Problem Child

Parenting is tough. Each child is so different and, as such, has completely different emotional needs. When it comes to being a parent, it goes so far beyond just providing shelter, food, and clothing. It requires a genuine understanding of your child’s emotions, thoughts, and overall psychological needs. For the longest time, I thought I had it figured out. After all, my older daughters are flourishing in their own rights. They both perform well in school and exhibit generally wonderful behavior.

My son is a completely different story.

Over the last couple of years, he has rebelled so much. His grades at school have suffered as a result of that. While he and I both know that he is completely capable of doing the work, as demonstrated on several occasions, he simply refuses to do it. For a while, I focused on what he was doing wrong.

Perhaps, though, it is something that I am doing wrong.

As a parent, it is easy to focus on a child’s bad behavior and never look at yourself. While I am no psychologist, I do know that children often exhibit behaviors as a way to project their feelings about the world in which they live. With that knowledge, I’ve started to wonder: Is there something that he is not receiving enough of from me, is there something that I am doing wrong to cause this? Or, is there something from our disastrous past that he hasn’t been able to deal with emotionally that has him locked in a perpetual state of misbehavior and bad choices?

Jack is a remarkably good kid. At least, somewhere in there, that remarkably good kid exists. He is as polite at the day is long when interacting with most people. From holding the door for strangers to using good manners when speaking, you’d be never know that he struggles everyday both at school and at home. Ever the entertainer that he is, he spends his time in class goofing off and inciting his classmates rather than doing his work. He gets bored easily in class, he gets frustrate easily both at home and at school, and he acts out more often than not. This didn’t use to be the case.

In the past, he rarely ever displayed bad behavior.

Things changed, however, shortly after my now ex-husband came home from deployment. We hadn’t honestly lived together until he came home. We got married and he headed down range just a few days later. Our entire first nine months of marriage were spent in different countries. During deployment, he got angry with me quite often. He’d yell at me on Skype and then I wouldn’t hear from him for days at a time. Usually not until he deemed me worthy of his acknowledgement again.

This happened often. Several times a month in fact.

Silly me, I thought it would end when he came home. Maybe it was just the long distance that made him so angry. After all, during our relationship prior to marriage, we fought a lot too. I lived in North Carolina and he lived in Texas. I chalked the fights up to distance just putting a strain on the relationship.

He came home, though, and nothing changed. We fought more often than we got along. Of course, he involved his family in all of our fights, so they were awful to me as a means of taking his side in everything. Usually because they only heard his side of things. Over the next five years, the fighting only got worse. I should have left. What my kids went through is entirely my fault, because I didn’t leave. Of course, I wasn’t aware of their suffering until well after the fact, but I still blame myself for not leaving.

Sometime during our second year of living in Oklahoma, he lost his job. Despite my best efforts at encouraging him to just take a job anywhere that was available until he could find something more suitable to his preferences, he wouldn’t try. He was too good to flip burgers even if it meant providing for the family that he chose. I worked and he stayed home with the kids. He still yelled all the time. It got to a point where I would take the long way home just to make the five minute drive take a bit longer, because I dreaded going home.

At some point, the yelling turned to physical violence. He flipped a recliner into me, leaving a large bruise on my thigh. He pressed his knee into my chest to hold me in place on the couch while his fist was at my face. It had gone from psychological abuse to actual abuse. I was afraid to talk about my feelings on anything. I was afraid to spend money without asking first. Afraid to go out with friends or talk to anyone about what I was going through. Somewhere between being depressed and being afraid, I forgot to ask myself: If he’s doing all of this to me, is he doing the same to my kids?

I wish I had just left sooner. I should have LEFT SOONER.

After he finally moved out for the last time, my kids became comfortable enough to start talking to me about their experiences. The things I found out weren’t pretty. During my shifts at work, when they were left in his care, he’d restrict them to their rooms the entire day. If they asked for food, he’d yell at them. When he finally got tired of them asking, he’d give them cold leftovers or a peanut butter sandwich and then send them back to their rooms. There were instances of being dragged by their hair, smacked, kicked, and knocked to the ground. I had no idea that they were suffering so much while I wasn’t home. I was so consumed with fear, dread, and depression, that I couldn’t see what was happening.

Jack’s behavior changed during that time. He became seemingly angry. He lashed out easier, cried easier, stopped making an effort in school. His behavioral changes are more my fault than his. As a mom, I failed him. I absolutely failed him.

We went through so much and we have come so far, but he still struggles every single day because I failed him.

The only thing I haven’t figured out is how to fix it. How do I help him heal from five years worth of living with a volatile, abusive human being and get him back to the boy that he was before all of that happened? What do I do?

I’m still trying to figure that out but knowing where things went wrong is a start. My boy is loved unconditionally beyond measure and I am proud that he is my son. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I just do not know what to do to turn things around.

Thanks for reading.

-Quinn

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