Dear Little Me:
I’m sorry you were born into a broken family. I’m sorry your mother wasn’t able to be a good parent to you. And I’m sorry that I ignored you for as long as I have. I listened to well-meaning, but misguided, people who scared me into hiding you away for your own protection.
No child should experience most of what you did in your childhood. And you are right to be angry. Both of your parents hurt you in various ways, but your mother… her neglect and insidious abuse did more damage to you than words can describe.
By her own account, your mother had tried several times before to have children, but they did not survive to full term or died in the crib within days of birth. You were her miracle. And instead of treating that miracle like the gift it was, she treated you like free maid service; a doll; decoration; armchair therapist; a tool to manipulate your dad and a tool to be manipulated. You were making your own meals, doing dishes, and being more of a mother to yourself than your mother could ever hope to be – all before the end of 1st Grade. And you still loved her. You forgave her for her flaws, hoping next time would be better. You gave her every chance to change. You showed her the kind of love that you were told God showed humanity. And in return, she gaslit me every time I tried to confront her as a teen; she humiliated me at my place of employment and told my boss about my mental illness (because I was “just like” her); and she turned the first Christmas with my now-husband into the most awkward display of her immaturity and inappropriate jokes that I have ever witnessed – and I watch Monty Python, Kids in the Hall and South Park!
I know you were a lonely child. Your mother never showed you what healthy friendships looked like, nor did she show you how to make new friends. You had to learn both by watching others – mostly on TV, but sometimes through coworkers. She clung to the few friendly neighbors she had who, frankly, treated her like dirt more often than not. She clung to a man who abused her daughter (you). She recoiled at the idea of leaving the house – unless it was for food or shopping with your dad. The truth is that your mother was damaged long before you came into the picture and, today, she would never have been allowed to keep you. But this was the late 70s and early 80s. The systems that were supposed to protect you both were even more broken than she was. And it is okay to feel sad for her – for the childhood she never got to have, and for the adulthood she was not prepared to live. You are a caring person and this was your mother. You can love her and feel sad for her pain without condoning her infliction of pain onto you.
You never felt like you fit-in because your friends from school didn’t want to hang-out with you after school, on weekends, or during breaks. Please know that it wasn’t about YOU. Their parents were most likely afraid of the part of town you lived in, and maybe (for good reason) they feared your mother. They thought they were protecting their children from what they perceived were real threats. They were doing what your mother should have done for you – protecting them from harm. You, unfortunately, got lost in the crossfire between the stigma of being poor and that very real ignorance kids have of any such superficial label. You had friends at school because you were a sweet, funny, kind-hearted girl that your peers genuinely enjoyed being around. You had friends in the neighborhood for the same reason. It was your mother and, more importantly, her resistance to recovery from her illness that kept people from hanging-out with you.
You did have some friends though that braved your mother’s company. Remember Ginger? Stacy? Stacy’s house gave you a great escape from your cramped apartment. Ginger was your mudpie-making, Barbie stylist buddy for ages. Then there’s Becky who, at various points, was (literally) the red-headed pseudo-relative you never wanted, and the “if not for the grace of God” example you needed to keep you away from underage drinking, sex before you’re ready and smoking.
It would not be illogical to say that God let you down. He let you be born to a broken woman, in a broken family, at a time where social services was also broken. But did he? Your grandmother was around to care for you until you were 5. She showed you unconditional love when it was MOST important. Your father – flawed as he may have been – would never have let your mother physically harm you. When she gave you to a foster home in a rash moment of frustration, your father and grandmother were there fairly quickly to take you back to your comfy-cozy bed. When your mother raised her hand to you – with a sauce pan in it, no less – the handle broke before she could hit you with it. And when she tried to spank you with an umbrella, the post bent and barely tapped your behind. Maybe God was in the details. Sure, out of grace or not, God did allow you be born to a lousy mother. But he also let you have your grandmother for 5 years before taking her home by way of embolism (he even spared her a slow and painful death from lung cancer). And you weren’t sad when she died, because you knew she was in Heaven and would always be there for you – in one way or another.
As a parent, I cannot help but believe God showed your mother a bit of grace when he gave you to her. Knowing everything she believed she went through (real or not), He knew how much pain she was in and He probably saw that one option was that she would be inspired by your light, your goodness and your love and be able to recover. Instead, for whatever reason, she chose the other option – she slipped deeper into her illness and, because of that, she was not able to be the mother you deserved.
Little Me, parents are not perfect. Grandma made plenty of mistakes, too, I’m sure. (One was smoking – and chain smoking, at that!) But she got you through your preschool years. And Mom wasn’t a monster. She just wasn’t very good at fighting the ones in her head.
I know you feel guilty thinking badly about your parents. JC teaches us to love everyone, give people chances, forgive, BLAH BLAH BLAH. But I don’t believe JC’s grace would be enough to save your parents – or ANY parents – from punishment for not taking good care of you (or ANY child). Think about this: JC got so mad at the temple in Jerusalem that he threw over tables, screamed at the money changers and lashed out at people with a whip. Why? Because these people were entrusted with caring for the temple and, instead, they were allowing it to be defiled and mistreated. How much angrier do you think he would be at your parents? They were entrusted with a PERSON to take care of – not a building or religion. No, JC’s grace may go far, but I doubt even HE would have much time/patience left for your mother.
Thinking such things does not make you a bad person. Being angry is normal and expressing it is a way for you to work through your anger (which is VERY justified). I’m sorry your mother never taught you appropriate ways to express your anger – or any emotion, for that matter. I learned from studying Wicca that anger can be a source of creative energy. It’s like fire in that it can keep a person warm and cook food just as easily as destroy a house or forest. So as Kali said to Xena, let your anger fuel your fight (or something like that) so that you can defend the defenseless and help the helpless.
Little Me, let me assure you that you grew up to be a resilient woman, perhaps because of your mother’s mistreatment of you, but also because you have your Grandmother’s feisty spirit, your father’s work ethic and God’s grace.
God gave you a wonderful little boy who has a heart as big as yours, as well as the cutest personality I’ve ever known. He led you to a caring and fun husband who has loved you through your lowest points and cheered with you at your highest. You have a full-time job that doesn’t involve shoveling animal feces, cleaning houses or dodging insects. And you are studying part-time to get an advanced degree – the first in your family! – so you can land an even better job. You drive now. You have your own car. You have your own house. You clean once in a while. You don’t have to pay to do your laundry anymore! There are currently THREE functioning computers in your house – as well as two tablets and four smart TVs. And everyone has their own cell phone. You are not rich, but you are much better off financially than your mother ever was on Welfare.
One more thing… you are NOT your mother. Oh, she took great joy in telling you that you were just like her, but she was dead wrong. Your mother died young for many reasons, not the least of which was her resistance to recovery from her illness. Even at your worst, you are more than she ever tried to be. You are not perfect, but you never stop trying to be better than the day before and THAT is what separates the two of you. Being proud of the life that you fight every single day to keep does not make you selfish, bitchy or any other unpleasant or gross adjective. Healthy parents want their children to grow-up to be happy, healthy, independent and successful. Your mother’s illness made it impossible for her to want that for you. Your father was never shown that it was okay to express pride or (healthy) love for your child. But maybe by acknowledging their faults, you are actually honoring them in a way because, in spite of themselves, you still turned out to be PRETTY GREAT!