Legacy of Love – Legacy of Pain
Sometime in my early forties I started seeing a therapist. I was fortunate to find one with whom I felt an immediate comfort and someone who would listen to everything I had to say without a hint of judgment. It is supposed to be this way but we are not always matched with someone so compatible. We used Cognitive Therapy which in a nut shell is this;
Cognitive therapy aims to help the patient recognize and reassess his patterns of negative thinking and replace them with positive thoughts that more closely reflect reality.
I never knew ahead of time what I would talk about and she let our conversations go wherever my mind and mood took us. Had she been more restrictive I doubt I would have made the progress I did because my thoughts were very scattered from Anxiety and from having so much to say. At the time, both of my children were having life difficulties, I was newly married to a man whose ex-wife was hell bent on making our lives as miserable as hers and my Mother’s health was getting worse and although I didn’t care for her physically, she turned to me and to my sister for much of her emotional support. This was particularly difficult as I was working on feelings and life patterns in my life that were caused in a large part by her own, untreated, mental illness and the abuse my sister and I suffered at her hands as children.
My own children have reached this approximate age and for
some years now have been very vocal in expressing what I did wrong in parenting
them and the grief it has caused. I
wrote one letter to my Mother about the pain I experienced and she was immensely
hurt, shocked and furious. She disowned
me, again, and told me how
ungrateful, hurtful and evil I was to speak such lies. She reminded me that she loved her own Mother
deeply and never spoke a cross word to her or of her. She reminded me that my sister was grateful,
visited her often and brought her beautiful gifts. All in all it was a very uncomfortable,
futile attempt to be heard by her and only caused her pain and left me trying
to fight her largest legacy – guilt. For
years I could be guilted into doing almost anything by anyone. I put up with insane beatings,
unfaithfulness, attacks to my mental well being and my tiny stash of self
esteem in my marriages.
Unfortunately for my children, I began to pass the same legacy down to them and in addition to guilt, I was a first class controller. If you’ve never studied family dynamics, it is a fascinating subject. My place in our family growing up was to keep my Mother as happy, calm and free from stress as possible. Tough assignment at ten years old and younger but it was what I learned and how I knew I was to function.
I took these two elements into my parenting and while I was
not as physically abusive as my mother had been by any means, I was emotionally
abusive and my acceptance of being treated like less than human by my son’s father
for nearly thirteen years, off and on, spoke volumes to my children about how
to behave toward me, toward others and ate away at their own self esteem. I speak now, not with pride of everything I've done, but with honesty, in the hopes it will gain the attention of just one person, whether an adult child or a parent.
In assessing myself as a parent, I believe my largest mistake, other than staying in an abusive marriage, was the insanity of inconsistency. Even being abused by our Mother we knew what to expect if we broke a rule, made her angry or were too visible. My children lived on a roller coaster powered by my mood swings, Depression and Anxiety. I sought help when my daughter was five and my son three, so I did try, but the psychiatrist I saw prescribed Valium for my nerves and sent me on my way. My daughter saw him too for Attention Deficit Disorder and Hyper-Activity. Back then there was one all or nothing approach to ADD and ADHD – Ritilan. It did not work for her, as a matter of fact it increased her activity and inability to concentrate or control inappropriate behaviors. Her pre-school teacher once said to me that she required 25 out of every 24 hours of the day. That pretty well summed it up. Patience was not something I had an abundance of although I would pray every night to be a better Mom, have more patience, be more understanding and have more energy the next day.
The main reason I am writing about this is to give voice to the children who have none and to give heed to parents who may see some thing of themselves in my writing. If you can not parent with love, healthy discipline such as boundary setting and teaching by example, consistently, get help and get it quickly. Don’t give up until you find a parenting class, a therapist or clergy that can help you become the parent you want to be deep inside. Don’t try to track your progress independently, make yourself accountable to someone, some group. We can be too hard on ourselves and we can also be in denial about something as personal as our parenting.
Finally, if your children are grown and you hear from them that they have anger toward you or blame you for situations in their lives, listen to them. Pay close attention and don’t interrupt or try to make excuses. Let them vent, hear what they are saying and even repeat it and ask if you heard what they said. It is hard to sit and be judged and we will often let anger, shame, guilt and denial change what they are trying to convey. If at all possible, suggest going to a family counselor and don’t settle for the first one you come across if everyone is not comfortable with them. You may have a lot of work to do and you can waste precious time, money and even make things worse if one or more of you feels uncomfortable with the style or personality of the therapist.
Sometimes, there may be a single incident that your adult child wants to discuss. It may be something you don’t even remember but if they do, it’s important that you hear them out. Kids don’t come with instructions although now-a-days there is so much more information available and it is readily available.
I am not suggesting that inappropriate behaviors are to be tolerated by your adult children because of mistakes you made in their upbringing. There is an age and stage of personal responsibility that we all reach at which you must take your life into your own hands, make the decisions and make whatever changes you need to become a responsible, and at least better adjusted, adult or young person. It is vitally important to separate action from person. I don’t like some of what my children do or the choices they make but I love them and they have learned to know the difference. They do not like some of my behaviors but they do love me and they are learning to respect me as I learn to respect myself.
I have three grandchildren. My grandson lives over a thousand miles away and has just recently started to come to his father’s for month long or longer visits. I love him and have from afar since the moment I saw the first picture of him and heard his cries over the phone. He and I though, have not been blessed with the opportunity to establish a close relationship, yet. By contrast, my two granddaughters and I have shared and continue to share a closeness that has enriched all of our lives, I believe, to the credit of their parents allowing this frequent contact and closeness. My sixteen year old granddaughter and I talk about four or more nights a week for well over an hour at a time. Her parents ask her what we could possibly have to talk about so often and for so long and she tells them, ‘Grandma listens and she gets it.” I do my homework, unbeknownst to her, to be able to relate when she speaks of different new groups, stars and fashions. It takes so little time with the internet to keep up. We certainly don’t always agree. I teased her the other night about Justin Bieber sounding like a very young Michael Jackson and she nearly blew the speaker on my cell phone when she yelled, “GRANNY!!!” , but the rewards are so many. She tells me things she won’t tell her parents and in doing so I have been able to give her advice that she actually put into practice when a young man was treating her with upmost disrespect. She would have been too afraid to tell her parents and because I don’t judge, she trusts what I say most of the time. She has my love of writing and she is a natural actor. She is impulsive and often rude, quick to anger and easily hurt. However, she is not rude to or around me, controls her anger and tells me if I hurt her. We have boundaries, she and I and we have respect and much, much love.
My other granddaughter and I spent a great deal of time with each other as she and her Dad lived with us for about a year and I cared for her for several of her just turned six, years. She and I play. We don’t mess around with long conversations. If she has something to say that is troubling her it is usually communicated through the mouth of a dinosaur or a stuffed animal. I started this early on when her biological mother and my son were in court over her custody and it has served us well. When she is comfortable enough speaking through the animals she speaks to me directly. We are blessed that many of the troubles in her life have righted themselves, with God’s help, and we have been able to get down to the mud pie making, rock collecting, bug discovering side of play. She told me recently, “Ga, you do know you’re kinda silly? But you are sure a lot of fun!” She gives my sloppy, sticky kisses and hugs so hard they hurt and I tuck away each and every one of them in my memory.
What kind of a legacy will I have left for my children and grandchildren? A mixture, I’m so very sorry to say, of love and of pain. We can’t undo what has been done but we can stop it from running haphazardly through generation after generation. We can allow any hurt we have caused to be spoken and truly apologized for and we can try very hard to do our very best to make the reminder of our years as a parent the best it can possibly be. It takes hard work, it often stings and it is so very worth it. What kind of legacy will you leave?