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Acting From a "Moment of Clarity"

When my son was thirteen, he went through a very rough period. People say junior high age is "just that way" as though it's biological or hormonal. I believe this is the time when the oppression of young people becomes quite heavy and also when patterns of sexism are being strongly reinforced. One indication of this for me was that my usually very respectful son was beginning to treat me, his mother, with a lot of disrespect. He would often echo tone and phrase choices of other men who had been disrespectful to me. For a long time, I took this personally. I was terrified that my son was turning sexist and felt that I just couldn't bear to hear these things from my beloved child. My own hopelessness was being restimulated. I felt so terrified and hurt that I was of no use to him for a long time. I would end up lashing out at him and telling him not to dare use that sexist language or tone with me, I deserved respect, etc. It may have been right for me as a female to stand up for myself, but as his mother and an adult, I only succeeded in further isolating him by my attitude. He ended up being so sullen it seemed to fill the whole house. Previously gregarious and funny, ready to share just about anything, he suddenly became absolutely mute to our inquiries about his life and feelings. I took this personally as well.

Finally it began to dawn on me that a pattern was operating! How simple this is to see in my RC classes, but not with my son in this instance. After this realization I approached the situation from my knowledge that when someone has been hurt they try to get a session on it by acting out the hurt. Therefore if my son was throwing sexist remarks at me, he must be witnessing this kind of behavior outside of the house (no shortage of that out there!), and also perhaps feeling a great deal of pressure at school to act sexist as well. I noticed that his friends were certainly throwing around a lot of sexist stuff as well. My son was throwing it out at me because I was his best hope to contradict it and give him a session. Instead of that I had been reinforcing hopelessness about this entire subject.

One day I had a moment of clarity that I can't explain, only that I knew I could stand strong and that I felt a clear love for my son. He was stomping around the house in a foul mood. I thought, what could I lose? Anything, even a good knock-down-drag-out fight would be better than this avoidance of each other. I physically stopped him in his tracks and asked him to sit down. I didn't have a plan, I just followed my intuition and said whatever came into my head, deciding firmly that whatever happened was not personal. (I suspected he would attack me.)

I said cheerfully, "What can't you stand about me?" At first he wouldn't talk. "No really, I'm interested," I kept saying. I did use my "authority" to make him sit still and see the conversation out. (He wouldn't have "obeyed" me if he didn't see a glimmer of hope. It's odd this game we play in the wide world of pretending we have any real power over this age young person.)

Finally he tried saying one thing he couldn't stand, something about how I looked or the music I liked. I listened carefully and held back my usual tendency to argue for "my right to my whatever." (This must be a residue of my struggles as a teenager.) I acted, and soon felt, delighted in him as he got madder and madder and more personal. The deeper in we got, the easier it was for me to distinguish the person from the pattern, and it was just exhilarating to have him finally pouring out this list of things he hated about me, my new husband, our life, our house, and so on. I kept prompting him over and over with the question, "What else can't you stand?" I asked my husband, his stepfather, to come in the room. My son was really into it by that time, so he just kept going. My husband is really smart at following my lead, just looking at my face and adopting the same posture and tone. He added a few hearty, "I don't blame you a bit!"s. My son cried as he went on.

It actually didn't take much time. His "personality" just changed totally after that. He acted loving and interested in things and wanted to be physically close again and was downright chatty. I think actually my fear that it would be very long and involved has more to do with my feelings of hopelessness than his. A good, strong contradiction and willingness to hang in there with him make all the difference in our relationship.

As he's grown older (he's sixteen now), I find it is also important to seriously apologize to him a lot for the past. As I get clearer in certain areas through counseling and action against my own patterns, he senses my new slack and brings up the old lists. They are very specific, as though he's been saving them for me. Our lives were very difficult until he was thirteen, and he has a lot of old hurt in that I was too preoccupied to help him out much for a good ten years. I was now able to tell him what was going on and that it wasn't his fault, that he deserved much more. I also did go to the wall for him a few times during those years, standing up for him in powerful ways, in his presence, against oppressive practices and beliefs in school. So he had some built-in contradictions, but it seems he had to wait until I had slack to come back to those issues.

Now he brings things up from the past, very angry, and I must always listen carefully, with much respect, and decide to set aside any personal agenda I have (usually a pull to defend my actions given my own oppression as a single mother). Then I must apologize, and mean it, and in detail tell him how I think it should have been, what he deserved. He usually cries then. Then we have a discussion almost every time about frozen needs, that some of his behaviors in the present stem from a hope that he will get those old needs met, and that I cannot make it up to him for the past, he must discharge it himself, and I'm sorry for that too, that he has to take time to do that. We usually agree that the important thing is to change behavior in the present. It's interesting as he grows older too; he often says to me at the end of such a session that he knows I'm doing my best, and always did. This is a very loving thing to say to a parent and brings tears.

A lot of these issues from the past are coming up because I now have a child from my second marriage, and I am in so much better shape that he sees me treat the baby with a great deal more relaxed attention than he got. I must be willing to freely admit that he did not get all that his brother is getting, and I must not do this from a whiney or defensive posture. Just matter-of-fact, cheerful acknowledgment of a truth. The older son is quite clear on the fact that the younger deserves all he is getting, but he admits it's sometimes very painful to witness. Sometimes I feel as though my heart will break, because I love my first child just as much as the second, and I long to make it up to him. It is much more loving to be matter-of-fact and straight about the whole thing and resolve each day to be in the present and my real self with him. For years I was "taking care" of him too much -- making all his food, doing his laundry -- in an attempt, I think, to "make it up to him." But this is not good for either of us. In my own sessions, I must systematically discharge my own grief and anger, for my own childhood, and for his, in order to stay with the direction of each day a new day, with enough love, enough humor, enough time -- enough of everything we need. My sons are marvelous people.

A --

Last modified: 2019-05-02 14:41:35+00