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Like Me But Not Me

I am a damaged person. Strong, willful, smart, successful, caring, understanding — all of the above. But also damaged.

My father died on a Wednesday. I was sitting under the bed when a business associate confirmed he was dead. The adults in my life decided to keep that fact from me for a few days. They didn’t know how to tell me, I guess. I kept the fact that I knew the truth to myself. I was two months shy of six. I didn’t know what to think. When they told me, I was also told I wasn’t allowed to the funeral and say goodbye. My mother thought she was protecting me. She thought she was doing the right thing. But I never got closure, and learned a valuable lesson: People lie.

Around the same time I had a distant family member do something to me that further crushed any trust I may have had left in my heart. I told no one. As far as I was concerned, adults lied. All people lied. I stopped saying that I loved people. Love was too scary. I stopped being friendly and fun. I was weird. Ask any of the kids I went to school with.

I’ve lived my life dealing with those early experiences. I’ve done pretty well for myself. Therapy, a loving husband, good friends. These things have been the glue that brought the pieces of my heart back together. But just like a precious figurine, once you break something so fragile it’s never truly whole again. Sure, it might look the same on the outside but the cracks and glue and repairs can be seen when you hold it up to a light.

My kids, specifically, my older daughter, act as that light. And in my haste to protect my daughter from the same pain, the same fate, I’ve made some mistakes. I don’t lie to her. Ever. But that also means she’s probably been privy to too much too soon. I’m terrified that someone is going to touch her, to hurt her. So I don’t leave her alone very often with anyone. I warn her to be careful. I tell her what negative consequences she might face in specific situations. And Big Girl, with a brain that’s wired for anxiety by DNA to begin with, is now an anxious child.

I read a book for my book club this weekend. Tore through it in a few hours. (Thanks, Wantagh Elementary School for providing your Horizon program kids like me with speed reading lessons!) As I dug into the last chapter I became despondent, hysterical, even. The book is Come Back: A Mother and Daughter’s Journey Through Hell and Back. It’s about a teenager who acts out, cuts herself, runs away, gets hooked on drugs. She was abused as a child. Her mother never dealt with it. The book looks at the psychological reasons behind both mother’s and daughter’s issues. The mother, not surprisingly, is almost as much at fault for her daughter’s problems as the father who abused her. (Of course, the daughter, who didn’t love herself enough to avoid all that B.S. is culpable, too.)

I identified a lot with the mother in the book. I realized that unless I make some changes, I risk making Big Girl a permanently mistrustful, anxious, angry, and sad human being. I have to realize that just because she looks like me and has a lot of my personality traits, she IS NOT ME. She is Big Girl. She did not come into this world with the same negative experiences I had. Will she get hurt? Yes, but it’s up to me to let her get hurt and be there to support her when she does. There is no reason for her to see the world as a scary, negative place. Her life up until now has been a charmed one. She should be reveling in that. I need to let her feel the joy that she should rightfully feel.

Anyway, this was not an easy post to write. To admit that, although I’ve done lots of things right when it comes to my kids, I’ve done plenty of things that fall into a different area entirely. I said in another post that it was time to love myself the way others around me love me. No easy task, but I am willing to try, for the sake of my girls. Yes, I am willing to try.

2 Responses to “Like Me But Not Me”

  1. Christina says:

    Very honest and moving post, Karen, and I TOTALLY relate. My father also died when I was six, and because it was suicide, I was told he died of a heart attack for 8 years. I am also anxious and WAAAY over-identify with my older daughter, who is a mini-me in many ways.

    No brilliant advice, except, yes, we need to let our daughters be themselves. They have different (hopefully better, easier) life circumstances than we did and that is significant, despite the DNA.

  2. Shari says:

    This is a post that will help so many others out there. You are fortunate that you have come to this revelation now. We are all constantly striving to do better as parents. We all have our issues. Don’t beat yourself up because as human beings nobody is perfect. Just as your mother did what she did because she thought she was helping, we are doing the same with our decisions. Our intentions are right even if our actions aren’t.

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