“A penis is a penis. They hardly ever go away.”
These are the exact words I heard from my doctor during our ultrasound, after I asked him if he was absolutely sure I was having a boy. I heard the words, but the news did not sink in for another few weeks. It was not because I wanted a girl or I was in any way disappointed. It was for one, very simple reason, I could not imagine having a boy!
You see, I am a bit of a perfectionist, so I plan, I research and I get prepared for everything I possibly can. Being informed made it very easy for me to prepare for a baby, but how do I even begin preparing to raise a little boy? Having a girl was something to which I could relate. I could see myself spending time with her over the same toys and games I enjoyed as a child, talking over problems and doubts I had as well. I grew up with one sister and I knew absolutely nothing about how boys felt and what they needed. My sweet baby, who I already loved to the moon and back, at the same time felt like a mysterious being from another planet. How would I know how to play with him, teach him or help him when he needed my advice? I played with cars sometimes when I was little myself, but this is as far as it went, so how would I cope? At this point I still had my partner at my side, so for the time being, I decided to lean on him in this department.
I felt overwhelmed and, to be honest, absolutely terrified.
I carried Julian to full-term and I fell in love with my baby boy all over again the moment I saw him, but it was not a smooth sailing with him. He was healthy and perfect but also very demanding. He was hungry all the time and wanted to be cuddled constantly. I was too exhausted and too focussed on looking after my new baby to think of anything else.
When Julian was four months old, I became a single mum under extremely strenuous circumstances and this is when it hit me again. Julian’s father was in his life, but he was no longer in mine, so when Julian was with me, I was on my own. I could barely cope with being alone with a baby who was not too fond of sleep and trying to get myself and my life back together at the same time, and now I needed to raise a little boy as well?! I felt overwhelmed and, to be honest, absolutely terrified.
When he was two, I did not feel I was bonding with Julian the way I should.
When Julian started growing up and he was just over one year old, it became very apparent to me that the stage when he favoured his father came much earlier than I ever expected. I was absolutely exhausted both physically and emotionally from looking after him and it seemed cruel that he was not thrilled to be with me and cried every time his dad dropped him back off. I was already dealing with a massive amount of rejection from my former partner and now it felt as if my baby boy did not want to be with me either. I tried my very best to fit into my idea of his needs and expectations. I played with cars, made loud noises and silly faces and when he started running, I was running with him.
When he was two, I did not feel I was bonding with Julian the way I should. I loved him the best I could, but I felt there was something missing between us. I felt like I was his caregiver and not his beloved parent. Of course a difficult situation between his father and me did not help, in fact it only added extra pressure. I could not put my finger on it, I thought I was doing everything that was expected of me, but it was not working and I was too tired and too frustrated to continue.
Once I let go of actively trying to be a worthy parent and giving my son what I thought he needed, an interesting thing happened.
One day, I thought that was it, I was happy to settle for being my baby’s babysitter, if this was how he saw me. Once I let go of actively trying to be a worthy parent and giving my son what I thought he needed, an interesting thing happened. Spending time with my boy became more and more enjoyable because I allowed myself to be me. In my eyes it was “just me”, but he did not see it this way. I loved sitting next to him when he played with his cars and it turned out that very often my presence was enough for him.
Slowly, I found my place in our relationship and I understood that I did not have to compete with his dad, or adjust to him playing, I had other things I could offer him. It took a while for us to click again, but eventually we found harmony in being us, a mum and a son. We still play with cars and trains, but in a slightly different way. I teach him how construct roads and tracks, how to put things together so they work, because as a designer this is what I am good at. We play with his animals pretending they walk their little ones to the “zoo crèche”, feed them and put them to sleep. We talk for hours, because he wants to hear about everything, not only cars and diggers. We talk about the world and emotions while he volunteers to help me clean, cook and fix things around the house. I gave him my old camera and now he grabs it every time I am using mine, so we can take photos together.
I am no longer trying to compete with anyone or consciously trying to make anyone happy.
We still do everything we did before, but I only do those things when and the way I enjoy them, too. I show my hot-headed, stubborn and strong-willed little boy how to be more patient, precise and take his time to cool off instead of getting upset and angry the moment things do not go his way. I am no longer trying to compete with anyone or consciously trying to make anyone happy, I am just enjoying time spent with my son and I absolutely love watching him grow and become a very smart and sweet little boy. The self-doubt and single-parent guilt are still there sometimes, but then I think of the wonderful moments we have together and all the things he now does himself, because I had patience to teach them to him and courage to let go and let him be more and more independent.
When I feel overwhelmed, I turn to my closest friends and family, who have been witnessing my transition from surviving to thriving, and I listen to them saying how amazing it is I spend so much time listening to my son and trying to see things from his point of view as well, so we can learn from each other and continue to co-exist dynamically, bonded with mutual love and respect, so he can grow up to be a confident adult and a loving and respectful partner. I learnt from my son that in parenting, just as in any other relationship, you need to be yourself first to be able to enjoy the other person. You need to learn from your mistakes instead of wasting your time regretting them and allow yourself to be proud of your achievements. If you stop for a moment and see yourself through your child’s eyes, you just might find most of the answers you were looking for.
Then Google the rest.
More about the Author:
DeeDee is the founder of POPUP Studio, a small, independent label where she illustrates and designs high-quality, ethical clothes, toys and accessories. As a single mum to a three-year-old boy, she knows plenty about time management and multitasking, the knowledge she shares with others on her new blog Make Life Dandy.