This funny meme popped up in my Facebook feed today, perhaps you’ve seen something like it:
This one got me. I’m in the middle of a melt-down with a girl who’s been living with me in a pseudo-fostering situation for about 10 months. That seems to be a magical time limit for foster kids and roommates alike, perhaps having to do with the amount of time it takes to get comfortable and really know how to tear someone down from the inside.
This girl is a teenager, one I’ve known for a while. She’s the brightest, most resilient person I know. She’s beautiful. For months she was hanging out with me before moving in, and I really looked forward to seeing her and hanging out. Then she moved in with me and while there have been some tough times, overall it’s been like a fun sleepover party. She really is a joy.
Things have been stressful to say the least outside of my relationship with her. This week I’ve gotten two root canals and am juggling a whole pile of crap including recovering from shoulder surgery and looking for a job.
Monday we had a fight and it was epic. Really my worst yet- total loss of temper. She’s mad and unforgiving still two days later, though she is being sweet to my preschooler. The hateful texts, the glares, the sullen attitude… all classic teen.
It’s been hard on me, mainly because things were so flipping good last week. I’ve been finding solace in research. I found this article from a British community health organization journal written in 1979. It was shockingly relevant.
“The first point emerged from group work in which I was involved with foster parents. This was a deep need on the part of foster parents that they show themselves to be good people and good parents. Underlying such expressions as “I wanted to do something worthwhile”, or “I wanted to share my home with an unfortunate child” lay a great need for reassurance from the foster child that they were doing something of value.”
There I was. In my hurt, depression, anxiety, fears circling around the myriad of other issues in my life, I had subjected this kid (whom I love dearly) to my own expectation of satisfaction. I wanted one thing in my life to be safe, to be good, and I fixated on her.
“…Such is the nature of many of our children, that the one thing they cannot do is to make the adults who care for them feel reassured or rewarded.”
She can’t do it.
If this situation doesn’t totally implode, doesn’t self-destruct I will have to remember that it is my job to put my needs elsewhere and to get my reassurance from other places. What I got mad at her about was trivial, how she reacted was snooty, and none of it was worth this rift. But the rift was already happening, and I didn’t see it. I was too focused on my own need for validation.
We are all fragile beings, every single one of us. We all need to be met where we actually are and not where we should be. No one is on a strict timeline for maturation. Instead of pushing I need to listen, instead of demanding I need to acquiesce. There are lessons to be learned from every conflict.