I can smile and make jokes, I can wear the mask. But when I’m alone in the kitchen or in the shower, my eyes start to leak and I dig my fingernails into my palms. Because I am in the grip of terror. A nameless dread which no one seems to understand.
Tomorrow I go to learn meditation on a 10 day retreat. Vipassana. It’s the real deal, the art of seeing the world how it truly is. The process of self-purification by self-observation. The goal to eliminate suffering. To observe the noble silence and to refrain from technology, eating after midday and physical contact. 10 hours a day. Of sitting (yes, laziness finally gets its validation).
For me who craves conversation and who is surgically attached to her phone, it presents an enormous challenge. My mind is full of analysis and chatter (to which this site can testify well). But it’s not what I go to that matters, it’s what I leave behind.
I am afraid to leave them. I imagine their fear and confusion without me. I imagine their sadness. I imagine their anger when I return. I imagine losing their love. And I imagine being directly responsible for it. And I can hardly bear it.
“I’m looking forward to it”, my boyfriend says. “For 10 days and maybe more, I won’t be second parent anymore.”
It’s his chance to bond with the children more than he is already. They will be safe. They will be loved. I know this.
But I will not be.
There are three attachment-style types: secure, anxious or avoidant. Secure people, roughly 55% of the population, typically are warm, loving and comfortable with intimacy. They were raised, most likely, by a consistently caring and responsive mother or parental figure. The other 45% has a sometimes problematic attachment style, meaning they are anxious, avoidant or a combination.
I’ve known about my anxious attachment difficulties for a long time. Ironically, it has mean that with adults I am able to develop loving relationships with less need and attachment. Beautiful buddha-esque relationships.
But when it comes to my children I feel pain when they do. And because of that I watch over them like a hawk, giving them attention whenever they ask for it. As I try to let them make the errors I know they need to, my stomach twists itself in knots. And as my panic rises, so does my propensity to lose my temper. It’s catch 22.
“I love you so much Mummy that I never want you to leave.”
(She’s clever my daughter… she knows which buttons to press and is practising already at age 4.)
“Do you think that’s healthy?” says my boyfriend cautiously. He knows better than to criticise outright. My mothering skills are a bone of contention.
“I’m not sure.” I reply cagily. “It’s not abnormal that a four year old wants her mother is it? Even if she’s developed a sense of self, I am still the caregiver.”
“But that they are all over you and demanding your attention. They don’t do that to me, even when you aren’t here.”
“That’s because you don’t give them any.” I snap.
I bring a lot of things to the mix as a parent. Tons of good stuff…but also bad stuff. I’m an anxious parent.
I had three abortions before I met the man who was to be my co-parent. For a long time I was not in a fit state to ensure my survival, let alone those of my unborn children. When my first born arrived I thought I was ready, but I wasn’t. She has suffered the brunt of my anxiety as a first time parent and also – because she is my mirror – my projections of my own self destructive childhood. Her journey will be hard. I know this and feel deeply sorry because I know that I am the cause of it. Much of the work I have done on myself, was because I realised there was a lot of healing to do.
Yet my anxiety manifested itself initially in a lack of love. That’s a terrible thing for a mother to admit. I was unable to love her. The birth was difficult and she didn’t breathe when she came out. The cord was wrapped 4 times around her neck. We were terrified; those 20 seconds were the longest in my life. After that I was so scared that I was doing everything wrong that I associated her with fear because she was too precious for me to love. Because what if I lost her?
I trembled whenever I held her, scared that I would stumble with her in my arms and crush the life out of her little body. and after 2 months or so I gave in to the inevitable. I could not live without her smile, her smell and her laughter. And this fear of losing her is something she feels. I project on her and she mirrors back to me.
And so part of my effort to be a good parent is to try and heal the wounds I have caused. To go away and work on myself. Vipassana is one of those. But it also hopefully will create the experience which shows her she is fine without me; perhaps even relieved to live without my watchful gaze. Initially though I think it will hurt her. It’s at times like these that I wonder the most about what is good parenting. To parent is to ‘let them’ experience life in measures so as they learn enough, but not so much that they are damaged.
But what if you are the one who has damaged them in the first place? And what if the only way to heal it is to create still more pain? Are you still a good parent?