Whenever I think of what it was like to have a happy M, this is the picture that comes to mind. It has to be one of my absolute favourites.
I took it over 5 years ago while we were camping. M loves the water and it is one of the places we can go where it feels as though he is truly happy.
In less than one week life as I know it is going to change. While it’s true that I feel like there will be some relief to come home to peace instead of a war zone, sending my son to live with his dad feels like a nightmare from which I will never awake.
It is also a nightmare long in the making.
Shortly after my ex and I separated, M, at the tender age of 4, told me “my dad says you made him leave and he didn’t want to. He says you took everything and left him with nothing and he had to sleep in the car. He’s the good one and you’re the bad one.” Since that moment, I tried everything I could to hang onto my son because I believed he needed to be with me. For the almost 10 years of his existence, I have given every piece of myself to him. But, nothing I offered was ever enough: He hated where we lived and his room at my house, he rejected my attempts at helping him, he criticized everything about me, he complained I wasn’t “his mother” and told me he hated me.
As he got older, his unhappiness has grown darker, more destructive, and I have had a harder time controlling him. He throws things, has become more physically aggressive, makes his brother cower and cry, and stalks me with his demands until I had to escape into my bedroom and lock the door. I tried behavior charts, calendars, time-outs, mother-son outings, even calls to family services: nothing helped.
Now things have gotten so bad that I am sending him to live with his dad. I sat him down and explained that he can come back if he chooses, but I’m not sure that’s ever going to happen. Deep in my heart, I feel like this will be forever.
And here is the truly difficult part of our situation: he can’t live with me right now, but for many reasons, I don’t think he should live with his dad either. He needs structure provided by compassionate people who are on the same page, who will enforce boundaries, consequences, and accountability. I just cannot convince myself that he is going to get that.
In sending him away, I believe that’s the only way to get him back. Letting him go is my best shot at turning him into the person I believe he is underneath his thick shell of anger and defiance: a sensitive boy who longs to be close to both parents, to have real friends, and to be a productive member of any community.
As I sit here agonizing over my decision to send him to live with his dad, I am trying my best (although failing miserably today) to re-direct the energy I spend on feeling guilty for what feels like total abandonment, to setting goals that are in his best interest.
Have high expectations of M. Don’t tolerate disrespect.
Don’t let him come home until he’s willing to follow rules and keep his hands to himself. Violence will not be accepted.
If my ex gets sole custody of M, know that I did everything I could to try to make his life better.
Never lose hope that when M is old enough to have a more balanced perspective, he will come back.
It’s not as though M is leaving this world although in some aspects it feels that way. It feels as though a tiny portion of me is being ripped away and there is nothing to replace it with.
Last night, just like every other night that M has been with me, we laid in bed together. In the dark, as his breathing steadied and I knew he was on the verge of sleeping, silent tears fell down my face for the the happy little boy I once knew. In that little moment in time I knew that this was what I needed to do and I could feel my heart breaking.
I love him.
I love all of the messy, angry pieces of him.
Even when it feels utterly impossible, I still love him.
I always have.
I always will.