I received a message on Instagram a couple of months ago from a woman who was really struggling with her son.
He was around 5 or 6 years old and was a total terror around her. But when he was with his dad, the mamas ex-abusive partner, or other family he seemed to do really well.
Her family was telling her that she needed to be harder on him, to discipline him better.
Not only was she struggling with her son’s behavior, but after finally being granted full custody the court allowed the father to come back and get visitation, even though he was an unsafe person.
This mama was really scared how this would affect her son who was already struggling.
More than anything, she was concerned about what this meant for her – was she a bad mom? Did she hurt her kid? Was he building up resentment for her? Is this why he was so terrible?
My heart broke reading her message because I had absolutely been there.
The first thing I told her was that this was normal. It didn’t make it easier, but considering the situation, it made sense. The second thing is that the reason he was so awful around her is because she is his safe space.
Imagine for a moment that you’re around your closest friends. These are people that will love you regardless of how weird you are, how loud you are, how wild you are.
Now imagine that you’re in a room with people who judge you.
They tell you that you need to listen better, to be quiet, to sit still, stop bothering them.
How do you act in each scenario? Do you act the same way around each group? Or do you try to hide your feelings and who you are around the judgy people to keep the peace just to survive?
How do you act around the kind, loving people? Do you stuff who you are or do you commit fully and embrace your weirdness around them?
This is what it’s like for our kids. When kids are going through the struggle, they hide who they are in front of uncomfy people and embrace who they are in front of the loving ones.
This is true for most kids and especially neurodivergent kids. It’s even more true for kids who were part of an abusive relationship.
They love their parents, but one is hurting the other, or they’re hurting each other, or even hurting the child.
This is a lot for the child to handle. There’s going to be a lot of anger, anxiety, fear and panic. Children don’t have a way, especially young children, to process through those feelings. Their brain is literally not developed enough at this point to have a good response and manage those things.
However, their brain does understand the difference between safe people and unsafe people.
So our kids will go around people their brain deems unsafe and they’ll mask who they really are just to survive. They’ll put on a smile and try so hard to be well behaved and do everything they can not to be yelled at.
When they come home to you, they’re terrors. They don’t listen, they scream and yell. We lash out which sets them off even worse and the cycle continues.
Why does this happen? Does this mean that you’re a bad mom?
Absolutely not, it means that you are your child’s safe space.
It means that your child feels safe enough and comfortable enough to let go of the mask and let out all of the frustration, anger and pain that they’ve been stuffing for hours, days, weeks, or months.
This is not an excuse for negative behavior or to be disrespectful.
But we do need to understand where a child is at. So a four year old versus 16 year old vs an 18 year old will all be very, very different.
If you have a young child that does this, as hard and painful as it is, your job is to remind them constantly that you love them. This is a safe place to be themselves, even the darkest, scariest parts of themselves. You’re still going to show up and love them.
Your job is to hold space for your child as he is screaming and yelling.
Hold space as he says that he hates everyone and wishes he was never born. Hold space when she loses her mind and starts throwing things.
Your job is to hold that space when she thinks the world hates her and she doesn’t want to be alive anymore.
Absolutely keep them safe and don’t allow them to hurt themselves or others. But hold that space and show them that no matter what they do, you’re going to love them unconditionally.
What will happen is that they’ll process at the level they’re capable, and once they do they’re going to come down from that. They’ll see clearly when they couldn’t before. And what they’re going to need in that moment is you. They will melt and cry.
You don’t need to fix anything, just be there. Hold that space.
Creating an environment where they can be unapologetically themselves, even in theworst moments, can prevent a lot of anger and animosity moving forward.
You’re not a bad mom, you are their safe space
If they are willing to be themselves so fully and openly in front of you, that means you’re doing a damn good job.
But that doesn’t mean that it’s easy. Being your child’s safe space can be one of the hardest, most frustrating things to process because you’re so sick of hearing it.
But I’m also realizing how sacred that is.
That doesn’t make it easy in the moment. But it means that I have done my job as a mom so that my child feels safe. And he knows that it doesn’t matter how angry he is, or how frustrated he is, or how sad he is that I am going to love him.
At the end of the day, I will always love him consistently, forever, and there’s nothing he can do to change that.
That’s beautiful, and is something that I will never take for granted ever again.
It’s so important that we process our own healing and trauma so we have the capability to hold that space without breaking down ourselves.
If you’re realizing that you have work to do in this area, I highly recommend you start with your triggers. When our kids struggle, it can push our buttons and set off our triggers which causes us to lose the ability to be what our kids need.
So if you haven’t yet, you need to download my free eBook, Triggered. It breaks down a framework to help you find, manage and cope with your triggers so you can be the mom your kids need. Click here to grab it.
Once you’ve walked through this process of learning how to manage your triggers, I want you to sit down and ask yourself, how have you responded in the past? How would you like to respond in the future?
This is by no means to make yourself feel guilty. The reason why is I want you to understand where you’re at right now and where you want to be. So once you’re in this process of managing your triggers, you can then use that information to figure out ‘okay, I’ve responded like this in the past, because XY and Z triggered me. And so I want to work on this trigger so I can respond in this way and hold the space for my child in this moment in this way because that is what he/she needs.’
Pull out a journal and write down these scenarios and process through them. This creates an understanding for your brain to fall back on in those moments of struggle.
You want to be able to have this written down where you have processed and thought through this.
It seems so simple, but it is so massively beneficial. Do not skip this.
This is super important and something that I do with my one on one clients.
It is incredibly important to understand where you land on the scale of where you were and where you want to be.
You are capable of holding that space for your kiddos, even in the midst of your own healing.
You’ve got this, mama.
For more free resources on your healing journey, click here.