First off, let me say this: I’m not an expert or a professional anything. I don’t have a high level of education and have not acquired any defining letters to include after my name. I haven’t been trained to be a peer counselor, nor have I been employed in a therapeutic setting.
I am a 46 year old mother of three, two of whom are adults, 28 1/2 and 22 years old. I’m parenting a six year old with special needs. My mothering has been good, at times, damaging at others, and almost always clueless while I tried to figure it out. I’m still figuring it out. I’m a grandmother of two: a toddler and an infant. So far, the grandma gig seems easier than the mom gig. I’m better at it than I thought I could be. I’m a cousin who helped take care of my baby cousin in her infancy and offered her a “safe” space as a child and adolescent. I’m a friend who’s been both a good one, a bad one, and everything in between. I’ve been an employee and co-worker. I’ve been a wife, a girlfriend, a long-time partner, and a one night stand. I’m the stranger on the bus who talks too much.
I didn’t grow up in a family that did relationships very well, if at all. My mom had me at 16. She and my dad, essentially, did the shotgun wedding thing when she found out she was pregnant in 1968. Shortly after I was born, during the Summer of Woodstock, in 1969, they were divorced. She married two more times by the time I was six. Her longest marriage lasted until I was ten. It ended after I told her about the two years of sexual abuse. By the time I was 12, our relationship had broken down to the point where she signed custody over to my uncle and went back to where we’d come from. A month or two later, we were told she’d killed herself. Many, many years later, within the past couple of years, after multiple conversations with an extended relative who knew her throughout out her brief 28 years I have come to question her cause of death. I also believe that she had undiagnosed Bipolar Disorder with a side of schizophrenia – so suicide is not out of the realm of possibility.
Oh wow! My son is about to exceed my mom’s lifespan. Deep breath.
Throughout it all, my grandmother was part of my life. However, my relationship with her really just consisted of her buying me bits and baubles, letting me eat whatever junk food I wanted, and either telling me what to do or leaving me to my own devices. My relationship with my aunt and uncle primarily consisted of me being told what chores to do, get criticized for not doing them. My grandpa was a jolly, old soul who held forth and held court while sittin’ in his draws, drinkin’ Hamms, with multiple overflowing ashtrays. I never knew which stories were true, which were hyperbole, and which were pure blarney.
Side note: My uncle’s first wife was the younger sister of my grandpa’s second wife. My uncle and his wife were married first.
My mom only had two friends, in between husbands two and three, that I can remember. My grandma had one and she never remarried after she and my grandpa split, before I had any memory of either of them. My aunt and uncle had limited and specific friendships, as they were involved in things from the swinging 70’s not discussed in polite society.
We moved around, frequently. We changed addresses multiple times in both California and Texas. So, peer relationships weren’t part of my early childhood. By the time we landed in Portland, Oregon, when I was twelve, my social and relational skills were those of a child raised amongst proverbial wolves in an urban jungle.
It’s taken me 34 years to learn and understand what it means to be in and have true and deep relationships. Most of that growth has happened over the course of the past three and a half years, with the majority occurring in the last year.
If you read back through, from the beginning of this blog, you’ll get a good idea of how bad I’ve been at relationships. Which begs the question, “Who am I to talk about relationships?”
I’ll tell you. I’m a mother whose relationship was so broken with her son that he decided to get legally adopted, as an adult, by another family. We now engage in deep and true conversations. I have become an accepted member in his faith community, which primarily consists of his wife’s family, his adopted family, my cousin’s family, and a few others. My relationship with my adult daughter was so broken that I was terrified I would never be allowed to have a relationship with my grandchildren. Now, their faces light up when they see me. She and I have a mutually respectful relationship.
Despite the breakdown and breakup of an 18 year, mutually toxic relationship between me and the father of my six year old daughter, we are putting aside (for the most part) the acrimony, bitterness, and angst of our past in order to co-parent her and learn how best to serve as her parents as we all learn about High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder.
I’m risking more and starting to build deeper friendships in more face to face people. Whereas the majority of my friendships have been built through online connections, even the ones I’ve known in person. I have mutually supportive friends, online and irl. We share our lives, laughter, passions and peeves. We learn from each other. We encourage one another. We celebrate the victories, small and large. We mourn the losses. We allow and create safe space for ranting, raving, and disagreements.
I’m growing in relationship with myself and my God. Learning how to be loved and how to love myself. For the first time in my adult life, I was actually excited and happy to celebrate me on my birthday, three and a half weeks ago.
It is my hope that, by sharing my journey and what I’ve learned about relationships, that others might discover hope and healing in their own lives and relationships. My journey is not yet complete and there is still much work to be done. God isn’t finished with me yet.
Isn’t that true of us all? Let’s learn and grow together, shall we?