When I was young I dreamt many times of killing mother. Yet when woke from these nightmares I shuddered with self-loathing and guilt. Not just from dreaming of killing my mother but also for the realisation that didn’t feel free to be me. I was aged 11 and it was symbolism at its finest. I loved her, needed her, but I wanted to escape her. I suspect many children feel the same; after all parents have ultimate control. There was a deep longing inside me to be free. To be and speak my truth without parental constraint.
I know that not all children need to be free of their parents to own their voice. Some even have their support. But I also know I am not the only one who has faced the challenge.
How can you act, speak or write freely when your parents judge your every move? And at what age do you become free? 18? 21? When you have children of your own?
Recently the mother of friend died (a natural death!) And the first thing she said to me was
‘I am finally an adult. I’m free to make my own unquestioned decisions without her looking over my shoulder.’
She was 60. Will you wait?
Once upon a time there was a kingdom which dictated certain moral codes which were designed to facilitate living together. These were enforced through religion and law. They called acts that went against moral codes ‘wrong’. Like murder. Murder was unsustainable so it was ‘wrong’. All the people living there agreed abide by these moral codes because ‘wrong’ acts clearly were bad for the herd.
But the codes gave a feeling of stability and security. Codes in themselves became synonymous with survival mechanisms even whilst times changed and some codes became outdated. When the people recognised the potential of farming the land, the people developed codes to ensure correct lineage as – they thought – a matter of survival. But these codes were oppressive. They included chastity and fidelity of women. Talking about sex, familiarity with sex or indeed anything that indicated sex was pleasurable became dangerous. The body became shameful. Lust became shameful.
And so parents fearing for their daughter’s survival, taught them to hate sex, to suppress their voices and obey the code. At that time the only way for daughters survive was to make sure they were chaste marriage material.
Then the world changed again, but the codes did not.
I’ve noticed as I write freely, that I have lost friends (mainly women) simply because they do not wish to be associated with my writing. It is for them, a matter of survival. I write intimate details, painful truths and shameful memories.
I’ve used all the words that your mother taught you never to use. I’ve recounted personal experiences in the strongest and sometimes most controversial terms. I’ve written about the things we like to hide from our parents, and the things our parents like to hide from us.
When people ask why I can write do freely, I usually answer something like,
‘It’s taken a lot of courage. Every time I press publish I’ve pushed the boundaries. I’ve stepped out of my comfort one. It’s allowed me to develop as a person. It shows my children that being yourself is something to be proud of. I can do it because I believe that it brings growth.’
It’s the truth, but not the whole truth.
The reason that I can write so incredibly freely about anything, is because I am estranged from both my parents.
I was estranged before I blogged (for other reasons), and by blogging fearlessly I have reinforced this split. The topics I write about damage my parents’ reputations both directly and indirectly within our society’s codes. And yes, they read this blog. It is a serious consequence. I do not have their support, or their love, but neither do I have their judgment.
And yet… I would do it again in a heartbeat. Telling the truth – especially about my upbringing and history – has saved my life and the lives of others. I am happier than I ever dreamed I could be. More free in my opinions than I thought it possible to be.
I know my case is extreme. And I would only ever advocate completely severing ties as a last resort, because there are many levels of intimacy and discretion possible. Enough to tell your truth and heal, without embarrassing your parents. But even I with my freedom, exercise some discretion. You can keep a distance and be free enough to heal.
And of course, parents and children who love each other unconditionally can walk through fire together.
That isn’t my case. Importantly, I am adopted. Blood, I have discovered, is non-negotiable. There is nothing you can do to eradicate it. It is real. An adoption paper on the other hand is parentage as the result of someone’s decision and judgment. It is not real anymore than an opinion is real. It is a family by choice. And not yours.
I have grieved the relationships with my parents. Of course. In many ways it’s a tragedy. Perhaps I had a better relationship with them to begin with I would respect their desire to abide by society’s codes. I would have more compassion for their difficulties. But I’m still learning my compassion, and also in that case I wouldn’t be free. And for me that would have been the worse tragedy.