When I was a little girl, I often wondered what it was like to have a normal family life. My family was broken when I was young, my mother out of the picture for years. We grew up on government assistance and in poverty. Both of my parents were addicts, and I was the oldest tasked with caring for my three younger siblings. Needless to say, I didn’t have much of a childhood.
As the years went on, I was determined to not make the same choices that my parents made. I graduated from high school with good grades. I practiced safe sex, determined not to be a teen mother. Not because there is something wrong with being one, but because I wanted to forge a different path, and I knew if it happened, my life would not travel the path I wanted it to. I went to college and graduated from a great school with a high GPA. In fact, I was the first college graduate in my family.
Despite having successes and things to be proud of, I was still haunted by the ghosts of my childhood. The little girl inside of me was never heard, and I often pushed her away.
When I got married and we decided to have children, I was slightly terrified. I always wanted to be a mother. To grow life inside of me and to care for tiny humans of my own. However, I did not want to be like my parents. My deepest desire was to break every cycle. I didn’t want to use physical punishment. I wanted to ensure that my children’s voices were heard and that their emotions were acknowledged. Most importantly, I wanted to never blame them for anything that was wrong in my life. They would get the safe and warm home that I did not have. My children would not know what it was like to go to bed hungry. Their primary responsibility would be to grow up and be children – not parent each other from a young age.
Most of all, I would be a different kind of parent. I would be the person who put my children first. A mother whose focus would be to make sure that my children felt loved and supported. Something that I have never felt from my own.
Then my oldest son was born. I have never felt more complete than when he entered the world. And he came first. I let him know it was okay to cry. It was okay to be mad. I painstakingly made his meals to be full of nutrition. His room was carefully decorated and full of toys and books. When I got mad or needed to discipline, I counted to three instead of lifting my hand. I comforted him and told him he was important and loved.
My second son came along and my heart grew even more. I realized something really important.
Instead of dealing with the past of my childhood, I was simply ignoring it and pretending like everything I did for my sons would undo what I had been through. No amount of love or toys or changes would erase the neglect and abuse I had endured.
The best thing I ever did for my sons, and for myself, was to start seeing a therapist to talk about my past. It wasn’t enough to just break the cycle by changing the way that I live and how I parent. I needed to accept that my childhood was traumatic and that it wasn’t my fault. Since starting this journey, I have found a peace that I didn’t know existed.
Instead of being ashamed of the life I had, I’m proud of the woman I have grown up to be.
I’m proud of the wife and mother I have become. My path could have been drastically different. But I broke the cycle. And if you have a past like my own, or something else that haunts you, know that you can also change and that you can break the cycle.
It’s hard work, but I promise – it’s worth it.
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