Wait, did you hear that? That, my friends, was the sound of me hovering. Yup, that’s right, I’m what you might describe as the classic “helicopter” mom. But before you start silently judging me, please let me explain why I am the way that I am.
“There isn’t anybody you couldn’t love once you’ve heard their story.” – Mr. Rogers
I love that quote. I am a firm believer that we are all, to a large degree, the product of our surroundings. I am the product of child abuse. I wouldn’t say that it wholly defines who I am, but the impact has been huge, nonetheless. Child abuse, like most dysfunctional behaviors, tends to be generational. It’s a cycle. That’s how it was in my family. My mother was not born an abuser. She learned to become one.
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults.” -Frederick Douglass
The thing about child abuse is that it doesn’t just affect the child and the immediate family dynamic. Child abuse forever alters who that child is. Who they could have been. It stays with them as they mature and can affect their future family as well. I used to believe that as an abused child you could choose to go only one of two ways … negative, by perpetuating that cycle of abuse, or positive, by breaking it. However, as is so often the case in life, things are never that simple.
You see, I knew going into motherhood that I was going to rise above abuse. I knew that I was going to be a better mother than I had. No one protected me as a child. In fact, in addition to abusing me herself, my mother additionally put me in other unsafe situations to be harmed by others. All of those experiences fueled within me an overwhelming desire to protect my child from absolutely ANYthing and EVERYthing. Which, as you can probably imagine, is not only an exhausting proposition, but utterly impossible.
Cut to March 2nd of this year. I was sitting in my glider rocker, feet up, just relaxing after a fun day. Suddenly, I couldn’t breath. I felt the weight of an elephant on my chest and I was trying desperately to fill my lungs with air, but it was so shallow. My arms felt numb and tingly and my first thought was “Am I having a heart attack?!” It was the scariest feeling! The next day it happened again and my husband convinced me to go to the E.R. Seven hours (and I’m sure several large bills) later … the assumption was Panic Attack. Panic Attack? Yes. All my worry and hovering and need to control everything, had finally bubbled over. It was a reality check. I was fighting my own personal war to try and make her childhood so perfect, that it was literally killing me.
To which I say: Thank heavens for my easy-going, laid-back (and might I add, super attractive) husband. For all my anxiety-filled attempts to encase her in symbolic bubble-wrap (preferably bullet-proof), he has been there to throw her over his shoulder or catch her mid-air as she does her aerial swan dives off the top of the sofa. (Pardon me while I clutch my chest and hyper-ventilate.)
His philosophy is more “so her arm fell off, I’m sure it will grow back.” And while it drives me beyond frantic with worry, I KNOW that she needs that balance in life. She needs someone to encourage her to face her fears. To learn to ice skate, to swim and ride a bike without always thinking of the worst case scenario. She needs someone to tell her that yes, she’s going to fall. Yes, it’s going to hurt sometimes, but that’s okay. Just so long as she gets back up and tries again. I know she needs his influence. So I am slowly learning to sit on the sidelines and cheer her on, even when I’m freaking out on the inside. I’m doing better at breathing and not asking her if she’s okay all the time … and not always reaching out to pick her up when she falls. I’m still there if she needs me, but I’m making a conscious effort to allow her to grow. To experience disappointments and failures, and learn how to cope. To experience life. I don’t want her to be neurotic like me. I don’t want her to be paralyzed by fear. I know that I have to stop patterning that for her.
Let’s be real, I know that I’ll never be a “free-range” Mama who lets my kid venture independently around town, but I do believe that there is hope for me. I recognize my issues, and I am aware of where they come from. That’s the first step to real change.
Breaking the cycle of abuse is complex. It goes beyond simply choosing NOT to abuse your child(ren). I knew that I would never be the kind of parent to physically or verbally hurt my daughter, but what I didn’t understand, was that my immense love for her could be damaging as well.
I am a work in progress. I will probably always be a work in progress. I am the product of child abuse, but I will never allow it to wholly define who I am.
**Please Note: Child abuse affects everyone differently. This post is not about overcoming abusive tendencies, because that was not my personal struggle. However, that is a serious and common issue related to childhood trauma. If you are struggling with these feelings, please seek help. You CAN break the cycle of abuse. You can give your child(ren) a better you and a better life. Click HERE for a list of local resources that can help.
(First Image courtesy of Justin Michau Photography)