E has always been a challenging child especially with me. Sometimes only with me. Yet when he gets upset, he does not want to be comforted by me. Dad? yes. Auntie? yes. Grandmas, Grandpas, education assistants? yes, yes, and yes. But not me. Even as a baby he would struggle in my arms if i picked him up to comfort his tears. It’s hard to be a primary caregiver for a child who seems not to respond well to you. For a long time, I thought it was me. I would think, ‘I must not be cut out to be a parent’ and this fit right into my narrative anyhow.
I never planned on having kids. My own mental health challenges had led me to fear having children. I didn’t want my kids to struggle as I did. I didn’t want to pass it on. I didn’t think I would be able to handle the difficulties of parenting (which by the way, the jury is still out on). I was never drawn to young kids, they didn’t make sense to me, I didn’t know how to relate to them. Sure, I was a camp counselor as a teenager, but I liked working with older kids, 11 and up. I was never attracted to babies, like some people who hear there’s a baby in the room and leap over to wait for a turn to hold them. But, boy oh boy, was I attracted to my husband! This man looked like a lumberjack with a heart of gold and I would have had babies for him without hesitation (hint: that’s what happened). He always wanted a family and I knew that it was a package deal when I married him. Plus he thought I’d be a good mom, so I believed him.
Until I didn’t. Here I was a stay at home mom to this 2 year old child who I very much adored one moment and couldn’t stand the next moment, thinking, ‘see, I knew I wouldn’t be a good mom and now I’m stuck.’ He started acting out and I didn’t understand why and i assumed I was to blame. And the universe didn’t seem to be helping. I am the kind of person who strangers feel comfortable talking to, or say, shouting advice at across the street. I guess I’m approachable? (note to self: a face tattoo would fix that right up.) Sometimes this is lovely and I hear really amazing life stories or I’m the first person to know someone is pregnant or sober after years of struggle. But nobody wants to be approached to be told the soother they are giving their child will cause future psychological damage. Or that they’re holding their baby wrong. Or that they shouldn’t burp their baby that way. Or that their kid will catch cold because they aren’t wearing a hood in the rain – after they fought said child to wear their hood for the last 20 minutes. Or that they are thinking of calling social services on you because your child is 1/2 block ahead of you and not right at your side. Yes, all these things really happened and yes, I am so honoured to hear these nuggets of advice, but maybe next time keep your thoughts to yourself, k? These experiences only added to my insecurities.
And yet, I still agreed to have a second child, right in the middle of this dark time of questioning my abilities as a mother. This was also part of the deal. My husband and I both have close relationships with our siblings and wanted our child to have a sibling to play with, commiserate with, and have shared experiences with. So, very reluctantly, I got pregnant again. To this day, I have no idea what happened during that pregnancy or how I kept E alive during it. Being pregnant while caring for a toddler is a dumb idea and I don’t know why anyone ever thought it wasn’t. All I know is that I got a beautiful baby girl out of it and I’m grateful. In many ways this child saved me. From the day she was born, M was totally different that E. She was pure joy and light. She was happy to be in this world from the moment she took her first breath. She would gaze up at me and respond to my touch. She would smile up at me when I would wake her up like she was glad to be alive each day. She was an easy-going baby and I reveled in her, feeling like I deserved this experience after the difficulties of my first. And then I started to believe that my son’s difficult behaviors might not be my fault after all. I seemed to be able to mother M with no issues. She was thriving and meeting her developmental goals. She didn’t throw a fit when her banana broke. She let me comfort her when she was sad. Even though I was treating my kids equally, I didn’t get equal reactions. So it couldn’t be me. This really bolstered me. I finally started to believe that I could be maybe not a Martha Stewart level great mom but a good enough mom to my kids. And around this time we started seeking support for our son and I would hear “you’re a good mom, you just have a challenging boy” over and over from a variety of professionals. It started to really sink in for me that even if my parenting life still felt chaotic, I must just be doing ok anyhow.