That’s it! Mama’s Running Away: Releasing Maternal Ambivalence
On the worst days, the weight of motherhood can be crushing. When you are overwhelmed, under-supported, and have one or more children looking to you, through sweet Kewpie eyes, to be their comforter, their protector, their provider, their entertainment….their everything… parenting is absolutely daunting. Especially in the early years. It’s a job with a demanding boss, deadlines that pop up spontaneously, minimal breaks, and no thanks. The pressure is real.
So it’s no wonder that moms sometimes fantasize about handing the baby to her co-parent, her mother, the mail man…whomever…then booking to her car and getting the heck out of dodge. As a new mom, at least a few times, I imagined driving and driving and driving until I was in a new place where I would stay and never return. I could start a new life in a quiet town where I would be able to read, write books, and take naps with no distractions. The desire to leave was so real, and yet I’d look at the beautiful baby in my arms with her hungry mouth, and I would pop her back on my boob for another feeding. While I felt like I was dying inside, I would care for her lovingly, and eventually the feeling passed like it had never existed. Until it reared it’s ugly head once again and I was back to mentally packing my bags.
It’s probably not a stretch to imagine that I felt guilty when these feelings would wash over me, and perhaps that’s what amplified the need to get away. The desire for space (to do simple things like pee alone without worrying that my cats would maul my baby) , an infant that needed me entirely, and a lack or perceived lack of adequate support seem to be the perfect storm to make this mother consider abandoning her child- the manifestation of her deep-seeding longings to nurture a partial genetic copy of herself. If it’s emotionally so hard to stay in relationship with a child you asked for, I can only imagine how difficult it so for mamas who became parents before they were ready.
Looking back, I realize that I came across my maternal ambivalence honestly. My own mother (who would give me the clothes off her back and the food off her fork as it made it’s way to her mouth) toyed with the idea of running away from her responsibilities as a mother. As a teenager I thought that she wanted to run away from my sister and I when she said that she was considering moving across country to live out her husbands dreams to homestead there. When she told me they wanted to be house parents for a group home and would leave us the house, all I could see was that she wanted to walk away from me. But she came across her ambivalence honestly as well. I’m sure we all have. I can only imagine that Eve fantasized about going back to the Garden of Eden every now and again to get a break from Abel (and he was the good one.) I bet even Mother Mary had to have at least once gotten tired of the young messiah’s antics.
Now I know, it was not about my mother wanting to leave me. It was about wanting to quit the job- the crushing weight of responsibility and self-sacrifice. Motherhood is the hardest job I’ve ever had-- and I’ve worked with aggressive and assaultive people in locked units who’ve hurled epithets at me that brought tears to my eyes. Now in comparison, my child is an absolute doll, a treasure amongst humans. She’s not an angel but I can see the halo of all-things-kind-and-loving that shines above her head and the wings of enthusiasm and potential that emanate from her soft brown skin. But that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t wear me out with her sheer admiration for me, desire to be exactly like me , and the need topaste herself against me while asking me questions like “why does this”…”or what is who”. Meanwhile, I’m in awe that she is brilliant, intuitive, gentle and simply amazing. But I’m an introvert y’all and sometimes I can’t share my brilliance with the world while I am nurturing hers.
Here is the thing about ambivalence. We all go through it at some point. We get the job that we applied for, the house that we prayed for, the spouse that we courted and wonder if we chose well. And sometimes we get anxious about our blessings, even during the good times. It’s normal. When I went through a break up a few months ago I thought about throwing myself in the dumpster…the dumpster. I get ambivalent about MYSELF sometimes. I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume we all do. That exercise routine that you start and stop, that diet that you can’t quite commit to, waffling on whether you will go back to school or not…it’s all ambivalence.
So what’s the cure? How do you release the ambivalence?
Choose love over fear, Every Single Time. Choosing to love yourself and love your offspring even when it hurts is the medicine you both need. It will heal your past, and protect their future.
Actively make the choice not to give up, rather than sticking around by default. Recognize that some parents do give up, but acknowledge that while you fantasize about leaving, you show up to the job consistently.
Give yourself a break and bring in the reinforcements. Whatever that looks like for you, do it, as soon as humanly possible. If your emotions tell you it’s a crisis, treat it like it is and call in the reinforcements whether it’s asking a friend to watch the kiddos, or letting Daniel Tiger sing to your kiddo while you take time to mindfully sit down and re-center. TV is your friend in a pinch, but the real cure is community so be sure to reach out to others when you are feeling up to it so that next time you need support, a warm body can wrap their arms around you and then your child as they give you time to do what you need to in order to be okay.
And for the sake of all that is good and holy, do not tell your child you are planning your escape, but if you do, say sorry. Apologies and forgiveness are also medicine for your heart and soul.