Children, Heartbreak and Reading Between the Scribbles

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When they break your heart, love them more…I’m not talking MEN, I’m talking about our tender children.  Fragile, often mean, insensitive and sad – without the gift of tongue to express themselves.

I write this blog with hesitation, humility and honesty because I know that over 50% of the families in our country are surviving (barely, for most) divorce.  I’ve come to realize that it is a child’s divorce too and the pain, confusion and consequences can be overwhelming for them as well. 

I hesitate as I’m writing because it takes a lot to talk about my own flaws, but I know there is a lot to learn from child rearing mistakes, when we mothers open up.

So here I go….

I’ve been struggling  with one of my children and I have failed to look at the heart of the problem and attempt to fix it at its core.  I often react to my children when they misbehave, talk fresh, and fight with their siblings, in a negative way that is about consequence rather than discovery.

My daughter has been so unhappy lately, angry with her sister, closed off, and introverted.  I’ve been so caught up with all my children, a busy work schedule and the normal household juggle that I haven’t noticed the sadness dwelling behind her shitty attitude.  Shame on me.

I feel badly because I always want to be connected to my kids, and more importantly I want them to be happy.  I know neither is entirely possible, but I keep trying. Lately I’ve been lost in my own chaos and reacting to the surface stuff she’s been dishing out.  By surface, I mean the feelings that mask what’s underneath and inside my child’s heart. She seems mad at the world, or maybe just mad at me. I still have guilt related to my separation from her dad, and I know the scars for all of us remain.

My mommy friend started my detective ball rolling when she shared what I think is a brilliant way of getting her child to open up.  Her daughter was lashing out, being mean and quite disruptive.  Trust me when I admit it’s soooo easy to lose it when your kid is being a shit and making you work harder at EVERYTHING than you ought to.  I’ve been there and when mom’s patience runs out – it’s an ugly scene for all.  So my girlfriend takes her daughter, bathes her, brushes her hair, and helps her get dressed with lots of TLC so she feels loved and safe.  Then she asks the nine-year-old, “What is going on with you? I need you to tell Mommy what you are so angry about. You may use any words you like, you will NOT get in trouble.  Tell me what you’re angry about because you must have bad feelings inside to do the things you are doing…”  This family has been going through a separation and the kids, of course, feel everything, especially pain and sadness  – even if you think you’re hiding it.

This little girl, when asked what was happening inside – really opened up the floodgates! Tears, screaming, anger, kicking… bravely, her mom embraced it all and continued to invite the release.  Things she never knew about were coming up.  I was amazed at how one simple question, “what are you feeling inside?,” could release so many pent-up emotions.  Establishing a safe place and giving her a hall pass to express herself without consequences – I think that is brilliant.  

Children don’t always know how to express themselves (neither do grown ups!) and they certainly do not know where to put many feelings, especially dark and painful ones.  Prompting your children to talk about what is happening on the inside may spark up an enlightening conversation. My girlfriend said that the information she learned was super valuable, the release was freeing for her child, and she is now able to love her through some of her painful emotions.

I’m trying this with my own daughter, who sadly is quiet and disconnected when she is sad or lonely.  A bit of middle child syndrome I suppose, and also a bit of neglect in a hectic family of six.  Also, as a child of divorce, she still wants more Dad at my house and more Mom at his. More attention is her bottom line and as working parents, we simply are just not always there to give it. So she’s disappointed in me and doesn’t think I’m the greatest, which hurts.  The bottom line is there isn’t enough attention anywhere for her to feel totally loved and complete.

Can you imagine loving your child to death and he/she not feeling loved? What is heartbreaking for me is thinking I am giving enough love and then realizing that it may NOT be enough for a particular child at that time.  I just have to give more… And that goes for each of my children at different times.

I’m taking a big breath as I write this, knowing that I need to make some serious adjustments in my already too busy life. Happiness isn’t an emotion I can expect from all my children at all times, but I can strive for it.  Sadness is definitely one I can work on, and knowing the cause is certainly the beginning. I do not believe that most children know how to ask for what they need and want.  But when asked, they sure might tell you.

I’m trying not to focus on what I’m doing wrong, (we can always be better parents) but rather what I can adjust to make her feel better.  I know that the proof of how well we’ve done isn’t in winning our children’s seal-of-approval.  For me, it’s knowing that I am paying attention, reading between the scribbles and adjusting along the way so that love trumps life’s challenges.

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