Yesterday was my 38th birthday. Thank you all SO much for the social media birthday wishes. They were amazing, and made me feel so loved. The most amazing gift of the day was actually being able to enjoy my day, for the first time in a very long time.
I have a child who is a birthday saboteur. She’s actually pretty good at sabotaging all major holidays, family vacations and even group picnics. I hear from other parents that this is pretty common for kids who came from hard places. It’s especially hard for this child to sabotage my birthday though. Her history has made it so that having a mom is something she does NOT want. She doesn’t verbalize that. In fact, she verbalizes the exact opposite. When asked about her wants in therapy, she will swear up and down she wants a mom, that she wants to have a GREAT relationship with me.
She doesn’t know how though. She has a visceral reaction to anything that has to do with me. It’s not personal. Her history with women, which is hers to share or not as she sees fit, is not healthy. It has taken us a long time figure out why so much of her anger having to do with her adoption, and her current place in our family, has to do with me.
For a very long time, my own daughter hated me.
For a very long time, I hated her for hating me.
Last year, I posted to Facebook that I had become so angry with her that I was once SCREAMING at her as we were driving to school. I noticed my language was belittling and my words were downright mean. I’m so embarrassed to say, I swore, and not just about her. I swore AT HER. It was a rock bottom moment for me.
When we got to school, I pulled up to the curb and let all the other kids out and I climbed into the back with her. I apologized. I told her that I needed to do better. I am the adult and she is the child after all, then I told her I was going to go to therapy too.
I did. I have now been in therapy, working on my attachment to our little girl for the last four months. That therapy led me to a whole lot of self-reflection on my own triggers. It also led me to the training that I have signed on for this summer/fall. The goal of this training is continuing education, but it’s also to help me help others, because our girl is succeeding in so many ways when I thought, for sure, we were all failing at being a family. I want other families to have that success too.
Yesterday is another example of triumph over Complex Developmental Trauma. Usually, my birthday is a HUGE trigger for her. She can’t stand it. It’s a day that’s not about her, at all, she doesn’t do well with those. It’s a day that’s focused on celebrating someone she resents. She hates that. Sometimes, it’s a day of surprises. She can’t deal with surprises.
I used to love my birthday. She ruined that for me. She would act out, throw HUGE fits, bully, and even hurt, our other kids to try to stop us from doing anything that wasn’t focused on her. So, this year, I decided we weren’t going to let her. She has done SO well on all the other kids’s birthdays this year. She hasn’t acted out. She has made them gifts. She has watched them open their presents and has been genuine and organically excited for them. She could do this, I told myself. Step it up, set the bar where she can reach it, and let me have my day.
I needed to not ask too much of her. I needed to set her up for success. I told FullPlateDad everything I wanted to do for my birthday ahead of time. He was surprised ‘Why would you want to do that?’ When I explained it to him, he thought it was brilliant. It was a day that she couldn’t really ruin, and if she did, it wouldn’t matter, she wouldn’t be excluded, no matter how much she tried to sabotage it.
We have this vicious cycle, her and I. She doesn’t want a mom, so she pushes me away by being cruel, I don’t do well with being verbally abused, so I tell her to go away, but, in reality, that’s what she wants, but the opposite of what she needs. It is easier for her to exist in a space where she has a meanie for a mom. It’s so much more comfortable to think she’s being rejected again then it is to have to say “Dang it! This woman loves me!” So, while yesterday was about me, I made it about her in small ways.
I know how hard that is for some people. It was hard for me too. Why should I have to give up MY ONE DAY for her?!? This should be ALL about me for just one day. I spent a long time thinking about how for three years it was NEVER her day. No one even cared about her. That’s why she acts this way. So, if I can make this about both of us, about strengthening our relationship, then I could give a little.
I didn’t get any gifts from anyone yesterday. Not one. I only accepted handmade gifts. She is a VERY gifted artist. I knew that asking her to make me something in advance, something to celebrate me in a way she felt she excelled at, would make her feel good. Presents are a trigger for her. She gets jealous. I wanted her to see how much I loved getting nothing but things the kids had made for me. That would make her feel proud.
We spent the whole day together as a family. I usually tell the kids I want time away. Nope. While I did get to go for a run, I did it on the treadmill in the house, and then take a shower ALONE (read: without someone pounding on the door demanding something of me), I told everyone what I really wanted was to see everyone work together to do family projects around the house. Let’s organize the garage! Let’s shampoo the carpets! Let’s work together. No one liked it, but my love language is organization, so suck it up kids, here we go.
She faltered mid-afternoon after hearing people wish me ‘Happy Birthday’ all day. She started to pick fights. Nope. Heavy work, here we come. Go with dad and help power wash the house. We ended up with her sitting on the floor of the garage crying at one point. I thought “Oh man! It’s over.” Shockingly, she pulled it back together.
In the evening, we had a cook out. Not dinner at a restaurant where she was expected to wear nice clothes and sit still. We went to our community pool, where everyone knows her, and that she will occasionally need to sit in the car with one of us when she loses it. So, she couldn’t sabotage me, because I could send her to sit in a lounge chair close by while I eat my steak. Mostly though, she swam and I got to enjoy.
She was unkind to her sister, lost her dessert as a consequence, and tried to get herself excluded from singing ‘Happy Birthday.’ I wouldn’t allow it. Even if she just stood there and looked angry, she had to stand there. I told her she was important to me and I wanted her there for this part. At first, she looked mad, then she began to sing and sign. Gigi was SO happy that it became contagious. She even laughed when Gigi signed the entire song for the first time. She really does genuinely love her tiny Chinese siblings.
After everyone had their cake, she watched. She had lost her dessert for being rude. Usually, when something is taken away, you don’t get it back around here. This was a time for grace though. I waited until everyone was eating and then I carried a piece of cake to her. “I want you to have this because I love you. Thank you for making my birthday so nice. You did it!” She cried. She wants to love me. She just doesn’t know how. And I didn’t know how to connect with her at the beginning. We’re working on that now, because it’s never too late.
We came home and she went to bed like a champ. She was exhausted. That’s when I got a moment or two to have a drink and enjoy my gifts. In the past, I thought parenting her would mean I would never enjoy my birthday again, or Mother’s Day, or any other day that was about me again. I was going to become the long suffering mom of a special needs child. I do enjoy days that are about me now, I just enjoy them differently than I did before I had kids. Isn’t that what all parents do though?
Someday, they’ll all be grown and launched and I’ll long for these chaotic days where they’re all here to help me vacuum my car. When that time comes, then I’ll go get a mani/pedi and enjoy my birthday alone time.
–FullPlateMom, who is only kidding, she is sending all these kids back to school next week and the first thing she’s going to do is get a mani/pedi, complete with champagne. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!