I have run my mouth on the dish I was served. Pregnant at 18, divorced multiple times, finding myself in receipt of welfare twice. I could delve deeper into psychological trauma I sustained over my years. How I found myself identifying with the #MeToo movement. How I navigated my trauma from domestic abuse. How I called out a former camp counselor for his role in my psychological pitfalls.
But when I regurgitate these stories, there’s meaning. Not because I insist on playing the role of the victim. Nor because I expect those in my life to tip toe around my triggers, fearful they’re dealing with a time bomb or landmine threatening to explode at any second. And, unequivocally, not because I intend on making anyone else responsible for carrying my cross to the mountain. My scars, my wounds; they’re mine. They’re what make me uniquely me. And my success in surviving whatever’s been laid bare on my plate is my story. No one else is accountable to what happened to me. What I permitted. What I caused. What hand I was dealt. These are mine.
In yarn spinning, railroad story telling, I reiterate my experiences for sake of explanation. Or to provide a context for the safe space I offer to those who also feel compelled to share their own trauma. I say: you can come to me. You can talk to me. You can tell me. I won’t judge. When I say: I understand, I sincerely mean it.
I also believe that our triggers and traumas are our responsibilities. The world can’t wait with bated breath for you to make it through another panic attack. The universe isn’t going to incubate you with the warm and fuzzies you require to survive another week, another day. It’s your responsibility to work through the hurt of your past life, to seek counseling for the refuge you so richly deserve. Long gone are the days that “therapy” was painted as a dirty word; a service required only for the the truly “screwed up”. We all need someone to talk to.
It’s imperative to me to not make my children accountable for my emotional shortcomings. When I found myself pregnant with each of them – which, for all intents and purposes, were three extremely different situations and came with three different sets of circumstances and consequences – I had choices. And I chose to bring these three wonderful babes into the world, and that meant I had made my bed. It was time to lie in consequences.
My children – all children – are born with basic fundamental rights. They have the right to good food, warm beds, safe homes and environments. They have the right to a good education. To proper health care.
And – they have the fundamental right to call out toxic behaviour. It’s our jobs as parents to validate their feelings, and protect their mental health. It’s our jobs as parents to remember we are setting up these kids to the adults they’ll become. And their relationship with us will become the foundation of relationships they have with others. Through their friends at school, to whom they choose to date or build lives with. Roommates they’ll share apartments with. Their response to a higher than usual grocery bill. The way they handle a job loss.
The way they handle stress, and trauma.
Read that again.
When we chose life, we chose to give our children the privilege to hold us accountable to their own psychological stamina and how they respond to whatever curve balls throw their way. If we allow our past trauma to dictate the way we parent our kids, making them responsible to our own ineptitude in processing extreme situations, we are hurting them. If we bombard them with what happened to us as some sort of justification to our own bad behaviours or patterns of misgivings, then we haven’t done our job as parents at all. And kids have a right to call that out.
And we’re responsible to giving them permission to experience their own versions of hurt. From the child who stole their toy, to the boy who broke her heart, to the time they lost the soccer game, to the college application that went sideways. To the adult child who had a miscarriage, to the divorce they went through, to the bankruptcy they had to file. Our jobs as parents is to see our children through their very youngest traumas, to being the rock that they can fall on as they continue to stay the course of their own lives. Our past hurt and pain should serve as guiding stars. As emotional navigators that we can use as the compass to help steer these littles through adulthood back to right. Not as a triggers or excuses to negate our responsibility in providing our kids with what they need the very most – the personified version of a safety blanket. We, as parents, should always be the net our children know is stretched wide over the ocean of insecurity as they tread the tight rope high above.
It is not my child’s responsibility to bring me back from the depth. The circumstances I found myself in through-out my adult life are my wars to wage. My battles to win. All my child should remember of their childhood was a parent who did the very best in whatever capacity it was available. They should be able to rely on a good home, good food, and a good Mom who never shorted them on the emotional sanctuary they required for whichever stage they found themselves in. And now with an adult child of my own, two teens, a tween and a kiddo right behind her, I feel at this point, I am still learning. I am still asking forgiveness of my kids. I am still trying to break cycles. I am still reminding myself on the daily that the situations I have created, or those that have presented themselves to me – that I am a good Mom. I never served a narrative to any of these children that they were, in any way, responsible for “what happened to me”.
My children created the good in me. They saved me. They encouraged me to become stronger. To push harder. To reject the less than awesome. They remind me that I’m responsible to something bigger than myself and my own emotional hangups. I’m responsible to ensuring them a foundation of safe space, access to good counselors, downtime, judgement-free zones. They have to know that they can get angry and say shitty things. And to feel the need to apologize later, but it won’t make me love them any less. They have to be able to watch me try, fall down, and figure it out. So that they know that it’s okay to have the bad days, and make up for them with the good days. That some days Mom needs to blog, or draw a picture to restore her mental capacity. They have to feel like they are allowed to be teenagers. They have to be allowed to make mistakes. To let their hormones surge through them with a veracity so strong, they barely know they’re human anymore. But that someone still loves them at the end of the day. They have to see my response to extreme situations. How I handle a fight or argument with my partner. How I can claim responsibility to that anger. How I could do better.
And this is how we do better.
We can do better, and better as parents once we remember that we were the ones that gave our children the power to hold us accountable. Their access to the fundamental basics was a gift we gave them. And the greatness of nurturing those gifts is what will give us the chance to be excellent parents the rest of our lives. Because we don’t ever stop being parents. We don’t ever give up the chance to be that which our kids need – the safe space they’d always relied on. Where they came to cry. Where they came to confess. Where they came to be angry, or vent. Where they came hurt and broken. Where they said: he stole my toy, she broke up with me, they evicted me. Where they could say – Mom, I’m lost and I can’t find my way, please help me. And instead of my shaking my fist, and providing receipts from the days and weeks, and months, and years I offered bail-outs, I – instead – gave them all they needed from me. Me. That’s what they asked for. And here I am.
In front of me, in this moment, are three young ladies. In three different phases of their lives. Downstairs, a young man sleeps. I hung up an hour ago with a beautiful, young adult living her best life in her first apartment. And I will close my eyes tonight on another day I remembered to break the cycle. And instead of choosing to live in a land of hurt, pain, trauma, bad days, bad decisions, horrible consequences, and bitterness – I chose instead to give these five the best version of me. Because that’s all they asked for. That’s all any of our kids are asking for.
— c ☆
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