Thursday, December 17, 2009

Moments of Clarity

Sometimes I feel like this...

Right isn't always easy.

I am not sure what exactly created the complex of people pleasing that littered my existence for 20 or so years. That complex walked side by side with self entitlement as well as lack of self accountability.

How did I develop such unhealthy perceptions about myself and others? Since when was everyone supposed to make me happy and fix things for me, and I in turn, in some sort of sick system of karma, would do it for the people that I cared about? I guess since my grandparents started doing everything in their power to make me happy and fix things for me, I learned by example.

I always viewed my relationships with adults as give and take. They gave, I took. It was the nature of childhood. They always did everything to accommodate me, encouraged me to fit in, tried to "keep up with the Jones'" (as they would swear they weren't), and upheld every standard of middle class society on the outside. We didn't argue loudly so that our neighbors wouldn't hear. Why would we care more about the neighbors hearing, then about why we were arguing?

Being the "gifted" child that I was (read- emotionally over mature, very adult socialized, always thinking, always analyzing, capable of digesting mass amounts of information), I started to realize that my whole life was a contradiction. As a child I would ask questions and be hushed away, told "I would understand when I was older" or given some sort of moral lecture that led nowhere and included typical adult phrases like "Do what I say and not what I do" or "Children should be seen and not heard" and ended in surrender, followed by some sort of material distraction. (toys or food usually) It was like their JOB to keep me happy and busy. My day was always full and they provided endless outlets and opportunities to occupy my time.

When I started to ask questions that no one had answers for, it became a family uproar. Why did I have to be so difficult? We do everything for you why isn't it enough?

My questions never went away and I still had this void. I quickly learned that all they wanted was for me to be happy, but since I wasn't, I learned that I should ACT like I was. I internalized all of my feelings about my dad's absence, my mother's drug addiction and subsequent suicide, and I put on a great act. I took advantage of all of the opportunities I was given (and not always in a positive way) and tried to make my life look like everyone else's.

I had no problem solving skills because my Grandpa always fixed everything for me in an effort to make us look ok. I had no sense of consequences because my Grandpa always took care of them so I wouldn't get hurt. Paid my rent, bought my car, paid insurance, court costs, counseling, prescriptions, diapers for my kids, groceries, tuition... whatever it took to make me look like a competent, achieving, person and mother. After all, if I failed, that somehow reflected that he had failed.

I started to become severely depressed. My lack of life skills and responsibility carried over into a lack of emotional skills and responsibility. It was like some grown up switch was turned and all of a sudden I was expected to do all of the things that had been done for me. No practice, no dress rehearseal, just GROW UP!

I wanted to be responsible. I wanted to do the right thing. I didn't know how, and all of my little failures started to wear heavily on my self esteem. My calls for advice (how do I cook a turkey? What setting do I wash darks on again? what kind of gas goes in a lawn mower? what does this light in my car mean?) turned into calls for rescue (if I don't pay this fine by Friday I might lose my license. My daycare sent the baby home and I can't miss anymore work. My power got shut off because I forgot to pay it. I went over my budget at the grocery store and need you to come give me $25 more so I can check out).

My Grandpa came to save me. He always had an answer or a dollar to fix every problem, paired with some frustration and disappointment that I just "didn't learn." When he started to say no a little more often because the money was running low, and my step grandma's patience wearing thin, I started to get really upset with him. He had always equated love with the material things that he provided, and now that they were diminishing, I equated it to his love diminishing.

I never had the much needed moments of clarity until he had passed away, I had fallen flat on my face in the game of life, and had to take a crash course in survival.

When I look back on my addiction to meth and try to envision what it would have looked like if he was still here, it horrifies me. I know he would have saved me and enabled my addiction to go on so much longer. Of course he was the only thing I thought I wanted or needed during that time. I wanted him to come fix it.

All that money spent, could have been replaced with time. All of that fixing could have been replaced with teaching.

I spent the first 7 years of my children's lives parenting like he did. I fixed everything. I kept the house immaculate. I washed their clothes, cooked every meal, optionally enrolled them in an academy and drove them every where. My daughter was in dance. My son was in karate. I made them finish everything they started even when they didn't like it. We were all so very empty on the inside. I was teaching them to ignore what was inside and to make it look ok on the outside.

When I started medicating what was on the inside with drugs, all of the material things took a back seat. I felt good about me, about life, about everything, for a change. I could think about all of the most painful things that had ever happened to me and still feel ok. It was as fake as all of the material things on the outside, but I didn't want it to be. I wanted to be that happy all of the time.

Using street drugs isn't like prescriptions. You don't go to a Dr. and get a piece of paper saying it is ok to get some of your "happy medicine." You don't go to a pharmacy and turn over your piece of paper and a reasonable amount of money for a month's supply of it. I don't think I need to go into details of what does happen in order to obtain the drugs. What starts out as something that seems to make your life livable and better, turns into a nightmare to maintain. As my addiction consumed my life, I would often think- If only meth was sold at the convenience store.....

fast forward...

When I was finally doing the emotional work and learning to fill my void minus the drugs, I learned.... that I had a lot of learning to do. I basically needed to parent myself. I needed to try and fail. I needed to learn what made ME happy on the inside... not you... not my kids... not my kid's teachers... not my grandpa. Sigh... 

fast forward again

Today I have clarity about my life. I live in this moment. I have hope. I set goals. I achieve maybe half of them. I am gentle with myself because I am still learning. I will always be learning and I look forward to the lessons in my failures. I do not set out to be a perfect example for my children by way of expectations and accomplishments. The example I set for them is that it is ok to try and fail. It is ok if they want to pursue their own dreams. Love, forgiveness, and hope without expectation provide a safe environment for learning and for teaching.

So what does my parenting template look like compared to that of 3 generations past?

I let my kids try and fail. In fact, I hope that they fail. Why? I love to watch them learn life lessons in small and safe doses. I like to be a part of their life and to encourage them, to be who THEY want to be, not who I want them to be. Having good moral character and being whole on the inside has nothing to do with money or possessions or some credential on the wall. Accomplishments are a great part of the journey, but alone they fall flat. We do not try to impress other people. We laugh at ourselves often. I don't criticize them for making mistakes. I have empathy for the consequences, but I do not fix it.

Instead of just teaching them to try not to break things, or showing them how I would fix it, we learn to fix them together. This includes toys, furniture, cars, and hearts :) They teach me a lot.

I let them take responsibility for as much in their life as possible. They definitely don't do it the way I would, but they learn more when they do it. Our life can look messy from the outside. It's okay, because sometimes it is, but now there are moments of clarity.


  1. It sure is an awesome post! You did a good job of growing yourself up when you needed to and you are doing a great job parenting your children to get it right from the start.

  2. Wow...kudos to you. Great post.

  3. Shawna it is a beautiful post charged of good teaching and humanity. I have gone through the same phases where I was Mrs.Fixit for everybody but it did not work. I only developed a cancer. We both had our wake up call...

    Lots of love

  4. *gulps*

    you are wonderful and rtuly beautiful.....

  5. "All of that fixing could have been replaced with teaching." This is exactly my parental philosophy.

    "I learned I had a lot of learning to do." This is EXACTLY what happened to me when I learned I did not know how to take care or manage my own life.

    "Having good moral character and being whole on the inside has nothing to do with money or possessions or some credential on the wall." This is a VERY pertinent statement and I LOVE IT.

    Shawna - This is an excellent truly is as if you reached right into my heart and spoke my life on this page on many levels. The clarity in this post is EXCELLENT. EXCELLENT POST.

  6. I love your blog and the comments you leave on posts. It seems that very few people think the family they grew up in got it right. We all set out to do things differently. I totally understand the damage you are writing about that takes place when someone has a grandpa in their life. It's a tragedy. On the other hand, based on the other people in your life, it sort of sounded like your grandpa was trying to love you. I understand the impact his behavior had on you tho'. I've seen families come close to killing their kids with so-called kindness. And, on the other hand, I've seen kids growing up with no one even trying to be kind.

  7. Yup, another awesome post - great choice of photos too :)

  8. What a wonderful and inspiring posts.. I think your kids are very lucky to have you as their mother..

  9. Drugs at the convenience store? Surely I would be dead.

    I used to want to legalize drugs, but I think that was just my addict trying to kill me.

  10. Powerful post! Wow. Appreciate your sharing. Blessings.