At first your life revolves solely around that little bundle of miracle as you try to find time to sleep in between feedings, diaper changes, cuddles, and a whole bunch of exciting firsts. Then more children come, and more hugs, giggles, haircuts, growth spurts, personalities, and the beginning of sibling rivalry. You teach, you read, you hug, you listen, you cry, you watch, you marvel at these beings that walk around with your heart.
When the teenage years come, you start to let go. You encourage independence while being there for moral support. Of course, you're also the mean enforcer of the rules that still exist in spite of their insistence that they don't need them. You love them through the fights, the mistakes, the disrespect; and you love them and praise them through their achievements, their glorious advancements, their loves, their stubborn willingness to go on.You couldn't be more proud of this person who once depended on you for everything and is now figuring out how to depend on themselves.
And then they fly off to college. You have to cut the apron strings and let them soar. Mistakes still happen, but you know they need to learn how to handle their falls. You love them from a distance. Pray for them, cheer for them and wish you could be there. You cherish the phone calls, texts, messages, and updates.
And then one gets married. You really have to let go, now. They're still your baby, your heart, but they are also definitely their own person now, and you a more distant vital part of life.
While I've reached that stage, I still have little ones at home. They need me, some more than others because of age, all of them because I am their foundation, the one who has always been there. I am the one who reads bedtime stories, calms nightmares, cuddles them when sick, and hugs and holds when scared. The one who loves them no matter what.
I am their mother.
And now I am a mother who has Bipolar Depression. A mother who has been struggling to find the right combination of meds, coping skills, and thought processes to actually be a mother. A mother whose mothering abilities are severely impaired by anxiety, mood swings, and bouts of exhaustion - both mentally and physically. I struggle to make myself even be aware of the rules, let alone enforce them half the time.
I am a mother who overloaded and broke during spring break while they were all home from school and being normal, lovable children with a loud gusto for life, bikes, chases, giggles, and roughhousing. Children whose normal antics were something I simply couldn't handle.
After my suicide attempt, I realized in full technicolor 3D that I needed help being a mother.
This was hard to admit to myself, let alone out loud to ask for assistance. I had to admit that one of my basic instinctual functions had shorted out.
I could have pretended everything was fine, sure. Put on the front so no one would see my imperfections. I am sure that option would have resulted in another suicide attempt, quite possibly one that would have succeeded. Or another psyche ward stay. Either of those options being much more traumatic for the kids than a summer adventure with cousins.
So, here I am with no small children at home this summer. I have a teenager who will be spending most of her summer with friends and at various camps. I have a daughter home for the summer from college who spends most of her time working and the rest dating or hanging out with friends.
I have room to breathe. I have room to be imperfect, to have my bad days and not feel guilty for sleeping through important childhood moments. I have space to heal.
There are people who cannot understand this. Some bet me actual money that I'd change my mind and have the kids home within two weeks, because what mother could live a whole summer without her children?
Of course I miss my children. But I have learned how to lengthen and loosen apron strings because I am not in the beginning phases of motherhood. It is, perhaps, easier for me to trust implicitly the relatives who have taken on the role of surrogate parents to my children because I have had practice letting go. Or perhaps because I simply have to.
Is this easy? No.
Do I feel an immense relief? Yes.
Do I feel guilty? Some days, yes.
Does sending my children off for the summer mean I am a failure? I don't think so. I think, instead, that in order for me to be a good mother, I need to heal. I need to find balance. I need to be able to face loud, outrageous, and yelly sibling rivalry. I need to be able to handle the ups and downs of parenthood without having to crawl into bed and hiding.
My children do not deserve to feel like they are a burden to their mother. They do not understand that my mental illness makes it difficult for me to cope with their normalcy no matter how I have tried to explain it. My 11yo is already certain my breakdown was her fault. That fault lies solely with my brain chemistry and the lack of awareness that my meds weren't working.
I know there are parents who cannot comprehend this.
I am both grateful and frustrated by their lack of understanding. Grateful that they aren't going through this kind of trial, and yet frustrated by the judgement I feel, whether real or imagined.
I also am aware that every parent with depression handles it differently. Every parent is different and every child's need is different. My choices, while right for me, would be utterly wrong for another parent. I wish everyone knew this.
Motherhood is hard, even without this illness. There simply is no easy way to experience children without heartache, fear, and uncertainty.
My illness does not make my experience worse than anyone else's trials, just difficult for me. This challenge has given me more feelings of inadequacy and failure than anything else I've experienced raising children.
While I wish life were different, it isn't. It is what it is, and I am doing the best I can. I think that's all anyone can do, no matter what cards they're dealt.