Have you forgiven yourself? Yes, you read that correctly. Have you forgiven yourself? We are human beings, and we make mistakes. Somehow or another, parent status is synonymous with perfection. We expect it from others, especially now in the digital age, and we expect it from ourselves. We portray images online and cry in private. I am just 13 days away from entering my 30th year of parenting and I can tell you that perfect is not how I would describe those years. They were perfectly broken. They were perfectly difficult. They were perfectly dysfunctional. I think you are starting to understand.
My oldest daughter, who will be 29 in a couple of weeks, has chosen to not talk to me or her sisters for a year and a half now. Mental health issues have been a steady theme in our lives. By the time I found out that I was pregnant with her, I had thought about suicide more times than I care to count, had taken drugs, had drank until I puked, had stayed out all night, had slept with too many guys, flunked out of my freshman year of college, and the list of poor choices goes on. I was looking for validation. I needed someone to make me feel like I was okay. I needed to feel like my presence mattered. I thought having my daughter would change things. I thought that she would give me everything I was looking for. I was scared as hell, but in my young mind I couldn’t come to any other decision but to continue with the pregnancy.
They say that hindsight is 20/20 but even now I don’t think I know what the right choice was. Perhaps keeping her helped me stay away from some damaging behaviors but not all of them. I continued to use alcohol for many years. I went out at nights trying to find fun and excitement. I had men in and out of my life. I failed at getting my college degree. I quit jobs when things got hard or I didn’t know how to resolve issues. I have thought about the alternatives. But there is not another person that could love her more than I did and do. However, I was broken. Right now, I am, at best, refurbished.
I think about those years more than you could even imagine that I do. I could never find peace and admonished myself many nights in the dark when I was trying to sleep. Once my daughter became an adult, she seemed to get more adjusted as time went on. She was finding her stride and told me thank you many times. I mentioned several times that I was happy that she still loved me. I would tell her this because it was truly how I felt, and I knew that if she could still love me after everything I put her through that maybe I could find a way to forgive myself. In the last few years, I started to allow myself to heal and forgive myself for everything: the poor choices, the yelling, the lack of guidance, the physical punishments, etc. Everything changed this year when you spoke about your recent diagnoses. That telephone conversation brought everything back and the doubt and self-punishment crept back in. This was closely followed by another conversation where you asked me questions that I knew would come someday. Questions that could have been asked a dozen times over the last ten years.
It is impossible for us to do better until we know better. It really wasn’t until a few years ago that my mind started to get better. I took control of my depression and anxiety. I started walking every day and allowing myself to get in my thoughts and resolve how I felt about my life. I started to lose weight and gain a smile. I started to get more active in my community. I joined the booster club associated with my daughter’s basketball team, made friends, and eventually started to feel like a good person. This was a stark difference to all the parenting years beforehand. I was never involved. I didn’t go to school events and, most of the time, would try to talk my kids out of taking part in things that would require me doing so. My oldest daughter had ADHD and that, combined with my own mental health issues, just made it nearly impossible for me to be an active parent. I was always exhausted, sad, and angry.
And part of the process of knowing better and moving forward is the process of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a process and is never over. We will, most likely, need to continue forgiving ourselves for years to come. I know that I am. Allow yourself to go down the road of forgiveness and you will find yourself in the glorious world of the chaotic perfection that is parenting. I ask you again, have you forgiven yourself?