I speak to my closest sister on a constant basis. We laugh about certain childhood traumas and wrap events into adult wit, explanation, and dismissiveness. We talked as therapy even when we didn’t recognize talking was therapy. We found coping tools to step around real traumas – traumas that are very close to the surface, that both my sister and I didn’t want to pass on to our children. We are both what most would consider financially successful, so it would seem we out ran and left behind that tiny dusty town in eastern Oklahoma and everything bad that happened while we were kids. I know, however, that, until recently, I parented based on keeping my children from having my experiences of neglect and poverty.
I’m a helicopter mom that probably over-does even the simple things. Not too deep down, I was, and have always been, terrified that someone or something would hurt my child or give them negative experiences. I always held dear the notion that everything I was doing or not doing was going to be a memory in my child’s mind that might stay with them long after it was over. Down to the way I decorated their rooms, I kept in my mind that this room would be the room of their childhood memories. I didn’t want it to be less than a great memory.
My own memories of a child growing up in poverty were a crowded home with little to no space to call my own. We were spanked – what most people today would call “beaten” – for any-and-everything. We were yelled at, cursed at. Home didn’t feel like a place of consistent safety. This isn’t meant to disparage my parents. As I’ve grown, sought the help I needed, and reflected on my parents as people, not just parents, I have grown to see that they were doing their best with the tools they were given. However, as a mother, my number one goal became saving my children from suffering adverse experiences – in whatever form they might come. I didn’t trust them attending sleepovers. I didn’t trust people spending the night in my home with my children. And I didn’t trust even my own marriage to provide love and balance to my children. This was all based on my ACEs.
I didn’t know it, but because of my own adverse childhood experiences, I was parenting out of fear.
I spoiled my children rotten in an effort to heal that I never had anything growing up. I indulged my children’s every whim as if it was a necessity. I grew up with one pair of ragged shoes, so my children had more shoes than I could count. I could go on forever. I carried the household chores of a grown up at ten, so I rarely burdened my children with chores or the hard work they need to learn to be functional adults. I defended my children from every perceived threat, I was overly sensitive, way too defensive and hyper-overprotective over EVERYTHING. I literally had a mental quota of holding my kids and giving them one-on-one attention so I never felt like I was accidentally neglecting them or our relationship. I never wanted my children to need closure and answers to their childhood like I did.
Parents die, as mine have, and I will never be able to ask as an adult, why? I can also never ask, how? How do I do this job of motherhood? Maybe more importantly, I was scared for a long time that some of my parents’ deepest flaws were inside of me, and that somehow, against my will, I would become them, or repeat their mistakes.
But I also knew that parenting with shame and fear was not the way. I have learned that shame is a controlling demon and a heavy burden. And one way to loosen its grasp is to talk. Talk to your family, to your friends, and seek therapy if need be. Knowledge is power. I began to recognize why I parent the way I do, both good and bad. I overcompensate. I overindulge. I insulate and I hover. I see that I’m capable of harming my children with suffocation. I was raised by an alcoholic father and a mother who suffered from chronic depression. It made me keenly independent. I certainly don’t want those traumas for my babies, but I don’t want to render them impotent to adult life because of overcompensation. Therapy has helped me to realize when I lack balance and to remove shame from my personal ACEs.