Disclaimer: I wrote the below as a feature for a local organization called Women’s Work in Progress. Before getting into it, I would just like to say a heartfelt *thank you* for reading and supporting my blog. I am overjoyed by the amount of feedback I have received from people sharing similar experiences. And I am humbled by the writers, far more experienced than I, who have commented, followed, and encouraged along the way. You keep this tired mom going!🌺
In 2019 I moved to the suburbs with my husband, infant son, and two dogs. I had a successful yet uninspiring career in accounting, and thought this was what my life would be until I retired. Then 2020 happened.
Betweeen meeting work deadlines during toddler naps, and struggling to gain the trust of a manager who reluctantly approved remote work, I was burning the candle, not just at both ends, but in the middle and all around.
Overanxious and underslept, writing was my salvation. Through writing, I was able to cope with an unrelenting year, and eventually, reconnect with a community similarly in need of healing.
With empathy-promotion in mind, I created BelievableShe.com. A blog where I write to encourage women (and myself) to discover their rightful identity by confronting and sharing difficult truths. Over several weeks and sleepness nights, the support of readers energized my passion project and I became hooked.
My creative outlet brought inspiration back into my life, and there was no going back. Deciding to commit more of my life to writing, I made the leap, shelved my “successful” day job, and took an evening position as a restaurant server. In short, I am a post-pandemic work in progress, and proud.
The stats are in, moms had it rough last year. With so many either out of work, forced to take a cut in hours, or strapped with the impossible task of remote work while educating home-schooled kids, Mother’s Day 2021 has been well earned.
But this year and every year, let’s also take a moment to acknowledge the women who are currently praying to become a mother, wishing that their mother was in their lives, or both.
Because whichever category (or categories) they fall into, the feeling of facing a holiday that specifically targets the epicenter of their pain is incredibly isolating.
I am just one woman, with one woman’s story to tell. But I hope that my story will shed light on what someone in your life might be experiencing this May 9th, 2021.
My heart sinks, and my palms sweat as I begin writing this. The sheer thought of Mother’s Day gives me such a visceral reaction that I’m nearly ill. And it’s happened every year for as long as I can remember.
Vividly, I can remember being confused by Mother’s Day as a child. Confused and left out.
In grade school, I recall students and teachers celebrating the holiday by presenting flowers and cards to moms making lunchroom cameos. I would watch kids proudly gift their crafts to mothers who, lovingly and gratefully, cherished their personalized tokens of appreciation.
“Who are these people?”, I would think to myself. “How did these kids get moms that seemingly adore them AND participate in school functions?” The concept was almost unbelievable.
I do remember understanding that my mom’s job prevented her from being present. But I also remember the look on her face when I would finally deliver my artwork to her after school. If the look of utter waste of time didn’t say it all, finding my work in the discarded pile of mail definitely did.
It was probably a dumb gift anyway. I’ll do better next year.
As an older teenager, and as a woman in my twenties, Mother’s Day became a Hallmark holiday. Just another way for the Target card display to pressure me into deciding whether or not I should buy a card.
It wasn’t a difficult decision, but it was an awkward one. If we were on speaking terms that year, a card was in order. But then the next challenge would begin. Finding one with the least amount of sentiment.
“Blessed To Have You As My Mother”… Umm, no. “I Hope I’m Half The Mother You Are Someday”… Hard pass. “Happy Mother’s Day, Hope It’s Nice”… Perfect.
What a waste of $3.99.Maybe next year I’ll just say no.
In my thirties, salt was added to the Mother’s Day wound. Infertility.
For five years, I would fight the urge to spend the day in bed. And while holding back spontaneous tears, I celebrated with other people’s mothers.
Every year, my extended family threw a terrific Mother’s Day brunch. And don’t get me wrong, it was always a nice time spending the day with my grandma and aunts, but the subject I dreaded most would always manage to come up.
“Someday Christina, we will be celebrating you.” Or worse, “Any news to share with us this year, Christina?”
No Grandma, maybe next year I’ll be a mom, maybe.
Then 2019 came. After a successful round of IVF, I was pregnant with my son, and I was a mom. Finally. I could not wait to wear my maternity sundress, and brunch with the other women in my family as a member of the club.
What I didn’t anticipate, was the reality of Mother’s Day 2019. I wouldn’t be pregnant and glowing, but instead, living in the NICU and praying.
I was gratefully a mom, but quarantined to a room filled with cords and machines, “holding” my little boy through the holes of an incubator.
Next year is my year. Not only will I be celebrating, but I will be celebrating while showing off my sweet baby boy.
Now, the irony of being quarantined in 2019 (while thinking that it was a temporary situation) is not lost on me. But honestly, when our next spring celebration was cancelled due to Covid in 2020, I practically expected it.
And this year? This year I will be celebrating other people’s mothers once again because I took a job as a restaurant server just in time for Mother’s Day 2021.
Genius. Oh well, maybe next year.
To all the women who will be grieving instead of, or while, celebrating this Mother’s Day…
My heart goes out to you. You aren’t alone. It’s okay to cry. You will get through the day. And I hope you find reasons to celebrate your life every chance you get.
I wasn’t blessed with a loving mom, but I am a loving mom, and I will celebrate that every chance I get.
Today, the residents of Minnesota’s Twin Cities are living while waiting, myself included.
Collectively, and regardless of what outcome we’re individually anticipating, we are waiting for a jury of our peers to decide if a police officer is guilty of murder.
Simultaneously, while wondering what world we’ll be living in after the results are read, we are waiting to find out what precedent for accountability will be set and what chaos will ensue.
Will sleepless nights of riotous noise, indistinguishable from gunfire and bombs, return to our communities? Will our black neighbors have to continue living in fear of a traffic violation? Will all law officers continue to be judged upon the actions of those who, without consequence, abuse their power?
So, with all of this waiting going on, I can’t help but wonder, how is everyone managing? What action or inaction is appropriate right now? What do we do while we wait and wonder? How do we combat feelings of helplessness?
As comforting as our morning beds are before we’ve accepted the realities of our day, it’s just not practical to maintain that blissful state of ignorance. We need to figure it out. We need to earn a living. We have to keep going.
So we fight through the fog of living in limbo and manage.
Some, terrified that their livelihood is in jeopardy, are managing by boarding the windows of their businesses. Activists, hoping to influence the outcome, are managing by marching for action in the streets. While others are ignoring the news, but managing by quietly praying for peace from their homes.
How do you manage to carry on while waiting for a life changing event? Do you mentally prepare by obsessively researching online articles? Do you pray? Do you live in avoidance and just stay busy at all costs?
No judgement here. Because what am I doing? I’m sitting at home, hanging out with my toddler, and struggling to wrap my mind around what is morally appropriate to write about today.
The only conclusion that I can come up with is the fact that there really is no wrong way to survive limbo. We just have to do it. To put it plainly, limbo sucks, and it’s a confusing place to exist.
So keep fighting, keep preparing, keep managing. Just keep living while waiting.
The strangeness of being raised by a family that doesn’t look like you comes and goes over time. But the racial inequities that exploded to the surface in 2020 birthed a reckoning, and this reckoning made me yearn for commonality more than ever before.
I was reeling from an election season that exposed unfathomable bigotry. Damaging bigotry exposed in neighbors, friends, and family. And with the loss of each friendship, I reflected on prejudicial origins.
Soul-searching with refreshed eyes, I reflected on the prejudices that I have held, along with the prejudices that have been held against me. And as I reflected, I found myself seeking out the previously unknown side of my family. The family that looks like me. The family that may be able to relate.
Eventually becoming exhausted by sleepless nights of scrolling marriage certificates and obituaries, I realized that I had but one lead to follow. It was time to contact my father.
For more than twenty years, largely through social media, I kept tabs on him from a safe distance. Just in case the time would come for a relationship, I monitored his whereabouts.
Without getting into the details of why I waited twenty years, I will say, my younger self was simply not prepared to deal with the demons that he fought in his own life.
But with that being said, I still had hopes that things would be different this time. After all, now I am an adult, a mother, and a woman that has made great strides in the way of self-assurance.
Perhaps he was different too? Maybe, now that I didn’t need him as a parent, we would be able to connect as adults. Connect over life stories, family members, social concerns, racism.
So I did it. I threw caution to the wind as they say, and fired off my first sign of life via Facebook. And at first, things went surprisingly well. He was genuinely excited to hear from me. And while rapidly bringing me up to speed on our shared family members, he gleefully forwarded cousin’s photos, uncle’s birth dates, grandparent’s death dates, and every date of meaning in between.
Then it happened. The cracks that would destroy my hopes of having a social justice comrade for a father began to appear. And it all started with a Youtube video that he shared.
To my horror, my father sent me an argumentative video detailing how BLM activists orchestrated the insurrection at the capitol. And it didn’t stop there.
Relentless and with something to prove, he forwarded conspiratorial articles and conservative podcasts. All the while, repeatedly using language with discriminatory undertones. Even as I made polite attempts to get him to change the subject, his attempts to influence and persuade persisted.
Exasperated, I made my stance on these issues abundantly clear. In defense, my father used his own brown skin, and the fact that he has black “friends”, to justify his opinions.
Sigh… It became glaringly obvious, the camaraderie I sought was not coming in the form of my father.
So where does a parent/child relationship go from here? Do I retreat back to the shadows as a Facebook stalker? Hopefully not. Despite our differences, I would like to stay in touch. But with enormous conversational boundaries in place.
And as for my quest for commonality?
I realized that I had it all along. The people in my life that stand along side me today, may not provide commonality in genetic features, but each one provides the benefit of commonality through shared experiences and principles. Like they say, you can’t pick your family, but you can pick your friends.
I have been gifted a journal three times in my life. Once as a girl, once as a wife, and once as a mother.
As a girl, it was a pale pink Precious Moments diary (complete with lock!) and it was from my mom. I was still a lonely only child when I got it. So I addressed it as a “friend” named Samantha. And I told that girl everything.
Long story short, diary locks do not really lock. And it only took one evening of parental shaming for me to never touch it again.
Fast forward to about 25 years later, and my husband gave me a journal for my birthday. We were beginning IVF treatments, and he thought it would be amusing to have a chronicle of our path to becoming parents.
Well, it became more than amusing. When IVF turned into a complicated pregnancy, and I ended up on hospitalized bed rest, it was my sanity. Not feeling up for many visitors, it was how I processed my fear of losing our baby, along with my grief from not having the pregnancy of my dreams.
But thank goodness, I eventually left that damn hospital. (And with a beautiful baby boy!) Needless to say, once our little guy arrived, and I stopped sleeping, that journal didn’t cross my mind once.
And finally, the third time I received a journal, it was from my sister during a pandemic. (Maybe you remember it?) And I remember thinking to myself, “How sweet… My baby sister thinks that I have time to journal while working from home, taking care of my out-of-daycare toddler, and watching the world as we know it crumble apart.”
What I didn’t immediately realize was the fact that I was once again isolated from the world, and the timing was actually perfect. My inner monologue was making me crazy and I needed an outlet.
So I started writing…
At this point, I think it’s safe to say out loud that writing is phase one of my “Discovery” project. And if writing keeps filling my days with the same purpose and ambition that I’ve been feeling over the past several weeks, maybe it’s also safe to say, I have discovered a piece of my identity.
Have you ever suspected that a child has harmful parents? Have you ever wondered if there is any way that you can help? Have you ever wondered if you should even get involved?
Well the answers are simple. Yes, there are ways you can help. And yes, you absolutely should get involved. Plus, making a difference is not as difficult as you may think.
But why should you get involved?
It takes a village to raise a child, right? Well, a child with harmful parents is particularly reliant on non-parent role models.
From debilitating mental illness to criminal behavior, trauma experienced in developmental years can be detrimental to a child’s future. Without support, the risk of detriment is much greater.
So, what do I mean by harmful parents anyway?
These are the toxic parents that are not putting their child’s life in danger by direct means. In other words, they are not abusive towards them in the most severe sense of the word, and removing their children from home is not an option.
Instead, these are the emotionally abusive parents that constantly invent new ways to tell their child that they are worthless. These are the addicted parents that fail to buy proper groceries. These are the neglectful parents that do not take interest in their child’s life. These are the physically abusive parents that know how to not leave a mark.
Often times, these parents are a combination of all of the above.
1. WITH ALL SUSPECTED CHILD ABUSE, DO NOT IGNORE YOUR GUT
Denial is very real when you suspect that a child is being harmed. You can easily convince yourself, in all kinds of ways, that “it can’t be that bad” and “you shouldn’t get involved”.
2. BELIEVE THE CHILDTHAT OPENS UP TO YOU
It takes immense courage for a child to seek help. If they chose you, they trust you. Please listen with an open heart and believe them.
3. DO NOT TAKE THEIR PARENTS WORD FOR IT
Just because they are bad parents, it does not mean that they do not want to be parents. Many are well versed in how not to jeopardize custody of their child, or sabotage their own image as a capable parent.
4. ASK, AND ASK AGAIN
Children who are experiencing abuse are often conditioned to believe that their experiences don’t matter. Downplaying and denial are common responses. Just because they have told you once (or even twice) that everything is okay at home, it does not mean that it is.
5. ACCEPT THAT YOU MAY NOT GET INSTANT GRATIFICATION FOR YOUR EFFORTS
Your kindness may go seemingly unappreciated. The child themselves may not even realize your goodwill until they have matured and reflect back on their life.
6. VOCALIZE THAT YOU CARE ABOUT THEM
This can be as simple as asking a student how their weekend went, or as substantial as telling a child in your extended family that you love them.
7. VOCALIZE THAT YOU BELIEVE IN THEM
This may be the most impactful action you can take. Almost nothing will promote fortitude more than telling children that they are brave and capable.Positive reinforcement is crucial when a child is being, or has been, verbally and emotionally abused.
8. CREATE OPPORTUNITIES TO LISTEN
If you are unable to provide them with access to therapy, provide them with opportunities to talk with you. Take them to get ice cream, offer to go for a walk, become a trusted friend.
9. ASK THEM HOW YOU CAN HELP
Depending on the age of the child, and how close your relationship is, help will look different. For example, a younger child may respond that they need a comforting toy, but an older teenager may express that they need a safe place to stay when things are bad at home.
10. CHECK IN AS OFTEN AS YOU CAN
Even if your life, or relationship with the child, makes it impractical to have a weekly hang out, brief follow ups, asking how they have been, will have significance.
Through becoming an adult and mother, I have gained perspective. Today, I am able to fully appreciate how adults from my childhood positively and negatively impacted my life as a whole. From the adults that disappointed, to the adults that supported, they all had a role.
I sincerely hope that my reflections and advice will encourage you to recognize and support the child in your life that is living with harmful parents.
Always remember, there is no act of compassion too small. And never underestimate encouraging words. They can support for a lifetime.
Every mother knows the scenario. Your toddler is in the other room playing, when the room suddenly goes silent. Then, CRASH, tears, and “Mama!” is desperately cried out.
You rush in, assess the situation, and scoop up your little one. And in that moment, you are so relieved that you are there to provide the comfort and cuddles that they were hoping for.
I am forever changed because it has become instinctual. From now on, every call to “Mama” will hit that primal spot in my heart like a bullseye, and call me to action.
Which is why I wouldn’t be selected.
I am incapable of avoiding the visceral response that occurs when I hear a cry for mama. So there is nothing that could convince my soul that when a grown man named George Floyd called out to his mama, it was anything but a desperate cry for help, comfort, and life.
We just passed the one year mark of Covid being declared a pandemic, and my home town is currently bracing for the trial of Derek Chauvin. So far, six fellow Minnesotans have have been chosen to serve as jurors. One of six are women.
So this morning, I can’t help but wonder, is it because mamas are women?
I will always remember the bright Florida day that my best friend and I decided to spread out a blanket to hang out and read our new teeny-bopper magazines. We were still middle school preteens, and we especially loved the quizzes that would answer our burning questions about grown-up things like crushes and makeup.
Now, I don’t remember whether or not my crush was predicted to ask me to the dance, but I do remember one question. “Which celebrity do you most look like?”
My friend was a dead ringer for Full House’s adorable DJ Tanner, but I was at a complete loss. Trying to be helpful, my friend suggested, “Christina Ricci, maybe?” True, Christina and I shared the same first name, and her hair was brown, but the comparisons definitely stopped there.
The crazy thing is, Christina Ricci might have been the closest thing to a celebrity look-alike that I had back then.
I was a frizzy-haired girl mixed with my mom’s Mediterranean dark waves and my dad’s Filipino/Mexican brown skin. If I could have come up with a single young Latina or Pacific Island-looking actress, they would have been a passable response. But not a one came to mind.
Obviously, I understand that a teenage magazine quiz is not to be taken seriously. However, this simple question resulted in one of my earliest memories of feeling inadequate due to lack of representation.
Conscious or not, I knew that our culture celebrated light-skinned girls on TV. After all, they were the ones that were most often depicted as living in nice two-parent homes, being popular in school, and getting the boy.
At an impressionable age when self-worth is so fragile, this was just another obstacle blocking the view of potential. After all, representation matters.
Fortunately, we are gradually progressing as a society. From Disney to politics, women of color are appearing in leading roles more and more. And, because of this, fewer and fewer girls will have feelings of inferiority because of who they see in the mirror.
So today, on this International Women’s Day, let’s take a moment to celebrate the women breaking through society’s outdated racial barriers. Their perseverance will certainly have a positive effect for generations to come.