Many of you probably had wonderful mothers growing up — nurturing role models who today are still the most important women in your life. I know this to be true as I often hear many of my friends talk about fun outings they have with their mothers and the endless array of phone calls they share each day to discuss important life issues or just to say “hi.”
However, I’m willing to bet that a few of you, like me, have absolutely no concept of what this kind of relationship feels like. We have mothers who do not fit this description at all — mothers who, despite likely trying their best, fell far short of stable.
I have very few many memories of early childhood, but the ones I do have all share common themes: sadness and fear. I can recall being outside in the driveway crying, my brother holding me, covering my ears so I wouldn’t hear my parents fighting inside.
By age 4, they began a lengthy and horrific decade-long divorce. The details are not important, but my mother was and still is a very mentally unhealthy woman who emotionally and verbally abused my brother and me. Today, I can look at my reflection in the mirror and see the terrible scars of the decades of abuse, so invisible to many, but ever so clear to me.
Much of this abuse still goes on today. Even as a grown woman, with children of my own, her words and actions still manage to slice through my heart and my psyche. Despite understanding the futility, I continue to look to her for the validation that I never got in my youth.
It’s been a long road to acceptance, but I now know that I will never receive her validation in adulthood either — at least, not from her. I am so angry about this that I want to reach into the screen of my computer and black out these words with a thick Sharpie, to erase them from my history altogether. But alas, I cannot; this is what makes me who I am today. And quite frankly, today, right now, I am happy and proud of the woman I have worked so hard to become despite my past.
Regardless of all of this, I have so much to thank my mother for. This must surprise you after what you just read, but it is the truth. You see, she taught me the most important parenting lesson of my life: exactly the kind of adult and parent I did not want to be. As a mother of two incredible children, I refuse to continue the cycle of unhealthy parenting and abuse. I strive to be a loving, supportive, competent mother — a mother whose children are not afraid of her.
Sure, I learned other good things from my mother as well; she wasn’t all bad all of the time. She taught me how to cook and passed on her love of all movies featuring 18th- and 19th-century costumes. She made sure to instill a love of reading and education, beautiful art, and baking of incredible desserts.
But in the past year, as I have made changes in my life and grown emotionally stronger as a woman and mother, I realize she also taught me that wallowing in mental illness was not the life I wanted for myself and my family. I can see how she demonstrated all the parenting mistakes that I am not willing to make with my children. I work harder at happiness because I see just how unhappy she is. Despite sharing some of her genetics, I choose to rise above, to work my hardest at not allowing my mental health to dictate my life in its entirety.
I have come to understand that her behavior and her actions, as a mother and person, come from a place of sickness. I’m sure if she had the capacity to do so, she would choose to be a different, more stable person. Because of this understanding, I have the capacity to not only forgive her, but also to understand that I do have that choice. She lives a life of sadness so I can live a life of happiness.
I choose to no longer be the victim of terrible parenting, to no longer allow her acerbic words and behavior to bring me down. And for this, I am lucky. How many children grow up to be carbon copies of their parents, whether good or bad? Not me!
I swam through the shark-infested waters of my childhood, and though I came out on the other side damaged, I am not beyond repair. Through it all, I learned some important truths about the kind of parent I want to be. This would not have happened had my childhood been different. So ultimately, I must thank my mom for showing me exactly who I didn’t want to be, and for teaching me that I have the strength to break the cycle.