As a single mom to an only child, I constantly hear that I must have a unique bond with my son. If by "unique," people mean "super intense," then I couldn't agree more. When it's just you and a little one, there is no such thing as the favorite, or the out-of-favor, parent.
I am all and nothing.
I am the one my son jumps on for hugs when overcome with love. I am the one who, seconds later, is being growled at because his feelings just did a 360. All little humans find difficulty in learning to navigate these big feelings. And as a solo parent supporting my son through these, I bear the brunt and the beauty of Every. Single. One.
The intensity of our relationship isn't just because of the practicalities of being constantly together, but because of how our interactions occur with no one else around. The physical attachment my son has with me is intense to the nth degree. Perhaps the presence of another adult to hold him, or another child in my arms, would have curtailed this slightly, but that's not our reality.
It's not enough for my son to sleep in my bed beside me; he must hold my cheeks tightly until he slips into sleep. Depending on how fast midnight is approaching decides how I take this abundant display of physical affection. While it sounds adorable, it can also be excruciatingly claustrophobic. We are like magnets spinning, alternately attracting and repelling each other with equal force, depending on the moment.
Our emotional attachment is arguably even stronger than this physical pull. I rarely go anywhere without my son and when I do, I wonder how I will manage. What will I say? Who will I talk to? It may sound unhealthy, but I struggle to know who I am without him by my side.
It's more an apprehension than a reality—on the odd occasion I am out alone, things are easier than I feared. And it seems my son has similar concerns. He's struggled with going to nursery school for most of the three years he's been attending. It's a rare occasion when he doesn't demand to stay home with me instead (despite me going to work) and there's been various phases of tears as I peel him off me at the door. Yet his teachers always report back that he's fine throughout the day.
With 50% of my genes and 100% of my nurture, I've created a chip off the old block in the form of a 4-year old boy. Imagine, if you can, your weaknesses confronting your weaknesses. Navigating a way around them without a head-on collision is a struggle for us both. As the only parent, there's no one to hide behind when apportioning blame for the clone-nisation of these traits.
At times it feels like I've failed. Would the presence of another person have tempered us and tamed our weaknesses? But then other times I'm proud of our similarities. I often look into my son's eyes and see exactly what he is feeling because it's how I felt as a child—it's like sharing your life with a living emotional diary.
There's a mystery to our connection, too. On occasions, my son has told me about his dream in the morning and it's been the same as mine. I'm not one for psychic connections—no doubt a shared moment was the trigger, yet that belittles the strength of our actual connection.
There are no obvious triggers for such shared dreams—like where we went that day, or the bedtime story I read—any link is too subtle to be identified by the conscious mind. Our brains have become wired to make the same coupling even in our sleep. It's weird and wonderful in equal measure.
There's no denying the intensity between us amplifies our challenges. We both feel the lack of another human distracting us from the exhaustion and annoyance we sometimes feel with each other. At times this pushes us to a breaking point, like when bedtime goes so wrong that sleep only occurs after screams and tears on both sides.
A partner, or another child, would change this relationship in an instance—for better and for worse—but change it would. Until that day, my son and I remain a two-person squad, untouched by outside influence, interacting with each other on the most fundamental level.
Together-alone, we are our ultimate selves and it's been a privilege to have these past four years with my son in this setting; living with traditions that only the two of us witness, or even know exist.
No matter what comes next, our unique bond has built a strong foundation for our relationship for the rest of our lives, and I'm incredibly grateful to have been given the gift of being my son's mother.