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Trials and Triumphs of Parenting Teens with FASD

The path of parenting children with trauma and other challenges such as a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is riddled with potholes. Our days are filled with trials and triumphs—ok, I admit most days there are more trials than triumphs.

With more than thirty years logged into my parenting journey, twenty-three as an adoptive parent, I’ve learned to navigate the trials and celebrate the triumphs. While I don’t claim to have all the answers, I will share a few of our recent struggles and even a couple successes.


Slava, one of our teenage sons with FASD, struggles with anxiety. My husband and I have learned to self-regulate hoping we don’t trigger or further exasperate him. Though he’s on a low dosage of clonidine, he stresses out over everything—even things that have nothing to do with him.

For example, one of our adult kids and his family were coming for dinner. They have four young children and do not arrive anywhere on time. My husband walked through the door with pizza before they arrived. Slava flailed his arms and yelled, “I just wasted all this money on pizza and they’re not here to eat it!”

Neither my husband nor I were concerned about our late dinner guests or the cost of the pizza—which Slava did not pay for. The matter had nothing to do with him, yet his stress level was through the roof.

Later that week, we took Slava with us to deliver beds for vulnerable children to five local churches. Our son is very strong so lifting twin mattresses was in his wheelhouse. But, during the few hours we were out, Slava worried about everything from getting lost to what speed we and the other vehicles were traveling. The stress level in the truck was so high, by the time we got home I felt sure one of us was going to need some very strong medication.

Lately, Slava has been talking about getting a job. But when I picture him working at our local grocery story which does employ individuals with neuro-diversity, I’m doubtful. What if he yells at a little old lady for not returning her shopping cart to the right place or freaks out about the speed of the conveyor belt while packing groceries? I worry if he will ever be able to maintain employment.


After a weary week of these and other challenges, we headed to our camp in the Adirondacks for some rest. There, in the mountains of upstate New York, our son achieved some big wins.

Around 2:00 a.m. I heard someone going out or coming in the downstairs door. Upon investigating, I discovered Slava returning our puppy, Liberty, to her crate. He explained that she had been whimpering and needed to go out—for the third time in the night!

My eyes scanned Slava dressed in pajama pants and a hoodie and holding a flashlight and Libby’s leash. The realization swept over me—when the puppy was in distress, my son didn’t call for me. He intentionally got up, dressed properly, thought to grab the flashlight and leash, and took the sick puppy out all by himself. A process he’d repeated several times that night.

Falling back to sleep, I marveled how my boy reacted to an actual stressful situation. He did not freak out. He remembered important steps and handled the situation all on his own.

A few days later, Wayne, Slava, and I were invited to dinner at a neighbor’s camp down the road. We’d recently met Tim and Lisa at church and had them over to our place for coffee. They asked us to come for dinner and we welcomed the fellowship. I prepped Slava by explaining that we’d be there from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. He, however, insisted it would be more like 10:00 p.m. because I would be “gabbing.”

Our friends gave us a tour of their cabin and served up a delicious spaghetti dinner. We sat at the table all evening enjoying each other’s company. Lisa had read my book, so she had some understanding regarding Slava’s brain-based disability. They drew him into the conversation. To my amazement, Slava stayed engaged all evening. He never once asked to go sit in the car—his preferred place in lieu of social interactions.

As we left our friend’s camp around 9:45 p.m. (because I was gabbing), my heart swelled with satisfaction. For the first time, Slava willingly, appropriately, and successfully navigated a social setting—for almost four hours! Two triumphs in one week helped to restore hope to my soul.

Hope on a Rope

Are you feeling weighed down by the trials of raising children and youth from hard places? Have you and/or your kiddo experienced any wins lately? Hang in there, my friend. If it’s been awhile, or ever, since you’ve been encouraged by a triumph, I want to offer you some hope-giving strategies:

• Soak up some quiet time with Jesus

• Keep a Thankfulness Journal daily

• Find something to celebrate no matter how small

• Cut yourself some slack—this is hard

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Ecclesiastes 4:12

My faith sustains me on this journey. We need each other and we need Jesus. Find a quiet moment each day—in the morning, in the shower, in the car, or on a walk. Tie a knot in the end of your rope and hang on to Him. A three strand cord is not easily broken.

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