Friday, April 23, 2010


I'm not really one for assigning essential qualities based on gender. But being T.'s parent has got me thinking about attachment and bonding and the role that gender plays in a new way.

Tim and I are very different people, so of course we have different dynamics with T. But that aside, I think it's accurate to say that T. is psychologically preoccupied with his female caregivers, and his anxieties about abandonment tend to attach to women. His mother left him when he was four days old and didn't reenter his life until he was 14. He has grown up by stringing together a series of temporary living situations, all of them headed up by single moms. Each of those situations ended in a way that was traumatic for him, and he missed and longed for and felt angry with the (female) parent who couldn't keep him anymore.

I didn't really think about any of this until I noticed that T.'s behavior was a little off recently. Like all teens, T. is pretty moody and he gets frustrated and angry sometimes at parental guidance. But recently his anger seemed to be running deeper and lasting longer than it usually does. It felt more fundamental.

I was musing over why he was being so unusually unforgiving, and I started to wonder if maybe it had to do with a recent change in our routine. Last week, I had a business trip, and I was away for three days. When I returned, I was really busy at work, and I left the morning and after-school rituals to Tim, whereas we usually share those duties. Tim is frankly the far-better parent in terms of day-to-day consistency and there is plenty of warmth between him and T. Regardless, T. was getting more Tim and less me for awhile. During this time, he started avoiding meals - he skipped breakfast, and often grazed at will then dodged dinner. He also started to direct angry barbs at me. He'd be sweet with Tim, and then when I got home from work the mood would suddenly sour. Something seemed to be seething beneath the surface.

I made a point of giving him more attention. I got up early, made his breakfast, and left it in his breakfast spot. He stumbled through the kitchen, did a double-take, noticed his breakfast sitting there, gulped it down, muttered "thankyou-" and staggered into the shower. He never says thank you for his breakfast! A clue. I drove him to school and picked him up. The next day I did the same. That night he invited me to watch a movie with him. At bedtime, he came and gave me a winning smile for no reason. He was just happy that I was looking at him.

Ugh, stupid me. He missed my attention. He's been so grumpy lately, and his behavior has required some extra monitoring and discipline. I forgot to think about the fact that he's ATTACHED to us. When we aren't there, he misses us. And we aren't interchangeable - he needs me, and he needs Tim. Tim is patient, nurturing and he does all the cooking. I'm the crisis-fixer, and he talks to me about clothes and girls and the warts on his finger. We represent different dimensions of his reality.

The other day, he came into the living room. He said he wanted to ask us something. "Would you say you guys ever fight? Do you ever...disagree?" he asked. He wasn't being cute - he was almost angry when he said it. He followed with "What would you say about me if you DIDN'T like what I was doing, and I wasn't around? What do you say to each other about me?"

I realized that living with a couple and grasping the dynamics of adult couplehood is a change for him. He has never lived with an adult man before, nor with a couple. I don't believe it's better or worse for a kid like T. to be parented by a couple versus a single parent - we just happen to be a pair, and that's how we parent. And it's not something he's familiar with. So of course he finds it weird that we're ALWAYS on the same page when we give him guidance, and of course he wonders what we say to each other about him.

I'm reminded that he needs exclusive attention from both of us. He needs to feel he has a distinct and special connection to each of us as an individual. Just one of us being away, or busy, or preoccupied (and particularly me, for the reasons I describe above) is enough to trigger his anxiety, even if he is still at home getting plenty of attention from the other parent.


TTBoot said...

Great post! I have been experiencing a little of this with FS#2. Since the beginning of April I've been busier then previous months and have not been there for him like I was previously. I think his perceived neglect by me actually contributed to his bad week. I am now doing more of those nurturing things, buying thiings just for him, taking him with me oh just cause, and in general making a special effort to pay attention to his life. I've been rewarded with a much happy kid, a kid that eats dinner with me instead of the grazing or disappearing into his room. Yep, he's attached and it's a new thing for him and sometimes I forget that.

advocatemom said...

You have a lot of insight into T., I think. Sometimes with my boys, I have been exhausted by having to think so much about why they do certain behaviors. There is always a reason and it looks like you figured out today's puzzle! :)

I like your stories.

beckyww said...

I sort of stumbled on your blog. I have three bio daughters and an adopted daughter and I can tell you what you described is absolutely true. And gratifying. He wouldn't act this way if he wasn't attached.


M and M said...

fabulousness - all three of you

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