Thursday, January 31, 2019

A Mother's Heart

I have spent the last 18 years raising kids, and more often than not, being absolutely terrified that I will be the reason why my kids need years and years of therapy just to lead happy and healthy lives.  I have spent so much time fretting and second guessing myself, and worrying.  Wondering if saying this or doing that will ruin their childhoods.  I want my kids to have good memories when they look back at their childhood.  I want them to see that yeah, I made mistakes.  I failed.  Many times.  I yelled too much.  I was too edgy too often, regardless of the legitimate pain and anxiety and depression behind it all.  But I don't want them to only remember that.

I want them to remember that when I failed, when I yelled or made them cry, and it was done out of anger of something else unjustified, that I said I'm sorry.  That I acknowledged where I had made mistakes and I apologized.  That I made amends.  That I squared my shoulders and tried harder to do it right next time.  That I failed again, and that I owned it, once again.

I don't live with the delusion that they won't remember any bad times.  That's not what I'm talking about.  I want them to see good, even in the bad times.  I want them to see redemption.  I want them to know that I tried.  I tried so hard to do it right.  And I want them to know that I know that I didn't always live up to their expectations.  I certainly don't live up to my own, which I admit are likely unattainable.

I want my kids to always feel like they can talk to me about anything, even if it is something they have done that they know is wrong, or that they think will disappoint me.  I want them to know they have a safe place to fall, and a safe place to fall apart.  I want them to look at me, their mother, and think, "God she really does love me."

I live in fear though.  And a lot of times, I believe the lies that say I'm never going to have my kids look at me and think I was a good mom.  I can't seem to silence the lies.  They play over and over again in my head, and I can't make them stop.  It doesn't seem to matter that my girls tell me I'm a good mom and that they love talking to me and that they feel like I am a friend.

The real issue is my son.  And I have spent 17 years wondering how I did everything so wrong with him.  And I worry that the first 7 months I didn't bond with him as a baby have profoundly affected him.  That because he wasn't nurtured at such an early age, he has never felt safe.  He has never felt loved by me.  And the most frustrating thing is that I can't go back and change the postpartum depression that prevented me from bonding with him the way any good mother would.

It doesn't matter what I know.  It doesn't matter that I understand that postpartum depression is a real thing.  All I can fall back on when times get tough (which are far more often than not) is that maybe, just maybe if I had been able to bond with him sooner, I wouldn't have caused him to struggle with the things he struggles with.  Fear.  Anxiety,  Insecurity.  Feeling like he will never be good enough.

If I have to boil my fear down to one single thing, it would be the fear that ANY of my children would wrestle with believing they are not good enough.  That my love is conditional.  I have spent my entire life as a mother hoping and praying and trying to protect them from ever feeling like that.  I know that feeling and it profoundly affected my life and the choices I made from adolescence on.

And so when I see my son already wrestling with that very thing, I try to think back and determine where I went wrong.  What did I do that I shouldn't have?  What didn't I do that I should have?  And I can try to tell myself that I couldn't have changed anything.  That sometimes people just have something born in them that leaves the vulnerable to feeling like they can never measure up.  But in my heart, if I'm being honest, I have never let go of that fear that tells me if I had just been able to feel something for him as a tiny baby, I could have prevented this.

Maybe what is so the fact that even if that's true, even if his struggle is a direct result of my struggle early on in his life, there is literally nothing I can do to change it.  I can't go back and undo it.  No matter how fiercely I love him now and have from infancy (once my depression was treated) and on, no matter how much I want it, I have no control.  So if this is a direct result of that, I can't make it better.  I can't fix it.  Do you know how frustrating that is?  I'm sure some of you do.  I am certain I am not the only mother out there feeling like a complete failure and heartbroken that I cannot fix it.

Even if it isn't my fault (which I question-not out of self-pity or anything like that but out of legitimate beliefs that bonding with a baby has an affect on them), I can't fix it.  As a parent, you will do absolutely everything within your power to protect your child.  You will go to hell and back if you can to prevent them from feeling any pain in this world.  It isn't realistic of course.  You can't protect your child from everything.  The world is harsh and evil and punishing.  No one is immune to that.  But that doesn't stop you from longing to do whatever it takes to protect them.

I hold a lot back from my kids.  While I am an open book and I am always quick to apologize if I make a mistake or hurt them, I tend to shield them from the depression and the internal struggles and fears that I face.  It's another way to try to protect them.  I don't want them to feel the heaviness I feel.  I don't want them to see how badly I feel, because I don't for a minute want them to think any of that is their fault.  I am vulnerable with them.  I don't hide every emotion from them.  But when I get to thinking about this and feeling like I am screwing them up, I try to mask it.  Unfortunately, that keeps these feelings just below the surface and I don't really deal with them.

Ninety-five percent of the time, I am okay.  I don't question myself.  I don't question my worth.  I don't doubt myself as a mother.  My oldest is quick to give me a hug, and tell me that she loves me and that I am a good mom.  She knows that I worry that they will look back and think I was a bad mom.  And while I don't want her to see me openly weeping because I am tormented by that fear, she does know that it is a worry of mine.  But I don't let them see how deeply it affects me.  It's not their job to carry that or try to make me feel better, so I try to prevent them from seeing just how affected I am by it.

And while my oldest reassures me that I'm doing a good job, and while my middle daughter tells me she feels so blessed to have a good family and good parents, and my youngest daughter tells me she loves me and I share a really, REALLY good relationship with them, the other leaves me feeling like an utter failure.

And I don't blame my son.  It is not his fault that I feel this way.  He is a GOOD kid.  He is loyal to those he loves and he's kind and sweet.  And yet, he's dissatisfied with his life, with his family, and ultimately with me as his mother.  When he tells me he hates me, I try not to read into it.  I try to convince myself that it's just teenage angst.  I try to make myself believe that in a few years, when we aren't living under the same roof, the relationship will get better.

I want so badly for him to love me but more than that, I want him to know just how much I love him, even if he does truly hate me.  I don't care if he hates me.  That isn't what upsets me.  I hate that he can't feel that I love him, or that he cannot accept that I love him. I want him to have no logical reason that he can point to that says, "There.  Right there.  That is what makes her a horrible mom.  It's this one thing she has always said or always done that has led me to feel this way."  But I fear the opposite.  I fear that he will have something real that I have done, however unknowingly, to prove that I am indeed a horrible mother.  And perhaps what leaves me off-kilter the most is that I have no idea what that one thing is.  Or maybe it's multiple things.  But I don't know what they are.  I cannot fix it.  I cannot make it better.  I can't undo it.  And worst of all, I can't do what I have always done-which is own it, apologize for it, and try to make amends.

People tell you parenting is hard.  But nothing prepares you for this.  Nothing readies your heart to feel like you have failed even one of your kids.  I am SO SO grateful that the girls have a different picture of their childhoods and their mother.  But it is devastating that my son seemingly feels like his life would be better if I were not his mom.  That he abhors even the thought of me, let alone being in my presence or being subject to my harsh rules that invade his privacy.  It breaks my heart. 

He is the only boy.  And there is a disconnect between us.  The girls have always been easier.  And I don't see that as a deficiency in him.  I see it as a deficiency in me.  Was I just incapable of raising a son?  Should I not have been his mother?  Would he have been better off with a different mom, who was able to better relate to boys?  Where did it all go so wrong?

I recognize that this is just temporary - this feeling of being an utter failure.  I know that I will weather this and be able to get back to feeling like an OK mom overall.  But not tonight. Not in this moment.

**And just like that, at the end of writing this, I got a text from my son.  Not apologizing for saying he hates me.  But apologizing for something.  Which is far more than I usually get.  It is so hard for him to be vulnerable and express his feelings and the fact that he was able to even say that, while also acknowledging that he is still really mad, speaks of growth on his part, and gives my mother's heart just a little bit of hope to keep on going.  God is good.  And is always there in the most desperate moments.

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