I finally got some time to myself. Her naps are hitting right when I’m on a break from work so suddenly I have time to nap myself, pay bills, answer emails, and even go for a walk now and then (if my husband is around). And guess what? I still feel TOTALLY ENGULFED by parenthood so that means, it doesn’t really have to do with time. It has to do with FEELINGS. It’s a feeling, engulfment; the sense that you are losing yourself. That someone is eating you up like a meal. That a heavy blanket of someone else’s need is slowly sucking the life out of you. THAT is what parents are up against. AND I’ve now been a Mother long enough (2 years) to know that most of the time, it’s not really about your child. Or even about parenting.
I know, argue with me if you must. Tell me how it REALLY is true that you have NO time to go inward into yourself or outward into the world. I understand that is a fact. Just trust me that engulfment is ALSO an OLD FEELING that gets set off by HAVING to show up for your child and family day after day, hour after hour without relief. If, as a child, you had a parent who made you take care of them in order for you to get love or care, then engulfment is an old, familiar, and terrifying feeling. And I mean VERY terrifying even if you were not in touch with it. If you had parents who made you spend time with people who were needy, addicted, narcissistic, or emotionally regressed (and sadly, there are many adults like this), then engulfment is what you felt when you were with these people. School could have been engulfing depending on the support or lack of it. Peers and peer pressure can be super engulfing. Anytime we felt as children we DID NOT HAVE CHOICES, there was engulfment.
Family life as a child can be similar to slavery. I know that might sound extreme but it is also true for many people. As kids, they were forced to spend time and perform and shut up and hide and help and give and witness things CONSTANTLY that were too much, inappropriate, or just plain wrong for that person. THAT is all engulfing.
So then, here you are, a parent. This small person requires LOTS of things and you suddenly don’t have the choices you had before. PLUS when you are with the little person, he/she wants your constant attention, love, interaction, and care. TRIGGERING anyone?? You begin to feel, if you don’t get away from your child’s needs, you might go crazy or start generally acting like a fucking asshole. Or maybe you already are. That’s normal.
What is my advice??? WORK EARLY. That means, find a way to explore the OLD engulfment feelings. When did they happen and how and with whom and how did you cope and what did you decide about yourself in the process? Did you learn how to distance from people and what did you use to distance, anger? Food? Computer? Self-hatred? See if you can allow some of the old feelings to be expressed. See if you can STAND to feel them and experience them as WHAT YOU USED TO FEEL. This is very hard to do. But do it.
And what about your child? My best friend told me, “When you feel engulfed, move towards the connection, not away from it.” And that is what I do now. I actually slow down and spend more focused, present time with my daughter when I’m feeling engulfed. I slow down enough to notice that she is not actually going to kill me with her need. She is not actually the original people who sucked the life out of me. She can’t hurt me, she can’t make me lose myself, she isn’t a threat to my individuality, in fact, when I stop TRYING TO GET AWAY FROM HER, she’s inviting me to get closer to myself. She’s showing me the way to stay present and awake. She is so obviously full of life and fire and joy. So if I STOP RUNNING LONG ENOUGH to notice I am safe, then closeness is the HEALING from the past, the way back to being whole.
That is my lesson for today. Let me know what happens.