There’s just not much more heartbreaking than your six-year-old sobbing in your arms on the bathroom floor, repeatedly asking why nobody likes him and why he doesn’t have any friends.
It’s been 14 hours since that moment at my house last night. I feel a physical reaction in my gut to the memory as I type this.
There is just no reason for a six-year-old to have these words.
So what happened?
My mom picks the boys up from school on most karate days, brings them home for a snack and to change clothes, and takes them to karate. It’s a big help. (I know. She really is awesome!)
He seemed pretty normal to me when he got home. He sometimes can be a little nutty or grumpy – but I mean – he’s six. School starts early and is a long day, and sometimes he just needs to unwind and have a snack. Kind of like the rest of us.
When they came home from karate, he was kind of resistant to getting PJs on, etc.
And then twin brother started telling me something exciting that happened for HIM at karate. He got to be the student “leader” at the front of the class by outlasting the rest of the students in a game of the Sensei trying to make them laugh or flinch.
Unfortunately, the last one standing with him, that he ultimately won over, was the brother.
Jake tends to be pretty soft-hearted. I was the same way when I was a kid. (Oh…who am I kidding? I am still that way.)
He cries easily at frustration (me too) and is very hard on himself when he doesn’t do something perfectly (me too). But he’s six (not me).
So he kicked his legs at Reid when Reid told me about his own success. (I’m trying to get them to be happy for each other’s successes, but man, that’s hard to do when it means the (relative) “failure” of the other one. Sportsmanship can be so hard.)
He was then pretty agitated with my mom (whom he ADOOOORRREEEESSSS!), which prompted me to go scoop him up and take him to my room to try to figure out what was going on. (I just laughed a little, because I do this with both of them as if they have the ability to verbalize these emotions to me.)
I got him somewhat calmed down and told him to go get his PJs on, and I would fix his dinner.
When we walked out of my room, my mom and Reid were reading a book on the sofa. Jake went that direction and I snapped at him more harshly than I’d like to admit. I was anticipating that he was not going to do what he was supposed to do. In reality, he was walking that way because his pajamas were on the table there.
He went into the bathroom, sat on the floor and started sobbing.
What is UP with this kid?
When I saw that, I sat down on the floor with him and hugged him. Which he allowed me to do. That was a clue.
He was heaving sobs but saying nothing.
Until he said, “Why does Gwinnie (my mom) like Reid more than me?”
It took me several beats before saying “…Huh?” Obviously, that would be absurd, but how do you explain that? And where was it coming from?
He then told me that I was mean to him when I snapped at him. He told me I was just like a guy at a local trampoline place that apparently barked at him a few days ago. I tried to explain that sometimes grown-ups anticipate and assume kids are going to do the wrong thing. I said I had made a mistake. I very sincerely apologized and promised I would try to do better.
He accepted my apology.
I asked him if he would also do his best to be a good listener and do as I ask (when I ask). He promised he would try.
Then the tears and words really started
He was sitting cross-legged on the bathroom floor. Suddenly the sadness came back, with his chest heaving and eyes squeezed tightly shut. Tears still escaped those baby blues in streams down his face. As he sobbed, jumbled words tumbled out of him. Words like:
“Why doesn’t anyone like me?”
“Why don’t I have any friends?”
“Why does everyone hate me?”
He went on to describe something that he said happened at school. It was a flurry of somewhat disconnected words. He said something about everyone laughing at him. Something about dropping his pencil. Something about him leaning back in his chair.
I am guessing that maybe he was leaning back in his chair and fell back, and the class laughed (which, how many times did you see a kid do that in school? It is just funny. Until it’s you.) I don’t even know if this is what happened or which class it was. All I do know is that my kid was sitting on the bathroom floor sobbing and asking why nobody likes him and he doesn’t have any friends.
I’ll say it again. There is no reason for a six-year-old to be able to string those words together to mean anything to him.
I know from experience
I got it. I’ve suffered from low self-esteem, extreme self-consciousness, depression, and being called “too sensitive” my entire life. I’ve suffered from not only feeling things very deeply, but also with a near-photographic ability to recall, replay, and relive unkind acts and words for days, weeks, years.
So, I got it.
I know EXACTLY how devastated he felt.
And I know EXACTLY how devastated MY mom felt when I went through the same torment of my own mind.
Heartbreaking barely describes it.
Because I’ve been there – as a child and as an adult – I instinctively knew not to contradict what he was feeling. Thank goodness I did not automatically dismiss what he was saying as untrue, and invalidate his feelings at that moment.
I have a mom who is VERY positive. She is a problem solver and she sees the smallest glimpses of sunshine through a sky in which most people see the darkest clouds.
It is actually hard work to be that kind of person.
But it’s a gift to be so inclined. It’s lucky to have that disposition – for her and everyone she knows and helps. I’ve always had a tendency to see the clouds with matters of self. So it’s especially fortunate for me to have such a kind, supportive and uplifting mom.
It can be a challenge though. I can remember saying to my mom “Can you please just feel sorry (or sad, or pissed, etc.) with me for a minute before bringing in the Sally Sunshine act?” And she would. Not for long. But she got it. She showed me how to be a responsive mama, and follow her kid’s lead (within reason, obvs).
Sometimes you need to be allowed to feel sad for yourself. But it’s clearly helpful to have a Sally Sunshine to help you climb out of the pit before you fall deeper!
Why that aside?
Well, because my mom is an amazing example and teacher of how to be a mama.
I learned, from her, not to appear to dismiss Jake’s feelings by telling him that all he was saying wasn’t true. He was feeling it as true, after all. My saying that it wasn’t true would not make him feel it any less.
So I allowed him to feel it. I allowed him to be sad about it. And I cried with him.
His sobbing subsided and he stood up to get his pajamas on. He didn’t want me to mention it again. He wiped his tears, rubbed his face, opened the bathroom door, and walked out.
I sent a note to his teacher asking if anything had happened at school that day. She didn’t recall anything that upset him.
I tossed and turned and went in and kissed his forehead two more times in the night before he crawled into my bed at 5:00 am. Then I snuggled him extra.
When we got going this morning, it all seemed forgotten.
It’s not. I assure you. But I know I can’t ask about it.
So I sit here writing about it and wondering how to protect my sweet, precious babies from not only the cruel REAL world, but the maybe even more cruel world of their own minds.
More from Brooke and the Boys:
Books now on my list for this topic
The Sometimes Heartbreak of Being a Mom