The Dichotomy of Parenthood as an Abused Child

When I had my son in 2014, I was not expecting every wave of emotion that rolled over me. Love? Of course. Nervousness at this brand new, frail, and wholly-my-responsibility wriggly mass? Obviously. Extreme rage and disgust at my own parents? That was a shock. I didn’t expect to feel hate towards my parents for how I was raised when I held my son for the first time. I thought I had worked out all of my childhood issues in the year I went to therapy as a seventeen year old (ha, as if therapy is ever that culminating). I spent years after my son’s birth furious that my parents had made the choices they did when I was growing up…and my fury was mainly directed towards my mom.

A friend of mine says, “Your job as a parent is just to raise a child capable of getting their own therapy.”

All parents mess up their kids. It is the cost of being a flawed human: we pass along our traumas, our insecurities, and our failed dreams to the very malleable humans we are raising. The goal is to pass it along in a lesser capacity than what we were handed by our parents…lessening the impact of trauma with each generation, completely eradicating it if we can.

The emotional dichotomy of a parent who is sorting out their own demons while raising a child is…freaking hard. It is hard to look at your childhood with the eyes of a parent and see that your parents are just flawed humans…like you…while you subsequently fuck up your own kids. You look at three generations laid out in front of you…your parents, you, and your children…and begin to empathize with your parents as you experience parenting. This empathy can feel like an invalidation to the horrors you experienced as a child…and holding empathy for your parents and their choices without invalidating the pain you experienced as a child is extremely difficult.

But you can do both. You can look at your parents and see people who did what they could with the resources they had while mourning the calm childhood you didn’t get to experience. My anger towards my mom for not leaving a horribly abusive marriage becomes mixed with understanding that it was the 90’s in rural Georgia. She had such a terrible childhood of her own, she did what she could…and it still harmed me. I hold that dichotomy within myself as I navigate parenthood: anger at her and grief for myself countered with empathy for her and sadness for myself.

And then comes the cycle of abuse I am trying so hard not to pass along to my son. Another one of my friends told me he was expecting a baby soon. I know this friend and I know the amount of emotional intelligence he engages while he navigates healing from his own traumatic upbringing. I asked if I could give some advice: “You are going to love this child so much…and you are going to see the moments you are fucking up, you are going to see the actions you make and the words you say that they will bring to a therapist one day…you will see them WHEN THEY ARE HAPPENING…and you will hate yourself….You have to forgive yourself…just keep trying to do better.”

I hope that my son will be capable of holding a dichotomy with me as he grows up and sees the flaws I have and realizes choices I have made and words I have said that have negatively impacted him. All I can do is keep trying to break the cycle, forgiving myself and my parents along the way.