Thursday, March 21, 2013

Take a Deep Breath. Just Breathe.

My early life was shaped by divorce. Anger and people leaving and financial worry were just the norm. There would be a few good years and then they'd be over, and we'd be moving or someone would be moving out. If you haven't lived through it yourself, you may not know the toll all that moving out and moving on can take.

As a child, I had adults I cared about blatantly lie about how they were going to keep in touch. One, thinking my mother picked up the phone, said outright that she didn't want to see me anymore so I cut up all the pictures that we were in together. Every single one. I've watched my dad barricade the front door on Christmas Eve to keep a certain someone from breaking in - and then she broke in anyway half a year later. I have holed up with my mother in an illegal apartment and cooked on a hotplate. I've been ashamed to share my story - stories, really - with friends.

But that's not the worst of it. The worst thing was living under the gray shadow of parental stress.

It's not something I really understood until becoming a parent myself. When I was younger, my mother (who I hope will forgive me for saying this) made some fairly big mistakes. It's not my place to go into them here, but suffice it to say that there are some things that will always be the cold undercurrent in the flow of our relationship. I wasn't a perfect kid by any means, but she was the grownup and there are decision she made that I will never understand

But here's what I do understand. For a lot of my life, my mother was scared, and fear makes people do irrational things. There was a time we had very little money, even for necessities. She was a single parent without a strong support system. And that meant there wasn't a lot of security for either of us. So she tried to find support. There as a time she wasn't there and  knowing I would always be in the background needing care was scary, so she tried to find someone to be a caregiver. There were times she had to choose between people, and I'm sure that scared her, too, and so she made her choices.

Fear creates stress and leads people down dark roads. I, as a parent, have enjoyed relative security when it comes to things like housing, food, and other necessities – and there has even been money for extras. My support system is broad. At home, I have the mister's second set of hands and second income and also his kind heart.

When I try to imagine struggling to feed my children or sharing a one room roach-infested apartment with them or having no one to turn to in troubled times except people who fall on the wrong side of right, I feel stressed, and that's just me picturing that life in my head! If I was living it, I don't know what I'd do. What kinds of decisions I would make. How I'd respond to the demands of my children. Whether I'd be kind or unkind. Who I'd take into my confidence. Who I'd let care for my family in my absence.

And yet, even as far removed as I am from that kind of hardship, I can feel myself sliding a little bit toward that same way of being sometimes when work gets nuts or worse, slows down, and I don't like it. Stress is there when I'm raising my voice on a very late morning because P. is having trouble with her shoes or asking to bring just one more toy. Such little things to inspire such a bark as mine! But I know, because I have lived it from the other end and have not only heard the bark but felt the slap of the hand, my own worries should not become my children's hurt. I've been on the receiving end and it makes for such a dark childhood.

Truly dark in a way many people can't understand. I used to think of childhood as something to be endured until the age of autonomy allowed you to escape your family and build your own definition of being. Distancing the self from the tribulations of the parents as the main goal of growing up. The idea that a person would look fondly on childhood was absolutely foreign to me.

It is only as I watch my own children simply live that I can understand why anyone might actually dream of revisiting childhood. Childhood, apparently, can be carefree and beautiful like I saw it in books and on television and at other people's houses.

I'll never get to experience that for myself, but I can do everything I can to make sure that P. and Bo will. And sometimes that means just breathing. One more toy. A problematic shoe. One too many requests for a movie or another jellybean. Doesn't matter. Look at their faces. Breathe. 

parental stressparental stress


  1. It's just awesome (I mean that in the sincere form of the word, not "tubular") to observe what you've made from that dark place. What a gift!

    1. Your comment SO made me smile AND made me laugh :) Thank you!!

  2. I come from a different sort of dark place, and I'm really impressed with your ability to be a kick-ass parent, wife, and provider. You are one strong lady. Hugs to you.

  3. Your kids are lucky to have a mom who is choosing to break the cycle of dysfunction, in favor of a happy, safe childhood. Things weren't great when I was growing up. I find that my parenting choices are often a direct response, in the opposite direction, of how things were when I was a kid.

  4. I have a dark past, too, which I've been spelunking again in lately with a therapist. It's not a fun place to go. But I also find my rage too quick, over little things. And it's scary. It's brave to promise yourself NOT to go there. But I think it's also OK to be gentle to ourselves as we talk out our mistakes in front of our children. Because for me, anyway, it's not just the "happy place" that makes for a stronger foundation, but a place in which mistakes happen, and adults are honest, and can be trusted to try their hardest again, just as children are asked to do. Breathing with you.

  5. Kudos to you for deciding to be such a wonderful mom to your kids :) It's easy to lose it and alot harder to take a breath- but like you said all you have to do is look at their faces. Keep it up!

  6. My early past was shaped by a dark loss. It was the only early childhood I knew, and I do find it creep up sometimes as I'm parenting my own, but yes, we can break the cycles and be strong. You rock!

  7. Amen for lighting up the dark! My childhood was similarly dark and I think it left me wired for stress. Funny (not ha ha) how your own parents' problems (depression, divorce, drugs,) shape your childhood and never really go away. I have to make a conscious effort daily to do things different because it's so easy to slide into that darl territory.


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