We had a bad day. A really bad day. I mean, a really, really bad day.
A day that ended with me saying to Little, “I’ve given you all the help I can. I have no more help to give. Now it’s time for you to help yourself. I love you, but I can’t help you until you want me to help you.”
Think back to your own childhood. Imagine your parent said that to you on a difficult day.
Now imagine waking up with a terrible nosebleed in the middle of the night.
If my mother had said that to six-year-old me in frustration and I’d woken up bleeding, I would have called out to her for help. Even if she’d said something harsher to me before bed, I’d have sought her out in the darkness.
I’d have called out to her, and I’d have known she’d come to help me, to soothe me, to clean me up and tuck me back in.
I would have known to call on her because I had a secure attachment with her. As a child, I knew I could count on my mom to mother me and love me, even during rough patches in our relationship. I knew that her love wasn’t conditional and that it would always be there.
My stepchildren have no such confidence in my love for them. They don’t understand that my love for them goes on and on, even when I’m upset, frustrated, or even angry with their behavior.
So when Little woke up that night, dripping blood from his nose all over his pajamas, his bedding, the carpet, he didn’t call out to me for help.
He tried to take care of it himself.
When I went to his room in the morning, I was horrified – his face, arms, legs and walls were smeared with red. There was a pile of wadded up paper towels soaked black with his blood – his sister had heard him whimpering and tried to help (she didn’t think to call me for help, either). He was sticky and gross and sad.
I swooped him up in my arms, hugged him tightly to my chest, and asked what had happened. He told me about the nosebleed.
“Why didn’t you call me?” I asked.
“Because,” he said, with a voice muffled by my shoulder into which he’d buried his little angelic face. “You said you wouldn’t help me anymore. And I knew you’d be mad at me for making a mess on the carpet.”
That’s the difference. Kids without trauma histories know, somehow, that their parents’ love doesn’t stop. They know that their parents will help them when they’re distressed, even if their parents are at their limit and say something harsh in frustration. They’re secure in their attachment with their parents.
My kids with trauma histories do not have that security. For them, in their minds, all it takes is one bad day topped with careless utterance from me to send them spiraling into despair, convinced once again that no one will help them and that they have to meet their own needs.
No parent is perfect, and I’m trying not to beat myself up over this incident.
But man, it’s hard to forgive myself when the image of my beautiful Little’s face covered in blood, looking so lonely and frightened, keeps swimming through my mind.