In my  quest to “find myself” I realize I must acknowledge my upbringing – I was raised by a very proud woman and I see how sometimes I still walk in her footsteps despite my best efforts to be someone else. Perhaps it was the same for her as well. Caught in her mother’s shadow, unable to break free.

My mother was the oldest of 8 siblings, 6 girls and 2 boys (in the middle, of course). Raised in the back country of a lush land with heavy winters she had all the usual stories of walking up hill, barefoot in the snow both ways to school, never enough to eat or wear and making do, doing over or doing without. My mother also told scary stories about her childhood:

Her dad had sex with the babysitter.
Her mom killed a lover for being unfaithful to her (still being a married woman herself…)
Her dad was going to kill her for being a Christian but her mother stepped in and took the beating.
Her teacher snuck her extra food from the cafeteria for years which she took home and fed her family with until somebody found out and put an end to it.
Her pastor sexually abused her.
Her father sexually abused her.
Lots of men sexually abused her.
Her mother crippled, maimed and killed much loved pets to hurt her and her siblings.
Her mother was a practicing witch.
Her youngest sister has a different father than the other 5 siblings.
After they moved out of her childhood home everything living that was placed in her mother’s bedroom by the new owners died – birds, plants, everything.

And the list goes on…

Do I believe all of it? I used to but I don’t know what to believe anymore. After my mother’s death I went through her papers and found letter after letter to people she was or had been close to filled with criticism and poisonous words against them.  No wonder so few people attended her funeral…

What I do know is that I grew up never knowing the majority of my extended family and to this day most of them don’t know me. I know that whenever her mother was in town my mother kept me and my siblings indoors for fear that Grandma would drive by and harm us – in the days before drive-by shootings were popular. I know that my mother asked me, when I was in junior high school, if anyone was sexually abusing me because I was acting like a victim. I told her I didn’t think so but it planted a seed in my head and I tried very hard to think of some time I could have possibly been abused because if my mother said it, it must be true, eh? Pleasing my mother was so strongly ingrained into my head that I tried to find a way that I could have been a victim because that seemed to be the answer she was looking for.  I know now how twisted that is.  I know that my mother accused not less than 10 men throughout her life of sexually abusing either herself, my sister or my children. I know there was something wrong with my mother’s mental processes. My current guess is that she was maybe bi-polar. Essentially I was raised in an extremely dysfunctional, mentally and emotionally abusive family but because there was no sexual or physical abuse, nothing that would really grab the attention of teachers or doctors so I just grew up thinking it was “normal”.

My mother married my father while they were both in Bible College. Being the oldest of a hoard of youngsters my mother, like her mother, was a strong and dominating woman, making quick decisions and expecting to be obeyed. My father was the second youngest of 10 siblings and, from what I’ve been told (by my mother…), also had a very strong and dominating woman for a mother. When my father married my mother he just traded one boss for another and I doubt his life was pleasant.

My mother didn’t want children at first but said that before she became pregnant with me she changed her mind and then did want children.  She was so shocked when, in late high school, I told her how unloved and wanted I felt for my entire life.  My mother never told me I was pretty or that I did a good job at anything. Later in life she explained that she didn’t want me to get a big head so she would even stop other people from complimenting me as a little girl. The words she did say were mostly pointing out the negatives of what was done incorrectly by myself or anyone else, consequently, I grew up believing that I was ugly and never good enough and by the time she began to change her speech pattern (when I was in late high school) to include compliments toward me I couldn’t believe her, I was only suspicious of her.  I was in junior high the one and only time I told her I was sucida.  She verbally lashed out at me with anger in her voice and told me how selfish suicide was and therefore how selfish I was for considering it.  No empathy, no love, no “How can I help?” or “Do you need someone to talk to?”, just anger.

If my memory serves me correctly, my mother left my father when I was in 5th grade, they tried getting back together when I was in 6th grade and then officially divorced when I was in 7th grade.  My mother met my step-father when I was in 8th grade, married him when I was in 9th grade and had my sister when I was in 10th grade.

My step-father was only 12 older than me and I think he was 15 years younger than my mother – and he had four children from a previous marriage. I’ve always looked older than I really am so at first glance people often assumed that my sister was mine and his and that my mother was the baby’s grandma who lived with us. Awkward! My step-father was/is a mechanical genius but had a very quick temper and frequently threatened us with physical violence, not against the disobedient child but against a sibling.  If we didn’t ask how high when he said jump he would most often threaten to punch my littlest brother in the face. To be fair though, I don’t actually remember that he ever followed through with his threats but I know I shed lots of tears in private and I suspect my brothers did too. I could have handled violence done to myself but when he threatened my little brothers there was nothing else to do but obey. And before you get carried away thinking he was a monster, none of his demands were terrible, they were things like clean up the living room, do your dishes, don’t wear those clothes or that makeup… When my mother finally divorced him a lifetime later (2 ½ years) none of us, including my sister, his daughter, didn’t see him again for over 20 years. Today we are beginning to be friends and he has no idea that his behavior towards us was abusive, for him it was normal. I think the thing that actually shocked me the most when I met him again was that he views even me and my brothers (ex-step-children) as his own children that our mother took away from him when they divorced.

Their separation and later divorce seemed quite violent at the time but now that I am older I realize it was actually pretty tame, just very emotionally charged. My step-father was angry about something (when wasn’t he?) and he went searching through the house for his gun. My mother, who somehow had the foresight to dismantle the gun and hide the pieces and bullets in separate locations throughout the house, wound up being shoved through a wall and had a broken collarbone before he finally left.  Just that by itself probably qualifies me as a Post-Trauamatic Stress victim but that diagnosis was still pretty new and undiscovered territory back then so my brothers and I were left to cope with it alone, as best we could.

I was 16 and a junior in high school when I was thrust into the position of being a second mother to my 18 month old sister because of the divorce. I drove her to daycare, went to high school, came back and worked at the daycare until closing and drove her home. For years she would mix-up my name with “Mom” just like a mother runs through all her children’s names before finding the right one, “Jerry, I mean Tom”… (Now she is old enough that we can be really good friends and enjoy hanging out together.)

All my life my mother would say “When you turn 18 I’ll buy you a set of suitcases and help you pack.” At about age 17 she started saying stuff like “You know you don’t have to leave the house when you turn 18, right?” Ummm… no, I didn’t know that and yes, I was definitely moving out. (I have been very careful not to say this phrase to my own girls.)  Looking back I truly wonder if my mother was bi-polar.

Once again, I am out of time.  I could probably write a book about my upbringing but you get the jist of it.  Lots of negativity, not very much affection or visible love.  It’s a wonder I’m still sane – or am I?  lol.  Unfortunately, because I never saw a “functioning” family growing up and don’t really know what that looks like, I’ve brought my mother’s parenting skills into my own parenthood and I feel so sorry for my children.  I did the best I could, although she probably did too, and all I can do right now is pray that they make a sucessful transition to adulthood without needing too much counseling as they grow older.  God save us all!

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