I follow a lot of Facebook pages for caregivers of kids with PTSD and attachment issues. It’s so validating and comforting to remember that my husband and I are not alone in our parenting struggles and also to gather tools for our bag of tricks.
Tonight I came across these words from Robyn Gobbel and was just floored.
Not only was this such a good reminder, but holy shit if I didn’t do just this not 20 minutes earlier (anyone else a fan of synchronicity?). I found myself locked in a stupid power struggle with my 14 year old. There was an open house for the awesome tech program he was invited to for next school year and he was just blindly refusing to go. It was so flabbergasting…just yesterday he was going a mile a minute about how excited he was and now he’s telling me he doesn’t want to go and he never wanted to do the program in the first place. I mean…what the hell kid?? Why are you being so obstinate and short-sighted? What is the deal?
I was all but ready to send him to his room until he could make the right decision (or be forced to make it) but something stopped me. This was old behavior. Not typical of him, lately. What changed?
Ah yes, everything. He and his mom are working on their relationship in therapy in a way I haven’t seen in a long time. Suddenly things are unpredictable and out of control for him again. He doesn’t know if this is going to last, if things have really changed, if the bottom isn’t going to drop out again and he’s going to be left with that horrible pain. It’s so unknown. And what’s the easiest way to feel in control when everything is out of his control? Make a power struggle and refuse to do something. Aha.
I won’t lie and say he ran to me with open arms when I asked him if he was feeling out of control lately. It was a typical trauma kid response. He cast his eyes down and held the cat extra close and listened, not daring to make eye contact for fear of the vulnerability. I asked if he needed some one on one time to feel connected and if I could follow through on that for him after he followed through on his obligation. When he looked up at me, I could all but see his aching heart melt. Nailed it. When it came time to take his sister to gymnastics, he asked if he was riding with us or if we were coming back to get him. Problem solved (until I had to remind him a second time later on in the evening, but it worked then, too).
It’s not always so clear cut, but sometimes I wonder if it isn’t too easy to get so caught up in our own expectations of how we want things to go that we miss the obvious. Parenting a child who has experienced trauma demands that we constantly reevaluate where our children are at, constantly adjust expectations, if we want to survive. But I think there is something universal in this message. I’ve yet to see a young child not struggle to regulate at some point. Even we adults have our moments. It’s not about not obeying or not coping, it’s that everyone needs someone to slow down and help us see where the struggle is. It’s okay, here, let me help.
I won’t get all preachy and demand that everyone reevaluate their parenting but I will say, being a trauma parent has taught me more patience and understanding than I came by naturally and has made me a better human being. It takes a lot of work in the moment to slow down instead of just reacting. But wouldn’t we all be better by each other if we slowed down and tried to understand?