I grew up in a physically, emotionally and verbally abusive household, with a toxic parent who made my childhood something to escape, instead of something to enjoy. Eventually, after therapy and time and support, I learned how to get rid of this toxic parent, but it wasn't easy. When you so desperately want a relationship with someone (a relationship that is romanticized in almost every way) doing the healthy thing can still be a painful thing. Which is why, honestly, I'm not surprised that I'm currently experiencing the struggles moms who don't have both parents in their lives know all too well; struggles that I take on willingly, as I know not having a toxic parent (or a toxic grandparent) around myself and my son is the best possible decision for everyone involved.
My toxic parent was out of my life before I was even pregnant, so when I found out I was going to be a mother I struggled with whether or not to even tell my father that I was expecting. After all, he was also going to be a grandfather, even if he wasn't going to be involved in any way. I didn't know how to make that phone call, though, or if opening up the door to even a potential relationship would be the healthy, smart and safe thing to do (for both myself and my future son). So, in the end, I didn't contact my father and he has never met my son, let alone seen a picture or talked to him. He has no idea that he is now two years old and is potty trained and has this wonderfully adventurous, fearless personality.
I know it's for the best, but time has a funny way of smoothing over even the sharpest, most painful of edges, and every now and then I think about what it would be like if my son knew my father and had another grandfather to call his own. I wonder what it would be like if things were so drastically different, even though I know hoping and wondering and wishes is pointless. Still, when I see grandparents playing with their grandchildren or try to make a meal my father could effortlessly make, I can't help but slip back into a heavy feeling of longing. That specific struggle, and the following struggles that creep up from time to time, are worth it, though; especially if it means that I am capable of providing my son the childhood I never had. A childhood he won't have to escape, but will have the ability to unapologetically enjoy.
Holidays Are Painful
I'll be the first to admit, I hate the holidays. With the exception of Thanksgiving (because who doesn't love a day devoted to a flamboyant parade, food and football?) I would be happy sleeping from October to January. It's especially difficult when I see my son get Christmas presents form both grandparents on his father's side, but presents from one grandparent (my mother) on my side. Knowing that he is missing another grandparent, another person to love him and dote on him, is, well, tough.
Simultaneously, it's difficult to think about my absent parent sitting home alone during the holidays, because he is no longer in contact with his family. He could be enjoying his grandchildren, but as a result of his own, toxic actions, he can't. I try not to let my mind focus on an image of him sitting alone in a dark, empty living room, but it's difficult not to feel sad for someone who, by his own doing, cannot experience the holidays with his family.
It's Difficult Not To Ask Yourself, "What If?"
I can't help but wonder what it would be like if my father wasn't toxic and abusive and, in turn, still part of my life. I wonder what he would teach my son; certainly how to cook some of my favorite Puerto Rican meals, hopefully a little Spanish and probably how to throw a baseball or make that perfect free throw (all things my father taught me). It's hard to, sometimes, not close my eyes and envision this picture-perfect future that I know will never exist. What can I say? I'm a masochist.
Seeing Other Grandparents Play With Their Grandkids Is Tough
I love taking my son to my partner's parents' house, and watching them both play with him and teach him things and just love on him. Watching both a grandmother and a grandfather love my son almost as much as I do, is nothing short of heartwarming. It also makes me sad. My son will know my partner's father, but he will never know mine. He'll grow up with one grandfather, not two.
While I know that this won't harm my son in any way (and having him around an abusive grandfather, would) it still makes me sad. Sometimes, it's just hard to let go of something you so desperately want. I wanted that quintessential father-daughter relationship for so long, and it made it difficult to let go of my father when I knew I needed to. I would have loved to have my son look up to both his grandfathers, but I know that's impossible. Still, knowing that's not in the cards doesn't make the reality any easier to accept.
You'll Get Angry, Because They're Missing Out On Your Kid's Life...
When my son does something new for the first time, that moment of complete happiness is singed by a hint of anger. I get to send my mother video of my kid walking, and send my partner's parents video of my kid talking, but not my father. He is missing it. He is missing this beautiful little boy's accomplishments. He has no idea that my son can count to ten and already knows to say "please" and "thank you," and can almost ride a bike (with help, of course). He has no idea that he can throw a football like a boss and loves to take care of his baby Elmo. He'll never know, really, and that makes me angry.
...And They Will Never Know Their Grandkid....
He won't know his personality. He won't know his likes and dislikes. He won't know who he is as a human being, and that is infuriating. He should know.
...And, Honestly, Sometimes You're Just Angry For No Reason At All
Admittedly, this is something I'm working on. However, when it's difficult to let go of a situation that has not only altered your future, but your son's, it's hard. I get so angry that my father was toxic and abusive and put my mother and my brother and I through so much heartache and pain. I'm angry that he has forced me to keep him out of my life and, as a result, my son's life. I'm angry that he is the way he is, because why?
The anger comes and goes and it's getting less and less frequent as I have simply learned to enjoy the healthy, happy family I have now. Still, every now and then I am angry for no real, discernible reason, and I know it's because my father is who he is, so he isn't around.
You'll Contemplate Reaching Out, Even Though You Know You Shouldn't
There are moments when I'll just stare at my phone and think hard and long about giving my father a call. Maybe he has changed? Maybe being away from his entire family for so long has done something to him that proves beneficial in some way? Maybe he would want to know that he has a grandson? Maybe.
Of course, it doesn't take me long to realize that this is all an exercise in futility. Nothing has changed and, even if it has, that's too large a risk to take with my son's health and wellness. If my father said or did half of the things he did to me, to my son, I would never forgive myself. Sometimes, there are things you just can't take back — thresholds you can't come back from once you've crossed them — and staring at my phone contemplating a potential conversation won't change what has happened.
You'll Hold Onto The Good Parts Of That Person...
The most difficult part, I think, about living with an abusive parent or person, is that not every single part of them is "bad." While my father was toxic in so many ways, he also had some really fantastic, enduring and lovable qualities that made it almost impossible to "hate" him or write him off entirely. When you love someone and want something to work so badly, you'll hang onto the good and try to ignore the bad for as long as possible. It's unhealthy but for so many people, it's almost unavoidable (especially if this toxic person is manipulative and emotionally abusive).
Still, I can't deny that my father is a fantastic fisherman, charismatic and wonderful at making people feel loved and important instantaneously, is a hard worker and a fantastic cook. I don't have to pretend he didn't posses those qualities and, in fact, would like to pass many of those abilities onto my son. It's just, well, I will be the one to do it, not the man who would have been my son's grandfather.
...And Try To Pass Those Parts Down To Your Kid, Yourself
I won't be great at it, but I am going to give it my best shot. In fact, I have even started cooking more Puerto Rican food in an attempt to perfect my "culinary skills," which means the Chinese restaurant around the corner now knows me on a first name basis. Baby steps though, right?
You're Not Sure What You'll Say When Your Kid Inevitably Asks About Their Grandparent
Eventually, my son will probably ask why he only has one grandfather, and I'll be faced with a decision. Do I sugar coat the situation, or do I tell him the truth?
I hesitate to say one way or the other right now, because just like a birth plan, what you think you want to do and what you'll actually end up doing are usually two very different things. Still, I think that I will be honest and let my son know that his grandfather was toxic and abusive and, as a result, is no longer in his mother's life and won't be in his, either. Maybe, eventually, when my son is older he will decide he wants to meet his grandfather. If that's the case, there will be nothing I can do to stop him, as it is his decision and he will be fully capable of making it. However, for now he is my responsibility and as such, I must protect him to the best of my ability. That means keeping certain people out of his life, and mine, and while it is difficult and there are so many struggles involved, I know it's the right thing to do.