I grew up with my mother’s conflicting refrains of how she would die for her children while at the same time how she absolutely despised having to take care of them. Let me be clear, my mother is a good, loving person but her outbursts and tantrums at how unfair her life was and the verbal dressing-downs I got as the supposed cause of her misery did a number on my head.
As a child, I grew up with the absolute knowledge that I had ruined her life and that I was the cause of all her suffering. This person who I loved dearly and depended on completely absolutely hated me. And I can look back now and feel a deep compassion at how fearful and inadequate my mother actually felt, but an eight year old doesn’t get it. To a child, the world is black and white, right and wrong, and I knew without a doubt that I was not wanted and I was not worthy of anyone’s time or attention.
My experience is not unique because all children are shaped by this contradiction of perceived need and what is actually available. This includes basics like food and shelter but it also includes time, energy and attention. And being raised by a single parent, all of these were at times in short supply. With my perceived needs not being met, all I could do was assume that it was because I was a worthless piece of trash.
We all cope with this in different ways. I retreat and numb. I try to get very quiet and very small, and when I start to feel worthless, I want to drown this out with any number of distractions. Eating, shopping, Netflix bingeing...basically I want to hurt myself if it means I don’t have to feel like a total loser for even just a few minutes.
My point, as a childless adult child, is this: no one needs you to be a martyr. No one needs you to be willing to die for them. No one needs your sacrifice out of a sense of obligation. What people actually need is for each one of us to genuinely take care of ourselves. To constantly check in with ourselves and really feel it all, including the icky sticky within. When we make room for our pain, fear, and hope, we move into authenticity. This keeps these uncomfortable experiences from mutating until we have no choice but to pour them into a giant cauldron labeled blame and dump it on some unsuspecting soul who just happens to have the bad luck of proximity.
And to any parent reading this, your job is hard. Like so hard that I said no thanks. And I am in awe of parents who can keep their shit together the majority of the time and I am compassionate towards those who can’t, because parenthood looks like a mindfuck of the most epic proportions. But please never forget that the soul you are caring for didn’t have much choice in the matter of becoming your child. And never forget that you too were once a child just as innocent and precious as your own, and it is a good idea to let that inner kid cry until its broken heart starts to mend with the love and strength of your hug.
We don’t need to die for one another: we need to live fully and truthfully for one another.