Forgiving Mom and Dad

My relationship with my parents has always had a bit of tension.  My parents were young and in a tough position. At just 18 (Mom), 18 (Father), and 20 (my Step Dad),  I can’t imagine what they were going through trying to raise a little human like me. My biological father has been an addict since his early teenage years, so his presence was ,and has, always been pretty spotty.  My mom and my step dad had a bit of a rocky start also, with my father popping in and out.  When I was two they got together officially.  When I was five they got married. And when I was six I welcomed home my first little sister. I now have two little sisters and one little brother.

Ive never doubted that my parents love me.  I know that they do.  But they had many narcissistic and toxic behaviors that really disturbed me as a child.  The effects are still present today in my life. I see them in my relationship with my own kids, and even my marriage.  Luckily, Im blessed to have a wonderful husband who goes out of his way to support me and love me as I seek counseling.

I started receiving counseling about two years ago when i was still in the Army.  I felt that the counseling was really helping and was optimistic about my outlook with my parents.  When I was on terminal leave my grandma and I drove my Honda Civic from Kansas to California with my toddler in toe. It was a fun little adventure.   When we got all settled back in California things with my mom and dad started to go south again.  I thought about this for awhile, and finally on Thanksgiving my mom confronted me about why I don’t adore them [mom and dad].  I told her honestly and openly what was on my mind.  To my horror she called me a liar.

After being told that nothing happened the way I said it did, and that my memory was tainted, I really fell into a pit of depression.  Months went by. I drank and drank.  I fought with my husband, I was always angry.  After much time had passed my mom approached me again. She said she was sorry that she had handles the first situation poorly, and asked if i would be willing to try again. At that point my heart was pretty broken still. I told her that I couldn’t go through the same experience twice.  She promised to be prayerful and try to quietly listen , so I told her I would think about it.

I spoke to my counselor and she advised me to write my mom and dad a letter laying out all my thoughts and feelings.  She said even if I never sent it, writing it would be therapeutic. She was right. I wrote the letter. I prayed about it for a long while. When the day came that I felt really inspired to write I asked my husband to take the kids out for the day so I could have an empty house to think in.  He’s such a good guy that he obliged me. I wrote and re-wrote the letter until it was no longer angry or accusatory, but rather just explanatory.  The letter reads as follows:

Dear Mom and Dad,

I love you so much and I’m grateful that you’re willing to have this talk.  I want to start off by saying that I can see God has really been working in the both of you. You guys are very different people then you were even 4 or 5 years ago.  I see how plugged in you are at church and the community you’ve built around the family. And I see the very different relationship you guys have with my brother and sisters and I think thats awesome. I also want to say that I’ve never ever doubted the love I know you have for me.  As you read this letter please remember to try and be quick to listen, and slow to speak.

After talking with Mom on Thanksgiving I started to ask myself, “ Where do I go from here?” I felt so lost.  All these years trying to find the words to explain what I was feeling inside.  All the years thinking of the different reactions I’d get once I could finally put it into words.  Feelings of extreme regret, sadness, anger, and doubt all began to creep in.  So, I began to pray. My prayers eventually led me back to the Word,  and The Word led me to quite a few places.  “Let me express my anguish. Let me be free to speak out the bitterness of my soul”, Job 7:11.  I read that and thought, “ So am I right then to want to get all of this off my chest?”  “Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord” , Lamentations 3:40. So I thought , “Maybe its me, maybe I’m the problem.” I began to try and think if a confrontation like this was actually a good thing or a bad thing.  Would it be helpful or hurtful in the long run?  Truthfully, it’s a question I’m asking myself right now as I write this.  If Love keeps no records of wrongs then is it wrong to try and get all these thoughts off my chest? Should I send this letter? I still haven’t decided because I honestly don’t know. 

As Ive been praying and reading Im starting to think maybe there is a way to get all these thoughts out of my head in a way thats respectful and pleasing to God.  Maybe its better if I try to explain the behavior that has most effected me instead of specific instances in which that behavior was demonstrated.  I think thats a better idea because I think that if I get too focused on a specific instance that would be both hurtful to me to have to relive it, and to you to have to hear it.  Because truthfully, I really have forgiven you both for everything that happened between us that has led us here.  And the intent of this letter is not for me to point fingers, make you feel guilty, or to create any sort of space between us.  I feel like our relationship has gotten stronger and stronger especially this last year I’ve been home, and its my hope and prayer that it will always continue to be better and stronger.

Waaaaaaaaay back in the day when I was a pimply teen ( lol :p) I started to seriously consider if I ever wanted to have children of my own.  This thought persisted throughout the years and even remained after Saxon and I got married.  I just didn’t think that was a good road for me to travel down.  When I got pregnant with Rory I was very much overcome by a whole array of emotions; excited, terrified, happy, sad, in-love, confused, anxious, anxious, anxious.  I prayed, Saxon prayed, and for a while it seemed to get better.  Not long after Rory was born the anxiousness got too hard to handle.  I sought help.  After meeting with a couple of counselors, a psychiatrist , and many tests I was diagnosed with PTSD and anxiety disorder which I still seek counseling for today.  We- the doctors, counselors, saxon and I- wondered where these feelings came from .  Why am I so scared of motherhood? Is it just motherhood? Is it my marriage too?

In my attempt to answer these questions my journey has taken me to a few places.  One of them is here, with you.  As best I can describe and understand, what follows are descriptions of the behaviors exhibited by you during my life that encompass everything that has most negatively affected me, and continues to affect me still. 

Putting your own feelings ahead of ours ( the kids ).  The anxiety that it caused to have to walk on eggshells around both of your emotions was both awful and exhausting.  Having to constantly take care of you emotionally is something that shouldn’t be asked of your child ( at least while they still are a child ).

Asking us to keep secrets.  This one is a behavior that I still feel particularly very conflicted about. Almost every time something bad has happened that you have acknowledged is your fault you both almost always ask that we never speak of it to anyone and insist that to do so would be violating our family code of ethics and secrecy.  When you ask your child to hide your issues, you’re putting them in an extremely anxious and lonely place.  Going even further, when you ask your children to keep secrets from each other its even worse.  This fosters distrust, “ If I have to hide my parentage it must be because it’s wrong or embarrassing, well if it’s wrong or  embarrassing then I must be wrong or embarrassing”, “If I cant tell Nayna this secret it must be because its wrong or she’s untrustworthy.”  Allowing your own insecurities to affect your children in this way, is well, just being insecure and self serving I suppose.  Its hard to ask your kids to keep your issues a secret while they still have to live with the effects of that issue.  This behavior is special in that while we have been asked to keep your secrets and be forgiving, and gracious, and loving, our secrets have always been fair game.  It’s hard to think of a secret of mine that I’ve shared with you that wasnt used later against me in a negative way meant to hurt me.  To be met with shaming, guilt, and anger instead of love when going through some of the same issues you ask me to be gracious with has been one of the hardest things for me to wrap my head around..  And that isn’t to say that I have never been guilty of the same thing, but as the parents in this relationship aren’t you supposed to know better? To lead by example and teach me the way I should go? I want so badly to be able to share what’s going on with me at times or what I’m thinking but time and time again when I was assured we were having private conversations the content would get brought back out and used in a negative way to the point where I now find it easier to talk about mostly superficial and unimportant things for fear of getting hurt again.

Mindgames.  I wish I had a better term.  What I’m talking about is control through manipulation of some sort, be it guilt, money, withholding praise, unattainable goals, being passive aggressive, not allowing your children to voice their disagreements or negative emotions or doubt etc.  I spent almost a whole year pretending to hate going to youth group just so I could be almost assured id be able to go.  Instances like this led me to a place of distrust.  I felt like I couldn’t trust you with my true thoughts and feelings without threat of some sort of punishment or reprimand.  I fear that the lasting affect of this behavior is that only now as an adult are you guys truly getting the chance to know me on a deeper level. 

Making excuses to justify awful behavior.  It wasnt until I was already an adult that either one of you said out loud that I had been abused as a child.  Instead, was a lifetime of “You deserved it, you were a terrible child.”  You can’t know the harshness with which I judged myself, and the years of healing that have already had to happened to bring me to the place I’m in now.  If you say you’re sorry, or that you were wrong and immediately follow that with “but I only did X because some other person did Y” that ceases to be an apology and simply becomes shifting blame to someone else. I find that throughout my life that excuse has been the one I can count on ,” I’m sorry, BUT..” Yet “making excuses” was something I was often punished for, this was very confusing for me. Why is what I say an “excuse” yet when the script is flipped you’re not making an excuse, you’re just explaining that it really wasn’t your fault it was the other persons fault for starting the conflict or what have you?

Not respecting me as an adult and a refusal to recognize my boundaries.  Trying to undermine my adult decisions through bullying, guilt and harassment was terrible.  Becoming aggressive and trying to guilt trip or threaten me when I tried establishing boundaries was terrible.  Even now I can feel some of the sadness and space these behaviors have caused.

I think that at the root of these issues and behaviors is a failure to point “up.”  I think we care too much about what other people think of us and I think a large part of what drives us is how we feel we measure up to others expectations and standards of what it is to be successful. This is a really unhealthy mindset and as Christ followers I think it’s totally missing the mark. As Christ followers we shouldn’t be concerned with what other people think in regards to how successful or good we are ( not to say that we shouldn’t seek out wise counsel of course), we should be concerned with whether or not we’re living in such a way that brings glory to God.  Instead of teaching us (kids) to find validation in Christ we were told,” You guys are reflections of us.” Essentially thats,”Don’t do anything that would embarrass us.” Can you see the problem with this way of thinking?  This leads to “because I said so”, “Im your father I don’t have to explain myself”, “Youre only doing that, saying that, asking that, or wondering that to hurt me”.  It becomes all about you, your feelings, your thoughts, your emotions, and not about whether or not that behavior, or thought, or question may ultimately bring a person closer to God and glorify Him.  How are we supposed to learn truth when the only explanation is “because I said so”? Teach a child the way they should go so that it becomes their true north. True north should be Christ, not however my parents will feel about it, or what my parents peers will think about it. The failure to teach us children the truth of finding our validation in Christ will lead to a life of insecurity and a constant mindset of comparing ourselves to others.  Acting in this way has caused you both at times to be over critical of others and to foster a feeling of religiosity as what’s important rather than an actual relationship with Christ. No one is perfect, so to set yourself and your opinions as the gold standard for us does us a great disservice and in the end causes us kids to continue to fear you as adults, I mean I know I do and I’m pretty sure Yaya does as well. Fear and respect are not the same and a child shouldn’t have to fear their parents to respect them. Children should feel love, respect, and admiration when they think of their parents not anxiety.

I know this is a lot to take in and process at once. But I can feel your love through the fact that you’re both willing to read this in its entirety. I’m not angry or bitter anymore. I was able to let God take those feelings out of my heart. I am sad that we’re not as close as I’d like to be but I know we’ll get there .  I hope that you read this and learned about me and hopefully yourselves too in the process. At the end of the day I love you guys so much and hope that this letter can bring closure and healing to our family. I feel like a lot of healing has already taken place over the years and can’t wait to see what the future brings for our family. I know we can break the cycle of being so hard on each other. I know we can because I can see the amazing, loving, relationships you’re building with my babies. I love you. May the Lord Bless you and keep you.

Your Daughter,

Me

When I was writing this letter I realized that I hadn’t really forgiven my mom and dad for a lot of what I had written down. I stopped and I prayed about this (while I ugly cried of course). I reread through everything and forgave them line by line.  Jesus gave me the gift of peace when I finally obeyed and forgave.  My parents have never responded to this letter.  But I don’t need them to. I love them and I forgive them.  I no longer look at them and judge them.  I look at them and I see two beautiful, imperfect people, made in the image of God that Im called to Honor.  I use what Ive learned from my own parents to make my relationship with my two kids even better. Thank you Lord for that.

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