Friday, October 07, 2016

How A Parent Can Break The Cycle

My mother is going through a tough time right now. She finally got a lawyer job a few years ago, after having been a university student and or sessional instructor for most of my life, and for the first time since they married, she's been making more money than my father is. But now, the firm she works for is having trouble, and it looks like they're thinking of getting rid of their only female lawyer to save money - even though she's not the most junior lawyer, and she's been bringing in plenty of money.

In response, Mom is considering starting her own firm. It's an exciting prospect, which could turn out really well, but it's also very scary. And Mom is especially struggling, fearing that she's not good enough, getting down on herself, etc. Several times recently she's broken down in tears and asked us to convince her that she's a worthwhile person.

Just recently, she revealed that deep down, she feels that she's inferior because she's a woman.

Now, if you knew my Mom, this would be very surprising. She's a staunch feminist, who has taught Women and Gender Studies, did her law thesis on a historical rape-murder case and a deeply sexist 19th century historian's analysis of it, and raised her son and daughter in accordance with feminist ideals. Basically nothing in her behavior suggests that she values women less than men.

But her family did. She was born in 1962, the youngest of six children. In her family, girls and women were expected to serve men and boys, as was typical of the time. Her mother was a loving woman, but she was also a housewife who took sexism for granted. And her father was a deeply selfish man, who acted in some ways like a seventh child for her mother to look after.

And there was even worse going on. He sexually abused my mother, and she suspects that he abused her two sisters as well. My mother only realized the abuse when I was a toddler, around the same time that unbeknownst to her, my cousins on the other side of the family were abusing me.

She has done a lot of work to heal, and from the sounds of it, she's made tremendous progress. She's not the abused little girl who thought her body belonged to her father, not anymore. But the echoes of that experience are still there, deep inside her.

But you know what? They're not inside me. When I'm at my worst, when I feel like a piece of garbage and my mind is listing off my faults, my gender never even comes to mind. I can honestly say that no part of me believes that being a woman is in any way inferior to being a man. And that's because my mother never taught me that lesson.

Which brings me hope for my child. Because despite being a staunch advocate of neurodiversity, despite liking my autism and feeling proud to be who I am, in my worst moments, I am ableist. Deep down, a part of me believes that I'm not really disabled, just lazy and dumb. (Yes, even though I have an IQ of 137. That self-hating voice isn't rational.) Part of me believes that my executive failures are signs that I'm a failure, and that my sensory issues are just me being unreasonable and selfish.

I may never get rid of these echoes of my childhood. But, like my mother, maybe I can raise a child who never develops them. Maybe, as long as I fight back, my child will grow up free of my burdens. Maybe I don't need to fix myself, not completely.

Thanks, Mom. For breaking the cycle, and for showing me that I can, too.


Blogger Viva Voce said...

Wow. What a message of hope!

11:22 AM  

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