When I became pregnant at 19, my self esteem resided primarily from 3 ideas I had about myself:
1 I was hot, boys and men wanted me everywhere I went, fought over me, wrecked friendships
over me, as I remained pretty 'untouchable' and although I did NOT judge girls who slept
around, and at times tried to be more open to making out, I could not do it, and kept my
desire and body pent up unless in a monogamous relationship, of which I had very few.
2 I cared deeply about other people, the world, art, music, the meaning of life, and sacrificed
my time, energy, money and comfort to help others whenever possible.
3 I was a writer.
I had no intrinsic self esteem, or very little. I based my worth largely on the effect I could have on others, and the discipline I could produce in myself emotionally. Then I had Dakota. My worth, which was small, very, almost unsustainably small, shifted itself entirely around the form of motherhood- successful, unselfish, courageous, devoted, informed and loving motherhood- but successful. Yes. And I knew where my focus was and I knew the risks inherent to my position- intellectually, I knew. I knew that single mothers who bonded as deeply as I had with their sons risked placing unfair, unhealthy burdens on those sons. I knew it was possible I would try to fix myself through mothering him. I knew I could ask too much of him, emotionally, as a 'partner', and this could hinder his selfhood and ascent into manhood. I understood these things, kept them in mind, and- there is no book with lists you check off, telling you what is leaning towards problematic, and what is healthy, what is good. And how do you judge the weight, the importance, of each action, when you've never done these things before, never made these decisions before, and have no role model of doing it successfully, other than books, novels- in other words, words not action?
What I had not counted on, or read about, was the problem I am being to feel, like a tumor slowly making itself known underneath the skin, the shadow and form and shape of something that has been so deeply ingrained inside and so unchallanged- until now- that I did not know it existed. I have based my self esteem around the happiness of my child.
I am feeling this thing, tapping my fingers around it, trying to get the geneology, the biology,
the details right. Writing this to you- part of that.
My childhood was sad, terrifying, lonely. In becoming a mother, I could, as The Courage To Heal discusses, heal past wounds, in part. And I have! In part. I did not realize that my motivation went beyond protection and loving my child and myself, and into murkier bogs- proving to myself, to everyone! that I am not my parents, I am not my father, most of all- not like him, not going to pass on the legacy he passed to myself, my baby sister. I knew the danger of projecting your failed dreams onto your children, but I identified those dreams so simplistically ( becoming a famous dancer, etc) that I missed the less defined dreams you could lay on your child: so in an act of probable stupidity but also therapy, I will list the undefined dreams I expected to be able to 'produce' in my children by giving them great parenting, as I saw it:
they will be free of chronic depression and anxiety
they will have strong self esteem
they will not feel angry at the world
they will care about succeding in school
they will show respect to me even in anger
they will not use drugs
they will be grateful for their lives
they will understand they have to work for what they get
they will accept my authority based on respect for me
Dakota is 15 and I know the list could go on. The expectations are not only what I want for him. No, they are what I want for ME, for myself, for how I want other people to see me, how I want to be able to look and talk to myself: Look, you did this. You made these kids and raised these kids and put blood sweat and tears of patience and time that so many don't and because you did that they are special. They are solid in spirit body and mind.
So when Dakota began to struggle, so did I. When he began to hurt, so did I. Because how could this happen? How could I have nursed for 2 and half years, co-slept, baby carried, nutritionally supervised, supplemented, given space to, let go of even when I didn't want to, worked with, did homework with, had Friday Night Family Night since BIRTH, loved loved loved this child and he is struggling THIS HARD?
Here is a new question for myself. How will Dakota be able to grow up, how will Dakota be able to face his demons, If I can't handle that they even exist?