Anne Shirley and Marilla Cuthbert

So, I turned 30 about a month ago and it’s made me start evaluating a bunch of things in order to move forward in my life in a better way. One of the main things I’ve been thinking about is how little stability I’ve had in my life so far.

In the past ten years, I have attended 3 schools, lived in 6 states and one foreign country. If I didn’t miss any in my list, then I’ve held 24 jobs in 11 industries. All of this had kind of been a source of pride for me–my ability to land on my feet in any situation–but an astute observer pointed out both that I might be running away from something and that the continual chaos might make it hard for me to develop certain skills that I needed.

And of course, she was right. Now, I have a pretty good sense of what I’ve been running from. But what has this prevented me?

Well, the little man who I’ve mentioned on here so many times, has found himself some new stability in the past two years. He is with his mum and they have been in the same apartment in the same town for over a year. He’s been at the same school. And he and his mum are both in therapy.

To the casual observer, he’s kind of a wreck. He’s doing poorly in school, getting in fights, stealing, gaining weight . . . But I wonder (AKA hope) if this is actually a good starting place. When he was with us and there was a court custody battle going on and his future was so up in the air, he was violent and dissociative. We had him in therapy but he would just completely melt down every time we tried to take him. He was like a feral animal basically.

It seems like there is a fundamental shift in his life now. All the trouble he’s in might actually be a sign that he’s starting to work through the tough stuff in his life–it’s likely that the weight gain is. My understanding is that his therapy is going really well, and he has language to describe the things he’s gone through that amazes me for a ten year old. Also, it sounds like his school has really figured out in the past year how to work with him. And, he has all of the people who care about him in his life in a fairly regular, steady way.

Angry child

When kids have been abused and tossed back and forth, I think it’s a pretty natural reaction to assume a constant fight or flight reaction. When our little guy was held back in school, he assumed it meant he was dumb, but he really wasn’t. It was just that he had no energy to focus on school–he had to point it all towards dealing with all the upheaval in his life. I think that stability is finally what allows kids (and adults) to start to make sense of their lives and to start learning to move forward emotionally, intellectually, and in all other aspects of their lives. Unfortunately, part of that initial settling down process is probably falling apart. Because facing a lot of painful memories and events isn’t the funnest thing ever.

So anyway, we all need stability. What does that mean? For a kid (or an adult) to feel secure enough to start dealing with his past and start maturing forward, he needs several things. All his needs need to be met and in such a way that he no longer doubts that they will continue to be met. That means staying in the same home for a long time. That means always having food on the table for every meal. It also means having the same person take care of him without a lot of unexpected departures and for that person to be emotionally available. It means having steady helpers (like therapists and teachers) to help him understand and contextualize his life. It means having friends and other loving adults in his life in a fairly steady way, as well.

That way he can stop worrying about survival and he can start processing and then learning and growing. And it means that he will have the help that he needs to take that journey.

For my part, I have always had people–strangers and casual acquaintances, mostly–tell me how incredibly wise and mature beyond my years I am. I can see what they’re saying, but the truth, that people who have been closer to me know, is that there are fundamental emotional tasks that most people learn at a much younger age that I am only starting to grasp. When it comes to relating to other people or my own emotional life, my growth is really stunted. And it’s affected every aspect of my life and it’s made it harder to move beyond entry-level work, and it’s made my studies challenging, as well.

I’ve been so engaged in the fight-or-flight response in my life for so long, that it wasn’t until I finally found myself living in a home for four years with a family and a community and the little guy I’ve mentioned that I even started to realize that this has affected my life. And if it weren’t for watching what he’s gone through and trying to help him, I don’t know if I’d be starting to move forward even today.


About pamwatts

Writer, Reader, and Children's advocate
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3 Responses to Stability

  1. E says:

    Glad to hear the little guy is (hopefully) finding his footing. Thank you for the thoughtful read. Stability is so important isn’t it? I have become convinced in the last few years there must have been stability lacking in my home too, even though on the surface it ‘seemed’ like a stable one. My 1 biggest fear as a kid was that my parents would break up and I’d never see my dad again. I think that probably says something there. It’s funny how things can affect you years later… the coping skills I learned in early life may be partly why I’ve been having a hard time dealing with stress lately.

    p.s Excellent tie in to Anne and Marilla photo. If there’s stability anywhere, it’s in Marilla’s house right?! 🙂

    Hugs from the old Roomie, E

  2. pamwatts says:

    Hey Esther! I can see what you’re saying about your childhood home. If you’re constantly worrying that one of your primary caretakers will be gone, then you can’t feel that secure emotionally. I’ve actually wondered if you, me, and Laura didn’t all have some fundamental lacks in security growing up, but I digress.

    And you know, I didn’t know why I chose that picture of Anne and Marilla, but I think you’ve hit the nail on the head!

    Hugs back.

  3. abwestrick says:

    So well-said, Pam. Not only is this post beautifully written, but insightful and hopeful. When I was in my twenties, I moved a lot, and it wasn’t until my husband and I started a family that we decided to stay put. Before that, we went where opportunities presented themselves… jobs, graduate schools, travel. Where he and I differ from you is that we moved together (within a committed relationship) and while growing up, neither of us had moved at all. So a part of me resonates with your post and a sense that it’s common for twenty-somethings to move a lot. The ability to land on your feet in any situation is admirable. It’s fantastic!
    But not having experienced the chaos that you did, I don’t resonate with the wonderings about whether you’re running away from something (commitment, perhaps? trust?). I think it’s awesome that you’ve stopped to ponder the instability. There’s a time for exploration and personal growth and curiosity about the world, and for many people (certainly for me) there comes a time when sinking roots in a community and a relationship trumps all of the perceived benefits of moving on. It’s a matter of figuring out what’s best for you in the particular circumstances in which you find yourself. This post suggests that you’re clearly in a good place, asking good questions.
    Best, Anne

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