Something I’ve been ruminating on for a few years now: Are children bound to repeat their parents’ mistakes? I think about this on and off because my mother made two very defining mistakes in her life and I have gone on to repeat both of them.
The first mistake she made was my father, who died of pneumonia when I was very young. I remember nothing of him and I am not sorry. What I do know about him is that he was a functional alcoholic (one of the handful of reasons why I do not drink) and he was abusive. Growing up without him has not, in my eyes, had any detrimental effect upon my wellbeing. However, I do recall that I had a bit of an identity crisis when I was about 17 because I’ve always known that I look very much like my father and yet I know so very little about who he really was. The bad things were whispered secrets and cautionary tales told throughout my teenage years. The good things seemed less important, less real, when put beside them. The end result is that I have never felt any worse off for not having him around and I will not forgive him.
The difference between my mother’s mistake and mine is that she didn’t know that there was trouble ahead at the start and I most definitely did. I had the good sense to be cautious, if not outright afraid, from the very beginning. I knew that I was throwing myself to the wolves. But the other thing about me back then was that I was reckless and I believed that I could be the change, that the sheer force of my will and strength of my love would be enough. I turned a blind eye to bad behaviour, cut off friends who tried to tell me things I didn’t want to hear and when the violence started, I convinced myself that it wasn’t really happening at all. Every time I picked myself back up and went back for more. I tried to leave, but we were like magnets left just that little bit too close together; we always found our way back to one another. We were so intent on destroying ourselves, and if not ourselves than at least each other. We were going down and we were damned if we were going to do it alone. When I finally severed the ties it was awful. It was bitter and angry and the fallout went on for years. It has taken me nearly a decade to get to a point where I can hope that he is doing okay and that he has found happiness, and part of me thinks that that is only because he is far away now. I wouldn’t still be walking these streets if he was too, but I will never get too far from him.
The point is that, before him, I always told myself I would never put up with what my mother had. The first time would be the last time. But when it’s a shove into a wall rather than a punch or a kick, somehow the lines feel blurry. From the outside it can be crystal clear, but in the eye of the storm the perspective is a little different.
The other mistake my mother made was the decision not to go to university, and it was for the same reasons that I chose not to. At 18, she didn’t really know what she wanted to do with the rest of her life and neither did I. And I didn’t want to get myself into debt in the process of trying to figure it out. I told myself that I had plenty of time, that I was young and that I would find my place in the world eventually. That was ten years ago and I am still no closer to knowing. I’m starting to realise that this is probably it for me, and I am trying very hard to be okay with that. But that doesn’t change the ever-growing inadequacy complex that feeds on the knowledge of my peers’ successes, which is not to say that I begrudge them those triumphs. No, it’s not that. It’s the fact that I feel like nothing and no one in comparison.
Growing up I remember my mother doing a lot of different jobs to make ends meet. The cruel irony was that she had given up a very good job to have children, then when my father died there was a steep drop in income and she had to go back to work. But by that time the job she had left required a whole new set of qualifications and she had no way back in. So, until her retirement at the end of October this year, she had spent over 20 years doing bit-part jobs to pay the bills. And she, like me, was smart enough to do better.
These are mistakes that I don’t want my children to make because I want what all parents want; I want my children to be happy. Abusive relationships don’t make anybody happy, and men can be victims too. Hopefully by the time my sons are grown up there will be less shame attached to being a male victim of domestic abuse and more transparency about how big the issue really is. And it’s not that I think my children need to go to university to be happy, but I feel like the exploration and reaching of one’s potential plays an integral role in future happiness. Because if you always feel like you could have been “more”, how can you ever be satisfied with falling short of your own expectations?
I don’t want them to end up like me; always damaged and always wondering “is this all I will ever be?” Because once they are grown up and I have fulfilled my active role in their development as individuals, just exactly what does that leave me with?
This too shall pass.