There are times when the mountains in life seem insurmountable, don’t they? Problems seem to pile up and up and it just seems that you will never get to the top of the pile and down the other side. I am watching my teenage daughter go though this at the moment. Feeling helpless as a parent is probably the absolutely worst feeling. Watching your child suffer and not be able to fix anything for them.
My Youngest Daughter is 13 and a half. An awful age. You’re not a child any longer and far from an adult. You are desperate to do what you see older teens doing but your damn parent won’t let you. You are beyond desperate to just get out and “live your life” and beyond frustrated that you cannot. Coupled to that is early childhood trauma for my baby. She is my permanent care child, having been removed from a drug-addicted mother at three months and alcoholic grandmother at 5 months.
A baby of a drug-addicted pregnancy she was born with rage she struggles to control. Anger is her main fuel and she can easily flash to rage. This spirals in endless circling between extreme highs and lows, self-hatred and loathing, cutting and abusive behaviour. She was passed from carer to carer until she came to me when she was three and a half.
For the last ten years I have cheered her on and despaired at her destructiveness. Once when I made her clean her room when she was seven, she was so enraged that she stole all my treasured rings from my jewellery box and threw them into the dog yard, then denied knowing what happened to them. I was so heartbroken that someone we knew had come into our house and taken my rings that I sobbed. She watched and said nothing. I finally twigged that it was likely to be her. I insisted and she went and ‘found’ a ring. I walked down to her room and by chance noticed a flash of gold in the mud and straw out her bedroom window. I recovered them all. We went to the police station for the Sergeant to speak with her about the seriousness of it all. She never admitted taking them.
This little baby was never cherished until she came to me. She never had anyone to croon her preciousness to her until I came along. We played the Baby Game, where she got to be the baby, for many months during her fourth year. She still opens her big brown eyes wide when we talk about it. It helped but mostly too late. Those bonds and attachments have to form before the age of three for children to be able to function fully and make future attachments. She has Disorganised Attachment Disorder, which can look like Oppositional Defiance Disorder, a little like Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD and ADD. It’s none of those. It’s just that no-one loved this baby as she should have been loved, at the right time to wire her brain successfully. Consequently she has extreme difficulty in managing her friendships, has rages and impulse control issues and faced with all of that it is no wonder she had difficulty learning.
What to do? There are times I am truly stumped. There was the day she did not go to school because an older girl threatened to “bash” her and she was too scared. I had people looking for her everywhere. Thank goodness we live in a small town and she is recognisable and people care. She was home when I finally got home. I couldn’t hug her hard enough, I had been that worried. She’s going to school tomorrow though so I guess she is not scared anymore. I really don’t know what happened.
Teen years are cruel enough, when every emotion is so intense. Add trauma and disconnection to that, in addition to being the only visibly Aboriginal child at her school, you start to get the picture of how tough things can be. We had to get an intervention order on her birth mother last year as she lost the plot and got really scary. Poor baby. How is a girl, still really a child, to assimilate all of that? The answer is, she cannot.
One of her teachers wrote to me, to say she had to be removed from class as she defied him. He shamed her, in front of the whole class. For a girl like her, she had no alternative but to defy him. My response to him was to say that his reaction to her was not in her best interest. Oh, I understand that teachers are over-worked, I understand that the school is doing it’s best with the resources and knowledge they have. I understand all that. They don’t understand my child. She is intrinsically Aboriginal. She feels keenly being singled out and shamed in front of a class. Any child would. My child, who appears to be the only obviously Aboriginal child at the school, feels it intensely. I know shaming her was not his intention and it is what happened. She left. Then he wrote to me and told on her. This is just one of many times this has happened.
What to do then, what to do? We hang on. There are times that I feel that I am hanging on by my fingernails. I am not someone who likes to argue or do battle. She is. She feels that all the world is against her and tries to pick fights constantly. She is so determined to be right all the time that she hears people making her wrong, whether they are or not.
The worst thing? I can’t fix it for her. I can only remind her that she is likeable, she is loveable. She can choose to like herself and practise it. That is what makes the difference. Not what you look like, not what you have, not how long your hair is or how perfect your make up. Not who you are friends with, or who you are not friends with. None of that makes any difference. Choosing to like yourself and practising that, is what makes the difference. If we like ourselves and we practise treating ourselves better, we stand half a chance of being happy.
She is my fourth teen. The most challenging. It’s like being on a scary ride and wanting to get off and knowing that if I jump, the pain will be worse.
The hardest thing in the world is seeing your child unhappy and knowing that they make themselves that way and not being able to fix it. The hardest thing in the world is to see your child hurting and in pain. The only thing to do is to hang on. Keep loving her. Keep seeing her adorableness in the face of her fury. Keep her as safe as I possibly can. Stand firm and be her rock. This is all I can do.