You will be told that you and H have an attachment issue. You will be told this by a mental health professional you are going to for help when you are in an already vulnerable state. Your face will betray surprise and your body will flood with shame when you hear those words. You will say that you don’t see anything wrong with a strong attachment to your child, but you will feel like the words fall flat and lifeless on the floor, ineffectual with someone you will feel is taking everything you say and turning it against you. You will be asked what, exactly, it is that you are doing to foster independence in H, but it will hit you as a challenge rather than an impartial, curious inquiry. You will be told that mother-child pairs who have intense connections cause marital problems, that if your husband is contemplating leaving you, you had better listen to what he has to say and you had better do something, anything, to save your marriage. You will be told that you are drawing too tight a circle around you and H, that you need to let outside voices in. You will be told that you need to talk to H’s pediatrician about his sleep, that the doctor is the expert and knows about these things and so you have to listen. You will say that you have talked to her and that you have opted not to follow her advice in this one area, and you will feel this only further confirms the impression of you the mental health professional seems to hold. You will be told that you are viewing the world as hostile, in an us against them kind of way, and that you are lumping the mental health professional into the them when all the mental health professional wants to do is help because she cares about you. You will be told that you are reading into things and your misunderstandings of the mental health professional’s words are projections of your own distorted thoughts and feelings. You will start to feel like it does not matter what you say and so you will start to say nothing very much at all. You will be told that you are angry, that the mental health professional can see that, that she knows when she is done, and that she is sorry she has incited your ire, but she really does care about you and only wants to help. You will start packing up your belongings to go, but you will be held a moment longer. Would you like to come back in two weeks or four? you will be asked. After you have left the mental health professional’s office, you will wish that you had said you prefer not to come back at all.
Later, you will be sitting with H on your lap, his back curved snugly into your chest and your check nuzzled into the warmth of his head and the softness of his hair. Your thoughts will return to the mental health professional, and you will feel the helplessness of being told, despite your protestations, things about yourself you know not to be true. You will wonder if this is what it felt like to be a woman in the 1800s diagnosed with hysteria simply for having a uteruses and feelings. You will sense a gathering of mothers around you, mothers told they caused their children’s autism with their cold, inadequate parenting; mothers of gay sons accused of being smothering and overbearing; single mothers blamed for the crime and poverty in their neighborhoods. You will think about how mothers can be undermined and criticized for almost anything they do, how you sometimes cannot win as a mother, you are either too distant or too involved, too strict or too permissive, too affectionate or too stern, too much of this and not enough of that. You will wonder why mothers are so often criticized and blamed when there is every reason to celebrate and lift them up. You will feel the collective pain of the mothers gathered around you, because it is your pain now, too.
You will be brought back to the present moment by H. He will insist on holding your tea mug by himself to drink cold oat straw tea, and you will wonder why everyone is harping on what you are or are not doing to foster his independence. You will see it, right there, in the way he grabs your mug and pushes your hand away when you try to help. You will wonder why the gentle, respectful, responsive parenting that feels so right to you is perceived by so many to be so bad for you, for him, for your family. You will feel utterly misunderstood and alone even as you sit with one of the most important people in your life on your lap.
And then you will get up and keep going. You will continue to follow H’s lead and to trust that he knows himself and his needs best. You will breathe deeply and reorient yourself toward your core parenting values. You will work at quieting the voices that don’t serve you while at the same time tuning in to those that do. You will remind yourself that it is worth standing up for a world filled with people who have known gentleness and respect from the time they were young and who are seen for who they are and not for who someone else wants them to be. You will feel a quiet kind of strength, the kind that comes from sitting in the fire until all that is left around you is ashes. You will feel that strength rising up within you, but you will know that you are not yet as unshakably confident in yourself and your parenting as you would like to be. And so you will close your eyes, lean back into the dark, expansive universe and its brilliant points of light, each one representing everyone who ever has or ever will exist, and you will trust that you will get there.