Mother’s Day is this weekend. Last night at 9 pm I was startled to hear a little knock on the door. I reluctantly turned the handle to discover my 2 youngest children at the door beaming with excitement. They spend the weekends with their father, who happens to be a full blown Narcissist. Each of my girls gripped the handle of a coffee mug that contained a flowering cactus in one hand and a chocolate bar in the other. My initial thought was, “Oh God…not more coffee mugs!” As a self-proclaimed Rae Dunn addict, my coffee cup collection runneth over. I have a mug for every occasion, every mood, and everything in between. The looks on my girls’ angelic little faces however, prevented me from discouraging their gifts in any way. These little sweethearts are 5 and 7 years old. If anyone were to ask them what their mom loves, I’d be willing to bet they would immediately and proudly tell them how much I love coffee mugs and chocolate. And they would be absolutely right. It would be devastating to discourage their thoughtfulness. I thanked them for the gifts and they were overjoyed with my reaction. On a side note, I have to reluctantly acknowledge how grateful I am for my shitty, narcissistic ex for putting down his sword and being the bigger person this Mother’s Day.
My little girls’ father and I do not get along. Co-parenting has been a challenge to say the least. Finding the right formula for a parenting schedule that allows the children to thrive has been an uphill battle for sure. Until recently, I had a LOT of resentment towards him and the abuse I withstood throughout our relationship. It’s taken years for me to recover from the deep trauma that was inflicted during the course of our 6 years together. A lot of the healing has been the direct result of understanding why I would be attracted to such a hurtful, destructive person. When I was told he was a Narcissist by our marriage and family therapist, I had never even heard that term before. The concept was completely foreign to me (or so I thought.) Yesterday, I had a groundbreaking epiphany. I finally realized what had made me so susceptible to the abuse. I was raised by a Narcissistic Mother. I had unknowingly been conditioned by mental and emotional abuse my entire life. A people pleaser to the core, I was taught that love was conditional. My childhood was not void of love, however, the love was very conditional. I was raised by damaged people, who were raised by damaged people. They taught me what they had learned: Do what you are told and be loved. Defy it, and love would be withheld. Doing good equated to being good and doing something perceived as wrong equated to being bad. In order to avoid being and feeling bad, I strived to be as perfect in my parents eyes as I could be (which is a whole other blog post in itself!)
In learning to love myself unconditionally, I have had to be forgiving of my mistakes. I have had to embrace the things I love about myself and stop condemning myself for things I dislike about myself. In order to be whole, we all need to recognize that we are human and mistakes are inevitable. Many valuable life lessons are learned through mistakes. Mistakes are not failures. Mistakes are an opportunity for growth. We only fail if we give up trying and stop growing. I’ve also learned that practicing unconditional love towards others is what will break the cycle. We have to be the example for our children. This includes loving people when we don’t feel like they deserve it. Love is not a reward and withholding love is not a punishment. REAL love is truly unconditional. This does not mean that we agree with someone’s behavior nor does it mean that we have to be tolerant of it. It just means we understand love in all it’s simplicity and depth.
So with all that being said, as someone who is trying to break the cycle of dysfunctional parenting, I encourage all of you to evaluate your own relationships and reflect on the perception of love that you are instilling in your children. On this Mother’s Day, I encourage all of you that share a child or children with someone who has hurt you or wronged you in some way, be mindful of how important it is for your children to see a display of unconditional love towards their mother. Don’t fall into that trap of modeling conditional love to your children. Buy the gift, make the card…it doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. Recognize that the gift is not for the other parent, it’s for your child. It’s for their understanding of what true, unconditional love is.