Before I can get back to writing this post, I must confront the reasons I paused in writing it—just after having begun it.
I always wanted to be a parent, but I was not so certain about being a wife. I’d never seen a marriage I wanted to be in, though recently I’ve seen some that are a little closer to my ideal. Therefore, I backed my way into marriage and tolerated 16 years of abuse with the growing fear that if I lost my temper, he really would kill me, the occasional violence that proved I was too weak to protect myself, and the insidiousness of the cycle of abuse that makes a person increasingly blame themselves while feeling they need the abuser ever more. I have been unable to confront what this cycling toward greater conflict did to my children or to me or how I allowed emotional abuse and neglect of my children. I’ve always known that conflict between parents was devastating to children because I grew up in a home with conflict, and of course theory recognizes the problems in multiple ways. The argument that yelling was bad for children, however, never seemed to have an impact on my husband, yet I believed I could slowly change him—the arrogance of being a psychologist and an optimist—and in the process, I failed my children.
The result is that my oldest child has had significant difficulties. Perhaps she always would have had some difficulty because of being “different,” but her childhood was never what I would have wanted. It’s hard to not feel like a failure as parent when so much has gone wrong. Feeling ashamed and embarrassed, how could I go on to advise other parents?
In general, it is a problem: There is little forgiveness for imperfect parents—most of all from ourselves. “Mom blaming” was perhaps started by the Freudians, and in reaction, some people misinterpret efforts to improve children’s lives with better parenting as an impossible pressure on parents. For instance, I greatly respect what Gabor Mate has to say, but I have been startled by how people can hear “mother blaming” when I hear “society blaming.” We do not have a society that supports families, and too often a parent gives way to the pressures of life and fails their children, but as Gabor Mate makes clear, it should never be up to one parent to assure that a child is getting what they need. It is society that is failing our children. It is society that leaves couples to work out their problems on their own—no matter how devastating the “conflicts” might be. Children really need more than two “parents,” which was much easier when extended families still lived together and when we did not all disappear into the privacy of our homes where anything could be happening.
I am not naïve enough to argue that small towns or communal settings are better, though, because too often the controlling aspects of these communities can be equally damaging. Nevertheless, it is clear to me that we need connections more than Western Society and Capitalism would have us believe. We need to do better.
I have always wanted a sense of being connected to many adults and a community for my children and myself, but I found myself increasingly isolated by circumstance and an abusive husband, always thinking that after this crisis or the next, life would get easier. In the last two years I’ve gone through many stages of grieving the loss of my illusions of having a loving marriage and perfect children, and I suffered more than I could have anticipated. It has taken far longer than I would have guessed to begin feeling like I’m coming out the other side of this storm. In this, I have caused my children additional problems as they’ve witnessed their mother’s melt down.
All of these experiences are life, though, and I will not be ashamed any more. The theories and research that I know strengthens my ability to support my family, helping me understand the good and the bad in all that has happened over the last 18 years (I did not fail my children in all ways!), and becomes more meaningful as I accept the mistakes I have made as a parent. We are all doing the best that we can, and we should strive to do even better without shame. My understanding of theory is helping me move forward to help my children become beautiful, kind, faithful, and intelligent adults, who will always know that life’s obstacles do not need to destroy them. And finally, I am forced to be humble and thus might avoid falling into the trap of arrogance that an education can bring someone.
All the knowledge we’ve created about being good parents is contradictory and overwhelming in its volume. Some theories have been proven wrong, but mostly they contradict. I’ve spent far too much time thinking about a lot of these issues, so I hope that sharing these thoughts will be helpful to someone else even as it helps me to work through the contradictions. There is no such thing as being a perfect parent or having an easy life, but we can use our minds to strive for something better and create new ways of parenting and of being family.