Not all of us have had ideal parents, and sometimes long after we’re out of their sphere of influence, the damage they’ve done remains. I certainly fall into the category of someone who still is affected by what happened in her childhood, and the damage was enough that I worried that I’d do the same to my daughter.
I know a lot of people with troubled childhoods worry that they are going to do the same to their children. I remember right after I gave up my daughter for adoption as a teenager, one of my good friends said matter-of-factly, “Well, it was probably for the best because you were abused and you would have abused your daughter, too.” I ended that friendship immediately — in fact, I turned on my heel, walked out of her house without a word, and never saw her again — but those words stayed with me for decades.
Recently, though, I had an important realization. I’m not going to do that. My younger daughter is 10 years old, and if I were going to destroy her self-esteem, I would have done it already. I’d been waiting for a moment when my cruelty switch was going to flip to on, and it’s not going to happen because I broke that pattern. This was honestly one of the best moments I’ve ever had in my life. All those cliches about something weighing down on you turned out to be true: I feel lighter.
My “friend” was wrong. My awareness that the way I was parented wasn’t normal, coupled with hard work with a good therapist, helped me to realize I didn’t have to repeat any patterns. I had a choice, and that choice was to be a different parent than the ones I had. My past might still have power over me in some areas, but it wasn’t inevitable that I repeat it.
I know there are other people who live with the fear that they’ll do what their parents did. I’m living proof that this doesn’t have to happen.