“We shall not cease from exploration
and the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time”
– T.S. Eliot
“I hit my child yesterday” she tells me, grief etched all over her face. “It just happened. She was testing me all day.
We went out and did things she loves in the morning. I said yes to things that she asked for. It was a lovely morning. Then we came home and I was tired but I managed to just be with her and we played and loved.
It wasn’t flowing though. It wasn’t easy. She was restless – you know that feeling like you must keep her happy otherwise things are going to go badly very quickly. It’s not like I feel I need to keep her ok or anything. I mean I do say no to her – maybe too often actually. But… I didn’t really pick it up until I’m saying it now, I think I was afraid of her exploding. Maybe I felt I was too tired and raw to handle her losing it… I don’t know.
Anyway of course as soon as things didn’t go her way all the nice stuff I’d done went right out the window. She screamed and hit her sister and went to the cupboard and stole sugar right out of the jar with her hand and crammed it into her mouth before I could reach her… It was chaos.
I tried to talk and reason and love but I felt helpless. I held her to help her release her feelings. I was holding myself together still but she kicked me and it really hurt and then she looked me right in the face and tipped over a precious vase. Without thinking I gasped and then just lifted my arm high and HIT her. I don’t know what happened. It was like, instinctual.
I felt so bad. Afterwards I apologised and hugged her and we talked about it but this deep sadness stayed in me. I don’t want to have hit her. I don’t want to be that person. But I did it – so I must be…” Tears roll down her cheeks.
“What were you feeling in the moment you gasped and hit her?” I ask gently
“Well, I think it was just shock. I was so hurt. I couldn’t believe someone could look right at me and deliberately cause me pain like that. Want to hurt me. Especially someone I love.”
“Have you ever had that feeling before in your life? When you were a child?”
A moment of thought
“Oh I know this! It’s me with my mother!” Then the sobs come. Body shaking, heart-breaking wrenching sobs.
The hurt of all that time ago finally finding expression.
“I can’t believe she would hurt me like that. She was so scary. She’d shout and hit – it was like living in a tornado. And when it was quiet the storm was always just around the corner anyway. I’d always be on the lookout for it. I’d have to know her moods because if she was slightly off-balance… Always watching her, always wary. Shoulders hunched and eyes large. That’s how I grew up.”
A deep quiet sits with us in the room.
“You mentioned that yesterday you were afraid of your daughter exploding. That you had to keep her happy otherwise things would go badly very quickly. Is there any similarity to how you felt back with your mother?”
“Oh it was the same! JUST the same!!! I was anxious – almost scared of my daughter yesterday. Like she would explode and then I would be in for it. I can see now I was like a scared little child.”
(This story has been shared with permission. This mom hopes it will help others.)
This all sounds so very familiar! My little daughter has patches of this type of behaviour, and I feel that my arms are completely chopped off in trying to settle her then. I am usually very controlled and gentle in those situations, and not reflective of my true inner feelings (as I am myself actually very overwhelmed inside and frustrated and have lots of feelings of inadequacy as a mother in those moments). I think my daughter struggles in those moments with me as I am not truly there with her in the moment, with warmth and compassion. My own feelings are cut off and I am quite mechanical, just to try and keep things from spinning out of control. Ironically I think it is precisely that cutting-off-of-my-true-heart-felt-feelings because of my own fears, that is making my daughter feel so insecure and unloved. That is when she drives me to respond with passion, in what ever form! She is my best teacher. No matter how much I act, it is the real feelings that she wants me to feel and show.
What an amazing insight! I love that you say she is actually responding to your lack of ‘authenticity’… It’s a real catch 22 isn’t it? Because in those moments we are in so much pain and fear. And we all know that’s when we react in ways we regret later. But it’s our true feelings our children push us towards – even if they are really, REALLY not what we want to be feeling.
Obviously just allowing ourselves to FEEL our pain and fear, leaning right into those feelings and opening ourselves into it is the way to go – but it takes both courage and practice to do it in the heat of the moment. I can hear you are practicing.
Thank you for your inspiring comment. Food for thought…