The Clarity of Maternal Instinct

If you believe in God, karma, or any universal force, you will understand me when I say that I was destined to give birth to three daughters.  When I feel I am up to my eyeballs in the weeds, with no visible path toward any destination, I can focus in on my maternal compass and hack my way through to find what I need for my girls.  I was given the role of raising three girls who were to be shaped by my journey through divorcing their father and my late-found questioning of so-called common wisdom. Every second of every day, I am conscious that the choices I make feed my daughters.  I might suffer from impostor syndrome in my career, on dates, and at the gym, but I have never doubted that I am the person who can do the best job in raising my children.  I put my kids first when thinking about the impact of major life decisions such as moving or taking a new job. But I am well aware that the majority of the impact I have on my children comes from them seeing and hearing me interact in the adult world daily.

I was raised a conservative Catholic with a pretty spiritually domineering father.  He truly believes that there is a right way and a wrong way for everything, and that intelligence and faith are all that are needed to make right choices.  Ulcers and bulimia are often the legacy a father like mine has.  Although there is much more to be analyzed in why my father has such staunchly held beliefs, I have been able to accept him and still love him in knowing that he truly believes that God and hell exist and he is just trying to protect me from losing eternity.

Fearing my loss of heaven and perhaps more importantly, my father’s disappointment, I found giving up on my marriage incredibly difficult.  I had stood up in front of God and my family and vowed to stay with my husband during good times and bad.  To the girl who grew up in her father’s home, this meant that I felt I needed to suffer any indignity that was thrown my way in my marriage.  Remaining steadfast in faith was the rule I had been taught.  The conflict came when I looked into the eyes of my daughters, and I feared that I was showing them how to be walked on.

I had been hemming and hawing for years over whether I was justified in leaving my marriage, despite being left spiritually empty by constantly trying to fill my husband’s bottomless bucket.  The internalized rules of God and my dad were always tapping me on the shoulder telling me to just be strong and turn the other cheek.   Other people could break their vows, but I was better than that; I just needed to put up with the bad times, even if I never got any good times to balance things out.

I remember telling my therapist that I felt I was walking around with a sign saying “SOMEONE PLEASE PAY ATTENTION TO ME” painted across my forehead, because it was as if other men could read my desperation for any morsel of emotional sustenance to keep me going.  All kinds of men seemed to come out of the woodwork to tell me how beautiful/intelligent/ energetic/sexy/talented/etc. I was.  Oh and that they’d really like to show me how well I deserved to be treated.  I was emotionally savvy enough to have not taken the bait, but God, it was a cruel reminder of how I was wasting my life on the the one person who was supposed to feel that way about me but didn’t.

And then, one day, while playing paper dolls with my girls, I heard how they were role playing a married couple.  The “dad” was essentially a buffoon who didn’t understand anything that was really going on and was too busy playing on the computer to do anything fun with the kids.  The “mom” did all the work, had all the fun with the kids, and just rolled her eyes at anything the “dad” said.  Duh.  Sometimes it was that easy and a two-part revelation hit me:

(1)  If one of my daughters came to me in her late thirties, with kids and an emotionally immature mama’s boy-husband who was giving nothing to her but heartache- what would I tell her?  The answer to me was fast and clear:  “Get out immediately.  Your life is far too precious to be spent trying to mother a so-called man”; and

(2) If I didn’t take my own advice, and love myself the way that I love my children, they would be being modeled the opposite of what they needed to know:  that they can’t do all the emotional work and shouldn’t be condemned to a life with a buffoon.

So I left the marriage.  I gained my freedom in realizing that leaving was a gift I gave my daughters, so that they could play paper dolls where the “dad” paid attention to the “mom” instead of ignoring her.  I wrote the story with myself as the main character to allow my daughters to make the choice of themselves, their sanity and their emotional well-being, should they need that example at any point in their future.  I gave them the example of breaking rules that left them empty and imbalanced.  And I feel that in doing so, I undid an important knot of a tangled mess I otherwise would be passing onto my children.  Thank God, karma or the universal force for the clarity of my maternal compass.

One thought on “The Clarity of Maternal Instinct

  1. beautifully described: “I undid an important knot of a tangled mess I otherwise would be passing onto my children.” The ‘maternal compass’ is a very real thing indeed 🙂 Somehow before motherhood it felt like I could ignore my compass and doubt it all the time. But the maternal compass is so much stronger because you’re protecting not only yourself but someone else as well.


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