I know I might get a lot of flack for this one, but hear me out first. My spouse had an uncle, we’ll call him Uncle Joe. Now Uncle Joe had 7 brothers. And every one of those brothers referred to Uncle Joe as an a**hole. As my FIL had put it, “He was born an a**hole, and he’ll die an a**hole.” In fact, everyone in the family, and friends of the family, all knew Joe was an a**hole. That’s just who he was. So my spouse and I started joking around one day, that he had a special gene, called an a**hole gene. Lucky only one of the 8 brothers had it! And it was awfully lucky it wasn’t transferred down to my spouse! (who was adopted, hence the hilarity of the joke)
When we began to realize that things were not quite right with the child, we began to joke that he had inherited the Uncle Joe gene. He was born with it and he would die with it. Just between the spouse and I, we would quib “It’s Uncle Joe all over again!” (The children had no idea who Uncle Joe was, he died before they were born/adopted, as had most of his brothers.) It became an inside joke, to help us through the times when we couldn’t figure out why the child was being so difficult and so destructive and so downright mean to everyone and everything. Dark humor is still better than crying.
Years passed, therapists have come and gone, and the child remains the same as he ever was. Defiant, rude, mean, spiteful, destructful, oppositional, would tell you he’s not on fire even if he is just because he prefers to lie. The Uncle Joe gene joke had come and gone, but it came back to haunt me. What if “this” was how he is? What if this was the best it ever got? What if this was truly it? What if there truly was an a**hole gene and my kid got it?!
Those were some sobering thoughts, let me tell you. Could I accept that this was the best it would ever be? Could I accept him as he was, right here, right now, meanness and all? Could I love him despite it? Could I love, accept and even nurture this child whose sole purpose (it seems) is to annoy, frustrate, anger, and hurt me every minute of every day and twice in between? Could I accept that this was who he was, and continue to give him everything I gave my other kids, my attention, my time, my full on love, hugs, kisses, jokes, funny faces, love notes in their lunches, special times together, special gifts for no reason? Because there are no guarantees here. We can seek all the therapy and help and read all the books and attend all the seminars in the world, but we are not guaranteed success.
This is where it got religious for me. You don’t have to be religious to get the idea though. Unconditional love. There’s a verse in the Bible where Jesus says, there’s no greater love than this, that you lay down your life for a friend. And that’s what I have to do. I have to love him, accept him, for where he’s at – unconditionally. It’s not something we do in today’s world. We love conditionally. We like and unlike and thumbs up and thumbs down, friend and unfriend, follow and unfollow. I have to love him without any expectation of return. No thank yous, no niceness, nothing that hints of him recognizing all the things that I do for him every day, the sacrifices we make for him. I have to love him through the mean and the pee and the irritating. I have to lay down my life for him – I have to put down my irritation, my desires of what I want my child to be, what I’d rather be doing instead of being in therapy with him, or the principal’s office, or yet another meeting with the teacher about behavior, I have to lay down my expectations for returned love, even returned civility, for him. This doesn’t mean I leave him without consequences for his actions or without expectations of him acting appropriately. It means letting go of my feelings of frustration, anger, disappointment… I lay them down so that I can give to him what he needs me to be – his mother. It’s a daily struggle, and I fail more often than I succeed. But I continue to try to be the mother he needs me to be… and I pray that someday, he will become the person he was meant to be.
Hang in there.