I used to be my son’s everything. I was his favorite. The one he came to for it all. I was a pretty big deal in his eyes. Now I’m learning to share that role with someone else. This is my story of letting go of the need to be my son’s everything and the freedom that came to our family in learning to do so.
Let me start by describing myself as an Enneagram Type 2. Put simply it means I love to be there for people. We are more commonly known as “the helpers.” Since becoming a mom, it means I love to help and be there for my son. When he was a newborn I actually enjoyed waking up with him in the middle of the night. Yeah, I know, weird. But it’s an expression of love that doesn’t necessarily drain me. Put simply, I love to help.
I mean, who wouldn’t want to wake up to this baby at all hours of the night?
While in many ways my personality type can help me as a parent, it also comes with a struggle; the desire to be loved, quite often, in return. In my experience it means I love being the “special person” to those I care about and I tend to feel hurt when that isn’t the case. Not the healthiest mindset, but something I’m aware of, and in knowing so, am reminded to be mindful of my intentions. With that said, there is nothing that has challenged that more than the day I stopped being the most important person to my son.
It can be hard for all our mama hearts when our child displays more autonomy, despite how healthy this is for them, because they are less dependent on us. The other parent, their peers, a step parent, or a sibling can suddenly seem more interesting than we once were. And while I know my personality type has made a big impact on how challenging this process is for me, I contribute the deeper level of grief to the fact that for over five years, I was the only parent my son had. I was my boy’s everything. I’ve only known what it’s like to be the favorite parent. He never had another parent to prefer and as someone who liked being the special person in my child’s life, being a single mom put me at an advantage. I needed to be enough for him and, I’ll be honest, I loved being his everything.
He certainly was mine.
Then my dear, tall and handsome husband walked into our lives and took on the brave feat of entering the strong bond our little family of two had established. This is not easy and I commend and love him for seeing us through this long enough to stay. While our lives are deeply happy with him in it, I knew it would be a big transition for all of us to settle in as a family of three. I just didn’t realize how challenging it would be for me to let go of being the only parent my son had.
While he’s been in our lives for a couple of years, a few of months ago my husband and I had a lovely North Shore wedding and our family of three was established in all the real ways. We bought a little house on the corner, complete with a swing set and a fence for a dog, and all the transitions started. I thought we were doing pretty well. My sweet little five-year old became, our sweet little five-year old. Then I realized that not only did my boy need to figure out how to express love and interest to two parents (this is hard stuff!), I needed to learn to share my son with someone else. And all the while my husband went from bachelor to husband and father in a matter of a couple “I do’s.”
This weekend I took a trip to Florida with my sister and girlfriends. I left my boy at home with my husband, and my two boys couldn’t have been more excited to have a guys’ weekend. Then, just like that, as I was sitting outside in the sunshine, reveling in a warmth my midwest-self had nearly forgotten existed, I talk to my son on the phone and he said some of the most powerful, soul-shattering words that these Enneagram Type 2 ears could hear…
I don’t really miss you, Mommy.
Stay calm. Play it cool. It’s OK. He’s allowed to feel these things.
Alright, while his feelings may have been OK, I certainly wasn’t OK.
I wanted to scream. I wanted to throw my sunglasses off, run to the coldest place on earth (home), grab him and take him back to our little apartment on the second floor where he and I spent the last few years of our lives, making a life of our own. Where I was his everything. Where he only came to me when he was sad. Where he only needed me and where he always missed me when I was gone. (Yes, yes. This is so clearly all about me). I intentionally put love and care into him from the time he was a little more than two lines on a pregnancy test. I am supposed to forever be his favorite! He’s supposed to remember that time we spent together, all the love I poured into him, when it was just he and I, for over five years. Didn’t he know that?
It took everything in me to not do that. Instead, I pushed my pride and hurt aside and told him I loved and missed him and was so happy he was having a fun weekend with his Daddy.
It hit me pretty hard when I thought about it. My sweet boy is with his Daddy. And he is so happy. My boy deserves this. He deserves to have me go away for a weekend and not be in despair because he’s so dependent on me. He deserves to be able to focus on his time at home with his baba. He’s never had that before and all the years of missing out on that time with a father in his life deserves some catching up. He deserves to have a man like this by his side and it’s a blessing that they both love each other so much. Well then, maybe it isn’t about me right now.
And I can handle this because this part of our story isn’t about me not being needed or loved by my child; it’s about my child learning what it’s like to have a father in his life. When I was finally able to accept the fact that I was no longer my son’s everything, I was, for the first time, able to feel the freedom in no longer needing to be his everything. I get to be one of his parents and no longer need to play the role of both. I hardly even know what that means. [Insert deep, heartfelt sobs] This realization has allowed a beautiful peace to come over our family as we undergo this transformation to a family of three. It doesn’t change the grief in losing the role I once played in my son’s life – I will forever treasure that time in my heart, but it certainly helps me welcome the change with a little more understanding and gratitude.
And so, I decided to change the way I look at my role in our family. All of our roles. This is our son. I am one of his parents. And all together we are each others’ everything.
This week, for the first time ever, I went to work while my son was sick and my husband stayed home with him. He also cared for him throughout the night as he continuously vomited. My heart broke a little that I didn’t get to be by his side, but I won’t lie, it was nice to allow someone else to step in. Have you ever had to accept that you alone aren’t your child’s everything?