They say that parenthood doesn't come from any how-to books, but I believe this to be untrue. Our own mothers and fathers write the book on parenting; their behaviours, both lousy and favourable, are modeled for us from birth. Some write a fairy tale, full of wholesomeness and effervescent adventures, while others create a mediocre tale of discipline, values, and ordinary experiences. And then there are those who write a horror story of atrocity, dysfunction, and cruelty. Of course, as their children, we not only read the book, we must fully participate in the tale. And then we must decide, as adults, and as parents, whether we want to carbon copy their version, alter some of the chapters, or perhaps even tear up the pages and create our own new book. Every child is faced with this same challenge. I was no exception.
In my youth, I didn't believe that motherhood would be a role I would take on. Like so many other young women in their early twenties, I was enjoying a time of freedom from responsibility other than for myself, my job, and my friendships. It was the eighties, a time of big hair, shoulder pads, blue eyeshadow, leg warmers, new wave, pop, and punk rock music. Having the freedom to play, drink, dance, laugh, and imbibe in complete and utter silliness was paramount in my life.
I came from a childhood home where oppression and control was the norm. My parents were very young and ill-equipped for the responsibility of parenting. My father was often absent, leaving my mother to parent alone. He was an alcoholic, who when he was at home, raged and spewed his anger upon his wife and his children. Both of my parents were never afraid to use physical force to create fear and obedience amongst my brothers and I. I didn't dare to challenge them, and while growing up I worked hard to get good grades and help with house chores, and tried to keep a low profile. I felt terrified much of the time. My parents were writing the book on parenting in front of my eyes, and it was a horror story if ever there was one.
Once I became an adult and was living on my own, released from the shackles of my parents' domination, my behaviour became unrestrained. I became the "party girl" and having unbridled fun was at the top of my priority list. I didn't want anything to do with the book my parents had written for me. I wanted to toss it aside and run as fast as possible. We can never give up our desire to belong though, not entirely, and so I soon found myself in the arms of a local man, in love, and soon married. He was everything I thought I was lacking with my family; he wanted to be with me, he encouraged me, he loved me in return.
Life is unpredictable though. Like the reader who does not know what will happen in the next chapter, I was unprepared for what lay before me. Shortly into my new marriage, my baby brother was found dead at the bottom of a lake, the result of an accidental drowning, at the tender age of twenty. I was devastated by the loss. Shock, anger, and mourning colonized my being. Ahead of me was the immense task of learning to live each day, without my adored younger sibling. We had been close as children and still as adults, even moving across the street to be near one another. The thought of continuing life without my brother was unbearable at times. My friends had little understanding of my intense pain; even I had difficulty processing it. I slept more and felt a sense of heaviness and fatigue in performing daily tasks. My parents were numb in their loss and wanted me to provide them strength I was barely capable of giving. My eldest brother had moved thousands of miles from home and made a new life for himself. My remaining brother was so damaged by the cruelty of my parents that he was understandably emotionally-unavailable. And my husband, presumed love of my life at the time, maintained a sweep-it-under-the-rug philosophy of life, which left me feeling more isolated in my grief. He didn't talk about my loss with me, and I felt strongly that the overall expectation of me was to just get on with things. This was impossible. I was not able to push down and lock away my enormous grief. I needed to talk about my loss and express my feelings, to be heard and recognized that I was hurting.
Soon after the loss of my brother I walked away from my constraining marriage. I realized I couldn't live with someone who would never be there to support me fully in my pain. This was my childhood all over again; the book of ugly parenting had returned. When I look back now, I know that part of leaving the marriage was me running from myself and my deep despair over the loss of my brother. I felt suffocated living within the confines of our childhood memories, every crevice of our hometown a reminder of my brother's presence, and an even more painful memorial of what could have been, what would never be again. I packed up and moved to the city and created a new life for myself, one of self-discovery through new friendships, fresh neighbourhoods, and an enormous hunger to burn away my grief, making it no longer recognizable, a mere smear of cheerless emotion. I grieved. I cried. I screamed. And when the emotional pain was too much, I partied, clubbing with friends, drinking and dancing, dissolving my angry and wounded emotions inside a hazy blur.
It was in this time, though, that I realized I could not just flee from my emotional wounds. The memories in my mind and the trauma they contained could not be escaped. It was not like my parents or my marriage; I could not simply walk out the door of my own emotions. I had to heal and prepare myself for the future. This was a defining moment for me, and is where I would draw the strength later in life to hold the pen that wrote my own book on parenting.
I would get that opportunity to begin writing in my late twenties, when I met a wonderful man with a loving heart and an enormous capacity to give. He showed me true love, and my new approach on life led me to want to heal my emotional wounds of the past, and create a new life, including marriage and children.
Just three months beyond my thirtieth birthday, I gave birth to a baby boy, and my life would change dramatically, shedding my former self and morphing into something unrecognizable. Four years later, I was delighted to have a second son, a sibling for his big brother. My beautiful little family was now complete. Despite my own upbringing I now realized that I possessed a maternal depth I had assumed was unreachable. I felt I could write my own book, a more compassionate and nurturing story than my parents had created.
Of course, there were moments in my parenting that brought forward ugly memories of my own childhood. An inconsolable and demanding baby can raise one's blood pressure to the point of wanting to explode. Moments like these brought an opportunity for awareness of what I wanted and didn't want to create as a parent. Every day I made the conscious choice that I would mother from a gentler and healthier perspective than my own mother and father had. It was important for me to now create a footprint that would serve to be a great example, a story of good parenting for the next generation. I prepared to roll up my sleeves, and take on the challenge. I would do whatever I could to provide a home that would feel safe and secure, and be filled with massive amounts of love and joy.
It was obviously not easy to do. I made many mistakes along the way; I screamed and I cried in agony, I laughed and I soared in pleasure, but I stayed true to my goal. My intentions always came from a well-meaning place. I worked supremely hard, and as a parent, I am still a work-in-progress. Now, more than ever, I understand the tools it takes, the support it requires, and the perseverance and determination needed to make it work well. There is no cookie cutter set of rules or guidelines that work for every family, no universal text. From infancy to toddler, from youngster to teenager, each child is unique, and with that comes the opportunity for my own growth and adaptability, as well as theirs. I understand the challenges in the many phases of fostering a new generation and that even as adults, my sons still require my support and guidance. I keep an open mind, am willing to learn and adjust my approach, as required and I am constantly aware that my undivided attention to this role must meet a higher standard than the one I was modelled. This is the promise I made to myself and my children since embarking on this journey.
Now that I am writing my own story on parenting, I look back at the one my parents created for me to follow. I think about where it must have come from, and the tales I have gathered over the years from them are not pleasant. They also came from a history of dominance, and atrocious methods of parenting. Knowing what I do now, I hold no animosity for their behaviour. I understand that they made their choice as parents. They chose to copy the old book on parenting, perhaps because they lacked the tools, support or creativity to deviate. It was from this environment though, and my other experiences throughout life, that I drew the strength to break away from their path. I wrote my own book on parenting, and while it isn't finished, I hope it at least inspires my children to continue to build on the foundation I have created, thus far.
Thank you for following my story. Don't forget to vote on this chapter, if you enjoyed it (click the star on the bottom left). I also welcome your feedback.
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Seeing Through the CracksNon-Fiction
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