I recently had the life-altering experience of reading Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control: A Love-Based Approach to Helping Attachment-Challenged Children With Severe Behaviors. My son, who has a long distance dad, and to whom I have, at one time, been a long distance mom to, has some challenging behavior that this book addresses.
I read it because I needed something, anything that would help me connect with him in a different way. I was struggling against pre-adolescent angst mixed with valid fear and anger from him that seemed so compounded that I had no idea how to tackle it. After reading, I came away with a completely changed perspective on kids, growing up and parenting that has changed the way our family works and has fundamentally changed the way I parent him and ultimately, his childhood and his life – for the better.
The premise of the book is that when a child experiences a traumatic incident (which might even be something relatively minor, in adult eyes), they essentially go into fight or flight mode and resort to behaviors that help them survive. They don’t listen because they can’t – they are focused on getting through the conversation. They don’t do what they should and they often do what they shouldn’t – because their motivation for acting is not what their parent has said – but what they feel they need to do in order to get through. They essentially spend most of their time in fear mode and their behaviors frustrate their parents, who then escalate the issue and in doing so push more fear buttons in the child – and on and on the cycle goes.
But more than an invaluable parenting paradigm, I found a completely different take my OWN childhood, which has rooted out lots of parenting behaviors based upon how I was raised. And completely unexpectedly, it also gave me insight into similar fear-based behavior in other adults around me – as well as my own. It’s this process of introspection based upon this book that brought about the realization that caused me to post this here.
I was driving to work this morning (when most good thinking happens, in my world), and it occurred to me that when my son was born, I was in survival mode. In fact, it’s likely that I was in survival mode for the first 30 years of my life. So it was that when the day of my son’s birth happened, I wasn’t thinking in a slow, leisurely fashion. It was go time! There were things that needed to change and there was very little time to do it! Fear, go, panic, go… go, go, go – now! When I moved from the city that my son lived in (and became a long distance mom), I was moving for my own self preservation so that I could make a better life for me – and in turn, him. But further, there was URGENCY.
Specific situations aside, it was instinctual that I needed to ‘get out’. I had to clear my head, get myself together and scramble upwards, into something better. I needed to focus on me and only me so that I could, later, focus on paving the way for my son to have a better life. It was a relentless drive from a place in the roots of me that can only be explained as a primal instinct as a parent to protect and nurture – even though to leave him with his father was seen as just the opposite by society and even my closest friends and family. I can’t claim that I knew for sure I was right in doing it – I didn’t. I was filled with doubt every minute of every day for years. But instinct pushed me.
I felt the urgency of the fact that there was no more time. I had a son now. He was born. I wanted him to grow up to be successful and I didn’t have the tools to provide him with to do that yet (I was 21 at the time). I had his life in my hands and I was ill prepared. I had a very limited number of years to provide a better life for him and a long way to go. I felt a sense of the possibility of first years of his life being comfortable or ‘perfect’ (in the white picket fence sort of way) having already been lost because his father and I didn’t have the means to give him that – and only so much change could happen before he was 5 or 10. So my focus was on the end game. Getting as strong as I could, as quickly as I could to give him the best that I could as soon as I could – which would likely be 10 years down the road.
So I moved. I worked lots of jobs. I owned some businesses. I became more skilled and knowledgeable with experience, training and education. And finally, although we’ve steadily been moving forward, this year, I can say that we have a comfortable home life and I’m actively building a financial foundation for his adult life – for college, being independent. And most of all, I’m in a place emotionally and mentally where I’m capable and able to show him how to be happy and healthy and thrive, to help him repair anything left over from our time apart and to nurture a healthy relationship between him and his dad who he lives apart from. JUST in the nick of time. He’s 12 now.
This process of learning to help myself so that I can help him was finally brought full circle by this book – which helped me to see my own survival mode, why I behaved the way I did, the drive in my past decisions and ultimately how to guide my son.
What I’ve described is what I’ve heard echoed from so many long distance parents. The drive, the instinct, the relentlessness of it. And still, words can only describe it so well. Only a parent who has been in that hopeless, helpless situation, that is in order to do the best for your child, you have to do the worst thing you can imagine by being separate – could possibly understand, and probably on a level far too deep for words. But what underlies so many of the stories is a sense of survival mode. Of being a parent who is also a human who is in a place where only the ‘have tos’ matter.
I strongly, strongly recommend this book for any parent – but especially long distance parents who have been in the situation I described. If you’ve got a kid that might have been affected adversely by a long distance parenting situation – or if you were a parent who has acted as a parent in that instinctual survival mode place, I think you’ll find value in this book.