I know I’m not the only parent out there who grew up in less than idyllic circumstances. I know there are many, many souls who’ve had it harder, worse, who’ve lost more than me, who’ve been knocked down more and found a way to get back up again.
And while I’m not happy other parents have suffered, I’m grateful that I’m not alone. They’ve given me courage and taught me grace and made me humble.
I grew up surrounded by noise, anger, abuse, addiction, poverty and – because of all that – shame. How sad is that? I was ashamed of my life, of my family, of myself. As a little girl, I dreamed of the life and family I would have one day. The glorious normal, loving, secure family. And so I fought for it. I pushed my way out of that old life and toward something new. I wasn’t going to be like that. I was going to be more. I clung to that picture of my grown-up life and, though it was only in my mind, it was real. They were out there, this husband and these children. Waiting for me. I just needed to get to them.
I eventually found that husband. He’s given me a gift I never knew I needed – the permission to be vulnerable. He’s held me as I sobbed on the floor when my mother died. Promised me everything would be okay. That’s the first time I really felt like I had heard those words. And I believed him.
It wasn’t until I was pregnant with our first daughter that I was blind-sided by the fear. One I’d never felt before.
What if… I wasn’t more? What if I was just like my parents? What if the cycle really is doomed to repeat itself? I was terrified. Why hadn’t I thought more about this? What had I gotten myself into? How could I be the parent this baby deserved?
What if I messed it all up?
I confided in a dear friend who’d grown up in a similar environment and she confessed that she’d had the same fears. But to have faith. To trust myself and my heart. She told me we are not our parents. We have been proving it our entire lives. We have made conscious choices at every opportunity to take the path that seems like the best one, even if it’s the harder one.
So, I took a deep breath and I trusted. I had faith.
It’s been five years since then and spoiler alert: I mess up every day, multiple times a day. I now have two lovely little girls and they are amazing and overwhelming and calming and frustrating all at the same time. I have lost my temper. I have yelled. And yes, I’ve felt rage.
But, haven’t we all? Do these small miracles not instinctively know how to push the very last button? How to place the very last straw atop the proverbial camel’s back? They are tiny evil geniuses that way.
The thing is, I make a choice. Every day I make a choice to be me, to be Stephanie, and I choose to parent in a way that may land my four-year-old in the Chill Out Chair, but never makes her afraid of me. Never makes her have to take her younger sister’s hand and run out of the house barefoot and hide away. Never have to make excuses for why her clothes are dirty and her hair is so tangled, it needs to be cut short. Never have to feel the shame of seeing her parent in the police report in her local paper.
I am more. If you are out there, doubting yourself, know this: You are, too.
This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, click here. And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, click here.