Thursday, September 18, 2014

When The Ex Makes The Child "The Messenger"

When we grow up with an emotionally, verbally, perhaps even physically abusive parent we naturally have ambivalent feelings toward them. As children we may understandably have difficulty grappling with the fact that this person… the one who is to care for and keep us safe is actually inflicting great damage and hurt. In that we may waffle back and forth… one minute being frightened of their potential wrath and yet still obviously desiring their approval. As with all children we want our parents approval, affection and love… and daughter's very much want their dad's. This is why if a woman had a father who was less than involved or loving as a child she may then later turn to a man to fill that void she feels within. This unfortunately potentially leads to her becoming involved with a man who treats her as terribly as her father or even worse… hence the cycle continues and another generation suffers.

And yet in all this… as little girls we want our dad to show his love, care and affection for us. We want to know he hears us, he values us, that we have his loyalty and he has our back. I struggled for years with trying to make sense of the fact that my dad was not the healthiest person for me to be around… being strong willed and vocal about how his ways weren't the norm, him resisting my truth, yet my fearing his wrath… and deep down wanting his approval… it messes with a child emotionally. We grow up naturally wanting someone to feel safe with… and the value we place on emotional safety is huge. As a child we want to believe the best in the male role model in our life. It stands to reason while residing under the same roof we may not only scatter like scared kittens when we hear him on the angry prowl but yet yearn for him to know us. It's not really black and white… there is actually much gray area to muddle through and as kids we dissect it all… we analyze it to death… trying to figure out how we can appease our parent without getting annihilated in the process. It is without a doubt walking a fine line and one that causes much internal distress in a child.

Here's the truth…. 

A child who is truly wary of his or her parent still wants to please them on some level. They won't claim to "not feel safe"… but instead they struggle in an internal battle within… they see the horrible actions by this person yet they want them to be the parent they so desperately need them to be. Eventually… years down the road they may make that decision as an adult to cut ties with their abusive parent… but not without pain and a feeling of loss. 

Whereas a child who makes statements of "I don't feel safe with you" is being coached by an adult in their life… to be "the messenger"… a child who views one parent in a limited black and white perspective is not struggling with ambivalence but in reality alienation. 

What if a mother requests her son to please brush his teeth before bed? That would be a reasonable… even an expected request of any parent who is looking after their child's well-being… namely dental health. But instead the child reacts defiantly toward his mother… he refuses to brush his teeth and what's more… he retorts he "doesn't have to do anything she tells him to!" Now she's met with him lashing out… slamming his door, throwing things… attacking her upon her attempts to calm him down. Nothing works, his anger escalates and he injures her… bruises speckle her arms and legs along with hateful language spewed at her by him. 

He retreats to dad's…. to cool down and yes, his mother is perfectly fine with him doing so… at least for an interim of time because she's exhausted… mentally and physically spent from his tirade toward her. But as time passes the son realizes he wants to stay at dad's house… after all, dad's house doesn't have rules… he doesn't have to brush his teeth if he doesn't want to. 

Now mom is feeling rejected by her son… even if she can no longer physically handle his abuse toward her… understandably so, she feels hurt…. and her son's father is enjoying the satisfaction of having their son to himself… he's basking in the glow of being the "super dad"… the "rescuing dad"… the one who is happy to provide that safe place for their son to flee to… it's an ego stroke… because mom is so "unreasonable" and any other myriad of excuses he can possibly come up with. 

And yet… 

Mom has done nothing wrong. She simply set healthy boundaries, as we can see. She told her son he wasn't allowed to hurt others… to not inflict harm and pose as a threat to himself or family members. She set reasonable expectations of any child… brush your teeth and don't hurt people. And despite all that… she's the one who is being pegged at the "bad guy"… the "problem"… etc. 

So as a parent what do you do if your child is now viewing you with contempt? If they have been alienated from you? How do you handle coping with the fact your otherwise delightful and sweet child… perhaps at times your "challenging child"… erroneously perceives you to be some type of monster? As a parent we have to tread carefully here. We can certainly continue to call our child out on his or her rude, (and should) perhaps even downright nasty and contemptible behavior toward us. But we can do that with firm love. We can do that without anger, without yelling, without freaking out on them. We can very simply state "That's disrespectful"… "Please use a nicer tone when you're speaking to me"… "It hurts my feelings when your tone is rude toward me"…

This way we are addressing the specific actions of the child… we are stating that his or her words hurt… that yes, even as adults we have feelings as well… and in that we can tell our child… "It sounds like you're angry with me. Do you want to talk about it?" … or "Your tone seems irritated toward me…  I'd love to hear how you feel… but I need you to use a respectful tone please." It takes a strong parent to step in and teach character building skills of gentleness with their child who is treating them like yesterday's discarded newspaper when they may very well feel anything but charitable toward their child… there is deep rooted hurt within and no one blames you for being angry and hurt over it. But harboring those hurts doesn't help our child come back to us… instead it ultimately pushes them further away…  right into the arms of the alienating parent with a personal agenda.

Instead we can acknowledge that when our child is using hurtful words to wound us… it's not really our child who is using them. He or she is merely the messenger. We often want to "shoot the messenger"… but reminding ourselves that it's actually the words of our ex coming out of our child's mouth… it's our ex's manipulative ways and he's handed our baby the gun… our child is in a very real internal battle within… a battle of loyalty… we can keep this in mind… and when we do… we can view our child with love not frustration.

We may not have taken the steps we need to… we may have had difficulty seeing the situation for what it is… it may be difficult when entrenched in a situation emotionally for so long that we aren't able to see the bigger picture… but fret not… no need to wring your hands. You have today… you have tomorrow… we have a new day to begin again. And one day your child will look back and see your love for them… and they will know that you loved them enough to keep trying no matter what.

© ~ 2014 

To My Readers: 

Thank you for reading, 

sharing and commenting! 

No comments:

Post a Comment