The phrase “working mom” is complex in itself. Moms work. Nonstop. From sons up to sons down and later still because some things can only get done after they are down.
For most of my marriage I stayed home or went to work or school a few hours a week. For the most part I was home with the kids doing chores, finding hobbies, baking, crafting and carrying babies as a surrogate when I wasn’t earning scholarships as a student. Most of this was concurrent multi-tasking.
Life for my 10 year old hasn’t been okay since the separation started two years ago. All three still haven’t smiled like they used to. I can see it in their eyes and the way it feels forced and fake. It’s not obvious unless you have known what it is to fake happiness for someone else. I just had another talk about depression the other night and Kid2 admitted he still struggles.
For Kid3, his identity was the youngest in a family of five. When the family of five shifted to four, who he is became a fluid identity in a sea without a stable anchor. Add Mom and Dad living differently and having new relationships and he hasn’t felt safely attached for a while. Not safely enough. He’s been struggling since then with what is normal. He’s seen a therapist. I try to do things with him around the house. Actually, projects and catching up on housework on weekends because I spend most of my week at work or driving are my new normal. I leave at 7:30 in the morning and don’t get home until around 8 at night.
My latest project was to update my pond. Pictured is Kid3 several years ago. As for the pond, it’s still evolving.
Yesterday morning was a hard one for Kid3. Honestly, it was a rough continuation of my day before. I left for work at 7:30 a.m.. I left work early at 3:30 that afternoon, then drove through traffic so bad over about 20 miles that I didn’t get home until 5:45 where I picked kids up for an Awards night at my older kid’s school, not arriving there until 6:15.
We sat through the ceremony, took a few pictures, dropped the boyfriend off at home where he could decompress, then drove around a little more before landing at a new family favorite ramen restaurant. We got home and the meltdown started.
There’s a pattern. On days when school starts or they’re going back to their Dad, my little one’s separation anxiety ramps up and he refuses to go to school, begging instead to stay home with me. Yesterday morning I was trying to rush out the door and take a phone interview on my way to work (yay me! I’m over qualified for this entry level position and he’ll keep me in mind if any senior positions open up that will pay more).
Kid3’s tantrum was so bad that I was now 40 minutes late for work, but I had him sit in the car as I finished the interview and hung up. Tearfully, he told me he didn’t want me to work. He wanted to get me fired. He was willing to leave because calling his Dad for support resulted in a threat to go back to court for custody. As tight as money is when I’m not working, he wants me to stay home with him. It feels good to be that wanted. At the same time, this tells me I’m neglecting his emotional needs and his separation anxiety is a symptom of him not feeling safe enough attachment to me to want to be independent.
That’s heavy. That last sentence is full of density and I’ll unpack it.
When my kids were little, their needs were simple. Help them rest when tired. Feed them when hungry. Keep them clean enough to be comfortable but dirty enough to have fun. As they’re getting older and more physically independent, their emotional needs are shifting and they need more support. I need to help them feel so surrounded by my love that they feel it even when I’m not around. My youngest doesn’t feel that right now.
A couple of years ago I read the 5 Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman. It explored the five ways we can express or feel love.
- Gift giving – He often asks me to buy him things.
- Quality time – He likes playing board games or being with me to watch movies or throw a ball around.
- Words of affirmation – He needs to hear that I love him and that I value what he says when he’s telling me about his day.
- Acts of service – He often asks me to brush his hair or help him with personal hygiene. When he’s happy, he’s willing to do things for me.
- Physical touch – He likes belly massages and bear hugs.
He actively asks me to do or engage in these things on a regular basis. So basically my son has shown and told me that he needs all of his emotional love needs met and he’s starved for love.
The greatest lesson about the book is that it taught that the way you show love isn’t necessarily the way others need to receive that love from you and love means finding out how to fulfill the needs of someone else, rather than assume what works for you is good enough in the way most of us selfishly do.
In doing projects I choose and having him join me, I assumed he was getting enough love in the time together, but over the last few days he was showing me that he was not.
At the end of the day, my relationship with my son is a relationship. I can’t assume what I’ve always done will always be enough because as he grows and walks in independence, his needs change and evolve. I want to be the parent he is willing to talk to. It’s a relationship that needs time and attention to detail . . . Just like any other relationship.