When you have a child with behavioral issues attached to a mood disorder, the entire family is impacted. Sometimes it’s like experiencing the aftershocks from an earth quake where you live with the trepidation that at any moment the slightest shaking could become cataclysmic. Other days you are aware that every moment is a bombardment of agitated aggression, irritation, and frustration let loose in the form of verbal assaults, whining, and general chaos created in your living space. It is an exhaustive time for all, where your adrenaline is constantly flowing and nerves are left twitching. The child initiating the mayhem can spend hours in and out of time-out, or wrestling with consequences, but in the end he/she has succeeded in monopolizing everyone’s time and attention. This is our life.
The behavioral issues reared their ugly head at a tender age, and there was a strong early independence and tenacity that I was actually VERY proud of. These are characteristics I prayed for in my children, but in a “baby” they can certainly be a challenge. I found my first born to be extremely determined, seemingly fearless, and intensely curious. Language acquisition was easy for her; consequently, when with her peers she would be busy “teaching” in her bossy way as she thrived on telling others what and how to do things. Unfortunately, her reactions to their apparent lack of responsiveness toward her were fiercely intense and redirecting her was nearly impossible. She would persist (and still does) in holding onto an idea in order to get her way.
Over time she became extremely manipulative and overbearing. Consequences didn’t seem to make an impact and she rarely showed sadness or remorse for her behavior, rather she would demonstrate intense anger at her consequences or at the person implementing them. In addition, she would often find a way to retaliate later either toward the person who disciplined her or the person she was originally angry with. To make matters worse, small conflicts or differences of opinion could turn into huge issues in which irrational rage would erupt. It was often difficult for her to control her actions. On numerous occasions she would have to be physically contained to prevent damage to others or property. We used to say that she was “freakishly strong.”
Our second child joined the family when our first was 18 months and she was (understandably) very jealous. I became the “mama bear” to protect my newborn from his older sibling and struggled to balance caring for them both. Maybe I established the pattern of victim and aggressor right then, but if so why can’t we break out of that? I do have to say that there are many days when my children have their moments of playing well together and cooperating; it always seems tense and tenuous though. I know they both want to love each other, but there is such intensity of whatever emotion at the moment that they let loose on each other. I know it has been said that we hurt the ones we love the most, but wow!
I have come to believe that when there is an individual in the household who is as unpredictable and volatile as what we experience on a regular basis, there is NOT a normal family dynamic (albeit there may be no true “normal”). Moreover, when it is the eldest child, the siblings develop in a way that is also uncommon as they require heightened natural defenses just to “survive”, let-alone thrive. The family structure is strained and if the marriage isn’t already a rock, the pressure can crumble its fragile existence.
So what are parents to do? We have to parent the children we have. Can we prevent one child from affecting the entire family?