Monday, July 9, 2012

Gaining Understanding: A Grown Child's Perspective

Growing up in my house wasn't a joyful thing. Sure, we had moments of fun and times when we got along, but by far what I remember growing up was a lot of emotional abuse from my father. Yelling was an everyday occurrence, put-downs and personal attacks weren't uncommon. This isn't about my Dad and my issues regarding him, though. (That would take many posts and since he's dead and can't defend himself, and I've come to terms with my past and am content to just "let it be," I'll wait until I see him on the other side to hopefully gain more insight into what made him the way he was.)

Instead, this post is about my Mom, and how my perceptions have changed after our last visit a few weeks ago. As a child I knew that things weren't good in our home. I knew the pain of rejection and of never measuring up. I didn't understand why my Mom didn't just leave my Dad and get us out of there. I don't know how many children actually wish for their parent's divorce, but I did.

I didn't know why my Mom went to work instead of staying home with us. I thought she had chosen to go to work, maybe to escape the home situation or to fulfill her own emotional needs. As a child all I knew was that I wanted my Mom to be there for me. At the time my siblings and I probably thought it was pretty cool to have minimal parental supervision- we were allowed (seemingly) to go anywhere and do anything, but deep down I always wanted my Mom to be there for me.

As I grew older that need didn't go away. Unfortunately, I couldn't see her love for me as well as I should have because I was so focused on what she wasn't doing. It's a shameful human tendency to see only the bad in things at times, and I'm just as guilty as anyone.

When my Mom came for a visit last month we had the opportunity to have late-night discussions almost every night. This was unusual in a couple of different ways- first, we never really talk much (although we do email almost daily), and we certainly don't talk about personal stuff or feelings; second, we see each other infrequently- I'm lucky if I see my Mom once every 2-3 years. Needless to say, this was a really special experience for me.

As we sat each night talking she told me about how she met my Dad, how she became a member of the church, what her life was like being married to him with 4 small children, and how it evolved throughout the 20+ years they were together. I saw my Mom in a whole new light. I never realized the extent of the abuse that she endured, and I have a much more mature and compassionate understanding of why she did, or didn't, do the things I thought she should have. I found out that going to work was never her idea- that was something that my Dad required of her. I learned of her strength and perseverance as she raised 4 children basically on her own while trying to simultaneously please a husband who seemed unable to accept or love himself or anyone else.

After high school I got married and left home. I'm ashamed to admit that a big part of why I got married was because it was an escape. Unfortunately, I jumped directly from one type of abuse to another. Thankfully, I was able to leave that relationship behind and found safety and love in my current marriage. I'm grateful for the experience, though. It's given me an understanding of the abuse cycle and why women stay and how hard it is to leave. That understanding really helped me to be able to empathize with my Mom as she shared some of what she went through. It no longer mattered that she wasn't the perfect Mom (who is??!) or that she maybe should have done some things differently. What mattered is that for the first time I felt like I knew my Mom. I knew her as only an adult can- through the eyes of experience and maturity. It's given me a renewed sense of gratitude towards her.

I am so thankful she was strong, and that she was able to keep her love of life and thirst for adventure alive through everything she dealt with. No matter what I've faced, I've had my Mom's example of enduring. If things are hard, you just keep going. And now I not only have her example, I also have a sense of the how and why she was able to do that.

Thank you, Mom.


Mama D said...

I'm so glad you had this time to talk with your mom and to gain understanding and empathy for her and the situations she's faced in life. What an amazing experience!

It makes me want to sit down and delve into deep conversation with my mom...

Papa D said...

"I knew her as only an adult can."

That's an amazing insight, isn't it?