Dear Mamas Like Me: You are not alone
Dear Mamas Like Me,
You who struggle daily with mental illness, neurodiversity or past trauma. This is for you. Know you are seen. Know you are not alone.
TW for abuse and sexual violence
I want to speak up about what it’s like to be a mother my kids have to take care of; a mama my kids are used to being sick or sad or, and this is the worst, angry. Because angry really means afraid, and afraid really means triggered. Sometime that is who I am.
I want to tell you I know what it’s like to be playing with my kids and have to back off or even run away and lock a door between us because their tickle was twisted into a threat or that pretend kitty swipe at my face landed wrong and now my heart is lunging out of my chest and my child has grown into a giant and my body is hollow but my skin is buzzing underneath. To have to focus by covering my eyes or my ears or humming to myself some nonsense song because–and this is the really Big Worry–I don’t want to be a mom who hurts her kids, and nearly every piece of who I am is screaming at me to burn their little hearts with words so they will learn what I did: Be quiet. Hide. Stay away.
If I do that, they will learn their value is based on how much someone wants to hurt them.
I want you to know that every day I fight becoming That Mom. The same one you fight to become. The one who swats her kids’ bottoms in unprovoked irritation. The one who jerks them by the arms in the grocery story. Who hisses for them to shut up, just shut your face because whatever they have to say is inconsequential, even if it is what lights their eyes in the dark. The one who lets them know they are less desired than gum on the bottom of a shoe in summer, they are stupid little shits who will never be deserving of love. Every day I fight being this person. Some days I lose.
But, like you, I keep trying. I do whatever it takes to be better next time.
I don’t want to be what I was trained to be: angry, hateful, hurtful and constantly simmering with fear.
I don’t want to be the mother who sees red instead of my children’s smiling faces because their laughter is grating or the way they are chewing reminds me of that time a man held me down and kissed my closed mouth without asking. I don’t want to be the mom who bolts out of the room when they whisper “I love you,” my body shuddering because of that same man who forced his words into my ears along with his tongue, one arm around me like a cage, one knee between my thighs.
I don’t want to be the mama whose existence is one constant battle for control after another, but that is what I am.
I want to fight for my children, not with them. But to be the mother who fights for her babies, I have to the be the mother who constantly fights herself.
Is self-love a privilege? What about self-care? What about compassion?
Because when I snap in public, rage hulking me larger so that no one, not even my babies, will mistake me for a woman who can be held down. . .
I never want anyone to see me that way, swollen with a warrior scream aimed at kids who have nothing to do with those who trained me to believe my body and mind were for hurting, or those who swooped in later to hurt my primed body and mind.
I am a mother who loves her children more than she loves herself.
I am a mama who never stops trying even when she is shredded inside, even when trying looks like screaming and curling into a ball on the couch to sob while tremors rack my body and my children hug me and tell me it’s okay. We didn’t mean to surprise you. We won’t do that again.
I am a mom who never knows when she will go from engaged to flashback. A mom who has long, amazing periods of successful parenting followed by blips on the radar that are as terrifying as they are unpredictable.
I am a mother who doesn’t know how to be better but desperately wants to be.
I want to tell you I am a mama who can stay present and calm and mark her words so they don’t hurt any other creature the same way I was hurt day after day, year after year.
I will tell you that one day.
But today I am a mom and I’m breaking the cycle as best I can even though it feels like it will never be enough.
I am a mother who is afraid. Mostly of herself.
And I am not the only one.
Shawna Ayoub Ainslie is a coach, writer and creator of online safe spaces for artists and survivors. Her work has appeared in The Manifest-Station, Huff Post, Sacred and Subversive, [wherever] and Role Reboot. She edits The Relationship Blogger, a platform for engaging dialogue on relationships, mental health and their intersections. For more from Shawna, visit her in her online home, honeyquill.com