I grew up in what felt like an emotional war zone - consistently uncertain and forever fragile - trying to navigate my way through the world and establish the ground rules for love and relationships. After years of never really being allowed my own voice, and acting as a vessel for my parents' point scoring, I learned that in order to love someone, you keep secrets and contain your emotions. I learned that to be vulnerable and open was a sure-fire way to be hurt and rejected. I created an armour around me which, even when armed with a bazooka, crate of grenades and Ross Kemp on speed, couldn't have been torn down.
I never learned that I was enough - just the way I was.
Having a mother who did not love me unconditionally, I never learned what it takes and how one goes about learning to love without conditions. I taught myself to be adaptable to every person and situation in order to try and gain their affection. I've heard from friends, time and time again, that it often feels impossible to get close to me. I had decided by that point that I was hardwired to be alone. I was a product of my environment and there was nothing I could do about it. This became my ultimate self-pitying conviction.
As a child I hoped for escape from this lonely existence but as I got into adulthood the pain just increased, with every twisted turn of fate that led me into the path of another nightmare - domestic violence, drug abuse, emotional abuse, lies, cheating, never-good-enoughs - the minefield which I learned to walk as a child became a town, county, country and, eventually, my whole world. Forever searching for that one person who I thought would set me free and hold me forever all at the same time - but never allowing the right people in. Never allowing myself to be truly vulnerable.
Now I can see that I engineered this pain because that's what I thought love was supposed to feel like. When you're young you think that childhood is synonymous with vulnerability, a phase which one will grow out of, and when you become older and wiser you start to realise that loving and living is synonymous with vulnerability - no matter how old you are.
When my son was born I spent at least the first six months wondering why, on a good day, he didn't like me and, on a bad day, he hated me. I felt ashamed of these thoughts and kept telling myself, logically, that it wasn't possible for my son to think or feel either of these things yet at such a young age. I put it down to depression but every time I couldn't settle him, or he reached for Daddy, or he played up, I took it to heart and decided that he was destined to just not want me. It felt like even my own son was rejecting me - which was all the evidence I needed to lock up my heart and throw away the key.
I can't pinpoint the exact moment that this changed for me and, on reflection, I suspect it was a gradual process. But what being a mother has taught me, more than anything, is how to love. That love - real love - is unconditional. Holding him (emotionally or literally) in his most angry, sad, happy, frustrated, playful, loving moments - regardless of how that makes me feel - is what it takes to really love a child and be a mother. I have learned that I will be on the receiving end of his temporary rejection for...well, probably forever. By showing him that I love him regardless will teach him that he is loved unconditionally - and that it is ok to not be perfect. It is ok for him to have all of these feelings. (But if he takes my Clinique lipstick one more time and smears it all over the carpet, we're going to have some serious words).
All those moments that I thought he didn't like me were about my own insecurities of not feeling good enough. I was, quite literally, afraid to love my son in case he didn't love me back. As soon as I tore those walls down and let him in, with all my heart, I felt a noticeable change in how he was towards me. Now I never take it personally when he calls for Daddy, or he gets stroppy with me, or he says 'no' to a cuddle. Because he is finding his way in the world, and he is learning how to love by what his father and I teach him, and I want him to know, more than anything, that I will always love him no matter what. I will always be here for him and that my cuddles are in endless supply whenever he needs one.