Confessions of a Shitty Mom
The truth hurts, but so too do false accusations!
Writing this post was another emotional slug fest. It took me more than three weeks and multiple stops and starts before I could finally coherently write what I am feeling and thinking.
The purpose of Midlife Madness is to be raw and honest in an effort to help others feel less alone with their real-life shit. So, I recognized when I launched the blog that I would eventually have to open up about what I do understand about what is going on with my daughters.
I have written about my current relationship struggles with my daughters in almost every post since I launched Midlife Madness, but I have not shared what is my daughters have said their problem is with me. The reason for this is because it is difficult to repeat the things of which they accuse me. I must now, however, confess my crimes as a shitty mother, but also defend myself and cry over the false accusations.
When important relationships fall apart the natural thing do, I think, is to analyze the shit out of what happened. At least that is what I do. I would like to be able to say that in knowing there is little I can do right now to change what is happening with my daughters, I have figured out how to put it all on the backburner and live my best life. But I can’t say that. I obsess about the situation. Nothing is more important to me than my relationships with my husband, my daughters, and my mother. I am not one to take relationships for granted. I put thought and effort into them.
I had a clear vision of what I wanted my family to look and feel like and I worked hard to make that vision a reality. And for a time I thought I had achieved my goals. But then, just as I thought my life was settling, just as I was finding comfort and contentment in what I had built, it started to crumble. At first I believed what was happening was part of the natural evolution of parent/child relationships, but over time I gained less understanding of what was occurring, not more. What started out looking like my daughters pulling away because they were becoming adults and needed to find their own path, shifted to shining a light on me and all my flaws and failings. And then shockingly for me, once that spotlight was placed on me, those flaws and failings were redefined as abuse. For almost five years now my middle daughter (my oldest biological) has been accusing me of being an abusive parent. Her younger sister started joining in on this accusation about three years ago.
These accusations have rocked my world. When my middle daughter first leveled them at me in writing I started to hyperventilate as I read. I was shocked, and hurt, and so sad that she felt that way. She wrote a seven-page letter revealing feelings that absolutely floored me. I thought we had a good relationship. Sure there had been ups and downs, but I really did not think my daughter had a lot of hang ups or issues where I was concerned.
I was hurt, but I was also desperate to fix things. I hated that my daughter felt these things. I hated that I had let her down. I could not stand to think that she felt abused by me. I needed answers to a hundred questions I suddenly had. I needed to talk with her and understand where this had come from and what I could do to fix it. But she was quite adamant that she “needed space” from me. She did not want to talk to me or communicate with me beyond what she had written to me. I tried multiple ways, multiple times reach out to her, to the point where it enraged her. She insisted I leave her alone. So I did.
It will take many blog posts to tell the story of what has taken place between receiving that letter and now. In a nutshell, we had a period of estrangement, she got engaged, we reconciled, she got married, she got pregnant, she started pushing me away again, she had the baby, she pushed me away more. Family drama started with our oldest daughter, and more relationships became fractured. I had the falling out with my mom, my daughter stuck herself in the middle, and now once again she is accusing me of being abusive and she even accused me of causing my mother trauma (without ever asking my side of the story.)
Before I dig in further, I should qualify all of this by saying that although at present none of my three daughters, nor my mother are speaking to me, in my mind these are four very separate issues. Our oldest daughter pulled away from the entire family before any of this stuff started with my other two daughters and mother. My two biological daughters (the middle and youngest) are quite convinced that everything that is going on is all about me, my problems, and that I am “destroying” my relationships. I wholeheartedly disagree with everything about their assessment. Particularly because I know for a fact that the issues at hand all simmered at a different pace, over different periods of time. But also because I am the only one that knows that full extent of everything going on in each of my relationships. My daughters, for example, might think they know what is going on between my mother and me, but without having full knowledge of the entire scope of our relationship, they cannot really know. They are picking and choosing what they know and tying it together as circumstantial evidence against me, but they are doing so with only a portion of the information. I acknowledge there are some common denominators in the relationship problems, but the core issues are different with each. This blog is not about that though, it is about my two biological daughters’ accusation of abuse.
It is difficult for me to fully decipher this accusation as it seems to encompass three overlapping things. But it begins with a shitty parent confession. Ashamedly, when the girls were growing up my husband and I had a terrible habit of arguing when we were stressed out. In the early days of our relationship we had a screaming match about once every two months; now that we have been together for 26 years, they have whittled down to rarely. But back in the day when we were raising kids they were too frequent, and I know they were hard on the kids. I am not proud of this. But it is also something I have never denied and never hidden from. I always talked to the girls about the arguments afterwards. I explained that it was us handling our stress badly. I explained that we needed to do better and that I (we) would try. I always apologized for scaring or upsetting them. And I always encouraged my husband to do the same – but he never would/did.
I recognized the pattern of why these arguments happened early on in our relationship, but I could not get my husband to see it, so it was impossible to break the pattern. And this pattern ties to the other accusation of abuse; I yelled at the kids. When my husband and I met our daughters were five (his) and 2 ½ (mine). The girls instantly bonded and were really good friends when they were young. But there was competition between them, particularly for my husband’s attention. And from the get-go I was the disciplinarian. Rules, expectations, standards, etc. were all set and enforced by me. My husband liked to goof around with the girls, but he wasn’t big on the boundaries and rules side of parenting.
So the pattern became that I would ask the girls to do something., e.g. get ready for bed. They would ignore me. I would ask again. They would ignore me again. I would raise my voice and they would ignore me yet again. Finally, I would scream at them, and they would begrudgingly and complainingly get up and do what I was asking. Invariably they would do half a job or drag out what should have taken five minutes into 30. I would lose patience and the girls would argue back. My husband could not stand the sound of me arguing with the girls, so he would storm into the room and blow up. But instead of disciplining the girls, he would get angry with me and tell me to “just let it go.” An argument between he and I would ensue as the girls silently snuck away, having deflected the attention from their disrespect and bad behaviour.
Needless to say this was frustrating for me, and it did not take long for the girls to key into this pattern. As they got older, they learned that if they argued with me it would piss off my husband, and start a fight between him and me, and they would walk away. It drove me mad. I could see this unfold over and over, but no matter how clear it was to me what was happening, I could not seem to stop it. The only time there was peace was if I did everything around the house for everyone, allowing everyone else to do what they wanted when they wanted. But I could only do this for so long before I would break under the stress. In times of stress, the household became an unhealthy environment of yelling. But, despite the fact that all members of the family yelled, 100 per cent of the blame was/is placed on me. Over the years the story has been rewritten that I did nothing but yell, I yelled all the time, and that my yelling was abusive. It is as if I was dancing alone for all those years; everyone else’s presence and participation was just me denying my role and responsibility.
I remember very clearly explaining to the girls when they were in their tweens and early teens that they had trained me to yell at them. I explained to them that I never yelled right away. That I always approached them with a normal tone of voice, but that they ignored me until I raised my voice. And I added that if they did not want me to raise my voice to simply do what they were asked when asked, or at very least, respond when being spoken to. But no matter how many times I asked for this basic courtesy, they were unwilling to change their ways. So the pattern of yelling at them to get them to do things continued. I was not happy about it. Every time I raised my voice with my daughters I felt like a failure as a parent. But I could not find a solution. I read books, watched videos, talked to other parents, discussed it with teachers and family members, but nothing that was suggested that I tried ever worked to change the pattern.
Needless to say by the time the girls became teenagers, they had learned how to yell just as loud as me. And because there had been no real consequences for ignoring and disrespecting me, they turned to yelling instantly. My husband started referring to our middle daughter (in private with me) as “zero to 60” because she exploded so quickly. Our youngest daughter is seven years younger than our middle daughter. She learned how to talk to and treat me and her father from her sisters. By the time she was 12 she was a master at screaming at us and slamming doors.
In writing all of this I fully recognize that none of it was good or healthy. But there are a lot of buts to add to this story. Neither my husband nor I have ever laid a hand on any of our girls. I have never called any of my girls a name. (Although I can hear my youngest screaming that is not true as I write this. When she was about 15, in the midst of her shrieking and lashing out at me in a very rude and disrespectful way I told her she was “acting like a bitch.” I was careful to not say she “was a bitch.” To me this distinction makes a difference, but she does not agree.) I have never called them down, insulted them, discouraged them, or demoralized them. I have never lied to them, nor have I ever neglected them.
I fully acknowledge that growing up in a home where there was a lot of yelling would have an impact, and that it might be something that our girls need to work through and is something I have said I am willing to go to counseling with them to discuss. But we did not abuse them. These difficult times were a small fraction of our times together. My husband and I are best friends. We constantly show each other love and affection. We did the same with our girls. We ate meals together, took them on local day adventures, and amazing holidays. We camped regularly. We both volunteered for and cheered them on in all their extra curricular activities. We worked on school projects and did homework with them. We celebrated holidays with big family dinners, and we threw dozens of special birthday parties over the years. Their friends were always welcome in our home, and they did hang out here. They lived in the same home in a family neighbourhood close to all three levels of school for their entire childhoods! We were present and available, and we never told them who or what they should be. I have been honest with them about my insecurities and weaknesses and apologized for the ways I failed them. In my opinion none of this equates to abuse or the personality and actions of an abusive person.
I have begged my girls to help me better understand why they think they were abused. I have asked for them to explain to me specifically what it is that they found abusive. And the yelling is the only consistent answer I have heard. But another problem I have with this particular complaint is that at least half of the time that I am being accused of yelling, I am not actually yelling – and my family knows this. I have a naturally loud voice and I tend to project it without even trying. When I am excited, passionate, or upset about something my voice naturally gets louder. It is not an intentional raising of my voice out of anger or frustration, but rather a physiological reaction to the increased adrenaline in my body.
This has been a lifelong problem with me. When I was younger I used to just deny this was an issue. As I got older and started getting called out for yelling when I was not, I became overly defensive and took a “this is the way I am” attitude and made no effort to change. But with maturity it was something I recognized I needed to work on. I was often told to “stop yelling” or that I “didn’t need to be so aggressive” when I did not feel like I was either. So worked on ways to regulate my voice, to speak more softly and slower. I worked hard to make myself aware of situations where my voice was naturally and unintentionally rising, and I would try to lower it. The problem I have though, is that when I lower my voice and speak more slowly, I get very breathy, almost winded. I struggle to regulate my breathing. I must concentrate to breathe and talk in a very controlled and paced way to keep my voice at that lower level. But whenever I do this I am accused of talking down to people or being condescending. Again, not my intention, and hardly better than being accused of yelling.
I am almost 55 years old. I have been living with this trait since the time I finally found my voice when I was about 14. I have gone through all the phases of it—denial, stubborn ignorance, guilt, shame, and finally, a real effort at self-improvement. And I will continue to try and improve. But I also think it is patently unfair for people who know me so well, who carry many of the same traits and flaws, to describe something in a way that they know is not true and then use that description against me. My daughters know very well the difference between when I have really yelled at them and when I am just talking in what is my excited or energized voice. They also know the difference between me being truly angry (which they have rarely seen), frustrated, disappointed, and stressed. But for whatever reason, at this moment in history, they are choosing to conflate all those different emotions with a raised voice and define the whole package as abuse. And because they have defined it as abuse, they have now justified for themselves all their own subsequent actions, e.g. cutting us off and denying us a relationship with our grandson.
Where my mother plays a role in this scene, is that she has always been involved in our lives, and close to our daughters. She is particularly close to my middle daughter. I have 28 years’ worth of birthday and Mother’s Day cards from my mom to me telling me what an excellent mom I was. I used to call her and cry about how disrespectful my girls were to me, and she would commiserate with me and tell me she did not understand why they treated me so badly. She told me that she thought my husband and I spoiled our girls. And now our daughters are accusing me of abuse and have said that my husband is abusive too because he stood by and watched the abuse but did nothing, but my mother is not defending us. And furthermore if my husband is an abuser for being a bystander, then why does my mother not fall in this same category? It is bad enough to be accused of this by our daughters, but to have my mom go along with it is a real slap in the face. Especially since my mother’s husband did actually emotionally and psychologically abuse me while my mom did nothing about it -something no one, not even my mother, denies happened!
So here I am, 3000+ words later and no closer to an understanding of where my girls are coming from. I know people who grew up in homes with parents who were alcoholics and suffered mental illness. I know people who were neglected and abandoned by their parents. And our girls have all kinds of friends whose parents have gone through a whole array of dramas that impacted their kids. But all of these people seem to be able to have a relationship with their parents. Why my yelling is an unforgivable crime deserving of indefinite punishment is not clear to me.
My husband and I truly do not know what else we could have done for our girls and how else we could have been there for them. I (we) have acknowledged where we could have done better as people. I have tried desperately to be who they want/need me to be. But for whatever reason, for this moment in time, they want to reject us. My grandson does not have another grandmother. My daughter is choosing to deny him a relationship with me, his only grandmother because she cannot forgive me my flaws. The irony here is that I overlooked and forgave every single one of my mother’s flaws and the ways she failed me so my daughters could have a relationship with her, their grandmother. So much for setting a good example.
I think the reason that things are stalled right now is because my daughters have brought this information forward, but they do not know what they want. They have said their piece. I have acknowledged their feelings. I have apologized for the things I felt I should. I have owned my failings and promised that I will always try and do better. But none of that is good enough. I do not know what else I could do or say. Without their guidance there are no more steps I can take and they are refusing to communicate. They opened this can of worms without thinking about what they wanted to do with the worms once they were let loose. But they are their worms. I am not going to chase after them. I have confessed my crimes, and I will continue to cry until they decide I have served my time and paid my dues and allow me back into their lives. If that never happens, it will be their burden to explain to their children why they do not see their grandparents on their mothers’ side and it will ultimately be our innocent grandchildren's loss. Our daughters will have to live with the guilt of denying us our grandchildren and breaking our hearts, and we will have to learn to live with broken hearts.