Posts Tagged ‘parenting’

chicken and stars soup

I’m getting sick. And frankly, I feel like a cranky 8 year old. I know cranky 8 year olds, because I my daughter is eight. 😉

I used to not be able to tell that I was getting sick until I was full blown sick. Just couldn’t recognize the subtle (or not so subtle) signs at all, but I had to wait to be “knocked flat on my back sick” before I knew that there was a problem. About 17 years ago, Mama Bear realized just how out of touch I was with my body and helped me to figure out my physical and emotional signals that illness was on the way, so I could slow down and try to take care of myself. What a revelation that was! Pay attention to what my body was telling me?!? And use that information to help care for myself and maybe even keep myself from getting really sick?!? Wow. Looking back, I can still remember that sense of wonder at discovering that the “knowing me” could connect with the “physical me” and work together. It’s almost as if they didn’t know that the other existed before that point. I almost feel as though I should be grateful for whatever series of illnesses that winter enabled Mama Bear to finally help me make that connection. 😉 One of the things that Mama Bear helped me to understand is that most people feel vulnerable when they feel under the weather and many people feel young.

Anyways, I’m getting sick today. I’m not super sick, just kind of sick and mostly cranky sick. I was chatting via Google with my husband a bit, telling him how I felt, and I admitted to him, “I feel like a whiny child right now, sad to say. I just want to curl up in bed and have Mommy bring me some Campbell’s chicken soup. With saltine crackers. How sad is that?” And I had this vivid memory of how my mother would bring me chicken soup with stars (not noodles) and crackers to me on a tray in bed. It was one of the nurturing acts that I could count on from her- she would take care of me when I was sick. I felt loved and taken care of. I had her attention. Being sick was something that she could understand and sympathize with. It’s no wonder that right now I have such a craving for Campbell’s chicken soup.

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I do have something that I can talk about… Mama Bear said the nicest thing to me today that I can remember her ever saying…

We were at the end of the session, when we just talk, but don’t do any real work, so I can have a chance to “tuck back in” any loose parts and ground before I leave her office. I couldn’t help but shake my head and say, “Oy, my family…”

“Are you talking about how much they harm and are harmed by each other?”

I snorted, “Yes.”

She looked intently at me and said, “You do realize just how thoroughly you broke the cycle, don’t you? The buck stopped with you and it will not continue with your daughter. Somehow, you did that and no one else did.”

I nodded my head, “I’ve been thinking about that recently. I know that I can’t protect her completely from being hurt at all though, because I am still hurt and that affects her.”

“No, you can’t prevent all harm.” She smiled gently, “But you have completely messed up your opportunity for her to be harmed anywhere nearly as much as you were. Can you see that?”

I started to tear up, “Yes, that’s something else that I have been thinking about. So many terrible things happened to me before I was 8. She has a secure base now that I never had a chance to develop and I’m not going to let anything destroy that base for her.” Just like nothing can rewrite history for me and give me the childhood that I desperately needed, history also can’t be rewritten for my daughter and nothing can take away the early childhood that gave her what she did need. She isn’t going to come out of this unscathed, but if I have anything to say about it, she is going to come out of it better than OK. “I am so glad that I waited to have her, so I had a hope of being a good mom.”

“I remember when you and your husband brought her in for a session as a baby. I was just so thrilled for so many reasons. You were such a cute little family and I loved seeing you together. You are a good mom, C. And I’m sure that G. has something to say about that. You have come a very long way and you did it yourself.”

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First of all, my apologies to those of you who commented on my last post. I really thought that I had responded to you, but I just realized that I hadn’t. Oops. In my defense, I have been sick and reeling a bit from the work that I am doing around my mother. I will respond, though… And please bear with me, if this post is disjointed- I am still sick and my brain definitely isn’t up to full speed.

On further reflection, I realized that it didn’t matter one bit whether what my intuition tells me happened with my mom leaving me in a crib when I would tantrum happened or not. What does matter here is that I am coming to accept that my mom was not the mom that I have always needed to see her as. She was flawed and had many deficits and because of those deficits, she acted in ways that hurt me. At the same time, while she probably acted out of anger or selfishness at times, I don’t think that she was malicious. I really do think that she strongly wanted to be a good mother to me.

But she had no exposure to what being a “good mother” would look like. She had no role model to teach her what being a good mother would look like. She had not received the mothering that she needed, so she didn’t have the emotional maturity to deal with the demands of being a mother. From what I have seen, it seems that she still doesn’t have the emotional capacity to stay with me when I try to talk with her about anything related to the abuse. Threatening emotions seem to cause her to flee, whether that is physically or emotionally. I certainly know that in myself, when my daughter has had a long tantrum and I haven’t been able to get her to listen to me, I start to experience a strong need to escape the tensions that being with her brings up. I, too, have a desire to run away, but I have learned that as threatening as the combination of our strong feelings seem to be, I can tolerate being with her. We can work it out. But I have the benefit of many years of therapy and a safe place to currently go and learn how to tolerate being with seemingly intolerable emotions. My mother didn’t have that.

There is something about seeing that my mom just plain couldn’t have known how to be the mother that I wanted to think that she was that is freeing to me. She didn’t know how to satisfy all of my needs or fully nurture the complete me. I don’t need to feel disloyal by saying that she failed; I’m just being realistic and saying that she couldn’t have succeeded. I suspect that a lot of the time she didn’t even know enough to recognize that she failed or else she was so emotionally defended that she couldn’t tolerate seeing that she had failed.

So, the outside me has developed more of an understanding about my mom. This is good, but it’s only the first step, and I can see that taking what I am coming to understand and putting it together with the inside/feeling me is not going to be an easy process. Yesterday, in my session, there was a point when I was visibly struggling with something. Mama Bear asked me what was happening and I protested, “I don’t know! I just don’t know!” She gently responded to me, “It’s OK to have a variety of feelings about your mom.” And I am a bit confused about the order of what happened next… I know felt a this intense child anger just seem to emerge out of a little spot in me and envelope me. I know that at some point I felt like something took me, shook me, and just switched the anger off, but I think that might have been an adult anger. I remember Mama Bear realizing that I had dissociated and telling me that I needed to pull myself forward, so that my adult was holding my child and I was feeling the anger in the present and not confused about whether I was in the past. All of this intensity was around feeling just a bit of the anger that I have for my mom! This is going to be a process that takes time.

However, last night I did notice a change that is promising. I don’t know when it happened, although I’m sure that it has been a gradual shift that probably started a couple of months ago; it certainly wasn’t an overnight transformation. I am used to “hearing” young parts calling for my mother to comfort them, when they are feeling distressed, but last night I realized that these same young parts were instead looking to me for comfort and support. This is a very good sign, because my mom can’t provide to my vulnerable parts what I need in order to heal and feel safe and secure, but I have some hope of doing so.

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Trying to breathe here… Wow, I hurt. I put together some things together today and I don’t know that I put them together exactly right, but I think that I have it at least sort of right. It must be on track for it to hurt like hell when I’ve hardly even thought about it since it came together in my mind.

I don’t know very little about my mom’s childhood, really next to nothing and I don’t know all that much about when she was a teen. I do know that her older brother was physically and verbally abusive to her. I also know that my grandmother was physically abusive to him, because she would go into a rage and beat him with a wooden spoon or what was on hand until it broke. It also was a family with confused boundaries, because my grandmother sometimes bathed while my teenaged uncle stood in the bathroom doorway and watched her. I haven’t heard about my grandmother being physically abusive towards my mom, but I find it hard to believe that she never was, if she could be that violent towards my mom. I do know that my grandmother could unpredictably become cruel with her words and had been that way at least since my mom was in middle school.

My mom considered her mother to be a terrible role model as a mother. She has told me more than once that when trying to figure out what to do while raising me, she always did the opposite of what she thought that her mother would do. I believe that she really did want to do well by me, but she was coming from a terrible deficit in terms of having her own emotional needs satisfied and having any idea of how to deal with the emotional needs of a child.

Today, I was trying to puzzle something out in regards to my dad and fear and anger, and I felt as though I kept on being nudged with the thought that my mom could be angry with me, too. Finally, I stopped ignoring the thought and looked at it, and I suddenly thought that it was very likely that when I was little when I started to have a temper tantrum, my mom would stick me in my crib and walk away until I was quiet. My mother has told me that she doesn’t remember me ever having a tantrum, which I thought was really odd. Developmentally, kids go through tantrums as they learn various things. But if she always walked away and left me, it would make more sense. And if I learned fairly quickly to not upset my mother or else she would leave me all alone, then her statement makes even more sense.

But I don’t have any definite memories of this, just a sense that there is something “right” about this idea. And how could I know but not really remember something from when I was so small? And how could I have gotten myself to calm down under those circumstances? I somehow doubt that I was being taught self soothing skills or how to use transitional objects in other situations. All I can guess is that I dissociated.

But there is a certain sense here… It fits with my fears of emotional abandonment if I put some sort of emotional “demands” on anyone. It fits with my feeling like it’s a life and death matter that I mustn’t upset my mom. It fits with my finding my anger to be so threatening. It even fits something I have seen her do with my daughter when my daughter was just being normal 6 year old obnoxious because she needed to eat- one second my mom was arguing with her, then suddenly my mom turned and without a word left the room and went to another floor of the house. My daughter was completely shocked, and she had me there to help her deal with what had happened. The oddest part of it was that my mother said nothing when she came back; she acted as if nothing had happened and if anything paid extra attention to my daughter.

I don’t think that my mom did this because she was callous or wanted to hurt me, in fact, I suspect that this was the way that she coped when my being upset pushed her to a point where she couldn’t bear to be with me because she was afraid that she would harm me, if she stayed there. I don’t think that she had any self soothing skills for herself, so she couldn’t even stick around, never mind try to teach some to me. I know that she made a rule for herself around that time to not spank me, because I was almost hurt badly in an accident caused by her swatting my behind because I was irritating her. So she really was trying to find ways to avoid harming me and she wanted to do well by me.

But turning and walking away from a distressed child, particularly when it is done as a pattern, is a terrible way to treat a child. What a way to treat the child that emotions are dangerous, that people cannot be trusted to be there for her, that she can expect to be abandoned when she most needs help, that there is something about the child that will drive people away, that if her mother finds her too awful to stay with, then everyone else will as well.

When I saw my mother treat my daughter that way, I thought to myself, “Well, that certainly would have been an effective way to control my behavior- seem to threaten abandonment if I don’t stay in line at all times.” My mom was my only source of safety and I would have done anything to remain connected to her. But I didn’t explore it very far at the time and it didn’t occur to me how such behavior would have affected me as a very young child, as opposed to a 6 year old.

I don’t like sitting here, realizing that my mom probably hurt me in ways that go beyond not protecting me. It is painful to look at how some of her actions might have harmed me.

It is so confusing, because I both can empathize with how young, unprepared, and lacking in support she was. From what she has said, I get that she felt overwhelmed and clueless so much of the time. I know from my own experience that being a parent is incredibly challenging and I took it on with a reasonably healthy spouse after more than a decade’s worth of therapy. But at the same time, she and my dad were what I had. My dad was so far from what I needed that it’s like he simply wasn’t an option, so really, she was it. I needed for her to find a way to take care of me emotionally, and not knowing how to do it isn’t an excuse for not doing it. She had the responsibility to find some way to learn how to do what she needed to do for me, not just fumble through as best she could, leaving a wreck behind her.

I’ve always conceptualized my family around the belief that my mom was the one person who did not harm me. She was my safe person. And I still don’t think that she intentionally hurt me, but I’m starting to see that some of this pain that I go around with may be from my mom. And it isn’t just incidental hurt that is secondary to the sexual abuse, this is real hurt that impacts me deep inside. My self was supposed to be able to develop around a core of safe experiences with my mom and I think that she failed me badly with them.

In so many ways, this shakes my entire world. Not so much the world of today, but definitely the world that I think that I came from. And now I am just numb because it’s all too much. That is my sign that I definitely need to stop writing and go to bed because it is late.

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Here in the USA, we are quickly approaching one of those dreaded “holidays”- Mother’s Day. I am always left struggling to figure out what can I do that will not insult or hurt my mom (which is not my intention) but also won’t leave me feeling false to myself. Your average Mother’s Day card is just plain not going to work. A phone call is out of the question right now. I refuse to give my mom the message that it is OK to pretend that everything is all OK, but I also do want for her to know that I love her, despite everything. We have a complicated relationship and are having a difficult time negotiating it, but I am grateful for the good that she has done for me.

Interestingly, a bit of a crisis came up with Mama Bear this week. There are some scheduling changes and one of them has me concerned. I do have some legitimate here and now concerns about that change, but the reaction is so much more intense than those concerns warrant. After all, I should be able to trust that if the change causes problems, we will find a solution; up until now we always have and I have no indication that anything fundamental has changed in our relationship. But I experienced feelings of abandonment and a fear that I was being punished for recently asking for something that I thought would help me. These clearly were not here and now feelings, but were child feelings. I pushed myself to tell Mama Bear what was going on, so I know that we will discuss it in the next session, because I have a tendency to do everything that I can to bury and dismiss these sorts of feelings for as long as I can. But when I do that, the foundation of my trust in Mama Bear is compromised and things don’t go well for me in therapy until I finally come clean.

I am proud to say that realizing what I was doing and telling her within 24 hours was a huge step forward for me- this is a process that just last summer took weeks and required her coaxing and reassuring me that she wouldn’t get mad at me or abandon me for telling her that I had a problem with her about something. Like so many relational issues, this is something that I should have been able to learn how to do with my own parents. Instead, I learned that if I pushed too hard, I would distress my mom, and then she wouldn’t be there when I most needed her. She didn’t intend to abandon me, but she did.

This morning, I felt an overwhelming amount of grief and loss when I realized just how much I yearn to be the most important thing in a caretaker’s life. There is a part of me deep, deep inside, at my very core, who still desperately wants to be central and the one around whose needs everything is organized. It reminds me of the sort of care that I had to give my daughter as an infant and toddler when everything had to be organized around her sleep schedule in order for her to stay happy and healthy. That level of care needed happen when I was young and it just can’t happen now that I am an adult, no matter how much my insides cry for it. Adult relationships don’t happen that way. In some ways, the therapeutic relationship is the closest that I am going to get, because at least for that hour, my needs do come first. So being told that there were other needs that required a change that costs me something was a very difficult reminder of how while my relationship with Mama Bear is something that is special for me and I do believe that it is special for her, I am one of many people that she has responsibilities for. It is a fact of life that she has to juggle my needs among her own, her family’s, her other clients’, and so on.

And the adult me is grateful that she cares enough to juggle me in. And she really does care. Dare I say it? There even is love there. Because I am the person I am, that love is deeply valued and I think that it enables me to deepen the work that I do with Mama Bear. There have been times when parts of me have relaxed into it and chosen to believe what she is trying to help me learn because I can tell that the love is real. The scaffolding of the relationship is a bit of an artificial construct, but the feelings are real. Because they are real and because she does not back away, they enable me to experience myself as real.

So, this morning, I was crying out some of these raw feelings, and it dawned on me that to some extent I was crying for my mother. I was crying because I wanted to feel loved and special and cherished and worth doing anything to safe guard. It isn’t Mama Bear’s place to provide those things to me, but as a child, it was a part of my mother’s job to provide them. Unfortunately, she wasn’t shown how to do them by her mother, and so she was only partially successful with me. My mother does love me and she says that she thinks that I am special and I do know that she means those things, but I don’t trust her enough to allow me to connect with her sufficiently to be able to take in what she could give to me in the now. The love that she gave me and the value that she placed on me as a child and teen were essential to allowing me to form enough strengths so that I could get some things right in my life, but I have been so hurt the many times I have tried to turn to her for support and suddenly found her emotionally gone, so I am afraid to risk opening my heart to her again.

Sometimes I wonder whether I will ever fully be able to heal this deep, aching hole that should have been filled by my mother surrounding me with her loving protection? Or will this hole be one of those things that Mama Bear has warned me about? There may be wounds that can never fully heal and so places where I will always be vulnerable. She assures me that with work, time, and self compassion, those wounds won’t hurt quite so much and eventually they will be easier to soothe when they have been activated, but some injuries really do go that deep. The abuse and neglect happened and that ‘happening’ can never be undone.

What would I want to say on this Mother’s Day, if it felt safe enough for me to be frank with my mom? “I love you.” “I want so much more out of my relationship with you.” “I wish that you were strong enough for me to be honest with, so I could share my anger, pain, and grief with you and be certain that you would still be there when I was done.” “I am grateful that you love me and in particular am grateful that you really loved me as a child, because I would not be standing here in this place without that love.” “I am so angry at your own mother for being a lousy mother to you, so you started at such a handicap with me.” “Thank you for doing the best that you could with me when you were young. But I think that you are capable of more now, so please push yourself and find the courage to not hide so much. I deserve more, you deserve more, and your granddaughter deserves more, so please dig deep and find the strength somewhere.” But most of all, “I love you.”

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