The word, even the most contradictory word, preserves contact – it is silence which isolates Thomas Mann
I spend my life writing, I have done so for as many years as I can remember. Writing, for me, is easier than speaking and allows me to translate my feelings, my thoughts and even my unconscious. It is the medium through which my voice is most easily heard. Finding it easy to write, it is easy for me to forget that not everyone communicates effectively this way. Finding it easier to write than speak, you are more likely to receive a letter or an email from me than a phone call and that goes for whether I see you daily or only once each year. And so to write about writing to your alienated child, is for me, something that I find quite difficult. So much so that in order to do it, I have to step into your shoes for a while and feel what it is to find it difficult to write or to not to know what to write about or simply not want to write when all you really want to do is scream the word why?
Writing however is a medium that all alienated parents could and should (in my view) get comfortable with. Writing is good for you and it is good for your child and when you get comfortable with it, your writing can fill in the gaps that a thousand years of talking could not fill. When you write and allow your thoughts to flow, your anxiety levels drop, when you write and allow yourself to simply be in the moment, your emotions regulate themselves. When you write you can express all of those things that you would like to say to your child (and more) and even if they never read a word of it, it is said, it is committed to paper and it is, as a result, in existence forever.
Many people ask me about writing to their child. I am asked for templates to use and about things to say and about how it is possible to keep on saying the same things in different ways for ever and a day without any return. My response to this is to say that if you write for return with an alienated child you are simply continuing the same pattern of behaviours that keep your child in the same place that she has always been. When you write to your alienated child, write from the mother or father within you and tell your child what you want them to hear about how they are still loved, still missed, still cared for and about how you are still there, still well and still waiting. Write from your heart, from the place of still being the parent that you were on the day that they were born and let love flow. When you do, the writing flows and you will find it benefits you in so many ways.
Recently I have begun interviewing children who were once alienated but who have recovered. This is for our book, to offer alienated parents a sense of what is important to their alienated child. All of the children I have thus far spoken to have told me that letters and cards were a vital lifeline to their parent, that even though they did not read them or dismissed them out of hand, somewhere inside they knew that the arrival of those missives meant that they were still loved and that their parent was still out there somewhere. Some children speak of the anxiety that letters caused them and the cognitive dissonance of hearing that they were loved even though they were being told they were not. Other children have told me that they wish the parent they had rejected had written more about the lives they were leading and the world outside the alienation that they felt. None of the children said that they wished their parent hadn’t bothered. None of them said that letters, cards and emails were not important.
And so in the spirit of new beginnings, in the coldest and darkest time of the year. Why not pick up your pen or sit yourself down at your keyboard and write. Write to begin with because you have a story to tell. Write so that your thoughts and feelings begin to flow. Write about the world around you, about the light in the sky and the stark fingers of the trees against the January twighlight. Write about the wind that has been howling around us over the past few nights or the Sunshine that has been beating down upon you in that land down under. Write about the feelings and the fears and the things that make you smile on the darkest of days. If writing feels strange to begin with, try reading something new, try poetry or prose and let that flow through you and unwind the neural pathways so that your mind gets used to the rythmn of writing. When you find yourself in full flow, turn your thoughts to your child and let them know, from the heart of you, how you are feeling about them now.
Letter writing to alienated children is not easy but it can be made easier if you enjoy the act of writing and if you find yourself able to converse around the corners of the pain and the rejection that you feel. Reach out over the top of the pain and the anger and the loss and the hurt and write to that child who is still there. Here is one such letter, written by a parent I worked with some years ago. It has stayed with me ever since I read it and it stayed with her child too.
My darling child.
Today the tulips opened up their bright red faces and smiled at me in the sunshine. I thought about the day that we brought you home from the hospital on a day just like today. All the birds in the world were singing and the sun beamed its smiley face down from the sky, I was so happy, you were so perfect and we were so blessed.
The frogs in the pond are busy, it is the time of year for tadpoles and there are so many of them. Do you remember when we collected them in jars and watched them growing into tiny little frogs. That morning when we came downstairs and found them all jumping about in the sink was funny, we had to catch each one of them and carry them into the garden in our hands, they were so tiny!
This year I have planted lots of different vegetables in our veg patch, I have labelled them all with the pen that you gave me for Christmas a couple of years ago. I keep the pen in my tray by the window so that I know where it is, you know how I am for losing things! It is very useful though so thank you for such a perfect present, I think of you when I am using it, I draw funny little faces on the labels to remind me of you as the vegetables grow.
It is still frosty at night though. When I look up at the stars I wonder if you are looking up too and counting them like we used to. So many stars in the sky, do you ever think we would be able to count them all?
I have planted some peas for you again but I will bring them in at night because it is sooo cold that they would soon die if I left them out. There are some purple mange tout for you, one day when you come around we will pick them and put them in our stir fry.
My feet are still cold in the day time so I have not put my sandals on yet. This year I think I will paint my toenails bright pink, what colour will you do yours do you think? I still have our nail polish set with all of those fantastic colours, some of the pots have gone a bit sticky but it’s ok, I will replace them for us.
I hope you are keeping warm and snug through the winter. I think about you every day and send you all of my love and the snuggles you cannot have right now. They will always be here waiting for you, they will never go away.
When I interviewed the recipient of this letter recently I asked her whether she remembered receiving it. She left the room for a moment and came back with it in a frame.
‘I remembered it’, she said, ‘how could I forget it. That letter said everything to me about my mother and her love for me that could ever be said. When I read it I was nine years old and I was cold and angry and rejecting. But those images she painted for me went past all of that and right into my heart, I knew then that what I was doing was wrong and though it took me six more years to struggle my way free, that letter and others that she sent, let me know that what was waiting was her love for me. It what was kept me going.’
Writing is not easy for everyone I know, but writing a river instead of crying one is something that speaks to your child of your enduring love and is what could, in the end, build that road home.