Our kids have been through so much transition in their lives, you’d think they’d be used to it. They’re not. In fact, they might even fear change more than most because they’ve done it so many times. They long for stability, and I long for stability for them.
I do things to help them through transitions. We make countdowns, keep normal boundaries and routines in place, have special treats, give extra cuddles, identify things to look forward to on the other side, RAFT, draw pictures and tell stories to process, make charts and posters to help them regulate their behaviour, talk about the constants in our lives, etc. Those things help, but they do not fix anything.
Elliot is still angry. Callum is still clingy. And I just want 5 mins without someone tugging on me or yelling at me, so I lock myself away in my bedroom.
Oh, the mama guilt!
As Elliot tries again and again to hurt me, slinging terrible words or oftentimes his whole body at me, I see a child asking, ‘Since everything else in my life has been taken away, will your love also be withdrawn, Mama?’ Of course he cannot articulate that, but I grieve all that this cross-continental life has taken from him, and the fears that lurk in his little heart.
As I leave for language class and Callum sobs inconsolably because he’s being left with our wonderful nanny for a morning – a woman he adores – I ask myself, ‘Are we asking too much of our kids? At what point do we call it a day and say we cannot ask them to bear this life any longer?’
As the other parents give me daggers at the gymnastics show because my child is easily the most disruptive child there, I think the same thing as them, “Every other child here manages to behave themselves, why can’t he?”
I go home and I google ADHD and autism and anything I can think of to try to explain his behaviour. He doesn’t meet enough of the diagnostic criteria. And they all say that you can’t diagnose a child with any of these within 6-8 weeks of major life transition, for example:
- changing schools – TICK!
- moving house (or countries) – TICK! TICK!
- having a significant relative die – TICK!
That’s because the normal initial adjustment period for humans after trauma or significant change is 6-8 weeks.
This week, we’ve hit 2 months back in Tanzania and – what do you know?! – I’ve noticed myself saying things to Arthur like, ‘Hmm, it’s been about a week since you had to restrain Elliot in a bear hug to keep him from hurting me,’ or ‘Actually, the boys played pretty nicely together this afternoon,’ or, ‘Callum was so excited to show Anna his dolls when she arrived this morning.’ And I also say things like, ‘I had enough energy to get together an activity this afternoon – we made a jellyfish in an ocean bottle.’
The whole family temperature comes down. The boys are a bit more cooperative and independent; I have a bit more to give them. And both those things have a flow on effect of pleasantness, where we just have something more like ‘normal family’ level of conflict rather than being completely in crisis.
This happens every time we do a transition. Between 4 and 6 weeks, things come to a head and I panic as I hurt for my little boys and the mama guilt overwhelms me. I wonder if the crisis versions of my sons are simply who they are now. But if I can remember that 8 weeks is our usual adjustment time, and if I can tolerate it until then, my little ones start to know themselves again. I just have to hang in there with them. And be ready to do it all again in the not-too-distant future.
Categories: Written by Tamie
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.