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Children / Motherhood

When The Past Comes Back

I know I haven’t gotten crazy personal here on Mile High Mamas, but to understand this post, you have to understand that my childhood was not all fun and games. My dad was a fairly abusive alcoholic with a narcissist mother who stuck her nose in everything right up until his will was read when he passed away in 1981. Can you imagine how *my* mother felt as *her* mother-in-law tried to take the house away from us? There is so much garbage there in my childhood, I am still – to this day – sifting through it with the help of a therapist.

But the main point I want to make today is not about my past. It’s about my present. It’s about me, and how I act with my son, and holy hell – how much of those crazy people did I pull down from the gene pool anyway? Another thing I sit and discuss in the therapist’s chair.

It’s hard not to judge every reaction you have to your child by the actions of your parents, and grandparents. Especially when some of the examples you have are so off kilter you don’t know which way is up. OR! Am I reading too much into it? Am I just having a bad day and that is OK and I should let myself off the hook once in a while? That everything doesn’t HAVE to go back to those first 11 years with my dad in the house acting like a lunatic, and his mother fluttering around like a lunatic’s enabler?

It’s amazing how much having children makes you think about this stuff. Makes you want to MAKE SURE you aren’t making the same mistakes.

Of course, the sad truth is, I am sure I am making a whole rash of new mistakes. Which makes me wonder what *he* will be sitting in the therapist’s chair for in about 30 years.

Author: Aimee

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  1. That’s pretty close to my story, only it was my mother who was the alcoholic, and my father just left the building. That’s why I chose not to have children — I could never be sure, even with therapy, that I wouldn’t pass the craziness on to another generation. I don’t regret the decision, but I sure do wish I hadn’t had to make it!

  2. Aimee-

    Thanks for sharing your story.

    Stick with the therapy – it may take years, even a decade, but eventually I suspect you’ll get clarity and be able to parent much better (and to see that you are parenting better). You may also even eventually be able to help your children resolve issues from your relationship with them.

    I have a similar story, only my parents were narcissistic and “affect intolerant” (unable to tolerate emotion in themselves or in others, except, in my father’s case, rage). My father had an enormous of amount of subconscious rage from his childhood that he took out on me, his only daughter. Like Catherine, I have not had children (I am 43 and single) because I knew I was too troubled myself and could not handle life well enough myself. But, after 7 years of 3x-week therapy (no drugs), I am now seeing much more clearly. I can see in my relationship with my preschool-age niece and nephew enormous progress from the way my brother and I were raised. They spring to life when I try out all my new techniques, and the love I can see in their eyes when I try to make them feel understood, acknowledged and supported has made all my struggle worthwhile. Now I am starting to feel like I could take on the challenge of parenting (probably adoption at my age) with a good partner.

    So, keep on working at your therapy – it’s worth it.


  3. I don’t think anyone can say they had a “perfect” childhood. Of course, some are much less perfect than others.
    Having kids definitely stirs up the dirt from the past though! I’ve been reminded of so many not so pleasant memories from my childhood – in hopes that I will not repeat them with my own children. I think my kids have taught me so much more about myself and life than I could ever teach them.

  4. wowee zowie. i think about this, too: every time I hear my parent’s words come out of MY mouth. Yikes. I’m working very hard to make sure I don’t create the same things that were created for me…

  5. Wow. I was JUST having this conversation the other day with my aunt. She was saying how heartbreaking it was to watch me have to be so responsible at such a young age. In essence, be the parent. She said I would say things like, “Mom, we are out of toilet paper. You need to go to the store.” and when I was sick and Mom couldn’t take a day off work to stay with me, I stayed home from school by myself at age 7 — the first of many days like that to come … she and my dad were simply too busy.

    I really believe it’s the whole idea of understanding your personal history in order to create your present and future. The simple fact that we are aware of these things, brings clarity and power to shape ourselves — and our kids — into better people than what we remember of our own childhoods.

    We can’t change the past but it can serve as a reminder of what we have the power to be … and not be for our own kids and ourselves.

  6. Oh, and one more thing … Don’t forget balance.

    It could be really easy for those of us who had emotionally unavailable parents to go too far the other way and be overbearing and overprotective with our own kids.

    Try to understand how your own childhood — no matter how unpleasant — played a role in shaping you into the wonderful woman you are today!!!

  7. I’m in awe of your self-awareness and your presence in your parenting. Just to know that you *could* have hidden motivations and default settings, and then examining them, show the mark of a wonderfully loving parent.

  8. Yeah. I try to stop the insanity before it exits my mouth, but I don’t always succeed.

    So I admit it and try to counteract it. I know you do too.

  9. Thanks for your story. Mine is very similar, though while my Dad was the abuser, it was my Mom who was his enabler. All of my Dad’s tantrums were caused by “you kids”…For that reason, I never wanted kids of my own, feeling that I didn’t know how to be a good father. After all, you cannot drive to LA by NOT driving to NY.

    Thanks for your story!

  10. Thanks so much for all your thoughtful responses and support!

  11. One of those “life lesson” coffee table books said simply, “Blame your parents and move on with your life.” Easier said than done, eh?

  12. I have a theory that we make the mistakes of our grandparents. We vow to not make the mistakes our parents did, go a little overboard the other direction, and end up making the mistakes our grandparents did — which is what caused our parents to be the way they are.
    It’s like a bad pendulum that you have to consciously stop, or at least decrease the swing.
    But half the battle is being conscious of the fact that under duress you will do what your parents did, without thinking. So you have to decide, before you’re hard pressed, how you’ll handle the tough situations.
    Sounds good. Harder to implement!

  13. One of the amazing things about being a parent is the gift to get out from under our past, remake it if you will. Well, that and much therapy, but still I feel that parenting my three children has been a release from the hauntings of a dysfunctional childhood. It’s not always easy to break behavioral patterns and reactions to certain situations, but seeing how old behaviors affect a new generation is a huge motivation to steer things in a better direction.

    Good luck with it all!

  14. It takes a lot of strength to get help and keep a positive outlook.

    I have to work really hard at getting my children not to dissolve into tears and cry to get what they want. They use a firm but calm tone and let their voice be heard. On second thought, that what i still have to do too! 🙂

  15. Thank you for your honest post. I had a similar upbringing, and it’s something I have to let go of every day. Definitely my faith and good friends who I can be honest and transparent with are the most helpful things to me. It helps to be married to a healthy man, who came from a healthy family, so when I am at a loss how to handle a situation, (because there aren’t many situations I saw healthy resolution or teaching in as a child) I am grateful he can step in.

    As kids get older it gets easier. I can now verbalize to my older kids that I’m going to talk to Dad about something and we will handle it later if I’m a loss.

    Some days I do great. I lay my head on my pillow so blessed that my kids are in a safe, hally house where their parents love them, and love each other. Some days I make mistakes, and yell at them or something, and I have to ask God and my kids to forgive me the next day. I’m a work in progress. The ironic thing is, I don’t think I would have ever grown as much, or worked through as much of this as I have without having had kids. It’s because of them that I have set healthy boundries with my parents, and that I have become a better person. When I think of who I was before kids, and then who I am now, I wouldn’t want to be that person again. SO I’m willing to take the mistakes along with the learning process….

    Keep on keepin’ on Aimee….the best is yet to be. 🙂

  16. I meant to say “safe and healthy house” above. Sorry about the typo! 🙂

  17. I am so scared of having children because of what my parents thought of me and how they treated me and my sister and the worst part is that they truly were doing the very best that they could.

    I am with Catherine. (1st commenter)

  18. Recognizing you don’t want repeat the mistakes your parents made is a good sign you are being a better parent yourself. My therapist once told me that for the most part, it’s emotionally healthy people that seek therapy and not the ones who really need it. Too bad it wasn’t as acceptable in our parent’s generation as it is now, but then maybe we wouldn’t be seeking it if they hadn’t been so F’ed up!

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