I had lunch yesterday with a mom whose son is at the same place as my son was in Alaska. All in all, her son is doing well. About where they usually are at a month in. It was so nice to sit outside yesterday on a warm December day (only in California) and allow ourselves to be mired in all the mothering.
It is really all we talked about. These sons of ours and how very lost, confused, sad, despondent, unsure, heartbroken our mothering path has been. How is it possible to love someone as much as we love these two and have this hard a time? I think it is likely because we love them that much that we landed in this place...
I will only speak for myself here. I cast no judgment, no sideways glances toward her. I know the tightrope that we walk when we have children who are not “normal”. I think that for me, I realize now that it wasn’t the quantity of love that I have for my son that fostered the monsterous teen that lived-in my home. No. It was the way I allowed that love to manifest.
See I grew up in an alcoholic home. There was a lot of drinking, anger and co-dependence. So of course, when I began my mothering I had only really dealt with part of my upbringing trifecta. I had dealt with the drinking and luckily so did my parents. All of us are sober now and committed to that way of life. I had somewhat dealt with the anger but I hadn’t addressed it in a very productive manner. Like I knew it was an issue for me so I went to therapy and talked about it but I didn’t really have the tools to get to the heart of it. That only came in recent years with EMDR. That has been able to get at my core anger which is trauma. And the co-dependence has been a weird evolution. I didn’t see how much and in what ways it plagued me...and I still don’t far too often.
(Caveat: I love my parents and am not blaming them for any of this. They did the best they could with what they had, and luckily they both figured out that they could do better. I mention my upbringing because how could I not? It shaped me. Please know that I do not blame my parents. I love them and am grateful for all of it because I would not be who I am today without every single thing that came before. And I would not trade one thing from my past given the amazingly wonderful place that I am today).
So when I began my own mothering, I was sober and I was less angry and somewhat less co-dependent. But becoming a mother was like pouring jet fuel on my co-dependent fire.
I loved my son with such ferocity and care that I think I made him believe that he was the center of the universe...he was certainly the center of mine. He became everything to me. My life was curated to exist around his. When his sister came along, he hated her. How could he not? Who would not resent the fuck out of someone who just took your servant mother from you?
I see it all now. The part I played. The way I enabled him to end up where he did. I am part of the problem. I am not THE cause of the problem. Sure I did a lot of things that helped the problem grow and proliferate. But when I look back now, I see just a perfect storm of addiction, mental health issues (his and mine), co-dependence and misguided and misapplied love. It is heartbreaking to really look at it. I so want to turn away and wish it away but I know that my refusal to look means that on some level I will allow it to continue...and that is something that I just will not do.
I cannot change my son. I cannot make him do his life differently. That is up to him and I am happy to report that he is doing it differently. He seems committed to a new way of living. I say seems not because I doubt him, but because I know how hard changing really is. The desire can be very strong and still no effective or meaningful change occurs...I know. I have been there.
I can work on my part which is actually quite large. I don’t drink so that is the foundation for everything for me. I am way less angry than I used to be and I continue to work on my traumas with EMDR so that I can be less reactive and less of a jerk. The co-dependence still kicks my ass. I see it now way more than I ever did before - all the ways that I didn’t say or do what I knew to be right because I wanted approval or love or like. And I am most ashamed that I did and do it with my kids. They deserve a mom that loves them so much that I do not allow my own issues to interfere with their upbringing...haha. Fat chance.
So all I can do is work on them. I can work on my own issues of worth, self esteem, lack and feelings of less than so that I can see how those feelings cause me to put up with shit from the people in my life that is not ok. I can see now that I allowed my son’s treatment of me to devolve us both into this horrific place that neither of us (or the rest of the family) could escape from. And I am happy to report today that I will never again allow my love for him to interfere with speaking my mind, holding him and me accountable or allowing a situation that is awful to persist because I am too afraid to speak my own truth.
While sitting with my friend yesterday, it was nice to be with someone who really understood. Parenting is hard...always. Mothering harder still. But when you have a child who has a myriad of needs that culminate into a shitstorm that lives under your roof, that disrupts and ruins any kind of a happy home life it is impossible and no one really gets it unless they have lived it too.
There is so much solace in the comforting arms of another mother who gets it. Who knows the pain, literally. Who has done crazy shit to try to manage the unmanageable. Who has become someone they don’t even like all in an effort to try to keep the lid on the boiling powder keg of an adolescent in peril.
So I spent the afternoon crying, laughing and generally just being in the presence of someone who really gets it. Who understands. Who has done all the crazy shit I have done. Who has said all the crazy shit I have said. Who has struggled just like I have. Who has been at the end of her tether more times than is recommended for one lifetime. There is something about being connected to another mother who knows. I have to say that it is likely the best gift I will receive this season.
Hard mothering is a lonely place. It is a place of scorn, confusion, apathy, aggression and being completely fucking at a loss of what to do. Which is why when you meet another mother on the path that you embrace her and love her and pledge to be there for her no matter what. Because you know there is no lonelier place to be than in your own home, surrounded by all the people you love most in the world...and to feel completely, totally despondent, disconnected and alone.
I love the image of us sitting there in the flagging December sun, warm, laughing, crying and understanding the path that we have both walked. It is like walking towards a city and meeting no one that speaks your language for years. While many of the passersby have been kind, loving and helpful even, there is nothing like making a connection with another who speaks your thoughts, ideas, heartbreak. The mother tongue from another who speaks from the heart, who knows all the very dark places in your heart and mind. There is a preciousness in the gift of an afternoon when you know you are seen, heard and loved despite all of your failings, missteps and grief. I am pretty sure that place is called compassionate understanding and yesterday it was salvation. There really is no substitute for shared experience, a commonality of life that breeds a hard fought and long won understanding of what it means to mother hard.