In the previous DF thread, OtterB linked to a post on Responsibility, fault and blame by Michele Sagara. It’s a very good mediation on the imperfections of child-rearing, from the perspective of someone who is both a parent and a child. It closes with an excellent metaphor for these things that stick with us, and how it feels when we try to get away from them:
I don’t want to say “let go”, because that’s a mischaracterization. If something has fish hooks in your psyche, you are not exactly holding on. But…at that point, I could begin the task of pulling them all out.
But the entry’s got more in it than that just last line. It has, running through it like a vein of gold in rock, the reason this community has grown to encompass people whose families were not abusive or unambiguously dysfunctional, but who still find themselves in need of our kind of help.
…lack of intent doesn’t somehow magically make the pain go away. My sister’s pain did not magically go away. So I think it’s really, really important to acknowledge the source of the pain. I don’t think there is anything wrong - at all - with saying, “My parent’s divorce - which was the only solution for the two of them - totally bottomed out my emotional life and my ability to trust or rely on people” or a similar variant.
The inverse, “Husband and I were living in a war zone; we had to split up - but it really undermined my child emotionally, and she’s still paying for it” would also be the same: it acknowledges two sets of unhappy facts.
Sometimes people set these hooks in their children because they’re bad parents, or all-consumingly selfish, or were so profoundly damaged by their own upbringings that they were incapable of doing better. But sometimes these people get hooked without intent or notable failure. Shit does happen.
Sagara’s a parent as well as a child, so she also understands the ways parents can get themselves into emotional knots that exacerbate unintended damage. It’s a good explanation for how otherwise thoughtful, kind people can fumble and fail when dealing with their children’s pain.
But frequently, parents, being people, see what they themselves intended. They take adverse reactions to a lack of intent to harm as a huge, personal criticism - and they deflect. They tell you you shouldn’t have been so sensitive. They are trying to protect themselves, all these years later, from blame. From guilt and the certain sense of their own failure. Failing one’s child is profound. It is the edge of a colossal void. It is one of a parent’s greatest fears.
Terrified people seldom behave rationally or sanely.
These observations are not meant to diminish the very real damage that profound familial dysfunction has done some of our members, nor to excuse the thoroughgoing failures of care that they have suffered. But it goes a little way to explaining, and I hope welcoming, those members of this community who otherwise feel that their troubles (painful as they are from the inside) are not, from the outside, sufficient to give them the right to speak here.