When I was little, I loved to watch my mom around the house: the way she folded our clothes with her gentle hands, the way her hair smelled when she was next to me. It was asmell of warmth like no other.
My mother never shared her dreams, but we knew her talents: hairdressing, making clothes, knitting, and the most beautiful, singing. As I got older, I realized how many sacrifices my mother made to keep my father happy. She wanted to work, to go to school, to better herself. My father did not let her.
Disconnected from the World
At times, my mother would sign up for classes in our local church and my father would always find a way to stop her, either by convincing her not to go or humiliating her if she did. One time he couldn’t accept that my mother was taking guitar lessons, so he went to the church and embarrassed her by yelling and saying she was having an affair with our pastor. This really upset me.
As I got older, my mother finally completed a Bible study course. My siblings and I were all excited to attend her graduation. But by the end of the night my mother’s diploma had disappeared—my father dumped it.
My father also would get upset if my mom kept in touch with family or friends. Once when my grandmother called, he took a pizza cutter and cut the phone wire while my mother was speaking.
His actions kept my mother away from wanting to be a part of the world, to interact with others. Increasingly, she did what my father wanted her to do, to keep him from humiliating her.
Stuck in the Middle
At home, whenever my parents argued, no matter whether it was about what she’d cooked for dinner or how to spend their money, my father always won the disagreement by being aggressive.
“This dinner is disgusting. What, are you feeding pigs?” he’d say.
“This is what you asked for,” my mother would answer.
I’d hear my father pushing around or even knocking over the pots and pans. I would run over because my appearance made the arguments stop. He would walk away, leaving my mother and me cleaning up his mess.
I hated watching my mom still try her hardest to make him happy. At night, she would walk down the hallway in her robe, upset, wanting to cry, carrying his late night snack.
If I asked, “Are you OK?” she would inhale all her tears and start telling me, “This is why we women need to do what we please and not let any man stop us. If a man really loves you, he’ll encourage you to accomplish any of your dreams, not appreciate you only for what you give or for what they want from you.”
I imagined having a very different marriage from my mom’s. I wanted everything equal between my husband and me.
‘I Love You, I’m Sorry’
As a teenager, I met a guy named Alex who seemed very motivated about life. We seemed to want the same things: good jobs, nice home, cars, you know, a nice family.
But as time passed he, like my father, tried to keep me away from what I wanted to do. I had to get to his house on time right after school. I couldn’t even visit my friends because he thought I had someone else. He’d say, “Why do you want to visit your friend? I know, because she has a guy for you to meet, right? Tell the truth, I know you’re lying to me.” I would even invite Alex to my friend’s house to see that I just wanted to enjoy her pool, but he wasn’t satisfied.
Whether or not I did everything he wanted, he still got upset. Here came the slaps that were followed by “I love you, I’m sorry.” I wanted to be me. Still, since I didn’t want to get hit, I often went along with the way he planned my schedule.
I don’t understand why I stayed so long. I really hate the fact that I did all that for him, and that I really didn’t have the fun when I was young like I was supposed to.
Living My Parents’ Lives
Then, when I was 19, we found out I was pregnant. We were scared but also happy to have a child. I wanted to show my parents that we were becoming adults and setting things up for the baby, but I did all the work.
After the baby was born, Alex wanted both worlds: hanging out and being a father. I always had to push him to work and to save money. I would tell him over and over again, “Stop hanging out in the street.”
At the time, I could not understand his mix of control and care, love and abuse, and good intentions without hard work. Now that I am a bit older, I see that Alex never had that motherly love. I was his comfort, the only one that showed him love and listened to him. He thought by controlling me would keep me next to him forever.
Alex also wasn’t prepared for the kind of future we envisioned. He didn’t seem to understand that if you want to get ahead, you must finish school, get a good job and save for the future. Plus, he was accustomed to hanging out and drinking. In his family, alcohol was all around him, and his drinking led to his abusiveness at times.
In the back of my mind, I knew that I was living my parents’ lives all over again.
‘This Is Domestic Violence’
My sister helped me face what was going on. I would run to her for help and advice. She knew that I loved him and didn’t want to leave him, and that I believed I could help him by showing him that his behavior was really affecting me.
One day she gave me a book about domestic violence. I read it in one day. From that day forward, I became a different person inside. Although I didn’t have the courage to end my relationship with Alex right away, I knew it could not continue.
At around the same time, my teacher gave us an assignment to find out how domestic violence affects families. I learned so much. Reading about the pattern of domestic violence, seeing photos of victims, and learning that domestic violence really kills had an impact on my life. As I was working on the presentation I had to admit to myself, “I am going through that.”
‘I Have No Time to Waste’
Finally I realized I wasted so much time with this person who I thought would change. I told myself, “This is not something that I want to affect my child. He is not going to live with fear.” And, “I have no time to waste. My new life has no room for someone who I thought loved me but hurts me.”
I didn’t give up on my dream of one day becoming someone’s wife, but I started to see that there are more important achievements in life. I split up with Alex and found a rewarding career at a nonprofit service organization.
Five years later, I found a new partner, and we talked about marriage. But I got pregnant before we married, and by the time I gave birth to my daughter, I saw that the relationship had become all about sacrifice. I was unhappy. Part of me still wanted that married family life, but I ended that relationship.
Stress and Struggle
Along with independence came stress and struggle. For the past year since I split up with my daughter’s father, I have been working two jobs and the money is still not enough. Every month I pay my rent extremely late. I pray I don’t see my landlord.
There were times that I kept my son home from school because I didn’t have the money for his school trip or lunch. Many times I had to go to food pantries or my mother’s house for food, or sell things from my house in order to do laundry or buy groceries. I ask myself, “When it will end? When will I be happy and not stressed?”
I wonder if my children understand why their mommy works a lot and has to come home late some nights. I never thought being a parent meant disappointing your kids, but I’ve had to disappoint them when I didn’t have money or time. I have shed so many tears that I have tried my best not to let my children see.
Better Off on My Own
But even without money, I feel better off on my own. I make a good family life for my children. I love my kids and like to be around my children as much as possible. I am a mother who tries to pay attention to her kids’ needs. I tell them to always tell me if something is wrong, whether or not they think I’ll get mad.
When my son Alex had trouble with his behavior, I began going to family counseling with him. It makes me feel good when I hear my friends say, “Wow, you do so much to help your kids.”
My independence is worth it to me. I thank my mother for showing me the importance of being a mother with her own dreams, who is not controlled by anybody. I think my kids are learning that lesson from me. I am not perfect, but I am a good example for them.
My daughter is learning from me that independence is worth more than a man who hits you, and my son is learning that if he wants someone to love him, he has to treat her with kindness and respect her dreams.