We Are Family


Toxic Ambivalence

Toxic Ambivalence  - Bekah Russom 231866 Unsplash

This is not an easy blog to write.
I’ve recently had a school-related episode that has given me much heartache and pause for thought.
It was one of the other Y2 mums. Her daughter has been running very hot and cold about my daughter for a while. We mums agreed that this was not a big problem, and that we would support the girls in finding their feet. We felt we had a good approach and that it worked.
But then something happened that I cannot unsee or unhear. The mother’s own ambivalence towards my daughter. How she supported her daughter's ambivalence. And where it has left my daughter. My daughter's anxiety levels are rocketing. But it is all so subtle. You wouldn’t know it if you don’t know her. How she speaks too fast, too loud, doesn’t listen, bumps into things and people too hard. Dysregulation, my old friend. Multiplied by ten thousand. Normally I see the big tilts coming, but somehow I didn’t this time. 
When the mother verbalised her ambivalence - although not using the word - the game was up. This is a mother who I thought ‘got it’. She didn’t. She doesn’t.

To be honest, this is also a story about yet another mother who overreacted, who herself was overwhelmed with life. For good reason. I get that. I’m hurt and truth be told angry - very angry - but I can deal with it. That bit is my problem.
What I am finding much much hard is forgiving myself for not having seen the toxic impact earlier. For letting my daughter continue to go to her friend’s house when she did not feel safe there.
I think I read my daughter well. Especially about when she feels or doesn’t feel safe. How could I have not seen this??
Because I wanted her to fit in. Because she wanted to fit in. Because I listened to all this mother’s trials and tribulations in life. And felt I understood her. 
Because, because, because, because, because 
Because of the wonderful things she does

I thought there was a lot of warmth within the chaos of the family. All the siblings and cats and dogs. All the comings and goings. That, deep down, they all liked my daughter. And that is what counted.

Now I feel I sold out. That my daughter is paying the price. I feel that I pawned my daughter out to fit in. Outch.
Trust is so hard to build with our children. So so hard to build, and so easily lost. This trait may be contagious. Because I’m becoming like that too.
Friendships has never been a problem for her older sister. There were bumps in the road for sure. But she always had many friends and was popular at school.
What I can’t shake is the sense of just how toxic ambivalence can be. I feel it physically. It aches and itches. This is ambivalence that feeds straight into a feeling they already know all too well. It's shaky ground. The latent rejection. And the self-fulfilling prophecy of the fear of rejection. My daughter is now super clingy, needy and super bossy - worried about rejection everywhere. Everything has been ramped up. It’s exhausting.
These days I hate the school gates. The small talk. Even the kisses. 'Oh hi!' 'How was your summer?'
Next time I see that kind of ambivalence I’m off. Daughter in hand.
I thought I had explained about the subtleties of my daughter’s background (without giving too many details). I thought that mother was interested in learning more about children who had had a difficult start in life; a girl who was from the pool of the most vulnerable citizens in our society. I thought that mother, too, wanted to protect and learn.
Carrie Grant’s blog about on her son’s experience at school rings in my ears.
And this is where you come in. You had the chance to do something really good. You had the chance to teach your children about kindness and difference and to let them know life is not always straightforward for many. Despite this, even in those whose lives are complicated or troubled, there is hope for a better future. And even more importantly community can play a huge part in the healing of a person's life. Your children's friendship could have played a key role in our child's path towards freedom.

Here’s an eloquent woman raising SEN children, lucidly explaining a bigger picture that we all fit into. All of us. I thought I’d done that. I thought this mum could hold my daughter. I thought she understood.
I was wrong. 

Photo by Bekah Russom on Unsplash


Bekah Russom 231866 Unsplash


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  • Michele

    This chocked me up as I am dealing with a school friendship issue at the moment and feel quite alone with it all!! How do you tell your amazing kind daughter who just wants to be friends with someone that getting punched in the face by someone wasn’t just an accident and you shouldn’t accept it!

    • Author

      Oh dear... I'm sorry to hear it. That is a difficult discussion to be having.

    • User

      [Comment deleted]

  • Jane

    Hi. thanks for writing this blog. I hate the school gate too and I made the mistake of believing that other people would somehow invest in my child and give them some leeway in consideration of her difficult past. However what I have come to understand is that when it comes to people’s own children, everyone is going to put the needs and wishes of their own child above yours. It’s a natural instinct. And while in theory they might be sympathetic to my child’s background ( and incredibly nosy!) ultimately they want an easy life so if their child is expressing ambivalence, they will support them. I was burned when a mother asked to meet for coffee with our girls who had had a fallout over a role play game. The Mum told me in the queue that her daughter was so upset by the game that she didn’t want to go to school anymore. I asked both girls about the game and it turned out that my daughter had been a bit controlling and here had been a bit over sensitive and dramatic ‘but I wanted to be a witch and she made me be a servant’ . The same girl also lied about having pain in her previously broken to get time off school) but overall it was just a game and by the time of the coffee they were over it. But the Mum had obviously told all her friends and I have heard them whispering about us. It has created a problem for my daughter and I feel she has been labelled as a bully unfairly. I can’t wait for her to go to secondary but we have a few years left to go! The school ate great but the mums and occasional Dad are cliquey and mean!

    • Anon

      Thank you for this comment. I so agree that we all protect our kids first. But ... I also believe all kids should be protected by all adults. Do I differ from most parents in saying that?
      I wonder if this type of behaviour is also worse amongst girls. Although that's stereotyping...

  • Anon

    Thank you so so much for sharing this. I’ve been in an almost identical position, except I did act rather promptly and (socially) brutally. I’ve been tormenting myself about whether I did the right thing but this blog has helped me see that I did. Thank you to the writer who was brave enough to share this story - it really has helped me.

    • Author

      Thank you for your warm comments. Sounds like you did do the right right. Once I saw it, I also acted quickly. We mums did make amends and discussed it, the kids sorted themselves out, but ... she will never go back there.

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