My gorgeous son turned nine — and he suddenly turned against me. He became aggressive, demeaning, un-cooperative and sullen. I spent the ensuing 15 years in an estranged entanglement with him, which neither of us liked nor wanted but there we were.
Things grew worse when we moved from the only home he had ever known, in Indonesia, to Australia, and by the time he was fourteen years old I had come to my wits end.
One day I told him that I noticed he was very unhappy living with his sister and me, and that I was very unhappy with his attitude, aggression and lack of cooperation. I told him that he had many people who loved him all over the world and that he could choose from any one of them to go and live with if he thought he’s be happier with them.
He said “really?” I said “yes, really” …
The next morning he came to me with his decision. He had thoroughly considered and weighed up his options - Based on the political climate in Israel, the type of care, contacts, educational and social opportunities in Bali, and the all round love and security offered by his grandparents in Sydney alongside the English speaking education system there– he chose the latter. “Right then, great choice” I said “Get them on the phone and ask if it’s ok”.
Three days later my boy was on the plane to Sydney. His little sister and I took him to Ballina airport, we watched him walk across the tarmac towards the plane feeling a strange mix of sadness, regret and relief but he never even looked back at us, not once. He was gone.
We mostly had telephone contact for the following 12 years with a few strained visits spattered amongst them - about which we both felt better once they were over.
I established the rules of telephone engagement, being that if he raised his voice I would warn him I don’t like that, and if he became enraged I would simply hang up. And so it went — a few moments of calm connection, followed by an eruption and I’d hang up. He would call back a minute later and we would continue the conversation until his next outburst, or until he didn’t like what I was saying and he’d hang up — and so on and so on often for an hour or two.
Sometimes he didn’t call back for a few days but every time he called back or I called him we reset the opportunity for respectful communication and connection. In those blessed moments of connection we maintained interesting and supportive conversations, we laughed and we moved on. But all was not well, where was the love, where was the understanding, where was the will for either?
Eventually I gave up on needing it to be different to satisfy a pile of ideals I was clinging to about having a picture perfect parent–child relationship, and so I placed him in the too hard basket. I truly let go and it felt as if he had done the same.
Not long after finishing school he returned to reside in Indonesia. We maintained phone contact and whilst our communication had improved, and we had long chats without needing to hang up on each other, there remained an underlying ‘uncomfortable thing between us’ that neither understood until …
One day, when he was about 26 years old we were standing together in the kitchen at my mother’s home. He started arcing up, raising his voice and hurling aggressive judgements as he towered over me from his 6’2 advantage. This time instead of retreating into my regular patterns of protective behaviours I went very still within, I looked at him and I asked myself, "What is he really trying to say?" The answer came like a lightening flash with absolute clarity — he was talking from the excruciating hurts of a little boy who didn’t know how to help his mother.
This had nothing to do with the words he was spouting but I knew in every particle of my being. I held my hand up and said to him “I’m ok, you don’t have to worry”. The insulting tirade persisted but I just kept repeating, “I’m ok, you don’t have to worry, I’m ok, you don’t have to worry” until he could hear me.
It took a while for him to trust what I was saying. Meanwhile he stormed outside to his computer all freaked out, fired up and furious. I followed him repeating “I am ok , you don’t have to worry — look at me I’m trying to tell you that I’m ok”. Suddenly he looked up and I could see that he registered what I was saying and he challenged me with an “Ok … then prove it!"
Somehow years of tension between us dissolved because I had read what was driving his aggression instead of reacting to it by firing up in equal measure, being defensive, withdrawing, making him wrong and bad in some way, me better, me the victim and him the aggressor or any thing other than the plain truth that he was hurting in the wake of my lack of commitment to life. I did actually need help, he knew it and didn’t know how to give it.
This man's inner child, was desperate for me to be ok. As was he as a grown man - hence the double whammy fury.
This moment of true communication changed our relationship completely. I am still trudging my way back through my choices towards financial security, it still upsets him, he still loses his temper and patience with me but we can talk about things, I can ask his advise and we are a lot more open, honest and transparent with each other — which is a humungous leap from where we began.
The many revelations in this anecdote are relevant to changing behaviours at all ages and stages of the parent-child relationship. In fact to all stages of all relationships such as:
To change behaviours we must
Understand the root cause of them.
Understand the reflection they offer us.
Look for the good intention under most children’s behaviour as opposed to them just being naughty - they are often trying to express something they don't know how to say
Look for the factors of protection in people's behaviours, for example - try to understand if they are protecting a hurt or a fear
Understand they are in reaction to us, to others and the world (in varying degrees of sensitivity) because let’s face it we often emanate a lot of bad vibes, and/or lack the honesty to honour the level of truth that children naturally perceive - or anyone else for that matter - as in the case of my son and I!
People are more sensitive, intuitive and intelligent than you want to honour and often they want you to know
What children don’t understanding is why we are like this — its completely confounding and so they start to contort them selves to fit into a world of behaviours and relationship dynamics that are alien to the love that they are when they are born.
The good news is that if we are willing to raise our awareness, shift our perspectives, increase our understanding and be completely honest - then we open up the potential to changing any relationship dynamic, with anyone. How the other responds will be up to them, but give it a go and let the magic begin ...