My first husband was dissatisfied with his mother and when later in our marriage, he fell on hard times, he made it clear that he expected me to fill that mommy void in his life. This happened soon after we had our son.
The circumstances soon after becoming a mother, was very much a surprise. I made it clear to my husband early on in our relationship that my intention was to be a stay-at-home mom so that I could focus on being the best mom I could be. This was always a point of tension because he was never really on board with this.
Soon after our son was born, my husband began to have serious back problems. He took leave off work and had back surgery. The surgery was not helpful so he could no longer work. Meanwhile, I struggled with my son's constant crying and my postpartum depression. After about 3 months of changing my diet to see if my son's crying improved, I gave up and gave him formula instead. He stopped crying and began to eat healthier amounts. I was also medically treated for what felt like extreme irritability.
For three years, my first husband and I struggled with the new roles we found ourselves in. My new role was to take care of our son, take care of the house, and take care of my husband. Fortunately, I had financial support from my father’s inheritance after his passing. My husband’s role was to come to terms with the shitty hand he was dealt. He did that by focusing his attention on telling me what to do, criticizing me for not doing things the way he would do them and playing nice guy with our son. He understandably was feeling vulnerable and angry. The easiest thing for him to do was to transfer all his disappointment into making me the deficient one. He was the victim who had no agency, and I wasn’t doing enough for him.
Our son was an extension of himself, so according to him, I didn’t do enough for our son either. One example of our dynamic was, when I wanted to go to the gym to work out and our son didn’t want to go to the daycare. My husband would back up our 2-3 year old son and say I was mean for making him go. My blood boils thinking about this. I was trying to do what I could to stay sane and I was told I was being selfish. I was set up as the “bad guy”. When we split up, the dynamic continued.
This period of my life tested me more than I have ever been tested. My own son was filled with anger toward me. From the time he was around 4 to about 10, he rejected me, fought with me and criticized me. (Just like his dad did.) I struggled to find the delicate balance between caring, but firm parenting.
Luckily, not long after my divorce I met and later married a man who was a tremendous support. I don’t know where my son and I would be without him. We did our best to nurture our relationship as a family and provide the healthy boundaries parents give their children. I honed the skill of putting my own feelings aside to see my son’s perspective. The anger he had wasn’t his fault, or mine. I know that now, but of course I was confused and wondered what I did to deserve it. Was it the postpartum depression I experienced that set my son up to hate me? Was it just a coincidence my son couldn’t drink my breast milk or was there something fundamentally toxic about me? Why was it that parents who beat, molest, or psychologically abuse their children, still enjoy love from their children? I learned later that it isn’t natural to be rejected by your own child. I realize now that it was an alliance that my son had with his dad. His dad was in so much pain, he needed his son to hate me, right along with him.
After my son grew up enough to realize that I wasn’t the horrible mother he thought I was, things were easier, but the conflict between us left a scar and the foundation of our relationship lacked some of the sweetness and depth I imagine many other parents share with their children. I read to him before bed and laid with him as he fell asleep every night until he was about 10. It was our isolated bubble of time where we could be close and not argue. We shared that time together until he told me he didn’t need me to do that anymore.
Now that he is in high school, I am left with a sadness that I must let go of him as he gets older. Parenting is such a painfully selfless act sometimes. It is full of subtle balancing, acceptance and strength of character. I’ve learned a hell of a lot being a mom.