Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Letter to the Parents of the "Difficult" Child

atheist parenting being a mother having children difficult children raising strong-willed teens mothers and daughters mothers and sons
If you are here, you know who we are. We are the parents of that child that mystifies us, exasperates us, confuses us, pounds on our last nerve, and makes us feel completely lost. 
We are the parent of that shouting, fit-throwing child in the market. We are the parent of the surly teen out in public. We are the parent of the child that makes strangers whisper too loudly those parents need to spank that child. We are the parents whose offspring cause us to swing between mortification and anger in seconds. We are the parents who are constantly on the lookout for that Holy Grail of solutions to figure out how to make our child...happy.

People don't like to talk about their angry or unhappy child. Or, if they do, they feel the need to say, But I Love My Child ! 
Of course you do!!!!!!!  

It can feel shameful. It can feel embarrassing. 
It can feel so wrong, so alone. It is even slightly taboo to suggest that a child in one's family is difficult.  But doesn't every family have one of these unique people in it? Doesn't every single family have a child that they strive to know and to understand better? Don't we, as parents, want to be able to acknowledge that we are feeling completely inadequate?
I believe that the very moment I say acknowledge, that is the moment I can begin to work on it. 

Say It

I DO! I need to say it! I need to say it out loud that I have had many days where I have absolutely no idea what to do in my relationship with my daughter and that I am completely in a muddle. And sometimes, I want to quit.

I tell you that it is OK to say it out loud, to acknowledge that your child is not one of the easy ones. Your child challenges you. They have used up and discarded all of that wisdom that you thought you had. You are on the road less traveled...the road that few people ever talk about.

But I feel that I must write about it. I promise that these musings are sanctioned by my daughter, just in case you are feeling as though you stumbled upon classified information. 
Hush-hush type stuff. You haven't! 
In fact, in order to write what I write here, I always get permission from my children so that one day, decades from now, someone doesn't stumble upon these old, old words and feel as though I have shamed or embarrassed them. My reasons for writing this are absolutely not to cause any child shame, awkwardness, or make one of my children feel as though I was indiscreet or betraying them. 

NO! My reason for outing myself in this way is for every single parent out there who is struggling to be the best parent possible to a child whose interactions can be...labyrinthine and can cause us to doubt ourselves and our child.

One thing I have learned over the course of the 16+ years of being a parent to my daughter is that her emotions are HUGE! She is never happy; she is ELATED. She is never sad; she is heartbroken. She is never jealous; she is resentful. She is never scared; she is PETRIFIED. She is never angry; she is ENRAGED.

Over the years I have learned that she is much of a slave to the depth of her emotions as we are to her expression of them. When she is acting in that all-out dramatic way, she is feeling just as overwhelmed and swamped with her feelings as she is letting on.

Obvious? Maybe...but it was like a light bulb moment for me to realize that she is feeling as overpowered by the feeling as I am with her expression of it.

Understand It

Once I realized her depth of suffering at times due to the strength of her emotions I felt more compassion for her, better able to appreciate her side of it, and better able to put my own reactive emotions behind me. 
Sometimes I still need a reminder.  

For much of her life I have been looking for the silver bullet, that secret puzzle piece that would explain her, comfort her, and make her normal. Make me feel successful. For many years I have tried dozens of parenting techniques and have read book and article and blog. I have tried every single thing that I could come up with to find that thing that was missing, that thing that would bring peacefulness to her mind, harmony to her heart, and serenity to our home.

But I have learned so much more. 
I have learned that to love her, to show her compassion and companionship, and to support her dreams:  these are the keys to being the best parent to this child. 
I have learned that I can toss up my hands and begin again, learning anew what it takes to be a parent to this child. I have discovered that my capacity for truly loving a person is larger and more grand than I ever imagined before having this child. And I have learned that, although there is no miracle, the effort and struggle, my efforts to learn more about her needs...these are outward symbols of my love for my child. She sees my efforts and she appreciates them. Most importantly, my approach has made a difference in how she experiences the storms of herself.  (eventually)

Move Forward

In being open with my struggles, being honest and authentic with myself and with her, I have led us toward a relationship where there is mutual respect, continual learning, and respect for growth. We have both learned that once these emotions wash over us and lose their intensity, what is left is love.

It is very exposing to openly discuss some of these things.
Thank you for appreciating my vulnerability
and the vulnerability of my daughter in order to write this piece.
We appreciate you giving us the benefit of doubt
where language limitations are concerned.

I am Elizabeth and I approve of this post

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:  
Shooshy:  Raising my Daughter 
My Daughter is Fierce
Her Face
How I Planned to be as a Parent 
Tips for Parenting Your Strong-Willed Teen


  1. What a lovely post and very true :) I understand firsthand the magnitude of emotions. As someone who is very sensitive, I've had to limit my exposure to things that cause the more negative emotions. For eg news articles would make me feel depressed as opposed to most peoples' reactions of "oh that's an awful thing" then they quickly forget-- I don't tend to forget that quickly IYKWIM. Thank you both for sharing!

    1. I sure DO know what you mean. Both of my kids are quite sensitive, especially to the pain and suffering of others. It takes them time to "let it go" too.

  2. What a beautiful process and arrival at acceptance and understanding.

    1. Gabriela, very nice to see you!
      Thanks...this one took me awhile to write... I just kept sitting there looking at the blank space...waiting...

  3. Beautiful! Absolutely beautiful and honest and encouraging and vulnerable and scary and, yet, soothing and magically liberating. This leaves me in tears of apprehension (will I be enough for my two precious babies?) and tears of shear joy because there is no one right way--there is embracing and committing to the journey with the immeasurable and unwavering love of a mother's heart.
    Love you, my friend.

    1. <3 Thank you, B, for bringing your warmth here.

  4. Is she gifted? Your description is so exactly what I see and hear about the deep emotions many gifted kids have.

    I had a difficult kid. In different ways, but extremely difficult. I'm lucky in that I never cared about normal, but finding the balance was hard. And being his wailing wall was harder. I kept reminding myself that I was bearing the brunt of his emotions because I was the one he felt safest with.

    Wine helps, too. I cannot stress that enough!

    On the bright side mine just turned 18 and he is the most amazing young man I've been privileged to know.

    Parenting tips: first, the most important thing you'll teach your kids is how to survive without you.

    Second: you're just the gardener. You can water and fertilizer or cut or shape or stomp on or tend...but you'll never make a daisy into a lily. Once you accept that it's just a matter of figuring out what they need to be the best of whatever they are. They become themselves in spite of us, not because of us. It's humbling, but so important! I can try and keep out the weeds, but really he's the one turning his face to the sun. My job is to not be the shadow that blocks him from it.

    I love the stubborn, the passionate, the flamboyant, the individual. I love the freethinking, authority-questioning, fierce and loyal and angry and compassionate...And none of that is ever easy

  5. Thank you... I cannot express to you how much I needed to read that today. Thank you.

    1. Sometimes it hurts so much to think that I'm failing him

  6. I have often felt as though I was failing her miserably.
    It is so painful and effortful and exhausting and powerless-feeling at times being the parent of a child who is so challenging.

    I have, in all honesty, talked to her about how hard I try to be a good parent to her. During a "down time", a calm time, I say something like, "You do see how much I love you, right? You do see how much I try, right? So, help me. Tell me what is going on at those times and tell me how I can best "be there" for you."

    These conversations have been going on for many years now and I do feel that we get closer and closer to "GOOD". In the meantime, it has helped both of us tremendously to show the other love and respect for exactly who we are.

  7. You are a wonderful mother. Just to realise that the pain your daughters actions cause her family come from the pain which causes her actions is monumental. She doesn't want to hurt you, and when she has she hates herself more. I've been your daughter, and I wish my mother understood instead of constant criticism...which is what started my behaviour in the first place of course. All luck and power to you.

    1. thank you so much for your comments, Alison.
      I KNOW I KNOW I KNOW that if your mom COULD say these things to you, she would...

      All love and healing to you!

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