This weekend I was hanging out with friends and one confided about her biological daughter, “I didn’t use to like my kid. I love her now, but it took about 11 years before I got there.”
She said if offhandedly, following it with a hand wave and a chuckle, as if it was of no consequence. But I heard something different. I heard the insecurity. I heard the struggle with a personality that didn’t quite mesh with her own. I heard the shame of having those feelings about her child.
I heard the need for affirmation. The desire to know that she wasn’t the only one.
She isn’t the only one. But we often don’t talk about it.
The more I read about attachment, the more I realize that it affects ALL of our relationships. Our parenting style is often the result of the attachment that we had with our own parents. The quality of our friendships and intimate relationships are based in our ability to attach securely.
When we don’t have a secure attachment with our children, because of our own baggage or because of their trauma, it can look like “not liking” or struggling with positive feelings. Our responses to them are often haphazard, sometimes nurturing and attuned to their needs and then often distracted and emotionally unavailable. Our children respond to this with their own ways of survival, vacillating between clinginess and rejection.
For me…I couldn’t handle Nana’s clinginess and my feelings were hurt by the rejection.
I started not to like her. I thought it was her personality that I didn’t like.
Why is she so needy? She doesn’t even like me. Ugh!
She wanted to sit up under me all the time. She would put her stool right next to my elbow when I cooked. She asked for hugs all the time. ALL THE TIME. Personal space, I would admonish, untangling her arms from mine and putting space between our bodies. And then feeling bad, I would give her a kiss and a hug.
Because that’s really what she wanted. Just a kiss and a hug, right?
When friends would come over, in fact, any woman that I was talking to, she would turn on the charm. She wanted to talk to them, show them her toys, claim them as her friends. When someone else was around, she would just about ignore me. They thought she was adorable. I thought, “she could take me or leave me.”
Irritated, I would think, “I don’t like my kid.” But I never said it out loud. I was ashamed that I had this charming and beautiful daughter but was struggling to really enjoy her.
Add in the food issues and we had a recipe for disaster.
I doubled down on the distraction and emotional unavailability, spending more time at work and finding other things to do while at home. And then, out of shame for being a bad mother, followed up with hugs, kisses and extra-special outings. In response, she doubled down on the clinginess and rejection.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
After eight months of spending every day with her, a good therapist and a lot of reading, I realize that we are still on the journey.
I didn’t like my kid mainly because I didn’t know her. I didn’t understand why she behaved in certain ways. I didn’t understand that even after two years of living with us and permanence in our family through adoption, she is still in survival mode. Some of her behaviors that look and feel strange and scary to me are not within her control and not personal.
I’m learning to separate those behaviors from the awesome little person that I get to hang out with every day. And she is getting to have a mommy that is consistent (fairly) in her responses and that she can depend on to meet her needs.
I think we’re going to be okay, ’cause, I kinda dig my kid. In fact, I really like her.
This parenting thing is a trip.