There are a zillion and five ways to tell someone you love them. Obviously, there is simply saying I love you. We learn the word love long before we know what it means. By that I mean, we know how to say it and what it implies but until we experience love, we don’t REALLY know. I believe love starts with being a parent. It feels as though that may be the chicken before the egg, sort of, but to me, it’s true. We love our siblings, if you have any, and you love your parents, theoretically and hopefully, so we have a general idea of what it means to love. Until that moment that you hold your child for the first time, whether that be after months of pregnancy and days/hours of labor, or months of searching and signing and flying and preparing, when your child, the child you will raise and care for, is placed in our arms, we don’t know shit. Loving a child is loving your parents, and loving your spouse. It is in the raising of the child that you appreciate the sacrifices your parents gave for you, the full understanding of unconditional love becomes apparent. Love finally has a meaning, a feeling that a person can get behind and understand. It isn’t just casting a love ya at someone the same way you might throw them their keys the left behind. At the moment you fall in love with your child, you also realize how to truly love others.
In my experience as a parent, and I raised a child to become a drug addict so maybe my opinion doesn’t matter, that I have learned that I tell my children I love them in ways that they will not understand until they have children of their own. Saying I love you comes in the form of curfews, rules, positive reinforcements for good grades, and consequences for poor grades. It comes in the form of school pictures that are ordered by the trillion though one ends up on the wall, one in the wallet and the rest in a drawer. It’s in the anger at them for having me worry when they don’t answer their phone, in the pride when they accomplish something they worked hard at even if that is something as small as a warped ceramic bowl which becomes the best Christmas present you ever got. It’s wanting to beat the crap out of the seven-year old punk that made fun of their backpack on the bus. I have learned that the ways I tell my children I love them sometimes come across as contradictory.
I have been fortunate that inasmuch as I have never heard any of children say I hate you. None of my step-children have ever said that, either! That doesn’t mean they don’t think it. I’m sure when I have taken phones, punished from cars, grounded from dances, or taken away screens there have been moments when they have hated me to the very core of who they were. I hope they never feel guilty for that. If they hated me, I was doing my job. That has never been truer, than dealing with an addict child. There have been so many incidents, so many episodes that have started or ended with me doing something that seemed to defy my maternal instinct. When my children were young and sick and in the hospital, I could not imagine in any lifetime that I would leave them alone, and go home to get some sleep. The first time we spent all night at the hospital AC slept in the car while I sat in a plastic chair next to her, reading from the basic text even though she was knocked out. By the fourth and fifth time, I couldn’t stay all night. I had to think about keeping my job, and getting the other kids to school. It felt like picking sides. One child that is sick and in need, but in an effed up way- did it to herself, or the other two who are still young and need their mother. Guess what? They all need their mother but I can’t astral project so to be in two places at once so I have to take a stance. Make a choice. And coming home to be with my other children is showing them I love them too. It’s not a fair world that makes a mother make such a choice but no one said life was fair.
That is just one example. There a ton. More than I would like to count. And that doesn’t even speak to the nights I lay awake staring at the ceiling wondering if I made the right choices. When you toss your kid to the street, even if she begs to stay, there are no words that can comfort a mother from that. Am I really saying I love you when I say get out? Is there really a subliminal message of caring and feeling that someday we will both be able to recognize? Yes. It doesn’t feel like it, but it’s there. Sometimes taking a stand against something you can’t support that harms your child is the only thing you can do. It doesn’t feel like that. If feels like being torn in two. It reminds me of Solomon and the two women. The women went to Solomon to make the decision regarding whom the baby truly belonged too. The real mother loved her child, and wanted to raise her child, and didn’t want to see harm come to her child so she was willing to sacrifice to ensure the child’s safety. My situation is not that extreme, though sometimes it feels like it. I enjoyed having her back at the house. I loved being able to have her around, but when I recognize that I can’t provide a safe place for her, I can’t let her stay. Old habits die hard, and come back quick. It is way too easy for her to fall back to old ways. And not just her. Me too. Let us not forget that behind every addict is an enabler. It’s depressing. It’s disgusting. It feels hopeless sometimes. But facts are facts. This is how it is.
I am showing her I love her by supporting her clean decisions. By not supporting other decisions. By recognizing that I may not be the best person to help her. That I can’t be unbiased. I can only see things as desperate attempts to save her life, and she probably sees them as desperate attempts to rule her life, and maybe at times of addiction that isn’t far from the truth. At times of active addiction I want to control every move she makes to stop her from making poor choices but the truth is that our choices, poor or otherwise, are our individual decisions and I can’t not control her or anyone for that matter. I can only control my reaction to her decisions. And sometimes my actions mean taking a step back. Sometimes it means being a spectator in what could be the worst show of my entire life, but only she knows if she is on borrowed time or not. Like it or not this is my life and this is what we have to deal with. I may not make all the right decisions all the time, and I certainly know parenting doesn’t come with instructions with a section about addiction but I know I love my daughter.