Until I became a parent, I carried an idealized version of what “love” was supposed to be and look like. I thought it was like what I’d seen in the movies. I grew up in a house where affection was rare. It was there, but it was rare. We rarely heard an “I love you” or got hugs or time together. I don’t remember my parents ever saying they were proud of my accomplishments. Throughout my dating life, I wondered what I was doing wrong when my relationships never felt like what I’d seen portrayed in media, and instead, looked and felt like what I’d seen my parents act out as a child. I wondered why I didn’t have the “magical key” to having a loving home.
I struggled for a long time to understand the complex nature of human relationships, but when I gave birth to my daughter, I realized that love was not at all what I thought. After my daughter was born, before we really settled down into a steady place to live and I got into a rhythm as a single mom, I rented a space in the basement of some friends and got to be closer with them. In the short time I was in their space, I developed a more nuanced understanding of what it means to love.
Through getting to know one of my roommate’s struggles in parenting and relationships, I began to have a different perspective on my own situation. I started to see the gray area when it comes to parenting, relationships, and family, and it was this understanding that would lay the foundation for me to see the human complexity of my daughter’s dad later on. When I saw that complexity, it paved the way for me to let go of some of the erroneous beliefs I’d held about him.
In my first year as a parent, I realized that I could love my daughter AND be annoyed, frustrated, or angry with her. I always had a strong connection with her, but at times, that bond would feel tested and like it was hanging on by a thread. Many times, I just wanted to run away from her, but it wasn’t because I didn’t love her. It was because I just needed some space to simply “be” and not wear the “mom” costume for a while.
I decided to see if this same principle applied to my relationship with her dad when, after months of struggling and fighting with each other, we had to find a way to coexist. Over time, I began to realize that I could love him deeply, and be annoyed, frustrated, and angry with him as well. Often, our connection could feel strong one day and near-non-existent the other. Afraid to lose my personhood, I pulled away from him in an attempt to maintain some sense of freedom. I’d lost my personhood so much in motherhood, already, and was struggling to process the loss of the self I was beginning to love being.
When I realized how my approach to my daughter’s dad affected the way he reacted to me, and vice versa, I realized how much more complicated love was. To be honest, I don’t know how to deal with the complexity. That’s something I’m still learning.