I have been through so many phases in my relationship with my parents, and how I think about my parents. I think that perspective is shifting once again.
When I was a teenager I hated my mom. Yes hate is a strong word. And yes that word crossed my mind frequently. I felt misunderstood all the time, or maybe worse, unheard. Like I didn’t matter at all. I was allowed to do anything I wanted, and I ran wild. I did all the things normal teenagers got in trouble for and I did them freely. At the time I thought it was great. I felt really mature. At home though, it was a lot of coldness and disengagement on one end of the scale or screaming, swearing and outright fist-fights on the other. In grade 12 I got a job and every payday I bought things like frying pans and bedsheets. I moved out when I was 18 and I never looked back. Well, not for the first few years anyway.
I met God and got married, both at the age of 20. My mom helped a lot with wedding stuff, and it was sometimes stressful but mostly fun. When I look back to my relationship with her when I was younger, our best times were always when we had a project to work on. She taught me many kinds of crafts – sewing and embroidery, stained glass. And she encouraged my artistic side, always giving me art books and supplies for my birthdays. She signed me up for a pottery workshop one time because in high school art class I really took to the potter’s wheel. She taught me how to sew and in high school I made a lot of my own dresses. After a couple of years of near silence after I had moved out, the wedding gave us a project to connect over again. We shopped together. She made the bridesmaid dresses. We did some crafting for decorations and stuff. As newlyweds, my husband and I moved to Edmonton for two years and I only saw her once in that time. The weekend that she came to visit us, I discovered that I was pregnant. That is a special memory and I’m glad we got to share it. That time apart allowed for some healing on my part as well, as I grew in my delicate new faith.
But it wasn’t all good. In my early 20’s I also began to deal with some of the spiritual, emotional, psychological, and physical fallout from the sexual abuse I had experienced at the hands of my stepdad when I was pre-teen. It affected every part of me. My young husband and I were unprepared for the pervasiveness of the effects of that time. When I left home at 18 I thought I left all of that behind me, but the full force of what had happened to me and how it had broken me was never really evident until I was trying to re-build a healthy, happy and whole life for myself. I felt powerless against the brokenness. I saw how much the fallout was hurting my husband too and then guilt got all mixed up in my pain as well. Of course I looked for someone to blame, and the heft of it landed not on my abuser but on my mother who stood by and knowingly let it happen. As I looked back through the space of distance and time and maturity, I just could not comprehend how a mother could put her children in the path of danger, stand by and watch as evil devoured them, and then act as though nothing had happened. Mostly, I tried not to think about it, but when I did, feelings of horror and disgust rose up. I was glad that we were no longer close.
When I was in my mid 20’s I went through a whole slurry of emotions and thoughts about our relationship, but it was increasingly positive and healthy battle and we came out the other side friends. The first catalyst was becoming a mother myself. After having my second child, the post-partum sadness hit hard. I found myself having suicidal thoughts, which had been a regular occurrence for me as an anguished teenager, but that had disappeared for a few years. I had been though so much growth as a new Christian, and I felt a huge sense of failure at the arrival of these thoughts. I felt I couldn’t confide in any of my Christian family or friends because, first of all, I thought they wouldn’t understand – they all seemed so happy. Secondly, I felt like my own faith was not good enough. I had a relationship with God! I was saved and I had already been healed of so many hurts. In other areas I was still undergoing a healing processes but I could feel God in it. So much was so good, and I knew I was not supposed to be wishing for death, or imagining abandoning my family, which were the main fantasies I allowed to swirl through my mind in the long hours that I sat alone and breastfed. One day I actually caught myself calculating how much breast-milk I would need to pump and have stored away to get my family through the initial shock and confusion of my disappearance. For one clear moment I snapped out of it, realized I needed help now, and I called my mother. I knew she would drop everything and come immediately, and she did. I knew I could tell her everything and receive absolutely no judgement. I knew she knew how depression felt, and had experienced what it felt like to want to die. I knew that in spite of our imperfect relationship, she would accept me in any condition, that nothing I could say would shock or horrify her, that she loved me and would help me. And when she got me though my crisis, she delivered me back into the hands of the family that I had chosen over her.
That was my last depressive crisis. I still get a touch of melancholy now and then but I haven’t experienced anything like that since. And I don’t think I will. No matter how bad I feel, I love my family too much to leave them alone. I know I am important to them and if I abandoned them it would be a horrible experience that would affect them for the rest of their lives. I simply refuse to go there. Not only that but I have learned a lot about depression and the sickness that it is. I know what to is to be happy. God has given me some understanding of my value to Him, and the enemy’s hate for all that God loves and his intent to destroy. I’ve also come to know that brokenness is not something unique to me. That we’re all broken in some form or another and experience pain. I know that the whole reason that Christ came down and became a human being was to rescue us from all of that. He – God himself – innocent, good and full of love and power, allowed himself to experience rejection, humiliation, betrayal, misunderstanding, and the physical torture of being stripped, whipped, mocked, and nailed to that cross to free us from all that mixed up pain and shame and guilt from our own wrongs and the wrongs that have been committed against us. I allow myself to rest inside of this truth.
I have learned some of the physiological processes of depression. I avoid drugs as much as I can and I try to deal with the roots of my issues instead of ignoring them and just treating the symptoms. I try and control my emotions by giving my body and mind what it needs on any given day, be it sunshine or quiet time or worship or hugs or time with friends. But I also know that drugs are there if I need them, that that if my own attempts fail, there are other things that can help. And if I ever get really bad again, to the point that I can’t help myself, then yes, I will get the treatment I need.
Being a young mother and going through the exasperations of dealing with toddlers and the stresses of young family life fed my newfound appreciation of my mom and all the things she had done for me that I had never given much heed to. I grew to see her as something other than just my mother, a woman in her own right, hungry for love, with a unique set of skills, strengths and abilities, a victim of abuse herself. When I look back over her life I see her fighting to get better, and to make better decisions. I see her efforts and unfortunately I see her fail again and again. I see her gradual giving up. I see her trapped in her own depression and how closed in she was (and still can be) and how she just couldn’t take care of herself, let alone her struggling, rebellious, hormonal, out of control, hateful teenagers. I see her attempts at helping my sisters and I handle the abuse that we experienced instead of escaping it, not because she didn’t care, but because she came from a legacy of abuse, saw abuse everywhere she looked, and accepted it as a normal part of life. The more I understand her as her own person, and know what she has gone through, the easier and more natural it has become to forgive her. My hate has died. Love has flooded in. We have a friendship now. We’re two women who understand each other. I ache for my friend, who needs not just my love, and my sisters’ love, and not just the ever-elusive love of a man, but who so desperately needs the love of Christ, and who can’t seem to understand her own need. God has given me his own eyes for my mother and I know how much he wants to love her and heal her and make her feel valuable and hold her in his hand and protect her and show her the meaning that he has for her life – but she says no. It’s hard to watch her stay in it. I wonder if she’ll stay there forever. I can’t save my mother. Only God can do that. But she has to let him.
I try to be patient with my mother. I do feel like I have a healthy distance right now, although I wish it were possible for us to be closer. My sisters don’t have the distance that I do, and in their struggles with her unreasonableness they often come to me for help. I give them the best advice that I can, because I know how she can be, but I also try and give her as much credit as I can. I try and get them to see why she is the way she is and encourage them to show her some grace. We all have a lot of room to grow, but I hope for continued health in all our relationships with each other.
This is where I’ve been at with my mother for a few years. But God has been calling me to a new way of seeing lately. But first I need to talk about my Dad.