Daughters: A mom’s best friend. A soul sister. The child who never leaves you even when they grow old…
Yeah, ok, maybe. But they forgot to tell you about the part where they almost kill you before they turn twenty.
One particularly monumental little daughter of mine started out in life weighing 6 pounds. The hospital sent me home with special little bottles to feed her because she was only taking two ounces at a time. She was detoxing from cocaine and whatever other substances her birth mother had ingested before giving birth. I knew she was likely going to have challenges, but I also knew she was mine and we would make it through.
Fast forward 10 years and we are having a showdown in the canned goods isle at the grocery store. Not a yelling, screaming, physical showdown, but a fight for dominance consisting of nothing but dangerously quiet words, grilling eye contact, and potent, explosive energies. You know, the kind of showdown girls excel at.
This kid is on the fetal alcohol spectrum. Being adopted has left her with abandonment issues. She has loyalty issues regarding her father and her stepfather. She is manipulated by her adopted father. She is angry with me for divorcing her dad, but even angrier at him for everything he has done to her and to our family. She hates herself for feeling this way about her father.
And she has the strength, charisma and personality of a world dictator.
You try dealing with that deck of cards everyday.
There is a reason I win these confrontations with her. Because in the middle of her raging and terrible behaviour, I will tell her to get her crap together, and in the next breath, with tears in my eyes, I tell her that I know she is angry and hurting, and that I love her anyway. That I love her whole confused, angry, amazing little self and I always will.
I’ve figured out this balance between being a disciplinarian and pouring out my love for her at the same time, and she has no idea what to do with it. So she takes her confused little person over to the next isle to collect herself, and on we go. She didn’t get her three boxes of cookies either. See, on the surface she was fighting me for three boxes of cookies, but underneath, she was hurting over recent issues with her dad.
When we get home we decompressed and we worked out what was really going on in all it’s complexity.
I know that when she’s raging and glaring and a miserable little piece of work, she’s really hurting inside, but she can’t say it until she feels safe. Instead she is mean and hurtful and just plain awful to be around. She is exhausting.
Until I am soft.
Until I call her to me and invite her into my lap and hold her. Until she can regulate her emotions with my help.
This is the challenge of parenting someone with FAS. You have to help them regulate. Not just when they’re an infant, a toddler, or a small child, but all the way through. So when your pre-adolescent daughter is mad at you and her whole self is vibrating, you get to be the one to help her unpack it all, figure it out, calm her down, and let her go.
Because if you don’t, she will continue to escalate until she begins behaviours that are harmful to herself . Because her brain doesn’t work properly, she is filled with self loathing for her behaviour, but she doesn’t know how to calm herself down. It’s a vicious downward spiral that she is helplessly caught in.
So even though you may also be seething, you have to get a grip on yourself, calm down, and help her with her pain.
That doesn’t mean you don’t put her in her place. That doesn’t mean you let her run wild and put up with poor behaviour. That doesn’t mean you don’t draw boundaries. And that sure as heck doesn’t mean you let her win at the stuff that really matters.
It means that every time you correct her, discipline her, tell her she is acting like a miserable little crap, you had better follow up with the heart piece. You had better become soft and willing to look into the heart of your child. You better affirm their feelings and emotions, not just your own.
This softening in you must take place or you will never reach the heart behind the behaviour. If you cannot connect with the heart, if there is no trust, then the child will be lost to you.
It’s the most emotionally draining thing ever, having to repeat this day in and day out. Seven has been having a rough week with processing new stuff and I’m pretty much done. Today I said to her “look, you’re exhausting me. I can’t do this much more, kid. You need to give me a break here, ok?”
This is why every single person parenting a kid with fetal alcohol, or divorce issues, or attachment stuff, or really just any kid, deserves a whole bunch of freaking flowers. And maybe a drink. And a lot of jewelled crowns in heaven!
Ugh. Just Ugh.
Ok, I’m done ranting now. For today, anyway.
Good luck out there.