Sometimes I fear the closeness between mother and child

September 10 | Guest post by Koalani Roberts-Fodor
Photo by Koalani.
My son notices me in such intimate detail that it terrifies me at times.

J smells a new soap on my skin, whether I've eaten a cinnamon candy or a mint, or if there is a bit too much makeup on and my face has that slightly powdery smell that too much makeup can have. He smells that, and asks me about it. He'll tell me if it smells good, or bad, or he doesn't care at all but was just noticing it anyways.

It's been an uncomfortable adjustment to motherhood, this reality that not even if I wanted to, and don't we all want to, sometimes, I can't hide myself from him. Growing a person inside you, birthing them out into the world, it was heavy stuff for me. I wanted it, without a doubt, but I had no idea how much I'd crave being alone.

J likes my hair down, not in a ponytail or clip. In part this is just his preference, but in part it's that I put my hair up when I run or play tennis, and while he doesn't mind me leaving, of course he does. He covets my closeness, the security of me always being right there even when my skin is crawling with the nearness of people wanting me, needing me, talking to me, loving me.

With a partner, a spouse, a romantic love, we always have space, distance, and a whisper of breath between the two. We're able to communicate our boundaries, our needs for bodies and minds. But with a baby, well, we have no control, not at first anyways. They start inside of us, actually physically almost touching our hearts. When they roll, we roll. When they hiccup, we hiccup. We are entirely separate, mother and child, but we share a body. Then they're born of us, eat and sleep at our breast, explore in our arms, attached. As J crawled then walked then ran then climbed then explored I was so happy, every time, for that space between us. And yet no matter how far I travel, miles or overnights or weekends away, we're always connected. I feel his presence inside me, as if he is still rolling in my belly, as if his tiny kicks are still fluttering in my chest. And I love that intimate bond, but I hate it. I love the closeness of mother and child, but I despise it, I'm freaked out by it, I'm panicked, almost, by how much I need to keep parts of myself for me, just only for me, secret to everyone but myself.

J comments when I put the sapphire studs in my ears instead of the pearls. He'll say that he likes the pearls better, and why am I wearing earrings all of a sudden anyways. When summer came after our long, grey winter and I put on a sundress for the first time all year he said, "I love that dress mom, I love it! You look pretty!" And I knew that I was.

That's the beautiful part of intimacy, to be seen by another exactly as we see ourselves. I sometimes think that having a son (or, I'm sure, a daughter) is like getting to re-live those first years of love with your partner, those years where everything you do is perfection, everything you say is poetry.

J notices when I'm brooding, or moody, or feeling low. He never asks how I am, but always comes over and says, "Mom, hey mom, look at me, what is one word I could say right now that will make you smile, like this?" And he smiles a very big Cheshire cat grin, and if that doesn't make me smile, we say "penis" and that makes us both laugh and restores the order of things.

I'm scared that one day I'll disappoint him with my imperfections, my secrets, my realities. I'm scared of the day when he no longer sees me with those beautiful baby eyes that tell me I'm the moon and the sun and the sea and the fairy princess. But I'm also scared to never have myself back again, to never be alone with my thoughts, alone in my body, alone in my mind. We are of flesh and blood, tied together, after all. It's a delicate balance between affection and autonomy, devotion and freedom. The intimacy of this mothering life gives me strength, it fulfills me, but it drains me in equal part.

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  1. This. This is gorgeous. I'm so happy to have read this. Thank you. πŸ™‚ Fantasies about the ability to deeply think.. deeply experience something OTHER than children, which has been the most raw, the deepest thing I have felt. I wonder if I will feel shallow when I finally do get that time to be inside myself. I wonder.

    1 agrees
    • Oh I've thought that too! I dream of having him disappear for just 5 minutes just to see what my brain fills with, and then I dream of how horribly terribly wrong the world would be for me to not have myself filled with him. It's one of the weirdest things of mothering for me. I wonder if any fathers feel this, or how they translate these types of feelings.

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  2. This gave me goosebumps. I love it. My eldest is only 2 so I'm still loving the insane closeness, but I know they'll come a time when it gets claustrophobic and I'll want space. I love how this piece captures the (sometimes uncomfortable) intensity and the joy of that bond. Wonderful

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    • Thank you for reading it and enjoying it. I will say that for me, this feeling sort of grew as he grew. Mostly as he grew his emotional intelligence, and learned to press my buttons, the bad and the good.

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  3. WOW! I am pregnant now and have been having some similar thoughts. thank you for putting the fears and rewards into words so eloquently. This was beautiful.

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    • Same here. I am a pretty introverted person and – although I've always had friends and enjoyed being around them – I also always needed and loved time alone. Same with my husband now, I appreciate that we give each other lots of space to be ourselves.
      So naturally, I am both very much looking forward to meeting our son, and also a little bit scared that it will consume me more than I bargained for. I just hope that I can respond to it with all the patience that will be needed.

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      • I think we find the patience. And on the days we don't, we just try to forgive ourselves and realize that it's all very hard and very complicated and very ok. But you grow together, parents and child. So that part is amazing.

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    • Thank you. I wish I'd read more when I was pregnant about both the rewards and fears. I felt emotionally unprepared, the first year.

    • Me too.

      I am decidedly introverted and I have always needed to have lots of quiet time alone, away from people, even the people I love and enjoy and need, in order to maintain my sanity. If I don't get it, I get exhausted and irritable and resentful.

      As much as I am looking forward to being a mom, I am also terrified of having a tiny person near me and needing me all the time. How will I have time to be just me? How will I have time to relax and decompress? How will I keep from resenting my child for always being there, always needing something from me?

      It's comforting to know that I'm not alone in that.

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  4. Glad to know I'm not alone. My son is still young, but I can see this kind of relationship between my sister and her son. He always asks us "are you okay?" when we have the littlest look of insecurity/sadness/frustration. It's sweet, but it's hard to separate that level of attention and affection from one person while maintaining realistic expectations for your friends and your partner.

    Through reading this I'm beginning to understand just why moms love their sons so much.. it's because of all of these little moments while they grow up. Thanks for a wonderful article!

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    • You know.. I don't know from experience, because I also have a son, but I don't think this is just a mother-son thing. Other people will need to chime in, but surely mothers and daughters share this, as well as fathers and sons/fathers and daughters..?

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      • I am curious, too, what fathers experience in this realm. I'm always surprised in my own marriage that my husband does not understand what I'm talking about, when I talk about this closeness and just get the hell away from me and let me be battle raging at times. So at least for him, he does not get that from a parenting standpoint, though he very much does from a marital standpoint.

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        • Some of it may be linked to being a primary caregiver too? My husband is a full time stay at home dad, and I know he gets "touched out" and needs alone time.

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      • I have a just over a year old daughter- yesterday when I was walking around in underpants she kept pointing at my underpants, so I figured she wanted to inspect the lace/bow on them. My underpants are her favourite things ever.

        But no, I went to let her inspect then and she tugged them down and promptly poked me in the clitoris laughing like crazy.

        Daughters can definitely get a liiiiittle to much into your space.

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        • Ooh, it could be a primary caregiver thing. I know my husband and I both express similar sentiments from time to time, but we evenly split childcare.. so that makes sense. At least in the context of my life, but I'm super curious to know about others.

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    • I think maybe it's a little bit different for sons than daughters, just, for me, my son notices those types of previously considered "romantic" things that have been noticed by men, the smells, the nuances of mood, the preferences for hairstyles. But I would imagine there are very similar "noticings" that happen with girls and moms, too, that bring up all these same feelings.

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      • I wonder if it's also the first child thing? I have no idea, since my firstborn is a son, but whether it's this time where we're thrust into a new role and relationship with a tiny person who does all the noticing? I'd be interested to read mothers of daughters, or ones where they notice this with the multiple children in their family.

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  5. This made me lose all my words… Amazing. I remember being in the last few weeks of pregnancy and just feeling like I was carrying around a parasite. GET IT OUT! Then he was born and it was amazing… I've never been so enchanted by anything. I was excited to go back to work and regain that sense of self but that feeling of walking through the door at home and a beaming child being just as excited to see you as you are him is unreal. Thank you for a really cool article!

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    • Thank you!!! I'm so glad this is resonating with you all! I honestly thought a little bit like I'd write this and the crickets would sound with people wondering what I was talking about. πŸ™‚

    • Thank you for this comment — I'm in my final weeks of pregnancy (due in 16 days) and while I know I'm supposed to be enjoying pregnancy… I'm just really ready for it to be OVER. It's mostly selfish, because I desperately want my body to belong to me again, but it's also because I'm ready to be a PARENT, not a pregnancy. I'm so ready to experience the real connection I'm going to have with my baby (besides laughing at her hiccups/ grimmacing when she kicks me).

      I'm just relieved that wanting to not be pregnant doesn't make me a worse mommy-to-be.

      3 agree
      • I'm not sure how you're "supposed" to feel, but I have heard the sentiment over and over from women late in their pregnancies. So I think that it's really common to be ready to be DONE with pregnancy by the end.

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        • Uh, I think we're all "done done" in that last month. Pregnancy was beautiful and magical and wonderful until just one day, it was not. And then you know you're about to become a mommy! πŸ™‚

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      • Oh gosh, I don't think anyone would ever think not wanting to be pregnant anymore makes you worse of anything! The last month is a bitch! For me, I really didn't like the first 6 months of parenting. And I felt like that made me a "bad mom." But then I sort of loved the terribles, much as they make me anxious and concerned for my sanity, they make sense, a bit, and I find comfort in that.

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      • I think it's biological – a way for your body to prepare you physically and mentally for the birth. You are so over being preggo that the birth itself doesn't seem so daunting. :0)

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  6. …. I needed this. I -needed- this. I needed to know that I wasn't the only one and that it wasn't a failing on my part that sometimes I feel like my children are smothering me, even though I love them endlessly.

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    • And thank you! It makes me feel so much more, I don't know, connected with motherhood, to hear other people describe the same feelings. Fear can be so lonely, and in some ways love can be so lonely, can't it?

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  7. I wonder if this will happen to me.
    My husband is extremely observant and attentive, he too notices my hair, makeup, earrings, mood, soap, perfume, flavor of chapstick, etc., to a degree no one else does or ever has. I wonder at times if we are too "co-dependant", but we're happy so I leave it at that. I wonder if I will feel that panicky smothered-ness that I have read about many new moms experiencing, or if by now I am so used to observations as expressions of love that I won't.
    I can't wait to find out πŸ™‚

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  8. Yes! You said things I feel but haven't been able to articulate. Thank you. Motherhood is so intense, it's opened all these little doors to human experience I didn't know was there.

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    • Wow, thank you for reading and enjoying. Motherhood is nothing like I expected, and I had my baby in my later 30s, so thought I had it all figured out. It is intense, dude. Intense. πŸ˜‰

  9. oh. my. god. this is so fucking brilliant that I found myself holding my breath while reading it. I really resonated with this:
    "I'm scared of the day when he no longer sees me with those beautiful baby eyes that tell me I'm the moon and the sun and the sea and the fairy princess. But I'm also scared to never have myself back again, to never be alone with my thoughts, alone in my body, alone in my mind."

    At 20 months old, I am just now feeling like my son is becoming less a part of me and more a part of himself and the world, and I love it and am terrified by it at the same time. Thanks for putting it all so eloquently.

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    • Wow. Thank you for reading and responding. Love and terror. Those are themes for me too. πŸ™‚

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  10. My first child is now a 5 yo kindergartener. I have always tried to explain this feeling and this is what I have come up with: he is the jealous boyfriend that I would have dumped in a heartbeat in my life before him. But I love him so much I'd never dump him.

    1 agrees
    • Oh! That is perfect, the jealous boyfriend! That is it exactly! I would never put up with this kind of scrutiny and intensity from a romantic love, but when it's your kid, oh, different ballgame, isn't it. And that's where it gets sticky. I love that.

  11. Thank you so much for writing this. My little Maya is 7 weeks old and I must admit that I look forward to feeling like her mother and not just her milk machine/diaper changer. I find she wants to spend a lot of her time staring at walls and windows and it makes me fear that she will never feel connected to me the way your J does. Sometimes it even feels like one of those school yard crushes where I couldn't possibly love her more and she doesn't even know I'm alive. I just keep telling myself that her side of the bond will come, that one day she will express that I am her world, and that scares me just as much. My partner swears that the few times I have left her with him to run an errand that even if full, clean and rested she is inconsolable, that he thinks she can tell I'm gone. I have a hard time buying it. When did you all start to feel the bond went both ways? How long before I'm mommy and not just a pair of boobs?

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    • I felt this too up until about 5 months when something just clicked. My son has always been very interested in the world around him and at first it seemed like he didn't really connect with me. But it all changed at 5 months and I finally had that falling in love stage that really felt like it went both ways. My mothers group was shocked to hear that I felt this at 5 months rather than birth, and I was a bit shocked too considering how deeply wanted this baby was. But my son and I now have an amazing bond that makes the primary carer role SO much easier.

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  12. If I'm being totally honest, I don't think I fell in love with him until he was older than 1. Probably closer to 2. I didn't even like being a mother until he was about 5 or 6 months, those early months for me were just filled with fear and anxiety and expectations that I didn't think I was meeting. Then I "got it" and it became much easier and more natural, but I still felt more, I don't know, responsible rather than in love. Does that make sense? I think it's really important for women to know that we all fall in love differently. Like, some girls will never, ever, ever fall in love at first sight with a man, and sometimes you don't do it with your child, either. But you always do, in the end. It's your love. Noone else should say how it's supposed to happen.

    1 agrees
  13. I know a gazillion people have said this already, but I was so glad you wrote this! I am terrified of this, as well. I cherish my own space so much, and I don't want to lose it, and my sense of self, when my child is born.

    But sooooooooooooo much of all the parenting stuff out there seems to imply that my kid is ALL I SHOULD WANT or should be MY ONLY INTEREST that whenever I read something like this it's a huge relief.

    I also loved the "being a mother isn't the most interesting thing about me" article Ariel wrote a while back…. I could read lots more of that sort of thing! Lots more about how to preserve identity as a new parent . . .

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  14. I lost it for a while, but I found it again. Hold tight in the first few months, and be ok with "losing" it for a bit. That article sounds great, I'll search the site for it!

  15. this really resonated. and i didn't even grow my son in my body – he's adopted. but i so get the feeling of panic sometimes when i think i will never have myself to myself again! have been struggling with this lately so nice to know others experience it too. thanks!

    1 agrees
    • With an adopted child, did you feel like you were "in love" right away, or did it take a while? I always felt during my first year of mothering that it was so unfair that I was expected to love him right away. I just, like, I wanted a chance to get there on my own without everyone telling me I must be already.

      • i did feel "in love" mostly right away, but i felt like i had a connection to him before he got here, you know? i do understand your feeling, though, and maybe some of what i struggle with is similar but i just haven't named it in that way. don't know if that makes any sense.

  16. Yes, absolutely…this could be about me & my daughter. Sometimes it seems like she thinks we are actually the same person, particularly at night when she presses herself against me like she's trying to get inside again. She's happy & independent but somehow so close. And I love the intimacy yet feel suffocated by it, from minute to minute. Weirdly, she also doesn't like me to wear my hair up! I've never worked out why.Although now she's almost 4 she's getting to mind less.

    3 agree
    • Yes. My kid is sooo independent, which is why I panic almost a bit more with the closeness, like, wait, wait, I thought you were out there in the world, go away, no come back. I try to imagine it from his point of view, which I'm sure is exactly the same – I want to grow up, no I'm afraid of growing up, no let me do it myself, no why won't anyone help me anymore. And in the middle are all the normal human emotions on both sides.

      1 agrees

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