When My Daughter Asked, 'Mommy, Why Are You So Mean Sometimes?'
“Mommy, why are you so mean sometimes?”
It was a question that came out of nowhere. Life was fine before she asked, almost perfect. Then bam! It slapped me so hard I almost saw stars.
“I love you more than you love me,” she finished — and then she fell asleep.
I lost my mind that night. I couldn’t breathe I cried so hard for so long. I vomited numerous times — my body’s physical attempt to regain control.
Except there was no control to regain in that moment. I fell into a bottomless pit; but I immediately began clawing my way back to my children before I ever actually hit the ground. That was the life-changing moment when I vowed to keep it real with my kids.
I’ve noticed there seems to me to be a trend amongst the world of self-proclaimed parenting advisors. Everywhere I’ve looked the past few weeks has been plagued with comments and opinions about how women with mental illness are selfish to have children. That our effect on these children will be long-term, and there is no way we can raise an emotionally healthy child. These comments have also led into discussions that we are risking these children living “normal” lives, because passing along our genes is a very big possibility.
And then my daughter asked me why I am so mean sometimes. You may understand why the world crashed down on me that night. Was it possible the numbness I have for my own illness had made me too arrogant to accept the advice that I am an unworthy mother? Have I started my children down a very broken path at such a young age — and they are doomed for life right out of the starting gate? Gut wrenching questions that didn’t allow enough space in between them for me to even fall asleep that night. I stared wide eyed at the ceiling with tears soaking my pillow; and when I when I could no longer muffle the sobs, I moved to the back porch and stared wide-eyed at the stars until the sun started to rise.
After a few weeks post breakdown, I am extremely confident when I say, “I am a damn good mother, and my illness is not a liability.”
My flaws and my mental illness have set the stage for emotionally healthy children in a way the world has never seen before. Is there a chance they have inherited my mental illness? Possibly. But if they do actually inherit an “unstable mind,” they will have a mother with a team of doctors and therapists on call. They have a mother who can read the warning signs long before they realize anything is wrong. Because of the advocates who have come before me, a new road is being paved that lets us bypass the stigma of mental illness, and we can openly discuss any roadblocks and how to get past those barricades. My children will never feel embarrassment for the thoughts that might run through those pretty little minds. My children will never hide from themselves until they self-destruct.
I am a good mother.
That next morning after I cried my way to sunrise, before I even poured my children a bowl of cereal, I began explaining to them why mommy is so mean sometimes. Mommy’s brain is “sick,” but it’s nothing to worry about, because I take medicine and the doctors give me checkups. Sometimes, I explained, I have bad days. So when Mommy apologizes and tells you, “I’m not feeling very good today, it’s not because my belly hurts — it’s because my brain hurts. Instead of a fever, I lose my patience faster, and sometimes, I am mean. I never intend for my “sick” brain to hurt your feelings, and that’s why you see Mommy cry and apologize a lot. That’s why I make my way to the bedroom to be alone — so that my sick brain isn’t mean to you. My daughter hugged me tight and told me it would be OK.
She’s right; it will be OK, and they will be OK. Where some kids are hushed and silenced because their release of emotions comes off as disrespectful, my kids are told it is OK to be mad, but not aggressive. I let my kids yell, scream, cry or a combination of all three — because don’t you do the same as an adult? In a world where expressing emotion is often deemed inappropriate, I have created a space where they can release the tension of life — and that place is home, with two parents who can guide them through the confusion.
Because of my mental illness, I realize the innate human need to scream it out sometimes. What mother hasn’t, at some point or another, locked herself in the bathroom and silently yelled and banged her head against the wall? What employee hasn’t walked to their car and beat the steering wheel after a long day? Life happens, and life is tough, and we are living beings with spirits that require a release of tension from time to time. It’s not disrespectful, it’s healthy.
I realize how toxic it can be to hold in thoughts and emotions for fear of stepping on toes or causing conflict. I am also learning the incredible bond that can form between members of a family that allow each other to be “real.” We let it out, we apologize, we learn from our mistakes and we move on together. I don’t question how my illness is affecting my children, because they will openly tell me if I’ve hurt them, and if that requires yelling at me, then so be it. I know they will be back to apologize, because they are learning from the master of apologies.
In this house we are raw and we are real. There’s no unicorn-mom and fairytale moments happening behind these walls. If you dare to enter, you should check your arrogance at the door. We can offer a lot of fun, an abundance of love, incredible honesty and even more forgiveness; but we don’t play well with “imposters” or practiced smiles and gestures.
I am a good mother, and my children will become adults with an incredible understanding of emotion, because I am mentally ill.
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Thinkstock image via evgenyatamanenko