In so many ways, the baby books and endless research weren't what prepared me for parenthood. They all helped, to be sure, but I think it was the lessons I've learned as a result of some hard-earned life experiences that made me feel like I was capable of raising another human being. Breakups, a toxic childhood, failed friendships; those situations gave me so many life lessons that I've carried with me into motherhood. So, I guess I'm not surprised that there are times living with a kid is just like living with an ex, and in a way I'm thankful, because I felt pretty prepared for the late-night feedings and the exhaustion and the inevitable toddler tantrums and the messes that no one but me, apparently, can clean up.
Of course, there are some important differences. For one, a romantic relationship and the relationship I share with my son are entirely different. I am bound to my son by some external force I, honestly, have a hard time trying to explain. The love I feel for him is unlike any love I've ever felt for another human being, so my son can do things a partner could never do, and I will forgive him instantly. Let's face it, mothers tend to be willing to do things for their children that they wouldn't possibly be willing to do for, well, anyone else. Likewise, the circumstances that make living with an ex a necessity, are not what I am currently experiencing with my son. I love my son and want to live with him; he's not just "stuck with me" because the kid doesn't have a job and can't afford rent, you know?
Still, I've encountered a few moments with my son that make me think back to my post-college days, when I was in the throes of an ugly breakup, still waiting for an ex to move out (or to find a place for me to move to) stuck in some limbo that was nothing short of awkward. I didn't know it then, but those moments are certainly benefiting me now. So, I guess I owe my exes a thank you? Weird.
When They Leave A Mess Behind Them And You Know It's Not Worth Even Mentioning
It doesn't matter how many times I tell my son that he needs to pick up his toys and put them back in his room (instead of leaving them arbitrarily thrown around the living room), he's going to leave his toys where he dropped them. Of course, some days are better than others so I consider this a work in progress, but sometimes I know that it's easier to just pick up behind him than it is to alert him to the mess he's made, and ask him to clean it up himself.
The same could be said about a few of my exes, who apparently couldn't put the extra effort into moving a bowl from the kitchen counter to the sink, or even from the sink to the dishwasher. I mean, come on, fellas. I know I could have constantly pointed out every single time I had to clean up after them (and trust me, sometimes I did) but when we were broken up and still sharing a living space, there were moments when it was easier to just put stuff away than it was to start a potentially exhausting conversation about it. Sigh.
When You Care About Them, But You Need Your Space
I love my son so very much, and it doesn't matter how cranky he is, how ridiculous his tempers have been or how horribly he listens to me; that love isn't going anywhere. Still, there are moments when I need to just get the hell away from him, for the sake of my sanity. I mean, I can only handle a tiny little human telling me "no" and throwing toys in my direction for so long, before I feel like I'm going to explode if I don't get out of the house and be around well-behaved human beings.
After breaking up with an ex and continuing to live with him (for a little while) I knew I still cared for him. Feelings don't just disappear, after all. Still, that level of care didn't change the fact that I needed to get away from him, and felt suffocated by him when I wasn't able to put some distance between us. Breaking up is hard. So are the terrible twos.
When You Sneak Out To Meet Up With Someone Else, So Things Won't Get Awkward
When I do get some time to myself and I'm planning on meeting friends for some drinks or taking myself to a late-night movie, I usually have to sneak out of the house so my son doesn't notice mom going "bye-bye," and grows concerned (or worse, upset). My partner will distract him while I tip-toe out the front door, doing my best to avoid a confrontation or an awkward goodbye that may upset my toddler.
If you lived with an ex and still had a social life (or going out on dates), you know exactly what this feels like.
When You End Up In The Same Bed, Even Though That Wasn't The Overall Goal
My partner and I co-slept with our son, so transitioning him from our bed to his toddler bed has been an ongoing effort. He falls asleep on his own just fine, but around two or three in the morning (almost every morning) he finds his way into our bed anyway.
I would like to tell you that once I ended a relationship with someone, that was "that," but "that" would be a lie. What can I say? Sometimes a breakup has unfinished business that can (apparently) only be handled when someone comes creeping into someone else's bed at two or three in the morning. (#ProTip: never ask me for relationship advice. Clearly, I'm not your best source.)
When You're Both Talking To One Another And It's All Getting Lost In Translation
My son has a pretty expansive vocabulary for a two year old, and has already started putting three and four words together in these adorable mini-sentences. That doesn't mean, however, that I have any clue what he is saying the majority of the time. He will be looking at me and mixing words with his toddler gibberish, and I'll be straining to connect the dots and figure out what it is he's saying.
I can tell you I've shared many a similar exchange with an ex. We would honestly try to communicate to one another, but differing opinions or points of view or just frustration and anger and pain, made it difficult if not impossible to be on the same page. After all, that's probably one of the many reasons we broke up. When you can't communicate, your relationship (probably) can't last.
When You Get Slightly Jealous That Someone Else Can Hold Their Attention...
I absolutely love when my toddler and my partner play together, and when they truly bond to the point that I could probably leave the room and my toddler wouldn't mind. When he wants dad, and just dad, I get enjoy some "me" time and I get the peace of mind that comes with knowing my son has a healthy, loving, supportive relationship with his father.
It doesn't always make it easy to accept, though. Hey, I'm human, and sometimes I want to be wanted to the point that, well, my son doesn't want anyone else.
Trust me, my exes understand.
...Even Though You Know It's For The Best
I know that my son gaining more independence and making new friends and expanding his "world" is exactly what needs to happen. It just, you know, makes me a little sad and worried.
I knew that my exes needed to move on and find someone else, but that didn't make them moving on any easier. You can rationalize all you want, but when someone you loved (or love) goes out and makes relationships and connections with other people, it's a tough pill to swallow, even if you know it's necessary.
When They Learn Something New And You Know It's All Because Of You
Nothing makes me happier or feel more accomplished than when I see my son mimic something I do (that's positive) and then use it himself, without prompt. I love knowing that I am helping him learn necessary skills that will assist him (and the people he comes into contact with throughout his life) in a positive, beneficial way. I've put in the hard work in helping my son become a decent, well-rounded human being, so that others (and himself) can enjoy the benefits.
Not sure I can say the same thing about my exes, though. I mean, yes, that's great that after living with me they finally figured out how to clean up after themselves, or how to commit to someone or why they probably shouldn't do this thing or that thing. However, someone else is going to benefit from all of my hard work. Ugh.
When They Want To Be Independent, But Coming Running To You For Comfort
My son is all about the word "no" right now, and about my partner and I allowing him to do certain things by himself. He wants to put his shoes on, and how dare we even ask if he wants help. He wants to get himself dressed and he wants to clean up with an over-sized broom he'll end up knocking things over with, and he wants to put his own dishes away in the sink he can't reach. Still, when he's scared or hurt or in need of comfort, I'm the first one he comes running to.
I'm positive I could say the same thing about every single one of my exes. They wanted to be "free" and "independent" and do things on their own, but when something went "wrong," well, I was the first person they turned to. Yep, sounds about right.
When You Can't Wait For Them To Move Out...
It's hard for me to even envision my son living on his own as an actual adult human being. I mean, he's two years old. He's just a little, and I am more than fine with that day being a few (many) years down the road. Still, there are also moments when some peace and quiet would be pretty nice, and the idea of my son exploring the world really does get me excited. After all, that's the whole point, right? That one day, my son will go off on his own and I will be able to sit back and relax, knowing that I did everything I could to arm him with the tools he needs to carve his own path.
When I broke up with an ex (and had an ex break up with me) and we lived together, I was counting down the days until he moved out (or I moved out). Living with someone you used to be in love with (or are still in love with, but are no longer together with) is probably, in my humble opinion, the absolute worst thing ever. While there were moments when sharing the same living space was nice, you can't wait to have a space of your own.
...But You Know You'll Feel A Little Lost Without Them
While I don't dread the day my son leaves the "nest" and goes out into the world, I know that I am going to have a hard time adjusting. It will be hard to let go of the control I've become accustomed to; the control that allows me to make sure my son is as safe and happy as possible. I know, for a little while, I'll be lost, and while I am more than a mother and have worked to continuously cultivate my individuality and relationships and career, even though I am also someone's mom, it will be a strange transition; not having my son in my home.
I can say that I felt something similar when I did move out and away from an ex, or an ex moved away from me. It was necessary and we knew it was for the best, but that transitional period was still difficult. All of a sudden, you're on your own and you're wondering if they're OK or happy and if you're going to be OK and happy, too. Change is hard, you guys, no matter how it manifests itself in your life.