Tomorrow will conclude a full seven days spent with my son. A week without work and school, without the typical interruptions that punctuate my time with him. Just the two of us, and our friends, the only family I have. And it has been a beautiful week, for the most part. Just about every day I managed to set up playdates, fun holiday activities, one on one playtime and snuggle time with mama. What a joy to hear my four year-old say, “I love spending time with you, mama!!”
To be fully honest, when I got S back from his dad almost a week ago, I was not without trepidation. How would I keep him busy and happy for all that time? How would I provide him with the mental and physical outlets he needs, especially in the winter? Would I have the patience and strength to be present for him for such an extended stretch, when unfortunately we are both accustomed to being together for brief increments of time? In truth, the only full day I have with him each week is Saturday evening to Sunday evening. I am not satisfied with that, but it is just the way things are right now.
It is a tragedy to me that I am filled with such enormous insecurity as a mother. Yet it does not surprise me. I was taken away from my own mother at age 5 and she died at the age of 46. My maternal grandmother, who made an enormous sacrifice to raise me, was still not the kind of role model that I want to emulate. Without much in the way of role models, I go on a combination of doing the opposite of what was done to me, trying to apply a lot of gentle/positive discipline techniques, and of course, give a whole lot of love.
I know most parents feel inadequate to the task of parenting. Yet sometimes I feel like my sense of inadequacy will swallow me whole. It is sometimes crippling. It is this sense of parental shortcoming that butts up against the intense and all-consuming love I feel for my child. It gets in the way of the moments we do have.
There was a low point, early on in the week, when S and I got into a power struggle about something (I honestly don’t remember what) and it ended up with him screaming, then with his teeth sinking into my leg, creating a wound that nearly bled. I was too horrified to react. I quietly went downstairs and cried my eyes out for a few minutes while he played upstairs, perhaps a little shocked himself at what transpired.
Later that night, I sat down and wrote all my limiting thoughts about my mothering abilities. The various permutations filled a solid page. These are the thoughts that so often run through my head. Seeing them on paper was kind of stark and eye-opening. They were so harsh and cruel. The one that hurts the most is a thought I often have: that his father somehow knows how to do everything right and I am the one who is clueless and bumbling. It is a double-whammy: the sadness at losing my 24-7 partner and my sense of not being able to go it alone.
Then I remember the question that Byron Katie asks: “Who would you be without the thought?”
Who would be I be without these thoughts?
That is easy: I would be a conscious, aware parent who is totally in love with my son and committed to doing the best I can at the most important job of my life. I would be a mother who is not perfect but tries to be humble and open-minded and willing to learn from my mistakes. I would feel free, open to possibilities of increased connection with my child. I would be a mother, and a person, who loves and respects herself, even with her flaws, and therefore is able to model self-respect and self-esteem for her child.
How amazing would that be? I could be that mom!
There was a deep power that came from the act of writing down these thoughts. Since then, I have been able to more consciously spot them when they come up. I have been able to respond to my son with more kindness and patience than I ever thought possible. After that low night, things turned around. He didn’t stop having temper tantrums, power struggles didn’t totally disappear, yet I was able to respond in ways that were helpful, that helped to de-escalate things, that left both of our senses of dignity intact, and we both had a much easier (and fun) time of it.
On a personal level, It is nothing short of a small miracle to have a mental reversal like this. It doesn’t mean that I have ceased to be insecure as a parent; yet I notice that for the time being, the insecurity does not define me. In writing down my limiting thoughts I have taken away much of the power they have over me.
The dharma wheel turns; tomorrow, S goes back to his dad’s until January 2, and I am left to assume the strange role of mama without my son. I will try too, to meet this situation with presence and patience, until we are reunited again in 2010.
Welcome to this blog - my chronicle of the illuminating, character-building path of single parenthood. I'm making this up as I go along. My life is my practice, and my five year-old son is my greatest teacher.