Time will do the Talking

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

In one of the last times I spoke with my mother, we had a rather heated argument. In an empty Chinese restaurant, with my sister looking pointedly down at her food, our voices raised in anger. My sister had just been released from the hospital following a half hearted suicide attempt - which would be followed by her near fatal attempt two years later.

During this argument, in one of her many attempts to goad me into forgetting or shame me into silence, my mother yelled these words at me:

"I hope Emily grows up and blames you for everything."

Powerful words, these.  And certainly not an idea I hadn't had a million anxiety ridden moments before those words hurtled at me, nor the million moments after they soaked into my skin.

At the time, my ability to stay calm and respond astonished me. What I recall saying to my mother was along the lines that Emily's stories will belong to her and that I will have to accept that as her truth, which meant that I would have to accept responsibility if and when Emily told me her stories.

(cough cough - Wasn't a popular answer at the table, if I recall)

I don't entertain the idea that I am unique or different from every other parent on the face of the earth who holds these fears.  Far from it. The idea that we are profoundly fucking up our child is part and parcel of the parenting experience.  It is why we obsess over every hurt, every slight, every wrong. It is what has led me to plan extravagant birthday parties or prepare care packages for camp months before she departs.  I want to embed the knowledge that I love her into every cell of her body, unconditionally, despite my occasional crazy, despite the knowledge that being a mother often feels ill fitting on my psyche, despite the knowledge that I took a 3 year hiatus into terrible postpartum depression.

It is a short walk from these thoughts to my unfailing ability to begin the flogging of Me, my built-in self punishing instincts in full effect.

As I have been reading the Alice Miller books, with her view of abuse in childhood, it has not been difficult for me to create horrific scenes of my daughter's future. In part because I can pretty clearly trace some of my own issues - body, trust/affection, profound caution, boundaries - in a fairly direct line from Crazy D.  Coupled with the knowledge that I was emotionally unavailable to her during what I know to be important brain development times?

Why, Pass me that Hair shirt and cat-o-nine tails, Thanks!

Given my approach to mothering now, I brought Em in on the conversation. I told her about the books, and the premise.  I told her that I worried about asking her to stuff her feelings, that maybe I was conveying to her that I just didn't want to know how she felt.

Her laughter was spontaneous and full throated. A true belly laugh, that went on and on.

Finally I blurted: "But I worry that I am screwing you Up!"

When her laughter subsided, she leaned in and put her arms around me.

Looking me in the eyes, she said. "You are. But in a Good Way."

And because this is too perfect, I give you this from The Onion:

Study Finds Every Style Of Parenting Produces Disturbed, Miserable Adults

SANTA ROSA, CA—A study released by the California Parenting Institute Tuesday shows that every style of parenting inevitably causes children to grow into profoundly unhappy adults. "Our research suggests that while overprotective parenting ultimately produces adults unprepared to contend with life's difficulties, highly permissive parenting leads to feelings of bitterness and isolation throughout adulthood," lead researcher Daniel Porter said. "And, interestingly, we found that anything between those two extremes is equally damaging, always resulting in an adult who suffers from some debilitating combination of unpreparedness and isolation. Despite great variance in parenting styles across populations, the end product is always the same: a profoundly flawed and joyless human being." The study did find, however, that adults often achieve temporary happiness when they have children of their own to perpetuate the cycle of human misery.

6 Baleful Regards:

Unknown said...

Charlotte said something similar to me

Unknown said...

I loved your line: "The idea that we are profoundly messing up our child is part and parcel of the parenting experience." I tried soooo hard to do a better job of parenting my three children than my mother did for me, and they each have the nerve to tell me where I have failed them. Still, we are all aware (especially now that they have kids of their own) that we all do our best and we all love each other.

roo said...

She's a good one, eh? Her mother's daughter.

Dawn said...

Oh yes, my dear roo...she is, entirely.

Which terrifies me - and gives me the knowledge that she will get through anything

Teena in Toronto said...

My mother used to say horrible things to me like "You're the reason I drink". They really do mess with you.

Jaelithe said...

What a wonderful daughter you have raised. I can only hope my son will have the same attitude someday, because heaven knows I worry about screwing him up every minute.

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