You should know before you read this that it goes totally against the grain for me. I like to write about crises after they’ve been resolved, tied up neatly with a red bow. I like to chirp about the lessons I learned and gloss over the hard stuff. Writing about the hard stuff while in the middle of it is not my usual way, but I feel prompted to do this, like this story is necessary, for me or for someone else.
I love reading my friends’ blogs. I love getting a peek into their lives, sometimes very much like mine and sometimes not, and gaining inspiration and encouragement from their words. Lately, though, I haven’t been reading very many blog posts. I haven’t been writing very many either. I’ve been a little preoccupied the past few months and I don’t foresee it getting better any time soon so it’s time to come clean and lay it all out in the open.
You see, I have a problem and I’ve been trying to carry on like nothing is wrong. That’s usually my way: Fake it until you make it. I’m tough, I’m independent, and I can handle just about anything life lobs my way. I’m the child of divorced parents and I’ve been a single mother, not to mention many other obstacles that have been thrown in my path, and somehow, with God’s help, I’ve always come through, maybe not unscathed, but with lessons learned and faith grown.
But the fact is inescapable: something is very wrong here. For starters, we have an anger issue at my house. Well OK, we have two anger issues, and one of them is ME. I have an extremely low tolerance for frustration. Oh, I hide it from the world pretty well, but those close to me know very well about my tendency to slam cabinet doors a little too hard and snap out sarcastic and hurtful words.
But there’s another anger issue, and it’s my 3rd grader. She has just as low a tolerance for frustration as I do (if not lower), AND she lacks the emotional maturity to recognize and/or cope with it. This has been going on since she was a toddler and has manifested in tantrums that cannot truthfully be called tantrums. I call them “rages” and they are characterized by an uncontrollable, almost hysterical anger that can last for anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour, and longer. These can be exacerbated by hunger or tiredness, or any other everyday discomfort. During these rages, it is easy to see that she is beyond reason and cannot stop herself. To my knowledge, there is no hard and fast parenting “rule” about how to handle these. For a long time I would hold her in my arms tightly to protect both of us, and I would whisper in her ear about how I love her and I will always love her, no matter what. As she’s gotten older and stronger (she’s a competitive gymnast and softball pitcher), it’s no longer possible to hold onto her while she calms down. In addition, she has a strong will that cannot be tamed by Dr. Dobson’s or anyone else’s wise advice. If she doesn’t want to do it, there is no way to force her short of physically making her body move. She is not afraid of either parent, and is not motivated by guilt, shame, money, reward, or anything else you can think of. There appears to be no sure way to gain her cooperation, which can be problematic when it comes to things like school or other activities to which she is committed. What do you do when she refuses to go, short of physically picking her up and depositing her where she’s supposed to be?
I am sure that when we are in public and a power struggle ensues, most people around us think that we are overly permissive parents, or pushovers, or that this child just needs a good spanking or a stronger hand. I can assure you that none of those are true. I can also assure you that whatever “bad” behavior you may witness from her in public is only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. She reserves the worst for those of us who love her best. I suppose it is a compliment of sorts to know that she trusts us to love her no matter what, and that frees her to let go at home. Parenting this child is truly a case of choosing your “hill to die on” – we can’t be as strict as we’d like because that just makes things worse, so we have to pick and choose our battles.
Add her tendency to buck parental authority to my tendency to want control, and you have a volatile situation. When she tells me “no” my first instinct is to rise up and exert my authority, and that doesn’t work, not even a little bit. Yet I can’t give in to her without feeling like I have been bested somehow and she can’t always control herself to respond appropriately. Emotionally, many days we are both just wrecked and exhausted by bedtime, and that’s assuming she actually gets to bed at a decent time. After the storm has blown over, she usually does not remember what happened, what brought it on, what she said and did, etc., and she is loving and sweet. Making things worse is that she prefers me and has a little separation anxiety going on, and we have the kind of push-pull relationship that can be excruciatingly painful. So when she’s angry and spews hateful words at me, I have to struggle not to hold it against her when it’s over. It’s hard for me to overlook the meanness because it hurts and yet I know she is small and these words are the only weapon she has, and if that’s the worst she can do, surely I can let it roll off me, right? Not always.
While the family dynamic is not always determined by this one child’s attitude any given day, if she’s having a bad day it does affect all of us. So on top of all the emotional rollercoastering with the one child, I feel guilty that the other one gets cheated out of a “normal” home life. I wonder if we did something when she was little that started us all down this path. I wonder if it’s related to her adoption somehow. And I wonder just how much of it she learned from me.
I wrote a blog post (but haven’t published it) about a day a couple of months ago when my child screamed hate at me and wished aloud that I would die. Since that day, we are seeing a therapist, she and I together, because we are the ones who clash the most. And I have been on my knees over this child countless hours, begging for wisdom to know how to parent her and be the mother she needs, and for her to…well…. stop flying into rages and want to cooperate – or even better – obey. I’m not entirely sure I’m praying for the right things, but I’m trusting in the Holy Spirit to help me out. I’ve been a believer long enough to know that God answers prayers at His perfect time and not ours. But it’s so hard to walk in this part, in the darkness, not knowing when the light is coming. And in the really dark days, when the storm of her anger breaks with the force of a tornado, I feel lost and completely helpless and I wonder if things are ever going to be better.
In a sermon recently my pastor commented that no experience we have is wasted. God can and will use them all. Nothing is wasted. This experience is not for nothing. I don’t know how it will end. I do know that if we can’t get things going in the right direction now, I fear for her teenage years.
Lest you think she is walking around with a black cloud over her head every single day, that’s not true either. She could never be mistaken for perky, but she has plenty of days when she is positively pleasant to be around, and I make sure to store those up and keep those memories for the days when it’s hard. And friends, it is hard many days. Just today we endured a 45-minute long fit of rage during which she said some very hurtful things to me, screamed at me, threw things, demanded that I perform the impossible and then screamed louder when I said I couldn’t, and so much more than would fit into one measly blog post. And although it hurts my pride, I am here to tell you that I simply do not know what to do. I want to run for cover when the storm starts but when it’s just me and the kids I can’t do that. My 12 year old took her iPod and fled the house for the playground across the street. She shouldn’t have to do that but I truly do. Not. Know. What. To. Do.
So I’m appealing to my blogging sisters: pray for us, please? The FMF prompt this morning was Song. I wrote a nice post on that theme, but what I didn’t write is that the song I am singing right now is “Change My Heart, O God”. I need Him to change my heart, because giving vent to MY anger over HER anger is not helpful at all. I need Him to love her through me. I need to see her through His eyes. I don’t even know what I need! But during my desperate prayers this morning (long before this afternoon’s storm) as I was sorting through all the emotions that get stirred up in those times, I distinctly heard Him say, “Let love win.” I should have known then that something was coming. You know that old saw about how God won’t give you any more than you can handle? That’s totally untrue. God does give you more than you can handle alone but never more than you can handle with Him. Because if God only gave us what we can handle, how would we realize our need for Him?
So if your children are mostly obedient and cheerful, give them an extra hug and cherish that sweet spirit. But if you have a child like mine, let me know. I’d love to pray for you, too. I’ve never before met or known of anyone who is dealing with a similar situation. My guess is that they are hiding out, like we were, and still are mostly. But unless I stop pretending all is well, I haven’t faced the problem, and if I don’t face it head on, I can’t make the changes I need to make in myself.
Pray for me and my sweet girl, please. Thank you.