Now that I'm a mother, I see how difficult parenting is. It feels nearly impossible not to fail or make mistakes regularly (and I do). I've also realized that my childhood versus the way I'm raising my children now are vastly different, and that's a good thing. I never want to recreate the toxic environment I endured, so I'm careful about every decision I make. However, I can't help but think of the way my parenting might be different if I grew up without a toxic parent of my own. For one, I wouldn't second guess speaking the truth, just as I'm doing right this instant, because I'd have the confidence in my ability to use my voice (something I was indirectly taught to hide).
When I was little, my parents fought all the time before they finally decided to get divorced. I honestly can't remember a single day they didn't fight, actually. They weren't small arguments either, but the kind of screaming you'd be able to hear if you were a ways down our road. It was humiliating and created this reckless, free-falling feeling I've carried with me through adulthood.
Even after my parents divorced, switching between two parents with separate sets of issues didn't make matters better. The father who raised me (though not biological) never seemed to like me. My brother was his trophy child while I was pushed aside. He was always screeching, cursing at me for the slightest mistakes, while my mother battled an alcohol addiction and abusive relationships that left me afraid of going to sleep every night. Neither situation was ideal and yet, now that I'm a parent, I sympathize with both of my parents. I don't think most mothers and fathers would intentionally infuse toxicity onto their own children and, at the time, I didn't realize our circumstances weren't "normal."
It wasn't until I grew up enough to recognize all the ways my childhood changed the person I was meant to be, did I resolve to be different than my parents. I love my parents and I'm grateful to my grandmother for being the safe place I could run to when things got tough, but here are some of the ways I'd probably be a different woman if circumstances had been less volatile and toxic. Then again, and honestly, I'm grateful. Without any of it, I might not be the devoted mother I am to my own children, and I'm pretty happy with who I am today.
I'd Be Less Protective Of My Kids
Because my parents had their own agendas before and after divorce, I've become hyper-focused on my children. I see now, it's not that my mom and dad didn't care about my younger brother and I, but maybe it was all too overwhelming at their ages and given their circumstances. They were clearly not meant to be together, but they continued trying to make it work despite the ongoing troubles. They definitely contributed to my helicopter parenting and need to be in control via my obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). I'm sure, if things were different, my kids might enjoy a little more freedom.
I Might Trust People More
All my failed relationships stem from lack of trust. Even now, with my husband of nearly 13 years, I struggle with trust issues because my parents didn't exactly model what a loving, trusting relationship looks like. Instead, I've had to figure things out on my own along the way. When I do meet someone new, I wish I could let my guard down as easily as others seem to, but it's just not in me.
I'd Deal With My Emotions
I've never been in control of my emotions. Rejection sends me into a fit of despair, falling in love forces me to question my existence, and I've never really trusted happiness, always fearing it will quickly disappear (as in, I don't deserve it). With toxic parents, it's hard to feel things in a healthy, what people would consider "normal," way. I mirrored what I saw or what my parents felt, because it's all I knew and all I was consumed with. I wish I knew what it felt like not to cower and draw inward when yelled at, or how to stand up for myself unapologetically and with confidence. I wish I could cry at "normal" times, or be happy when life hands me happy moments.
Even through adulthood and with a husband and kids, I struggle. I wish I didn't.
I'd Have More Self-Confidence
When I look at my daughter, I'm envious. She's confident, self-assured, and strong-willed. She gets that last part from me, but the other two are definitely from her father. I've never been a confident woman because, as a child, I was taught not to be. I was shown there's always room for improvement with my body, my words could never really be heard, and no matter what I did it was probably wrong. This is why I've battled eating disorders, have a hard time speaking in public, and question every choice I make until I spiral. Having toxic parents means learning to be critical of everything.
In my attempt to do the exact opposite, I hope my daughter (and son) believe enough in themselves that they don't care what critics say. Most importantly, I hope they realize that the "critic" will never be me.
I'd Live Without Fear
Without a constant fear of being around toxic parents, maybe I'd know what it feels like just to live. While I'm grateful (to some extent) that I'm acutely aware of my surroundings and know how to question what's presented to me instead of automatically taking it at face value, I often wonder if my kids could be more carefree without my overprotection and (oftentimes) absurd paranoia. It's a cross to bear, and one I wish I didn't have to.
Having a toxic parent (or two) defines the decisions you'll make when you have children of your own. Some people might not be as affected, seemingly gliding through life, while others, like me, struggle to find their footing every single day. I can't change the past, but now that I'm grown and have my own babies to look after, I know I can change the future.