I didn’t anticipate this part of parenting: abuses I suffered as a child re-emerge as my own child passes through the ages that correspond with my age at the time of those abuses.
When he was three months old, I recalled my aunt’s story: she’d been visiting my mom, and my mom slapped me across the face for spitting out my food. That story made me sad before my son turned three months old. When he reached that age, however, I was newly horrified: I could not imagine slapping my three-month-old child. His body was fragile, and his spitting out of anything solid was merely a reflex (and I would not have given him food at that age because he was too young). I saw the abuse through new eyes.
Now that he is almost eight, I have a new wave of memories emerging. My mother was hospitalized for mental illness three times when I was around Isaac’s age. The first two times were for days and weeks, respectively. The last time lasted over two months. Each time she “disappeared,” my heart broke. I cried for her every night. I missed her, my pets, my toys, my home, my routine. I see my son now and can’t imagine what that kind of loss would do to him. He is learning to use a “Rainbow Loom,” where he makes bracelets for himself and his friends. I remember learning to crochet in the children’s home where I lived during my mother’s longest hospitalization. It is a poignant parallel.
What does healing look like? I used to think that healing meant I would no longer feel emotionally charged about events of the past. However, I’m discovering that this is not the case, at least not yet. This stage of healing looks like this: I am fully present (perhaps for the first time) to the pain that was too overwhelming to experience 35 or 40 years ago. Then, I had to shut it down. Now, I can feel it. I can look the pain straight in the eyes and open my heart to it. I open my heart to that little girl who was so profoundly abandoned and abused. I hold her in my arms and let her cry it out. It was painful stuff, and she deserves a witness now who can validate her experience. Yes, Honey, that is awful stuff. I’m so sorry you had to feel such pain. I am with you now.
As I do this for myself, my heart is more open to my son. Because I don’t shut down my own pain, I don’t have to shut his down, either. In learning to be a present and compassionate witness to my own experience, I can be a present and compassionate witness to his. This is what healing looks like for me.