The day you were born, September 28, 2012 is the day I was blessed.
I was blessed with becoming a mother, oblivious to the journey that lay ahead.
As I held you, I was scared. Petrified actually. I watched as you lay next to me—I was afraid of you. Well not of you per se, but rather the magnitude of parenting. I was responsible for you, and if you become a mother one day, you will experience the same fear of responsibility.
I knew from that day onward I no longer lived for just myself. I loved you. I still love you. I will love you beyond this life. In my own personal journey, I don’t think I ever really knew what it meant to love another, like I love you.
I knew that parenting was more than just meeting your basic needs for food, shelter, and clothing. I was raising you for life. Preparing you for adulthood. Preparing you for womanhood and motherhood and personhood. Here’s the thing my love, it started from within my womb. And then it dawned on me, that I was not the only one responsible for your journey. There was another parent involved too.
That’s the thing about parenting. The person you choose to parent with is critical. You were right in saying as a five-year-old, “You didn’t make good choices mum,” as you were trying so hard to process the end of our family and the beginning of your own grief. Of having one parent move miles away from you.
In such a short space of time, your life changed. It was a huge ask to understand why your other parent left. Your own way of making sense and giving meaning to your grief hit me solidly between my heart. When you love someone as much as I love you, the pain you feel is mine too. I wanted so much to take your pain away.
I guess this is why so many well-meaning parents stay with toxic and absent partners. Because the grief of actually separating and solo parenting is like a tsunami of emotions—one that never seems to settle even if there are daily life routines that need to happen. Some do not mean to put their children through the toxicity. Some are helpless at finding better alternatives. Don’t ever be fooled into believing “at least they have a family,” when a parent stays only for the kids.
I’m writing this so that you might one day know that the wounds caused by toxic parents who stay together are the exact same wounds caused by separated families where there is an absent parent. There are so many families with two parents who are both toxic and absent to their children. Single parents don’t always have a partnership they can rely on, sometimes there’s just one parent invested in the child’s psychological and emotional needs.
My beautiful daughter, your psychological and emotional needs matter. They matter to me. I know if I don’t attune myself to meeting them, then your foundations of life for your journey ahead is in a state of “arrested development.”
In a study, it was shown that children and adolescences have four basic universal needs. And if parents are able to effectively meet them, it would allow that child to become a healthy, confident, and well-adjusted adult.
This is every parent’s responsibility. Yes, sometimes parents struggle with even the basics, but usually children can have everything and still be lacking in getting their needs for connection and stability met.
I struggled in making the decision to end our family unit. I want you to know that I tried to save it. But as you grow older, you will understand when you form your own intimate and loving relationships, that healthy relationships take two intentional beings to make it work. Yes, I made mistakes. I saw red flags and I ran toward them and then worked even harder to make them go away. I put up with disrespect and derogatory comments and thought I was to blame.
Arah Iloabugichukwu said it so profoundly that “Children inherit the work their parents don’t do.” I could not continue to let you carry the burden of my own past and history. So ending it was my attempt to break the cycle of trauma and begin healing. I know as you grieve, this is an unknown part of your present pain.
When you are older, I will share this with you. But for now, know that I thought about your future and mine. I thought about how I would best equip you for living a life worth living as an adult. But in that marriage, I wasn’t living well. If I continued like that you would have had two parents who were toxic and absent to your life. That was a deal breaker for me.
I know it’s challenging, just you and me, without family around us in a country that was not mine of birth and familiarity. I know it’s your life to have a working mum who doesn’t have the ability to stay at home and drop you off or pick you up. I don’t get to do reading groups at school or go to the school canteen. Simply put, you cannot survive on love alone. I have to be practical to meet basic needs and so be it. That’s my responsibility and not yours. So I will do my best because I played a part in bringing you into this world. So I will do more than my part to see it through if that is the circumstance we find ourselves in.
Know this, my little girl, that as you grow into a woman in your own right, you will have opportunity to learn and use your abilities to serve others in your work. You never need to feel that as a woman you don’t have purpose and meaning. You can draw from your own well to bring sustenance for your journey. Being your mother and raising you and doing my work of healing for myself and others is my nourishment for this life. Though it is stressful and challenging, tell me what great things aren’t?
As a parent, I know that I can work at being a good enough parent for you. Yes, you will grieve your own story of an absent and/or toxic parent. I will not interfere with that. I will, however intentionally prepare you for the skills you need to tackle adulthood with a sufficient degree of preparedness.
What am I focusing on, you might ask? Come and let mummy tell you what I commit to working on:
1. I want to show you that when you communicate your needs, I will mindfully work at attuning myself to them. Why, you might ask? Because as your intentional parent, I know that every time you communicate (tears, anger, frustration) you are learning that if your needs are consistently and appropriately met, that you are not helpless in any situation in life. That you can confidently do things, express yourself, and ask for what you need and it will have impact. Children who communicate needs and their needs are never met or inconsistently met, feel helpless that all their efforts are in vain. They are more than likely to go through life with feeling that no matter what they do, they do not have the ability to change their situations or their internal experiences.
2. I want to teach you that life will always hold good and bad, pleasure and pain. Love isn’t painful and you do not need to approach a painful, unsafe parent in order to have your needs met. I want you to learn than when things feel unsafe, that you can avoid them and move away from them. I also want you to know that when you are safely connected to another who will not harm you in any way, then you can experience pleasure and even joy. I refused to continue living a life in our home that was filled with more pain than pleasure. That is not living. I hope that together our home feels safe for you to explore the world. Because my girl, there’s an abundance of joy to be had. Life isn’t only painful and traumatic. It can be enriching and joyful, too. It’s what you experience when you are safe (psychologically, emotionally, physically, and sexually). I want to teach you how to establish safe boundaries. I want to model how you can approach a life filled with pleasure.
3. I want you to experience a relationship and a connection of security with me as your parent. I learned in my training that attachment is the centerpiece of our neurobiology. I know that when you reach out for emotional and physical affection, and if I respond appropriately and consistently to your needs, that it will create dependability and stability. I could not risk exposing you to expressing your needs and then respond to you with anger, frustration, or simply no response at all. How dare I give you a legacy like I had, trying to extract affection from an emotionally unavailable parent. You would have tried for the rest of your days. When a parent is available to you—you don’t have to work hard at being loved. You just know in your being that you are loved. You are never unwanted or burdensome. So many adults still struggle with these feelings and beliefs. Secure attachment impacts your brain’s development.
4. Most of all, I want to protect your sense of self. I want to protect the value you place on yourself. When we are struggling through homework or resolving conflict with friends, I want you to know your worth. So I will appropriately praise you, build you up, and set boundaries for you. I will teach you how to solve problems. I will help you use your voice to stand up for yourself. I will honour your gracious and generous heart, but I will teach you how to have balance between your self-care and caring for others.
You see, my treasure, I may not ever be better than the other parent in the story. But I certainly will work toward being the intentional parent. Because you deserve that.
I will model living a life worth living for you. I will go to therapy. I will identify areas I need to change. I might hurt you at times as I am imperfect but I will not stop repairing that interruption to our relationship. As you grieve the end of the family you once knew, I hope that the family we are now and the family we are becoming, is one that is free from toxicity and a mindless existence.
We have a lifetime to love and we each will have our stories of love and being loved ahead of us. I ended our family to give us hope for a better story of stability, security, availability, and self-esteem. May you find comfort and one day find understanding to your very real pain at the moment.
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