A reader asked me to cover a delicate topic. To maintain the reader’s anonymity, I am going to summarize the issue without using anything directly from the email. Here is the topic to be addressed: How do you deal with your own feelings of jealousy (for lack of a better word) toward your child for having a safe childhood when your own childhood was filled with abuse?
First, let me assure you that these feelings are normal. You are not a “bad parent” for having them, so you shouldn’t beat yourself up for them (although it is completely normal for child abuse survivors to beat themselves up for pretty much anything they feel).
I cannot tell you how many times I have told my son “I wish the worst problem I had when I was 11 was that my parents wouldn’t buy me a cell phone” or equivalent. My son is strong-willed, and he sometimes gets angry with me for saying no. He will go on and on about what a horrible parent I am because I won’t let him [fill in the blank]. At age 11, the biggie is not getting him a cell phone. We have been through this with not letting him have Heelies (the shoes with wheels) when he was in kindergarten, not letting him have a BB gun at age 9, etc.
I will sometimes feel so angry that my son is blasting me for something as trivial as not having a toy when I never had the freedom to blast my abusers for abusing me. I will think how unfair it is that I was such a well-behaved child (misbehaving came with severe consequences), so my parents didn’t have to deal with the crap that I do from my kid who hasn’t had to deal with abuse. There is something fundamentally wrong and unfair about all of it, and on some days, I feel very angry about how this is just another way that life has shafted me.
What I have come to realize is that my feelings of jealousy and anger are not about my kid – they are about me. Watching a child grow up in a loving home, not being abused, and taking safety for granted drives home just how unloved, abused, and unsafe I was at the same age. There is nothing fair about that.
Nevertheless, I continue to keep my kid safe despite what I am feeling. While I do tell him that I wish my worst problem at age __ was not getting __, I don’t burden him with the details of what I endured as a child. I still advocate for him and protect his childhood. It is what I DO, not how I FEEL, that defines me as a parent.
When you feel this way, take some time for yourself to express your emotions. You are absolutely right – it’s NOT fair that you were abused as a child. Your feelings are not about wanting to deprive your kid of a happy childhood – they are about the grief you still need to process about your own unhappy childhood.
Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt