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Healing from the pain of parenting

PeaceByHeartEvery time I hear my son and daughter telling about their challenges these days and how they deal with them, I become both proud and relieved. I didn?t expect them to grow into capable and resourceful adults from how I raised them. I?m grateful for who they are and for all that have supported them in life so far.

I have faced a good amount of guilt and shame in order to look into the mirror without disgust of myself as a mum. I?ve spent years and tears with empathic and therapeutic listeners contemplating what happened and even it?s been tough, it?s been worth it. Bad conscience and apologies just don?t serve raising children and it definitely gets in the way of creating loving connections and modelling how to be a human adult.

Not enough. Never enough.

Even if you don’t recognize yourself in the story I’m going to tell, most parents I’ve spoken to share the guilt of not having been perfect as parents. Not being present enough, not seen the needs of each child at any time, not said no, not said yes, having created a messy or a cold home environment, having cared too much so they’ve become dependent, or cared too little so that they are doubting whether they matter.

Perhaps you see other parents succeeding and you tell yourself you are a failure, not fully worthy of respect, hiding the most painful memories in a secret chamber within. That’s what I did.

What I wish never happened

Until my son was ten and my daughter seven years old, their daily experiences contained their mum and dad yelling at each other, having physical fights and quite often me leaving, slamming a door behind me and them not knowing if they would ever see me again. Threats being shouted through the air and mum and dad calling each other names were other sad experiences from then. Four months? residence in a women?s shelter and then returning to their dad for more rows and accusations is something else I wish no children would have in their luggage.

I am happy that I managed to leave the turbulent marriage. I spent those first vulnerable years caring more for myself than those kids, thus adding to their sense of not mattering. But gradually I managed to build a life that worked for us. The break-up also set their dad free to become the father he didn?t manage to be when we were together.

That said there are still a load of actions on my side I wish I could erase forever. Such as those times I slammed my son. I am not at all proud of it; not only is it illegal to hit your children in Denmark; I know how harmful it is for the child?s self-confidence and for the relationship between adult and child to use power this way.

Instead of trying to bury the memories and pretend the shameful incidents never happened, I?ve dealt with my shame and guilt and I?m happy to report that it doesn?t weigh me down as it used to. I am sure that this is something that has set all of us free and made it easier for my children to heal.

The four important elements of my healing journey has been:

  • Fearlessly facing what actually happened,
  • Understanding what drove me,
  • Compassion with both the part of me that chose to do what I did and the part that wish it never took place, and
  • Mourning.

In some cases, a fifth element has been relevant:

  • Making amends.

Hitting to buy free space

When my son was four, he would refuse to let me do things to him such as brush his teeth. Or he would keep begging for something even though he got a distinct no, like candy or his little sister?s toys. These situations happened multiple times daily in a family with very little resources and a high level of tension. It was not easy for me to stay patient and firm but I tried, knowing that this was the way for him to learn to trust and comply. Pretty often, his father would react to his crying and begging and overrule me, letting our son have it his way. When this happened, it left me really desperate and often triggered a row. I so needed support in my parent?s role and I longed for partnership around our children.

One evening, the conflict level was already high and my son refused to stay in his room as he?d been told to after a siblings? conflict. He came back repeatedly and I couldn?t bear the risk of being overruled, tired and on the edge of cracking myself. I remember the short moment of choice lasting one tenth of a second considering the alternatives and then slapping him. Not only did I hit him hard with a flat hand in the face, I shouted angrily at him. He got shocked and I guess felt humiliated, weeping heavily as I carried him away. This time he stayed at his room.

In that tenth of a second, my need for support and care for me was just too intense. I had no imagination of how I could have it, feeling absolutely powerless. I bought myself free space by slapping. If I?d attempted to stay patiently in my dignity as parent, I?d have taken the risk of being run down by a steam roller and crushed. That?s how it would have felt if his dad had overruled me. In some rare logic, the slapping was an attempt to protect my children by making sure I would still have resources left for the next moment. Never doubt that Mum will be in charge.

As support, care and saving resources were the driving needs behind my choice to slap ? even these needs were not met – other just as important needs were painfully breached. My needs for dignity, respect (both for myself and the child) and connection were starving. My fear that I?d done unrepairable harm haunted me for years, not only from this incident but from numerous times where I didn?t treat him and his sister with love and dignity as I knew in my heart was the best way to grow children.

So sad it is to think about these dark times. So tragic to know that these dynamics are what many other mothers and children are trapped in every day. Today, I?ve landed at compassion towards the young mother I was who didn?t really know how to manage her life and tried her best in an ever-returning cycle of caring the best she could for children, husband and home, having little support and little rest, and struggling to keep the heavy self-criticism at bay.

Self-forgiveness is contagious

Since the break-up of the family, their dad and I have been on each our healing journey. The common denominator has been to forgive and accept ourselves and each other, and I?m pretty sure that our children have benefitted much from us growing a new sense of tenderness towards each other.

When my son was 21, I asked him how he is now when thinking about those times. He has little memory of it and has reassured me that everything is all right today. A time might come when he is drawn to take a closer look at what happened in his childhood; so far, I?m satisfied to know that he knows that I?m ready to listen to what he might bring up.

Both my son and daughter are socially capable young adults today; they?ve made choices about their lives and their future that I can only admire, being so much more mature than I was at that age. They are facing their challenges ? which I don?t really know of. I believe that both are able to manage and to reach for support when life becomes tight.

Would it have been possible for me to forgive myself if the damage done during my children?s early years had left them with life-long disabilities? Would they have grown into resourceful and capable young adults if I hadn?t dealt with my guilt and shame? I don?t know. I just know that the path of self-forgiveness is worth travelling.

 Support to heal your painPeaceByHeart

This was my starting point when creating the training Dissolving the Pain of Parenthood. After having attended several trainings on how to heal my childhood traumas, I realized that healing from the harm you?ve done to others is rarely addressed.

This is not about assessing how much damage you have or haven’t done to your children. It’s about freeing yourself from the guilt and shame of not being a perfect parent. Of restoring dignity. And allowing for new, healthier dynamics to enter your relationships.

Emma Collins and I are offering a course of teleclasses and individual coaching starting the 23rd of September. If this is something for you, please have a closer look here.

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