A #HoldOntoTheLight Blog Post by Jeanne Adams
After my mother died, I discovered she had been abused by her dad. That revelation made sense of so many inexplicable things in my life. The knowledge was horrible and sad and illuminating.
I never met my maternal grandfather (or any of my grandparents) because I was a “late life” baby. My parents were old as Methuselah when I was born. To give you a reference point, my grandparents were born in the 1880s. Yeah, that old.
Once I knew about the abuse, it all fit. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that abuse and depression don’t have a genetic component. They do. Add in parenting and you’ve got the bones on which we build our lives.
Mama was a tough taskmaster, controlling, hard to please, hypercritical and stern. Not surprising, given how she’d been raised––a passive-aggressive, abused mom paired with an abusive dad who’d made no secret that he wanted boys, and got girls. On the other hand, my dad was a teddy bear who’d been groomed for the ministry or medicine – neither of which he took to.
Mama had enough spine for four people and dad was a few vertebrae shy of a full backbone. And them bones…well, they played a huge part in how I saw the world.
One thing I realized about the same time as I figured out the abuse thing, was that my parents were perfect for one another. Mama couldn’t have married an alpha-male type. She had obvious reason to deeply distrust a domineering “Thou Shalt Not” kind of man, and she had so much determination that a marriage with another dominant would have been unmitigated hell.
Daddy knew when to stick up for himself, but he certainly didn’t put himself forward or excel at sports. Oddly enough, he did well in his career, advancing to significant success as a Director of Libraries. But, emotionally he didn’t want to be in charge. Not really. He liked that mother was willing to tell him––couched in modest language––what to do. He liked that her strong opinions absolved him of emotional responsibility.
I wouldn’t want to marry either of them. Yikes! However, together, they had enough strength in their backbones to raise two strong-willed boys, one hellion redhead, and me. We all turned into reasonably responsible adults. A miracle!
They balanced one another and found their roles and niches. For all the flaws I perceived, it worked. The balance was precarious sometimes. When hard times hit or depression loomed, it sometimes failed. Spectacularly. But they muddled through.
My mama didn’t live to see the 21st century. She would have been amazed and appalled by iPhones and pussy hats. I was in my twenties when she died of cancer, but I realized she was incredibly brave. For an abuse survivor of that era to leave home, go to college, get married and have kids was pretty damn courageous. Her sisters didn’t manage it. She fought every day to strap down her temper and not pass on the abuse she’d suffered. Most of the time, she succeeded. Sometimes, she didn’t. As a parent of two strong-willed sons, I understand how challenging that must have been.
My takeaway, thanks to therapy, is that mama deliberately chose to flip off her father and marry a good, sweet, loving man. She chose, deliberately and with great courage, to raise her children better than she’d been raised. From the grave, her stern admonition of “do better than I did, young lady” still echoes in my ears. I listen. I try.
My mother’s life was a parable of choice shaping the person––spitting in the eye of genetics, socio-economics and “your raising”.as we Southerners put it. The bones, the foundations my parents provided, had cracks and patches but they held. They were unwavering when it counted. I hope my children will say the same. My parents changed their upbringing. The choices were imperfect, but they broke the cycle.
You can too. They improved upon the last generation. I strive for that. They weren’t abusers. They encouraged rather than belittled. They did better. You can too. Choose to live. Choose to live better. Defy the odds. Be the bones of a new foundation for the future, even if your own foundations had to be torn down and rebuilt anew with tears and courage.
I know you can. I believe in you. Go. Praise. Encourage. Build. Live.
#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.
Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
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