|Jean, Age Two|
I have a very dear friend who is a retired clinical psychologist, and one of the most useful gifts she has given me is a saying that goes something like this: "With awareness comes change." Very, very simple and short--but oh so powerful! If we don't know what the problem is, then we can't fix it. But once we have identified the problem, then we have a choice: we can fix the problem, or we can ignore it. Whichever decision we make, however, will lead to consequences that could be life-enriching or life-depleting. The consequences of our decision will catch up to us and to the people we love, one way or another.
Most of my adult life, I have tried my best to identify problems in my behavior and in the human environment in which I have lived, and when I have been able to recognize my part in problematic situations, I have attempted to remedy my own behavior--knowing full well that the only person I can possibly change is myself! For example, I tried really hard to raise my own kids differently than I was raised. I remembered my own childhood, and I did not want to repeat what I perceived as the mistakes my parents made. I know a lot of people who have done what I have done and who have tried their absolute best to not pass toxic behavior from their past to their children. In raising my own kids, my ideal was to raise my kids in such a way that they reached adulthood without the miseries I have had. At the time I was raising my kids, "miseries" was the only term I could use to identify what I now know as C-PTSD.
One component of my C-PTSD is the problem I have of forming attachments to other human beings. This problem, I believe, stems largely from the fact that I was left in the hospital nursery for weeks after I was born. My mother was sick, and there was nobody available to take me home. And then, after I did go home, I was put on a strict four-hour schedule: changing and a bottle every four hours, bathing several times a week, and no handling in between. Human touch was largely missing from the equation. Breaking a baby's will was "in"! Babies had to learn early who was boss, and cuddling led to spoiled, tyrannical babies. During my childhood, I felt like an object, an inanimate object that could be moved and directed by adults however they chose to move and direct me. Thus, I became an excellent prey for sexual predators and other abusers. I carried this role into my marriage and became a battered wife. My children suffered, too, each in his or her own way.
Thus, aware of the damage my own upbringing had done to me, when I became a young mother at age twenty-three, I realized that I had a choice. "With awareness comes change." I was aware of my own misery, my tendency to remain aloof and disconnected from others, my inability to trust other people, and my inability to sustain a close relationship with most adults. I also had a vague idea as to the cause of my problem. I did not want to do the same damage to my children that had been done to me. So when my son was born, I picked him up every time he squeaked. I nursed him whenever he seemed hungry, and I cuddled him when he cried. After all, I thought, a baby must have a reason for crying, and it was up to me to reassure him that his world was as it should be, safe and warm and comfortable. I was present for him in every way I could be present.
As my children went through childhood, I tried my best to be present for both of them, but the chaos in our home, their father's temper outbursts and my fear of him, rendered me incapable of simply gathering the kids and leaving the marriage. I was aware, but only partially aware, of the problem, and only when I caught my husband molesting our daughter did I become fully aware of the problem. When I fully saw the situation, the problem, as it existed, then I made the change: I reported my husband to the police, filed for divorce, and became a single parent.
Now, I look back on my days as a mother, and I look at my children, and I ask myself if I achieved my ideal. My kids are adults now, middle-aged, and my son has children of his own. Did they escape the misery? Sadly, I must face the fact that they did not escape, although I can honestly say that in some respects they have fared better than I did. I can give myself credit for giving my son a better start in life than I had. My daughter was adopted as an older foster child, and she had already gotten off to a rocky start in life.
So what is this "realtime" struggle I'm having now? It's this: Recently I have been hit smack in the face by the fact that I did not reach my ideal. My children and grandchildren are, like the rest of us mortals, having to deal with their own humanity and all the sorrows and sadness that go along with being human. And I am responsible for part of their suffering! In my state of being unaware of all my own miseries and the underlying causes of those miseries, I was unable to help them avoid some of their own suffering.
How do I feel about this recent insight, this new awareness? It's laid me low for the past few days! I've felt the sadness, the grief that comes with knowing I did not achieve my ideal of giving my children the childhood that I didn't have, a childhood at least free from the toxins that were forced upon me. With this awareness, what changes can I make?
I've been thinking today about the changes I can make. First off, though, I need to accept the fact that I did not do everything possible to help my children grow to adults who have no "miseries." When I was an active parent, I was dysfunctional, incapable of cutting through the fog in my mind and being the effective parent that I wanted to be. I see that now, and I am so sorry that I failed to be all to my children that I wanted to be. I've felt the sorrow and the grief over that failure. But I'm not going to beat myself up over it. That would not be helpful to my children, my grandchildren, or to myself.