Translated from Spanish.
When my son Dylan was 2, his father and I separated. I had to confront the reality that we weren’t coming together as parents, but instead were arguing and screaming at each other. At times he would even shove me or grab me by the arm.
It was very hard to make a decision to leave. I knew it would be sad for Dylan not to live with his father. But I also didn’t want him to grow up watching us fight. I thought, “Is this the example I want to give him?”
I found a therapist, hoping she could help keep Dylan’s father and me together, or help us communicate if we split up. But he wouldn’t go.
After we split up, I decided to keep going to the therapist, Liza, at the Center for Family Life in Sunset Park. I knew that it would help me to get someone’s support and have a place where I could unburden myself at a time when I was feeling so alone.
At that time, Dylan spoke only a little. He was very restless and seemed frustrated, I think because he wanted to express something that he couldn’t say, or because it was hard for me to know what he wanted.
Liza suggested he go to a special school where he could get help with controlling his restlessness and anger, as well as other things he didn’t feel comfortable doing, like painting and playing with sticky things (because he didn’t like to get himself dirty or wet).
Really, I didn’t think it was a big problem, but in the few months Dylan went to the school – Wow! I noticed that he was no longer so restless and didn’t get angry over every little thing, and I could see his curiosity growing. He was maturing. It was very satisfying to see how he learned and grew.
Now Dylan is 4 years old, and he has distinguished himself as a very curious and playful child who likes to be amused and to get a lot of attention. He has a great imagination and is also very intelligent – he took that from me, ha ha ha.
Sometimes Dylan is so tender, like when he comes home after being with his father. He opens the door and says, “Mami, I have a surprise for you! Close your eyes!”
When I open them he says, “I have a rose for you, the prettiest mother in the world, so you’ll never be sad.”
This fills me with tears and I throw myself down in front of his little body. (Other times, he says that he’s my surprise!)
Sometimes Dylan asks me questions that I don’t know the answers to, and couldn’t imagine existed in his little head. He asks me what he was like when he was a baby, what it was like when he was in my stomach, how he was born, what his body was like then, what he could do and what he couldn’t do.
He also asks things like, “Why do the leaves fall from the trees? Why is it cloudy?” Wow! I have to turn into a meteorologist to give him a satisfying answer.
Dylan especially likes to play pretend. He says to me, “Mami, we’re going to play that you’re Dora and I’m Boots, OK?”
“What are you doing, Dora?”
“Nothing, Boots. I am walking home. And you, Boots?”
“Me too, Dora,” and we go from there.
The funniest is when he says to me, “Mami, we’re going have a conversation, OK?”
“Have a conversation about what?”
“About you, about me, everything, Mommy. Everything, OK?”
“You start!” and then we start to chat about whatever thing.
Putting Him First
At times things aren’t easy because I’m tired and he wants to play. I say, “Play by yourself and later I’ll play with you,” but hardly five minutes will go by before he comes back to me.
Sometimes at night I want to go directly to bed but I have to put him to bed first, reading him a story and the whole procedure before he’ll go to sleep. There are times when I’m reading his story and I fall asleep and he nudges me, saying, “Mami, wake up! Mami, don’t sleep!”
I try to skip pages so we can get through it more quickly, but he’ll catch me and say, “Oh, no, Mami, that’s not how it goes, this is how…” and make me go back.
Dealing With Tantrums
Dylan also has a very strong character, like his father and me. If he doesn’t get a lot of attention, he gets angry. When things don’t go his way, he can throw tremendous tantrums. He cries furiously and has a very strong voice, so over his crying you can hear him screaming and screaming, and sometimes knocking things down. It’s overwhelming.
I don’t always know what reaction to have. It used to be that one of us would shout, and the other would shout back, and then we’d keep shouting, like a chain. I know now that I have to break that chain.
It’s not easy. At times I feel a sense of desperation, but I try to keep communication going. I say, “Dylan, if you don’t scream, I can understand you better. I know you’re mad, but let’s calmly try to resolve this situation.”
When he has a tantrum in public, I just try not to feel ashamed if he makes a scene. I talk to him, or I fill myself with strength and count, “Two, three, four” minutes until he calms down.
I Try to Be Firm
I know that he needs to learn that when his mother says no, she means it. I don’t want him thinking, “Oh, Mami says that but she’ll change her mind.” Although it’s difficult to not give in to him, and to not be able to give him everything he wants, I try not to give in to his demands too much.
Sometimes when we’re playing a game and I win, he gets mad and messes up the game, or he wants to play it again so he can win. If I won’t play again, he cries and screams.
I try to be firm and to speak clearly, without starting to scream myself, saying, “Dylan, look at me, listen to me. I know you wanted to win, but one person can’t always win. There’s going to be times when it’s your turn to lose. It’s not a problem. You don’t have to get angry.”
Sometimes he keeps crying and I leave him. I say, “When you feel better, you tell me what you want.” That works well. I don’t give a lot of attention to his tantrum, and he calms down and talks to me.
A Stable Home
In the past two years, Dylan and I have learned a lot together. I pay more attention to him, and he does the same to me.
Although we don’t live with his father, he sees him two days each week and every other weekend. Dylan has told me that he would like for all three of us to be together. I had to explain to him, “Papi has his house, and Mami has her own. But the important thing is that although we’re separate, we’re content.”
Now Dylan has security and stability at home. When his father and I were together we had an unstable relationship, with one person running one way and the other running in the opposite direction. I think Dylan saw that and didn’t know what to think, or just got sad seeing his parents disoriented and upset.
Dylan’s father is a friend to me now. We’re both striving to stay calm and do the best for our child.
My Great Satisfaction
Becoming a mother has given me more responsibility and I have matured. I’ve had to analyze who I am and how to get the results that I want for myself and my son.
If I get mad or frustrated, I try to understand why I’m reacting that way and to ask myself, “What’s the best way I can handle this situation?” In the past I responded like a lion, or I just wanted to run away. Now I respond like a cat, and I stay and find a solution.
It’s a great feeling of satisfaction to look at my son and see him growing. When he achieves something, I know that I am a big part of that. That’s fantastic! I let myself heave a great sigh, a great love from very deep down in my heart.
Use this story in a parenting class or support group! Click here for the discussion guide and journal reflection worksheet for this story.