Balance is something I suck at. I try, but I have a hard time focusing on more than one thing at a time. Moms have to do it all day long, and sometimes we rock it. Sometimes we fail miserably. Sometimes we only give whats needed to one person and have to remember that in the next situation. That is last part is what I am writing about today.
We have been seeing a psychiatrist in Boston for max for almost a year. It has been really helpful for all of us, but it is a bit like pushing a giant boulder up a hill.
This is how therapy works with my kids. You have to keep teaching and re teaching the same skills over and over. They sink in. Then a new problem pops up, we work on that, lose ground on the thing we had previously been working on, back track to that again, and so on. I don’t see this ending anytime soon, and we have all adjusted to it. It is hard though. They each need really different things from me. Max needs me to acknowledge how frustrated he is and that it doesn’t mean he is a bad person because he snaps so often and loudly. Jack needs reassurance often that every time max snaps at him, it is because of MAX, it doesn’t mean that jack is bad. In one of my many parent meetings with the Boston dr we were talking about how mean max is to jack, how he uses him as a way to feel better. The lower he can get Jack when he is upset, the better he feels. t is a really unhealthy pattern for both of them. She told me to handle them each the same way. Stop trying to change the behavior (because, chopsticks) and just call out that it is hard for them. Say to max, I can see how hard it is for you to remain calm and that sucks. To jack, when max yells at you its wrong, he shouldn’t treat you that way because no one deserves that. We don’t need people fixing the unfixable for us. We just need someone to see our struggle and let us know that someone else sees it too. I can see the difference with max in these situations because after I acknowledge how hard it is for him we can talk about where it went wrong easier. He doesn’t slip as fast into the I-am-the-worst-person-ever mode.
It is really fucking hard to meet these needs all at once. There is one of me and two of them. I spend endless amounts of energy trying to anticipate where things will go wrong so I can handle it. Sometimes it just happens though, and I have to choose who needs me more in that moment. That is the thing about having more than one kid, you give what you can but in the end you never know that they are getting what they need. All we can hope is that through it all they feel the love behind our intentions.
This morning I chose jack. Here is what went down. The boys had made an armed robot out of magnatiles. My kids are master builders with these things. After they had finished their breakfast they went in to add to it to see if they could make it different or better. If you have ever worked with these, you will know that eventually the weight of the structure is too much for the magnets and it collapses. Jack went to add a piece to the top and he whole thing shattered. Jack looked terrified and immediately started saying, “I didn’t mean to!! I was just trying to make it bigger!” He got the quivery lip and tears filled his eyes. He knew that was coming. You could physically feel the room expand with the breath max took, I could see in jacks face he was bracing himself.
“THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT. YOU DID THAT ON PURPOSE. YOU WRECKED IT BECAUSE I BUILT IT, AND YOU WANTED THAT TO HAPPEN. I AM GOING TO MAKE IT AGAIN AND YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED ANY WHERE NEAR IT OR TO TOUCH IT EVER AGAIN.”
I watched jack get as small as he could, covering his ears trying his hardest not to cry. I told max it was an accident. He started yelling at me so I sent him to his room to calm down and told him he could come back down when he was ready to use a normal voice. He stomped off and slammed his door. Jack quietly walked to the table and just stood there looking at the floor with the weight of the world on his little shoulders. The room, jack and I all stopped holding our breath.
I called him over to me and this is what I said,
“Max shouldn’t have yelled at you like that. It was an accident and you didn’t do anything wrong. When he yells because he is angry at you, its wrong. No one should treat you like that. “
I try my hardest to curb all the other things I wanted to say. I want to explain to him that his brother loves him even if it gets shown in other ways. I want to tell him that max has chemicals in his brain working against him sometimes and thats where the anger comes from, not because jack is causing it. None of that matters to jack though. What matters is that he hears someone say that it isn’t ok for him to be treated that way. That we will not let that stand and we will protect him. That we won’t defend that behavior.
Max came down and started in on jack again, so he was sent back upstairs. He came down a third time sullen but quiet. I repeated that this was an accident and after school they can build it again together if they want, but that the toys will be put away if there is yelling. Just like that, the storm passed and they moved on. The morning resumed.
I chose jack. In a perfect world I could have split in two and and brought max up to his room and said,”I can see that you are really struggling and that you are upset that it broke. You worked really hard on it and that stinks.” I didn’t though. I saw jacks face and his fear and picked him this morning. It doesn’t work to talk to max when he is full on raging, and maybe later when it is just him and I, I can talk to him about it. This is the thing about parenting more than one child at a time. You have to pick you battles, moments, fights and what is important.
I chose right this morning and it feel good about it.