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Have you ever considered what the death of Abel did to the heart of Eve? How she must have gaped at the figure of her dead son, knowing his death was ultimately the consequence of her own choice?
I never considered how my choices would be the cause of my children’s pain. My life was mine to live, right? Nobody could tell me what to do. I was in search of happiness in any way I could find it, without any consideration given to the damage being done to my kids — as if they would never be teenagers or adults making choices founded on pain, the same way I had.
Now, I see how my choices have led to more suffering, just as a flicked domino unleashes a great falling, on and on.
I am an adult who was a fatherless child. I’ve never met my father. I barely know his name and have never seen a picture of him nor heard stories about him from my mother or anyone else who knew him. I know that my grandfather liked him, that he was friends with my godparents, which is why they are my godparents, and that he had a sister who was gang raped by white men who got away with it. Oh, I also know that he knew about me and promised to come back for me and my mom but never did. As a child I would sit for hours daydreaming about the adventures he must be on, which kept him from coming back. I would tell myself those stories, and then I started telling them in school on any occasion where being fatherless was obvious.
While I am thankful for my life and I know my mother did the best she could to raise me, nothing could replace my father. Predators spot my wound from a mile away, and I’ve been taken advantage of plenty of times. But the greatest pain my wound has caused is felt by my children.
Looking for a father has led me to inject a lot of dysfunction into my relationships. I have had shouting matches with pretty much everyone in my life, and a lot of times those shouting matches have been in front of the kids. My children have seen me at my angriest and have heard me say malicious things to people I claim to love and who love me back.
My ex-husband used to hit me. But he was not the only guilty one in our relationship. He is responsible for his actions and choices, but I am also responsible for mine. In all of our fights, we would always get to the point where I would use my words to say things I knew would hurt him. I wasn’t big enough to inflict pain on him physically, but I did it verbally. And our children had a front-row seat to it all. We would get into those fights, waking up our children with the yelling. I would tear them out of their beds and claim to be leaving forever, just to end up back with him a few days, if not hours, later. I can’t imagine how confusing that was to little human beings or what it taught them. I do know that now, they seem unnerved by stability because turmoil feels normal.
When I became Catholic and entered a sacramental marriage with a different man, I thought everything would magically be okay. But I hadn’t faced my childhood traumas or taken responsibility for my own actions. I blamed everyone else, my circumstances in life, white people, poverty and a litany of other things, and then assumed Jesus would take it all and I was free to live happily ever after.
Well, God is good, but we have to work through our wounds. Conversion isn’t a free pass that destroys patterns of bad behavior. I figured this out when my new husband and I began fighting and I began to act the same way with him as I did with my ex. It was as if I could stand outside myself and see it all happening. I went in search of a Catholic therapist to help.
Not only did she guide me in facing the things that caused me to act out in such anger, she began to help my youngest three children heal from the years of dysfunction. My oldest son, however, wasn’t so lucky. By the time I started counseling, he was 21 and out of the house raising his own family, trying to break the cycle on his own.
I have learned a lot about my children’s perspectives. It hasn’t been easy to hear the younger ones talk in therapy, or to read my oldest son’s writing about their interpretations of what was happening when they were little. Looking back from within my own healing, I see all the places where I failed to be the best mother, wife and stepmother and how it has impacted the lives of these seven children, and now their own children. We have to take responsibility for ourselves and break the cycle — stop flicking the dominoes. Not doing that makes us responsible for the pain of our children as they become adults and parents themselves.
God is good. Because that is true, there is help out there.