Mine was a childhood filled with uncertainty.
My parents divorced when I was young. If you read my other blog, In Others’ Words, you know that I am also a survivor of sexual abuse. We struggled financially, our father was not involved in our lives. I frequently felt like the earth itself was unstable beneath me.
When I got pregnant with my son in college, I left to live with my mother and sister. I remember people saying- and I think they intended it kindly- “he’s going to have 3 moms!” That was incredibly upsetting to me. I hadn’t given a ton of thought as to what kind of childhood I wanted for my kids, but I guarantee I wanted it to be normal, whatever THAT is. Also, he was already not going to have a dad in his life, something I had always said I wouldn’t do to my child.
I became determined to do this motherhood thing RIGHT. What’s that saying? We make plans, and God laughs? Yeah…
What doing it right meant for me was not letting anyone help me. I mean, I was getting help APLENTY- I’d have been homeless had it not been for my sister and my mother- but help taking care of my son- I would take him to the bathroom with me rather than ask someone to watch him. I couldn’t let him cry it out at night, because I was afraid to be judged, and I was afraid to seem like I couldn’t handle it on my own. That translated into not sleeping alone or through the night for the first four years of his life.
I had plenty of help available to me, but I felt as though asking for it was an admission that I couldn’t do this on my own.
When I met the man I was to eventually marry, and he began to move into the fatherhood role, it was excruciating for me to let go of the reins when it came to parenting. What if he didn’t do it right? And what if I came to rely on him and then he left, or let me down?
The result of having had such a chaotic childhood was that it led me to believe that I couldn’t afford to make mistakes or let things get out of control. I could not sit with uncertainty- I would need to jump up and FIX things. Stillness was an anathema to me. Stillness meant letting things just happen, and that was NOT how I rolled. I could not relax into my life.
I was determined to do wife-hood “right,” too. That meant keeping a nice house, having everything look pretty, cooking great meals, supporting him in his career, having a handle on everything at home, and making it look easy.
I controlled all of the stuff. I followed around after people, tidying up. Dinner would barely be over before I was loading the dishwasher. If the doorbell rang unexpectedly, I would panic that the house wasn’t neat enough. My best friend would marvel at how clean and tidy my house was, but her house, with its flotsam and jetsam of a well lived life seemed so much warmer to me. And the fact that it didn’t cause her to freak out to have a house that looked as though people actually lived in it, so much healthier.
Oddly, this need to control things led me to completely give over control of things that made me really anxious- like finances. I grew up in an atmosphere of serious financial insecurity. That led me to feel like I did not understand, and could not manage money. Because I was terrified to make a mistake, I left all matters financial to my ex-husband. He would try to sit down with me and talk about where we were and where we were going, and I would shut down. I didn’t want to make decisions, because I was so frightened to make the wrong ones, so I completely deferred to him. Pretty passive aggressive- because that meant if things went sideways financially, it was all on him.
That bit me in the ass, by the way. You need to know where your money is, and where it is going. You need to see ALL OF THE STATEMENTS, ALL OF THE TIME. Be engaged at the level that when balances change or don’t make sense, your antennae go up immediately. That doesn’t mean you don’t trust your spouse- it means you are dialed in. M’kay, lecture’s over.
It’s yet another way my divorce was a gift. Because I couldn’t control ANYTHING. I couldn’t make my husband stay, I couldn’t shield my kids from pain, I couldn’t stay in my perfect house, or keep my tidy life. It was humiliating, and terrifying, and painful- and I thank God for it every day.
These days, I am practicing sitting with uncertainty. I am practicing stillness. I’ll be honest, it’s still kind of hard. I’m better at it, though.
My need to be in control meant that I also did not ask for help during my divorce and its aftermath. Even when I was in the weeds. Even when I really needed it.
I was always the helpER. I was the one who picked up other people’s pieces. I like helping. BEING helped, however, is very uncomfortable for me. It’s awful. I hate it. Needing help means things are out of control. I do not like relying on other people. I never have, and it’s gotten even worse since my divorce. For someone who already had trust issues, the kind of betrayal I went through validated every notion I ever had about only counting on myself.
But then I recently heard Brene Brown say something that rocked my world- and not in a good way. She said, “When you cannot ask for help without self-judgment, you are never really offering help without judgment.” You guys… I think it’s true.
Damn. I hate wisdom. It’s so annoying.
I really do not enjoy the thought of being a judgmental person, so I need to start knocking that shit off. It’s so arrogant to only ever went to be on one side of that equation. Sometimes we’re the helpers, and sometimes, at some point, we are the HELPED. Every last one of us.
I still struggle with letting go of the reins and trusting that things will be okay. It is still incredibly hard for me to admit there are things beyond my control, and with which I need help. It’s more than a little scary. I’m working on it, though. I see the damage it has done in the past- in my marriage, and in my divorce. I see how much harder I made things for myself and the people I love, and I don’t want that. Life, marriage, and motherhood- they are quite hard enough. When they get to be too much, though, I’m going to ask for help. Awkwardly, probably a little resentfully at first, but I’ll get over myself and do it.
Growth doesn’t need to be graceful, friends. Thank God.
“The result of having had such a chaotic childhood was that it led me to believe that I couldn’t afford to make mistakes or let things get out of control.”
This made me tear up. I am so worried of messing my kids up the way mine messed me up. Unlike you, however, I shut down when I feel overwhelmed by my own expectations (or others, really).
Every move I make in my life is a response to shame or in response to the fear of shame.
Such a great message. I can relate on so very many levels. XO