August 16, 2022

How I learned to Forgive Myself for my Child’s Mental Illness.

 

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As a parent, I have ruminated on the should haves or if onlys for each of my children (now 17 and 20 years old), wishing I had parented differently.

I’m sure there is not a parent in the world who hasn’t felt responsible for their child’s challenges. And it’s time we forgive ourselves.

It’s such a shame that we don’t gain wisdom instantly when we have small children. We do the best we can with the information presented and, inevitably, mistakes are made. As parents, our emotional intelligence is hereditary. Whatever was exemplified for us as children is embedded in our own parenting, sometimes unconsciously.

For example, if you were told to be seen and not heard, look at your own parenting in that regard. We manifest internally, and it’s one tool passed down. But it can be undone—this unconscious conditioning can evolve.

These days, I consider not forgiving myself for mistakes I’ve made as a parent to be an act of violence toward myself. It inhibits my personal freedom, narrows my openness to other possibilities, locks me out of the flow of my own life, and deadens my spirit. But forgiveness lessens the incessant 3 a.m. loop keeping me up.

Understanding my son’s trauma as it relates to his experience, his path, and his life as an individual has been a journey—the continuous acceptance of his own experience as the cause of his neurodivergent characteristics. He is a highly intelligent, empathetic, sensitive young man, and I can take refuge in knowing that his challenges are because of trauma and a hereditary response to his circumstances.

As much as we are interconnected, we are both individuals having very different experiences.

As a parent, I provided him with unconditional love, shelter, food, and safety, and he still had his own experiences that triggered his fracture. And the forgiveness of myself as a parent, unable to protect him from what some may call madness, continues. He is stable, safe, and finding his way to recovery; he is understanding himself in order to have a life on his terms.

I cannot cling to my trauma as a parent. While these experiences have informed my life, I am not a victim of my circumstances. Through practice, I have learned to release the clinging and the tight grip of my emotions around this loss. All events, both pleasant and truly awful, arise out of interdependent conditions. Good things happen in life just like bad things because of the conditions that are presented before us.

I take refuge in the Buddhist practice of forgiving myself. Meditating on this forgiveness using Metta for myself is one tool I find useful. Metta can be powerful in clarifying and purifying intentions and creating new wiring in my heart and mind.

When that isn’t enough, I say to myself “this too” as a way of accepting and nurturing every feeling.

I also find this quote, from Tara Brach, immensely helpful:

“Imagine you are walking in the woods and you see a small dog sitting by a tree. As you approach it, it lunges at you, teeth bared. You are frightened and angry. But then you notice that one of its legs is caught in a trap. Immediately, your mood switches from anger to concern: You see that the dog’s aggression is coming from a place of vulnerability and pain. This applies to all of us. When we behave in hurtful ways, it is because we are caught in some kind of trap. The more we look through the eyes of wisdom at ourselves and at one another, the more we cultivate a compassionate heart.” 

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