As much as we would like to think our past is our past, and there it shall stay, there are times when it will come to the surface. It will appear to remind us of where we came from and how human we are. Usually it happens in the most unlikely of times and spaces. Out it comes from it’s dark corner to slap you up-side-the-head.
I had such an experience this week with my son. There’s nothing like a child in early adulthood to bring you down to Earth. He’s been living away from home for about four months and due to Covid-19 and the jobs market being non-existent, he had to return home. I was disappointed for him, but also kind of delighted to have him back.
But something wasn’t right. He had changed and wasn’t his usual warm and adorable self. Maybe it’s just the upheaval and disappointment, I thought. None of us want to have to return home so soon after our first flight from the nest. “He’ll settle down again”, I told my partner as we discussed the weird energy in the house.
As the days and weeks passed after his return, things didn’t get better. He grew more withdrawn and colder. It turns out that having his own space brought up a lot of things for him. Old, not so nice memories to be precise. Memories I had hoped would have been wiped away and forgotten by time. Alas, that is not the case.
His trauma response lay dormant and waiting for its chance to pounce. He is no longer my brown eyed and curly haired chocolate drop. Now a young man of almost twenty, living alone allowed him the space to process his childhood. We’ve always been an open household where everything was spoken aloud. At least I thought so.
But apparently not!
We were cooking dinner in the kitchen. I could feel the tension from him but lately whenever I asked what was wrong, his reply would be “nothing, I’m fine.” I made some comment or other about the dish we were preparing, and bang. Every delusion I had about my parenting and my personality was swiftly demoted to the compost heap along with the vegetable peels.
Dinner was delayed.
For the next hour, I was made abundantly aware of every flaw I possess and every instance of shitty behavior I enacted. Lot’s of them I already knew, but now I know a few more that I was in denial about. My child rendered me speechless. As I stood in front of him witnessing years of trapped emotion flee his body, I realized, at times, I hadn’t been mentally or emotionally present for my children. Sometimes I was a really shitty mother.
I thought I was this really great mom who had to make very difficult choices to make sure my kids were taken care of. My assumption was that they felt safe and cared for. The truth is, that was not the case. My son didn’t feel safe a lot of the time and he didn’t trust me. In fact, he didn’t even like me much.
I was crushed and couldn’t speak. All I could do was let him get it out and listen to every word. The realization that the version of certain events and the story about my relationship with my son was a complete fabrication that I had convinced myself was true.
I had conveniently chosen to blame other people for my pretty awful relationship experiences. However, my son pointed out that it was me who made the decision to be in them. He is right of course. I made really awful and quite dangerous decisions thinking that I was doing the right thing at the time. My life was in chaos and I didn’t know how to cope. As a result my son felt alone and afraid.
I felt like I was drowning in disapproval – my biggest fear. The shame I feel is almost too much to bear. But this is not about how I feel. This is about my sons feelings. I’ve spent all my life trying to detangle my own feelings and trauma. Now it’s time to help him process his trauma. My job right now is to make amends to my precious son and repair our relationship.
Things are better though. The energy has softened in the house and his eyes are sparkling again. We are taking walks together and he’s making me tea. We’re discussing music, and books, our favorite topics, and planning for his return to college in September.
Our conversations now are between two grownups. He knows I am a very flawed human and at times a vulnerable one. Our relationship has changed, I think, for the better. We both have healing to address and because of his bravery we can do it together. He’s at the point in his life where he can make sense of everything in an adult manner and I’ll be there to support him through that. His adult eyes also mean I won’t be able to get away with anything.