The Brea[d]ths of July

July 13, 2012, at 7:30 AM

This has always been my least favorite day of summer.
The one where my child goes off to her father’s for a month.
The one where my role – and need for my services – abruptly stops. In some years, she will return and tell me they forbid her to call or that she is a different version of herself there or she doesn’t feel comfortable calling me when he might eavesdrop and then question her. So, unless she is in a jam or on the outs with him or they’re in a fight, I do not hear from my daughter. The first several days are the worst. The first couple years of this were devastating.

In summers past, the undefined agenda in a too-quiet house was literally unbearable and I once slept for a week out of not knowing what else to do. Another summer, I threw myself into several projects hoping that distraction would win over worry. Both reactions were extreme, though doing something made it a bit more tolerable, a bit better. In ten summers, I have learned how to meet myself in those silences and push to re-define and restore the parts of my Self that are politely or brusquely ignored while parenting.

This summer, on the heels of a year highlighted by achievements for us both, the letting go will be easier. She has grown, and I am ready to do so, again.

July 13, 2020, at 3:00 PM

This is going to sound hurtful and immature, and probably senseless, but I removed myself from my daughter’s online profiles this week. Most refer to this behavior as “unfriending” and it can be perceived as a form of disrespect or insult. In practice, however, and not without a great deal of forethought, I have not changed anything between us except this: My ability to visit her online addresses to see what little she chose to share with me; the reality being she had long ago limited or restricted my viewing, making it clear she wanted to share her life on social media, just not with me. Putting someone in the ‘restricted’ zone limits their connection to you, and I know that is what she wants, a limited connection controlled by her. She has the right to control her life.

I have written this before but I will say it again: I was in no way – at all – prepared for the segues and emotions she would encounter from high school to college, college to emerging adulthood. Even less did I know – or understand – my abandonment issues until I experienced what should be a normal progression of my child’s development as complete rejection and being left behind, dumped and abandoned. Thinking about her high school years, I wish I had stopped to remember myself at that age; I wish I had seen her clearly and understood her life, much of which she did not share but expressed and acted out in the ways intelligent and emotionally responsive distraught teenagers do.

Three years after she graduated high school, she shared some things with me: A creepy, manipulative [way too mild a description] boyfriend; the friends who were lost or lived with neglectful or alcoholic parents; the cheap affair of a once-beloved music teacher – why an adult would share this situation with an underaged student is beyond me. Hearing these things made me so angry, and angry for her. She should not have gone through those things without my support or awareness. She chose to, I accept that. I wish she had not hidden so much while it was happening, but was glad and moved she shared with me at all, even after the fact.

My own latter years of high school were fraught with mother-daughter battles, name-calling, and tearing through the house chased by an intoxicated madwoman hellbent on making sure I would not leave the family home and embarrass her once I landed mid-country in college. It has never been easy being my mother’s daughter. When I left, I imagined never returning. Maybe for Christmas? Several years later, in my early to mid-twenties, I engaged less and less with my mother, finding it difficult to explain to my father why I just could not be around her. It hurt him, I know. He would call, leaving messages on my apartment answering machine, few, if any, to which I replied. An invitation to dinner, to sail or race, to a party, to come over and see people in from out of town, to fly cross-country to see my mother’s family. I knew I was going through something big when I could not reply to the Oregon invitation. I think I was 23 or 24. My father and I had no beefs; it was solely my mother I could not stand nor suffer any further. I had to cut ties for a while; it lasted about six months. When I finally decided to reestablish seeing her, it was on my terms, a colt on wobbly new legs: Short, sweet, in public, and never alone. I was learning to set boundaries. While she did not ask me why I had stopped seeing them (her), our encounters were cold and uncomfortable. She resented me palpably and interpreted my distancing as a personal affront. I was not welcomed back but shoved even further away. So be it. I had made the right decision. Since then, I have continued to limit my contact with her.

So, why remove myself from my daughter’s social media followers?
To practice what I wanted at that age: Respect and space. Unintentionally, I have said one thing then done another regarding my daughter, and it’s confusing and hurtful for her and, frankly, makes me look bad to my child. I have reacted poorly to not being needed – or wanted – and behaved in ways counterproductive to what she expects. She has not left me; she has left childhood. Big difference.

Intermittently visiting her profiles in the hope I would catch a glimpse of how she was doing in her life as an emerging adult resulted in disappointment and, worse, feeling rejected, shut-out. My brain knows this is about being rejected and abandoned by my blood-mother; it has less to do with the relationship between my child and me. Surfing her profiles was not making it easy to let her go, just like bringing junk food into our house makes it harder to eat healthily. Both behaviors defeat any positive outcomes I’d like to see: A good relationship with my daughter, and shedding more weight. At present, the latter is more successful than the former, and the former is a work in progress.

DJD

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