I have written a couple of times about the challenges I face with my toddler. Some of those challenges are due to his age, some of those challenges are due to the simple fact of being a mom of two. Nonetheless, toddlers are a challenge – a beautiful, crazy, unpredictable challenge. But last weekend I discovered a new layer to this journey: there is something uniquely lonely about mothering a toddler.
Motherhood is, undeniably, an incredibly joyous journey, and has many more layers that I will surely uncover as I and my children grow. However, I have just stumbled upon the lonely part. I say “lonely” not because I don’t have a wonderfully supportive family, or because I don’t have a strong mom community around me. Not because I don’t relate to other mothers, or have friends or the comfort and refuge of my outside hobbies and interests to keep me whole. I have all of those things. But this is not a loneliness of isolation. It’s a loneliness steeped in the unique nature of a mother’s relationship to her child. A loneliness that lives in the pocket of air between me and my son, and it’s a loneliness that, when his defiance gets the best of me, can silence a room.
Like many toddlers, my son’s life preferences waver on the daily. One day he wants to eat, the next he doesn’t; one day he loves trains, the next day he loves planes; one day he’s a rabbit, and the next he’s a lion. And his commitment and conviction for each of these choices is enough to make you believe that he knows exactly what he wants (even when he doesn’t). But also like most toddlers (well, like most kids of any age, I suppose), he has preferences for each of his parents at different times and different days. Sometimes he goes back and forth several times throughout one day, and sometimes each of us gets a full 24 hours of his undivided love and attention. With this in mind, I have never taken my son’s behavior or “parental preferences” personally. At the end of the day, he knows he has us both anytime he needs, and I know, at the end of the day, he loves us both equally. He’s two. It’s all he knows.
Last weekend, Thanksgiving weekend, was unique because we had 4 full days togetheras a family. Not only does that seem like a rarity lately, but because our kids are growing so fast, every extended “vacation” time we have seems vastly different from the last. And the masochistic truth is, no matter how challenging the kids can be (at any age and stage), there is no one I would rather spend those long weekends with. Family time is still the best time. Especially for our new family unit since baby sister arrived, every period of quality time we get to spend together is just another opportunity to build our dynamic and strengthen our relationships. So this past weekend was a particularly eventful one – one with many highs and many lows, one with fights and laughter and hugs and kisses, one with lazy mornings, unexpected turns, playtimes and clean-up times. But it was also the weekend that pushed my mommy loneliness over the edge. One of the first mornings of the holiday started when my son woke up crying for daddy. As daddy was still sleeping, I quietly opened his door and greeted him for the day. My smile and attempted hug were immediately met with a push and a shove, and followed by a rather violent tantrum. And this was just the beginning. Over the course of the weekend, we had a few similar encounters, and every time it would happen, my husband would walk in and “save the day” by his presence alone. This was never my husband’s intent, but someone had to be there to help the boy calm down. And when he did, I was still invisible.
Then Saturday afternoon, when we were about to all cuddle up in bed for a movie, my son made it very clear that I wasn’t invited, and physically pushed me out of the room. I suddenly found myself standing in the kitchen in a puddle of tears.
It took me a minute to fully understand and admit that my two-year-old son had such power, and he, like a 4th grade girl, had just hurt my feelings. But the hurt that I felt was a strange kind of hurt. I still don’t take my sons actions personally, as in “he doesn’t like me.” But perhaps I take them personally, as in “where did I go wrong to make this happen?” And when I was momentarily frustrated and hurt that my husband didn’t run to my side or help fix the situation, I then realized, he didn’t do those things because he doesn’t know. He doesn’t understand. He’s not The Mother. And once I collected myself, and once all the kids were deep in nap-land, I was able to articulate exactly what it is that hurts. I was able to express that he simply doesn’t understand because it doesn’t happen to him, and that’s ok (wonderful, actually). I was able to say that I’m not looking for him to “fix” it, because this is unique to my relationship with our son, (and we’re working on it). And I was able to tell him in the most matter of fact way that I just had to be sad about it, even though I know it’s all going to be alright.
There is a loneliness born from the internal struggle to be the best mom for my kids, the best self for me, the best partner to my husband, the best face in the perfectly put together world. But it’s my relationship with my kids that is the driving force behind it all. As the mother I will probably always get the brunt of my son’s or my daughter’s emotional waves, and I have often heard people say this happens to moms because our kids are most comfortable with us. In my head I have tried to spin it that way, but it doesn’t make it any easier. And the real truth is, no matter how many moms I have in my mom community, no matter how supportive of a partner or family I have, I am the only mother to my children, and thus the only one who truly knows the layers of our relationship. I am the only one that feels the push and pull in my own body and mind to attend to all my “identities” and roles, and I am the only one who really knows how it feels when my son pushes me out of the room. Another mom may have the same experience, and to that I can relate and empathize. But I will never know just how deeply it effects her, or what she does to make it better.
I love my son to pieces – more than life – and I know he loves me back. This has never been a question in my mind. But navigating our world together can be a very lonely task. This loneliness is real, this loneliness is hard, and this loneliness exists amidst a life of togetherness. But this loneliness is not all bad – it’s also what makes our relationships with our kids special, individual, and unique. It’s what keeps us connected. And there is something in the loneliness of our togetherness that is also somehow very sacred.