The following blog was written about a month ago, and I have since made more peace with the issues I touch upon. Curious if anyone else has felt things things or though these thughts.
Being a mother hurts
Smooth, rosy, pink lips like a swatch of satin. A rounded nose with a hint of red. Eyes the shape of dark brown almonds and eyebrows painted on with a medium size brush, strokes of baby fine hair. Her cheeks are rounded and white with a blush of pink across the roundest part. Her beauty is without effort. It is without paint, adornment. She looks beautiful in her diaper, in a dress, and in her play clothes. A thought occurs to me: “Wasn’t I just beautiful as she is?” I don’t think so. My mother always had to dress me up. I used to cry if I wasn’t in a dress because I would feel ugly. I can remember feeling ugly at a young age, as young as 4, and I can remember feeling fat at a young age, 6. Where did that kind of issue, an issue that is societal, come from? I think it came from the grown-ups around me. It came from what I saw them do to themselves about beauty, image, and weight.
My daughter doesn’t try to be anything. She is two. She is new to the world and the sights, sounds, objects, people, adventures are a playground to her. She is curious and wondrous. She marvels and delights. A red ball at the toy store. A hula-hoop at playgroup. A twisty slide in the park. The stroke of the breeze or wind against her face. After she experiences any of these things she says, “Oh, my God!” She is vocal about her feelings– both the happy ones and sad. “I’m sad mommy,” she will say at various moments, like when a friend of hers is crying in the nursery at the gym or when we can’t go the post office to see her favorite mailman Tom and get a sticker and two stamps–one each hand. And she never feels bad about her feelings. Can you imagine that? Yes, think about what causes the second pain of pain–the judging of it, and this little being is free from that. Her pain is natural and real. It comes and goes because she doesn’t have a judgment and reaction to it. The concept of judging or criticizing is foreign and unknown, even. Unrecognizable. When I hear a friend of mine tell her son not to cry, to stop, “There’s no reason to cry!”, I realize that he doesn’t get what she’s saying exactly, but he probably senses that his mother doesn’t like when he cries. That it upsets her. He, like most children, doesn’t want to upset his parents. So he will start to evaluate and judge his feelings over time, and he will become one of us: a being that tries to control and stop the uncontrollable–our feelings. You feel what you feel. You don’t necessarily act on the feeling–which is what I think we are afraid of. See if you watch a kid, they cry and then move on with life. So, see, we can just feel and still live our lives. I think we forget that as we move into adulthood. Most of all what strikes me is that at an early age we learn that we can’t just feel because when we feel and show our feelings someone else, a parent gets upset….they get upset because they aren’t comfortable with the child’s pain. So we teach the children to try and get rid of the painful feeling….not so much so they feel better but so the parent does.
I try to validate my daughter’s feelings, comfort her when she is in pain, and most of all, step aside and give her space. I don’t step in when she and another child have a little tussle over a toy they both want (unless it gets physical), and when she sobs about something that I see as no big deal, I just hold her (if she lets me) and just let her cry. I don’t tell her it’s all going to be okay or try to smother her with kisses, I just try very, very hard to validate where she is at and most of all, let her feel all her feelings– the good and bad.
Her innocence breaks my heart. Her strong emotions hurt my soul with their potency. Their purity. It’s like breathing super clean air. I hurt when she sobs. I hurt when she hurts. But I try not to put my pain, the pain of seeing her emote, on her. I try not to do what I see some parents do to their children. What was done to me. “Stop crying. It’s no big deal. Everything will be fine. Don’t cry.” I know that this is done because that’s what was done to the parents. That’s what we all have learned, what’s been passed down generation after generation. But I want to break the cycle.
The innocence of my daughter coupled with the knowledge of what she will experience and is experiencing, the growth pains and spurts, knowing what she will go through– that is both surreal and frightening, like watching a train wreck and not being able to tell the person to get out of the way. The innocence is so painful to me because it’s an innocence that I know will change to something else eventually, and the very concept of the word innocence the very fact that one definition of the word is: “A lack of experience of the world, especially when this results in a failure to recognize the harmful intentions of other people”. This is the one that stabs my heart and pierces it until I am bleeding helplessly in the middle of the night, my mouth gaping for air, my mind like a train on a circular track, going at full speed without any final destination.
An old enemy has returned to me recently. A monster called Insomnia. A monster I haven’t seen for years. As my head hits the pillow, even before, when the sun sets and the thought of sleep sets in, obsessive thoughts, painful feelings fall on me like a sudden hail storm. Thoughts that make me feel guilty and wrong and like a bad mother.
“I am not home enough. I miss her. I love to work. I love to come home to her after working. Working brings me back to myself. I lose myself when I am with her. I am simply her mother and nothing else and it’s a relief.” Each day we are together until 1:30. And I don’t do anything from the moment she wakes until the moment that the sitter arrives that doesn’t revolve around her. I immerse myself in her and disappear for several hours. The burden in my life is me, and not her. The burden in my life is my own needs and wants and insecurities and the fact that they scream and protest if I try to disappear into motherhood. One day a week, I am home the entire day and by the end, a tiny voice in side screams, “STOP”. Write, read, do something away from her for a moment. My thoughts that I am not home enough scare me because they are not true. I am home more than most working mothers. And yet….much like how I am with myself…it is not enough. But this pain I feel, a pain that is the result of having and watching and loving this child, I do no put it on her. I do not do anything with it except feel it completely, to its very core, to its very center. In the middle of the night, alone, raw.
Protection. Love. Fear. Fear. Fear. Fear. Will I over-love? Will I drive her to not love me back? So I fear that, that I love her too much, put too much of this love on her. Because when I see my daughter, I see her first and then I see myself and my own pain, and the rational part of me is angry with the part of me that feels that, because that’s why and how people screw up their children.
I fear my love for her is too much. I fear that my love will push her far away from me eventually. She doesn’t always want to kiss me now. I ask for a kiss so many times a day, too many. I can see how annoyed she is….It is like she’s thinking “Enough!” Kissing is now reserved for when I leave and when she goes to bed, like it should be. Think about it: You’re around your mother, and she randomly starts kissing you every where several times a day. No thanks! Yet, I can’t help it. But I feel like I need to stop because I am violating her boundary.
The concept of having boundaries didn’t occur to me until I was seventeen and in a shrink’s office after having my first panic attack. “Your parents don’t have strong, good boundaries with you.” “What do you mean?” I asked. “You don’t know where you begin and they end,” my shrink replied. Despite not fully understanding, the shrink’s words rang true for me. I did kind of feel like the boundary between me and my parents, where they began and I ended, was blurry–not in an overprotective way, like reading my diary or telling me who I should be friends with or what activities I should join. The problem was the opposite– they offered no counsel, no advice. No curfew. No rules about homework, bedtime, week-night sleepovers, boys in my bedroom, when I could start dating. There was no discussion about drinking, pot, or sex. From letting me sleep in their bed until age nine to not noticing I had severe issues with food, weight, and exercise, my parents seemed to walk around with blinders on for most of my childhood. To the outside world, I had “cool” parents because they let me do whatever I wanted. But inside, when I was alone in my room, I wrote in my diary about how I felt so out of control with my life. Not having any rules coupled with the way each of them dealt with me, often made me feel like, I, as a separate person, didn’t exist.
My parents each operated very differently with me. My father lectured in a removed theoretical way about responsibility and maturity. He often told me he wanted to treat me like an adult and that I needed to learn about responsibility at a young age. But his words were just that–words. I never got guidance from him, only lectures. I never felt like he was interested in hearing what I felt or learning about what I wanted in my life. Also, his attempts to discuss heavy issues, like leaving my mother, always resulted in him talking to me like a peer rather than like a daughter. He didn’t tell her first, he confessed all to me. And, later, when my sister stopped talking to him, he didn’t go to her and try to work things out, he asked me to get involved. My problem with him was I wanted him to like me and I wanted his approval but at the same time, I had so little respect for him. When he would lecture me on responsibility, it would sound hollow since he shirked so much of his own responsibility.
My mother was different. She operated on good, old-fashioned guilt. I would say “enough” like my daughter does, and my mother would accuse me of trying to make her miserable or hurt her. My mother would say she was just trying to love me. I remember one day she drove me to school, and I, like most teenagers, was in a bad mood. I was fat, had a lot of zits, my grades sucked, and no boys liked me. In my fourteen-year-old world, my life really was terrible and I didn’t speak to her the entire way. Looking back, this is normal and I know how I would deal with that….respect the person’s need for space. Not take it personally. Not make it about me– it’s not. Nope. My mother dropped me off, and right as I am about to go inside the very place that I hated and the very place that reminded me of just how undesirable I was how hateful and awful I was, she screamed at me that I was being awful to her and making her feel terrible and she hoped I was happy. I felt like my unhappiness couldn’t be my own.
When I was a kid my mother would take me to the mall at each the change of each season and spend a small fortune on me. Most of the clothes were things she picked out, and she had certain rules like: if you get that top you have to get a matching pant and belt. You had to get a whole “ensemble”. The guilt would come in if I didn’t wear the clothes enough or in the “outfit” fashion she bought them in. I wanted to pick out my own clothes, but the entire shopping experience was time to be with her; it was the only activity we did together– shopping and eating. Sometimes I didn’t want to do either, but I wanted to be with my mom, and I really wanted her approval.
I know they didn’t intend to hurt me or make me feel bad, unimportant, and insignificant. But the truth is, I felt that way growing up. I didn’t feel like there was a place for just me, discovering me, discovering who I was– not in relation to them. What kinds of clothes did I like? What values were important to me? I kept a lot of my self-discovery to myself because I was afraid that who I was might not be who they wanted me to be. Again, my family loved me very much and tried the best they could to show me their love. But this is what I walked out of my childhood with– a sense of who I was, was simply not good enough to them. That I had to work harder to prove myself.
On the other hand, the fact that they never told me what to do or gave me guidance allowed me to figure things out on my own. I was four-years-old when I made the first of many major decisions about my life. I had a bottle that I was very attached to, one that no one ever took away from me. We were about to move to Rhode Island, in fact it was the day of moving, and I remember very distinctly thinking, “I need to throw away this bottle. It’s time to be a big girl.” And so I walked to the trashcan and dumped the Fred Flinestone bottle. I was ready. The next major decision I made was the decision to stop sleeping in my parents’ bed. I was about 10 or 11-years-old, and we were about to move into a new house where my room was on the bottom floor and my parents’ was on the top. It’s time, I told myself, it’s time to be a big girl, and that was it. And later, as a teenager, when I was knee-deep into an eating disorder, I made the same decision, “Okay, that’s it. I don’t want to die or be sick so I am going to start eating again.” While my parents’ way of relating to me made me feel insignificant at times, almost like they didn’t care what I did, it also forced me to rely on my own inner voice and gut to help me make the decisions in life that were really all up to me. Even with going to college and then getting married. I didn’t sit and analyze those things or ruminate or wait for their cue, and I just did it. On my own. For that, I thank them.
Sometimes the feeling of love for my daughter is so immediate and powerful, and well, it is like oxygen, and it’s like I need more and more of it to be able to breathe. It’s a selfish, selfish love. It’s so similar to when you fall in love with someone, those first few months and years of selfish, selfish can’t-get-enough-of-you love. Only with My daughter, it’s not reciprocated most of the time, and I am glad about that in a way. A close friend of mine has a son who is seven years old, and he still wants her to hold him and sing him to sleep every night. He throws himself on her and says, “I want to marry you mommy. I am never leaving you.” I feel an uncomfortable pang when I see this. A pang of a kind of jealousy but also of uh-oh. Will he wind up in the shrinks office with my friend, knee-deep in panic attacks both fearing flying the nest and fearing not flying the nest? So in many, many ways I am glad my daughter is already separating herself from me. But irrational, wild, emotional, weepy, and child part of me is frightened of that. Her separating herself from me feels like I am being abandoned.
When I was a teenager my therapist, who hadn’t ever met my mother, said she pictured her dressed in a large cloak and opening the cloak lie a bat with wings and then closing the wings around me, tight. I look back at that as an act of protection and an act of self preservation. My mother wanted to shelter me from pain so I wouldn’t hurt but also so she wouldn’t hurt. That used to piss me off….Now I understand it.
When your child cries, over anything, there is a part of you that experiences it on another level. You experience your own pain as a young child. You experience the pain you felt when your mother went off to work and left you with a sitter. You re-experience your own emotional experience at that age, you re-experience it and feel that pain plus the pain of knowing what she feels as she is feeling it.
When she cries, when the tears smart her eyes and then spill without any effort to control or stop, as it doesn’t occur to her to stifle any emotion, that purity of expression affects me in so many levels.
To sum it all up….
I am in pain about being a mother. The why and how and how much and to what extent doesn’t interest me. The truth. The Truth is this: Motherhood is painful. Loving your child is all of these things: simple, effortless, and painful. I hurt with love. But my hurt is not her problem nor will I let it be.
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