Compliments, support, and encouragement are part of my role as a parent. Those are easy, and usually welcomed by any child. Reprimanding, correcting, enforcing consequences, sticking to rules is not as easy, and in this household it feels like a crime. My conundrum lately has been: what on earth is a parent to do when the latter sends a child spiraling into an abyss of anger, sadness, depression, self-loathing and contempt for his parents? Well, I should say contempt for me, specifically, because even if Daniel does the correcting, Sky decides it’s me he’s upset with. It makes no difference that the scolding happens with the most calm and firm tone. In Sky’s perception he’s flawed, not good enough, we’re pointing it out, therefore we must hate him, and as a result he hates the mother figure more than anything. The extreme reaction takes the attention off what he’s done, and skillfully places it upon those scolding him and what they’re doing to harm him. It’s his way of punishing us for punishing him.
This extreme reaction is not a typical problem most parents of psychologically healthy children deal with, so I’m hesitant to write about it. I have four kids who have handled corrections the usual way, so I know what it should look like. Most parents will not understand where I’m coming from, but I know there are thousands of parents out there with kids who have serious attachment issues, so maybe I should write about this stuff anyway.
This is a daily issue, and it occurs multiple times throughout the day. RADish children (those with reactive attachment disorder) tend to misbehave around the clock, and they make a sport of it. Everything is a game to them, they’re rarely straight with parents about anything, and are always, always, always seeking control. This makes being in the authoritative role of “parent” the most difficult role on the planet. It’s a lose-lose position to have, and the pay is terrible unless you’re willing to do some major inner work on yourself. In that case, it can be an enormous blessing, like winning the lottery. But at the end of the day you still have to bring your strengthened, empowered, healed, and more wise self back home with someone who despises you 80% of the time. That takes a great deal of self-discipline and mental focus– focusing on yourself and the well-being of the entire family far more than the one RAD child, which the child also despises. Have I lost my non-RAD parents yet? I wouldn’t blame you.
This morning’s scenario: I switched on the light to wake up Prasad and Sky for school. Prasad usually gets up first to use the bathroom while Sky lies in bed, whining. This time, Prasad was walking to the bedroom door, and Sky ran, shoved him aside at the top of the stairs, and bolted out the room to be first in the bathroom. It was extremely rude, and Prasad was very upset by it. Sky said nothing. No “excuse me” or “sorry, I have to use the bathroom badly”… nothing. I told Prasad I’d have a talk with his brother, and not to make it a big argument. When Sky came out of the restroom, I took him aside and in a matter-of-fact way pointed out his behavior and how rude it was, and that it hurt his brother’s feelings. Again, no words, he just walked away and went to get dressed. As he walked away, I told him I wanted to hear an apology to his brother this morning.
When Sky came down after getting dressed, he was pouting and sulking. His whole demeanor had changed, and he seemed very depressed. One would guess he felt guilty for treating his brother badly, but when asked what’s wrong it’s always about himself, and me disliking him. He also says often that he’d prefer it “if everyone could be nicer” to him. He feels victimized every time he’s told that he’s done something disrespectful, unkind, or dangerous, regardless of how others are affected. This is a core problem with RADish children- they have little empathy, they think the world is out to get them, and they work so hard at making sure it doesn’t. He has stated that he’d like it if we didn’t point out what he does wrong, and that he’d “be happier and nicer that way with a more open heart.” So, if he has to follow rules and keeps receiving corrections, he’s going to continue being unpleasant? The logic used to make my head spin, but I no longer try getting inside his head. I remain in my own, rational, nurturing & maternal mind, and let him know I love him. If I didn’t love him, I would never correct or scold him for anything because I wouldn’t care. I remind him in a very matter-of-fact way that all the people in our home have the very same rules to abide by, I speak the same way to all of the kids, and love them all equally. He knows this is true on an intellectual level, but he can’t seem to grasp it emotionally, especially when he’s been corrected.
I guess the difficult aspect for me is the sour taste after every incident. The very real sense that while he’s being corrected, he’s thinking about how much he dislikes me.. feeling it. It becomes so personal. From our past discussions, I know he’s always wishing he were back in Guatemala, and never adopted in those moments of being corrected. It’s the old Grass is Greener on the Other Side Syndrome. Darkness pours from his eyes, yet I keep flooding love back at him through mine. It’s an exchange that often leaves me empty until I fill it up with love for the light that I know lives inside him. I’ve seen and felt it, so I’m well acquainted with it. Being despised, and remaining loving through all that negative energy is the key. That’s the test. It’s why I have a RAD child. It’s difficult, but I’ve learned it can be done. To scold or not to scold? By definition, I don’t mean yelling and criticizing, but loving corrections. Everyone needs those. Love goes beyond warm and fuzzy feelings, or making your kids happy in the moment. I don’t know about my RADish, but I’d feel pretty lost and forgotten if my parents weren’t paying enough attention to how I treated others. This role I have to play is more than tough, but I’m playing it out; I will compliment, support, guide and even scold as long as I truly love my kids. Anything less, and I would understand being despised. For now, I need to work at letting that wounded darkness go. It’s heavy, and I’m sad it’s there, but it’s not mine to carry or heal. With parenting, in the end it’s all about ourselves and our own growth… RAD is one of the greatest fertilizers on the planet.