During the Parent Season. . .

guest post by kmillecam

As Mother’s Day is behind us and Father’s Day looms, and inspired by a sermon I heard this past Sunday at my local United Church of Christ parish, I have been thinking about my parents .  I have written about my abusive childhood before, both on The Exponent here, and on my blog here.  For years I have been struggling to identify as a survivor instead of a victim, to heal and make sense of my life.  I feel a sense of wonder this year, after making it through Mother’s Day for the first time without feeling manipulated and sad.  I actually had a wonderful Mother’s Day.  That this would be so momentous tells you how my previous years have gone.  In fairness, this year could result from the fact that I have not spoken to either of my parents in nearly three years.

Now my case is certainly an extreme, where no contact with my parents was and is necessary for my mental state.  But whether we speak to our parents or not, or we are parents or not, or we want to be parents or we can’t, or we have lost parents or children to death or estrangement, or we have dealt with infertility or miscarriage or abortion, we all probably feel something when it comes to the Parent Season.

We are told to “honor thy father and mother”, but how do you honor an abusive parent?  In my case, my patriarchal blessing refers to how much my parents love me “even like unto my Father in Heaven”.  How do I reconcile that supposed love with being belittled, sexually assaulted, or physically struck?  My UCC pastor made an interesting argument during her sermon, that we are specifically instructed to “honor” our parents in the Bible.  To her this meant something like how we would honor a deceased person, by remembering them, by not speaking ill, or merely acknowledgment.  I take it further.  To me it means that I must only accept that “it is what it is”.  I accept that my parents are who they are.  I am bound to acknowledge them, as fellow beings.  But I as I accept who they are, I also accept the consequences of their abuse.

During this time of year, I also occasionally wonder about the miscarriage I had three years ago.  I have my baby E now with his mended cleft lip and palate and other physical differences, and I wonder about that baby I miscarried before him.  Is there a genetic issue with my DNA?  Do I know how lucky I am that E is as healthy as he is?  I think of how many of us have miscarried and might think of our children who might have been.  That always leads me to think of those who have miscarried late into a pregnancy, or had a stillborn baby.  I can barely understand that pain.  A friend of mine recently lost her 10 day old baby, suddenly and inexplicably.  I wonder how Mother’s Day and Father’s Day will be for her and her husband from now on.

There are so many complicated parent relationships for so many of us.  We may find ourselves estranged from a parent or child, trying to make peace with that reality.  We may have been touched by a school shooting or another violent crime.  Or perhaps you have adopted a child, or given up a child for adoption, or may be adopted yourself.  I imagine that even if you are completely content you may wonder about your biological child or parent at this time of year.  And what if you are infertile and you think of children that you want to have but cannot?  What if you have lost your parents to mental illness?  Your child?  Physical illness?  Death?

Off the top of my head I can think of people I know, people I know well, who have dealt with all of these issues.  Lost a parent: nine.  Abusive parent: five.  Adopted a child: four.  Was adopted: three.  Has had a miscarriage: 18.  Has lived with an abortion: one.  Has lost a child: four.  Is a stressed parent: ten.  Is estranged from a parent: four.  Is estranged from a child: two.  I would wager that the vast majority of people I know fall into some category I have mentioned, rendering each able to appreciate the nuanced nature of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

Are we not complicated and varied creatures?  Don’t we deserve to feel many different things without feeling the pressure of how we “should” feel (read: happy)?  I feel grateful for my children, happy that they love me.  I feel a loss when it comes to my parents, but I have accepted it.  I wonder about my miscarriage, but I think it was meant to be that way.  I hope I am a good mother, and my children call me when they grow up.  I feel the sting of knowing that I spend too much time being angry with my children, and that they notice, and that I must accept that they know that and then work on that problem.  That is how I feel after Mother’s Day.  And it’s okay.

There is something beautiful about being grateful for what we truly have, and accepting the painful parts of our lives.  It can be so freeing.  What are you feeling this Parent Season?

Jessawhy

Jessawhy is a wife, mother, community volunteer, activist and student. She is currently working towards a Physician Assistant degree.

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16 Responses

  1. Alisa says:

    What a great post about these nuances of parenthood. To answer your question about what I’m feeling… probably love and a lot of nervousness. I waited to work out some of my feelings from my childhood before becoming a parent, but now that I’m a parent I’m co-authoring a new parent-child story. I don’t know how it will work out now, probably with quite a few tears and feelings of frustration as well as elation.

  2. Laurie says:

    When I had my first child, I felt huge relief. I had always feared, deep down that I was flawed, and that somehow I wouldn’t be able to physically have healthy children. Now that I have 3 healthy children, and a wonderful mother (with whom I’ve worked out a lot of my issues with) I am in awe of the importance of these connections.

    I am also in awe of women like you who were not given these important and basic primal needs, who were not protected, loved and nurtured. That kind of healing is work that takes us so deep inside, and requires huge amounts of courage to repair. I am really inspired by my friends who have had to set their own roots on this earth and be their own parent and their own advocate for healing.

    This parent season leaves me feeling overwhelmingly grateful. I am still in shock that my body was able to produce 3 beings. I am grateful for a mother who nursed me and held me and did the very best she knew how to do. I’m grateful for my friends who are both parents and not – who have been there to share the journey with and help me through post-partum depression, motherhood letdowns and frustrations and listen to the joys. Mostly though, I’m grateful for my kids and their happiness in this life. Their willingness to forgive my shortcomings is overwhelming to me.

  3. Corktree says:

    Thank you so much for these thoughts. I dislike the whole “parent season” for many reasons, and I’m only now beginning to understand why without feeling completely guilty. It isn’t because I hate my parents or that I hate being a mother and that I don’t want to celebrate those things, but I can’t corral my thoughts and feelings over these issues to fit what seems to be expected at this time of year.

    For me, Father’s Day is a tricky one. I, too, walk a fine line of “honoring” my father when I don’t really respect him. I have thought and thought over the years what this is supposed to look like coming from me. How do I treat him with honor as a parent that didn’t do anything DIRECTLY negative to me, but by extension of what he did to my family and the ways that he has tried to cover it up, has colored my perspective of him and men? I had a dream when I was pregnant with my first born, that he was tearing down my house with a sledgehammer, under the guise of trying to “fix” something. I’ve never forgotten that dream, and have always kept my relationship with him guarded and distant because of it, but I have received a lot of backlash from family members for not “forgiving” him and trying have a closer relationship. Only, I didn’t really know what I was supposed to forgive him for personally, so it’s been hard to find closure to – I just know that when I talk to him too much while knowing about stuff that happened that he doesn’t acknowledge, that it hurts me mentally and emotionally and is not worth it. But I also try not to talk badly of him or punish him by keeping my kids from him or anything, so I think I’m doing alright. What more does “honoring” have to involve? I find myself hoping that it’s enough.

    As for mother’s day issues…
    “I feel the sting of knowing that I spend too much time being angry with my children, and that they notice, and that I must accept that they know that and then work on that problem”

    I think this hits at the heart of it for me. I’m not the ideal loving mother to my children much of the time, but in my guilt for not being “natural” at it, I have tried to pretend that they don’t notice and that I will just get better at it if I ignore it. But of course that doesn’t work. I’m learning that they respect me and understand me and love me more if I am honest with them when I fail and if I communicate that I am actively TRYING to do better, rather than pretending that acting the way I do is okay because “I’m the mom”. I think they appreciate it when we actually acknowledge shortcomings and focus on what we are going to do about being better. I hope they do, and I know I appreciate candor from my own mother, whom I find it easy to honor for the sacrifices she made for her children, but I also know that she views our childhood through rose colored glasses (despite the horror of her own marriage) and doesn’t see the parenting similarities between her and I, which can be frustrating. She only sees what I can do better, which, I suppose if I had more humility, would help me to improve where she couldn’t.

    But you’re right, we’re all complicated creatures with complicated relationships.

  4. EBrown says:

    Dear kmillecam, Thank you. Just, thank you.

  5. kmillecam says:

    @Alisa, That is so smart to have worked out many of your feelings before becoming a mother. I love how thoughtful you are about parenting, and I think your description of “co-authoring a new parent-child story” is just beautiful. That sentence alone inspires me to look at my SAHMness with new eyes.

  6. Caroline says:

    Wow, this is wonderful. Thank you, Kmillecam. I am always moved when people inject reality and nuance into topics that so often are presented as black and white.

    What are my thoughts in this season? I am mainly concerned with the way the Church has appropriated these holidays and how motherhood/fatherhood is presented to the members. I dislike the soaring rhetoric about angelic mothers – I can’t relate to that at all. Like you, kmillecam, I spend more time complaining and being ticked off at my child than I wish I did. I also dislike rhetoric that emphasizes gender roles for women and men. I can do without hearing about what wonderful ‘presiders’ men are.

  7. kmillecam says:

    @Laurie, I love how you describe the wonder of producing three other beings. I felt similarly when I grew my two boys from tiny beans to huge-headed newborns! It really is amazing. And thank you for the new perspective on how I grew up. It fills a little bit of my heart to think of it that way 🙂

  8. kmillecam says:

    @corktree, Thank you for sharing so candidly. I am sitting with you as you navigate being honest with your children by admitting your shortcomings. I think children DO really appreciate honesty.

    As far your father, I can really relate a little. I have experienced backlash from family members for not “forgiving” my father and my mother. But you ultimately know what you need to do to keep yourself emotionally well. Blessings.

  9. kmillecam says:

    @EBrown, you’re welcome. And thank you for the heartfelt words, I am touched.

    @Caroline, I chuckled at your description of angelic mothers, heh. Thank you for the compliment about nuance and reality, I really appreciate it. I have a hard time putting myself out there with these posts sometimes, so it is good to hear my message landed the way I wanted it to.

    I also worry about gender roles, and the expectations that come with them. I get mad, I take responsibility, I apologize and recommit to my goal of kindness, and I do my best. Being told I am an angel is insulting. I am a real woman, with flaws, and I deserve credit for facing and working on my shortcomings. Okay, I am done ranting.

  10. RacineDKringle says:

    I believe that people are basically good and I think this is the point of view that the commandments were written from.

    If we have parents that are loving, wise and do their best to take care of themselves *and* their family, I think we honor them by loving and caring for them in return. That is the situation that I, as an admitted non-theist, think the commandment was written regarding.

    If our parents act abusively towards us, I feel that we need to do what we can to take care of ourselves. I (personally) do not think this commandment was trying to (for example) compel a teen to just bear with and ignore a situation where they are being abused.

    A very thought provoking post, as all of your writing is =)

    RdK

  11. Miss Mary says:

    What a thought-provoking post, kmillecam. Having experienced a childhood that included “generational” alcoholism/substance abuse & emotional neglect, and then losing both of my parents by the time I reached the tender age of 23 (Mother – at age 13 due to substance abuse brought about by manic depression; Father – at 23, one week after I gave birth to my first son), I am left feeling much like an orphan much of the time.

    Being a mother of three, the parent season is very tough for me. Not only do I deal with the fact that I cannot “honor” my parents with hugs and kisses and appreciation, I also experience pangs of guilt when I realize that I am not the perfect parent to my kids that I want to be.

    Why, oh why, does impatience and disappointment show up in my behaviour with my kids? [I love my children very much and am confident in their goodness….thus wanting only the very best for them.] Wait, I know why. I never had the teachings of a strong mother to prepare me for this all important job. While I am confident in the love my mother had for her kids, I also know that she experienced alcoholism/codependence with her own mother and never had the training to be a strong mother herself. My father was a wonderful, disciplined, strong man who died way too young [most likely from the guilt of not being able to “fix or make happy” his first love/mother of his kids.]

    I cannot feel angry, though I want to. It has been only recently that I’ve been able to (1) admit that I have done the best I could with parenting and (2) be satisfied that my very limited training is ok.

    When I think of my parents, I only feel overwhelming sadness. As RdK put it, I believe in the natural goodness of people and have forgiven them for “not being June or Ward Cleaver”. The sadness comes from knowing that they, too, did the best they could and that I wish it could have been more.

    I know your parents and am in complete support of how you maintain those relationships. As peers of mine, I have HUGE (x10) disappointment in how they handle their parenting responsibilities. As your parents, I know that they have love for their children but are unwilling to honestly deal with the justified feelings their children have about their actions. I am happy that you take care of yourself, with respect to those relationships. That distance allows you to approach parenthood with more attention, love and a wee-bit more patience.

    Keep on keepin on K! You are doing an awesome job of parenting those beautiful boys and this lady loves you oodles and oodles!!

  12. DTR says:

    Hi K–

    I just followed the link here from your personal blog. While reading your post I was reminded of the following statement I heard yesterday while listening to the Oct 2009 conference on my way home from work:

    “You may not have parents that are living. In some cases, you may not feel that your parents are worthy of the honor and respect of their children. You may not even have ever known them. But you owe them life. And in every case, even if your life is not lengthened, its quality will be improved simply by remembering your parents with honor.” Henry B. Eyring

    I like the idea that you can “remember with honor” even those parents who are not worthy of the kind of respect that usually accompanies honor. Because we “owe them life,” we can honor them by turning the life our parents gave us into one of integrity, even if integrity was missing from their own lives. And whenever we have one of those moments when we are overwhelmed by the beauty of the world or by the innocent goodness of our children, or when we simply feel grateful to be alive, we can consciously bend that gratitude toward our parents for the gift of life they gave us.

    And do you really only know 10 people who qualify as “stressed parents”? Virtually every parent I know is stressed, unless there’s some specialized meaning I’m not familiar with.

  13. Kay says:

    How wise and thoughtful and empathetic your post is! I appreciate the diverse experiences of parenthood that you have reminded us about.

    You didn’t include a count of people who have dealt with infertility, with either a disappointing or a happy ending. I know two young women (ages 32 and 39) who are currently newly pregnant by IVF. The willingness to struggle for months and often years to become pregnant is a vivid indicator of our desire to be parents.

  14. HW says:

    I saw a touching example of honoring a mother who was difficult to honor at a funeral. Her oldest son, while recognizing that his mother wasn’t perfect, forgave her by recognizing the abuse and poverty she herself came from, and then shared the good things she accomplished in spite of her shortcomings. Looking for the good, especially when it is hard to find, is honoring.

  15. kmillecam says:

    @RaceineDKringle, thank you for the kind words, and I wholeheartedly agree with you, especially regarding taking care of ourselves in the face of abuse.

    @MissMary, I love you oodles and oodles too 🙂 I love how you stand for peace and speaking your mind. I love all that you shared in your comment too. Thank you much.

    @DTR, I definitely know more than 10 stressed parents! The list I made was a quick one off the top of my head, which just goes to show that the numbers are truly vast if you take the time to tally them.

    @Kay, thanks for your kind assessment. And thank you for your addition of how many people dealing with fertility you know. I love this exercise of thinking of all the people you know dealing with each issue.

    @HW, wise words there, and I definitely agree. There is a lot of personal power in honoring someone on your own terms.

  16. kmillecam says:

    Sorry it took a while to reply 😀

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