teen mom

Changing your fate: Conflict and relationships

“If you had the chance to change your fate, would ya’?” ~ Princess Merida, Brave 2012

My girls and I went to see Brave yesterday, as a belated birthday celebration for LaLa.  Sure she’s 19, but after watching the first trailer, I knew it was something I wanted to share with her as well as Luna. Lachesis showed up in the form of the “short” that opened the movie, “La Luna.” It informed me I was in a defining moment by being there with both my daughters.  La Luna foreshadowed what I perceived to be the primary theme of the movie itself: conflict and relationships.  The trailers make Brave seem to be about a young woman’s efforts to define her own future, and it is.  However, I think the actual primary theme is about conflict and the restoration of relationships.  The mother-daughter relationship was definitely the central story, but other relationships were touched on as well: father-daughter, husband-wife, siblings, and community.  Each of these had moments where conflict and restoration were involved in the overall story.

Conflict in relationships has been a constant in my life for so long, I’m not sure I can recall a time when one or more key relationships wasn’t conflicted.  As in the movie, much of the conflict in my life has been as a result of a strong desire to fight against my perceived fate and my determined pride in knowing that I had the right of it as opposed to someone else’s vision or ideas.

I am a walking, talking, living, breathing set of statistics.  I have been most of my life.  Born of a teen mom who lived a nomadic life filled with broken relationships and ended in a suicidal depression, I understood at a young age I would be going against a tide of assumptions and expectations. Prior to my mom’s death I was taken in by my uncle and the statistics kept stacking up, living in a household with partying, swinging, pot-smoking 70’s throwbacks.  A divorce and custody battle between my aunt and uncle meant I had to fend for myself and try to be there for my little cousin.  The resentment and bitterness I formed against the adults in my world grew into a mountain of self-defeating rebellion.  I jumped from the frying pan into the fire and ran away from home with a man who was 14 years older than me. And so began my pre-destined course to becoming a teenage welfare mom.

The next three and a half years were spent living out of cars, hitchhiking across the country, and playing on people’s pity for survival.  By the time I was 19, I was the poster child for statistical failure; a single-mom, without a diploma or GED, and dependent on welfare. Determined to counter society’s expectations and my deepest fears, I sent myself into hyper-drive with school.  No way was I going to be the poster girl for welfare motherhood.

At the same time, I immersed myself in relationships with people who needed me to help fix them, in my not so humble opinion.  People who were more damaged than I saw myself as.  I inserted myself into their lives and involved myself in their activities.  I was the social queen bee who knew it all and had the intellect and the verbal skills to back it up.  Making myself necessary and central to people’s lives meant I would never be alone.  Surrounding myself with those who were somehow “less than” meant I wouldn’t be at risk of being hurt, used, and damaged the way I had been in the past.  Of course, I wasn’t conscious of either of these things. My certainty that I knew what was best and right for others, combined with my refusal to heed suggestions and advice about my own situation eventually put me into conflict with everyone who was important to me.

Within three years, I imploded.  I burned the candle at both ends, socially and academically. I involved myself in overly complicated and twisted relationships. These choices grew the guilt and knowledge that I was sacrificing my son and his needs in order to “fight my fate.” I landed in a very dark place. In my heart and mind I knew I didn’t know how to be a good mom or a good friend.  I felt disconnected from everyone, everything, and even myself.  I manufactured good feelings to put on a false front.  I came across as a happy, motivated, and functional woman, but underneath it all I all I felt was numb layered over a deep sense of futility. My core deep belief was that no matter hard and frantic I worked to change and improve myself and my life, I was destined for failure. Instead of committing suicide, I got blackout drunk and withdrew from college the next day.

Nine months later, on November 3, 1992, just before I went to cast my ballot, I found out I was pregnant with my second child.  I was a 23, back in school, and living with my grandmother.  I took the phone call from the doctor’s office and when I told my grandmother she slammed down the knife she was using to chop vegetables and angrily informed me that I was never going to amount to anything or get anywhere in my life.  This was after telling me at one point during the previous two years that she wasn’t going to let my little boy drive her crazy and to suicide the way I drove my mom. The statements from my grandma just summed up everything I was fighting against inside of myself.  So, without realizing it, my internalized fate was that of a woman who would never amount to much and would drive the people in her life away.

The past 20 years have been spent spinning my wheels trying to change my fate and despairing of ever being able to do so. Yesterday, after the movie, LaLa and I talked quite a bit.  We talked about depression, our relationships with each other and her brother, as well as the subjects of destiny, fate, and pride.  She shared with me that even though she’s said harsh and hurtful things to me and has gone through her times of intense dislike of me, it was never a thought in her mind that she would cut off all communication and relationship with me.  I was able to let her know that no matter what feelings or thoughts she experiences toward me as she goes through her life, I will always be available to her.  I realized that despite my internalized fears and certainties, my fate is changing, I am growing, and although it’s being redefined, success is achievable.

“To change your fate, look inside, to mend the bonds, broken by pride” ~ Witch, Brave 2012

To quote Erma Bombeck

“Family – The Ties that Bind…and Gag!”

This was seriously light-hearted book, among several, about “normal” family dysfunction, and I enjoyed her writing and humor immensely, but didn’t relate to much of it, based on my own personal experience.I don’t really remember anything about this book, other than it was one of several that I read by Ms. Bombeck in the late 1980’s – early 1990’s when I was struggling to be a single parent and figure out how to not screw my child(ren) up as badly as I had been.  EPIC FAIL!!! To utilize today’s gaming vernacular ~ my efforts to do better by my two oldest children than had been done by me, has been less than successful.

I remember being interviewed as a teen mom graduating from a specialized high school for teen mothers and being asked what my definition of success was.  At that time, I only had one child, and believed I would have been successful if, when he reached the age of independence, he was further ahead in his ability to make good, healthy decisions and choices in his life.  I had this idealized hope and belief that knowing how I didn’t want to raise my son, and later my oldest daughter, meant that I knew how I wanted to raise them.  Being a single mom at 19, with determination, and no one other than myself to count on, I thought I had the answers and KNEW what was wrong with everyone else and the world around me.  I didn’t realize how deeply broken and wounded I was inside of my own mind, spirit, and emotions.  It was a major set-up for failure.

Today, my son informed me that he feels like I’m lying when I tell him I love him and my daughter says she knows I love her but that my priorities are wrong.  He’s 25 and she’s 18.  It breaks my heart.  I KNOW how much I love them as much as I KNOW that my codependence/relationship addiction, depression, and likely attachment disorder from early childhood, have contributed to my self & life destructive choices and have brought me to the point where I am struggling to do different and better for their little sister, who just turned 3, and still caught in the cycles that have shredded the relationships in my family for multiple generations.

Every day it is a struggle to get out of bed and go to work.  It is a struggle to be a positive and interactive parent for the youngest child.  I constantly feel like life should be over for me and that no matter what I think, say, or do, I’m condemned to repeat the same freaking mistakes over and over again and will eventually lose the love and respect of this precious little girl who loves me unconditionally.  I battle with trying to say and do the things that will show her my love and care for her, including my desire to have her grow up in relationship with her father and an intact family – which is something I’ve never known and neither have any members of my family of origin. Right now, all I can see is the destruction and damage in the lives of my two oldest children, our bent and broken relationships, and the never-ending tension/conflict in my relationship with the father of my youngest child.

In the midst of all of this, I’m trying to hold onto the biblical promise in Jeremiah 29:11 – New International Version (©1984) For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Lord, help me believe that there is a hope and a future for myself and for my children.