How I Failed My Own Kids

Photo: weheartit
family, bipolar, grief/loss

Dysfunction breeds dysfunction.

My mother suffered from bipolar disorder that for many years went untreated or under-treated. It wasn't until the day that my mother drove to my father's workplace and shot him that the full scope of her mental illness was revealed to the world around her. Behind closed doors, however, the fact that something was seriously wrong was abundantly clear.

I grew up enduring physical, mental and emotional abuse at her hands. When faced with sexual abuse, I turned to her for help only to be made to feel I was at fault. As an adult, I have tried multiple times to build a relationship with her. I have a desperate need to have some semblance of family, some roots.

Time and time again, however, I have seen warning signs that have made me pull away. Sudden harsh mood swings into anger or tears made me fearful that her medications were unbalanced. Old dysfunctional and unhealthy behavior patterns gave me concern that she was not receiving the help she needed.

Eventually, I cut all ties and my mother and I became estranged. I had not spoken to her in over a couple years when I received the call that she had died.

While on some level, I have since come to accept that her abuse was in many ways a product of her mental illness, subconsciously I have vowed to never be like her. Without reason or common sense, I systematically structured my life around doing the exact opposite of everything she had done.

Where she was bigoted and judgmental, I was open-minded and accepting. Where she was a hypochondriac with a long list of doctors, I tried to deal with ailments on my own and avoided doctors at all costs. I focused on every aspect of her life with the fear that, in being like her, I might become her.

Perhaps my biggest goal in life was to be a better mother to my children than she was to me. Where my mother was harshly critical, I was determined to be encouraging and supportive. Where my mother would yell, scream and lash out in anger, I tried to be calm and reasonably discuss things. Where I was reminded often that I was unloved and unwanted, I made a point of telling my children as often as possible how much I loved them, was proud of them and was blessed to have them in my life.

I honestly never planned on being a mom. I had no idea how to even be one. My children were all products of different birth control failures and are truly the biggest, though completely unexpected, blessings of my life. Above all else in my life, I am their mother.

Morning and night, every single day, there is nothing else in my life that could ever compare to how much I love my children and nothing or no one that would be placed above them in my heart. Each accomplishment and milestone of their lives have been a source of miraculous pride to me because I cannot believe that such beautifully perfect souls ever came from me.

I have poured so much of myself into being the best mother I could be to my children because I was terrified of messing it up, of messing them up. I would spend hours on the floor with them, reading, playing, watching them grow and flourish.

I would rock them to sleep, singing endless loops of nursery rhymes and children's songs, often holding them throughout their entire nap. I was forever trying to teach them anything and everything, encourage them to think and see the world in different ways. I fostered their curiosity and interests, from raising tadpoles to helping run after school programs.

My daughter, my eldest, was a product of a relationship with my high school sweetheart. Unlike her younger brothers who came from my marriage a couple years later and had a dad who was very active in their lives, her father was not around for the majority of her childhood.

I found myself forever trying to overcompensate and be there for her to make up for his absence. When my daughter was twelve, her father reemerged with a new wife, new baby, new house, new life.

Around that same time, I caught my daughter creating a fake online profile, claiming she was older, talking to older boys. I was struck by a fear I cannot even begin to explain. I, myself, had been the victim of rape and sexual abuse as a teenager. I knew firsthand that what a child of twelve means when they say “I'm up for anything” differs greatly from what a man of eighteen or twenty hears.

I spent the afternoon trying to get through to her. I showed her profiles created by mothers of children who had been abducted and killed. I pulled up the database of missing and exploited children so she would understand that she was not old enough, big enough  that older children, bigger children, have been victims.

I brought up the sexual offender registry hoping she'd see that you can't tell a sexual predator by sight  they're not all old men in nondescript white vans. Sex offenders can be any age, any background, anyone. Lastly, I took away her computer because I did not feel she was responsible enough to have online access.

A week later, she informed me, after a weekend visit with her newly found father, that she wanted to go live with him. The grass was greener there. We lived in a flat shared with roommates while he and his wife had their own house.

He and his wife both had well-paying jobs while I was trying to balance a dead-end job with flexible hours and college courses towards an eventual degree around being there before and after school for my children. For almost thirteen years, I raised her without him, yet she chose him. I had tried to do everything right and be there in every way I could but in the end it was not enough.

In the next week, she quickly packed and left. I was told there was no use fighting it  at her age, family court would leave that decision primarily up to her. After she left, I discovered all the contact numbers I was given did not work, the other information invalid. I emailed her repeatedly with no response. I tried calling her paternal grandmother and was told she didn't want to get involved.

She was gone completely from my life, vanished without a trace. I was utterly and completely heartbroken. I had my first breakdown.

It would be a few years before I would hear from her again. She was a teenager by then, almost done with high school. Her father's marriage had ended, the house was gone. She had been bounced around his family, sometimes with him there, more often not. I pleaded with her to come home.

She insisted she was fine. She had close friends there and loved her school. She did not want to leave the life she had built. I respected that and did not push. I was grateful to have her back in my life at any measure.

I tried to be there for her as much as I could, despite the distance. When she complained of there being nothing in her aunt's house to eat, I would send pizza. When she and her on-again, off-again boyfriend broke up, I took hours of buses to get to her and spend the day making sure she was OK and trying to cheer her up.

We met up places close to her for holidays so she'd still get her Easter baskets and Christmas presents. I wanted more than anything to be there for her again in whatever capacity she chose.

When she graduated high school, she was informed she could no longer stay with her aunt. Her grandmother was staying with a friend and had no room for her, either. She called me in a panic, nowhere else to turn. We talked about her plans for the future.

I searched frantically for an apartment close to her college. Without a second thought, everything was packed up and moved. She needed me and nothing was going to stop me from being there.

Having her back with me was bliss. I had missed my baby daughter more than I could ever put into words. I often felt I was walking on eggshells because I was so afraid of losing her again, but I would have walked over broken glass or hot coals just to have her there. A piece of me that had been missing for so long was back home.

During that time, she began dating, her first real venture into real relationships outside of the puppy love of high school romances. The man she ultimately chose had a bad boy streak and a checkered past. He had a controlling nature that concerned me but I tried to be supportive.

She was a smart girl and I trusted her judgment. She began spending overnights with him that soon turned into multiple days. It wasn't long until she announced she was moving in with him.

Shortly after moving in, they got into a fight. She texted her best friend in a panic because he physically would not let her leave. Her friend, in turn, contacted me. In less than an hour, I had people en route to pick her and her belongings up. In the days that followed, he messaged her relentlessly apologizing and begging her to come home. She eventually gave in. Shortly after moving back with him, she cut all ties.

Months later, I heard from her again. Happy Mothers Day, Grandma! She was pregnant but she was OK. She was OK and that was all that mattered. I would not lecture her because she, herself, was unplanned and was one of the biggest blessings of my life.

I would never make her feel like her baby was anything less than a blessing. I poured as much support and encouragement as I could into our messages back and forth, thoroughly enjoying every milestone she shared. Then, one day, with no notice at all, she cut all ties again.

It has been almost a year since we've talked. I've missed the birth of my grandbaby, her first Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. I've missed my daughter's 21st birthday and so much more. There is a gaping hole in me that absolutely nothing can fill.

She is an adult. I cannot force her to have me in her life, nor would I want to push my way in unwelcome. I miss her every day. I mourn every day that passes without her or my grandchild in my life.

It is truly and heartbreakingly ironic. While I tried so hard to live my life so differently from my mother, I've found myself in the exact same place, estranged from my own daughter. I was so obsessed with not being my mother and being the best parent I could be that I was blind to so many other dysfunctional things I've passed onto her.

Much like myself, she had faced abandonment and feelings of inferiority from others. She had been misled along the way, by both her father's actions and my other relationships, that it was OK for men to cheat, assert control and to treat women poorly. She learned from me that it was OK to cut family out of your life if it makes life easier. The truth is NONE of that is OK.

I honestly fear for my daughter and her daughter, as well. Dysfunction breeds dysfunction. As hard as we try not to walk the paths of our parents, we often find ourselves at the same destination.

I love my daughter more than I could ever put into words. I am sorry beyond belief for passing the burden of dysfunction onto her and pray with all my heart she'll have the strength and wisdom to break these chains and stop this cycle. While I will always be here for her if she ever needs me in any way, I fear it is too late for us.

Most parents send their children out into the world hoping they one day have a child that is just like them. I pray that my grandbaby will be stronger, healthier, happier and will rise above the path we keep walking, breaking those chains of dysfunction. I don't hope that my grandchild is just like my daughter or like me; I hope that she is better than us both and has a happier life despite the legacy passed down to her.

I wish I could give her the world, as I wish I could my own children, because they deserve happiness beyond what I could ever give them. More than anything, though, I hope she finds peace in life because walking this path, again and again, is exhausting.

(Dedicated to my daughter and grandbaby. You both deserve so much better than the legacy I have left you. I love you both with all my heart and hope and pray that every day finds you healthy, happy and well. Please know that, while I am far from perfect, I always tried my best.)

This article was originally published at Unloveable Book. Reprinted with permission from the author.