I had a less than ideal childhood. Most of it I’ve sort of blocked out in some sort of weird attempt at mental self-preservation, but I know enough to know that it wasn’t ideal. I won’t get into the nitty gritty details or point fingers, here, but childhood was lonely. I also probably had anxiety since I was old enough to remember, and it was never addressed. And even today, I still don’t have the best relationship with my parents.
I often hear about how some women dream of the day they’ll be mothers themselves. They’ve planned it since they were kids. I laugh that off because I don’t understand it – being a mother was never part of my plan. Until one day, it was. And when I was newly pregnant, I was paralyzed with fear for so many reasons. I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know how to be a mother because I didn’t have a model – I didn’t have a set of loving parents to show me the way. When my daughter was born in 2013, I had a full-scale meltdown. Maybe it was PPD: I really don’t know. It was the first time I really came to grips with my childhood trauma.
I often wondered in those early days how I could be a good mother without knowing what it meant to be a good mother. I felt lost and alone. And I know there are so many others out there who didn’t get the love they deserved as a child. Here are five things I’ve learned along the way to help me get to where I am today (aka a much better place):
Be gentle with yourself. Acknowledge that you didn’t have the role models you needed. Remind yourself that you are learning this all from scratch, without any sort of prototype to follow. Be kind and empathetic toward yourself. As they used to say at the Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings I attended, “be your own loving parent”. Take care of yourself in the way that you would wish your parents took care of you. Put your health and well-being first.
It is what it is. You may have not had the mother and/or father you deserved in life, and that’s not fair. Acknowledge that but don’t allow yourself to fall prey to victim-hood. It is easy to be a victim. It is difficult – and much more worthwhile – to rise above and to succeed despite the challenges you’ve faced.
Acknowledge your successes as a parent. This is something I have to do often. I truly feel that my difficult childhood paved the way for me to do two amazing things I otherwise would not have done: 1) to be the best parent I can be and to always keep my daughter at the forefront of every decision I make, and 2) to be as successful as possible to ensure she has the life she deserves and more. I didn’t have a great childhood, but I will do everything in my power to ensure she does. I think that perspective I gained from having emotionally distant/neglectful parents allowed me to rise above it all. I truly feel that on most days I am a decent mom. Why? Because I don’t have to compare myself to my own mother. I am not even playing in the same league.
Map out a plan. When I was pregnant, I think part of the reason I was so terrified was because I had never planned on being a mother. Due to my chaotic childhood, I never fantasized about being a mom. It just wasn’t part of the plan. Therefore, I had no idea what kind of mother I wanted to be. I didn’t know there were different discipline styles, etc. Once I thought about it – I mean, REALLY thought about it, I knew that I wanted to adopt a gentler approach to parenting. I set out a list of things I wanted to avoid as a parent, and I was lucky that we both agreed on it. It was helpful to have a guideline going into motherhood that I could follow. It probably seems mechanical to most, I know, planning out ‘how’ I wanted to mother, but I had no model. It didn’t come naturally to me, and I am glad I had a plan in place (at least – I established some basic tenets to live by). I knew what I DIDN’T want to do, which made it easier to think about what I DID want to do. That being said, I think it’s absolutely important to develop sort of a motherhood ‘mission statement’. How do you want your children to see you? How do you want them to remember you? What will be your ‘legacy’? How will you deal with conflict and difficult moments? What forms of discipline will you use – or not use?
Seek help when you need it. I’ll admit it – I’m glad I had a breakdown of sorts after my daughter was born. Why? Because it forced me to get the help that I needed – help that I should have received decades before. When my daughter was born, all of my childhood trauma came back to hit me in the face – HARD. It took me a long time to realize what was happening, but I know it now. I had been keeping all of the memories and feelings bottled up for so long, laughing them off, until my daughter was born and they came back to haunt me. Since 2013, I’ve been on a pretty continual journey to better mental health as a result, and I’ve addressed my childhood for the first time. I have learned more about myself in the 5 years since she has been born than I have ever learned about myself. I am eternally grateful that things happened the way they did – it resulted in my daughter having the mother she deserved. Don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to someone – a professional – about your childhood trauma, or any other trauma you have faced. Medication can help, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle. I never had to rehash painful moments in therapy (which I think is a common misconception about therapy) – instead, I learned coping mechanisms to help me more forward DESPITE my childhood. I could not have crawled out of that hole without therapy.
Remember: you can be an amazing mother (or parent) despite your less than ideal childhood. I promise.