As a little girl, I fantasized about what it would be like to become a mother. To be able to feel what it was like to have a human body growing inside my belly. To see my baby for the first time and be overwhelmed with joy and happiness. I imagined it to be pure perfection.
Nobody tells you that motherhood is one of the scariest jobs you can ever be entrusted with, that this human life you bore is watching your every move, hanging on to every word you say as their truth. They don’t tell you that children drink from the cup of your unconscious limiting beliefs. They don’t talk about how we fail our children, how we feel like we are doing it all wrong most days, and how nobody can judge us anymore that we are already quietly judging ourselves.
I’ve had the privilege of experiencing motherhood three times over, in three different decades. I had my eldest son in my 20’s, my daughter in my 30’s, and my youngest son in my 40’s. I have unlayered every mistake, wrestled with every negative thought, and uncovered every which way I have used my children to fill my own unmet needs. It was not until I recovered from a divorce that I realized the burden I had expected them to carry.
I wanted to be the “perfect” mom: I went to all the kids’ events, helped out in the classroom, planned for playdates, and did morning drop-offs and pickups. I did all the things that I believed a good mom should do.
But inside, I felt empty. I was trapped in a marriage I was unhappy in, and guilt became an emotion that felt very familiar.
I was too busy being all the things I thought I should be, living a life that wasn’t my own. I never took the time to ask myself what makes me happy. I believed it was selfish to put my needs first. So I suppressed them, swallowed it, and said to myself that this is the life I wanted. I chose to be a mom, and in my world, it meant giving up my own needs.
How did I slowly disappear and become a spectator in my own life?
I reached a point where my soul couldn’t do it anymore. It was either I stay in this marriage and make it my children’s responsibility to make me happy, or I leave and figure out how to do this for myself.
I decided to put the oxygen mask on myself first, and I would worry about the aftermath later.
There’s nothing like a high conflict divorce to trigger all the wounds beneath the surface. Many times children become pawns used to fill the unmet needs of another. It takes two to tango. This energy can’t survive if one person stops dancing.
In the divorce, I needed my children to make me feel a certain way. Divorce shun the spotlight on my unworthiness, on my brokenness, and on my unhealed wounds.
I needed my children to validate me as a good mother; I needed their love to heal me; I needed them to defend me when I felt attacked and strong-armed. I needed them to choose me!
Subconsciously, I asked them to unpack baggage that I had been carrying years before I became a wife and a mother, and that the only reason I needed them was that I was unwilling to do the work myself.
I was asking my children to fill a void that was never theirs. My expectations just pushed us further apart. It was needy. It felt desperate. I was afraid of losing control.
I lived in constant fear. Fear that I was going to lose them and that they would turn their backs on me, and that I would be left alone to face the truth of how I got to this unconscious place. I couldn’t bear to feel rejected by my child. What would that say about me as a mother?
It finally happened, at 14, when my eldest son decided to live with his dad. “How could this child that came from me, that I sacrificed my happiness for, leave me?” You can read about my story with my son here: https://www.elephantjournal.com/2020/01/my-son-chose-his-dad-over-me-after-our-divorce-marisa-lupo/
My worthiness was tied to the only thing I had left after divorce, being a mom.
The hardest part about being a mom isn’t raising our children; it’s surrendering and reminding ourselves that our children have their purpose, which does not include “making us happy.”
I was stripped, naked, exposed. Left with no other option than to heal the core of who I was. I had no choice but to surrender; that is if I wanted a relationship with my son. Surrender didn’t mean I didn’t care; it meant I loved myself enough to let go of what I thought should be and accept what is.
I was more than just a mom, and I had to heal so that I could remember who that was. Once I healed my wounds, I was able to love my son unconditionally. Not only when he met my needs, but was able to love him no matter what.
My lesson is my gift to my children that nobody is responsible for their happiness. Happiness is a decision that they make daily; despite the pain they may experience along the way. I can only hope that I have shown them what it looks like to live in their truth.
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