Parenting – The struggle of raising children after abuse
There is no getting away from the shame I feel for making my next statement, but having children completely and utterly messed my head up, even more than it was already. For as long as I can remember, I knew that I wanted children; to have that unconditional love with another human and somebody to need me for something; but I wanted to try and do it the ‘right way’. I waited to fall pregnant until after my university qualifications and after marriage and I was determined to do things in the right order (marriage, mortgage, baby in that order) because I felt like it was the right thing to do and that is how things should happen. I knew the type of mother I wanted to be and I knew I was going to make conscious choices to be nothing like my own mother. I knew that nobody would ever hurt my babies, the way I had been hurt, because I wouldn’t allow that to happen. I saw my main role as a protector.
I was presented with this little bundle of joy, after spending eighteen hours labouring and I can’t begin to put into words the feeling of complete and unconditional love, I think I felt for the first time, in that moment. I did not think that anyone had ever felt for me, what I did for my child in that moment and I could do nothing but cry. I cried with relief that the pain of the labour was over. I cried for the relief that, although it was a difficult delivery, it was a safe one. I cried with pride that I was able to give this gift of a son (his first son) to my husband. But, selfishly, I also cried for the little kid that is stuck inside me; my inner child. The little kid, that so desperately wanted to be loved but never found or received it, was screaming out inside me. She wanted what I found easy to show my child and she was hurting, with the non-understanding of her parents poor treatment of her. Becoming a new parent and not realising how completely having a baby flips life as you know it, I was not in a position to acknowledge or nurture that inner child. It is only now looking back, that I realise that the reason for some of the tears, in the first few minutes of being a parent, was a deep soul destroying sadness in what was a completely beautiful moment.
I have always been a worrier, but this was magnified ten fold following birth and the responsibility and dependence, of a new born, that came with it. I worried about everything. I was consumed with self doubt and I worried that I was getting everything wrong; whether I was holding the baby the correct way; whether he was too hot or too cold; what the midwives (and then the health visitors) thought about my parenting prowess; whether combination feeding was an O.K. path to take (my eldest was a lazy boy and he never did master the art of latching on to breastfeed); if breaking the strict routine I found myself creating and controlling was acceptable; choosing to vaccinate or not. Everything! I doubted myself and all of my motherly instincts, because deep down I believed myself to be faulty. (Why else was I the victim of abuse and wrapped up in the feeling of being completely un-loveable?). How did I know how to love or raise a child if nobody had shown me the correct way to do it? I disregarded my mum and dads example, and I felt lost and overwhelmed trying to find my own way.
With the arrival of my second child I worried that I would not have enough love to share (I stupidly thought that maybe that was the reason I had felt so unloved growing up: because my mum did not have enough love to go around with there being three of us). Of course I did have enough love to share and in hindsight I don’t know why I worried about this. Although I love my children equally in amount, I love them in different ways and indeed, I love different things about each of them. I felt severely broken, that I had completely failed my children, with the breakdown of my marriage and I felt very guilty. I was convinced that I had failed my children for not providing a stable family environment with two parents, to love and nurture them and guide them in this world and I worried about the effect this would have on them in later life. I wanted everything to be perfect for my children and divorced parents was not perfect in my eyes. I think I was fighting against the shame I felt as a victim of abuse, by looking for perfection in every area of my life. I was obviously doomed to fail. I had unrealistic expectations of people in my pursuit of perfection and I felt constantly disappointed with myself (and my husband) and this approach only led to more self damage.
I was very concerned about entering into another relationship and whether I had made the right choice for a step-parent to my children. I also worried about having three children because I was the eldest of three and it was not a pleasant experience. I try intently, to show my children the same amount of time and attention, because I know how damaging it can be, to feel like you are the one being left out or ostracised. The truth is, your youngest child is your baby and quite often has needs that the older ones no longer have and I worry that the older children, see this as favouritism. I continue to worry about everything as they get older; the food they eat and whether they are getting all of the nutrients they need to grow and be healthy; whether I am choosing acceptable and appropriate discipline strategies; I worry about the people my children choose to mix with and the effect they have on my children; I worry about gaming and the amount of time spent on electronic devices; I worry about the life lessons I try and show my children and allow them to experience for themselves. I worry about the memories they will have when they look back on their childhoods. The worry never stops. I certainly do not want to be raising little people who are not grounded and who are not well rounded and who end up in therapy in later life themselves. How do we know if we are getting it right?
I take my children to places and I show them things because I really want them to have good memories of their childhood. I have revisited places of significance and poignancy for me, to try and make good memories with my children, but also to try and flip individual memories from bad ones, to good for myself. I torture myself and I catch myself, while in these nice moments with my children, thinking, “it wasn’t like this for me”. I almost have a jealously of my children’s innocence and ignorance to pain and trauma. It makes me sad and it leads to me questioning my parent’s behaviours. How could any parent treat their child like mine treated me? Places I was taken and things I was shown, were often ruined by rows and arguments, to the point where I have very limited good memories, from my childhood. Now I am ruining new memories I am trying to create with my children, for myself, because I have these intrusive thoughts and I am powerless to stop them.
I have felt that my children are products and reflections of me and my parenting. How my children present themselves and behave is judged by everyone who sees them and directly links back to me and the way I bring them up. I like my children to take pride in their appearance and they are always clean and tidy and presentable and I have used this as a gage to evaluate my competence. I am a strong believer in manners and the fact that they cost nothing and I in-still their value in to my children. My children do not like to be dirty and this is the result of me cleaning the smallest mark off of them as babies and toddlers, because I believed this to be a reflection of my parenting. This has impacted on certain aspects of play, as my children do not really indulge in messy play easily. My eldest has exhibited some cleanliness O.C.D traits and has made his hands very sore with excessive hand washing and I can’t help but think that this is because of me and my perception of what others think of me as a parent. It’s not my children with the issue: it is me.
I consciously try to be nothing like my mother, but I catch myself saying things that my mother said to me and I fear, turning into her. I have to remind myself that some of the things I catch myself saying are normal parenting statements from normal parenting situations. Things like “if the wind changes your face will stay like that” and “if you have not got anything nice to say, then do not say anything at all” and “I will bang your heads together”, are things I have caught myself saying. I have had to learn that these are examples of things that all parents say at one time or another because we all face the same frustrating problems. I have to try and separate what is normal parenting from my fear of turning into my mother and this is both tiring and hard.
I did not have kids to dump them in child-care but I also did not go to university to end up unemployed or living on benefits. My kids see me going to work and they see that mummy (and daddy) have to save and work hard for the things we have and I think that this, is a massively important life lesson. I would hate for my children to have a self righteous sense of entitlement. I think by leaving my children at child care, this has enabled them to be trusting. They see that mummy always comes back to pick them up and I hope that this makes them feel safe. The time I spend at work, also gives my children and I a chance to miss each other and I hope this means that we both value the time we have together a little bit more.
I hope that my children get everything they need and some of what they want from me and that I have managed to find an appropriate balance. I try hard not to spoil my children because I don’t want them to be unappreciative and expecting, but I can’t help treating them every now and then and watching their faces light up with happiness. I like to plan surprises but I can’t stand surprises myself. It is a very fine line, because I want my children to have everything I never did. I try hard to keep the magic of childhood alive for them as long as possible but they grow up so quickly and they are socialised on the playground. There are some things I have no control over and it scares me.
Dealing with bad behaviour and attitude that every child displays, I find very hard to get my head around. I like to think that my children have a nice life, an opportunity to experience lots of different things and a happiness that comes from within. The nagging, the whining and the sibling bickering that every parent has to deal with, sends my head into chaos. My children do not live the life I did, but this type of behaviour makes me feel like my children are not grateful or appreciative. I sometimes feel like nothing I do makes my children happy and I ask myself why I bother to try so hard.
There is a critical voice in my head which is constantly telling me I’m getting everything wrong. I don’t trust my own judgement and I struggle over every single, big, adult, decision I have to make which impacts on my children. It’s very difficult trying to manage my need to keep my children safe and as child-like as I can, for as long as possible, while exposing them to situations and choices which will make them confident, strong, independent beings. I felt very stifled growing up and like my view/opinion/outlook did not matter. I felt like I was not trusted to makes decisions or learn from my own mistakes. I do not want my children to always be in my shadow. I want them to step out into the sunshine and to live life.
I see the dangers of situations much quicker than my children do and I can see how things can/could play out, and as much as I would like to, I realise that I can not protect them from everything. I look for things that are not there and I worry about things that have not happened yet. I have difficulty watching the news because I have fear for my children and the world that I have bought them into. However, I don’t know if this is how all good parents are, or whether this is another unwanted consequence of dealing and coming to terms with the sexual, physical and emotional abuse I endured.
Having children and recovering from the effects of abuse is very hard. I have to try and hold everything together when all I feel like doing is falling apart. I try to limit the effect my therapy has on my children but if I am honest, this is the time when I probably appear to them at my most disconnected. I can bury myself in my writing, music or crosswords so that my children see ‘normal’, as a way of coping when my head is so busy and full of memories and flashbacks. There is lots about my life that I have not shared with my children and I don’t want them to feel sorry for me or feel like they have to look after me. This is not their job. In an attempt to not pass my ‘shit’ and its impact on to the kids I sometimes feel like I am emotionally separated and distanced from them and I can’t seem to stop this. Is this because I did not have a very good parenting example to follow? I know I disappear off in to my own head-space, keeping my pain from my children. The truth is, that as much as I try and protect my children from what is going on for me, I am probably exposing them to feelings that are not healthy. It is not something I want, to be disconnected, but sometimes I am. It is the way that has enabled me to cope and contain the distress I feel.
Feeling the pain in order to release it, is a process I feel like I need to control, in order to protect my children from its impact. This is probably one of the reasons I have so much trapped emotion. I can feel pain for my children when they are sad and when their best friend has said something that has hurt them. Strangely I find it easier to feel when I can imagine my kids in a certain situation. I can imagine how my children would feel in a situation and imagine the impact on them, if traumatic things were a part a their life. I think this is a degree of separation which enables me to explore my own trauma, but which keeps me safe.
How can anybody do such despicable things to a child? I look at my daughter, who is a similar age to me when the sexual abuse started and I just think why? I don’t think I will ever understand my mum’s behaviour or indeed the sexual abuse I suffered at the hands on my dad. I am sure there are going to be many more milestones as my children career towards adulthood which send me off balance and cause me to question everything my parents were. I wish I had no need to waste so much energy thinking about it, but the inner child in me demands this attention from me now. I avoid playing with my children sometimes because I do not want the indulgence that my inner child demands.
Maybe I should tell my children the things that I endured; maybe then my children will appreciate the life they have and how completely different some people’s experience is. Maybe I protect my children from the effect of my journey too much. I have to remind myself that my children are normal children. My children are happy. I hope that I am self aware enough to not damage them, in the ways I was damaged. I hope and pray that I am not getting everything so completely wrong.