“Momma, I feel sad and I don’t know why.”
Startled to find my daughter so upset, I walked to her bed and put her on my lap. She nuzzled her head in to the crook of my neck and cried. I pulled her away a bit so that I could see her face. There it was. Pale lips and dark circles under her eyes. She was just tired. I told her to take a few deep breathes with me, close her eyes, and I rubbed her back until I heard that familiar rhythm in her breathe. I kissed her cheek and headed downstairs.
My daughter is so much like me. An old soul full of heart and fury. She digs deep to find the funny in life, but easily trips over frustration. I watch her get stuck on sad and overwhelmed when she’s angry. She loves deeply. She is persistently after a purpose. She is all or nothing. A trait that I know first hand can break you, if you never learn how to bend.
I walked from room to room, picking up toys and clothes and dishes. I couldn’t stop thinking about the very real possibility that my children will be at battle with their emotions and thoughts the way I have always been. Mental illness and trauma run rampant through my blood line. I am a product of generational dysfunctions, mental illness and addictive personalities. Raised on a foundation like that, how can I not fear that my children will feel a ripple effect.
Truth is, I’m scared as hell. That I am only going to encourage the ripple, simply by being me. That my faulted inner dialogue will start to become theirs. I am damaged goods, and it’s only a matter of time before I wear off on them. The weight of thinking this way pushes the air right out of me. It’s so familiar. A usual game-over for me, to which I fall defeated in to a funk.
However, there is something different about this moment. I’m less accepting of this way of thinking. This scenario that has played out in my head over and over seems to have lost some of its power. Finding and connecting with my tribe of parenting survivors has a huge role in that. The validation of hearing “me too,” and learning that I’m not alone in navigating PTSD symptoms as I raise my family has tipped the scales.
Maybe it is because of my inherent broken pieces, my sorrow, my personal fight, that I am the mother that they need. If or when that ripple reaches them, I’ll notice. They won’t get lost in a wave of unbalanced chemicals and a faulty response system like I did. I see invisible red flags everywhere I go, because I’ve been the one waving them. I know how to keep my children from being vulnerable to the real predators. I know the importance of trusting my gut and can teach my children to do the same.
I understand the value of validating a child’s words and actions, because mine never were. I know how dangerous it is to neglect a child’s mental health. I have the scars to prove it. It’s because of those invisible scars that I can love, nurture and protect my children with empathy. I have to remember that although wounded, I have succeeded at breaking a cycle. I did that. That holds more power than any cracks in my or my children’s foundation.
Embracing our imperfections for what they are and what they are not is the only way parenting survivors can ease this kind of fear. We can’t change the building blocks our children have been given, but we can accept them with grace. We don’t have all the answers but what we do know, they will be better off for it. We need to stop tearing ourselves apart and harboring so much unnecessary guilt. Most of us would never advise a friend the way we advise ourselves. So why do we value others self worth more than our own?
Isn’t this true for most parents? That we all have these self doubts and moments of “not good enough.” The reasons are different but I truly believe it is because we just want to get this one job, raising our children, right.
Perhaps these imperfections are my tools, gifts really, that allow me to raise, protect and love in a way that fits my children’s mold. We all want the next generation to do a little better than we did. We have to be in tuned with our own glitches in order to make that happen. If we never accept and examine the glitches, we may never see them for what they really are–advantages.
My children may turn out like me, but they are not me. I can only hope that it is the best parts of me that they absorb. They will benefit from what I’ve been through, hopefully without ever having to experience it. But if in fact they do grow to have demons that knock on their own door, they will be equipped with the most perfect, imperfect tools I can give them…and they will thrive.
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