Our kids are different- yours and mine. For all of their similarities, there are drastic differences. You’ve seen them; it’s ok to admit it.
My sons spent their early, formative years never having enough. Never enough food on the table, never enough electricity on at their house, never enough attention, and never enough love. Nothing like your son.
My daughters endured years of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse. They were forced into a front row seat as they watched their birth mother endure the same torture at the hand of the narcissistic abuser that they did. She couldn’t protect herself and she didn’t protect my daughter. My daughters spent their young life trying to survive...or maybe just hoping to die. They’re not like your daughter.
My kids have tantrums and meltdowns. They pitch fits over seemingly insignificant changes in routine and deeply grieve over some of the most trivial disappointments. Many times they blow things way out of proportion and escalate behaviors without warning. (At least that’s what it looks like to most of us.) Conversely, they often seem oblivious and miss the things that are actually important. I’m sure you’ve noticed.
But my kids are not like yours; life required them to develop tricks and skills that their brain told them would help them stay alive. They’ve lived most of their life being hyper-vigilant, waiting for the the other shoe to drop, the walls to crash in, and a whirlwind to pop up and obliterate their straw house. It doesn’t really matter whether the hyper-vigilance actually prevented impending chaos, because they’re still alive, so their brain thinks there’s a correlation.
My son’s brain has experienced abandonment and rejection by every primary caregiver in his short life. He was removed from birth parents who couldn’t keep him safe, who fought and screamed and argued since the time he was conceived. From there, he bounced to a family member after that, but they couldn’t ensure his safety, either. Then another foster placement that couldn’t/wouldn’t keep him. Next was a placement who never really wanted him and treated him terribly for it. Now he’s with us...forever. But history has told him that there’s an expiration date on our relationship, too. The damage has already been done. We’re just working on helping him put the pieces back together in some kind of order that resembles normalcy. But it’s long. And exhausting. And the most difficult thing for my child to do.
I know he has fits and melts down. I know he says horrible things that he doesn’t really mean. I know he’s probably been unkind to your son, too. It’s because, despite them both being in elementary school, our sons are not the same.
His brain has trained him to catch the smallest sigh from the teacher and realize she hates him and never wanted him in her class. He saw that someone right in front of him picked the book he was going to read and his brain recognized that it was only done out of spite and to remind him that none of these kids really want him in their class. Your child said ‘hi’ to another child before him in the morning, which means your child is rejecting him.
No correlation, you say? I agree, but his brain says there is. Therefore, it’s better to just push everyone away before they can hurt him. We call this a “fatalistic” or “catastrophic” way of thinking. His brain just calls it “surviving.” If a metaphoric explosion is going to occur anyway, he may as well be the one to control it- after all, then it won’t hurt him, right?
You’ve seen my daughter come unhinged for no reason. Everything was great, and then all of a sudden, there’s screaming, objects sail across the room at breakneck speed, sobbing, and finally...exhaustion. You’re right- we were all having a great time. She was smiling and laughing. But she was also up most of the night replaying tapes and images in her mind of the abuse. Those thoughts are pervasive and pop in just as much in times of joy as they do in sorrow. Good times are often the greatest triggers. It’s because our daughters are not the same.
Let me be clear, all of this does not mean that your child is better than mine, or vice versa. They’re just different.
What I really need you to know is that, for the most part, my child is really doing the best they can with the cards they’ve been dealt and the coping skills they have learned. There is no magic switch. They win some; they lose some.
Just know that on their “good” days, they’re working desperately hard to keep it together. And on their “bad” days, they’re working desperately hard to keep it together. So are we.
I hope that, with time, you’ll be able to see my child for more than just their often irrational behaviors and hurtful words. They’re so much more than their past hurts or their diagnosis or their last meltdown. I hope you get to see their infectious smile, their contagious laugh, their wit and comedy, their fierce loyalty and love for their family, friends, and teachers, their heart for serving others and being helpful, their desire to overcome, and yes, their desperate, insatiable will to survive.