A Mama’s Journey

I recently found an old list of “important goals” that I wanted to achieve in parenting. The list was titled Baby Boot Camp and it included weaning my kids off their pacifier and bottle, teaching them to come immediately when called, potty training my oldest, teaching them to stop whatever they were doing when I told them to, and training them to sit still through a church service.

At the time I wrote this list, my children were aged two and one. About six months after I made that list, when I was 8 months pregnant with our third, tired and overwhelmed and struggling with depression again, I realized that I was an abusive parent.

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It was the evening of a long day, my husband was gone at a council meeting. I was tired and my 2 year old daughter had disappeared into the basement where she wasn’t supposed to go again. I yelled from the top of the stairs for her to come up, and there was no response. I yelled again, threatening a spanking if she didn’t come right NOW. She came, but very slowly, taking her own sweet time, even though I yelled at her to hurry up. By the time she got to the top of the stairs I was fed up. She had disobeyed in going down the stairs in the first place, and she had failed to come the first time I called her. I grabbed her by the arm and smacked her bottom two or three times with the wooden spoon like I always did when she was being “rebellious”. But this time I moved her clothing over to the side. I wanted it to hurt her more, so that she would get the message and come right away next time. The minute I hit her bare skin, the red welt appeared. I dropped the spoon. I felt as if I was going to throw up. It wasn’t the first time I had hit her with the spoon, I had begun to use it several months before when smacking with my hand was no longer effective. I had left the imprint of my hand on her thigh before, but the marks always faded quickly, and I had never left bruises, so I told myself I had never gone “to far”. But this time it was different. How could I be turning into this person, someone who wanted to hurt my baby?

I pushed my sobbing little girl away from me (afraid of hurting her more than I already had) and curled up on the couch and cried. My worst fears were being realized. I was treating my kids in the ways that I had sworn I would never repeat. That night when my husband got home, I told him that I needed to take a break from spanking for awhile, to try and figure out where I was going wrong. To my surprise, he was completely supportive and even suggested that we could stop spanking entirely. And so began a journey. A journey of discovering my children for the first time. A journey of discovering myself for the first time.

Looking back with what I know now, I never would have had children so soon after I got married. I was burnt out from parenting siblings for most of my life. I was ignorant of all of the anger I had bottled up deep inside, and I was depressed. As I’ve started to be honest with myself these last two years, letting myself remember for the first time, I was so afraid. Afraid that it was too late. Afraid that my kids were doomed to the same abuse that I had lived with. Afraid, that my kids would hate me someday.

If I am honest, I am still afraid sometimes. I’m afraid that I will not heal everything in time, that my kids will grow up and still have suffered from my ignorance. In a way I am grateful that the choice to be a mom was kind of made for me, because if I was waiting to feel fearless, I would put it off forever, and never be able to experience the beauty my children bring to the world.

Four weeks ago, as I pulled our brand new baby into my arms, my husband announced that we had a baby boy. And I was suddenly overwhelmed by emotion. I held my baby knowing that he would never be hit by his parents, that he would be treated gently and with respect. He will be free to be whoever he is, and not shamed into being whatever his parents want him to be.

I held him knowing that as a boy, he would not experience less affection than our girls, he would get just as many hugs and kisses and snuggles. I held him knowing that he will never have to live up to some false expectation of what it means to be “a man”. He won’t be bullied and mocked into being “tough”, he won’t be automatically blamed and punished in the name of “respecting women” every time he gets into a fight with a sister.

It was in that moment that hope was born, and I realized that I am doing it. I am a good mom. I am a gentle mom who loves, and never stops seeking to grow. So why am I still haunted by memories of spanking my small children? Why does my heart sink when I watch home videos from several years ago and see how unaware I was of my disrespect towards my children?

As I’ve continued the hard work of healing, I’ve realized that I will never parent the way I was parented. And I know that I will not ever lose my drive to apologize for and seek to change whatever mistakes I make. Those things give me hope that my children will experience a better childhood than I did.

But I regret those wasted months and years where I didn’t know my children. I know I am different now, but that can’t change my actions then. How could I have missed what I see now? How could I have hurt my babies when I loved them so much even then? How can I be sure that I am taking advantage of every moment, as time slips by all too quickly and my babies grow up right in front of me?
Linking this post up at “Things I Can’t Say”. Head over there to “Pour your Heart Out.”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17217683418314819836 Sarah@EmergingMummy

    You are a good mum. This made me cry, luv but in a good way. Hope is alive and healing is being poured out. xo

  • http://nowealthbutlife.com Rae

    Your journey is beautiful.

  • http://michelle-endlessstrength.blogspot.com Michelle

    We can only move forward. As hard as it is, we should try not to dwell too much on the hurts of the past.

    This is something I often think about with regards to receiving Absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Because even though I've confessed and received absolution, those sins creep up on me when I least expect. I've learned to say something like "Come, Lord Jesus." and lots of times that works. I think when the regrets and the memories catch uip to us, a lot of times that is evil just trying to get us to be hopeless.

    You are a GREAT mom…mainly because you ARE learning and growing. Don't miss out on the NOW because you live in the past. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08553760391176072177 Joy

    Thank you so much for sharing the wisdom gained on your journey.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17046924507335607146 Amy

    Beautiful beautiful realization…. smiling from ear to ear….such a ray of sunshine this post was for me today. I feel so lost in this new space of living outside religion and shame…and parenting is a whole new world for me. Thankyou for sharing this insight into your heart.

    Hugs and loves.. Amy

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05924884316858785359 Deb Paul

    Thank you so much for sharing this.

  • Anonymous

    You are such a gentle Mama with your little ones now it is time to be gentle with yourself. God bless you!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06811697675090627618 Shell

    Such honesty here. And such self-awareness, too. I think that is what makes the difference

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11180417908209217887 Messy Mom

    I totally understand what you are saying. I am in the same boat here, I recently read a book that totally changed my thinking about "punishing" my children. I have lots of regrets too, and I still get angry and am a horrible example my 3 year old at times, but I do feel like we are making progress and I know that God is covering my family and yours :)

    In case you are interested the book Love and Logic is a great resource for spank free parenting.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05598890631695015818 Pippi

    You'll be fine. Don't waste more time beating yourself up, what you have ahead is what matters and I have no doubt you are headed down the right track with it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05659143242634568450 Me

    It is wonderful that you realized this early on, when you still have time to change. That's what good parenting is all about–realizing our mistakes and moving forward in truth and grace. You're a wonderful mommy. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16232186225573312896 Incongruous Circumspection

    !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02614822971755761394 Rebecca

    What incredible hope your post would give to any parent who has majorly messed up. There IS a way forward. There IS a way out. There is hope and healing to be had. You rock my socks off.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11557037093560947882 Anne — QuicksilverQueen.com

    I'm glad there was quite a few months before this little one after we got married (and still quite a few months until s/he makes his/her arrival). We were going to wait a few years (didn't wanna go all fundie and just start popping out babies!), but I think it will be fine. And I'm glad to have support…your posts, some other friends, etc. Your posts about raising your children are always very inspiring!! On the one hand, the thought of raising a kid scares the hell out of me, but on the other hand, I remember I practically raised a bunch of my little siblings, and I am excited to be a better parent than mine were.

    Sometimes I am still afraid they will turn 13 and "rebel", like everyone told my parents would happen with us…but then I also think it depends upon what your definition of "rebellion" is. You know? Someone may think it's rebellious to put a blue streak in her hair. So what? I don't always have to LIKE what my kids do (I'd be the one to put the blue streak in tho!), but I can always love and support them and make them know they have a safe place to come back to.

  • http://www.ramblingtart.com/ Rambling Tart

    I love this so much. I can't tell you how glad I am you found my blog so I could find yours. :-) I'm not a wife or mom, but I'm a survivor of cults, churches, christianity, false thinking, legalistic harshness, and your words resonate tremendously. Thank you.

  • Anonymous

    This is a lovely post. Thank you so much for sharing it.

    I also have two girls and then a boy. Your paragraphs about how you will treat your son just screamed out to me. <3 You describe how I felt when I held my son in the early weeks — he will NOT be emotionally abused in the name of manly "toughness"!!!

    Last fall i "outed" myself as a non-spanker on Facebook. Here's a link to my note if you're interested in reading it:

    http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=463202701352

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15906014150752232747 The Savage

    Oh how I "resonate" with this. And how I wish I didn't. But God's grace IS bigger. And when we know better, we do better. Grace is for our littles every bit as much as it is for us. Thanks for your transparency!! Blessings to you and yours as you continue "gently leading" your young!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10902541075652052825 Aunt Vik

    Whatever mother has no regrets, raise your hand!

    Oh, yeah. No one is raising her hand.

    We've all done this. My mother spanked at the littlest of things, and would slap our faces at the drop of the hat. I'll add quickly that she is so remorseful about it. It's how she was raised.

    While I think spanking is needed for extreme defiance (and not childishness), I rarely had to do it. My child(ren) had to literally defy me before I would dish out a physical punishment. So with me that's not an issue, but here is what changed my tone of voice– I remember the day well:

    I hadn't seen my 5-year old (my eldest) for about an hour so I called her. No answer. Called again. No answer. Couldn't find her. Finally yelled and she came running out of my room– I didn't even look at her and gave her a major tongue lashing for not coming the first time. Got my wits about me and looked down at her holding up a perfectly folded stack of washcloths, but with fear in her eyes.

    Oh God. I felt lower than dirt. She had been trying to surprise me by doing the laundry I had in my room and that was why she was being quiet. My sweet five-year old girl. She folded that laundry perfectly and I didn't even know she was able to do that! I hugged and kissed her and apologized over and over. Well, she was all smiles again and not really affected by my yelling, but I felt horrible for literally years!

    She's 14 now. I have shown her the photo I took of that laundry, and of the stack of washcloths she was holding with a big smile– told her the whole story. She thinks it's funny, but I told her how awful I felt. She'll say, "If I don't have to do the dishes tonight I'll forgive you!"

    Silly girl. Not happnin'– get dem dishes done!

    But yeah, we've all been there. All we can do is learn from it and make sure that the love we show far outweighs our mistakes. I'm so glad that my kids have a happy, laid-back life. The main reason I homeschool, besides the fact I just love being around my kids, is I don't want them defined by their peers. I'm not going to define them, and neither is anybody else. It's between them and God.

  • Wendy

    You said about ten things in this post that I've never been able to share with anyone. The last day I was an abusive parent and became a good-parent-in-training:

    Samantha was a handful. Really. It's not just me. But one day, when she was about ten, she was on my last nerve, I was overwhelmed. I don't even remember what she said, but I turned and slapped her face. Not leave-a-handprint-hard, but enough to sting, and hurt her feelings and make her cry. And I though, "G**damnit, why does she make me do that!!!"

    And I have never raised my hand since that day. Now, as for all the things I can't undo….. *sigh*

    Thank you for the things you're sharing. You're young enough to be my own daughter, but I think we're on overlapping journeys.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06673546155665970914 Audrey

    This post brought tears to my eyes. I have been reading back through your blog almost all day because I relate so much as I've been going through my own journey. My daughter is two years old and although I've known for a while that I don't want to spank, I am still wrestling with the some of the attitudes toward my child and how to view her. Mothering has been such a huge dark struggle for me since even before she was born and I have always been terrified of being abusive toward my child. I am slooooowly working past this and I am so glad I found your blog. I'm not alone.

  • Anonymous

    Beautifully and bravely said. Wishing you the best on all your journeys!