In my recovery it’s important for me to look honestly at how my addictive or self-destructive behavior has affected my daughter, no matter how much I want to tell myself that I tried to minimize the impact of it. For addicts like me, this duty can all too easily be twisted into a weapon with which to beat ourselves. For me personally, it gets harder when I also worry about my mental health issues, which are more severe than I knew when I chose to become a mother. I worry that I’ve handed down bad genes for these as well.
Mixing honesty with clarity and compassion is tricky, and I’d be lying if I said I knew how to do it well all of the time. I still get defensive, ashamed and rebellious. Again and again, I have to almost physically yank back my perspective and see my daughter and myself from a more spiritual angle. Get back in touch with the awareness of her as a metaphysical entity with a past, a future, and a divine component of her own.
I say “back in touch” because I have always known this about her. The day after she was born, we had our first real conversation. I’d been moved to a room with a window, which after days in the dark labor room seemed like emerging from the underworld. Propped up in bed, I held her closely and looked into her gray-blue newborn eyes. It was weird. Of course I loved her. I’d expected that. But what I didn’t expect was the strong awareness of something alien in her gaze. I looked at her, and something looked back at me. Something that was not a baby at all.
One day, when she was about two and a half, she turned to me in the middle of a Blue’s Clues episode and said “Mommy, I want to go home.” I refrained from replying that we were, in fact, in our living room, and said instead “Where is your home, sweetie?” “Up in the sky,” she replied matter-of-factly. A year later, she started mourning for her cat, who ran away and disappeared in the forest. Comforting her was made more complicated by the fact that we’ve never had a cat. When she was four, she cried in my arms one night, saying she wanted her mommy. She knew I was her mother, but she missed someone else in that moment–someone she could only describe as her “real, realest mommy.”
What could I say? I felt so powerless. Thinking it might be a past life thing, I just said that I believed she would be with that mommy again someday, but I had been chosen to be her mommy for this stay on Earth. That I loved her very much, and I would try to be the best mommy I could. Later, I wondered if the “realest mommy” was not so much a past life memory as a reference to the archetypal Mother, a feminine Divine. I kind of wish I had thought of that at the time, and talked about how we can seek that Mother (or whatever we want to call a loving Source) even while we are here.
Whatever the context, the lesson I took away from these incidents is that my daughter didn’t arrive into this world a tabula rasa; she came with some of her own stuff. As much as I regret my shortcomings, it would be the height of arrogance and blindness for me to think that my good or bad performance created all of the complex and changing being she is.
The selfish, prideful, or guilt-ridden parts of me sometimes wish that my daughter could be more “normal.” That she would feel comfortable around others, function well on a campus, or not have the traits that make me worry about her future in terms of mental health. That she was not quite so much like me. But the truth is, we have a lot in common. Not everything–she finds the learning issues that skipped me to be especially frustrating–but she is clearly closer to me than to mainstream folks, and would be so even if I had never had any challenges as a parent.
Then there’s the other side of my feelings about it; the side that is awed by her imagination and growing depth. The side that rejoices at the idea that we share the positive traits that can come with some of these hardships.
But damn, I really don’t want her to suffer. Or struggle, or know despair, or be lonely, or feel left out.
What would I choose, if the choice were mine? It’s not, and it never was, but would I try to change her? Or would I have the courage to say: Yes, your life will be hard. You’ll have to choose your work, your friends and your relationships carefully, and you will have times of loneliness. You may have to battle your own mind and/or an addiction just to do things that other people take for granted. But, if you are lucky and you persevere, your path will open you to your creativity and to seeking the Divine. You’ll have a chance to experience moments of blinding wholeness and scatter love like light through a prism. You’ll reel from the impact of beauty, drink in the sunlight after each time of darkness; even have glimpses through the veil of linear time.
This is your birthright; I and my fears have no right to deny it to you.
I want to believe that I’d have the courage and the humility to stand back and let her God decide, and I’d willingly take on any pain and hardship coming my way. But who knows? I am no hero. Fortunately, I don’t need to be one. The decision was made long ago, and not here, and not by me.