You’re not as awful as you think.

Seven months ago, my daughter ghosted me. She was angry and upset over something I’d said and rather than talking to me about it, she went with radio silence.

During a subsequent text exchange about five months later as she tried to reconnect, suggesting it had nothing to do with me, mostly. She had fallen into another abusive relationship and that had led to problems. She’d kicked him out now, however, and was ready to reconnect.

(Side note: if you’re getting out of an abusive relationship, stay single and get help. I’ve suggested this to her [and others in similar situations], but it doesn’t seem to stick. She goes from one to the next, from harm to harm.)

That I was going to hold her accountable for her behaviour came as a shock, as did the news that my trust had been damaged. Natural consequences have never been her thing, and historically, I’ve not held her adult(ish) self responsible for much of anything. But therapy has been sinking in, so this time I did.

The response was unpleasant, abusive, and full of gas-lighting. She accused me of a lot of vile things which mostly boiled down to charges of my abusing her and my grandson for the four years they lived with me.

This isn’t the first time ghosting has happened in my relationship with my daughter.

One of the accusations she levelled at me was that I treat my son differently. This is likely true though not for the “you love him best” reasons she levied at me.

I will interject something here that I likely haven’t mentioned – my daughter is my stepdaughter. She and her sister were the children of my son’s father. I was their stepmother for seven years, and four of those were full-time. Her father and I split when he started a relationship with my married best friend. She kicked her husband out for the “love of a lifetime.”

I wish I’d kicked him out for abusing me, but that didn’t happen.

“The love of a lifetime” lasted for less than a year. But in that year, the abuse I’d experienced with him amplified exponentially. Police were called, often. He lost in court because of the violent damage he inflicted several times. And then he started using the girls to send messages. ‘You’re a bitch. Daddy says you’re crazy.” On and on like this. Abusive people need to win; the collateral damage they cause doesn’t seem to matter to them

I decided to pull back. He was harming the girls and harming me. Visits and messages fully stopped when they were about eleven. Their father surrendered them to foster care, and never gave me a chance to take them in, which means they never had a chance. Their experiences in foster care were vile.

I mention the above – and no, I wasn’t perfect – because the daughter who I connect with blames me for treating my son better. I don’t believe this is the case. The difference in the way I treat her and my son isn’t a function of biology. It’s a function of time. I know him better. That wasn’t something she was willing to hear.

It’s also a function of her behaviour. Even before this recent schism, living with her was tense. You’re aware that a misstep will lead to ugliness. How odd that I didn’t connect the dots.

The accusations she levelled reminded me of the conversations I sometimes had with her dad. Pointed abuse and gaslighting were his specialties too.

I talked things over with my therapists, my friends, and my son, who saw me crying the day of the texts and said, “whatever she’s saying, you didn’t do anything wrong.”

I didn’t share the contents with him. She’s his sister, though she ghosted him too.

Despite the reassurances, her words still burned. Sticks and stones do break the bones – I have no idea why someone wrote those garbage lines to the contrary.

I’ve been training and have been qualified to be a foster parent. I can no longer work for someone else – my fractured brain isn’t going to get back to being able to function on a rigid, external timetable. When I putter along in my home doing my things my way, it’s all good. So I thought perhaps fostering was a way to go.

We all need something meaningful to do with our time.

I started the approval process before my daughter and I were alienated. Interestingly, one of the best recommendations was from her. But words get into the brain and crawl around, so despite other people’s props, despite what I know about myself regarding how I parent, and despite what I’ve learned from my mistakes over the years, it was my daughter’s abusive words that kept echoing in my head.

I think my inability to fully let them go is also why my brain focuses on imagined conversations following her imaginary return, where I get to present my case and devastate her efforts at gaslighting.

We all like to win. [i]

I’ve been doing some foster work, however. So far it’s been relief for other parents. Up until this weekend, it was also short efforts, but today is my last day of a four-day run.

I was not a monster. I was not like the things she said. I was occasionally firm when they got over-the-top, but mostly that sounds like “it’s not okay to push your sister like that. She’s little. I know you said ‘accident,’ but we can say sorry even if we didn’t mean it. Let’s sit her for one minute and calm down.”

We sit together for a minute and then it’s back to play. Children have a hard time regulating their enthusiasm at times and it’s good to help them calm down periodically, especially if they’re trapped in a smallish place because it’s raining.

I got a hug from the little one at bedtime last night – the first – and my heart melted. [ii]

It was probably one of the best hugs I’ve ever received because it broke through the noise that my daughter’s words generated in my head and reminded me of something I’d forgotten.

I’m pretty good at parenting. I’ve made some mistakes. I’ve made some awful ones I regret – I once yelled loudly at my daughters when they were two and three. I was so frustrated. That, however, was the first and last time I yelled at kids like that. What I learned from that is that parents can need timeouts too.

It wasn’t vile. I didn’t scream epithets or attack on a personal level. But it was loud and they were upset and scared. Never again. I don’t yell at kids. I’ve never hit a child.

I’m a good parent.

It’s funny how some people can target our soft spots. I’m vulnerable to parenting criticism because I struggle with my mental health and because I was a single parent. I’ve always felt apologetic about those things.

But it has been a good four days. I’m tired – parenting little ones in your fifties is different from your thirties – I fell asleep on the couch twice this weekend after getting them down, and before nine. But I remembered something her words made me forget – I’m not perfect, but I’m not a monster either, and parenting is something I do well.

Don’t believe everything people tell you.

[i] This isn’t the first time she’s done this to me as an adult. She wants a relationship when she wants help and usually burns me when it’s been given. This is the first time she’s been this abusive, and the first time she’s done it with a child.

[ii] I’m big on not forcing children to ignore their bodily autonomy. You don’t make them kiss or hug other people. It comes from them or not at all.

17 thoughts on “You’re not as awful as you think.

  1. Wow – Michelle, what a great full circle you’ve written about here. That is wonderful that you are fostering. I can attest to it being tiring when they are young and you are in your 50’s – but we’ve also earned an incredible amount of patience and self knowledge that you do a great job of describing in this post.

    But I also take a nap every day just to keep up so I can totally relate to the need to shut down for a minute when they are sleeping. I love the beautiful hug you describe – and that you are feeling what a great parent you are. Wonderful!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m so happy to hear that you’re flipping off the criticism and self-doubt to prove to yourself and others that you are, in fact, a wonderful person. Fostering is something I always saw myself doing when I was a single mom (sadly, my husband is not of the same mind), so I feel a kinship here. I hope you experience many more moments of validation from your foster kids—you deserve them all. 💕

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m sorry your daughter has said such horrible things but pleased to read that you can recognise them as lies. Well done, that’s not easy! And I have so much admiration for foster carers, it’s wonderful that you can bring those great parenting skills to support kids in need. I hope it brings you joy balanced with good rest when they’re gone 💖

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Yes, words do hurt and sometimes worse than sticks and stones and the scars sometimes hang around longer. Glad you’re able to discern the things to heed from the ones that are plain BS. All the best with your fostering and I pray those hugs keep coming 💕.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. So much to unpack in this post. As a step-mom, occasional foster and imperfect person, myself, I empathize with you and sympathize because your situation is unique to you. First of all, I admire you for the strength to recognize your own flaws and to seek help for them. That makes you a hero in my book. Now, I would only like to share a couple of lessons I’ve learned in my personal experiences in hopes they may help you with your journey, as well. 1) Children become the basic people they will become before the age of 7. They witnessed abusive behaviors by their father and therefore will repeat those patterns without some sort of intervention. Their genetics may be connected to abusive behaviors, chemical imbalances, etc. 2) Step-children are not your children. This concept was the hardest for me to accept. I refer to my step-children as my “children” and I love them as my own, but I acquired them when they were all over the age of 8. Counseling taught me to accept my role as a mentor instead of trying to be a mother. It made the world of difference in our relationship when exes are constantly filling their heads with negativity about you. When your step-children say or do something mean to you, it’s much easier to tell yourself, “not my kids.” 3) The only person we have control over is ourselves. Your step-daughter has her own demons and battles. You can only control how you react to her actions. When she is acting out, let “Not my problem.” become your mantra. Feel free to contact her if you want to talk to her but if she wants to ghost you, it’s because of her own problems, not yours. Family comes in all forms. I hope this helps or at least lifts you up a bit, today.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This was a great comment and has given me a lot to think about. Your points one and two are going to be important to hold onto and remember. I like the idea of thinking of the relationship as a friend and mentor. The reminder of control is a timely one going into Christmas dinner. Myself, and no one else. I struggle with that for sure – it’s the fixer brain. Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

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