I am writing this on a strange bed in a rented studio apartment in a different state from home while on an impulsive mini-break to visit a treasured friend.
The rain is beating a relentless rhythm against the window, and there is a steady hum of passing traffic only metres from where I lay. And I am alone. Totally, utterly, completely and gloriously alone.
I was caught up in the excitement of booking flights and accommodation only a week ago, and it wasn’t until I left for the airport this morning that it truly dawned on me that I was leaving my son for four whole days! I have never, ever left him for so long before.
And, of course, it hadn’t been my plan – I was going to bring him interstate with me, assuming that there was no other option, but then his father offered to look after him (which is so far out of character as to warrant a celebratory marching band and fireworks) and I accepted his offer, and, well…didn’t look back really.
In that moment of acceptance, what I saw stretching ahead of me for four long, lazy days, was freedom. Freedom from routine. From the need for endless patience. From reading The Noisy Book to my son for the four millionth time. From the frustration of him sleeping too early, or too late, or for too long, or for not long enough. Freedom from changing nappies and enduring the much-hated bath time. Freedom from trying to prepare nutritious meals from scratch that seldom get eaten. Freedom from the guilt of feeding my son whatever it takes to get him to eat.
Ha! Freedom from guilt. Well, that never lasts long, does it?
In my case, the guilt stalked me as soon as I got up this morning when I realised what I was doing, and pounced as my boy’s face creased up with uncertainty as I kissed him goodbye, and the tears came (his and mine). ‘It’ll be easier when he’s older,’ I reasoned to myself, ‘because then I’ll be able to explain it to him, so he’ll know that I’m coming back.’
But will it ever be easier?
Why is it so hard for me to reconcile myself to having four days alone out of the 600-odd that my son has been alive? I’m not worried about him – his dad is very capable of looking after him, and they have a wonderful relationship. I know that after those initial tears this morning he would have been fine. He trots off willingly and merrily to daycare for four days a week, for Pete’s sake. It’s not like we’re joined at the hip! Why, then, am I lying here, yes, feeling relaxed, yes, feeling free, but with a little tiny pocket of sorrow in my heart?
I had an amazing therapist last year, as my marriage disintegrated more and more spectacularly. I felt like all I was doing was trying to salvage the thing, and the more I tried, the more we were imploding. She once said to me ‘at the end of the day, you can only bring your 50% to the relationship. And you can work yourself to death to get 50%, but if your husband brings nothing then it’s still only 50% of a relationship.’ It was one of those famous ‘a-ha!’ moments in my life, because it just applies to so many relationships in general.
Except for the relationship between a mother and her child. I can’t bring 50% to my relationship with my little boy and expect him to bring the other 50. It doesn’t work that way.
And if he only has me, then he needs my full 100%, surely? Because if I have failed to provide him with a stable home life with both his parents, then it should be my priority to ensure that he doesn’t suffer, doesn’t grow up feeling some kind of ‘lacking’ in his life, right? And how is abandoning him for four days giving him my full 100%? What right do I have to want a couple of days of rest, relaxation and recuperation when he is still too little to understand?
Normally I would be feeding my son at this time, and we would have cuddles before bed. He’s talking a little more now, and understands so much. He’s learning to kiss my cheek as I put him down. I could be there, with him, and I’ve chosen instead to be here.
These are the kinds of thoughts I’ve been having, while lying alone on this surprisingly comfortable bed on this wintery evening in July, as the world’s loudest family thumps through their apartment on the floor above mine.
Guilt is destructive. It is insidious. A cancer. I’ve been living guilt for the past two years. It’s flowed freely through my veins.
I’m not good enough.
My life isn’t what I want it to be.
I’m not working as hard as I could.
I could be a better parent.
I should be a better parent.
I’m not worthy.
Of course I’m alone when I’m such a failure.
All of this noise in my head is unabating. And the fatigue that comes on top of it all compounds everything and makes it so much worse.
And this is what I have realised – how can I possibly give my son 100, 80, even 50% when I just don’t have it to give?
‘First fit your own oxygen mask, then your child’s.’
That’s all I’m doing. I’m taking four days to learn to breathe again. To swim instead of just treading water. Just four days. And I think my son, if he could understand, would want me to take them, too.
– this post was written by one of our forum members. Thank-you xxx
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