Thursday, December 30, 2010

Facing Fears

Becoming a mother was one of the most enlightening, challenging and fear enducing events of my life. It has completely changed my world, in some ways further cementing and lending proof to strong-held beliefs. In other ways blowing open other notions I thought I would never budge on. In the last 2 years, 5 months, I have learned a lot about myself and have come face to face with myself in both positive and negative ways.

One issue that I constantly struggle with is that of fear. It seems parenthood is rife with fear. Fear of failure, fear of irreparable emotional damage, fear of bumps and bruises, fear of toxins, fear of the worst. A lot of these fears are rational and justifiable some have more to do with our own personal baggage. One rather irrational fear that I am willing to admit to here is that nagging fear of not being my kids’ ‘favorite.’ I know how that sounds, I really do…how immature, right?

Well the truth is I am a working mamma who is the sole bread-winner for our family as the husband is a stay-at-home dad by day and full-time student by night. This is a decision we both made and even when we made it realized (at least in theory) that it would be difficult at times. Of course I enjoy seeing the bond that my daughter is forming with her father and I am overjoyed to be married to someone who is as committed to this parenting gig as I am. But, these facts do not change the feelings.

For those that have read some of my past posts, you know that my daughter was a rather difficult newborn who was very needy, wanting to nurse all.the.time. and would forgo sleep for nursing non-stop. You also know that I had some serious issues in the beginning with breastfeeding which were both physically and emotionally stressful for us both. While I had the support of the husband during these hard times, the fact of the matter was that at that point I was on maternity leave and he was still working so the burden mainly fell on me. Even through physical and emotional distress I tried to keep perspective and fell hopelessly in love with her in spite of all the crying, cracked nipples, mastitis, breast abscess and complete exhaustion. We were each other’s world, plain and simple. Even after I returned to work (one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do), she still preferred me in times of distress and of course in times of hunger, greeting me at the door with, in the beginning, outstretched arms and a smile, and later, squeals of delight and running into my arms. There was no denying my place in her world and needless to say, I was pretty invested in that place.

As she got older, more people became fixtures in her life, mainly through the wonderful world of Skype™ where she gets to see her grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins in real time. Then there were friends who are basically part of our family. As her world grew so did her connections with other people and in my mind, taking up space that was previously occupied by yours truly. I naturally wanted her to form bonds with other kids and hopefully form lasting friendships, but wasn’t really expecting or prepared for her to form bonds with other adults in her life. Seeing as we are pretty much on our own here with family hundreds of miles away, I expected her father and I would be the only real adult figures in her life, at least on any consistent basis.

When grandparents would visit, I would of course be happy that they got to share in the delight that is my daughter, their grand-daughter, but there was also a feeling of possessiveness that would overcome me when they wanted to feed her, hold her, bathe her…again, I know, how immature! I wanted to be the one to do all of those things, almost exclusively. I felt like I missed so much being at work during the day that these were my moments and I did not want to give them up to anyone…at least not willingly. I had such conflicting emotions about wanting them to have their time with her but from a distance almost like she was a valuable piece of art, I didn't want anyone else to touch in fear of her being ruined or broken. I realized the absurdity of it all and the husband tried to keep me in check and bring me back to reality by stating the obvious…they are only here for a little while, they deserve their time too.

Then, about a year ago, I found out I was pregnant. It was unexpected and a little sooner than I would have planned so I was pretty overwhelmed. The husband was overjoyed, albeit a little freaked out too as we had no idea what the heck we were going to do with the added responsibility on limited income. One of the first and most pervasive emotions throughout my pregnancy was that of guilt and fear. Guilt that I was ending her reign as the only child so soon, guilt that the little time I did get with her would now be lessened as I tried to spread my attention and time between two babies and fear that she would hate me for it. As the end of my pregnancy neared I literally would leave her room at bedtime in tears as the guilt was overcoming me and the fear of the uncertainly of how our relationship was going to change scared the crap out of me.

Turns out that she loves her little brother and watching her blossom into a nurturing, loving little girl is both heart warming and bittersweet. In the beginning it was such a dichotomy of feelings…being pulled toward this sweet little newborn that required nearly all of my attention and feeling pushed aside as my little girl’s needs were being met by others. Things have, I feel, leveled out now that the boy is nearing 6 months and I have more time to spend some one-on-one time with her. The overwhelming joy when I return home from work is sporadic and there are times where she prefers her father over me, which, I’m not going to lie, stings a bit. But, then there are times where she prefers me and just wants to cuddle, which are the moments I live for. So, were/are my fears rational? Probably not, but I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one either.

As I see my daughter form bonds with the other adults in her life and see her get excited to see her grandparents (either via Skype™ or a much anticipated visit) or to go play at our friend’s house I cannot help but see how it is contributing to her development and enriching her life. I want to nurture this and help her see that I am happy to see her give the people in her life hugs and kisses and attention. I want her to know that my feelings are not going to be hurt if she requests her bedtime stories read by her father. I want her to be a whole person, self-assured, loved, and to know that she is loved and supported by not only her parents but by those that see her as a person, not their daughter. So, this year, I resolve to remain confident in the bond I have formed with my daughter so as not to feel threatened by the other bonds in her life. I want to offer her opportunities to blossom into her own person while understanding that I will always love her and support her, but much like most relationships, holding on too tight is a sure fire way to have that person push even harder to break free, so I resolve to loosen my least a little bit.