We often hear how charming our newest teenager is. How sweet and hard-working he is. “He is SUCH a good kid” or “I wish my teen would behave that way.” And it’s true…in public.
Attachment challenges are the hardest type of challenges to explain to anyone outside the home. Attachment-challenged children can’t handle the intensity of love. They depend only on themselves and push others away out of fear and discomfort. Our kids often show a very different face to the outside world. Lying, stealing, manipulation, and aggression towards caregivers are just a few common characteristics in the home. Our little chickens went through stages of physical aggression with us as well. With Marcus we see mostly manipulation, threats and control issues.
Here’s the tough part; these behaviors are only revealed to primary caregivers. Outside of our home Marcus can engage strangers in lovely conversations and generally charm anyone. He is funny and lighthearted. He laughs easily and cracks jokes. He can then display his utter disdain for his caregivers.
Well to be fair, mostly to me. He loves Luke and wishes to have my husband all to himself. Marcus claims that if only he didn’t have me, he and Luke could run the house together. He fantasizes about one day getting to fight with Luke, or going to a bar with Luke. He talks about all of the trouble they could get in together. He doesn’t have a concept of what a father’s role is. The idea that Luke would never do any of these things is beyond comprehension for Marcus. Why wouldn’t a father-figure drink with him and leave the rest of the family? He cannot understand what my husband sees in having a wife or why he doesn’t leave me.
He will “parent shop” often. Marcus has only been home since June but he already has plans to try to live with his riding instructor. Or one of his old teachers. He spends most days telling me that they can cook better or that they would love to have him live with them. Unfortunately, Marcus doesn’t understand relationship boundaries. He either loves or hates with equal ferocity. He doesn’t understand that teaching horseback riding and adopting a teenager are two very different things. He is checking out his options.
He will hug ex-foster parents, old PO officers, social workers. Basically all people who he proclaimed to hate a few months ago. He used to tell us these people were out to get him. They purposefully wanted to see him fail. Now he passes out hugs like party favors. For me he flinches away and threatens to hit me if I touch him.
Marcus has a big problem right now with his younger siblings. He cannot take the emotional intensity of our loving relationships with them. He hates watching hugs and compliments. He can’t stand it when we won’t hit them and often threatens to do so himself.
Violence is the only intimate act he knows. He uses it to intimidate them and trigger their fears of being physically abused. He mocks their emotions, laughs at their fear and shuts out their love. Violence is all he is familiar with in the family. When our daughter kisses my head he stomps into the basement and slams the door.
Where is the boy who once called me “mom?” Where is the kid who cried over the phone and asked me to move “home” with us because he wanted to “Have a mom and dad who cared?” Where is the boy who fixed Carl’s bike and played dress-up in footy-pajamas with Mary?
He is gone. His fear of love shows itself as anger. Rage, aggression and control are his survival skills. He cannot let his family get too close. After all, close connections can hurt if they are broken. Now that Marcus is here he fills outsiders with tales of our evil ways (dinner as a family?! The horror!!) and petitions for a better option somewhere else.
Some of the things he says or does to hurt me are beyond cruel. And why? Because of my audacity to love him. I love him in spite of the horrible things he says to me or says about me. I cannot change my unconditional love for him. I cannot change the way I show love to my husband and my other chickens. And I cannot change his mind.
Marcus will turn 18 in October. Although we see some minor improvements, I think it is very likely that he will leave. Are we hurting him more than helping him by forcing him to watch his younger siblings enjoy a childhood so different from the one he experienced? If he leaves, will he stay in contact? Will he visit? Will he have everything he needs? I cannot predict this. I cannot see our future right now. I cannot reach him. Not yet.
All I can do is hope for the chance of “someday.”
**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.