Mothers and sons
The little boy sat clinging to his mother, beating her chest to get her attention while she was trying to give me the details of his medical history. At 20 months he had chronic discharge from his ears and no amount of antibiotics would clear it. He had many sets of grommets fitted, the one after the other, to no avail. His hair was coarse and sparse, his little body painfully thin, his belly enlarged either through malnutrition or parasites. His actions were repetitively either sucking his thumb, or wailing and beating his mother’s chest to demand her breast. She told me that she had not had a decent night’s rest since he was born. In a tired, mechanical way that mothers develop to deal with difficult offspring, she held him to quieten him down and unbuttoned her top to offer him a withered breast. She looked at me with such confusion and despair in her eyes that I could virtually feel at that moment how close she was to breaking. He grabbed the breast with both hands and angrily demanding, sucked at it while putting up one hand to reach a wisp of her listless hair to twirl around his fingers to satisfy his tactile senses while she just gave and gave and hated every moment of his selfish intrusion into her space. He commanded and dominated, she passified and complied, terrified of his control of her. When I pointed this emotional co-dependency out to her, she looked startled but also very defensive … “But he is sick! You have no idea how high his fevers can go …. I don’t know what to do any more …. Most of the time I just sit with him and allow him to suck! He won’t eat, he won’t sleep in his own bed. None of my other children were ever like this. If I can just get his ears right, he will stop doing this, I am sure. Can you do anything to help? Have you ever treated this? My father is a doctor and will be very angry if he knew I had come to see you, but a friend of mine suggested I try you.”
The torrent of words kept on pouring out. She was desperate, that was plain to see. Yet, she had no confidence in any other healing method except so-called modern medicine, and to her dismay it wasn’t curing her son’s illness. Only complete desperation could have driven to seek help from other sources.
The little boy took in every word his mother had said, looking at her moving mouth from where he was holding her drained breast in his mouth. When her attention had shifted away from him for too long, he started the wailing and squirming from scratch, disrupting her flow of thoughts, redirecting her energy and attention back to him. It fascinated me to observe her control. At 20 months he had the whole family at his beck and call and he was not going to relinquish his power easily! The key to his recovery was to enable his mother to take back her position as his parent and to parent him more than mothering him.