I have always wanted to give my kids a good childhood, something that I didn’t have. On holidays or on their birthdays, I take them out to Toys R Us, Chuck E. Cheese, BBQ’s, or Times Square. Seeing the smiles on their faces brings me happiness. It gives me a way to re-do my own sad childhood.
But other times I feel like I’m repeating my mother’s depression and anger with my own children.
Love and Hate
Throughout my childhood, I went back and forth between my grandmother’s house, where I experienced love and normalcy, and my mother’s house, where it was just me and her and sometimes my brother stuck inside all the time.
Over the years my mother has been diagnosed with many different mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder. What I experienced was her mixed up anger every day. One minute she’d say she loved me and that I was the only one that didn’t leave her. The next minute she told me that if my father wasn’t such a jerk, she’d send me off to him just like she sent my brother to his father.
When I was 10, I found my mother in the kitchen after she tried to hang herself. I started crying so badly that I couldn’t stop wheezing. I wanted to protect my mom but I couldn’t.
I knew my mom wasn’t OK. But I also felt like some of my mother’s problems were my fault. I felt so sad when I thought that she’d be better off if I hadn’t been born.
My Pregnancy Fantasy…
I handled my feelings by crying and being by myself. Then, when I was 11, I also started cutting myself. I loved crying, letting it out, feeling relieved.
Still, when I graduated from junior high school, the one thing I asked for was to live with my mom. My grandmother had just had a stroke. I felt like I needed someone to show me how to grow into womanhood. But my mother’s love-hate only left me longing for someone I could really depend on.
I was 16 when I got pregnant with my first child. I promised myself that I would be different from my mother. I also had the fantasy that having a child would make my mother feel close to me.
I envisioned us as a big happy family: my mom living with me, me making sure she was OK, and both of us showering my daughter with love. I wanted my mom to be involved in all my daughter’s milestones—doctor’s appointments, first words, potty training and training bras.
But the whole time I was pregnant I felt like my mother was choosing her girlfriend over me. And after my daughter was born, my mother didn’t like her crying and fussiness. She also didn’t like all the arguments between her girlfriend and me. When my daughter was a few months old, my mother told me that, because of the constant fighting, it was time for me to leave.
I suddenly felt like I had nobody in my corner. In minutes, my sadness overwhelmed me, and then it turned into rage.
I started yelling and screaming and throwing things. I threw a Virgin Mary statue, my cell phone, a chair. I punched a mirror and my hand started to bleed.
My mom called the cops. I told them I had a history of depression and that I needed someone to talk to. The officers took me to the hospital so I could talk to a psychiatrist.
I wound up staying at the hospital for a month while my daughter stayed with her dad. I felt ashamed that I was separated from my baby for a whole month because I couldn’t control my anger or depression. I felt I was already failing my daughter just like my mother had failed me.
I spent hours in the arts and crafts room making my daughter bracelets and pictures of flowers and teddy bears. I wanted to find a way to show her that I loved her, even though right then I couldn’t be the mother I wanted to be.
Good Times and Bad
Now I have four children, ages 10, 6, 5 and 3. I have tried to be a good mother. I love being there for their celebrations, birthdays and holidays. I love getting us out of the house. When my children are invited somewhere, they go.
It’s also Mommy to the rescue when they need me. Every time I am able to take care of them, I’m proving to myself I can put depression and parenting in two separate places.
But it also seems like every few weeks, something bad happens. Then every pain I’ve endured since childhood comes rushing back in my head. If I have a fight with my parents, my children’s father, or my current boyfriend, if I start to feel too lonely or life feels too out of control, I have a much harder time being a good parent. Then I can’t deal with my children screaming or jumping around. I yell, “Sit down.” “Don’t move.” “Go stand in the corner.” Or I take away the things they like.
When I’m angry, my kids look at me with sad faces, like they’ve done something wrong. They look scared, too. I don’t want my kids to feel afraid of me. I want them to trust me and talk to me.
When I calm down, my oldest daughter comes out and asks, “Mommy, are you OK?” Then all my children are ready to fight whoever they think is hurting me. But my children can’t really protect me, just like I couldn’t protect my mom.
My Terror Hurts My Kids
A few years ago, I lost control in a way that really scared me.
I was having a lot of conflicts with my children’s father. That day, he called to say he was going to try to take custody from me. Then his mom called making it seem like I was a bad person. At that moment, I felt like I sometimes did as a kid, that I was being blamed for everything.
My mom was supposed to spend the day with me and my kids anyway. But when I called her to tell her what had happened, she told me that my problems were not hers and that she wasn’t coming.
What hurt most was when my oldest daughter asked, “Does grandma love us?” At that moment I felt like my children were feeling the same way I had felt as a kid, that there was no love.
I tried to clear my head, and I went into the bathroom and stared at my cellphone for about 30 minutes. Eventually I couldn’t stand feeling so hurt anymore. I threw my phone and broke the glass mirror. Then I went into the kitchen and started flipping tables and chairs. Finally, I grabbed a knife and I cut my right forearm and I started bleeding badly.
An upstairs neighbor heard the commotion and called the cops but I must have passed out before they came.
Too Much Pain
When I woke up, I noticed doctors walking by and people on stretchers, and I realized I must be in the ER.
I waited for one hour while I was strapped down to a bed, all the time crying and asking for my kids. Finally, the psychiatrist came and told me that I’d cut myself.
I looked at him in shock, and then I remembered how my kids had seen me in a rage. I was afraid I might have hurt my oldest child, who had come to comfort me right before I snapped. The police officer sitting with me told me I hadn’t hurt anyone but myself. Still, I know that when I lost control so badly, I did hurt my children.
A Safe Place to Go
Recently, I started therapy to protect my children from my anger and depression. I even made a safety plan with my therapist for when I don’t know how to help myself. If I am getting too upset, I will call 911, they will take me to the hospital, and the hospital will call my therapist for me.
I feel relieved just knowing that I have a safe place to go before I lose control. It feels great to know now that I have someone to turn to when I am in trouble, as opposed to feeling completely alone.
My therapist is helping me see that not everyone is against me. I have a great boyfriend, a social worker, my editor at Rise, a big brother, and a lawyer that are part of my support system. I think focusing on them will help me not feel so abandoned, which is what usually leads to my rages.
These are small steps but they feel big to me. I hope the steps I am taking now to heal from my past will help me make a better future for my children.