Multitude of Sins

What kind of monster screams at her children like that? Red-faced, chest heaving, spitting as I snarl. Hell would be seeing myself through their eyes. I’m teaching them to be like me, even though I desperately want them to be different. How are they supposed to be different when I am their example?
I know what it’s like when your parents – the people who are supposed to love you most in the world – lash out in rage, glare with contempt. “How worthless must I be to provoke such a response?” At least, that’s what I thought.

If I worried less about ruining them, I’d appreciate their good. Instead, I hunt down our similarities, hoping to stamp them out. Am I teaching them to overlook their own goodness? Please don’t miss it my sweet children.

I’ve failed countless times, thanking God for another day to try again. I’ll do better. I’ll breathe deeply, avoid triggers, meditate, seek counseling, take my medications. Tomorrow or next week or next month will be better. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn’t.

Things go well for a while, until repeated requests turn into yelling, cussing, name-calling, rage. I go into a tirade. I throw things on the floor, across the room. Thank God I don’t lay a hand on them, but words hurt too. Bruised bodies heal quicker than bruised souls.

Why can’t I be a crier instead? Tears and rage have the same origin after all – hurt. I learned that crying was weak and vulnerable, but anger, anger was strong. I’ve got to teach myself something new now.

The more I stew and rant, the angrier I become until I’ve lost my mind. I explode. I’m empty. My hands hide my face. My heart pounds. I sweat, shake. I beat my chest, fall to my knees. I know I can’t do this on my own. I’ve tried and failed for so long. I’m exhausted, overwhelmed, ashamed. Why can’t I just be kind to the people I love most? Why is this so hard?
They say an alcoholic is always an alcoholic, even if he’s sober, because the urge never leaves. Is it the same with rage?

The problem is not the expectations of a 2, 6, and 8 year old. The problem is my conviction that I am nothing unless I meet all expectations. Their age-appropriate demands echo my own fear – I’m not enough. The demands compound. Their heft is on my shoulders and I’m trembling under their weight. There is no end to the to-do list because they are 2, 6, and 8. I’m rarely praised because they are 2, 6, and 8. They love me with their whole hearts and still ignore what I’ve asked them to do one-hundred-million times because they are 2, 6, and 8. I am the problem.

Maybe it’s arrogant to think I have the power to “ruin” them. It’s wretched that I can look at their sweet faces and think for even one fleeting second that they’re “ruined.” They are divine… and maddening. Even through the fog of mental illness, I see flashes of beauty, enough light to guide my way. My counselor says parenting can be at once misery and joy. It must be true because it is neither one alone.

They are the loves of my life. Parenting is the most beautiful and difficult thing I’ve ever done. Depression and anxiety have stolen happiness, self-confidence, relationships. I won’t let them steal this.

I apologize to my children, admit when I’m wrong. They know I see a “yelling doctor” and take meds. I meditate to build self-regulation. “It’s for my brain sweetie. I want to be happy. I have so many reasons to be happy, and I want to make you feel loved. I’m fighting for you, for us.”

They may turn out like me – to struggle with depression, anxiety, and anger. I fear most for my boys, who will be testosterone-charged and muscle-bound. But they’ll have a benefit I did not – a parent willing to talk about it, to show them how to get help.

There are times of struggle, and there are some struggles that never leave us, but my children will never be alone. They will always be prepared, loved. Sometimes it’s okay to be like Mommy – a fighter. If I can’t break this cyclical chain, I will weaken it. Maybe they’ll break it.

Despite mental illness, there is joy. Joy in an unsolicited cuddle or kiss, in a toddler body clinging to my side or a small hand reaching for mine. In an excited voice sharing a secret, a smile that meets me from across the room. In a voice saying he just wants Mommy. They still want me, love me.

This is unconditional love. We love hard. We love through it. We will never stop trying to love better. They forgive me, but can I forgive myself? I must, at least to teach them self-forgiveness…

There is growth in the reflection that parenting thrusts upon us. Nothing holds a mirror to your face like a child. Though I struggle, I am better for it, day-by-day, bit-by-bit. Maybe they are too.

Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Are we the irons sharpening each other, or is it just me against myself? Thank God 1 Peter 4:8 also promises that, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” So long as there is love, there is hope.

Some days I swing in the backyard with my daughter on my lap. She lays her head back upon my chest, and it rises and falls with my breath. We soak in the fall sun. Birds rush from the treetops and turn on the wind. The breeze sweeps dry leaves across the grass. She is safe, happy, loved. Our bodies swing together, back and forth, back and forth. This too is parenting with mental illness.

Hilary Moore is an attorney and adjunct professor living in Harrisonburg, VA. Her most challenging and fulfilling job however, is being the primary caregiver to her three children. In her free time, Hilary enjoys writing and keeping honeybees. She tries to write hard, honest pieces that strip away pretense and social expectation. She believes these are the only types of pieces that create real connections.