This one goes out to the cycle breakers. Your strength is inspiring.
Nothing triggers our childhood traumas like having children of our own.
For the first year of my son’s life, I struggled with resentment. With every decision I made on his behalf, my inner child wailed, “But why not me? What about me? It isn’t fair!”
It took time to calm and comfort that little girl. She still complains on occasion. Her upset is justified.
But my resentment towards my parents? I had to let it go.
We all do the best we can with the tools we have.
My parents were orders of magnitude more gentle and loving than their parents, and I am so grateful for that. Thanks to the progress they made, I can do even better for my son.
The Cycle of Abuse
This term is often applied to horrific abuse, but often the cycle of abuse is more subtle than that.
“My parents spanked me and I turned out just fine!” That kind of thing.
And then there’s the emotional abuse. The guilt trips, shame, and belittling that many children suffer.
This Be The Verse by Philip Larkin
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.
That was my mom’s plan. She never wanted kids… until she did.
Of course, forgoing parenthood isn’t the only answer. We build on our parents’ strengths, and we learn from their mistakes.
Our culture has normalized a number of abuses. Our job as parents is to examine these norms and replace the broken pieces.
Breaking the Cycle
My parents are cycle breakers. Though the child in me is still hurt by my mother’s distance, my father’s temper, I appreciate the huge strides they made away from their own childhoods.
My father’s father was abusive, physically and emotionally. (Though, I believe, less abusive than his own father.)
My dad made chicken soup when I was sick, wrapped me in quilts, and told me bedtime stories. Every day he told me that he loved me.
My mother’s mother hit her, even when she was a toddler. My grandmother wielded hangers, hurled insults, and dragged her by the hair.
My mom spoke to me in a quiet voice. She colored with me, taught me how to climb trees, and read to me. She never hit me.
When my paternal grandmother found her son under a car, bloody and half conscious, her first words were, “Your new pants!”
When I suffered a similar spill, my dad scooped me up and carried me inside, wracked with guilt that I’d been hurt on his watch.
My parents didn’t — couldn’t — give me everything I needed. But they gave me everything they could.
They built me a bridge from the swamps of their childhoods to solid ground.
I can only imagine what they experienced as they adjusted to parenthood. The resentment they felt over their own upbringings. The hurts that drove my father’s outbursts, my mother’s poor decisions.
Their upbringings left holes they tried to fill with other people, unhealthy relationships. Like most of us, they were unequipped for adulthood, for parenthood. But they tried their best.
And, for the most part, they succeeded.
I never doubted my parents’ love for me. Not when my dad shouted. Not even when my mom moved across the country without me.
I knew, even as a child, that his anger and her decisions were rooted in their own pain. Not in a lack of love.
That’s not to say these things didn’t hurt me. They did and they do.
But they didn’t shake the ground beneath my feet.
I stood firm on the knowledge that I was loved, that I am worthy of love.
This is still true today.
Even when my dad disagrees (really strongly disagrees) with my choices, he supports me. He’s always been proud of me — and he made sure that I knew it.
Even when I’m peevish with my mom (or downright mean, in the depths of my sleep-deprived resentment), she’s patient with me. Endlessly forgiving. And giving.
I’m grateful to be able to parent my son with all of the love his grandparents gave me… and a much lighter burden, too.
May his be lighter still.