By | February 4, 2017

I wanted to open up more fully as even then I was swirling with active contemplation – but I hadn’t begun to learn how; with too much indifference, anger and reprimand in this unusual new family, it harshly stifled the brand of sharing, enthusiasm and joy I had to offer.

This is not to say that the challenges of raising a toddler separated abruptly from his mother were, for parents already busy with their own lives and three prior children, easily grasped.  Furthermore – the wisdom and deep research into the issue of early childhood adoptions after traumatic separation, which is now a growing body of knowledge, had yet to evolve and aggregate. Child rearing publications of the time, even the more popular works by Dr. Benjamin Spock, spoke little at all of what or what not to do in such a specific, nuanced situation.

Likewise – there were no treatises, much less simple primers, authored specifically for post-traumatic toddlers on what to do upon sudden insertion into a family dominated by an emotionally distant, un-empathetic mother.  So for me it was pretty much an unpredictable free-for-all, with the bigger, stronger adversary rarely giving up ground in a battle. Yes – the mother as adversary – a fundamental reverse of the formula which customarily places the mother in the nurturing role. In Difficult Mothers, Psychologist Terri Apter writes “All parents have ups and downs. All parents have bad days.”

Apter continues on:

A difficult mother is one who presents her child with the dilemma: “Either develop complex and constricting coping mechanisms to maintain a relationship with me, at great cost to your own outlook, imagination and values, or suffer ridicule, disapproval and rejection.”

A child cannot easily escape this dilemma. A [young] child does not have the option to say, “I don’t care whether you think I’m bad” or “I don’t care whether you notice me” or “I don’t care whether you’re angry or disapproving.” A child is terrified at the prospect of being abandoned. Even as adults, we are rarely willing to renounce a mother’s love even when it brings pain, frustration and disappointment. [1]

THAT LAST SENTENCE IS CRITICAL.  Having already been abandoned once – not that I understood the how or why of the circumstances – the result from the very inception of this new relationship, is that I was overwhelmingly bewildered and lonely – heart-achingly lonely, yet I did not want to be abandoned again.   I struggled not only with the loss of my mother but with the profound emotional distance imposed by the new one, while weaving in and out of the shadows cast by the mixed blessing of this all-new cast of characters.


[1] Apter, Terri. (2012)  Pp. 8-9.  Difficult Mothers: Understanding and Overcoming Their Power.  (New York, NY). W. W. Norton & Company.


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