I was raised by my paternal grandmother’s sister for most of my life. It is my understanding that when I was a baby I was pretty much just handed over to my great aunt. Maybe there was a period of a few months or so when my parents gave raising me a try, but who knows.
When I was little I used to wonder sometimes why my mother and father couldn’t be bothered to raise me themselves. Weren’t parents supposed to love and nurture their children? How could a mother carry a life inside of her for nine months and not move heaven and earth to provide for that child? What kind of father could live with himself and call himself a man if he wasn’t doing everything in his power to protect the fruit of his loins? Why were their vices so much more important than me? It’s a difficult thing for a child to reconcile.
What makes some people fit to rear children and do the tough work of parenting and others not? And why does God make it so that two people can conceive a baby and yet not have the mental and physical strength and the courage that it takes to love and raise that baby?
Somewhere around middle school I came to the conclusion that my parents had done me a solid. I was loved, happy, and thriving academically under the care of my great aunt, who I will hence forth refer to as Mama because she was for all intents and purposes my mama, and I referred to her as such.
Mama instilled in me a love of education and a sense of gratitude that has made me the woman I am today. Growing up there were always times when there were too many of us (I wasn’t the only child Mama took in after having raised her own children long beforehand) and not enough of something, but I never lacked for love and support. Meanwhile my parents, who I crossed paths with every once in a while, were both in and out of unstable relationships and fighting addictions and demons. Even through the eyes of a child I could tell they were unhealthy, in many ways, and unhappy, and I was better off where I was. God had seen to it that I had exactly what I needed. I eventually let go of my hurt and anger with the realization that they actually made one good parenting decision by deciding that neither one of them was fit to raise me and by leaving me with someone who was willing to parent me and always had enough room in her house and love in her heart to do so.
When we made the decision to start a family and I got pregnant I started having some thoughts that really scared me. What if there is something genetic about being a bad parent? What if because my parents were crappy parents I would be predisposed to being a crappy mother? Do bad (absent, selfish, neglectful, etc.) parents breed bad parents? What if I would get frustrated with a crying baby, or life in general, and just up and bail? What if I was doomed to give up or fall prey to some vice? What if I couldn’t love a child like a parent was supposed to because my own parents had never shown me how?
When the doctor first placed my daughter in my arms I felt like he had literally taken my heart out of my body and laid it on my chest. I knew at that moment I would never love anyone the same way I loved her. How amazing it is that God can allow a person to love another person at first sight immediately and wholly like that. And later when I thought back on that special moment I became confused all over again about my own parents and their ability to just walk away.
As irrational as it may seem, sometimes I find myself being hard on myself as a parent because I still fear I am destined to turn into my parents. I have never had the desire to walk away from my daughter or turn her in for anything else, and yet in the back of my mind I am always worried that the desire is there waiting to rear its ugly head.
I sometimes look for validation from others that I am being a good mom or confirmation that a “mommy fail” doesn’t make me a bad parent. Sometimes I get frustrated but I don’t allow myself to step away from the situation that has me frustrated. I know that I probably should take a time out and come back to it with a cool head. But I fear that if I start to walk away to cool down that something beyond my control will keep pushing me along until I have walked out of the picture entirely.
I know I am a good mother. I know my daughter is loved and happy. I have always done whatever I had to do and sacrificed whatever was necessary to make sure she has what she needs. And still I can’t shake that little voice in my head that is waiting for me to fail.
Sometimes when I decline invitations or cancel plans I remind myself and others that my parents never made me a priority and so I have to make my daughter my first priority. I think some people take that explanation as a cop out. Surely I am able to handle parenting and xyz, I just don’t want to they think. But for me it has to do with, at least partially, this nagging feeling that I have that if I allow myself to take on too much and get overwhelmed I might abandon my child. And I know what it’s like to be an abandoned child.
I don’t know what to do with that nagging feeling. I continue to try and stomp it down when it rears its ugly head. Sometimes I physically have to do the get-behind-me-Satan push. I know I’m not the only one who sometimes questions her parenting ability based on the relationship, of lack thereof, that she has with her parents. So if you are reading this because you also worry that having bad parents might make you a bad parent know that you are not alone. And that you even care enough to be concerned about such a thing makes you a caring, conscious (and therefore not bad) parent.