This article by the author of Rescuing Julia Twice does a good job of explaining this trait. This passage in particular described how it feels parenting children with this behavioral symptom:
“Strangers or fleeting caretakers tell me I have the most adorable, delicious, precocious, confident child. Some say she’s the most adorable, delicious, precocious, confident child they’ve ever encountered. I nod and smile and pretend to share their sentiment, but I keep my thoughts to myself. How can I explain to a stranger that at home this child is distant, elusive, emotionally closed off, and defiant? What stranger will not say, or at least think silently, Really? I don’t see that. It must be you because she’s not like that with me.”
All of my kids are charming, but my step-kids use their charm to manipulate, to trick. Sometimes it feels like they are so sweet and cute in front of others simply to make me look like a crazy person. And I know that simply admitting that makes me seem like a total nut-job. I know that if someone had told me their five-and-six-year-old kids were so adept at manipulating their demeanor in “the before time,” I would have scoffed silently and wondered if they were “a little off” because it sounds so very paranoid and ridiculous.
But it’s very real. And it freaks me out more than any other behavior because it’s so deceptive… and it’s a behavior attributed to certain infamous individuals who have done some truly terrible things to other human beings.
Little is the master of this. He will act like an insane gerbil on PCP for an extended period of time and then shift into the cutest, sweetest, most wonderfully adorable little guy when a) someone other than me or Husband lays their eyes on him or b) when he decides he wants something from us.
For example… A couple months ago, we were driving to his school. He started in on the nonsense chatter and yelling at me over the radio.
“Yes?” I asked, turning the radio down.
“Why I have to wear shoes?”
“So your feet don’t get hurt.”
“Okay. Turn it up, please.”
I turned the radio back up. A few seconds later…
“Yes?” I turned the radio down again.
“LOOK A MAC TRUCK!”
“Turn it up please!” I did as requested.
Repeat 327 more times in a two-minute span of time.
I turned the radio off.
“Why you turned the radio off?”
“Because you want to talk to me.”
“No, I don’t. Turn it back on please.”
Radio off. “Yes?”
“Ummmmm….. Turn it up, please!”
“No, I think we should ride with it off.”
::whimpers:: ::starts crying::
“Talk to me, Bud! I want to hear what you have to say, but I can’t hear you with the radio on!”
“I DON’T WANT TO TALK TO YOU I WANT THE RADIO ON!”
“Okay, but if you want to talk I’ll turn it back off. Okay?”
“K.” Pause………. “Where’s Daddy?”
At that point I turned the radio off and determined to keep it off. This decision proved to be the catalyst to an epic f$%#^king meltdown.
He screamed. He accused me of not loving him. He yelled that he hated me. He kicked my seat so violently that the headrest knocked into the back of my head. A shoe flew off. He slammed his fists into the window. He tried to pull his car seat out from under him and throw it at me.
All because I would not turn the radio back on.
Frustrated and a little frightened, I called the receptionist at his behavioral therapy program as soon as we pulled off the highway. “Someone needs to meet me at my car to walk Little into his classroom.”
He raged and raged until we pulled into his school’s parking lot. “I hate you!” he screamed. Then he fell silent.
I parked the car and used the rear view mirror to look at Little. He was staring out the window. The placid look on his face unnerved me. By the time E (a caseworker assigned to our family) opened his door, there was no trace of the raging maniac he had been less than two minutes prior. “Are you ready to go to school?” E asked Little.
“Yes!” he bounced out of the car and practically skipped inside the building, smiling and chatting with E enthusiastically, without even a trace of the darkness I had just seen.
And I collapsed in a puddle of tears. This is exactly why no one believes me when I tell them about the problems we have at home, I thought.
I could give more examples as this happens regularly, but I’ll save that for future blogs.
This superficial charm is incredibly unsettling. He is so precious and cute… when he wants to be. And it’s the “when he wants to be” that makes it so hard to parent him, because I never know what is real with him. I want to believe that underneath the outbursts of rage and the darkness in his eyes lies a kind and loving heart… I have to believe that. I have to believe that the REAL Little is the little boy who gave half his Easter eggs to a little girl who did not find very many so that she would have some candy, too. I have to believe that the REAL Little is the little boy who so gently touched my foot and asked tenderly, “Are you okay, Mom?” when I stepped on a piece of glass earlier today. That the REAL Little is the little boy who loves to cuddle, loves to hug, loves to love.
I can’t let these pessimistic questions overtake me and buy into them. I have to believe that the traumatic events of his past dictate his emotional reactions and that after enough time and enough healing his “good heart” will overtake the trauma reactions.
I have to believe that. I know that we can pull him out of the darkness. I know there is hope.
There has to be. Otherwise, what are we putting in all this effort for?