The world is confusing. It is especially so for a young child. Antennas are fully extended. Nothing is understood. Everything is happening quickly and it’s being assimilated, sorted, processed and classified just as swiftly. A massive amount of information is being filed away in their vulnerable heart. In their curious mind. Coming to conclusions. They are feeling their way along. Trying to avoid anything that explodes newly laid foundations. Trying to avoid anything that is too scary or painful. Trying to chew before swallowing.
They listen to the words adults fling back and forth around them. The adults who are parenting them. Who matter the most. Those words they speak carry much weight. Much more weight than the words of others…at least while they are young. They listen. Catch those words. Ponder them. And learn.
Yet, actions speak louder than words. Which is why confusion descends, wrapping them in a thick, unrelenting fog.
Sometimes, the mixed messages cause so much dissonance, the child fractures.
“We love you so much!” But in the dead of the night, the daddy sneaks quietly into her room and uses her as a living, breathing sex toy. Or the mother slaps her and drags her by her long hair because she didn’t complete every chore on a 2-page list between the time she got off school and when her mother arrived home from work.
“We prayed for a little girl just like you!” But her brother is the one who gets dental care, who is taken to the doctor when he is sick, who doesn’t even have to do chores.
“If only you would…lose weight, make better grades, smile, be more popular, clean the house without being asked, like the clothes I want to wear…” “If only you had…blonde hair, a better personality, a prettier face, slimmer legs, a smaller butt…” There are lots of “if only” messages. If only, then we could love you, accept you, like you, be proud of you, want you.
We love you…if only. We love you, but oh, you’re not as mature as we thought you were. You’re not as resourceful as we thought you were. You’re not as worthwhile, valuable, nice, pretty, smart…as we thought you were, thought you should be, wanted you to be, expected you to be, needed you to be.
We needed you to be so much more.
We love you…you were supposed to fulfill our dreams and meet our every need, make our life wonderful and make us happy. Instead…you’re too much trouble, too much work, you’re a disappointment, you’re a failure, you’re making things harder for me, you need too much, you aren’t doing everything we want you to do, you’re not acting like we want you to act, you’re not performing up to standard, you’re not living up to our expectations…
We love you. We hit you because you deserve it. We abuse you because we own you. Because you owe it to us to make us happy. We reject you. Your needs don’t matter. We love you. Smile, dammit! Do what I say. Don’t tell anyone. Don’t look at me like that! What do you want from me? We love you. Not now. Leave me alone. I have too many problems of my own to deal with without having to think about you. You’re not making my life better. Or easier. What’s wrong with you? You’re so fat! Clean your plate! I don’t care what you need. Or what you think. Clean the house. Keep the secrets. We love you. Do you know how expensive it is to go to the doctor! You had better be sick enough to justify all that money being spent on you! Mow the grass. Clean out the refrigerator. Mop the floor. Dust the paneling. Clean the kitchen. Vacuum. Wash the windows. Make me whole. Make me feel good about myself and how I’m doing as a parent. Fix my life. Why can’t you be more like her? You’re making us look bad. Keep your mouth shut. We love you. How dare you! You’re so disappointing. We can’t be bothered. Go to your room. We love you.
The child tries. Tries to sort through the words. Tries to comprehend the meaning of what they are saying. These very important people who are shaping them. Tries to make sense of their actions. Tries to get the pieces to fit together. Tries to find a way to make it make sense.
“Love” is nothing more than rejection hiding behind sweet words. It is abuse, using, hitting. It means being tolerated if you remain silent. If you perform to standard. Yet the standard is constantly changing for the bar is steadily moved higher when you come close to succeeding. You have to earn it, this thing called love. And the price is high.
Being loved means being judged and found lacking. It means having no value or worth.
It is the only way to get the mixed messages to fit into one coherent concept. It is the only way to resolve the distortion, the startling clash between opposing perspectives. It is the only way those opposing perspectives can exist together in the same room. Or be spoken with the same breath.
For the other alternative, the one that CAN’T BE TRUE NO MATTER WHAT is that what they are showing you, what they are doing to you, what they are asking of you and demanding from you…isn’t actually love…at all.