I know...another Neufeld-related post. But if you could see inside my brain and heart, you'd know that this stuff gets so much 'air time' in there that I could almost maintain a separate blog about it all! So bear with me for a second while I note one more thing about a child experiencing tears of futility...and then get a little more personal.
Matthew is very attached to me. No doubt about it. He's travelled through all six stages of attachment that Neufeld talks about in great depth throughout his courses, and we continue to work on all of these levels of attachment with Matthew to ensure that we stay the course with him until....well, for as long as we're his parents.
As he gets a little older, and as his life gradually becomes more complicated, he increasingly experiences circumstances beyond his control where we try to help him find his tears of futility - those tears that are sad tears, not angry/frustrated tears, when he's moved beyond anger to the point of knowing that his efforts are futile and he can't change the outcome and he's just plain sad about it all.
But sometimes I can see that Matthew has things to be sad about, but he doesn't really know it himself. His behaviours get a little more challenging, he's more easily frustrated than usual, etc etc. So, because he's well attached to me, I occasionally introduce circumstances that force him into the position of finding his tears of sadness. That probably sounds a little crazy but hear me out.
First, introducing circumstances designed to first frustrate, and then sadden, Matthew is easier said than done these days, given that there are usually two other kids around who are very demanding of my time and attention, and given that when I'm trying to practically goad Matthew into a moment of futility it takes a fair bit of focus and time and mental preparedness on my part.
It might go something like this. On Saturday mornings, Geoff is usually the one to take the younger kids to their music class, and it's a bit of a drive to get there. So I often have a couple of hours to myself, and sometimes with Matthew. If I notice that the need is there with Matthew (ie. I've noticed that he's had a hard week and suspect that he needs to get some tears out about some thing or another), I might occasionally contemplate whether I want to introduce a moment of futility for him.
It starts simply. The younger kids are gone and it's just Matthew and me at home alone. He might ask to watch tv. I say no. He's a bit annoyed, a little frustrated, because he can't understand why that simple request when we're the only ones at home would be refused. But whatever - he moves on. A little while later, he might ask if I can read to him. Again, I say no (with little explanation). Then he asks if we can maybe go somewhere because he's bored - maybe drive to a store to look at something that caught his eye. I again say no, with empathy, but firmly. I carry on with whatever I'm working on, letting him stew a little. He's more annoyed/frustrated now than he was before, but I choose not to over-explain things and just stick with my 'no.' A while later, he might ask if he can phone a friend to play with. Sounding regretful, I say 'no' again (feeling rather mean, frankly, because I normally would be ok with any one of these things). Maybe it's this time, or maybe it's the next time I say no to something, but eventually Matthew's control will slip, and he'll maybe start to yell out of frustration or even throw himself down and have a good scream about everything he's been denied. While he's at the mad stage, I either say nothing (but am in the same room) or I offer empathy ("I know it's frustrating and you wanted xyz so badly" etc etc), depending on what his state is like at the moment, but I don't offer up further explanations or change my mind on saying no to those things.
At some point, after the frustration and anger are out, Matthew's cries absolutely and eventually change in their sound...and in their meaning. All parents can tell when their kids are screaming out of rage and when they're screaming out of sorrow; it probably doesn't even take a child's parent to realize the difference in sound. I know that Matthew has started to find his tears of sadness/futility when that sound changes; when he's moved beyond his anger to a deep sorrow that he simply cannot have what he wants and there's nothing he can do to change the outcome for himself.
I move in as Comforter and Matthew and I end up (not dissimilar to what I described yesterday with Seth, but less dramatic because Matthew and I have been at this stuff for a long time already) bundled up somewhere in a cuddle, and he cries his heart out and I'm there to sorrow with him. He cries not really for the frustrations of the moment - those are just the excuse he needs to cry about everything that's gone wrong in the past week where his frustration came out as a punch or in word choices, etc etc. He's grieving over all of the stuff that's gone wrong.
And with that grief comes adaptability. Change. My behaviour-challenged boy of the past few days has gone away somewhere, and I'm left with this lovely, loving, soft-hearted, growing-up boy who's ready to re-engage the world and who gets that he can survive without those things he has been denied. That's the beauty of emerging through the tears of futility: a sense that one can survive what's been denied; it's an emergence into true maturity.
Matthew doesn't need this kind of parenting approach very often. He's a boy who finds his tears of futility/sadness fairly readily...sometimes I wish he found them a little less often! His heart is pretty soft most of the time, and pretty responsive. But there are days/weeks where he just needs to let it all out and he's stuck in a cycle of frustration so he can't let it out...that's when I come in to help him move past the frustration and get to the sad parts.
I was reminded recently by the facilitator of most of the Neufeld courses I've taken that introducing futility doesn't have to be on such a grand scale - especially with kids like Seth and Lizzie, who are still attaching, but with Matthew, too. It can be as simple as noting how the weather poses a problem of futility for the kids: "Oh, I know Lizzie/Matthew/Seth - you have really been wanting to ride your bike but it's snowing outside again. How frustrating that you can't ride yet. I'm disappointed too." And then you just move on. It's amazing how little seeds planted like that can make the brain and heart deal with the frustrations and futilities of the day. I'm learning to get better at this stuff.
Now, lest you think this is something only for kids, think again. I asked yesterday: aren't there moments in your life where you end up in a state of huge sadness over something you can't believe affected you so strongly? I know there are moments like that for me...when I just feel overcome with sadness and need to live there for a while. It might be a book I've read that has me in a big pile of mush, and I can't figure out why I'm so emotional 'cause I didn't even like that book. I've cried over commercials in the past when I can't figure out how a 30-second clip can get to me so much.
But it's not really those moments that are causing us to cry - it's all of the crap that's happened beforehand that we haven't found our sadness about yet. The tear-inducing moments are just the excuse we needed to 'let it all out.' Doesn't that just make sense?
I think this was part of what was going on for me in the months before Christmas, when I was feeling so low and depressed and angry and frustrated. On the one hand I was so thankful that my kids were all finally together, and I knew that we have been so blessed by our three miracles. But on the other hand, it's been a really, really hard journey since last June, and I went through massive amounts of frustration/anger/even rage over the way our lives were simply turned upside down...invaded...irrevocably...without any guarantee that it would ever get better...ever.
I needed to get beyond the anger of it to really deeply get that this was a done deal. There was no easy entry into becoming a family of five - overnight, it just all changed and became hellish for quite a long while. I could do nothing, absolutely nothing, about that decision. It was done.
Talk about a feeling of futility!
I remember, in some of my worst moments, just lying in bed at night curled up as tightly as I could curl myself up, rocking myself and sobbing silently - trying not to wake up Geoff. (Well, he had his c-papp machine on so I could probably have been sobbing loudly enough to wake the whole house and he wouldn't have stirred in his sleep...but still...I made the effort) I thought life was over and it was just never going to get better - and frankly, life as I'd known it was over, and my inner desire to have it go back to 'normal' was completely futile...all in vain. I look back on that and think of course you had a lot to feel sad about Ruth! I still do some days...fortunately less than even two months ago, but still.
I've noticed even this past week that my frustration levels have gone up again. I'm giving orders more than I like, expect compliance more than usual, feel a little more rigid in my expectations and scheduling, I'm snapping at kids and husband a little more, etc etc. These are all warning signs to me now, that I've got some built up angst going on that can either continue on as frustration/anger about something, or that I can work towards finding my tears about. I haven't had a lot of breaks (time 'off') lately: a couple of my Thursday evenings out have been cancelled lately; Geoff was away for a chunk of last weekend, which means that I was 'on' for childcare on my own for a whole lots of consecutive days with three kids who are always here; and the kids have all been a little behaviour-challenged lately...likely at least in part feeding off of my energy.
I know I need to do some self care here or I'll end up back where I was before Christmas...and that wasn't pretty, and I don't want to go there again.
I need to get beyond my mad and find my sad...that's a corny line, but it just came out of me. :)
...what are you thinking/feeling about all of this stuff? Does it sound obvious? Radical? Familiar? Crazy? I'd so love to hear your thoughts about it all...if only to ease my sense of vulnerability about sharing all of this stuff that I believe in deeply but feel sometimes a little 'out there' about. This is stuff that is hard to talk about with people - I've seen eyes glaze over when I talk yet again about Tears of Futility or another small piece of Gordon Neufeld stuff that is so deep in my gut that I can't help but talk about sometimes. If I weren't careful, I could easily get to the point of being evangelical about it all. I may already be and constantly have to pull myself back from over-talking it or introducing it into every parenting-related conversation I have.
So anyway, what do you think? I can totally handle disagreement...I'm much less comfortable with silence.