Nothing cheerful or hopeful or strong here in this post. Sooner or later, I’ll force myself to respond to my own thoughts below, and choose the healthiest and strongest perspective to frame them in. In this moment, I want to keep it real, and the truth is that waking up can be brutal, slow, and painful.
After years of marriage and sharing the parenting of several children with a passive aggressive husband/father, the hindsight that comes intermittently can feel dispassionately merciless at times, can feel ‘too late’. It’s a clarity that blows fog away in patches. Sometimes just for moments, and you try to grasp it again (but often you’re too tired to pursue it). Sometimes, it’s as though you were lost and trying to make your way through fog blindly, afraid of a misstep in the confusion. Sometimes, you wake up from a fall, and when the fog clears you find that you landed on the ledge of a cliff, not seeing a way up or down safely. It’s a time of sifting and processing my way out of the fog, but always wanting to take the path of least harm to my kids.
Sometimes when I hear the past recollected from the perspective of one of my now young adult kids, I want to sink to the ground quietly and say, “You don’t understand…”
Of course, they don’t. Not really. It’s their father, and their memories were embedded from the perspective of a young child.
They love him. Didn’t I love my father, even though he was emotionally and verbally abusive to my mother? Didn’t I see my mother’s faults and weaknesses and mistakes, and ‘wanting to be fair’, not understand what I was seeing in my parent’s marriage and relationship? Didn’t I always want my own children’s father to love them, and for them to have the best father possible? Possible is a loaded word.
You can even possibly be seen as the bad parent. No matter what you thought you were doing to hold things together, and to protect your kids by protecting their ‘family’.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
In all the ways that I consciously and unconsciously coped, did I reckon with my kids growing up to see me as misguided, weak, dependent, reactive, and depressed? Did I assume they’d somehow understand what it cost to try to do what I thought was the right thing? Did I realize that my kids would grow up to see their father as the hard worker, the bread winner, not the power over me by his intent, but as the poor dad struggling so hard to make a living for all of us, the funny, great, be there for them, dad despite the dependent depressed wife/mother? They even attribute having great music to him, from listening to CD’s that I bought and he ‘took over’.
I was just so stupid. Using my energy to keep trying, keep hoping, keep running around and around that damn wheel that just left me drained and reactive. In the process of using my energy to survive being diminished and weakened in the hidden and invisible ways that come from a passive aggressive partner, I must have stuck my proverbial head in the sand in a naive, obtuse desperation, wanting to believe that ultimately my kids would see past the surface, see the heart of things, and the heart of me.
No, that doesn’t always happen. And then it’s done, and you don’t get to go back and do it over.
I grew up with my parents and didn’t understand things until year by year by year as an adult, I gained experience and insight. The father who was overtly abusive, emotionally and verbally, to my mother, was also a good father to me in certain ways. I loved (love) my father. I think I’m still learning to understand. I think of my mother the most often, and when a fresh understanding hits me, I quietly look off to where she might be, and say, “Oh, Mom… I think I understand now. I’m so sorry I didn’t when you were here.” I miss her the most.
Every time I read comments from a victim of an adult partner with a personality/character disorder, and references are made to the ‘kind’ of mother/father their abusive partner came from, I want to say that there can also be moms that try their best, and love with all their heartbeats, and still obviously make critical mistakes. Oh, the stupidity of good intentions, blind misplaced faith and hope.
Some days, I feel hopeful, and crawl forward. Some days, I feel crushed under the enormity of my mistakes and how it impacted each of my kids. Each mistake or misstep they make, is examined in the light of possible self-recrimination. Their strengths are more easily attributed to all the good you see in each of them.
Each day and each moment, I keep trying to do better, while feeling grossly inadequate and unequipped to climb the mountain in front of me. While you’re trying to crawl forward or take another baby step, you also deal with the bewildered horror of sometimes not even knowing who you are anymore.
“Through the blur, I wondered if I was alone or if other parents felt the same way I did – that everything involving our children was painful in some way. The emotions, whether they were joy, sorrow, love or pride, were so deep and sharp that in the end they left you raw, exposed and yes, in pain. The human heart was not designed to beat outside the human body and yet, each child represented just that – a parent’s heart bared, beating forever outside its chest.” Debra Ginsberg