This school year I enrolled four of the six school aged kids in the local public school. It was not an easy decision. It was a very difficult few weeks. I had to face and admit my own failings and the consequences they have for my children.
For the last couple of years I have been on survival mode, just trying to keep from drowning with the responsibility and demands of raising a large family, homeschooling, being pregnant alone with eight other children, the emotional roller coaster of a marriage in crisis, financial struggles, and illnesses.
My whole life I have been the responsible one, a hard worker, a “law abiding citizen” as my father would say. I accomplished a lot on my own, I graduated college in three years, married my high school sweet heart, traveled the country and spent time overseas. I had beautiful baby after beautiful baby, ran my home efficiently even on a very modest budget. I appreciated what I had, and didn’t feel I was missing out on the things I did not have. As the years ticked by I felt God’s blessings more and more. I had a husband I loved and respected; and kind, intelligent children. We often struggled financially but we had a roof over our heads and our bills were always paid even if sometimes late. We did not need to depend on government hand outs, we lived without many luxuries most people consider necessities in order to afford to remain open to life, to keep me at home with the kids and to give our children a quality catholic education. Homeschooling too was a wonderful experience. I loved watching my children grow and discover the world. They enjoyed learning and were children of strong gentle character. I was succeeding. God blessed me with everything; many children, home, health, faith… I was proud of our accomplishments, but they were not a complete picture of our lives.
I was overburdened, responsible for too much and often for things I did not control. Complaining was not an option because I was so blessed with all these wonderful things, it would have been ungrateful of me to say it was too hard, too much work. If it needed to be done, I was just going to have to find a way to do it. If I wasn’t the perfect wife, mom, friend, daughter, Christian, I would not be loved, I would not be wanted, I would be abandoned.
This was the dirty little secret no one knew…no one saw…no one except my husband. I was overwhelmed, and scared. Having his own poorly healed wounds too, he knew something had to change but didn’t know what. We knew something wasn’t working in ourselves, each other, and consequently us; but couldn’t understand the why and what. (I won’t talk about my husband here. This is a part of MY side of the story.)
While I was happy with my life and loved my family with all my heart I was not joyful to be around. I was always disappointed with myself, too busy trying to do everything I felt responsible for, too tired to “see” the very people I most wanted to know and please. I avoided people and things that reminded me of the skeletons and ghosts hiding in the closet or might cast light on weakness. Conflict was avoided at all costs because exposure to weakness or fear would mean risking rejection. It was as if not making eye contact with brokenness would keep it from attacking.
Asking for help was painful. It required vulnerability, dependence, and invited criticism. Needing help felt too much like failing. If I couldn’t handle something it meant I wasn’t competent, prudent, grateful, responsible…I wasn’t good enough. My obsession with being able to handle it all on my own was making me exhausted and miserable, but I couldn’t admit it. I couldn’t say it was too much because it would mean I didn’t appreciate what I had. It meant I would have to risk dependence. A shackle from my past was the unhealthy lesson that if I wasn’t perfect, if someone felt as if I needed them or depended on them they would see me as pathetic and weak, they would abandon me. It was not a conscious thought. It was a festering childhood wound that hadn’t healed right.
My needs couldn’t be as important as taking care of my family, being responsible, not burdening others. After all God had given me so much it would be wrong to complain about having too much work or being tired. My difficulties were challenges; other people had to deal with real sufferings. Who was I to say my responsibilities were too heavy to carry?
I was miserable wearing the mask of a super strong successful independent woman. I wanted to be happy, I wanted to be grateful, I wanted to be able to succeed at all the opportunities I was blessed with, especially raising a large family and homeschooling. I appeared on the outside to be succeeding. Deep down inside I knew I was not. This ugly truth crept out in unhealthy ways. I was too proud of an image and too scared to admit failings and these truths were killing me inside.
Then a bomb went off in my life almost two years ago and everything rapidly began to unravel. Surviving was the only thing that then mattered. While on survival mode I was still refusing to admit needing others (misguided lesson=dependency leads to abandonment); refusing to admit how overwhelmed I was (misguided lesson=not appreciating blessings will have them taken away); and refusing to admit I was failing (pure pride here) I was still digging a whole. A poorly placed whole under my own feet and even worse the feet of my children.
After years of trying to hold it all together my greatest fears were happening anyway and there was nothing I could do but watch it all crumble.
Part II coming soon.