When you become a parent, it’s important to take into consideration how you were raised. The things you hated and the things you loved growing up shape you into the adult you end up becoming. That includes the toxic behaviors of your parents.
My mother raised me and my three brothers to the best of her abilities. She taught us the values that we would one day carry into adulthood, and eventually teach our own children. She says that the most important thing for her was to make sure we knew we were loved, because her mother made her feel unwanted, more like a burden than a blessing. She wanted nothing more than to make sure that, despite her upbringing, she raised us right.
As much as I love my mother and have barely any complaints on how I was raised, she definitely had a few quirks that proved for an interesting childhood. See my mother, like me, has a mental illness. In most cases, mental illness is hereditary; so if a family member has one, it’s more likely for you to have one. My mother can’t take all the blame for my illness, as my father also had major depression. But my mother’s illness is a little more complicated. She has obsessive compulsive disorder, irrational paranoia, and major depression. Like I said, a few quirks.
Obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD, can manifest in many ways. My mother’s OCD shows up as a need to be perfect, as well as being a “clean freak” and having religious obsessions. Each obsession was pushed onto us, and we had no other choice but to comply. I remember not thinking too much about the cleanliness obsession at first—what mother doesn’t fuss about toys and dirty clothes? That was until it wasn’t just about toys and dirty laundry anymore. It became the baseboards and the grout in the bathroom. The dishes needed excessive amounts of bleach for her to believe they were clean. We joke now that it just taught us how to keep house.
But it was more than that. She would blow up if things weren’t to her liking. I’m not talking Mommie Dearest levels of scary, but scary nonetheless. Those blow-ups turned into her locking herself in her room once we became disobedient teenagers who didn’t clean as well as we used to. The frustration was too much for her, and my mother’s favorite way to deal with any ill mood was to lock herself away like Rapunzel. She said it was better than blowing up.
Religious obsession is pretty much what it sounds like. My mother is Christian, and when she was younger, she developed this ungodly obsession with the book of Revelations. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s the gospel in the bible that tells of the end of time when God will call all deserving of heaven home. She would pray for that day, for the trumpets’ blare, so she could walk into heaven. She told me that it was because she was depressed that this obsession came about. Like many people, she was looking for solace in religion but found instead an unhealthy fixation.
She would make us prey and go to Church. We went to Sunday school and regular services, as well as bible study. Unfortunately, she still felt that this wasn’t enough to save our souls, and would make us pray in the shower before we went out into the world. We prayed before bed, and before meals. In retrospect I think she may be the reason I have such a profound hatred toward going to church, and haven’t been since becoming an adult.
Her irrational paranoia made me feel like my mother was completely disconnected from reality. She often made us stay indoors because of something her mind concocted. The fears were outrageous—she’d be convinced that a plane would fall out the sky, or a tree would fall and crush us. I remember her saying that she had to move us from one of our childhood homes because it was too close to the street and she was afraid a car would drive through our window. She would scream in the car while driving over bridges. One time, we were on the highway and the shadow of a plane went across the ground. My mother took her eyes off the road and literally leaned across the steering wheel to stare at the plane while hitting the brakes, as if we weren’t in traffic driving at full speed. She would make us triple check the locks in the middle of the night in case the house wasn’t actually locked, when she had already checked it five times before we did. She has told me that she wouldn’t sleep until she made sure the stove was off. For me, her paranoia meant a lot of embarrassing moments and lost sleep.
In part two of this blog post, I’ll discuss my mother’s depression, how it felt to live through that as a child, and how it’s affecting my own parenting now. I’ll also offer my own treatment and coping strategies. Stay tuned!
https://www.nimh.nih.gov/about/advisory-boards-and-groups/namhc/reports/genetics-and-mental-disorders-report-of-the-national-institute-of-mental-healths-genetics-workgroup.shtml – toc-i