Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"We just thought you were okay."

Tonight my mother and I had a discussion about our family and our two families. Our two families that live under this one roof. We talked about how she never imagined having to consider what her life with be like with two adult children still living at home, one of whom has a child. Or of how difficult it would be to live in the same home with her granddaughter, never expecting that this is how it would be. Mom and I have butted heads many times, usually over her expectations of how I would raise my child. Proud of herself when she sees me use some of her parenting tools and offended at times, even hurt, when I argue that something she did to me as a child made me feel awful and I vowed to never do that with my own daughter. I think all of us, when faced with the real possibilty of parenthood, flash back to a moment or an emotion in our childhoods that had such a lasting impact on our self-esteem, self-acceptance, or any other measurement of our own self-worth, that we shudder at the thought of making our own child live that same awfulness or awkwardness or whatever you have flashed back to.

Our conversation tonight led to some openings of sorts, some insights into each other's worlds and why we choose to parent our children the way we do. There were no parenting books involved in our decisions that led us down two different parenting paths. It was pretty much simple observations and how what we lacked during our childhoods was what we wanted to provide the most of in our children's lives.

My mother, as a child, lacked stability. I can't get into any more detail than that. However, those exact details are what drove her to provide for her three children the way she did: we had clean clothes, clean beds, three meals a day, discipline, hugs, and the basic comforts of daily life. We never thought we were missing anything. She did everything she could for us. She still does.

But there is one thing she feels she didn't have with me and that's a close relationship similar to the one I have with my own daughter. I don't tend to beat around the bush often, but I had to tread these waters carefully because, in no way, shape, or form, did I want my mother to feel like any blame has been pushed onto her for our lack of communication during my teenage years. As a toddler and elementary school-aged kid, I was a pain in the ass. It took until the age of eight to actually detach myself from her leg and learn to function as my own person. From that point on, she was lost to me.

When I was a teenager, our family struggled for a few years with a number of issues, mostly because of us kids. Again, I refuse to go into further detail, but my youngest brother had overwhelmingly won the "Hey, ALL EYES ON ME!" contest around the same time my oldest brother up and joined the Air Force. I soon became stricken with Middle Child Syndrome and did what any other mopey teenager would have done - I pretended there was nothing wrong. It was too late for me, though. Depression had kicked in and was accompanied by its dirty little friend, Anxiety. Except I didn't know what was wrong, I just knew that I hated it. And I hated me.

On my own, I fought through it. My emotional outbursts were blamed on my teenage hormones and the ever popular 1992 version of angst. I spent alot of time in my room and I spent alot of nights awake. Insomnia got into my bloodstream and created even more frustration in me. I sought out a diagnosis and, eventually, a support group, on my own. I started having difficulty just leaving my house. I'd had a gun pulled on me in my own backyard and I was convinced that someone was out to kill me. The mail could wait to be picked up - I wasn't going out there in that big, scary world! I skipped so much school, but enough to pass, and I remember my mother saying, "I don't care what you do anymore. I just don't want them to call me about it." And I had nobody to tell. Or so I thought. My folks didn't seem to be worried about me. As a pissed off teenager, I took that to mean, "They don't care."

And this is what I use to drive my parenting choices.

My mother pointed out how close Elle and I actually are. And it's true, we are very close. Our relationship is all I have to hold on to right now, while she still trusts me and values my opinion. This kid is a true individual, so I don't have to be too concerned about her losing herself completely even though I do admit she's a worrier with some social anxiety. I try to encourage her to be different, to be herself, to be as goofy as she wants to be so she will never feel like she's not enough for me. Or for anyone else. The geeks run the world and everyone looks back fondly on the "weird" kid and wishes they'd had the balls to be their own person back then, too. I have to convince her that it's okay to stand up to her father when he insults her or makes her feel like she's a disappointment. It's my job as her mother to make her feel safe and secure in this world. To make sure she knows that I DO CARE.

Mom: "You never told us you had these problems. We just thought you were okay."
Me: "You never asked. And I wasn't okay."

I still believe my mother had too much on her plate when I was a teenager (my father was in the military and not home too often) and, to be honest, my antics were kept quiet for the most part and I got away with alot. Until just a few years ago, I was convinced that if they'd paid more attention to me, my parents would have been able to just know that I was not in a good place, mentally and emotionally. I shouldn't have to tell them. Believe me, I know better now.

Amazingly, there were no tears and no accusations - just realizations. This is why this...this is why that...and so on. It explains why I like to bake with and take road trips with my daughter - because spending time with her is what makes her continue to trust me, to know I'll always be there. It also explains why cleaning my room has never been a priority. That was my mother's concern, to keep things clean and orderly.

That is her definition of a safe and secure childhood, for us. Mine is just different.


Sra said...

Nice post. Very insightful.

Beth said...

I sort of went through a similar thing with my mother. Things are okay now, but thats after a couple of years of therapy and a total change of mindset.

Mothers aren't easy.