasingly convinced that I am the problem. The times when I have tried to seek professional help but has been met with the finger of fault being pointed at me is such a hard experience to overcome to continue to try and find the help that does understand especially when things have before been escalated to child protection levels. The expectation, unreasoned and unfair, that was placed on me by parents as a child is so inherent in me that it is often impossible to be nice to yourself when you are failing. The who and what I had to be as a child myself is so difficult to break lose from. But also the professionals who don’t themselves understand FASD and consider me to not parenting correctly with the usually successful traditional parenting approaches and strategies. Its is impossible to know who will understand the daily struggles for me and my child, and the reality is that very few do,even in the therapy world or other child specialist that are accessible. So the world is still one that is judging and placing expectations on me that are impossible to achieve because we are parenting children with FASD. But even that is disregarded by most as we haven’t been able to access an assessment/diagnosis yet. My child, who daily now, will verbally emotionally abuse me for hours has taken over it feels from my parents. Often the world outside our homes, only see the wonderful and special qualities of my child and don’t believe that the child can behave at times as they do. Then of course there is my child who when they are in meltdown also is accusing me for failing them and of serious wrongdoing. It is such a tough life to be living especially when the brilliant and the awful are imbalanced into too much that feels impossible to live with anymore. At this moment I am bogged down into the cusp of a breaking point so unable myself to balance my thoughts of my life right now with the brilliance of my child.


  3. Yup — I couldn’t have said it better! I’d like to think I’ve made some progress in the past six years or so when I frantically bribed our teenager to take our toddler with FASD for a car ride so I could speed vacuum before the early intervention team arrived! (He was terrified of all loud sounds, and remains so.) All I could envision was some smartly dressed team member spreading our her testing materials on our hardwood floor only to scoop up a handful of dog hair, cookie crumbs, or worse! What kind of lazy mother was I to let my two-year-old who still mouthed everything live in such a filthy home? Never mind that I was surviving on 3-4 hours of sleep each night and spending a good part of my days either working with Mikey or researching by phone or Internet countless professionals and programs which might help Mikey then and later. I was an accomplished woman after all and could certainly manage raising our beautiful foster/adoptive boy the way I had our three bio boys without really breaking a sweat. Except that this was different — very different.

    So it too a while (slow learner), but now I cut myself some slack — a lot of slack. I ignore the storm door glass that is sticky rather than sparkling, I have hair that only gets washed every third day (maybe) and my husband has the local take-out places on speed dial. However, I am very cautious about who gets to see us as we really are even though sometimes, like days when Mikey really struggles with the world, I don’t have much control over anything. Even though a parade of folks with various impressive backgrounds have been through our home in the past nine years, most had no idea of what FASD really was until they met us and I did my little 15-minute spiel about what happened to our little guy prenatally and how it impacts his life as he grows. Some grasp the brain damage idea and all that it represents behaviorally, socially, cognitively, etc. However, that is a long way from truly understanding Mikey’s daily struggles or how to manage him on the worst of days. So, when feasible, I still try to control who sees us the way we really are, but not because I’m afraid my housekeeping, personal grooming, or parenting skills will be judged. I remain guarded because I don’t want Mikey to suffer some ignorant therapist’s or case manager’s judgement more than he already has. The world will most likely judge him enough in years to come. For now he is harder on himself than anyone else could ever be so I limit our family’s vulnerability to protect him. As for me, last week I opened the door sporting wet hair, old jeans, and slippers nearly forgetting a home meeting with a new case manager. Our kitchen table had some loose math papers, a box of tree bark for a science project, and at least 50 colored pencils scattered everywhere, mostly on the floor from the morning’s homeschooling session. The jelly smears remaining on the counter after Mikey’s valiant attempt at an independent breakfast didn’t even bother me – much!


  4. This rocks….so right on!!!! You nail it perfectly. I have to learn over the last 18 years in raising two FASD children to open my world and ask for help. I have shared this article along with others to our Parents 4 Kids website that I have for parents who need help navigating the special needs world of parenting.


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