I Was A Disaster As A Mother

My now-grown kids have told me they loved it that I was an artist and showed them by example about being creative.

Together – detail

However, my personal opinion is that I might have felt more successful as a nurturing, loving mama if I had not been so completely focused on my artwork all the time.

But I wonder — could I really have been the lovey-dovey mama so often praised and put forth to us as the ultimate ideal mother?

I ponder this because my own experience as a child wasn’t exactly the fertile field of affection and acceptance I would think such a lovey-mama would have had in order to grow up to embody such a way of being.

As a young child, there was no tolerance for my being an overly sensitive, empathic child. I heard, ‘suck it up, keep your head up and stop complaining, straighten up and die right’ — words left over from my dad’s military years, drilled into all 4 of us kids’ minds.

I ran away my first time at 6 years old, climbing up into my secret tree fort in the woods near our house. Feeling utterly alone even then— not just alone for a bit, but Alone for Life.

After my trusted, well-loved dentist raped me when I was 13, I taught myself to become The Bitch of All Bitches. No one would hurt ME again. Again, feeling so utterly alone. Like I lived at the bottom of a black well.

I left home the second I could, at 17. Somehow I popped out of the realm of family limitation, and began to develop a kinder personality.

I had thought I was doing OK — until babies entered the picture.

At 26, with my first son crying his lungs out in his crib, his wailing turned me into a human ice cube, incapable of responding to his cries. I couldn’t handle it. I just didn’t have it in my nervous system to be able to give him the comfort he needed.

His father was the one who gently picked him up, cooing and sooing, walking him to sleep and sliding him smoothly back into his little beddy-bye.

While I, I found myself having horrible thoughts of wanting to drop this small wiggly life-disruptor into a barrel somewhere.

Those thoughts made me belly-gasp in horror and guilt.

There was no way on this earth I’d ever do such a thing. But I sure could understand why some women deserted their babies or left them in safe-baby lockers or in other less savory places. Or, gods forbid, harmed them.

Maybe I could be excused for being part of a generation convinced that letting my child ‘cry it out’ was best for him — but in my deepest self, that ragged raging wound of my own cried right along with him.

I was desperate to get him to stop his wails of hopelessness, but didn’t know how.

I wanted to do the ‘right thing’ by the book. I will forever regret adhering to Dr. Spock’s heartless rules for mothers. And for not having the guts or the understanding to buck the trend and do something — anything — that would give the poor kid some comfort.

The turmoil that his loud, never-ending, insistent crying stirred within me was unbearable — a million razor blades scraping my every nerve raw. It was way more than I could endure.

I wondered if other mothers suffered the same thing.

And if so, it was astounding to me that there were so many people on the planet — I wondered how many babies never made it to adultdom because of emotionally stunted mothers like me.

At the time, 1972, the term ‘post-partum depression’ hadn’t been coined. There was no excuse for how I felt. As far as I knew, I was expected to integrate this caterwauling beast into my life smoothly and effortlessly. I would rather have walked barefoot across a floor 3″ deep in loose legos.

Later, once he could communicate better, the pressure inside me reduced enough that I could feel human again. But before that? Their dad had to be the mother. I was so grateful he was so good at it.

We were both fine art potters at that time. I spent as much time as I could wangle making pots — it was the only time I could zone out and find some semblance of peace within myself.

Art was/is not only a soul-deep Calling.

It was my refuge, my safe harbor.

As a kid, I’d run upstairs the very second I could after our always-dreadful family dinner was over. I hated those dinners, my older brothers relentlessly teasing me the entire time, night after night. I’d slam my door shut and retreat into drawing and painting.

My mother would shout up at me, “Come down and join us!”
I’d just shout back, “Homework! Can’t!” and they’d leave me alone.

Eventually I was busted, because homework was the last thing I was doing. I was failing school miserably. They didn’t have any grades lower than F to give me, or they would have.

When I found out that I was headed to boarding school, I started working to improve my grades, actually doing the homework, so I could go. I couldn’t wait to leave the house, my brothers, the incessant teasing, the sharp criticism, the poking and prodding — “You could do better, what’s wrong with you?”

I wondered, myself, what was wrong with me. For years.

It turned out that there is — was — not one thing wrong with me.

That the only thing wrong with me was that I was convinced that there was something wrong with me.

I believed I was unacceptable.
I believed I was ugly.
I believed I was stupid.
I believed people considered my artwork not worth my doing, much less buying.

And more, but those were the toppest thoughts. They absolutely crippled me, my relationships, and my ability to prosper.

I was one of those women who always chose Mr. Totally Wrong.

Three marriages ending in divorce, and many breakups from shorter relationships in between.

The switch came gradually.

At #3 divorce, I decided that, unlike the horrific clashing gnashing endings of every other relationship I’d exited, this time I was going to attempt to see if I could avoid the clash and be on good terms with this man.

It was surprisingly easy. Even the people at the courthouse, seeing us laugh and joke with each other, asked if we really wanted to divorce. That felt good. We are still friends, 20 years later.

But it was only after I had discovered EFT, the Emotional Freedom Techniques, that I began to see where the roots of my disastrous thinking laid, and how to untangle and correct them.

Now, 50 years later, I look back at my treatment of that little baby and wish like holy hell I had had EFT then.

I’d probably still be married to his dad, who is, really, a good man; I’d probably have been able to bear the I’m-alone-come-pick-me-up cries; and been calm, and even comforting, at the very least.

I could do it now. But then? Not a chance.

I regret all the pain that ensued from my inability to get past my own pain and be of comfort to another being in need.

I regret the pain I caused in multiple people down the years.

I regret the pain I caused myself!

But I also know that this earthly plane is the proving grounds for love.

That pain can be a path to forgiveness, and for growth the likes of which could not have occurred without it.

For example, I never understood homelessness until I experienced it. I came out of it with a whole new attitude about homeless people that I wouldn’t have had unless I knew what it was like to sleep helplessly on the cold, hard, filthy streets, night after endless danger-filled night.

Someone asked me once how I could forgive myself for the things I regret.

I replied that, to not forgive myself for the things I have done in my life would be like burning the bottom of a ladder as I try to scramble to the top.

I have to accept all of the ladder, whatever my judgement of it is. It just IS.

Now I can look at the whole picture of me and see that, despite the scars, the rips and shreds, the limp, and the simple fatigue of being old, I am who I am, and I’m OK with me, all the way through.


Thanks for reading my story!

I was frankly nervous about posting this one. It’s so raw. But I read it to a friend and watched her respond as I read — it was gratifying to see how she was obviously relating to my story. She insisted that I post it. So if you don’t like it, blame Andrea!


I Was A Disaster As A Mother
© Angela Treat Lyon 2023

Image at top of story: Together
Detail of the tall stone sculpture below
© Angela Treat Lyon 2013



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