Saturday, August 23, 2008


This week I am dealing with what I see as judgment from someone I love immensely.

This is supposition on my part, but something happened that left my friend feeling used, disrespected, unheard and maybe a whole bunch of other things. And I feel judged, unheard, disrespected and angry.

I'm not really looking for feedback or comment on the situation with my friend, but I wanted to write a bit about my role as a mother, about peoples' judgments of me, and about where I am with that stuff.

I'm not the best mom in the whole world. I'm not even close. And I've been a single parent for enough years now that I can't even remember what it was like to share parenting. I had my kids young, and so most of my adult life has been as a parent. I've done a lot of my growing up right along with my kids (bless their patient little hearts.)

I was married to an abusive mentally ill man. It started to get really bad before I was even pregnant with my second, but I loved him and wanted him to have the love and support, and knew we would/could work through it together. And we tried. But the pregnancy with my second child was traumatic. My husband was beyond my help and really struggling and it was ugly. And so while my son gestated, my house was full of yelling, anger, threats, fear, and intensity. I feared for my life at times. 9 months after our second son was born, friends refused to let me go home to him, or to take my children home to him. It was a full scale, we-don't-think-you'll-live-through-the-night-if-you-go-home Intervention. And so I didn't go home, and my marriage ended.

But let me assure you, the guilt did not. Neither did the abuse, not for a long time after. But the guilt. My younger son was so angry. His first several years, it was his defining characteristic. Did I make him that way, exposing him to all that stress in utero? Did I not protect him enough? Did his father's illness warp his precious baby years? My older son witnessed those ugly scenes. Did he learn that was the way to treat women? Did he feel like he had to protect me? Is his withdrawn serious nature because of all the scary things he witnessed? Are my children ok? Will they despise me for being so weak that I exposed them to the abuse?
And I Let It All Happen.

My oldest rebounded (at least outwardly) pretty quickly. My youngest though, Stupendous Child; It was hard. We went through years of counseling. Me learning parenting skills and how to manage his needs. We went through batteries of tests, looking for a diagnosis. None fit. Person after person looked at me and told me something was wrong with my child, except my counselor. Who told me he was incredibly smart and just bigger than his body. She taught me to keep up with him, to take care of myself, to not take his stuff as my own and to be ok with who he is, even when everyone around me was convinced that there was something wrong. But she couldn't erase the guilt.

Pre-school and kindergarten were hard. Really hard. Cry myself to sleep every night, falling asleep mid-sob from exhaustion hard. Bruises from having to restrain him so he wouldn't hurt himself or others. 1st grade was a little easier. He was beginning to be enough in his body to be able to actually choose. Not always, and not perfectly, but there were glimmerings. Last year was second grade. I think I actually only had to pick him up from school for behaviour stuff less than a handful of times. He's grown and matured so much, and has really learned how to respond the way he wants, not just to respond from panic. He's still a handful, but he feels good about himself now. It's a major achievement.

[Guilt, fear, never enough, more to do, dirty house, haven't shopped in a couple days, forgot to send in the homework, never enough money, have to ask for help, dishes in the sink, screaming child, just want a break, gotta go to work, another babysitter, how did you get that cut (why don't I know he has a cut? what kind of mother doesn't know her kids gets a cut?), overdue bills, never enough, here watch this movie so I can collapse, here--these smell ok, never enough, never enough, never enough.]

And here I am. I am a single mom of 4; 2 bio and 2 foster. I LOVE being a parent. I love that I make mistakes, I love that I get exasperated, I love that my kids have their own timeframes and personalities and wants and quirks. I do a wonderful job. I have a gift with listening and making space for the kids to feel heard. Sometimes I'm overwhelmed and exhausted and have too much on my plate. My house is never clean. I have 300 projects going on. Each kid could use a little more one-on-one time. I would like to be able to teach them more. But you know what?, I love them completely, for just exactly who they are, and they know it.

And yet, I still judge. I am my own hardest critic. I make a mistake and I grind myself up. I say something that shouldn't have come out of my mouth, and I dwell on it. I see someone's disapproving glance and I wear it for days. A friend disapproves of something and it shakes my foundation enough that I question myself for days. I'm not going to do this anymore, friends.

Last night my foster son called me to talk him down from a fight with his biological parents. He Called Me. Because he feels heard, because he feels safe, because he knows that I will listen to him. My 20 yr. old asked me to be his mother. Because he knows I mean it when I tell him I love him. My 12 year old is integrous, funny, and self-assured because he grew into that for himself, because there is space for him to explore who he wants to be. And my 8 yr old is in control of himself and is learning to trust and feel pride in who he is because I made space for him to grow even when it was hard.

The proof is right there, and I have been ignoring the obvious because I wanted validation from the adults. I needed to convince the ones that don't believe in me. I wanted to prove that I could be the good parent. But the proof is right here in these kids, and how we are together. And I'm not going to ask for anyone else's approval. Not even my own. It's the kids that I have to listen to.


Anonymous said...

What a brave and momentous discovery. I'm rooting for you!

Melissa said...

I love you so much.

Anaya's Mama said...

We love you and can't wait to see you.

Maggie, Dammit said...


I am so sorry for everything you went through. Parental guilt is bad enough without the complicating factor of abuse.

I am writing an article right now about domestic violence, and I'm interviewing a lot of abused women. They each have very different stories, but the thread of guilt runs thick through all of them. You are not alone.

You are brave, and lovely, and clearly an awesome mom. It's not about dirty dishes, it's about breaking cycles and unconditional love.

Beautiful post, darlin'. I hope it brings you some peace.

Caroline said...

Very similar lives as single parents. It was my first born who expressed alot of anger and still does but he's learning to express in less hostile destructive ways, perhaps because he's growing up. Life as a single mother since I was nineteen was incredibly difficult and I too was riddled with intense guilt for years but one day my brother told me something very smart: "Feeling guilty doesn't solve anything nor does it make you a better mother. You can either wallow in your guilt trips or snap out of it and work on how you can do better."
Tough love and it worked. Today, I'm happy to say my sons and I are very tight and they tell me everything, sometimes, to the point of way too much information!
Thank you for your comment. Good to know i'm not alone.

Alyce said...

Being a parent is one of the most difficult and amazing jobs I can imagine. I'm not sure if I'll ever be brave enough to take it on myself. I was born to very young parents. They made SO many mistakes with the three of us. As adults, we have our hang ups; but, we also have our strengths and our depth of character. My mother's guilt over our childhoods is still lingering.... I recently got a chance to tell her that, in our minds, they didn't screw up. They loved us. In their imperfect, human way, they loved us. No matter how bad things could be, we knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that our parents loved us. And that made all the difference in how we percieve the wounds of our past, and how we heal them.
Much love to you and your beautiful dancer's feet!!

Mtnhighmama said...

Thank you all. I feel so loved and heard. I had this haughty, who-cares-if-they-comment-and-what-they-say thing going, but surprisingly, I am very touched by each of your comments and I find myself getting a little teary.

I guess my not caring about others' judgments on my parenting was a lot of bravado. And a first step. Because at least I am moving that way. And maybe it isn't really caring about the judgment so much, anymore, as it is knowing I'm not alone. That people support me.

That's been a real struggle as a single parent; finding ways to not feel so alone. And yet, holding that aloneness to just get through the day. Because by myself, I could do it. But if I had someone who was questioning me too, as I was just trying to get through the day, that would have been too much. And accepting that I am, in a lot of ways, completely alone. It's hard to know where to draw those lines, and they are flexible lines.

Thanks, all.

tangobaby said...

Oh, my. At first you broke my heart and had me on the verge of tears and then at the end I was so happy for you and your beautiful family.

You sound like the best kind of mother, a truly real one. Thank you for sharing your tears and your triumphs. I'm sure many people will find you an inspiration.

Anonymous said...

I wish you were my mother. Too bad I'm older than you.