I Am Not a Child

Over Thanksgiving we got together with some relatives on Sean’s side of the family. One of his cousins, whom I will call Hillary, is about ten years older than Sean and I, and watching her interact with her mother (Sean’s aunt) was fascinating. Her mother, you see, can be a bit overbearing. Hillary, don’t you think this, and Hillary, don’t you think that, and so on. But that didn’t phase Hillary. Hillary obviously loves her mom and vice versa and they appear to have a strong and healthy relationship, but Hillary interacts with her mother as one adult to another.

Perhaps what made this so foreign is that when I’m with my mother,I still feel like a child. The moment she says something dismissive or reacts with shock and indignation to something I say or gives me a look when I don’t do things the way she would, all of a sudden I’m five years old again.

Five years old, with untied tennis shoes.

I’m really not completely sure how to fix this, but watching Hillary made me realize something. Hillary’s mother doesn’t act any differently than my mother does. In fact, she acts almost exactly the way my mother acts. What was different was the way Hillary responded. Hillary’s mother had no power over her, no ability to reduce her to tears or make her feel like she was five. Hillary very clearly loves her mother, but she does not allow her mother to railroad her, ever. Hillary is firm and confident, and says it like it is. She is an adult, speaking with another adult. Somehow, somehow, I want to replicate that.

I think that the problem stems from everything from the past, all of the old ingrained patterns, all of the times my mother hurt me with her words and left me sobbing. It happened in very early adulthood. Until I started to branch out and form my own ideas, things were fine between us. But when I was twenty, I began to look up and reach and turn my path, and then everything changed. My mother, not knowing how to respond, treated me as a naughty and wayward child who must be chastened and made to obey. And I, still fresh in my status as an adult, did not have the strength to hold up. It hurt. I am sitting here crying as I write this, because it hurt. I’m having troubles finding words to describe the hurt.

So perhaps when I am with my mother and she treats me like a child, I feel not five but twenty. Perhaps when I am with my mother and she repeats past patterns, it is all of the past hurt and feeling that crashes over me as I am once again twenty and nothing but a foolish little girl in her eyes.

But somehow I have to fix this. I can’t change her, I can only change me.

And I again thinking of Elsa singing Let It Go, because the truth is, I can’t fix this by holding it inside. I can’t fix this by making fists and trying not to feel. There has to be some other way to fix this. But I’m also thinking of another song Elsa sings, when her sister Anna confronts her and she realizes that she can’t escape her troubles by running. “I’m such a fool I can’t be free! No escape from the storm inside of me! I can’t control the curse! . . .  There’s so much fear! . . . I can’t!

Sometimes I feel like that. Sometimes I just want to curl up and cry.

But I am not a child. I am in my late twenties. I am  married and have two children, one of whom will start kindergarten next year. I have a successful career and run a popular blog. In fact, I’m as old as my mother was when she started homeschooling. I am not a child. These holidays I will be channeling Hillary. I am an adult. I can do this. I can be free of the fear. I can let go of the pain. It’s not about holding things in, it’s about letting go. My mother does not have any power over me except that which I give her. I can let go.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.


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