SAHM No More explores the the ups-and-downs of navigating a new world of parenting, transitioning from married stay-at-home motherhood to a full-time working, divorced motherhood. And there are a lot of adjustments being made—a lot of adjustments and not a lot of sleep.
Last week my 8-year-old son handed me a crumpled up piece of paper from his homework folder, smiled up at me and asked me to please sign it. It was a letter from his teacher about his grade’s multi-cultural holiday feast where all the kids are encouraged to bring in a dish that represents some aspect of their family’s culture. The feast would be held the afternoon before winter vacation and parents are invited.
I was immediately excited because I knew that I would be able to go, and I hadn’t been able to attend many events this school year. I gathered my son in my lap and asked what he wanted to make for the party. He was incredibly animated as we discussed the various foods that we could make before we settled on making a simple apple crisp because he wanted to do most of the baking himself.
“Great!” I told him, “I’ll bring it in with me in the afternoon.”
“Um, Mom?” He put his hand on my arm. “It’s actually fine with me if you need to go to work. I totally understand.”
“Oh, don’t be silly. I’m able to come that day and I’m looking forward to it!”
My son, socially adept beyond his years—replied, “Right. But I think maybe I’m fine with being alone this year. I’ve gotten used to you not being around and I don’t want you there…if that’s okay!”
Is it weird to say that I froze? That I actually felt more rejected in that moment than I’d felt in just about any moment in my adult life? I mean, I took it all in stride and told my son that absolutely I understood and absolutely I didn’t need to come if he felt better being there by himself. But, on the inside? I felt the sort of devastation that I hadn’t experienced since he had refused to hold my hand in public when he started first grade.
For the last few months, I’ve been worried that my younger son would feel rejected by the fact that I wasn’t able to be in his class as much as I used to (or as much as the parents of his friends). And now, just like that, he dismissed my presence from an event that I had been excited about attending. I spent what felt like forever—really it was about 15 minutes—agonizing over whether or not to talk to him about why he didn’t want me there. Then I realized that I was being ridiculous.
I talked to him about it. He explained that he liked being at school on his own now. He didn’t use these exact words, but the gist of what he was saying boils down to this—he didn’t need me there cramping his style. I get all that. Really, I do. I remember feeling the same way when I was that age, feeling like I wanted to define myself on my own terms. I just wasn’t quite prepared to see my son feel the same way.
Not only do I remember feeling that way when I was a child, but I kind of still feel that way as an adult. I hesitate sometimes to identify too strongly as a “mother.” Not because I don’t love being a mother, but because sometimes it’s just not that identity that I want to carry around in every area of my life. And I think that it’s the same thing with my son.
He has gotten used to the independence that comes with the territory of being the child of two working parents, gotten used to paving his own path. I know that he is doing well in school and so I’m not worried that anything is wrong. It’s just a bittersweet feeling knowing that the older he gets, the more agency he’ll assert. Now it feels like I’ll always be watching him walk away, waving good-bye instead of holding my hand and pulling me along with him.