Tuesday, September 3, 2013

We All Fall Down

When my husband and I first separated, I went through a dark period. I remember being with my five year old daughter at that time, and inside my head, my inner critic was on a tear. It was so loud, I couldn't hear anything else. I felt panicked at the awareness that I couldn't even hear the words my child was saying to me as she chatted on about her day at school.

I wasn't lying on the floor with a bottle of gin, in the dark, or anything like that. I was just having a hard time listening to her many words, and employing the appropriate maternal responses such as the ever popular "smiling" and that good parenting classic, "looking interested." Outside my head, everything was going "blahblahblahblahblahblahblah," including my daughter. Inside my head, the voice was crisp and clear: You are a failure at marriage and relationships and now, because you feel so terrible about that, you can't even listen to your daughter. In addition to dealing with divorced parents, she is going to have to deal with you, her depressed, vacant mother. 

I was in so much pain I had to write down what I was thinking, to externalize it, in the hopes of clearing it out to create space for my actual self. When Elva asked me what I was writing, I shared an extremely watered down version of my pain so as not to scare her. I said something like, "I'll bet you wish you had a different mom right now." She said, "Mom, your head is wrong." I asked her what she meant. She said, "Your head is not right. That's not how I feel." Aside from the fact that I had just been diagnosed by my five year old daughter (see page 47 in the DSM V: Head Not Right), it also struck me as interesting that she wasn't thinking of getting rid of me and replacing me with (enter name of your favorite idealized mom here).

That was my projection. She just wanted me to come back and be the halfway normal mom she's gotten used to over the years. Which reminded me to remember for myself that even though right then I felt like Julianne Moore in The Hours, it would pass. It would absolutely pass. And I would be funny again, and present, and sane. On a good day, I would even be vaguely wise.

I also felt a sweet kind of heartache that even though I was kind of sucking at the moment, my daughter still wanted me. Me. Imperfect, occasionally pathetic, sometimes scary me. My inner critic prods,  What choice does she have? She's stuck with you. She doesn't have her driver's license. Yet.

Okay, yeah, that's true, but then again, driver's license or no driver's license, what choice do any of us have? We're all stuck with ourselves, for certain, and in many cases, each other. Many of us choose to be stuck with our mothers, no matter how screwed up they were or are. We even love them, as our children love us. This is a real blow to perfectionism, and I welcome it with open arms.

However, I don't want to be misconstrued as giving myself permission to be screwed up as a mother; nor am I suggesting that you shouldn't set healthy boundaries with your mother. We've all got to do our best to take good care of our inner children and our outer ones. But we all fall down from time to time, and it is then we must remember that being inspired by our children, and loving ourselves anyway, is the only sensible thing to do. Children who love themselves come from parents who show them how. So if you can't do it for yourself, do it for them.