“I was a horrible mother and I knew it. I didn’t have any time to raise my little daughter, but I couldn’t even entertain the idea of giving up my career… I still remember the look of sadness on my daughter’s face as I ignored her day after day after day. I was too busy chasing an appearance so I could feel loved when real love was staring at me every day through two big hazel eyes.” (From my conversion story)
Imagine a little girl growing up with such an absent mother. She watches her mother climb mountains and chase dreams, buy her everything and appear successful, but a little girl just wants to know she matters, that she is loved, and that she can make people smile. Instead of being raised, she is dropped off at daycare and propped in front of television, moved like furniture from one place to another, and given stuff to keep her quiet.
Like the stark objective truth that it is, she needs her parents just like any child does, but she’s got a broken family, and Mom’s pretty messed-up. She grows up unable to explain that intense yearning in her soul to belong, and over time that yearning creates a painful emptiness. Strangely, the pain becomes like a friend because it’s at least reliable.
As Mom goes her own way, the child subconsciously nurses that pain with excuses, and goes on with her life too. For reasons she does not understand, every relationship she enters is strained, and she can’t even allow herself to be awed by nature without confronting that uncomfortable tug, that desire to know her place in the world. Does anyone love her for who she is? Does she even know who she is?
To make it worse, everyone acts like the life she leads is normal. Mom appears successful, school is going well, and there are lots of activities and friends, too many actually. Like icing on a rotten cake, her life appears absurdly pretty. Sometimes when a neighbor or a relative does the unthinkable – when someone embraces her in a hug and speaks to her frightened heart – she melts and the painful truth is overwhelming. “Stuff it, don’t be silly.”
And then Mom gets married.
She changes way too suddenly (Mom was never one to do things half way). Mom says this man really loves her and she really loves him, whatever that means. So the now adolescent child tries to do what is expected of her. New family? Check. New home? Check. New routine? Alright. We’re all going to church now? Terrific. Gotta ask permission before I do what I want? Get real.
See, she had long ago learned to fill that void herself with whatever she needed to survive, and therefore, was completely unable to relinquish that control. The confusion turned to rage; a child can only take so much. When her rebellion caused problems in the new family, she felt responsible. When she tried to do what was expected without losing her autonomy, no one noticed her efforts and no one was proud. When she tried to discover herself, she was ridiculed because it was misunderstood. When there were fights, she wanted to die. When she tried to harm herself, she was punished by a mother trying to hang on to her.
Life was mad, and just at a time when a young woman needs structure and predictability for her own biological and emotional maturation, the unyielding axis of her world tilted and forced everything to topple with it. What’s a girl to do? Well, she either runs with the demons to the nearest cliff or she steels herself with an impenetrable wall.
Then Mom said the family is going to be Catholic. Whatever that means.
As Mom (now so “open-to-life”) continued to change and little sister after little sister came marching along, she felt even more like she didn’t belong. On the brink of womanhood, she decided on her 17th birthday that it was time to take matters into her own hands, and with a birthday cake she’d bought for herself in one hand and her backpack in the other, she said goodbye that morning and went her own way. She ran away from home instead of going to school. She looked so bold, but inside she was on her knees begging for love.
She never knew that her mother sat frozen in the school parking lot reliving all the missed opportunities to hold her, unable to admit the truth, ignite the engine, and return home without the baby girl she took for granted for so long. She never knew that in the light of the full moon that night, Mom trembled for hours on the back porch, and before God, began a long process of coming to terms with her failures as a parent. A mom can convert and straighten out her life, but the damage that is done to the child entrusted to her care cannot be undone. Like the stars, that distance in the neglected child’s eyes had just faded out of reach, and there wasn’t a thing to be done about it. This vacuous feeling of emptiness was deserved – transferred from daughter to mother.
It’s one thing to forgive yourself, it’s another to realize that you absolutely cannot forget what you did, and then to face it. In many ways that night was a cosmic handing off of the proverbial baton in a generational relay race. It was now the mother’s turn to suffer as she watched her daughter go her own way without her. All the regret in the world doesn’t make it possible to re-raise a child.
Sometimes when Mom’s a convert, all she can do is breathe in the graces that are offered, trust that God loves her daughter even more than she does, and hope that now with some clarity about life, when the beautiful grown woman with a jumbled childhood returns for guidance, she’ll finally have a mother waiting strongly, patiently, and lovingly to help her discover how to sort out the flawed connections cemented in her mind. After all, God got us this far and He will not abandon us. When we realize we can’t change the past, it’s time to acknowledge that life is everlasting and surrender the future to the eternally merciful Father.
This is for anyone with older children who are lost because you failed them as a parent. For all your tears and prayers, when it seems like nothing will ever change, it will, but it takes time. God’s time, God’s way. Hold them close in your heart, stand on the rock of Truth, and point to the light of Mother Church to guide them when they seek it. Take some comfort in knowing that when they need answers, they’ll know where to find them. Our story has a happy ending, but I’ll save that for another day.
And to my sunshine, for all the times I didn’t say it, let me tell the world:
I love you, as you are, and I am so proud of you. ~Mom
Visit Stacy’s website: http://www.acceptingabundance.com/
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