I’m a single mom who walked out on my adult son in his time of need. Did I feel bad? Absolutely.
Am I okay with what happened? Absolutely.
When I thought about why I felt bad, I understood it wasn’t because of my son. He and I are fine. We’re good like that. It’s my own stuff, and it’s bullshit. I’m tired of it, and I’m ready to release it.
To explain this bullshit, I’ll give you a bit of background, and then bring you up to speed. Ready?
My son is recovering from a dance incident gone bad. He attempted a “spin move” on a hill and broke his ankle bad enough that he required surgery — complete with metal plates and six screws. Unfortunately, the surgery didn’t happen until four full days after the injury, and he’s been in excruciating, uncontrolled pain.
God love him, he’s an optimist who’s been posting funny Spapchat stories narrating the whole incident with yours truly as a co-star. Between the two of us, we’ve had all the social media channels covered, posting fun and uplifting updates — always sure to point out the silver lining in this unexpected turn of events. We both believe strongly in the premise and, in fact, have tattoos that state “Everything Happens for a Reason.”
The day after the accident, he called me and said, “I need my mama!” He went on to ask, “Do you want to come spend the day with me and hang out?” Of course, I dropped everything and ran to be by his side. Before leaving my home, I packed his favorite foods, comfort items, and anything and everything I could think of he would need. When I arrived, I went into high gear and did exactly what my mother would have done. I cooked, cleaned, did laundry, and met his every need. I provided extreme care. This equals love. Extreme care equals love, right?
About halfway through the day, my son said, “You don’t have to clean.” I thought back through my son’s childhood and recalled from the time he was a youngster (maybe 4 or 5), I pegged him as an acts-of-service guy. I always assumed his love language was acts of service. It’s my love language, so it comes naturally to me. My son always loved it when I cooked for him. Truth be told, he would get angry if we had to eat out.
When he was a senior in high school, Oprah had Gary Chapman on her Life Class, and I had my son take the Love Languages quiz. I remember thinking, Man, I’m fucked if quality time is his love language because I’ve spent no time with this boy, and I’ve performed all these acts of service in making my famous “Mama Meals,” driving him and his friends around, volunteering at school, and doing all these other acts of service.
Guess what? I was fucked. The survey said quality time.
Sunday, when he told me I didn’t have to clean, I thought about what he said when he called me. He asked me if I wanted to spend the day with him and hang out. He didn’t say, “Do you want to come wait on me hand and foot, take care of my every need, exhaust yourself, and then be upset your needs aren’t met because you didn’t take care of yourself?”
I’m more than certain he appreciated what I did for him. He (and his friends) have always been very appreciative of what I do for them. I’m also certain that 85% of the work I did was completely unnecessary and more than likely born out of a generational pattern than one I consciously developed.
The day my son had surgery, he wanted to be released from the hospital on the same day. I was terrified and also adamant that he continue to be inpatient, because frankly, I was exhausted. I hadn’t slept in days, and I couldn’t imagine him going home alone without having someone there to care for him. We had a frank discussion, and he told me his needs were not my problem. More importantly, he meant it.
The fact of the matter is, my son is a 21-year-old man. I am moving across the country at the end of this month, own a small business, and have just a couple (or a hundred) priorities going on in my own life right now. My son understands this — better than I do, most times. As we were discussing things, he said to me, “Put your oxygen mask on, Ma, because your plane is about to go down.” On that note, I left the hospital and went home. I slept peacefully and completely for the first time since his injury.
But there’s one thing that keeps creeping in.
It’s guilt. I grew up Catholic. I’m mostly over it, but the doctrine creeps in every now and then. Whenever I’ve talked about taking care of myself — particularly over the needs of family members, even when I’ve personally used the oxygen mask theory — I’ve been labeled as selfish. This is terribly frustrating to me and tends to induce more guilt. What kills me, though, is why I allow others to influence my state of mind, or even more, why I care about their opinions.
If I’m okay, and my son is okay. It’s all good, right?
So enough of the bullshit stories from others about my “selfish” needs. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we cannot effectively care for each another. Enough of the bullshit guilt-inducing religious doctrine that rears its ugly head when I’m already down. Faith is supposed to lift you up when you’re down, not make you feel shitty.
Enough of the bullshit generational patterns that dictate martyrdom and unending servitude as the gold standard for motherhood. This is an exhausting and unsustainable model that leads to depression, resentment, and unfulfilled dreams. In sum, it leads to unhappy mothers. We all know that when Mama is unhappy, everyone is unhappy, and that’s nothing we should strive for.
Enough of the bullshit pride that makes me feel like I must do everything on my own. It seriously takes a village. I know this. There’s no way my son and I would have done as well as we have without the support and guidance of our network. But honestly, it’s hard for givers to receive. The fact of the matter is, we can’t receive if we don’t let our needs be known and ask for the help we need. That’s the hard part — asking for help. One of our favorite quotes is, “If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.” The same is true when it comes to asking for help. You’ll never get the help you need if you don’t ask for it.
Most importantly, enough of the bullshit judgments, including self-judgment, about never doing enough. We all do the best we can with what we have, and that must always be enough.
Because me and the boy are fine. We’re good like that.