At the kernel of J is a very headstrong person. She was that even at a few months old. There would be no kicking and screaming to protest but she would resolutely hold her ground and do exactly what she had set out to do. In the last few months, DB and I have noticed a more concerning variation on the theme of "resolute". When we are upset with her for any reason, she switches off emotionally and presents a stone cold persona that nothing can touch. Our words and remonstrations mean nothing to her at that point - it is like we have lost all contact with the child and yet she is sitting right across from us at the dinner table. The snapping of connection is as sudden as it is complete and it leaves us at our wits end. Yesterday DB tried a different way to get to the bottom of this change. After the moment of disagreement had passed, he started a casual conversation with her and soon she had regained her usual animation. Once he had her full attention, he started probing a little into her how she had been feeling lately - about herself, about us as a family and so on.
We were able to piece together quite a bit on what she said. In the early days of our marriage, DB and I would often get into arguments - we are both highly independent and strong-willed people so it took a lot of doing to stop getting at each others' throats. In a snap, all the love, affection and respect would disappear and we'd be absolutely infuriated with each other. Until that time, J had never seen a man around the house, never seen me as a married woman and had no idea of what may or may not be normal between two parents. I had forgotten what it was to adjust to another adult or accept a way of life very different from my own. So here we were, DB and I shaking out a brand new marriage with a completely confused eight year old looking on.
She said, she had no idea what would happen next. She was scared a lot and worried about what the future held for her. She was no longer sure about Mommy because Mommy was acting out in ways she had never known her to in her entire life. The only way she knew to protect herself was to harden, to become tough so nothing could touch her. She had gone into self-preservation mode and this was the only defense mechanism she knew.
The marriage is a year old now, DB and I have defined the rules of engagement and we don't squabble over every little thing. The communication between us is not perfect but we recognize it right away when there is a problem and make the effort to correct it. The arguments when they happen are not nearly as intense and J carries on treating it like background noise. She has learned to cope, carved a safe haven for herself in past year's turmoil to the point that I feel like I have to re-discover the child I gave birth to.
I was once her source of strength and the person in charge of her life. In the past year fallen from grace. J has seen the weak, vulnerable and often emotionally volatile side of me. The rite of passage DB and I have been through in year one is completely normal in a new marriage except if this had been our first, J would not have been around quite yet to be impacted by it. I will do everything I can to right course with her from here on out but cannot turn the clock back. I hope watching the initial adjustment stage of a relationship and seeing it grow stronger as a result gives her something of value that she can use in her own life - at least that's how I try to rationalize what I cannot change no matter how much I want to