When my kids were toddlers, I bought them a picture book entitled, When Mum Turned Into A Monster. The story depicted a mother who quite literally turns into a monster as she barks orders at her children to straighten up the house in preparation for a visit from their aunt and cousins. My kids loved this book a little too much. But I knew that I could be a little scary when I felt like I was losing control.
[Warning: Some of the following material may hit a nerve and be too close for comfort.]
Cut to mother of a 16 year old. One of my inner demons is a maternal dragnet sniffing out clues of possible deviant behavior. Recently, she started to obsess about the possibility that my son was cutting some of his classes. As a result, I had worked myself into quite a state about something which had no basis in reality. And here is how it played out….
The impact on me was that I got angry and felt a need to assert control. I wanted to come down hard with consequences and punishments. I stopped being curious about what was really happening and I stopped trusting him. I also felt like a failure as a parent. I found it hard to focus on my work. The impact on our relationship was that my suspicions hardened my son against me. He became more secretive and more closed.
It was time to turn things around. Luckily I have learned a lot about the power of talking to our inner monsters from Havi Brooks. So I sat down with pen and paper and commenced a conversation with ‘the dragnet monster’. Here is a sampling of what happened:
Me All this bad cop stuff is really hard on me. I know you have my best interests at heart but really it is not working. What do you want?
TDM (the dragnet monster): We want you to have perfect children.
Me But my son is only 16. How can he (or anyone) possibly be perfect?! It is too big a burden for him to carry.
TDM If he loved you he would make you happy. And he is not making you happy. Maybe he doesn’t love you.
Me You scare me when you raise the possibility that he doesn’t love me. Did you know that? Besides, he is too young to even know what that means. And it is totally normal for him to rebel. Not to mention the fact that I think I have been a little too omnipresent in his life and he probably needs some space.
TDM You know he is only home for another year. This can’t go on or you will lose him and lose the opportunity to help him become a mature adult.
Me Listen guys, I think I am going to lose him if you keep taking over my interactions with him. You are pushing him away. I need you to manage your fear so that I can work at having a more peaceful relationship with my son.
TDM It is going to be hard because the fear of losing him feels an awful lot like the fear we had when your parents were angry at you and it seemed like they’d never love you again.
Me You know, guys, maybe this isn’t so much about my son after all. Maybe it is just about the fear of not being loved. We can handle that elsewhere you know? But I want to love my son for the incredible kid he is. He is funny and joyful and there is so much to appreciate. I want some space to do that too.
TDM It is going to take us awhile to calm down.
Me Well by all means take care of yourselves and calm down. We can talk again if you get scared…
Update: Since this conversation with the Dragnet monster, my son and I have been doing really well. But just in case, I am going to invest in a monster manual to keep the lines of communication open.