|Q: My six-year old son can
typically get his favorite aunt to laugh. The other day, however, he
couldn't get her to laugh and he switched on a dime from a joking child
with her to an angry child at me. There are so many dynamics in my
extended family and he is with us due to a bad situation. He is
actually my nephew. With all these family layers and with him rejecting
me and blaming me for ruining his life, how do I keep myself from
falling into all these dynamics?
A: For your son, getting his aunt to laugh at him means that he is finally loved and has connection. When he couldn't get her to laugh, his entire world fell apart. It was this drastic. For a child
| with a high sensitivity to being rejected, one missed connection can turn into complete collapse.
His anger stemmed from the feeling of being rejected. His jokes weren't working so therefore she didn't love him anymore. Then he turned on you in a self-protective response to reject you in order not to get hurt again. As his mom, you have the closest relationship with him, which is also the most vulnerable relationship.
Rejection is a self-protective response, a survival response.
You have to stay very connected to yourself in order not to get pulled into the chaotic vortex within your family. When you are able to stay so strong in who you are, you no longer need anybody else's approval. You cannot change your brother, your sisters, or any of the other relatives. You don't have to solve their issues or convince them that you are doing the right thing, ever. You have permission to stay in a place of love and respect for yourself (even if nobody else can do this in your family).
When you are raising a child as difficult as your nephew, living in this framework is needed for self-preservation. Starting here is the place for finding peace and freedom in your home without feeling like you are trapped or stuck with the situation. Ultimately, you will then move to a place of self-love and that is the gift of the chaos and challenge that has unfolded in your family.
What this means is, when your son comes up to you after not being able to get his aunt to laugh and starts agitating you, you can be able to connect with his rejection instead of feeling rejected yourself. You can step back from feeling like your son is diminishing you. Step back, not from a place of detaching from him, but step back to realize and literally "feel" what he is feeling.
This is the moment to say to yourself, "This is my chance not to be explosive, but to find myself in this chaos." This takes a tremendous amount of self-discipline and self-awareness. When your child starts badgering you, you don't have to become what he is and what he is projecting onto you.
Be cautious though, because you cannot detach and be calm from a place of ignoring him or retreating away from him because this will typically ignite him even more. If he senses you are not present with him and have emotionally detached from him, then the same dynamic of being rejected has now been created for him once again.
This requires going "head to head" with him but not from a place of power and control but from a place of love, passion, and willingness to be in his pain.
What does this look like?
|Child: "You're just mad because you wish you were my mom. I already have a mom."
Mom: "You're right, I'm not your mom."
Child: "That's right. You just wanna be!"
Mom: "I just want to love you..." (gets cut off by child)
Child: "I'm not part of this family anyway!" You're just trying to get rid of me. Nobody loves me in this family anyhow."
Mom: "Is that what it feels like? (pause) It feels that way, doesn't it sweetheart?"
Child: "Yes, because I know it is true. You just want to get rid of me. Everybody wants to get rid of me. I'm not a part of this family."
Mom: "I'm..." (gets cut off again by the child)
Child: "I'm not a part of this family. You just love everyone more."
Mom: "Everybody else just gave up on you, didn't they? That can't feel good."
Child: "Yes, it is your fault!"
Mom: "Tell me what I did. You're not in trouble, what did I do to make this so bad for you?"
Child: "You took me away from my mom. Mom wanted to have me and you took me."
Mom: (pause)..."What else? What else did I do?"
Child: "You yell at me, you get me in trouble, you always want me to work, you don't want me to play with friends."
Mom: "And it doesn't feel like I love you, does it?"
Child: "You don't."
Mom: "It feels like I ruined your life. Tell me that, 'Mom, you ruined my life!'"
Child: "You did...you RUINED my life!"
Mom: "I'm sorry it is so hard. Tell me more. I need to know how hard this is for you. Sometimes I do yell at you, sometimes I ignore you, we fight, and we don't get along. I don't know how hard it is for you to be in this family and not feel loved."
|Mom engages by asking for
the anger and she is doing it in an authentic manner. She put aside the
fact that the child blamed her for everything, she did not have to
defend herself, and she was strong enough in herself to know that she is
a good mom and that she is doing exactly what her child needs whether
or not he agrees with her or not. It is not the parent's job to convince this child.
That is the child's process that he will have to find his way through
in his own timing and later once a more rational discussion can be
developed between mom and child.
Love yourself enough to reach your child's heart and pain when he is most "raw." You don't have to defend, justify, or rationalize the situation at the moment. The role of the parent is simply to absorb the pain, not fix the child, convince the child, but to simply allow the space for anger and pain.
This is a child who is terrified, simply terrified, of you leaving him. When you can feel this fear and understand it, it will keep you in your heart and in a place of regulation, compassion, and love for your child. That's where healing happens.
|Heather T. Forbes, LCSW|
Parent and Author of Beyond Consequences, Logic & Control: Volume 1 & Volume 2,
Dare to Love, and Help for Billy.