We have a defiant child in our house. Every child goes through phases of defiance, I know. It's actually a healthy, normal piece of development. This child's defiance, however, extends well beyond what is normal and healthy. It's a level of defiance that if left unchecked, has the power to completely control the atmosphere in our home, and can leave everyone unsettled and insecure. Let me tell you, it is challenging my mothering skills as nothing else has ever challenged me before.
There are a few things I have to remember. This child's brain was shaped by her bio mom's dangerous choices. She spent nine months developing in a brain bath of cortisol (stress hormone), nicotine, and a consistent wash of illegal substances. Then she spent three years in an environment of filth and absolute chaos, with no discipline, loads of abuse, and limited loving touch. What I have here is a child in whom every fiber resists me because every fiber believes it is in danger. For this little one, losing control (and obeying Mommy means giving up control), feels like a matter of life and death. And she will fight it to the death.
Fortunately, in the last 18 months, she has come to trust me enough to willingly give and receive affection. She loves hugs and kisses, tickling, wrestling, and snuggling. She no longer struggles to make and hold eye contact with me. She gets worried when I leave, and is always overjoyed to see me when I return. She no longer resists my help on the daily tasks of life such as grooming, feeding, and bedtime rituals. In fact, she welcomes me. We're progressing nicely down the road to attachment.
But the behaviors...
I recently read a great, great book called "The Defiant Child." It is written for the parents of children with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), which is what we're dealing with. But even if your child doesn't have ODD--just struggles with a strong will or rebellious spirit--this book is for you. It helps you understand the way this child thinks, which is, honestly, flawed and delusional. It gives practical techniques for parenting in ways that counter the flawed thinking. So. Good. I am working hard to employ these things with my little caged tiger.
This is hard. It's hard to feel love and affection for someone who is often so out of control that by 5:00, the only option left is to feed her an early dinner and put her to bed for the night. It's hard to want to hug and kiss on a child who seems to take great pleasure in destroying the things others have that she wants. It's hard to be patient with a child who responds to just about every request or direction with "NO! I don't want to." Or, "NO! And you can't make me." Or jumping up and down and screaming. Or throwing things. Or spitting. It's hard. And that's where my parenting is most challenged.
I do a great job of being consistent. I am always swift and logical as I give consequences for poor choices. I can almost always appear calm and unruffled, and I very rarely lose my temper. I never back down. (For the record, there is no room for grace with the ODD child. They can not understand the concept of grace, but are only able to see it as weakness and a crack in the defenses). What I am not good at is balancing consistency and firmness with affection. I know I love her because I have chosen to love her. If I didn't love her, I would have given up a long time again. If I didn't love her, I wouldn't care so deeply about the road she's walking. I know that love has to be tough sometimes, and love can set you up for great heartache. The affectionate side of love is the struggle for me. Right now I'm so tired from all this child's shenanigans that I have to force myself to hug her. Literally force myself. Doesn't that sound just awful? Oooh, I cringe to see the words in print!
That's where I'm being stretched. Motherhood isn't all about bedtime stories, family traditions, and helping with homework. It isn't about little handprints and bouquets of wildflowers and sweet faces. It's about getting dirty in the trenches, and sacrificing your own wants and selfishness in order to prepare your children for life. It's about love when times are tough. And that's where I often stumble. See, God has loved me without fail, despite my failings. I have been a defiant child, too, and yet He never gave up on me. I break the rules. I let Him down. I am mean and spiteful. I am disobedient. And yet God does not withhold His affection from me. This morning, as you finish reading this post, would you say a prayer for me? Pray that I'll see my daughter as God sees her: a precious, wounded child who needs not only safe boundaries, but her mother's unconditional affection as well. Pray that despite the difficulties I face as I wade through the mountains of bad behavior, I'll choose the higher road and be affectionate with her. And please pray that God would overcome my selfishness and fill my heart with the desire to be an affectionate mom.
Thanks for letting me bare my soul, here. It's always so risky to be transparent. I hope my open honesty here will encourage someone else today.