We leave for a visit tomorrow. Nothing is packed, the laundry isn’t quite finished, and my anxiety sits somewhere above the moon—higher than high and not descending any time soon. It’s this way every time. I’m aware. This is nothing new; you’ve heard this tune before on the nights before a visit.
I’ve tried to explain visit anxiety to people in the past, but it gets all muddied and garbled in my head when I try to explain it to other family members, friends, or even my therapist. I mean, why should I feel anxious to spend the weekend with my daughter and her family? Her mom ranks as one of my best friends. The kids always seem to have a swell time together. There’s lots to do, and it’s almost always a great time even when big feelings mash their way into the events.
It’s like this.
I want my daughter to like me.
I logically understand this is a desire of most parents, no matter their title or contact with said child. I also understand that kids will, at one time or another, not really like their parents, singularly or collectively, no matter the makeup of the family.
My youngest recently told me, for the first time in my parenting career, that he hated me.
We were all joking around, poking fun and having a good time like we do. He said it and everything in the room kind paused, slipped into slow motion, and I saw my motherhood lose a little bit of its innocence. It caught me entirely off guard, having gone ten years as an everyday parent and longer as a birth parent, never having heard those words uttered in my direction. I sat there and let the joking continue while my brain processed what happened.
I know he doesn’t hate me. This is the child who tells me, all day every single day, that he loves me. That I’m beautiful. He kisses me and hugs me just because he’s walking by. I do not doubt his love or even his like. I do not doubt his older brother’s love or like, even though we’ve entered tweendom and there’s been some stomping back to his bedroom and hours spent sulking because we have rules or Brussels sprouts. I’ve been a little mystified by his sudden arm flail, hard look on his face, turn and leave maneuver, but I know he feels safe and secure under this roof. I know he knows we love him unconditionally.
I don’t know if my daughter feels safe and secure about my unconditional love.
I’ve said it to her a billion and one times. And hopefully my actions show that I love her, like when I drive through massive snowstorms or send her funny gifs via text. But I’ve read enough to know that adoption complicates things, and even if she’s sure of it right this second, she might not always feel sure about it. Questioning a parent’s loyalty and love is a normal process for any child, and adoptees just roll in some extra questions about belonging, safety, security, love, loss, and fear.
We can all talk about how lucky my daughter is until we’re blue in the face. She has all these people who love her with all of their beings, who support her in her journey. But there may come a day when she looks at me and says, “Listen. I really don’t understand why you did what you did and it makes me not like you very much.” Maybe that day is tomorrow. Maybe that day won’t come for 50 years, when we’re both old and gray. Maybe she won’t say it directly. Maybe she will.
But this is what I fear. I’ve practiced what to say, how to say it. I’ve imagined different scenarios. I’ve gone over my words. I’ve chosen them carefully. But nothing changes the fact that I couldn’t be her mom when I needed to be her mom. Everyone glosses over that fact with the statement, “You did the best you could with the information you had at the time.” Even my therapist. But if even I question why I couldn’t be her mom when I needed to be her mom, why wouldn’t she? If I still hold guilt and shame and anger against myself for such a short-coming, why wouldn’t she?
Yes, yes. I recognize the what-if line of thinking; I see my anxiety for what it is. I should just take my anxiety medicine, pack a suitcase, and roll myself into bed.
My daughter’s mom told me that my daughter looks up to me the other day. And I cried. I cried big fat tears.
I have made every choice since her birth with that hope in mind, and every choice since my sons’ birth the same way. But specifically with my daughter, I wanted her to see someone she could be proud of, who she wasn’t ashamed to say, “Yeah, that’s my birth mom,” when I’m standing with her mom at her birthday party. (Yeah, that happened.) I have worked on really hard shit in therapy so I could be a better, more whole person; a better, more whole mom. I’ve run marathons. I’ve worked really hard to succeed in my career choice. I’ve done all this stuff with one hope: that my children feel proud of their mother.
My husband said some really kind things about my parenting the other night, how patient I am with the boys regarding school and how I’ll simply sit by them for hours while they work something out. It made me feel good inside, but I questioned, aloud, if it was enough. Was it enough? Was I doing enough? Was I too hard on them when they roughhouse? Was I too anxious? Was I enough?
I’m always waiting for that other mothering shoe to drop. I’m waiting to wake up one day and realize I’m not the mother I’ve been pretending to be, that I’m some gigantic failure and the whole world knows it. And worse, my children know it and they’ll forever hold it against me. I live with that fear; I live with the fear that they’ll figure me out before I’ve figured myself out.
So yes, I get anxious before we visit my daughter. I only get small snippets of time to show her, in person, how much she means to me. I feel like I need to jam-pack all the love into 48 hours and it feels overwhelming. I fear that if I do one thing wrong, it shades the whole visit in negativity and we’ll leave without her fully understanding how deeply she is loved.
If there’s one thing I do in this life, I hope it’s that I show my kids how deeply I love each of them, how I treasure them so much. I think maybe I’m on that path. I hope to stay on it even on the coming days when they don’t like me very much.