Stormy Weather Blues

Thunderous explosions with my son typically erupt without warning. Fallout, on the other hand, can linger for days. Our clashes readily wreak havoc, spewing anger, judgement, hurt feelings and dismay. This week brought one such storm. My son and I differed on the gravity of his personal dilemma and potential options for addressing it. Challenges arising from Matt’s significantly impaired executive functioning are compounded by his fierce independence and impulsivity. His entrenchment triggered my dug in heels. The impasse fueled the inevitable explosion.

Key lessons from hurtful encounters elude Matt, dooming him to repeat the pattern. I readily get pulled into the vortex and old wounds become fresh again.

Intellectually I know better than to engage and offer him unwanted solutions, yet I feel compelled. Logic is repelled and the dispute whirls into primal territory— where Matt’s emotional push earns my shove back. Our well-trampled battlefield spares no victims. Recognizing this age-old pattern of human conflict does nothing to lift the heavy blanket of dismay that descends upon my shell.

I own my share of this fallout. Nobody is in charge of another’s feelings and reactions, but like most people, we’re both guilty of wanting the other to be reasonable. Control must be distributed equitably with the person deemed to have the least power—and that’s not me.

Matt lives in the moment, which is both a blessing and a curse. When he feels a sense of injustice his emotions swirl instantaneously, propelled by hurricane force winds. In response, our family takes a clear stance and battens down the hatches against his relentless barrage. This superficially protects us from the full brunt of the storm, while the pummeling bruises my heart. Our self-protective stance excludes Matt, who rides out the storm alone. Once all of his pent up emotion is expelled, he’s ready to reconcile, seeing no merit in sifting through the remains.

I’m forever keen to support capacity building, yet the realities of my son’s executive functioning challenges must temper my expectations. Open ears and closed mouths enhance listening and understanding. I need to remind myself of that— a lot. Any change I initiate needs to focus on my role, not my son’s. That’s simple to say, yet hard to do.

I try coaxing tenseness from my muscles and second-guessing from my mind. I can almost feel the stress etching lines of worry on my face. Our family’s situation is unique, yet the elements of unpredictability, risk and self-doubt are familiar refrains, shared by many loving family members around the globe. The ongoing challenge is to balance accountability for actions with personal capacity. Hasn’t everyone at some point chosen to suffer the consequences of their decisions, rather than accept caring advice that feels too weighted? Like all citizens, my son has his share of human frailties and needs to own them. Providing advice is fine, but only when input is invited. The challenge is to retreat once it’s clear that he’s not interested in pursuing proposed options.

Wounds to my psyche penetrate deeper these days and recovery takes longer. The intellect offers me rational, ineffective approaches to life in the Matt Lane, but it’s my bruised heart that seeks a better way.

Matt soon resurfaces with regrets and a few more dilemmas. He’s now calm and seeking insights. Remnants of mutual discontent still crackle underneath the surface, but don’t form into words. Timing is everything. More storm surges are inevitable, as emotions run high in these unsettling times of COVID. Until then, I’ll focus on enjoying the moment and replenishing my emotional energy.

Susan Dunnigan

December 2020