Recently reflecting on my childhood, an evening stands out to me that once upon a time I would have never thought twice about. I was around 10 years old. It was an evening where my father came home late from work, something that was not uncommon for him. I recall him walking up the stairs and into my parents' bedroom, where he found me and my mother cozied up watching television. I was laying in "his spot". My mother was in her own. I just remember he looked at us, got ready for bed, and headed into our guest bedroom to sleep. My mom and I finished the program we were watching and fell asleep.
Again, this is an experience that I never would have second guessed before starting my own healing journey. From the vantage point of that young boy, this was a routine that often occurred. It was normal for him. Safe. As an adult, I see my younger self taking on the role of "surrogate partner" for my lonely mother. I see my father content with the fact that he did not have to put as much effort into his marriage because his wife had a companion in me. My role as as surrogate partner enabled him to stay late socializing and drinking at the bar he owned. It gave my mother someone she could count on for consistent attention and relationship. And me....well...younger me felt more secure in the fact that my very presence helped mitigate their marital discord and ameliorate my mother's vacillating depression. Younger me experienced temporary relief from the anxiety that came with the unknown state of my parents' marriage. Younger me could rest safely knowing that he had done his job connecting with his mother who would have been alone in bed if not for him.
How I grieve for that child who had this invisible weight strapped on his back! As an adult I'm drawn to fiercely protect this little boy and the childhood he should have experienced free from adult wants, needs, and interpersonal conflict. I wish he could have been a child whose parents encouraged his independence and facilitated childhood connections with those his age. He deserved to just be a kid! I hope that 10 year old can see us now. We have made strides to carve out our place in the world since then. We have reclaimed our sense of self and honored it time and again, setting boundaries where they are necessary. We don't have to play a role that's not our own. I get to just be me! What freedom that is!