From the U.K.: Thank you for considering publishing a response to my question. I am writing for an acquaintance, but think that your answer could be helpful for others in similar situations.
My daughter was very intense from birth, rarely slept until she was three or four, required constant attention. As a new mother, I was often home alone all day with her. She was very difficult to parent and I did not have the personal reserves to parent lovingly during her toddler / preschool years (2 – 6). I am not making excuses; just stating the facts. There were instances in my daughter’s life that I was physically and emotionally abusive, which were most likely traumatic her at those age. It wasn’t common, but there were at least four major incidents over four years and countless instances where I slapped her in knee-jerk reactions to her screaming.
Eventually, I found help and was able to get the breaks and help I needed to be a more consistently loving parent and our relationship has improved, but because she still has emotional and behavioural issues, I am worried that the abuse has adversely affected her and I don’t know how to move forward to build a positive relationship with her. Family therapy isn’t an option as she is adamantly against the idea when I’ve brought it up for current issues. So I’m wondering if there are things that I can do as a parent.
I still struggle with anger over her behaviours and I know my anger still scares her. I want to teach her that anger is a normal emotion and that there are healthy ways to deal with it, but how to I do that when I feel like a complete hypocrite. Do I ask her if she remembers incidents from her childhood and try to talk through them together? Or would that be traumatising?
I know that I have made mistakes in my past, but I want to do what I can to atone for them and continue to be a better parent moving forward. I’m just not sure how.
Thank you for your help.
Not everyone is equipped to be a good parent. In the U.S., nearly 700,000 children are abused annually. Child Protective Services investigates over 3 million cases a year. (I don’t know the statistic in UK but it’s reasonable to assume that there is a similar problem.) That doesn’t make your friend’s behavior okay. It is only to show her that she is not alone in being unable to cope with the demands of parenting. It’s a sad fact that so many new parents don’t get the support they need when they feel so overwhelmed they lash out at their children.
What is heartening is that your friend is able to admit her past mistakes and try to atone for them. She has apologized and is trying to make a better relationship with her daughter now. Her daughter may not be ready to hear it but it’s important that she keep trying. It’s also important that she continue to work on her anger management issues both for her daughter’s current safety and to give credibility to her apology.
Family Therapy is an option. Daughter isn’t ready to go. But Mom can go alone until her daughter will join her. The mother can work on her anger issues and can learn new, more effective ways to be in relationship with her daughter when there is conflict. Working on herself will also give her daughter reason to think that her mother is serious about changing. Over time, the therapist will help her figure out how to invite her daughter to join her in sessions.
Please tell your friend for me that I respect and admire her willingness to take responsibility for the past and her desire to improve her relationship with her daughter. Encourage her to take the next step and see a family therapist for as long as it takes to make the changes in herself and in her relationship with her daughter. Both she and her child will benefit.
I wish all well.