Dealing with rejection from your child is an uphill battle. No parent wants to face this. We want to believe we can love them through their trauma. How do you successfully parent your child but deal with their rejection at the same time?
“WE had FUN with DAD,” hissed my daughter, as she met me at the door with an angry sneer. Her glare and belittling tone once again communicated, what seemed to be, sheer hatred of me. We had just returned from camping at the Lewis and Clark Trail State Park. My husband had secretly given me the choice of driving the nice, newer car with our three children or the old, Ford Escort carrying the smelly Newfoundland dog, whose rancid stench had come from playing in the river all weekend. I chose the dog.
Her words hardly represented an isolated jab. In fact, she had been doling out insults like candy for months, finding any way she could, to verbally assault me. Later, I cried into my husband’s shoulder. Between heaving sobs and strings of slobber I said, “I can’t do this anymore! I just can’t take one more jab!”
It may sound crazy that an emotionally stable, confident, grown woman would be so tied up in knots about emotional barbs coming from a child. One would think it would have been easy to brush off her rejection because she was “just a kid.” But at times it just wasn’t.
If, like me, you’re dealing with the pain of a child who constantly pushes you away or rejects you, here are several things I’ve learned.
1. Don’t take it personally.
I know, I know. Easier said than done. Most of the time when my husband told me “Don’t take it personally” I wanted to punch him in the face. Those words didn’t seem very helpful, but he was right.
When dealing with a wounded child, we need to picture ourselves like a lifeguard, going into an ocean of rejection and pain to help them. Because of their past trauma, our child is drowning in pain, and drowning people do strange things out of fear. Most of the time, they fight against the very person who is trying to save them. My daughter didn’t hate me. She was afraid I didn’t love her.
It really isn’t personal. You could be Ward and June Cleaver and a wounded child would still push you away. Not only has trauma changed the brains of your child, they are trying to protect themselves from getting hurt again. They aren’t trying to attack you, even though at times it certainly feels that way.
2. Take breaks.
I remember a time when my husband and I were on the beach in Florida. I kept trying to stand up in the water, but the waves just kept coming and coming, each one knocking me down as soon as I would begin to get my bearings. It was impossible to stand up, regardless of how strong I tried to be.
Just like those ocean waves, the constant waves of belittling and rejection can knock down the best of parents. Just because the rejection comes from a young child doesn’t necessarily lessen the hurt, as if a smaller person’s words pack less of a punch.
In those times, we need to be able to get away and regroup. Take breaks so you can rest and come back to interact with your children with enough strength to not get pulled under by the waves of their rejection.
3. Spend time with those who encourage.
In those times of feeling so discouraged and beaten down, we need to spend time around people who encourage us and help lift us up. It is impossible to maintain a positive attitude toward children who spend the day rejecting us without spending time with those who help counteract with positive messages.
Support groups can provide a great resource. I can’t tell you how much the women from our adoptive mom’s support group encourage me. All I have to do is send out a quick SOS text and I have several women encouraging me to keep going.
Even if you can’t get away to spend time with friends, ask a few family members or friends to text you reminders of your good qualities or how much they love you throughout the day.
4. Infuse your life with positives.
Surround yourself with positive messages. Listen to a podcast with noise-cancelling headphones while your little one throws the mother of all temper tantrums in the living room. Write yourself positive notes or scripture and post them around the house. Read an uplifting book during a mandatory quiet/nap time for your kids. Do an art project with the kids and include a positive message to yourself in yours. Find creative ways to include positive messages into your life that can cancel out the negative ones you’re receiving from your children.
5. Continue pursuing outside activities.
At one point, my children’s therapist encouraged me to get a job outside of the home, because she recognized that I needed something in my life to focus on besides my kids and their issues.
Find a hobby that you enjoy. Take an art class or join a pinochle team. Get a part-time job. Do something that reminds you of who you are beyond your role as a parent and that allows you to have a little fun in the process. Since fun is something that tends to get sucked out of our homes by wounded children faster than a hoover picks up dust, we must be purposeful in continuing to do things we find fun.
6. Change expectations.
It took me years to realize that I had walked into this whole foster and adoption thing with unrealistic expectations. When I thought about becoming a parent, I pictured a chubby toddler running joyously into my arms every time they saw me. After we adopted three older foster children, I had to let go of the expectation that these kids would respond to me like children who hadn’t experienced pain and rejection. When their rejection of me became unbearable, however, I had to allow myself to grieve the fact that reality didn’t match my dreams. At times I just needed a good old-fashioned cry so I could process through the discrepancy and then move on.
Are you in the trenches of parenting a wounded child? Share your story with us in the comment section below.