On Motherhood, Co-Dependence, and Letting Go
I loved being pregnant. For a co-dependent like me, it was the ultimate boundary-free relationship. I had an easy pregnancy, no morning sickness or fat ankles, but toward the end, he took up more than his share of space. Like a toddler who crawls in bed with you in the middle of the night, he stretched his 21 inches in all directions at once, wedging a hand under my ribs while standing on my kidneys and sitting on my bladder. I think God plans it that way so, by the time labor begins, you’re completely ready to let go of the little bundle of joy you’ve been incubating for nine months. And that’s what being a mother is all about–letting go.
It’s ironic that a mother carries her child in her body for nine months, but unless she’s a true earth-mother type who squats in the forest and gives birth alone, hers are not the first hands to hold her baby. Then, as soon as that blessed bundle is laid in her arms, there are other hands waiting to take him or her away–fathers, grandparents, cousins, friends–all eager to stake a claim on this new person.
The world at large makes its claim as well through baby sitters, church nurseries, day care, and playmates. A mother watches as her child adapts to each new situation, and she lets go a little at a time. One afternoon when Christian was three, a neighborhood six-year-old knocked on our door to stake his claim.
“Hi,” he said. “Can Christian come to my house and play?”
My gut reaction was No he cannot! He’s just a baby, and I need to keep him right here under my watchful eye. But I was raised by an over-protective mother who rarely let me out of her sight. It was a lonely existence, and I was determined to break that cycle with my own child.
“Okay,” I said. “Be sure and hold his hand when you cross the alley.”
I stood at the living room window and watched my little blond-haired boy, dressed in blue striped bibbed shorts, walking down the sidewalk away from me. Of course I cried. It hurts to let go, especially at first.
He’s 40 years old now, and I’ve had a lot of experience at letting go. Kindergarten wasn’t too bad, because by then he’d been in pre-school for a couple of years. His first girlfriends were hard, because he always seemed to choose the ones that broke his heart. I guess that’s not surprising, though, because I did the same thing until…well, until I met David. The hardest of all was the summer I released him into the care of psychiatric professionals for several months. I still second guess that decision, but through the experience he met the man he calls Doc who became a life-long friend and surrogate father, so some good came out of it.
For several years after his father and I divorced, there was a revolving door of releasing and returning. He went away to college but showed up on my doorstep most weekends. Regardless of where I lived, I made sure I had a second bedroom, in case he needed a place to crash between semesters, and a garage big enough to store whatever wouldn’t fit in his current domicile.
That ended when he took a job in Seattle. We had a couple of garage sales, and we called Good Will to pick up the leftovers. When the moving truck left, I had a real guest room and plenty of storage space, but as we said our tearful good-byes at the airport, I knew I was really letting go this time.
Then came the inevitable phone call.
“Mom, I met someone.”
This one was different. Amy was the one for whom “a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife.” He made it back to Texas for a couple of years while Amy finished her schooling, but then they went back to Colorado to plant a church. Now they’re off to Portland for more adventures.
Thanks to phones and computers, I hear from him or about him daily. I sometimes share those daily updates with thousands of his fans and followers, but sometimes I get an e-mail or a phone call with a special message or question just for me. I’m still co-dependent, but I’m in recovery. I have a stronger sense of who I am now, and I’ve learned to set some healthy boundaries. There’s still a special bond, though. I knew him first. I’m his mother.
Happy Mother’s Day,