Friday, January 15, 2010

and like that, it all shifts

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?
Babe in Babeland said...

These are such hard which I don't have answers. My heart goes out to you with a big hug. These are the kind of thoughts that sometimes just briefly cross my mind as I'm looking at my baby girl. I want to protect her from the world and hope that she grows up to be a confident and happy and successful person. But I can't keep my arm wrapped around her forever. She's growing and so very much her own person. I just hope and pray your son will make it through....I just hope all these amazing children, including mine, find their way through this crazy world.

A.Smith said...

Maggie dear, they are "his" not yours, as in shared demons. My son is now 41 years old and I was young and although married when he was born I was divorced when he was six years old. They are individuals who will grow according to their own needs and their own wants. When he was a teenager and the hormones began to ramp I thought I was a total, complete, absolute, abject failure as a mother because of the way he acted.

Oh the dreams about the future. His future, I didn't have anything truly concrete. But I knew somehow that I wanted him to be his own man. When he was born I embroidered a little keepsake for him: "I will always give you roots and wings". Fine in thread and cloth. The part of the roots was true, the part of the wings...

I wish you could come over and sit by the fire and have a cup of tea and let me bore you to death with tales about those years. You are emotionally overwhelmed right now. It will be alright, you have given him good roots, he will need to try his wings and the best you can hope for is to always be there when he tests them and fails, as he will, as we all did. Trust me on this, he will be fine because he had the most important thing any child needs: plenty of love.

Abigail said...

Beautifully written... thanks for commenting on my blog.

It is so difficult sometimes deciding where we leave off and our children begin, especially as single mothers, not taking on their quirks and demons as being a product of our own doing.

We hope with our guidance that they will become the happy, strong people we want them to be, and any kind of slip up seems a reflection of our parenting.

But if there is anything I have learned having two, is that they are their own persons, full of charm and fallibility.

When they struggle, all you can do is try and hold them up, comfort them when they fall and allow them to learn from their own mistakes which is ALWAYS so much harder than it sounds.

Just think of all you have gained from your so-called "mistakes."

I am sure he will surprise you... eventually.

Maggie May said...

Thank you for the gentle replies.

It's this realization that I have had this week, which has been so profound, like in a movie where some shift at the end makes you want to go back and view the entire movie again...

Lola Sharp said...

I feel your pain, sister. Being the (caring, loving) parent of a teen is HARD. So often it is painful beyond measure.

I posted on this exact topic the other day, but I believe you took it one step deeper than I was able to go.

I'm here if you need to talk.


Ms. Moon said...

Maggie- I think I need to e-mail you. There is too much of the heart to relate here. BUT- let me say- it all comes out well in the end.

Petunia Face said...

This is what scares me most about having kids. Zoey is only 3 and then some--I worry about strangers, cars, scraped knees and fevers. But what terrifies me to the bone is this, what you have written.

If you find any answers please write about them. Though I doubt they exist. Sometimes its just about holding on to yourself and each other.

Existential Waitress said...

What an insightful post. In recent months, I have started to give thought to these questions too. Mental illness runs in both my husbands family and my own (ranging from mild depression to paranoid schizophrenia) and it suddenly hit me like a load of bricks that everything may not always be sunshine and roses for my kids (crazy at it may sound, this was kind of a shock to me). And I do feel like so much of who I am, as well as my feeling of self-worth is bound up in my kids. And that IS dangerous ground to tred for both them and me. Thank you for such an insightful post. I always enjoy reading your blog.

SJ said... will be okay. He is a teenage boy. They ALL do this...they ALL struggle, they are wrestling with testosterone demons that we as women simply can not know. Any more than men can know those that haunt women.

He is 15. Someday, in the blink of an eye, he will be a man and these days will be behind him. All boys, all children, all people, do these things--struggle against authority, try the drink, experiment with the drug. They do these things because it is in our nature to grow and change and lash out for our independence.

You love your boy, and he loves you. He is so lucky to have a mother like you, and he will be grateful for the rest of his life for it. Just hang on through these years. You'll come out on ohter side--both of you.

Glimmer said...

I am sorry you are in this pain but I am so glad you are posting about it. Because it is so very hard. Because it doesn't feel so lonely now reading this (my boy child is 16).

Brigindo said...

I feel everyone of your posts on Dakota. The details are only slightly different but the emotions I know only too well. All I can offer is that although they struggle, our children survive and exceed even their own expectations. Likewise, although we struggle with them and feel like we will never be a part from them, eventually we find solace in letting them go. I'm not there but I finally see the road ahead of me and it does bring peace.

michelle said...

Our youngest struggles NOW with demons, and she's not yet 8. And our fear of her mental health and the choices she might make during her adolescence is sometimes paralyzing.

I hear you, Maggie

j said...

I'm here, reading. And listening. And thinking about that five-year-old boy that's sleeping across the hall and trying to remind myself that he is a human in the world and that the world and humans are flawed.

* said...

I don't have teens yet. But still I feel I'm stumbling around already, knocking my knees against toddlerhood and school age years with a hope, wild and fierce.

And I'm taking notes all the while for the someday teens I will have. And when I worry that 4 teens at once will crumble me, I think of my sister in law with 5.

Caroline said...

Like you, I have been a nursing, co-sleeping, attachment parenting mom that has done many of those things to give my children (who are all still very young) a solid foundation for what lies ahead.

I guess there are unavoidable pains in life, and we can't protect them from all of those things. But, we can always love unconditionally.

This to shall pass...You will be in my thoughts...

Annje said...

I am just dealing with toddlers now and have no idea what it takes to raise a teen, though it is the part of parenting that I fear most. All I can say is that it seems that you do and have done everything in your power, but he is also becoming his own person and he will have to face many of those demons on his own. The fact that he will face problems that you cannot control does not reflect failure on your part. What you see now is NOT the final product. Be patient and hold your ground.

Shana said...

My boy is 21. He wrestles his own demons. It has taken a lot of *work* on my part to forgive myself for having a flawed child. It doesn't make sense, but it's not about logic.

Elizabeth said...

As a mother, I hear you loud and clear. As a daughter of good loving parents who did nothing but parent me well and love me, I still had demons that I had to work through. I'd believe and trust the wise words of Allegra and Ms. Moon who KNOW. You love Dakota and all will be well.

As an aside, have you ever read Mark Epstein's book "Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart?" Here is a quote from the child analyst D.A. Winnicott: "No parent can be perfect, but they need only be good enough. When they ARE good enough, the child learns to make use of the parents' "relative failure" rather than compensating for an absolute failure with excessive mental activity. In "making use of" their parents' failures, children germinate the capacity for empathy." And it goes on, but what is good to think about is this concept of "good enough."

Sorry to go on so long. This is so important for all mothers, I believe, including myself. We ALL go through these agonizing periods and thoughts and times unless we're completely ignorant and stupid, I think.

Simply Mel {Reverie} said...

You will take his hand and together the answers will be found and the demons will will be challenged, fought, and conquered. You will, he will, you both will....together.

Anonymous said...

I am so proud of you (even though you don't know me it's true). Your insight and humility in the face of this dilemma is inspiring and wise. You must be a wonderful mother to give him the gift of ongoing growth and self awareness of his parent. Shame is the insidious toxin that is so hard to escape and in the escape there are hidden dangers, hubris that seems like self esteem, fragile ledges of self worth that we perch upon, exhaustion when we realize but there is always more cliff to climb. Hugs and Thanks for you and your journey sharing maggie.

Kass said...

Some of the best advice I ever received as a mother was that I should always show confidence in my child's ability to work through his own process. Sometimes I wasn't feelin' it, but I faked it. I knew that I didn't flourish under my mother's hand-wringing approach. It always felt like she didn't trust my judgment. I still feel that way (Mom is 96).

There's a delicate balance between showing trust and confidence and dismissing a child, but it can be done. I would even say sometimes, "I trust you to make the mistakes that will help you grow the most."

You know your son. You will know if his teen-age angst becomes clinical depression and you will know how to handle it.

justmakingourway said...

We are not there yet in terms of age of our kids. But I worry already about how I will react when this time comes. I know what a challenge I was to my parents - it scares me that I won't have the right answers when the time comes.

The only thing I can say is what has been said here already. You have given him the strong base, you may not recognize that now, but you will both get through this.

Radish King said...

You are much smarter at your age than I was at your age. Chronic depression however is not something we can control or keep from happening in others as it is a mental illness a brain chemistry thing. Trying to fix it in another is like trying to fix the wind. You can't do it. But if it's there (especially in children and they do suffer) we can recognize it and help them.

I think you're a good mom, Maggie. It's such a hard heartbreaking business all of it. I had one child. I can't imagine having more!


Angie Muresan said...

Maggie, every mother as loving as you and as invested in her children as you, goes through the same fears and questions. Dakota already has all he needs: an absolutely loving and accepting mom. Don't be so hard on yourself. He will be alright. He will! And so will you, because more than anything there is pure love involved.

Jeanne Estridge said...

This is the parenting paradox: we want our children to grow into spiritually rich, complex, compassionate people, but we do not want them to undergo the experiences that will grow them into these people.

Unknown said...

I love you!

Don't you want to take every pain possible from your kids? I know that growing up in a tough environment made me strong. Everyone goes through tough things even with the best parents, no money worries, and a perfectly manicured lawn. But life isn't about perfect, it's about learning and figuring out how to deal. Dakota has a mom who loves him and with that, I think he can deal with just about anything life throws him. I just think tough things are good in the long run OH and when you are a pro at dealing with all this stuff, can I send you my kids when they hit teenage land?

Lisa said...

Mother of four emotionally balanced adults. Embrace the trials of his life....for they are his greatest teacher.

mermaid gallery said...

My son is 26 now and he lived with depression for most of his life. We really didn't understand just what was going on with him. At 20 he had a breakdown. It was very scary for the next few years because he was buried deep. We decided to focus only on the positive. Absolutely no negativity allowed. It's all about confidence building. He is doing really well. I wish we had ONLY focused on the positive his whole life.

Still Life With Coffee said...

This parenting gig... it takes all of our soul doesn't it? I never could have imagined how it would have changed me. And then the teen years....oh my.
What an honest post.

Maggie May said...

wow. i feel so truly lucky to have this kind of feedback. thank you, so much, for your kind and personal responses. i have read each of your responses twice and i will be reading them each a few more times, taking in the wisdom and thinking about the advice.

we are having D. do a full psych. eval. in a month JUST to be sure we aren't missing anything serious. he is seeing a therapist weekly and she has been wonderful.

what i am looking at now is me. the glass turned and instead of seeing through it into my son i am seeing myself more clearly. it is so hard and painful but i can easily feel it is the right turn now.

Evangeline said...

This went straight to my heart, or maybe my gut. 2 sons, almost 10 years old, who both have been dxed with aspergers, ADHD and anxiety in the last few years. One also has OCD. The other may tend towards manic depression, but we can't tell for sure yet. From the moment I knew I was pregnant every fiber of my being (and yes, too much of my own fragile, fledgling self esteem) has gone into being a good mother, giving them the type of unconditional love and caring that I never had. I only assumed that they would be so well adjusted and resilient, and that their childhoods would be happy ones. When we first started getting walloped by the undeniable truths of their profound struggles and how painful life already is for them to navigate, I just wanted to howl at the moon it hurt so bad. This process of divorcing my own worth from "how they are doing" is messy, confusing and ongoing. I can only cling to how much harder things would be for them if it wasn't for all our care and effort, and keep letting go again and again and again.

This was a helluva a post, as usual. You have an extraordinary gift. Dakota will be OK in the end, so will my two, so will us moms.

tearful dishwasher said...


I know this struggle. I know it and live it and breathe it. It keeps me up from 2 am on too many nights. For four years my wife and I have watched our girl destroy herself and every thing she touches.

We have learned what helplessness is.

I don't know if hope is a blessing or a curse. Seems like a curse now, but who knows. Five or ten or twenty years from now it might all be sorted out.

Or next week.

You don't get to know ahead of time.

All I can say is that you have a leg up on it if you can look at it with honesty and humor and you do.

I will pray for you and yours. Not in some approved manner, but I think it counts just the same.



Unknown said...

so much loving wisdom already here.
And I too will be reading them again.

I had to take a hard look at myself many times. I swore my children would not be brought up like I was.
And yet... I know how important unconditional love is. And yet...
We are human, grow and learn and move forward.
He is so lucky to have a mother who cares this deeply to open her heart like this. He knows you are there, and he can be weak, in your love is his strength.
You wouldn't want it any other way really.
For him to fake it and fade away.

Tiffany Kadani said...

I have no answers to your questions but I will tell you that you never fail to inspire me to hop back on my laptop and keep writing. Thank you.

Mama_Bear_Sarah said...

dear God, i feel the SAME way. only, Noah is just 8. ugh. but we've had those days and i have those feelings as well.

Lacey said...

I can tell you that *almost* every teenager is the exact opposite of your undefined dreams, no matter how great their parents are. It's stupid to just sum it all up to adolescent rebellion or teenage angst, and yet I have tens and tens of examples.

Please don't let it get you down (!!!)... The goal now is to be the stable foundation, even when everything about Mr. D is as unstable as unstable can be. And I know you can do it, because if Maggie May is anything, she is love. ;-)

Nancy C said...

What an incredibly brave and honest post. I keep thinking of Gibran's poem On Children:
"Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you [...]"

Hard lessons. I'm working on them myself.

Petit fleur said...


There is not a person on the planet without demons. For Dakota not to have his, to own them, would mean he was repressed. I mean, look at the Dali Lama... even HE, one of the holiest of beings, is exiled from his own country, which is forced to live under seige.

It's a hard part of growing up for all concerned. Dakota is only human... and I suspect he is sensative, like you are, so maybe his struggle is deeper than most. But the payoff will be sweeter too.
Hang in.
xoxoxo pf

Petit fleur said...

PS... this sounds kooky, but really, if you can get your hands on a copy of Finding Nemo, watch it. We all have a little Marlin in us, and our kids all have more Nemo than we realize. :-)

Freida Bee said...

The teenage years are so much about our children detaching from us and this is so painful, especially when we worked so hard to forge those bonds with them. Of course, the important ones they need will remain even if they rebuke them for a while while they sort through them to find which are valuable to them as they seek to surpass us as we sought to do with out parents.

So much of what makes me uncomfortable with my daughters has to do with my wanting them to not make the same mistakes I made, which is even a carry over from the mistakes my own mother made, ad infinitum.

Your openness and vulnerability here is beautiful and I would guess that has to strengthen you as it strengthens we who read what you have to say. So, thanks.

Hermione said...

Oh, how moving... Truly moving.
I don't have children myself yet, and when I imagine having them, I guess the teenage years are the ones that I fear the most. They are teenage years. We all go through them, if we're lucky. It sounds like you have pretty good check on what's going on, and what he probably needs is your love ans support and someone telling him he's perfect the way he is. That he is and will be loved. Tell him all his amazing sides and that this too will pass. Love, always.

Jenny Grace said...

It's hard. It's all hard.

I'm Katie. said...

Oh oh oh, Maggie! I've been thinking about you and Dakota for weeks if not months, trying to figure out a way to's okay, his struggle is *necessary*- in order for him to be a good, compassionate, grounded person, he must have demons, pain, struggle- and he must face this and figure this out on his own, for himself.

He's right on track. It's going to be hard sometimes and those times will be what crack him open to let him know his own light. Pain is sometimes the best thing that can happen to us.

I hope whatever spurred this blog gives you a place to rest your heart. <3

Ms. Moon said...

Maggie- email me. I don't seem to have your address. Okay?

Unknown said...

"Intrinsic Self Worth"... I know the angst of having to develop a "self styled cool" and then work from there. Great post!

swonderful said...

I don't have anything that is as helpful as what others have written (my son is only three) but I want you to know that I understand exactly what you are saying. I relate a lot (more than I want to admit because there really is an entire can of rotting worms there that I am okay with keeping sealed for now) to the beginning of this and already fear that the many unstable genes in my family will turn up in my kids. I pray about it a lot.

Mwa said...

Thank you. Again. Just thank you. And how amazing of you to put these things into words.

krista said...

my sister went through struggles with her oldest (now 18) and i remember telling her that she couldn't fix everything for him. she had given him the tools and he had to make his own bad decisions in order to know his own boundaries. that all she could do was love him.
i'm such an asshole.
i mean, really.
what do i know? my daughter is TWO.
i wish i had a magic wand full of words to salve.

Phoenix said...

What Krista said is true - even though, I'm sure that as a mother you want nothing more than to fix Dakota Wolf's hurt, he has to go through this or he won't become a full adult. Some of the most emotionally and mentally stunted men I know (and I am talking about men who, at over 60 years old have no life skills, coping skills, survival skills, or reasoning skills) are this way because their parents handed them EVERYTHING - not money, per se, but fixed every single thing going wrong in their lives.

They never grew up, never learned how to be men because their mothers never let them fall.

Let Dakota fall sometimes, Maggie May. I can almost guarantee you that he will fly.

Lora said...

Dakota is growing up, is facing his demons. You don't need to handle it because you've done/are doing such a wonderful job with him that he can handle this on his own, with you at his back. By his side. YOu don't need to carry him, to nurse him anymore. If he needs a bit of carrying, he'll let you know

Love to you and your boy.

anymommy said...

I love your soul. I just had to say I read this beautiful post. I read all your posts.

Jeannette StG said...

Maggie, you are a deep thinker and a very worried mother:)
In the teen years teens individualize - in that they wrestle with all kinds of questions and may resist the inviting arm of the parent vehemently, but in their twenties the fog and mystery slowly starts to clear and you can see the butterfly coming out.
Think of it, you had questions and demons in your teens, but you made it to adulthood. Some questions will never be answered, but the older we are, the greater our hope and faith becomes that we are going to make it:)

Transformations written by Roger L Gould is a wonderful book on this subject that takes an intergenerational view.

Bee said...

I just don't know, but I can tell you this:

I had a happy childhood and loving, nurturing parents and I STILL base a big bit of my self-esteem on my 15 yr old's happiness.

Mystic Thistle said...

I had this friend who once told me she realized she had to let her child own her pain, that it wasn't hers to take away. I think in a way that is part of what you are saying? All we can do as parents is to keep asking ourselves these questions. I was a young single mom too, and I find it stays with me, a lot of the thoughts, feelings from then, it was such a time of powerful change and emotion.

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