My son Jonah has always been a bit different. If you’ve read my previous posts about him, you’ve learned about his anxiety and his struggles with autism. Despite all of this, he has always been able to make friends and be social. He struggles and often “tries” to act like others and “be normal”, but I know it’s exhausting for him.
Last night, he had a minor meltdown while playing and losing at table tennis. I say minor because his meltdowns used to be epic. Now he just punches/kicks safe objects and asks to be excused to go to his room and scream into his pillow. Losing to his brother always fills him with a certain level of frustration, but last night’s game seemed to denote the last straw. He threw his paddle and banged his fists on the table.
“Jonah,” I said with surprise.
“I am just so angry right now,” he answered.
“Yeah, I get that, and that’s okay, but we talked about proper reactions to feelings of anger, and this isn’t it.” He looked at me and he looked at his brother and started walking towards the basement steps.
“I am going upstairs,” he said as he balled his hands into tight fists. His voice was about an octave higher than usual. “I am going to excuse myself before I say something I regret.”
“Well, I think that is an excellent choice,” I said his to his back as he stomped up each and every step. “I really appreciate your ability to make the right choice here.” He slammed the basement door as the word “here” echoed off the cement walls. Cole and I just looked at each other.
About thirty minutes later, I was making dinner when Cole came into the kitchen.
“Didn’t you two hear that?” Brian and I were listening to Jack Johnson and talking about our school’s most recent contract negotiations.
“Hear what?” I asked.
“Jonah, in his room, throwing things? It was a huge banging sound.” I shook my head. “Well, I did,” he continued. “So I went in his room and he is really upset. He even locked the door.”
“If he locked the door, how did you get in?” I asked.
“I picked the lock,” he answered proudly.
“Cole, I appreciate you’re worried about him, but it is really important that you respect his locked door. He is clearly going through something right now, but you don’t want to create any trust issues. Was he okay?”
“Yeah, he’s just up there crying,” he answered now bored with my response and my reprimand for his picking the lock, but I needed him to understand that a locked door was Jonah’s way of trying to feel safe, but I did thank him for being concerned about his little brother.
So I walked upstairs and knocked on the door, which was now unlocked. Locking the door was always Jonah’s thing. He would lock himself in his room for hours. The psychologist advised letting him do this unless we were afraid for his safety. He assured me he would come out to use the bathroom and to eat, which was actually true. It was also a phase I thought had ended a few years ago. I was not happy to see it back.
“Jonah,” I said when I saw him sitting on the floor of his room. “Can we talk?” He nodded “yes” and when I asked him what was wrong, he said there were a lot of things wrong, but the main thing was stupid.
“I don’t want to share it if you are going to think it’s really stupid,” he said as large tears ran down his cheek.
“Well, I am pretty sure I won’t think that. Why don’t you give me a try?”
“I think it’s pretty stupid anyway, but here you go,” he threw up his arms. “Everybody has a crush on someone in my class and in my grade. Every day I hear about another kid who has a crush on someone else, and it’s so frustrating. And no one, no one has a crush on me.” I stayed silent and did not say a word. “Even Anthony has a girl who has a crush on him, and now I just know that it’s because I am ugly and weird. I am just a weirdo kid and no likes me. No one will ever like me.” Full-blown snot was running out of his nose, so I excused myself to get him some tissues and to wrap my head around what he was telling me. I used this pause to pray silently to the Universe for the right words.
I prayed because there was a part of me that wanted to tell him all of the typical stuff. I wanted to say the following: “This is ridiculous. Who actually thinks about anything like this? How old are you??” But I also wanted to say this: “You are amazing and handsome and so awesome. Any girl should be beating down the door to like you. These girls are stupid idiots if they aren’t screaming from the rooftops what a great catch you are.”
But I have learned enough through the years to know that none of these things are the right thing to say. The first thing would disregard his feelings. I would have minimalized his thoughts and emotions about feeling bad by minimalizing the situation. This is only done to make the listener feel better. Yes, from my perspective as an adult, this is absolutely ridiculous, but this opinion in no way accounts for his feelings.
The second one is an inflated view that places responsibility and blame on an imagined aggressor. I am inflating a view of him and downgrading girls who do not like him, which is not fair or even realistic. I do not need to reverse the polarity of his disliking himself by creating a negative view of others.
So I said this, “Oh, Jonah, it really sounds like you are hurt and sad because it feels like no one likes you. Is this true?”
“Yes, of course it’s true,” he cried. “I just told you.”
“So if a person has a crush on you, it makes sense they would tell you or tell someone right away?”
“Well, no, not exactly,” he responded.
“Would you tell someone right away if you had a crush on them?” I asked.
“I don’t have a crush on anyone,” he answered.
“Oh, okay, so it is just important for you to be liked by someone else?”
“Well, yeah, of course,” he responded.
And this is how we moved forward. I will not bore you with all of the discussion, but it centered around Jonah’s feelings of not being good enough. It centered on the deep hole he says he feels in chest and the loneliness he feels. We talked about how feeling good about ourselves really begins with what we are telling ourselves, and we worked on what some positive things could be. We brainstormed ways we could do things that help us feel good and are healthy ways to get us out of mental spirals of negative self-talk that tries to bring us down. I explained how there are little voices in my head that tell me the same thing, and I am always asking myself if they are true. Very, very often they are not. Actually, most of the time they are not.
The conversation ended with my grabbing one of his sketch pads and telling him to draw out his feelings.
Can I honestly say that I left that conversation feeling good? No, not at all. I feel so sad for my little guy, and I understand the depth and cruelty of that little voice telling me I am not enough. My heart is broken by the thought that he feels his cute face, the one I have kissed since he was a baby, could ever be called ugly. Secretly, I want to write him a note that pretends to be a girl who likes him so he knows what it feels like to be liked. I know that it is crazy to fear he may never have this chance, and it is hard to rest in faith and know that it will happen for him someday.
But I put all of these spiraling thoughts aside and I practice good self-talk, and I remind myself that only this moment matters and the choices we make in this moment are the important ones, and I continue with my day.
Love and Light, All.
Wow, I think you did an amazing job! I wish I had had that wisdom, restraint, and loving response with my kiddos.
Thanks so much! 💕 I think teaching really helps, but it is never easy to find the words when it comes to being a parent. There is a lot on the line. It’s also tough because I wasn’t raised this way as well, but I’m hoping by posting these tough moments I can help other parents see what conversations like this look like.