This is a post by Leah Howell, M.S., Training Coordinator for Protect Our Children Child Abuse Prevention Training of Jackson County, Oregon
A few years ago when my son was around 4 months old, we were concerned about his weight, so I did a Google Images search on what a typical 4 month old should look like.
I found a picture of a baby who could have been my son’s twin, and was born within weeks of my son. Out of curiosity, I clicked on the image and then the accompanying article. It was the story of a baby boy who had been repeatedly beaten, but each time was sent back home to his parents. At four months old he died at the hands of his father. To this day, when I think of that little boy, who deserved nothing but unbounded love, I feel deep, almost overwhelming sadness.
These strong feelings have significance to me because I have a 3 year old boy whose emotions seem to fluctuate between unprecedented elation and severe emotional distress from moment to moment.
My reaction to this roller-coaster of expression is to become “The Stabilizer.” I am the adult, after all. I am the person who needs to remain emotionally impervious to the tragedy of the minute, and offer some rational thought or feelings that balance his “crazy-makin’.” My son responds surprisingly well to most of my rational input-even at his age (you can give my husband all the credit for those genes).
Though I know “The Stabilizer” to be a necessary role currently with my three year old, I find that this function has morphed, and has begun to seep into me in a more personal way.
I find that it is my “go to” survival technique. When life gets stressful or overwhelming, I am the one who keeps the ship moving and minimizes any rocking – emotional or otherwise. Recently, I have sensed myself unwilling to contend with my own complicated emotions. Instead of feeling them, I choose to stuff them, then rationalize my way out of dealing with them.
I sometimes wonder how damaging this survival technique is. Used too often, this practice could keep me from focusing on the things that really matter – both in my family and community.
After all, allowing yourself to feel deeply is most often what compels a person to change or take decisive action.
Well known to most people, child abuse (and especially child sexual abuse) has been allowed to continue under the noses of many who would be outraged that it was occurring. But when adults in proximity were faced with this possibility, they perceived this truth as too devastating to them, and they took no action.
When I consider these tragic situations, I realize that I cannot continue as “The Stabilizer” for much longer, and still be the responsive parent I need to be. I acknowledge that the best protection I can provide to my son is to possess the will and courage to face the realities of life, (no matter how painful they may be) and walk alongside him through them- hand in hand.