Saturday, March 3, 2012

Part 2 or 3 of this Futility Stuff - Though It Gets a Little More Personal Now.

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.


  1. It makes a lot of sense, and I'm glad you're writing about it. I totally break down over seemingly minute things when I am overwhelmed or disappointed with other things - sometimes I'm not even sure what the catalyst is. Very interesting, indeed.

  2. I really appreciated this post and the additional info re: tears of futility. I think I'm going to do some more follow up on my own about this concept, so thank you. The sentence that really connected for me though, was when you said you were angry. I think that is the emotion I was least (read not at all) prepared for in this journey. I expected frustration, heart ache, exhaustion, but not total anger. I'm far less angry now, button the really long days/weeks, it is still my anger that I struggle with. Thanks for sharing. A

  3. I'm loving reading about Neufeld in action, Ruth! The concepts are familiar to me, but I have a feeling I am going to need many reminders about them when my child comes home.

  4. I totally respect the amount of energy that you put into thinking about all of this. My reaction to Gordon Neufeld has been to feel that he takes common sense and makes it super complicated with too many theories and stages. It makes me tired hearing about it. Relaxing and being in the moment without an agenda is my reaction to that and my most difficult parenting challenge. Certainly there is time for strategizing. But if I spent a lot of time with his material, I'd have mom performance anxiety.

  5. I can totally relate to tears of futility! I think it is very therapeutic and connects the power emotions like anger to the deeper one of sorrow and loss. Having been in the adoption process for 5 years with 3 failed attempts and the recent Cafac issues, I am definitely looking futility in the eye. We were expecting good news from the agency when we heard the news of financial difficulty. That is the first time in 5 years I think that I really really went to that deep core of sorrow and literally sobbed, gasping for air and sobbing more. It was a gut-wrenching sob, more than anger, more than sadness in many ways.

    I can relate to frustration and anger indicating something more is going on and needs to be addressed. I can't say everything has been fine since letting out my tears of futility, and I have certainly done it more than once. However, when I do let myself "go there" it is a therapeutic experience.

    Thanks for sharing about this and relating it to raising your children. It is really interesting to see how attachment can happen more once a child faces those deep emotions that connect to the core of their being.

  6. Thanks everyone for your comments - I really appreciate hearing from you!

    Allison, I just wanted to say how sorry I am that you're going through what you're going through - I'm thankful that your agency seems to be getting back on its feet, and I hope and pray that your good news won't take too much longer in arriving. You've waited way too long already.

    I also wanted to mention that your experience of finding your tears on more than one occasion is a great point, and one I neglected to mention. The more impactful the sorrow, the more often I think we need to go there - to feel it until we don't need to any more. Great observation.

    I can hardly wait to hear good news from you Allison, and I wish you blessings on your continued journey!


  7. Heidi I just wanted to say that your comment about relaxing and being in the moment being one of your parenting challenges made me smile! You're such an incredible go-getter, I can only imagine how much effort it takes to slow down and do the in-the-minute thing. I always love hearing from you - thanks!


  8. Hi Ruth thanks for your kind comments and friendship. Much appreciated. ~Heidi

  9. Well, I had never heard of Neufeld or any of these ideas. I think implementing it as a parent would be difficult. And personally I have not found crying to be helpful. I do not like to be out of control and on the rare occasions that I have cried from deep within it took over for weeks. But, I am finding your posts very interesting and like reading them.

  10. Thank you thank you. I must say that I'm loving the feedback on this stuff!


  11. This all sounds so complicated, but in reality, it's quite natural, and mostly common-sense. Years ago, our pre-school brought in Gordon Neufeld to talk to us, and it was FANTASTIC!! We learned so much, and at the same time, looked at each other & said *duh!* We were doing so much of this without really thinking. Neufeld's teaching is an amazing tool - it really helps us in our foundation building so that we can give our kids what they need! We can all use a little help, and sometimes having the words put to what we do is such a huge help and a reminder of why it's important!

    I'm one of the most self-aware people I know and I've come to realize that while self-awareness is good & healthy, taken too far, it can over-ride the Christ-awareness that I should have. (
    A friend who is a missionary said something that really stuck with me: You have to have a clear call, so that when the tough times come (and they will!), you can think back to when God called you and know that you're in His place for you, doing His work. And when life gets dire, and I'm feeling a little desperate, I remember that call, and I can relax. I dive more into Him, and trust Him to get me through it. Sometimes it's those tears, or a day to myself, or both.:)

    Ruth, your blog is such a great resource for people to read & to think about...and the way you have explained this is so clear. If there's someone reading this who thinks it all sounds so contrived, well, it's not. The explanation is sorta like a 'how to' of making those French macarons. Detailed, thorough, and sometimes a little intimidating. Necessary, though. And once you work through it a couple of times, it's a smooth, and much more natural process, and in time, becomes intuitive. I know the signs for my husband when he's reaching the edge, and he knows mine. We also both know how often & what the other person needs to refresh, and have learned to give & accept that time. But at the centre of it all, in the middle of the tough times, we point each other back to 'the call' and our Lord, trusting Him to work it out in us, and He is faithful. Every time. Blessings on you, sister.

  12. Ruth, I love how purposeful you are in your parenting, although this particular strategy doesn't resonate with me. It wouldn't feel right for me to create a scenario in which I say no to even the most reasonable requests. I have thought about how I would feel - putting that technique into practice and I think, for me, it would feel manipulative, unfair, even a bit cruel. And unnecessary, as I think my poor little guy experiences enough disappointment, sadness, feelings of futility from genuine situations, i.e. when things just don't go his way! Interesting to read about, I respect the effort, and I get it, sort of, but I don't think it'd be for me.

  13. HI Karen -
    thanks for the comment!
    You know, it's an interesting point you make. The truth is that our kids DO usually experience enough sadness/futility from genuine situations in order to have tears of futility happen naturally. Absolutely.

    But there are occasions when I can just SEE in my kid that he is struggling, that he needs to let go of something...something that he's holding inside that clearly needs to come out. If I'm aware of it enough, it's like I can help to prompt it out. It IS a bit manipulative in the purest sense of that word, but not in a way that's designed to harm. And once that angst/grief/undealt with stuff comes out, the difference is amazing (whether the futility is prompted by me or happens naturally). Just sometimes, the things that don't go his way 'naturally' aren't quite enough.

    I actually think you might do the same thing inadvertently, simply by saying no to things that your little guy might want that you have decided not to allow for whatever reason! Perhaps the biggest difference is recognizing it as a moment of futility and allowing our kids to fully experience the futility of the moment.

    I surely know that I don't have all of the answers, but I do love thinking this stuff through...and love that you do, too!!

    BLessings, Karen.


  14. Hi Ruth, I agree with this wholeheartedly. As a teacher, you can see that the child really moves forward after tears. The stone cold look and anger do nothing until that futility sets in and there are tears.
    With Bereket, this happens more often and the anger that preceded things is much shorter. His tears come very quickly lately as he processes his birthday. His tears change as you said, from being upset to true sorrow.
    With Eskedar, it's a different matter and I thank you for your post because it's has me thinking about E. She rarely cries and tries to keep it all together. I can see that I need to work on this. She needs to open up and let it out.

    Thanks, Ruth! Great posts.

  15. Hi Michelle -
    I can't tell you how much I appreciate your comment. First, because I think of you and yours so often! (and yes, I hope B&E had a great birthday!). Second, because you have gone through so much with B&E and really know what I'm talking about. Third because of your experience as a primary teacher and seeing this stuff in action.
    The 'keeping it all in' and holding it together despite circumstances are exactly what I'm talking about in this post. THanks for sharing your experience!