Our oldest son moved in with us when he was eight years old. He had been in the foster care system for several years and in an neglectful birth home before that. At that time, I had been studying Circle of Security Parenting for a few years and I thought I was prepared.
One of my focuses for our adopted son was to offer him moments of delight – something I was sure he hadn’t received much of in his life. I noticed that I wasn’t able to delight in him very often because he didn’t make much eye contact. As a few months went by, I grew a little concerned that I still could not delight in him because he wouldn’t give me the opportunity. Each time my delight showed up, he would look down and stay engaged in whatever he was doing. After about six months of doing this, I was annoyed at him. I remember thinking, “It’s almost like he doesn’t want to be delighted in. He just ignores me. Maybe I should just give up on this part.”
One day, he did a chore the first time I asked him (this was reason to celebrate, believe me!). I went up to his room to thank him and we started chatting. I was feeling proud of him in the moment and I was enjoying hanging out with him. My face started to just naturally beam with delight for him as we were talking. He noticed and looked down.
I was so disappointed. I turned away to leave his room. Then, for some reason, I turned back.
When I did, he was looking at me.
I opened my mouth. Then I closed. Something important struck me in that moment:
I had been the one who was messing up the delight. Not him. Me.
This very vulnerable child was responding to my delight… just not in the way I thought he should. He did care about us and when he saw that we cared about him, it was overwhelming to him. He would look down because he didn’t know what else to do. And then he would then look back up – but by then, all he saw was my back.
I turned my back on him because he wasn’t responding how I thought he should. I felt disappointed, annoyed and disconnected. I broke the opportunity for delight – not him.
Once I realized this, it changed things. When he noticed me delighting in him, he still looked down, but then I waited. Usually within a few seconds, he would look back up and give me a big smile. His smile would warm my heart and he would see my warmth and he would delight back in my delight for him.
My shark music is what got in the way of us moving into this new way of being together. It was me all along, not him. I thought I knew Circle of Security. I thought I knew my shark music. I thought I knew myself. And yet… the subtlety of this shark music made it so that I didn’t notice it for months.
We all have shark music. It’s in all of our relationships. Some of it is very powerful and bold. Some of it is subtle and almost invisible to us. No matter the intensity of the shark music, it is still calling the shots until we gain awareness and practice doing something different.
If you notice a particular negative feeling about someone regularly, if there’s something missing from a relationship, or if you tend to blame the another person…. it might be time to gain new perspective on your own shark music to see if it’s a contributing factor. Watch with a newly objective eye to your interactions. Ask a friend who will be honest and kind.
My relationship with my son really began in earnest on the day I learned to be available to delight in him. Now that he is 18 years old, I have some perspective and wisdom that I didn’t always have as he was growing up. It has been wonderful and maddening, intense and amazing, confusing and just right. Our family wouldn’t be our family without him. I am so grateful for him and for the Circle of Security, which offered us room to finally be able to delight in each other.
As a final note to this story, I shared this blog with him the other night over dinner. I wanted his permission before I posted it. He said, “yes, of course” and added, “all kids should feel good in that way, mom.” It made me tear up when he said it. When I think of this part of our story, I see how I failed him. When he read the story, he remembered how he felt when he was delighted in and he wants all kids to feel that way. A reminder once again of where our shark music may be as parents (one of mine is in assuming the worst) but more importantly a reminder of the magic of “good enough” parenting and just how forgiving our children can be.