“Mummy,” my daughter said and with her tone of voice I knew that it would be one of those important questions. A challenging question. Because preceding it had been a series of ‘why’ questions–why does a door handle go down instead of up, why is sand yellow, why are we made of mostly water, why are you looking in the cupboard, why is that brown spot on my toe… until I’d held my head with my hands and said ‘Maya…enough’.
And then inevitably came the question, ‘why is it enough Mummy? Mummy? MUMMY?’
It was the end of a work day. Answering email, talking on Skype, and generally engaging with the world albeit from behind my computer. But you can shut messenger. You can ignore email. You cannot ignore your children, lest you become a NEGLECTFUL mother.
“Mummy,” she repeated. Until I was able to breathe through my rising panic and say “Yes?”
“Why is it that sometimes we can be having a nice conversation and then you suddenly get annoyed?”
Maya is nearly seven. Her idea of a conversation is that she asks the questions and I answer them. They often require deep introspection plus a good scout on youtube, a lot of which I find equally fascinating–although I do regret showing her the bacteria massacre when a feisty amoeba gobbled them for lunch.
I am by no means a perfect mother. Quite clearly. But I am a mother who wants to improve. To heal my own wounds or at least manage them better so that they don’t negatively impact my children. And yet all too often, they are themselves uncovered by a negative incident which I then have to repair. As we later discussed, it’s nothing to do with her, and everything to do with how I function.
You see, there’s a lot to internally process in my world. Every interaction, every relationship–which when you’re in a polyamorous relationship, is a lot. It’s partners, metamours, children, parents, in-laws. It’s all the work and planning for a large family. Recently there’s that little matter of the fall of democracy across the world. And I overthink it all, as anyone prone to anxiety is likely to do, by redeveloping the narratives that make up the fabric of my life.
Processing enables me to measure and manage my stress as opposed to living with it constantly hanging over me like a nameless dread. The nameless dread which led to two suicide attempts. You cannot understand how welcome the idea of death is, unless you have lived with dread. I am one of the lucky ones. I found an outlet. I deconstruct dread–often by writing–and eradicate it, one analysis at a time. Only then can I relax.
After many such processing sessions and respective conclusions, I’ve come to a grand, meta conclusion. Whilst I might long for multiple connections, I function better alone. I learned some years ago that a solo style of polyamory would be the smart choice for me; that’s a bit of a conundrum when you’re already in a household of six which includes two small kids.
Maybe it’s because I was an only child.
Maybe it’s because I was raised by an emotionally abusive parent without any boundaries or respect for anyone else’s.
Maybe it’s because as a consequence of my adoption, I have struggled to heal a predominantly fear-avoidant insecure attachment style.
Not, I hasten to add that solo-polyamory is the only remit of those who have been through the same mill I have been. Just that it’s a relationship style which suits me for my own reasons.
Nowadays I am able to put my boundaries clearly for the most part, with trusted adults. But kids require more, demand more, than you ever thought it possible to give. Washing, oh the washing. Cooking. Shopping. Illness. Caring. And a never-ending thirst for knowledge and attention. There is phenomenal love, in case you were wondering. There is also very little solitude.
For people like me who have been moulded by trauma, there is no safety in the company of others. I am always aware, evaluating, guarded, retreating. I put the mask on. Before kids, my much needed oblivion was found in alcohol. Obviously that isn’t an option now. I am truly safe only when I am alone, because attachment was once akin to treachery. Those who ignore or cross my boundaries whether by accident or design, are not safe to be around. I have built trust in the world and others painstakingly as an adult. Much of the time I have been disappointed. Others cannot be expected to know my boundaries nor understand them even if I state them. With a couple of exceptions found in my two partners, I can only depend on myself to keep myself safe.
Establishing new, perhaps healthier, patterns when your brain has less plasticity is not easy. Possible, but not easy. I have learned to cope with this dichotomy of a desire for connection versus my need for isolation, by creating safe spaces to recover from the effort. And when there are none physically available to me, I retreat into my own head to prevent an all out war set off by triggers which knock like dominos, into one another. I block sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. Questions go unanswered. My brain chooses to ignore them when I’m in ‘retreat mode’, a mode that switches itself on automatically when I feel overwhelmed. In retreat mode, I can deal with one thing and one thing only. Ideally it would be me, myself and I. Still as a mother, it is rare to have such an opportunity. I have been pushed to my limits and over them to care for others. My kids. To the demise of my relationships. To the neglect of my career. To the detriment of my health.
Over and above the feeding, clothing, and general maintenance my kids also have an insatiable curiosity. Teeny tiny ice shards of intrusion pierce their way into my consciousness. Why. Why. Why. And here’s one of the reasons why–even though I believe solo-polyamory would be the best thing for me were I childless–as a parent I still choose to live in a nested community. I’m solo-polyamorous and a mother. Living in a community is better for my relationship with my kids. It’s better for them. It’s better for me. Attention and care comes for them from many different quarters, in many different flavours. But at the end of a long day keeping myself and them safe, and even though I have two partners, I go to bed alone.
*With thanks to Mel Mariposa and their note on Introversion and Boundaries