The trauma of disengagement: from denial to healing, part 6 of 6

Mom’s impact—family

Next week is Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday. Hot diggity. Last year we went on a vacation for Thanksgiving. It was tremendous in so many ways. This year we’re hosting Thanksgiving with some good friends. I’m looking forward to our time together.

Can I tell you something? I have some serious cleaning to do. I can’t really type and vacuum at the same time. You understand. So the next post on Choosing Peace will arrive the week after Thanksgiving. It’ll be different from these recent posts. Think about these two words: Trauma Interrupted. Or these two: God Intervenes. Or these two: A Miracle.

Peaceful Readers, I hope you enjoy a very peaceful Thanksgiving, with a heart filled with gratitude for God’s many blessings.

Let’s wrap up this six-part post about my mom. It started with my poem, The Fog. Today we’ll dive into my mom’s background and impact, and we’ll look at generations.

Raised to be codependent
Where did my mom come from? Mississippi. Just kidding. Geography isn’t the issue, is it.

My mom’s parents raised her with this understanding: Children should be seen and not heard. And they meant it. She was defined by the chores she performed for the family, like milking the cow, cleaning the house, shucking the corn, etc. Work hard and keep your mouth shut. That was her life. Her parents were serious and strict.

Perfectly dysfunctional
Since my mom defined herself based on what she did for others—with complete disregard for her own needs—she was the ideal codependent wife for my narcissistic dad. They were the perfect dysfunctional couple. He made all the decisions and talked incessantly about himself and she kept herself busy doing chores and never complained.

Did I mention that my dad bought each house for the “family” without my mom even seeing it? Yep. He also bought and arranged the furniture. I’m surprised that he allowed my mom the authority to decide what to fix for dinner. I could go on, but you get the picture. Control Freak Central.

The interview
When I was interviewing my mom recently at her memory care facility, I asked her if she liked being married to my dad. She said yes. She liked listening to his stories about the Navy. She thought he was funny. She liked that he played games with us. He was entertaining for her. She never had to talk or think. I find it very interesting (and sad) that she liked being married to him, but nothing that she liked about him had anything to do with her. Hmmm. Codependent Central. “If you’re happy, I’m happy. What makes me happy? You being happy.” Goodness, people. A marriage and a supposed family with no “us” in the equation. I am shaking my head.

A narcissist-codependent Christmas
For Christmas one year, my dad gave my mom a large collection of John Wayne movies. My mom didn’t watch John Wayne movies. Obviously, he bought the movies for himself and pretended that they were for my mom. That totally chapped me. Even her Christmas presents weren’t about her. Did she complain? Nope. She acted like she always did—content and polite—a woman of very few words. The perfect wife of a self-absorbed narcissist.

Thankfully, my mom wasn’t as tough on us as her parents were on her. She let us play, laugh, sing, make noise and be kids. We sang a lot. One of my dad’s rules was “No singing at the table.” I think that’s kind of funny. It tells you how much we were inclined to sing about whatever, whenever. I like that. (Speaking of singing about anything and everything, I remember one time when our son Logan threw up and then made up a song about it. It was hilarious. Absolutely hilarious.)

Freedom—the good and the bad
Growing up, the singing part was good. But children need more than just the freedom to sing. We need to feel loved by our parents and we need to be safe. We need to be protected from abuse and neglect—free from trauma.

We need parents, not caretakers.

When children are given too much freedom
and parents fail to be involved
and provide essential guidance,
children, teenagers and young adults
get lost and find themselves wandering alone
in a very dangerous world
that they don’t understand.

That was my life—wandering alone in a very dangerous world that I didn’t understand. Because my parents didn’t love me or teach me about life, about people, about God, about the reality of evil—and because I didn’t turn to God and seek truth in his word—I learned many lessons and truths the hard way. It didn’t have to be so hard, so difficult, so painful. It didn’t have to be that way….

Swinging the pendulum
As is often the case, my mom swung the pendulum too far in the opposite direction from her parents. She worked too hard growing up, so she wanted us to have less work to do. Unfortunately, the only thing I knew how to prepare for a meal when I became an adult was a sandwich. I’m working with Logan in the realm of The Happy Medium somewhere in the middle, where he learns helpful everyday skills and gains the kinds of experiences that will allow him to walk into college and adulthood with confidence—and the ability to fix more than a sandwich.

My mom’s parents didn’t let her think or make decisions for herself. Sadly, she let me make far too many decisions for myself without any input from her at all. She swung the pendulum way too far in the opposite direction. Again, parents don’t have to be either control freaks or hands-off, detached, clueless wonders. Brandon and I parent in the middle—where we’re involved. We teach Logan very practical, everyday skills; we allow him healthy freedom based on his level of responsibility and maturity; and we keep the lines of communication active and open. For example, Logan’s been mowing the yard with our riding lawn mower since he was 10 years old—with proper instruction and supervision—and he started doing his own laundry when he was in seventh grade. These skills build confidence.

Parenting is not for wimps. Can I get an Amen with that?

When I think about the differences between my grandparents’ parenting, my mom’s parenting and our parenting, it goes like this:

Generation 1: Hard as nails. The focus? Work.
Generation 2: Checked out (i.e., The Fog). The focus? Freedom.
Generation 3: Happy medium. The focus? Love and truth.

It may seem strange that I called my mom’s focus Freedom. She thought she was getting things right by giving us the freedom to make our own decisions. But we didn’t have the wisdom or life skills to actually make good decisions. Hello. We were children. We were teenagers. We were young adults. We needed guidance. We needed parents who actually parented. Did you know that the human brain doesn’t finish growing and developing until we’re 25 years old? That explains a lot.

Your turn
Take some time and think about the generations in your family. How did one generation impact the next generation? How are your nuclear family relationships similar or different from your parents and grandparents? It’s interesting to unpack.

The bland family
When I interviewed my college friend Lindsey about what she remembered from her visits to our house, she said, “Everything was vanilla.” She could tell that my dad picked out the wallpaper. She talked about how there was no color in the house and no taste in the food. “You were so bright and colorful as a person, but you didn’t match the house…. You had your dad’s energy level. But he was all high-energy about himself.”

Lindsey’s core thought about me went like this: She didn’t come from this family.

People have always called us The Bland Family, and they were talking about much more than my mom’s cooking. On a deeper level, I think people saw this group of people who were technically related, but didn’t actually relate with each other. There was movement, there was sound, but there was no healthy connection.

All form, no substance.

Checked in
My mom was checked out. I decided before Logan was even conceived that I’d be a mom who was checked in—fully. Average wouldn’t do. Good enough wouldn’t be good enough for me.

I tell Logan that I love him regularly, show him all the five Love Languages, teach him things, talk to him about God and Jesus and the Bible. I truly enjoy him. He is hilarious, precious, insightful and an absolute delight. He’s reached that teenage stage where some nights, he just wants to talk and talk and talk about everything that’s on his mind. Those talks happen late at night and they’re wonderful. They’re a clear window into his mind and heart.


The team
My parents weren’t a team. Dad made the decisions and Mom said Okay.

Brandon and I live as husband and wife and we parent as a team. We don’t just coexist. We talk about things. We sometimes disagree about things. We express our needs and feelings. We identify and solve problems together. We work together on projects. We make plans and dream dreams for our life—together.

We express the five Love Languages to each other: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Physical Touch, Acts of Service and Receiving Gifts.

Healing by giving
I’ve noticed that when I give to others what I needed but didn’t get myself, it’s a healing thing. So I say I love you and give encouragement. I never got that from my parents. When I love and encourage others—sincerely—I am healed.

I can’t really explain it. It just works.

To be an encourager, you have to actually know people—who they are, what they do, what they care about. So in that way, I’m definitely the opposite of my mom, who never knew anyone, not even herself.

Coming next: Can God reach down and interrupt a trauma? You better believe it. Come back the week after Thanksgiving to read about an amazing turnaround—a miracle.

Healing through truth and music
Peaceful Readers, I’ve found great healing in my life through the beauty and truth of God’s word and through music. I hope the truths and songs that I share at the end of each post will bless you too.

Truth from The Word: Romans 8:18

Song for Healing: “Glory” by Meredith Andrews