Parenting after Abuse

I’ve been Netflixing the show Parenthood.  I started watching because I no longer have cable, there was nothing on the main stations, and I love Lauren Graham from Gilmore Girls.    Halfway through the 1st episode I was hooked.  If I’m not writing, taking care of my home/kids or doing yoga/therapy/meditation, I’m watching Parenthood.  For real.

I know this is a scripted fantasy of what a family should look like.  What I wonder, though, is how much of this is out of the norm?  If we were to look at healthy families from  afar, how much would be similar?  Having grown up in a dysfunctional family I can’t answer that, and I want the answer.    What is normal?   What is healthy?  How many times can I screw up with my kids and apologize before it becomes a moot issue?  Are my apologies sincere, or do I negate them with excuses?  Do I step out of my comfort zone, my personal experience, and acknowledge my children’s experience?  Am I all I can be as a mother, or am I dialing it in?

I know I should not use a tv show as my barometer of normality, but I’m not sure what else to use.  This show, in particular, seems to depict the good and the bad, with the recognition that it is scripted.

Right now, here is the part that is getting to me:  Camille, the grandma/mother.  Each family member goes to her when they’ve screwed up, or been accused of screwing up.  Every time someone goes to her she is quiet and soothing, and reassures them of how much she loves them.  At that point I perk up.  Here it comes – here comes the BOMB.  Here comes her truth, in which she tells her daughter “well, you always were a slut”, or she tells her granddaughter “well, you have always been a wild child”.  Hand to God, that is what I’m waiting for.  It has been oddly educational for me to watch my reaction, to see how I know, in my head, that the shoe is about to drop, that the insult is coming.

It Never Comes.  Granted, I am only 1/2 way through the second season, but I have yet to hear Camille put down anyone, except her philandering husband.

Lest you think I’m delusional, I’ll reiterate:  I know this is a scripted show.  I get that.  I know that it is supposed to represent ideal responses to everyday issues.  Is it possible, though, that there are mother’s like that?  And, lest I ignore him, the grandfather is sort of awesome too.  He might not have words of wisdom, but when his kids really need him he puts his judgement aside and responds with kindness and empathy.  Do people like this exist?

As a young adult I developed a relationship with my paternal Grandmother.  I had grown up viewing her as the woman who required we put on our finest clothes and be on our best behavior.  She was the one that gained us entry into the vaulted Living Room, the one who granted us permission to sit on the blue velour couch, as long as we were espousing our latest accomplishment.  She was class and perfection personified.   She was who we were to aspire to be.  She was strong, staid, smart, successful and sincere.  (cool how I used all S words, right?).

As a young adult, she invited me to “supper” at her home, and I started to get to know the real her.  To begin with, how amazing that she got her grandchildren to come “supper” with her, one on one.  Who can get a 19 year old to give up a free night to spend with their grandmother?  She could.  Once she had snagged you the first time, you never turned down a subsequent invitation, because it was during that first meal you came to see that she was not who you thought she was.  She was the great mystery.   She was the matriarch who raised 4 children to be socially aware and proper, to go the finest schools and lead upstanding lives, to learn their Emily Post and embody every sentence of the text,.yet it turned out, she was anything But Emily Post!  During those suppers she told us her stories.  She told us about childhood traumas and feelings of disgrace.  She told us about feeling less-than, not measuring up to her families expectations, being the odd one out of her birth family.   She told us these stories not to excuse any wrong-doing, but to show us that each of us has many layers, and we aren’t always what we appear to be on the outside.  We grow those layer of protection because of those trauma’s, those disappointment, those trying times.

I was in my late 20’s when she died, and I was not there for her.  While part of me tears up at the thought, feels terrible for not visiting her more often, doing more for her, a part of me thinks that she understood.  She understood the pressure of a new family, a blossoming marriage and young children.  A part of me believes that those suppers were one of the ways she let us know that we were okay, our relationship with her was okay, and she accepted what we could give her and asked for nothing more.  I hope.

I might be wrong, as I often am, but I feel the ultimate message is this – There is only 1 thing we can really give our children, and that is unconditional love.  There will always be room for criticism, or potential growth, but those aren’t the messages children need from their family.  They need to hear that everyone struggles, we all have problems, we all live through traumas and failures and felt inadequate and ugly sometimes.  It is okay to have problems, to screw things up, to feel ugly, to wish you had done better, because that means you are Human.  It makes you lovable.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not a “free range” parent, or  a parent who excuses flat out rude behavior from my children.  I am also not the parent who does the best thing in most situations.  I’m the parent that often loses it, gives weight to issues which should be ignored, focuses on the wrong things.  I hope though, that when my children look back on their childhood, they will see me as the mom who loved them.   Always, good, bad and indifferent.  Because I do.  Of course I see their faults, but each of their faults is more than outweighed by their strengths.

As usual, my writing takes me to a different place than I meant it to.

I am back to my question:  I am always waiting for the “but”, I am always waiting for the attack, the negative review, the insult to my character.  Is this normal?

Or, is it true, as depicted in Parenthood, that parenting doesn’t have to be this way?  And, when will I get past it?  When will I stop waiting for the other shoe to drop, the critique that wounds my soul, the words that reverberate in my head, expounding my many faults.  Given the fact that my ex picked up right where my parents left off, can I ever overcome this feeling of dread and unworthiness, my inherent sense of shame and regret?  Can I ever learn that having a screw up doesn’t make me a screw up?

Right now, it doesn’t feel like it.  Right now I feel like the 14 year old who a total disappointment: inadequate, inherently wrong.

The one person who assured me that wasn’t true was my ex, who then turned around and used it against me.

I feel so sorry for my children.



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