What have I done? I knew that reproducing had some risks, but I never expected this.
Last week, during quiet time in her room, I heard my four-and-a-half-year-old daughter crying. She wasn’t in the greatest of moods so I didn’t go back there right away, especially since we’re trying not to give too much attention to tantrums. Then I heard her sobbing. Her brother was asleep in the next room, so even if this was an attention-getting measure, I had to go back there to quiet her down.
I found her sitting on her bed with her American Girl doll, crying. When I asked her what was wrong, she said she couldn’t get the doll’s hair right. Earlier in the day, she had come to me asking for a hairstyle that was impossible with the hair tie she wanted to use. She wanted the same thing now – two pieces of hair, criss-crossed at the back of her head. I took out my barrette and made a reasonable facsimile of the hairstyle she wanted.
“She looks terrible!!” my daughter sobbed.
I took the barrette out. “Noooooo!!!!” she shrieked. “Don’t take it out!!”
“Okay, let me redo it,” I said, reaching for the doll.
“Noooooo!!!” she shrieked again.
“Okay, you need to calm down and be quiet. Your brother is sleeping and we cannot be screaming in here,” I said.
She combed the doll’s hair, arranging it into the style. “I’ll put it back,” I said.
“Nooooooo!!” she sobbed.
“Okay Sweetie, you need to take a nap. Why don’t you lie down in bed with your doll, hug her really tight, and you’ll feel better?” I said.
After a few more back-and-forths over the doll, I told her she had to calm down or I was taking the doll away. I left her room. She screamed. I took the doll away. I knew it would set her off, but I thought it was complicating things, so I took it out of the picture. I said, “You can have her back as soon as you you calm down, “ and I left the room figuring that would help her focus.
She freaked. She started tearing up her room. When I went back in and tried to talk to her, she started biting her hand and scratching herself. I grabbed at her arm to stop her and told her not to do that. She fought her way out of my arms. She ran to the living room, started tearing stuff up there. My husband tried to intervene, and she banged her head against the floor. He took over, carried her, kicking and screaming, back to her room and was able to get her to hug him really hard instead of hurting herself. Once he did that, he was able to talk to her and calm her down. He told her to wait in her room until Mom and Dad discussed the reacquisition of her doll, and he left.
He told me what he did, and we talked about having her do some chores to earn her doll back. He said we need to take her to a psychologist. “This is what I mean when I say she’s not normal,” he said. “It’s not normal to bang her head against the floor, or hit herself, or bite herself.” When he went back to talk to her, she was asleep. She slept for more than two hours. Of course, by the time she fell asleep, she’d woken her brother up, so there was no calm after the storm. Just a lot of worrying.
What have I done? I thought. Did I pass the self-destruction down to her? I remember crying as a kid, feeling so hurt that I would slap myself, just to make the hurt physical instead of emotional. I remember banging my head against the wall on at least one occasion. As I grew up, my self-destructive tendencies got more pervasive and destructive. I smoked. I drank. I did drugs. I shoplifted. I slept around. Is that what’s around the corner for my daughter? I wondered. How could I do this to her?
Before my husband came along, my plan was to adopt children. Mostly because I was afraid of pregnancy and labor, but also because I have a bipolar disorder, and I didn’t want to pass it down to my kids. Then one day, before we were married, I realized that no matter what I did with this man, I’d be ok, so I told him that I would bear his children. I figured that even if I passed down the bipolar disorder, I’d recognize it and treat it and they’d be ok. I am perfectly fine on medication, so I reasoned my kids would be too. And we’d catch it early because we’d know what to look for. I didn’t get diagnosed until I was 29, and I wish it could have been earlier.
But I don’t know what to make of this self-flagellation. Maybe it’s part of a bipolar disorder. I’ve heard that they’re diagnosing young kids as bipolar these days. But maybe not. Maybe self-destruction is just something that was innate in me and I’ve passed it down. Or worse, maybe I’m just as bad as my parents were at parenting. That’s what worries me the most. There’s medication for the other stuff. What if I hurt her as much as my parents used to hurt me? I don’t think I do, but there are times when I get really mad at her. I try to understand and work with her feelings, but if she’s trying to hurt herself, I’m not succeeding, am I?
And what happens when she grows up? Does this mean she’ll be the same kind of teenager I was? I don’t even want to think about that.
So I’ll call the psychologist and get some sessions set up. I want to stop this now, before her destructive behavior escalates. And we’ll do whatever the psychologist tells us. And if it is something chemical, and she needs medication, we’ll get her medication. I just hope we won’t find out that it’s all our fault.