I won’t ever forget the exact moment I found my daughter with self-inflicted cuts up and down her arm. She was ten. I remember how it gutted me, completely. I remember the questions that ran through my mind, that moment and countless times since: What kind of a mother am I? How did my beautiful girl come to this? What have I done wrong?
My darling daughter has always needed to feel loved. I guess that’s something that all kids need, but she has always needed us to demonstrate it a little bit more than her older brother ever needed. Looking back, even as a baby, I used to complain that she was demanding. But, I soon got used to delivering the extra love that she seemed to need.
When I say “extra love”, I mean extra cuddles. From soon after her birth, my baby girl loved to be cuddled. Into her toddler and pre-school years, even into her early primary school years, she was always that much more content when being cuddled. And naturally, if something went wrong, she hurt herself, or any other kind of trouble with the world around her, the solution could always be found in a cuddle from mum and/or dad.
Up until the age of ten, I had an awareness of this need she had, for cuddles. I told myself that I was lucky. Lucky to have a little girl who still wanted her mother’s cuddles. At the back of my mind though, I have to admit, I did wonder if it was an indicator of something, anything. But cuddles are cuddles and must be enjoyed whenever they’re given.
At ten, my sweet darling was a very different person to the one she had been at nine. A few things happened that year. Her dad became terminally ill and died, and her closest friend betrayed her. After a period of grief, I went back into the workforce, doing the only job I was qualified to do. Unfortunately, my job involved shift work.
After about two years of shift work, I realised I couldn’t keep it up. Her self-harming had become a raging habit, occurring four to six times per week. I had to find a way to quit work and study full-time, so I could be there for her both before, and after school.
By this time, I’d almost forgotten what it felt like to have a daughter who loved to be cuddled. I had been absent, or exhausted from work, for too many daylight and evening hours. I hadn’t been there for too many morning wake-up calls, welcome home greetings, mealtimes, homework and bed times. And just as importantly, I hadn’t been there for those minutes and hours spent winding down from school, when children might tell there parent about their day, ask for help with homework, arrange weekend meet-ups with friends.
I just wasn’t there.
She’s fourteen now. Her self-harming is less frequent, but she’s fragile. I’m here for her, but I can’t seem to fix anything, no matter how many hugs and cuddles I give her.
I can’t make up for any of the lost time that I let happen. Every cut she inflicts on herself, scars my soul.