The Mother I Was, the Mother I Am, and the Mother I Wish I Could Be

Brian and Carter have gone to bed, closing out a day that I’d just as soon have skipped. There was yelling today. Also some stomping on the stairs, several episodes door slamming, and, of course, the requisite cursing.

I wish I could say that all the bad behavior belonged to the small person who has good reasons for being unable to manage his feelings, but sadly, no. Brian and I took turns getting down in the dirt and acting like jerks, too.

There were always days like this, days when parenting seemed like a shit job that for which I was simultaneously over-and-under qualified.

Then Carter came and I was, suddenly, out of my depth in almost every minute.

It’s been about 4,492,800 minutes since Carter was born and I think I’ve felt lost, overwhelmed, and/or afraid during at least 4,492,350 of those minutes.

Before Carter came, we taught our kids not to use what we called “rude words.” The list of rude words included all the usuals — fuck, shit, damn, bitch, ass, and all racial/homophobic/gender slurs —plus stupid and hate. Nobody used any of those words in our house unless the kids were asleep (except the slurs; nobody uses those, ever).

Now, it’s a rare and wonderful day when Carter doesn’t call me a fucking asshole or a stupid shit head. He can stomp up the stairs, scream I hate you, and slam his bedroom door with enough drama to put any hormone-flooded fifteen-year-old to shame.

With Jacob, Abbie, and Spencer, I carefully, methodically, taught them to identify their feelings and name them. When they were tiny, I started with the four simplest: mad, sad, scared, happy. As they grew, I added more nuanced emotions: lonely, disappointed, excited. They learned to speak their own feelings and even to identify the feelings of others. One of my proudest moments was when Jacob, about 5 at the time, said, “I think you’re mad, Mommy. Is that why you’re yelling? Are you mad?” (Proud of him; not so much proud of my own yelling self.)

Now, when I name Carter’s feelings, I only escalate the situation. “Quit saying I’m angry you stupid fucking bitch!” In the moment when he says that, I hate myself for the anger that thumps in my chest.

I love him. Dear God, how I love him, my boy, my heart, my lovely and precious child. But in that moment, I can see my hand rising, feel the sting as it connects with his face. Redness and swelling and bruises.

I have never, but the wanting…God forgive me because the wanting feels like doing, and my brain knows it’s not the same but my heart is confused.

Our house was full of angry words this weekend. We added a new medicine two months ago and it worked — Carter’s agitation and anxiety (the things that drive much of his fury) decreased significantly. The medicine also made him fatigued and nauseous and caused him to have a migraine nearly everyday, so of course we had to stop.

And now I’m a stupid fucking bitch again.

Every smallest anxiety feels like life-or-death to Carter. This morning, unable to find one of his shoes, he wailed and hyperventilated as if there was a hungry, salivating tiger loose in the house. The sounds of his fear startle me, cause my blood pressure to rise, and then I am filled with anger.

And then I feel ashamed. Because I am angry at a little boy with a serious illness. I am angry at symptoms, like being angry at a child with the flu for sneezing or being angry at a child with cancer for growing a tumor.

I took him to school this morning. He cried all the way there as if the plan was to drop him into a piranha-infested river instead of at the school he loves. When he was screaming at the door, “Mommy, no! I can’t do it! I need you!”, all I could think was, “Six hours. Get that kid’s ass through that door and into the school and I’ll have six hours of freedom.”

I was far, far (far!) from the ideal mother before Carter joined us, but I was never so utterly devoid of compassion for any of my children.

I don’t know how to find it again when he bucks and struggles against me the way he does.

Four hours now. Four hours to reset myself. Four hours to find a well of patience and compassion inside me before I have to pick him up from school. This is the worst kind of counting the minutes, when I am dreading being with my own child.

This is not the mother I wanted to be.

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46 thoughts on “The Mother I Was, the Mother I Am, and the Mother I Wish I Could Be”

  1. I know you KNOW this, but I’m saying it anyway. Most of the things that teach what we need to teach to our neurotypical children do not work with a-typical. Even if you’d been frigging Carol Brady it wouldn’t have worked. Please, please do not feel shame for being overwhelmed by the overwhelming.

    See? Knew you knew it. Said it anyway.

    Also, I don’t know why this never occurred to me before now, but are there treatment centers anywhere near you for children who have had brain injuries? I know there’s been discussion of him possibly having a perinatal stroke event. And so much of what you describe is consistent with a brain injury. I just wondered…so much of his treatment has to focus on his behavior and medical concerns, are there resources that may be untapped from a neuro standpoint?

    1. Unfortunately, we can’t get an official dx of perinatal stroke or brain injury because it isn’t verifiable by MRI, CAT scan, etc. Insurance won’t cover treatment based on the neuro saying, “This is probably a brain injury.” Same reason he can’t get OT, PT, and half the other services he needs.

      Because if it’s invisible, it doesn’t exist, right? Ugh.

  2. Adrienne

    This—>I have never, but the wanting…God forgive me because the wanting feels like doing, and my brain knows it’s not the same but my heart is confused.<—-

    Is so profound for me.

    I had to go through that so much with my daughter. Wow the memories that triggers.

    Once my completely docile english setter put her teeth on my ankle because I was shaking with the desire to choke my daughter. Somehow my dog could tell I needed a little wake up call.

    I did decide sometimes my daughter needs to see how frustrated I am. She needs to realize that I am human and have feelings too.

    I yelled "Stay away from me!" more than once. She had the habit of following me around while she raged.

    I don't know really what I am trying to say. I guess "thank you" for showing me I was not the only mother who ever felt this way.

    so thanks

    that is all

    1. Wow. Kudos to your dog, huh?

      No, you’re not the only one. Far, far from it. Although knowing that there are so many of us somehow doesn’t make it feel any less awful in the moment, does it?

      I’ve locked myself in the bedroom more times than I can count, which only serves to increase Carter’s panic exponentially but sometimes it’s the only way. Sometimes there’s nothing I can do to make it better. I hate that.

  3. Adrienne, It is strange to think that we can love our kids so much but sometimes need nothing more than to just get them into the school so we can be alone. I don’t claim to know what it’s like for you, but I do know what it’s like for me with a little girl with Aspergers who has catastrophic reactions to life and rages that are only somewhat controlled by medication. The days I finally got her into the school that I would come home and sit and cry. She is such a loving girl until she turns on me, and as the frontline I am her primary target. It’s not much fun to be a mom with a bullseye. Thanks for writing so I can read and know I am not the only one. It helps.

    1. Oh, it’s SO true. Yes, I wear a bullseye on my back. Perfect description.

      Yeah, all parenting is difficult. I never thought it was easy, even with my NT kids, but this? Sometimes I feel like I’m being crushed by all of it, you know?

  4. Love and hugs. I think we all have days, moments that we look at ourselves and don’t measure up to the parenting ideal we had before we were faced with the tough days. I just hope that you can find forgiveness for yourself.

  5. Adrienne,
    You are a wonderful mother with a difficult situation. Do not fault yourself for that. You do the best that you can and you take care of your child despite the difficulties. I’m sorry it’s hard for you and your family. But don’t doubt yourself, ever.

  6. I thought I’d had a tough afternoon until I read this. It wasn’t anything like what you describe. But, this stood out to me:

    “And then I feel ashamed. Because I am angry at a little boy with a serious illness. I am angry at symptoms, like being angry at a child with the flu for sneezing or being angry at a child with cancer for growing a tumor.”

    I was so angry today at my daughter about something she has no control over. Then, I felt guilty for being angry about it. It’s a sucky feeling. And I’m sorry you’ve had to feel it, too.

  7. Sigh.

    We’re only human. You’re not perfect. You’ll never be. Neither will I. Sucks, but we can only do what we can do, and realize that some days we’re better at it than others.

    1. Thanks, Chrisa.

      Do you ever feel at war with yourself? Like too many incompatible things are true all at once? I don’t know how to love him as much as I do and be so angry, too. I wish I could wipe away the anger, but of course, that’s not possible.

  8. I have no word, but to say that I’m sorry. For all of you. That you have to struggle this hard. I hope Carter and you find the way to the people who will help him.

  9. Ditto. To all of that.

    Some days I’m so angry that I have to lock myself in my room and distract myself with anything – then I feel bad about indulging in whatever distraction and hiding from the family. I told my doctor today that I wake up most days thinking “I just want to die” and then I get up and do life anyways.

    Shaun took the kids to therapy tonight so at least for a couple of hours, I can live without the laser-beam eyes of hatred that make it MY fault that HE forgot HIS HOMEWORK at school. Oh, and I’m evil because homework time is for homework and not toys, even if your homework is at school and you got a 49 on your progress report.

    We’re human and we do what we can with what we have.

    1. God, yes. It’s like it seeps into your bones, and no matter how much you know that it’s NOT you, still, you can only hear a thing so much and not start to believe it.

      And yeah, I’m evil for lots of reasons, the primary one being that I won’t share my water with my backwashing son. That something so small is worthy of so many emotional fireworks blows my mind.

  10. I understand where you’re coming from on this…altho from a subdued perspective.

    As far as I know, my stepdaughter is neurotypical…altho her mother has some rather significant issues (bipolar & borderline personality disorder with some assorted other stuff thrown in for fun) so it’s possible that Princess may have inherited some of that. Suffice it to say, she is a difficult child.

    I understand the wanting you described. I have had dreams where I have hit her or choked her (only dreams – and I have never admitted to those before this moment). I have never, ever had violent dreams like that before. It scares me.

    And I don’t have the love for her that you have for Carter. She came into my life as a really obnoxious 2+ year old and just brought gobs of chaos with her…so developing an attachment to her? has been really, really hard.

    It’s not the same thing as you cope with every day…but I think I get where you’re coming from. And I wish you strength & peace. Truly I do.

    1. Oh, wow. See, we’ve often talked about this. We’re a blended family and Brian and I have both said that we can’t imagine Carter having a step-parent. He’s so difficult, even with the bond. If my stepson had even 10% of Carter’s issues, I don’t know how I would manage it.

      I have rough dreams, too. Just the other night, I dreamed that Carter (8 1/2 in the dream, just as he is in real life) was forcing me to breastfeed him. I don’t need Freud to tell me that I feel like my kid is sucking the life right out of me.

      Wishing you peace & strength, too, babe. Hang in there.

  11. Ohhhhh, babe. Have so been there. Am frequently there. All the way down to the “I hate you’s” and the “I wish you were dead’s” and the slamming doors and the screaming at school dropoff, counting the nanoseconds to a few hours of sanity. There are days I love going to work, not because I love my job that much (well, I do, pretty much, but…) but because it is 10 hours that someone else has to deal with my angry, screaming, anxious, hitting child.

    And I love them both with every fiber of my being. So if you are a bad mother, if you are not the parent that you wanted to be, we’re sharing a seat on the same couch.

    Hugs to you, I’m sorry your weekend and your day were so trying.

    1. Yes! I never say this to him because, you know, marriage is not a competition or anything, but I am often VERY jealous of Brian because he gets to leave the house and work 10 hours a day.

      If we’re sitting on the same couch, that can’t be so bad. How come we can be so generous with others and not with ourselves? I’ll never get why that’s so hard.

  12. I’ve been there so many times. The rages, the swearing, the destruction – the not leaving me alone for even 1 second just so I could calm myself down. The crying and sobbing when I tried to take him to school. My dreading the end of the school day, not knowing how to make it through those witching hours. For years and years we lived with that. He still does it now but not nearly the same – but its only been a few months on the new med that made most of it stop, so I am also very aware it could all start again at any moment. I just wanted you to know, like so many other mom’s have told you here – you are not alone.

  13. I hear your pain and confusion – and I know just how you feel. Today, I too screamed and shouted. My nearly 21 year old has bipolar; diagnosed at age 12, and medicated, but she just MUST have control of every situation. I was trying to add some names to her resume – in a great rush – and just needed five minutes to complete the task, but she wanted to stand over me and tell me how to do it. And I yelled; she came back again and again; she just would not let me get on with the task. I am not proud of myself – I have tried to be a good mother to her, but again and again I erupt when her behaviour clashes with me/my actions. I will add your situation to my prayer list, and pray for strength for you and me, and all the other parents out there who face daily challenges.

    1. Agh! Yeah, that would push me over the edge, too.

      See? How can I understand YOUR frustration, but not my own?

      And yes, this need to control every situation is beyond beyond beyond any aggravation I’ve ever experienced.

  14. I’m right there with you. Parenting a child with a mental illness is so difficult, but we do it because who else would love our kids the way we do? Mine is often so unlikable and destructive that I can’t see him ever having a relationship that would last.

    Aftere I read your post I said to myself, “at least she has 6 hours while Carter is at school.” Because my bipolar/adhd/ocd/odd son graduated 2 years ago, has not even gotten a job, refuses to discuss college, and is home with me 24/7 where I am his verbal punching bag. 6 hours a day sounds like a gift! 🙂

    1. Oh, wow. Yes, my 6 hours a day is totally a gift! Last year when he was extremely ill we had to pull him out of school and home school for awhile. It worked, and I’m glad we did it, but holy cow was it intense!

  15. Are you kidding? I’ve wanted to hug him and smack the daylights out of him simultaneously more tines than I can count. The messed up part is that when I feel that way all I can do is walk away. Or cry.

    1. Thanks, Chrisa. It’s good, at least, to know that my feelings aren’t so unusual.

      I know that things will be better if I stop being so hard on myself, but it’s sure not easy to make that happen!

  16. Oh my gosh that sounds hard Adrienne. It’s been a while for me on this type of scenario from but we have been there. What do they say about getting another med? Poor Carter. He really struggles. Hugs to you.

    1. Thanks, Meg. We don’t know yet about another med. We had to dc this one and make sure it wasn’t a lithium side effect before we can talk about a new one. You know how it is – we have to avoid making an indecipherable soup of side-effects. Slow and safe is better, but wow, can it be hard!

  17. I can’t say anything more than ‘I understand’.
    I have those same days. And it’s shocking how fast my own anger can come in reaction to the behaviors.
    You never imagine yourself being ‘that parent’. But it’s hard when life with your child seems like one long and constant battle. Eventually something has to give.

    I really hope they’re able to find some other options for Carter, so you can have some semblance of normalcy in your lives.

    1. Thanks, Jenn. Yes, I’ve often called our life now “a long crisis.” It’s the kind of thing that I could bear up under for a few weeks, but after so many years, we don’t have much by way of reserves left.

  18. Wow, that post was like a kick in the gut because I’ve been there. I know those feelings and the sadness that parenthood isn’t what we thought it would be all because of an illness I can’t physically see. Oh how it breaks my heart while pissing me off at the same time.

    1. Yes, it’s such a stew of emotions, isn’t it? It’s something I don’t know if I can fully adapt to, you know? Especially since it’s constantly changing!

  19. I’m right now this very second fighting biting my lips to keep from screaming because I am so behind on my deadlines, a fact that has been exacerbated by having to keep my Boy home today because “If I go to school today I will punch someone and then I will have to go back to the hospital.” A response to which I blew, “I am so sick of your shit!” And then felt immediately completely horrible about. God, I hate this disease.
    And we’re going through a similar symptom issue from trying to lower Risperidone, after the migraines and the 40-lb weight gain. And I just want to go in a closet and scream. Thank you for putting this in better words than I could.

    1. Oh, Lisa. Gah! I hate this disease, too. If our kids HAVE to be ill, why does it have to be an illness that makes them so damn hateful?

      I’m sorry you had such a hard day. I hope tomorrow is better.

  20. Oh, my heart goes out to all of you. My sons have been difficult at various stages and I completely understand the need for escape.

    When people tell you about parenthood, they never tell you how hard it really is. How demanding and provoking and exhausting. That should be a required course! So we aren’t all blindsided!

    xo Susie

  21. friend, I could never ever pretend to know what those moments are like. I know when Eddie was a newbie and I was raging with PPD I would imagine just leaving him. Just setting him somewhere and going away.

    and yes, my heart hurt…even though I didn’t do.

    and then there is the mom guilt.

    no matter what walk you take with your children, there is always mom guilt. some of us who have mentally ill children just get burdened with so so much more.

    love to you.

  22. And yet you WILL get up tomorrow morning and face the same challenges over and over again! You will not lock your child in an asylum and walk away pretending he doesn’t exist (as our ancestors would have done). You will love him in a way that many of us will never comprehend. And your will protect and provide for him to the very limits of your ability. And you will have nights when you are overwhelmed by guilt, fatigue and desperation! I pray that those nights will be followed by mornings where you will hear a whispered, “Well done! I will help you through one more day!” You’re doing a great job, Adrienne, and while Carter may never thank you … he is blessed by your love for and commitment to him!

  23. Adrienne,

    I came upon your blog by accident (I believe that there are no accidents. I was meant to read your life story). I have to tell you your story brought tears to me.. I cry easily so its not a big deal in that sense.. But I am so so so so so amazed and awed by your act of bravery to write this down.. for others to read. You are such a phenomenal woman.. I am a Marriage and family therapist by profession and recently a stay-at-home mother. I have a fairly balanced 3-year old who drives me crazy with her intensity, but it ends quickly and with use of warmth and nurturing.. I cannot imagine how you do this. I have recently begun advancing my spiritual / meditative practice and have met some people who see the metaphysical aspects of some of these things in our lives. I know you have a ton on your plate but my heart bleeds for you and as a mother of 2 little girls, who are essentially normal (whatever that word means).. I struggle with feeling intense anger for my daughter in times of her screaming and yelling (again which is within the normal range) and I chastize myself for wanting to hurt her so.. She gets scolded and slapped if she gets out of hand, but that is enough to stop her from getting mean or out of control. I admire your strength and your honest heartfelt writing so much.. I can relate to you so much, though I essentially live a life with my girls within the normal range of emotion.. Though, my emotional intensity far outweighs my 3-year old’s reactions to things.. which are exactly that of a 3-year old.. rather irrational and pretty self-centered. I have my prayers out for you and I look forward to reading more of your blog. What a blessing to have the opportunity to read about you. What a blessing Carter has in you.. A phenomenal mother you are! I know you love him so and I know he brings out the desire in you to harm him.. Motherhood is so hard, no matter what end you are on, but you have it truly difficult, Adrienne and you are doing such a fine job of the commitment you have taken on.

    I guess I am not sure what exactly it is that I want to say to you. Perhaps you could email me briefly and we can connect. Please send me a line, when you find time and I would like to talk if possible. I feel that there may be some new ideas you could find to get your son help, some non-traditional ways we can discover about what is going on and how you and him could receive some guidance..



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