Okay so this is a subject most parents don’t like to discuss however after the trailer for the new movie, “Bad Mom” has released, I would say it’s safe that we can discuss this subject now. What happens when you have a child who is strong-willed (to say the least) and you find yourself totally withdrawn from the child to the point of disconnect? How do you reconnect with said child? Is it possible? If so, what are the steps to take to even get started?
After finishing the book, “Rising Strong” by Brene Brown, the final pages really resonated with me. She was talking about rumbling with different emotions and a couple them really stuck out to me. Pain and trauma. The reason these stuck out so much for me is because my childhood was filled with both.
I grew up in the foster care system, became an adult, reunited with my biological mother, continued on the rollercoaster of emotions, and now estranged from her. Whew. What a mouth full. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I decided to become not only a foster parent, but a therapeutic foster parent to boot. (In my game show voice) I’ll take glutton for punishment for a thousand please. (smile)
I wanted to use my past experiences with the foster care system to help other children rise above their situations of frustration, pain, trauma, and life to recognize they are not defined by their circumstances, only by the choices they make surrounding their circumstances. So now, right in the heart of the situation, I find myself rumbling (a term Brene Brown uses frequently in her book) with my own pain and trauma just by taking on the task of fostering. How does that make me feel? Where do I go from here? What do I do with these feelings?
Although each placement has had its own set of challenges, I would have to say my current placement has affected me the most mentally. I am literally looking at my younger self and trying to parent her. The feelings that I am experiencing are anger, frustration, disappointment, fear, shame, and failure. Wow is all I could say when I finally confronted the feelings and dealt with the pain.
Why do I feel this way trying to help other children? Do I continue to do this? How else can I better serve these children who obviously need me? These are the thoughts that are constantly swirling through my head. When I finally get it together, I realize that once I get through the feelings of this particular placement, I would consider working with the state on a larger scale instead of individually. It would be a better use of my talents.
So back to my feelings. What was it that made it so difficult for me? I was seeing a lot of anger, and pain in this little girl’s face each time she would “act out” and it caused me to withdraw from her. But I can’t withdraw from her because this is something she’s used to doing and therefore this is her normal. How can I hold that against her? At the same time, I understand her behavior is totally controllable because she didn’t start acting out in my home until she was here for over a month. After the “honeymoon” phase was over.
So how do I get back to seeing her through the same compassion lens I used when I first met her? I had to really dig deep about raising a strong-willed child and think about how I was one myself. It wasn’t easy however after reading and researching, I came up with a plan that seems to work like a charm.
First of all, I would write her a letter telling her that I love her and those things I was happy about with her behavior. Then I would also include my feelings and what I expected from her. Then I had her read the letter aloud while we discussed it together. I asked her questions to ensure she understood what everything meant.
Once we were done discussing the letter, she knew what I expected from her and what I needed in order to get our relationship back on track. It was not easy. I still felt afraid and vulnerable however I knew the only way to get on track is to step out of the comfort zone and just do it. I was the adult here so therefore, I had to learn how to deal with my emotions while including her in the process. I had to model the behavior I wanted to see in her.
So I often explain to parents that when we have a strong-willed child, the best thing to do is not to try to fight with them and “overpower” them so to speak but to find a way to connect with them, get them to understand your point and model the behavior you wish to see. It is not easy to undo years of allowed behavior however if you are consistently patient, you will be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.