My now 17-year-old son was angry for 5 years…
“ You should have protected me, you are my mother”, he muttered , his eyes glistening with tears.”
I am a recovering co-dependent and people pleaser. I am also in the healing process from perfection syndrome and not “ good-enoughism.” I know it sounds awful, but it is true. I prefer to own my story and heal through it. Kicking shame to the curb, is my main aim. My husband is a beautiful soul, who had a drinking problem. He also had an anger issue. This is my story and not his, I will not elaborate on it at this point. Our son Matthew (17 years old) is leaving for university in the fall. Megan is 14 and wants to be a child psychologist. She is already practising her psychology on me. We all know that children are like sponges. Our parents are the main catalyst in shaping our character . They are bigger than life and we idolize them. They are our source of love and fear. Some are wise and learn from their parents’ mistakes (Matthew and Megan). Others develop their critical thinking at a later stage (Me). The rest prefer to keep the “cape” in place, irrespective of what happens (Hubby) .
Raising Healthy Human Beings
Matthew found Nemo when he was 9 months old. At 18 months he could identify every sea creature by species and subspecies. By the age of 3 he wanted to become a marine biologist. He also wanted to marry me. His aspirations of studying is on the horizon but he is not marrying me. He retracted his marriage proposal when he was 7. We were in church on Fathers day, when the Pastor told all the children to cover their ears. “ Anyone can have sex, but it takes a real father to raise a child,” the Pastor preached. Bright, little Matthew “covered” his ears but lifted his thumbs. The following day we received a request to stop by his teacher’s office. She caught 5 wide eyed boys with open mouths and a dictionary between them. Matthew was the instigator, they were looking up the word sex. His dictionary became his best friend. The memory of him reciting it word by word, still makes me smile. I tried to do damage control and whilst we were watching Dumbo, I told him the stork brought him. He responded, ” Don’t lie to me, you and daddy had sex”.
We were very harsh about schoolwork. His father checked and helped him with Mathematics and I did all the other subjects. I should have noticed the signs, to be honest. He was chewing his nails and teared up when he didn’t understand something. To add insult to injury, I would tear out the page and make him rewrite it if his work was untidy. If his marks were less than 90% his father would shout at him, telling him to do better. Our intentions were good but needless to say, the results were the opposite.
We used to have other children (friends and family) over all the time. I felt it kept my children happy and busy, whilst paying it forward at the same time.
Matthew started complaining about the other children when he was about 10. He was angry all the time. Going to church was a struggle, because “ we were all hypocrites”. We thought he was being temperamental. I even accused him of arrogance and suffering of delusions of grandeur. He was trying to articulate his feelings to his stubborn parents. We were set in our ways. I failed to realise that my son felt rejected and neglected. I assumed it was part of growing up.
“ You should have protected me, you are my mother”, he muttered 8000 miles and 3 years later. I had no idea what he was referring to. He told me how stressful it was for him, feeling that he did not measure up. I only stepped in to tell his father to stop being so hard on him when he was 11 and by that time the damage was irreparable. After that conversation, he refused to spend time with us and became a recluse. An angry one. My heart shattered into a million pieces like humpty dumpty . I failed my baby and I did not know how to repair all the damage.
Matt and Meg are both straight-A students and it comes at a price. My friend and I always joke that when we grow up, we want to be like Matthew. Megan reckons, she wants to be like herself, which tells me I am on the right track in raising her.
… until he wasn’t
“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” CS Lewis
A year and a half later, I had a spiritual awakening. The rose tinted lenses through which I saw the world were clear. Somehow I saw life the way it is and not the way I wanted it to be. Matthew was writing a major exam at the time. I wrote my son a 5 page apology letter ,explaining how our upbringing affects our perceptions. Watching the healing over the past two years has been the most rewarding experience.
At birth ,we know how to love. We learn fear from our parents, when they tell us not to climb the stairs or stick our fingers in the wall socket. Everything we allow in our environment influences every fibre of our being. As a parent I learnt to listen with the intent to understand and not only respond. To not expect them to be an improved version of myself but rather their best authentic selves. Being older does not make you smarter. Respect works both ways. The best way to honour your parents, is by changing the narrative and unlearning toxic beliefs . “ Because you can justify something, doesn’t make it right” — Matthew Charmaine (aged 10).
I must allow them to set their own standards and not force my beliefs on them. Most important lesson of all, I have the coolest kids.
Kintsugi is Japanese art. When a glass bowl breaks, they use real gold to fix it. The result is exquisite. It is also symbolic. Whenever I reflect on my life, this image comes to mind. It starts with being teachable. Only then can you fill in the cracks.