I didn’t leave my firstborn with a sitter until he was nine months old. It was a struggle for me to walk out the door, and even then I only lasted a few hours.
My husband had pleaded with me — we hadn’t been alone since the baby was born, and we even took him to our first-anniversary dinner because I wasn’t ready to get a sitter. Whenever we left, and it wasn’t often, I stirred so violently inside I couldn’t enjoy myself.
It wasn’t until our third child was born that my husband told me he felt our children had replaced him. My husband went to parties and weddings without me; right or wrong, if kids weren’t invited, I refused to go.
As a child, I’d been sexually abused by an older family member. My parents didn’t know what to do or how to deal with it when I told them, and nothing was done. I think this had a lot to do with my anxiety — I didn’t feel safe as a child. And when I became a mother, I tried to heal that part of myself by being overprotective of my children. There was no one out there who could take care of my kids the way I could, and I was crippled with fear when I left them.
What if something happens to them? What if something happens to me? What if they need me and I’m not there?
My husband wanted to take trips with me. He wanted to go out to dinner, just the two of us, and be able to finish a sentence without a child needing something from me. He wanted to build upon our relationship that seemed to stop growing the second we had kids. But after becoming a mother, I thought there was nothing better for me, and my children got all of me. There was nothing left for him.
I got affection from my kids.
I got attention from my kids.
They wore me out and left me with zero energy at the end of the day.
I was getting family time and loved all day long, something he wasn’t getting at work. Then, when he came home wanting me, I had already given it all away.
Looking back, if I’d been able to deal with the anxiety I had about leaving them and made a pact to spend a few nights a month with just him, things probably would have turned out differently for us; we are now divorced. I thought we had enough love to make it through anything, and I didn’t need to keep nurturing our relationship. But it’s almost impossible to feed a relationship when you aren’t intentionally doing things to nourish it. I know this now. At the time, I thought since I was okay spending all my time and energy on my kids, that should be enough for him. But it wasn’t enough for either of us.
If I hadn’t been so scared to take the trips to Boston, New York City, and a tropical island (all things he always brought up), I would have seen my kids were okay, and probably even better, without me being there every second. My kids are happier now that I take some time away from them. They don’t want to be the center of my universe.
It’s still a struggle for me. I’ve been in a loving relationship for almost three years, and my partner and I go away a few times a year for a long weekend without the kids. We’re soon going on a week-long vacation out of the country — something I’ve never done in my life. I was so anxious when we started planning the trip I couldn’t sleep and broke out in hives.
Of course, my kids are teenagers now and freely told me how ridiculous I was being; they practically begged me to go.
I never want to make the mistake I made with my ex-husband again. Relationships of all kinds need tending. And my kids are more than happy to share me because not only are they kind of sick of me, but they also want me to be happy. I want that, too.
Katie Bingham-Smith is a full-time freelance writer living in Maine with her three teens and two ducks. When she’s not writing she’s probably spending too money online and drinking Coke Zero.