Permission to be

I had a pretty severely depressed day yesterday.  To the point that the will to live was feeble and the desire to die was stronger than it’s been in recent years.

Yes, despite all that I have to live for (see post below), I’ve gone through periods of fairly debilitating depression, and particularly MORE so now…because I’m turning 40 this year, because I’m going to take Mr. RSG and the smart girls to see my dad and stepmother in Colorado, whom I haven’t seen in 29 years (and have only been in contact by phone for the past 10), because I haven’t figured out what I’m going to do when the girls are in school all day long in the fall.

Everything is changing on the inside.  Everything is in upheaval.

Without going into a lot of details, my mother, step-dad and two of my sisters were pretty cruel to me over the years.  On good days they ignored me, on bad days they were abusive (verbally, and emotionally and physically abusive).  Every once in a while, my grandmother and grandfather would get in on the fun and write nasty letters to me too telling me what a horrible ingrate  I was and how I should be written out of the family and how dare I cause problems after all my mother did for me (I think they had me confused with someone else because she did NOT pay for my college education but I worked while going to school and I paid my own way).

I am just now accepting all the ways the loss of my real dad as a child and the abusive family I had shaped me and continued to impact my life with my girls and my husband.  I’ve hidden it pretty well, but I have had a lot of rage built up inside me from all the crap they put me through but I had to deny in order to survive and not look crazy.  It has been coming out in its own way though – in how I would snap at my husband, or yell angrily at the girls for small irritations, or even get overly pissed off at the neighbors and get defensive when there was spats between their kids and mine (nobody came to my aid when I was being bullied, so I made it an unconscious promise that nobody would get away with bullying my kids).

Therapy is helping, but sometimes it sends me into a darker moods because of all the stuff it’s turning up.

The good thing about it is that my therapist understands what I’m going through.  She finds it completely understandable that I struggle with suicidal thoughts.  She gave me an interesting interpretation to consider.  It’s less about wanting to really physically die, and it may not even be about ending the emotional pain I’m in, but that there is a part of me that needs to die – the old identity of who I was – so I can be who I really am supposed to be.  Which is the hard part…because I always harbor this desire to go back into science because of the financial security it brings.  Plus the fact that my ego is stroked every time I think that I was a woman in the STEM field.

I just don’t know if I’m that woman anymore.  And if I’m NOT that woman anymore…who the hell AM I???

In light of all the research I’ve done on attachment theory, what the therapist said makes sense.  From everything I have read, insecure attachments to your mother, and absent fathers (through death, divorce, or just emotional distance) cause a LOT of internal conflict because you build your identity based on falsehoods about yourself as a means to survive.

I became this strong, fiercely independent person (I became both a fighter and a ‘fixer’) who hated the idea of being tied down by marriage and family because of what I saw in my own family and what I was told by my mother.  She used to say, “all men are assholes”…and given the fact I had an absent father (not that he wanted to be…things just got complicated) and a step-father with a drinking problem, it was not that easy to look beyond that message.  I was pretty hell-bent on not having a marriage and kids at all, but a string of affairs and a reliable, financially stable career to not be dependent on anyone.  Well, I started off on that path (having more than a few lovers and working hard in my chosen field) until I met my husband, then…well, I changed my mind.  Sort of.

There’s been a HUGE struggle these past 6 years.  I am of two minds.  There is a part of me that loves being a mother, loves being close to my children and husband and understands ALL TOO CLEARLY the pain of not having a close, intact, family…and there is the part of me that resents the massive changes to my lifestyle and my identity.  Whereas I once came and went as I pleased, and had seen many things and done many things in the nearby city of Chicago.  I had challenging work to keep my mind busy (forensics for a while, then medical genetics at a private university), and long-standing friends who liked spending time with me.  I enjoyed my ‘city life’ a LOT.   I didn’t party, but I loved being surrounded by the beautiful architecture and learning about the history of the city and seeing the museums and going on the historical tours now and then.

This has been the center of my internal struggle for about 6 years now.  I think that it would be ‘easier’ in some ways to either love being a parent or to absolutely hate being a parent, because at least you’d be able to act fairly single-mindedly (either immersing yourself completely and selflessly into parenting, or checking out of parenting completely – through divorce or emotionally checking out by hiding out at work).

The problem, I’m finding out, with being ambivalent about being a parent is that you swing between two extremely strong conflicting emotions and you tend to feel guilty for the negative aspects of your feelings or worse, you feel guilty because you DO act harshly due to those negative aspects of your feelings.  So you sit, suspended between these two emotions, feeling immense love for your child and sometimes immense regret for all the difficulties having children brings.  And then you judge yourself for that regret (and how it manifests), and it makes you feel ashamed…because what kind of human being has these feelings?

Well, I can tell you what kind of human being does.  It’s one that has been broken by their own parents and family.  One who has not had permission to be who they really are supposed to be.

My therapist…I hated her at first (because my ego didn’t want to think she would know what I needed to hear), and now I’m really appreciating her insights and what she brings to the table.

What I found most intriguing about my therapist?  She is 47 years old (but looks in her 30s), with a 3 1/2-year-old son, she is firm believer in attachment theory, and she used to be an opera singer.  She knows what its like to be an older mother, a working mother, and giving up a dream for something more ‘practical’.

The best thing I think she’s giving me is permission to be.  Permission to be angry, permission to be hurt, permission to be afraid of the process of burying and mourning who I was and discovering who I am supposed to be, permission to be compassionate to myself while the part of my I cling to is dying because it has to in order to make room for who I will become.

She tells me this pain and confusion and depressed feelings are a ‘normal’ and ‘expected’ and ‘healthy’ part of the process of real growth.   I am doing exactly as I should be doing through this process.  What a relief that is to hear, even if it hurts to go through to get to the other side.

With further conversation, she stumbled onto my identity dilemma:  while I have the mind of a scientist, I have the heart of an artist/creative type.  In order to escape my family, I chose the practical side of me and developed that at the expense of that creative side of me.  I never pursued my artistic ambitions, but gave them up really early in my life when I knew they were unsupported.

I have some more work to do…to uncover the truth about who I am and who I am to become.  I have some ideas…but still I need to uncover in what ways I will give expression to who I really am.

This entry was posted in abuse, Attachment Parenting, career, Depression, highly sensitive mom, incompleteness, loss of parental love, my stories, personal issues, perspective, trauma. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Permission to be

  1. So Over says:

    Ecemom just called and told me “You need to go and read Raising Smart Girls – NOW!”

    Oh my! So sorry to hear that you are struggling – especially with Mom issues. It is very ironic. I have not spoken to my oh-so-cruel mother since before Mother’s Day. She was being especially nasty and I was dealing with too many other things to put up with her shenanigans. I have been struggling with how I wanted to handle the situation. Her anger and resentfulness, as well as her cruelty toward me have been increasing exponentially lately. She has been talking ‘smack’ about me to anyone that will listen and playing the martyr and crying poor me. I thought of writing a letter and letting her know that I am through being her doormat. I wrote a first draft this week. DH said it was a ‘punch in the face’ – not cruel – but matter of fact. I sat on it a few days. And then I thought some more. I was going to redraft it in a kinder gentler format. However, after having a blissful day with EE and Ecemom and other friends at Camp Invention and later the pool, I come home to a nasty gram in email from my mother. She was telling me once again how selfish I am and how cruel I am. And how she doesn’t deserve to be treated like this. AND the kicker – She tells me that Karma is a b*tch and she basically hopes that one day EE will do the same to me. OMG! I lost it. Does she really have the nerve to call me cruel and selfish? She needs to take a good long look in the mirror. And she is the last person on God’s Earth that should be commenting on my parenting skills.

    I called my dad (they have been divorced now for over 20 years). He knows all too well her propensity for dramatics and also all the cruel mental (and at times physical) abuse she has tossed at my brother and me over the years. He talked me off the ledge. He told me I need to make a choice and then live with my decision. So I did. We will no longer be seeing my mother. I am ‘divorcing’ her. It won’t be easy because I am sure other family members will stick their 2 cents in, but I am prepared to tell them where they can stick their .02.

    After our son was born, I suffered a horrible bout of postpartum depression. It is the reason (on the advice of my many doctors) that we decided not to have anymore children. (This was around the time that Andrea Yates drown her children and several new mothers in Chicago took their own lives. It hit home hard and fast.) We thought better for EE to have a whole and healthy Mommy than a sibling and a broken mother. To make a long story short, I sought therapy. I was so conflicted about so many things. And in the process of the therapy sessions – it became evident that I thought my ‘issues’ with my mother were past me. They were not. My therapist basically said that I had two choices. I could accept my mother for who she is – knowing her flaws and be accepting of them OR I could walk away. At the time, I felt it would be too cruel to walk away. (I still can not understand why I even care about her feelings because she has never cared for mine.) So I decided to try to accept her and set boundaries in my mind for her. It is now 9 years later and I stood at the same crossroads – acceptance or walk away? This time I choose to walk away. I am choosing to love myself and my boys. I am choosing to accept myself rather than try to make myself acceptable to an irrational lunatic.

    I have finally had enough. I am done. It means that I will likely not see any other members of my large extended family, but it is a small price to pay if it means that I can find peace with myself.

    I feel like in so many ways we are kindred spirits. Reading your post brought me to tears. I too said that I was NEVER going to get married and have kids. I was going to have a career. Then I met my wonderful husband and everything changed.

    I love science. I dreamed of being a genetic engineer. It didn’t happen because as you said practicality took over. Yet, I still yearn for that part of me. That dream. I love being a mother. I love that I am fortunate enough to stay home. I love my life with my boys – no matter how crazy it gets. But as they say ‘A mind is a terrible thing to waste’ and there are many times that I feel like I have wasted my potential. (Maybe this is why I fight so hard for EE?) I wonder what would have happened if I had stayed at Purdue and finished my degree???? (After I told my mother that I wasn’t sure about engineering – she made me transfer – she told everyone including my Dad that I flunked out because she didn’t want to pay the tuition. I found this out many years later. )

    I never thought of myself as artsy or creative until I was an adult. The STEM was always being pushed. However as an adult, I am finding great joy in my creative self. It is what helps ‘get me through’ many times.

    I guess in making the decision last night, I too am giving myself permission to be as well…
    Be angry
    Be hurt
    Be stronger
    But most importantly – be accepting of myself. I am a good person. I am a great mom and wife. I have a brilliant mind (even if I don’t use it). Like you, I still have work to do on finding my identity – finding who I really am – but then again – don’t we all search for that?

    RSG – You are not alone. I just wanted you to know that. I know that I sometimes feel like I am the only person who has an evil parent and I mourn. I feel isolated. You are a good person with a good soul. And you may be standing at a precipice in your mind, but you are strong and you will find your way off the ledge and hopefully to happiness. Please let me know if you need a friendly ear.

    Take care and God bless.

  2. raisingsmartgirls says:


    You must be my long lost twin. No, seriously. I’m going to contact you by email. I think, unless you have moved since college, you might not be too far from me geographically (and if you are, that’s okay, I’m good with long distance friendships too. My furthest internet friend is in the UK).

    As far as how I’m doing…I’m better now…the girls are at my sisters house since yesterday afternoon, and my husband and I have had some quiet time together. The process of what I’m going through has its ups and downs, and because this year is so significant, there’s lots more seismic activity.

    In the meantime, you might find some comfort in a book called Mean Mothers: Overcoming the Legacy of Hurt by Peg Streep. It came out in 2009.

    See if your local library has it. I’ll be posting about it sometime soon.

    Yes, ‘divorcing’ your mom may be the only way. The author of the book did that with her mother, and I think you will find a lot of comfort with her perspective and the stories interspersed with attachment theory and family dynamic research. I think it’s a wonderful resource and very reassuring to read.

    Thank you so much for replying. I’m going to send you a quick email today. Mr. RSG and I have been having a lazy Sunday morning and will be going to breakfast soon – it’s 11 am, then we have an 8th grade graduation party to attend.

    Take care.

  3. Rick says:

    >Every once in a while, my grandmother and grandfather would get in on the fun and write nasty letters to me too telling me what a horrible ingrate I was

    Dear God, that’s the most horrible thing I’ve read in a long time. You are inheriting multiple generations of b.s. (as have I, but I think yours is worse). I hope you can find the peace of mind to forgive yourself of everything, and just start over, each day. No way anyone can come out of that upbringing clean and healthy. Every day you don’t hurt yourself or someone else is a total victory (and a snub at those sociopathic family members).

  4. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Rick –

    Thank you for your kind words.

    I think this year is the year it’s going to resolve. My past will be meeting my present when I meet with my father next month. We’ll be traveling to Colorado and I can’t wait. I’m looking so forward to it…I haven’t seen him since I was 11. I am my daddy’s ‘baby girl’, and the only one to keep in close contact with him.

    The drama was a complex one in my family (oh, the stories I could tell would make a great book – like when my sister pressed charges against my mother and my mother spent the night in jail for hitting my sister across the face when she was 36 years old!), though I have to say there hasn’t been much in about 6 months or so. I think the last time was about 6 months ago.

    When my grandfather died a couple of years ago, it seemed that a lot of my mother’s tension and drama died with him. My grandfather was patriarchal. My mother was very close to him (she was an only child and acted the part of a very spoiled only child), but was also very controlled by him.

    My grandmother is 94 and becoming senile, but so far of the quiet type…not the angry kind. She remembers the way distant past…and is stuck there, in ancient memories. She just adores my daughters and tells me and them how wonderful and sweet and beautiful they are…and so I forgive her for hurting me way back when.

    In many ways, as I’m going through this period of upheaval…I’m sifting through lots of memories. It’s important work, but it’s very emotional, and very draining.

    I’ve told an internet friend of mine, that sometimes I just want to burn out all the hurts and the anger and all that is ugly inside of me. I have a temper that I’m working on eliminating. The temper I have is the residue of years of fighting with my family. I really dislike that side of me and wish I could just wave a magic wand and be kind and gentle and the mom that smiles all the time.

    I’m working on mindfulness and better self-care…so that I can get closer to that ideal. I am in the transitional generation, and while my kids will have it better than I did, I still lack some basics – like how to teach them good conflict resolution skills when all my family members and I did was “yell first and sort it out later”. This is a very bad lingering trait of mine when I am anxious and/or my blood sugar is low or when I’m exhausted.

    One of my daughters inherited my temperament – my middle child is feisty and wicked keen on picking out inconsistencies. NOTHING slips by that little girl and she catches me on my inconsistencies, lol. She’s JUST. LIKE. ME.

    But my daughters, even though this mama gets moody from time to time, they’ll never know a day when they are not loved. I’m so very glad about that. My family has treated me poorly, this is true, but they have shown my girls kindness and love they never were able to show me.

    It’s clear to me now that my family members were in a vastly different place when the bulk of the harm to me was done. I also think I lacked the ideal ‘goodness of fit’ with my family.

    I think maybe, like the interaction with my middle daughter reveals things about me, I brought to light certain things in my family that they would have preferred stay hidden. I think this was my only ‘mistake’ and my personality, my temperament, and my inability to keep quiet about their inconsistencies and hypocrisy was intolerable to them and we clashed.

    Maybe I reminded my mother of herself too much. She was a bit of a wild child like me. (yes, I was the ‘black sheep’ of the family – though by some miracle I stayed off drugs, away from alcohol and out of bad relationships. There by the grace of God…went I).

    Hmmm…interesting theory to talk with the therapist about…

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