Robert turned 10 this month. Robert gets lost in the shuffle, I think. At least, that is what I worry. He is my youngest boy. and is 2 and a half years younger then Daniel. I think he may have some mild ADD or maybe he is just a typical 10 year-old boy, taking off his t-shirt and dropping it in the middle of the kitchen floor or not noticing that the trash he threw at the can missed and is laying on the floor.
He is an artist, a musician, a straight-A student, sociable, outgoing, into basketball and drawing super-heroes. He has a great sense of humor. He is quick and a very visual learner. Just like me, he can’t spell. I think I bore him to death most of the time because I talk too much. However, he is too polite to let me know and rarely forgets a story or conversation.
Until this year, Daniel and Robert shared a room. I always shared a room growing up and with 6 kids, having a room dedicated to one child is a luxury we couldn’t arrange until we moved into our new house last May. Daniel and Robert’s rooms are small but they are separate.
Robert loves it. Separate rooms has also cut down on some of the fighting. Robert is very protective of Daniel until it comes to himself. Robert gets very frustrated. The frustration brings out all of Robert’s struggles. Lately, this has been showing up more and more.
There was the destroyed journal and numerous broken items in the house. When Robert is upset, he takes it out on things. He trashes things, breaks them either purposefully or because he is expressing his frustration by recklessly slamming stuff around. All of this came to a head this month.
Recently, Robert had been working around the house with Daniel and me. It was the usual Sunday-getting-ready-for-the-week clean up. Even though this is a weekly event, every week it is a struggle. No one wants to deal with the weekend ending. Yesterday, Daniel was particularly emotional and edgy. Robert was as usual grinding his way through it and bugged that Daniel was making it uncomfortable by being loud and emotional.
As I gave Robert his last chore, the dam broke. Robert decided that he had worked enough and should be done. When I didn’t agree, he stomped off to the garage to get the carpet cleaner. As he angrily jerked the cleaner into the house, he slammed it against the concrete step up into the house and broke a small but vital part of the machine.
I hit my limit too. I have been eying one of these carpet cleaners for nearly 4 years and was so excited to have my in-laws give me theirs a few weekends ago. Now, it is broken. My own frustration overwhelmed me. I burst into tears.
After I had calmed down and given it some thought, I was able to identify the real struggle. Robert disappears into the background too often. I find myself relying on his abilities too much. As I focus on the struggles of his brother, which loudly take center stage, I forget to acknowledge all the amazing things Robert is doing every day. It isn’t that I am completely unconscious. Like any parent in this situation, I am spread thin.
Robert is angry. He has reason to be so. His father lives 1500 miles away and is raising another woman’s son while he rarely sees Robert. Robert is not the kind of kid to have a good relationship over the phone. Showing up for his basketball games and concerts means more to him. I, his mother, am trying to raise 6 kids in a blended family. There is an older sibling with Asperger’s Syndrome and two little sisters who place large demands on my time. He is the quintessential middle child.
I have to deal with two sides to this. The first, myself. I have to make a priority of validating Robert and what he does. It doesn’t have to be a grand jester but rather I need to make moments daily to stop and pay attention to him. There have been some great opportunities for this during the holidays. Robert has his band concert and birthday party in the middle of December. However, it has to be a long term commitment. I also have to stop depending on him so much. I need to let him be ten.
The flip side is to help Robert deal with Robert. His willingness to destroy other’s property or his own when he is angry or feels victimized is dangerous and unhealthy. I have to prepare him for life and life will include imperfect people. Just like I focus on helping Daniel deal with his academic and social struggles, I have to help Robert find healthy ways to deal with anger when people frustrate or disappoint him. It is my responsibility to help him acknowledge his shadow side and deal with it.
It may seem hypocritical to be addressing Robert’s anger with Robert when my own bad choices are part of the source of his frustration. However, there are also reasons for his frustration that have nothing to do with me. In life he will never be able to control others. Instead he will have to learn how to deal with himself effectively – in a way that furthers his dreams, goals and life rather then short circuits his plans through anger. It is my job to give him tools to deal with his own shadow side, because everyone walks this earth with a broken heart; what matters is what you do with it.