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Does My Son Think I'm a Loser?

Years ago a friend of mine, then 37, was about to become a father for the first time. I was only 23, a good 15 years ahead of becoming a parent myself, which is perhaps why I was so naive when my friend shared his anxiety with me: would his daughter respect him? Had he done enough with his life? Was he advanced enough in his career?

Relax, I’d say. She won’t even know you’re a person until she’s a teenager.

It’s not true. From the moment my son, now 4, was born, I have sensed him considering me. His insights into me are simultaneously heartwarming and a little mortifying.

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I, like most parents, have tried to put myself forward as an educated, reasonably accomplished, healthy, balanced and generally together person. It’s not that I’m not these things, I’m just not them all the time. My son can see through my façade unlike anyone.

He is patient with me. “Mommy, things just aren’t going right for you today,” he once said to me from the backseat of our car, which was locked inside a parking garage because I’d lost my debit card. Another time he found a piece of paper on the floor of the airport, which I scolded him for picking up and told him to throw away. I hadn't realized it was my boarding pass. “It’s okay, mommy,” said my sage in dungarees, “it’s just that you are carrying so many things.”

I have heard him tell his babysitter that I always forget things. For a time he became sincerely concerned that I would be taken to jail. I have no idea where this came from, but he reassured me that, should it happen, he will knock down the walls to set me free again.

We live in the Netherlands, and he has mastered Dutch. I am still a work in progress. He tries to help me by only allowing me to say the names of his friends that I can properly pronounce. “Mommy, you can’t say Sjaard or Rogier, but you can say Pim and Bing.”

He loves me, but I also get the feeling he kind of feels sorry for me.

He thinks I am lost when I’m not. We walked home recently from a restaurant, taking a different route. He was very uneasy. “Mommy, you don’t know where we are. We need to call Daddy, he will find us.”

The things I am most proud of are lost on him. One day, feeling particularly pleased that an article of mine would be published in a magazine I admire, I asked him what my job was. His answer: my job is to point at squares —you know, to type. He now tells people I work in a fire station, because we visited one once for an article I was writing and that’s way cooler.

He loves me, but I also get the feeling he kind of feels sorry for me. Sometimes his compliments have that not-too-subtle air of condescension to them: “Mommy, you are really, really good at puzzles!” or “Mommy, you are getting better at driving!”

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Parenthood is confronting. Children care about your whole character, how much they can rely on you and not about your accomplishments. They don’t care about your job or how fast you can run a marathon or whether you are a good cook (I’m not).

I am a good person in my son’s eyes, if not a slightly flawed one. Despite seeing right through to my idiosyncrasies, I know he is genuinely proud of me, and he’s rooting for me.

“Mommy,” he said last week, “if nobody else likes you, I will like you.”

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Image by Tracy Brown Hamilton

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