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When I was growing up, we didn’t have a home until I needed to start school.
Before that, we lived in other people’s homes, in a bus, in tents, on the side of the road. Once, we lived in a house made from hay bales and sheets of plastic. It was not a typical upbringing, and to say that I experienced childhood trauma would be a bit of an understatement.
As I grew, my parents got jobs, homes, and they eventually divorced. I would stay with one for a year and then another until they were finally both in the same state. I then lived with my dad and would visit my mom.
I was fiercely independent and spent a lot of time worrying about my parents, taking care of my parents, and protecting my parents. At a young age, my father told me that I was put on this earth as his guardian angel to take care of him. This was a huge responsibility to put on a five-year-old, but I took it and applied it to both my parents, and to be honest, I still carry that today at 40.
I always knew that I was loved, but I didn’t always know if I was wanted. And, those two things are incredibly different.
As I hit my teen years, this became a huge problem. It made me angry that they didn’t want to watch me in my activities. It made me mad that they would ask me if they needed to be there, to which I would reply “of course not” because I had to take care of them and couldn’t burden them. It made me angry that at age 16, I had to choose to move out.
Not feeling wanted was damaging to my self-esteem and hindered my relationships with peers. I believed that my boyfriend loved me, but not that he wanted me. So, I wrecked that relationship. I thought that my friends liked me, but not that they wanted me around. So, before they could push me out, I became mean and pushed them away.
I was angry.
But then, at 22, I became a mother. And everything changed. I would hold my son, and I would have so much love and want for him that it made me reflect on my parents. It caused me to truly take in all the stories I heard about their lives before me.
And, what I’ve realized is this:
My parents did the best they could with what they had; they were in survival mode.
They lived with trauma their whole lives. They did everything they could for me; they ensured I had clothes, food, shelter over my head. They told me they loved me, and they showed me too. But, the problem was that showing the “want” was a little harder.
I realized they gave me better, and they did better than they got. So that was their gift to me because they wanted me.
And I forgave them—I forgave them for all of it. Am I still moving through it all and trying to heal? Of course. But the anger is gone. All that’s left is love and acceptance that my trauma was less than theirs because of them.
Magical things happen when we forgive. I have a great relationship with both my parents. My children have the best of them as grandparents. I found the courage to reach out and ask forgiveness for how I treated my high school friends.
I forgave myself.
But the greatest gift was how this forgiveness and understanding of my childhood and my parents’ childhood has made me a better parent. A parent who talks to her children when she messes up, who has honest talks about her upbringing and how I’m working on healing it, and sometimes it rears its ugly head, and that’s not a reflection of them but of me.
Forgiveness gave me all of that, and it made me lighter.