Last week I sat in a dark auditorium and watched my daughter and four of her friends perform a one act play that she had written. I always cry when any of my kids performs, whether it’s singing in the choir, acting in a play, or chasing a ball in sports. I just can’t keep the tears at bay when I watch my kids doing their thing.
But this day the tears streaking down my face were from more than just pride, my heart was breaking. The play is titled “Not for the Perfect” and it’s the story of a picture perfect family that was anything but. It's the story of parents and kids who were trapped in a cycle of abuse, addiction, and abandonment. It was a hard story to watch. Harder still knowing that my daughter and her friends used stories from their own real lives as inspiration for the play.
That night before bed my daughter and I were talking about the show. I was telling her how proud I was of her. For her talent to write and perform, but also for her bravery to stand in her school in front of her peers and tell them that her family isn’t perfect… that she knows fear… that she’s felt rejection… and that she wants to be someone they can talk to when they feel like they’ve lost all hope.
We both had tears streaming down our faces by this time. And then my daughter said to me the words that has made every hard day in the last two decades of my life worth it. She said, “Thank you for breaking the cycle. Thank you for staying. Thank you for always making us feel loved.”
In Brené Brown’s book Rising Strong she gives some back story on her childhood and how her family grew and changed over the years. She talked about how as a child her quest for knowledge led her constantly to the dictionary or the encyclopedia for more information. That she wanted to know more about everything, except emotion. When I read those words I couldn’t breathe. That was me as a child. An unquenchable thirst for knowledge and a complete ignorance of emotion.
Brené said, “I grew up with a dry emotional well. We didn’t discuss feelings. We didn’t do vulnerability. If we happened to get so overwhelmed by emotion that tears or a look of fear physically breached through our tough veneer, we were promptly and not-too-subtly reminded that emotions don’t fix problems- they make them worse. Doing, not feeling, fixes problems.”
I never knew that other families operated on that principle. But I knew that mine did. As a child it often felt like the only acceptable emotion was anger. And anger scared me. So I didn’t feel. I just tried to be quiet and hide.
The problem with that way of thinking is that avoiding emotion leads to us avoiding life. It leads to a life of running and hiding. Wives hide from husbands and kids. Husbands run from their families. We all hide what we’re feeling. We run from our emotions. We shut down and shut others out. And when we quit running we look up to find that we’re all alone.
When I became a mom I made a promise. I promised I’d never run. That whenever my kids needed me I would be there. That I would talk to them. About everything. And anything. That I would be honest with them. That I would let them see me cry. That I wouldn’t hide my moments of fear from them. That I would be present in their lives. And let me tell you, keeping this promise has been an all-out war. And I’m not ashamed to say that I have lost so many battles through the year. There were so many moments when depression and fear and anxiety kept me from being the mom I wanted to be. I had seasons of running and hiding. But I always came back. I always reengaged.
Brené’s mother finally realized that in order to engage with her children she first had to engage with her emotions. That decision sent her to counseling and some hard soul searching. Brené said about that season, “My mother, who was living on Merit cigarettes, Tab soda, and her survival instincts, saw her emotional reckoning as a life-or-death situation.” Yes! Isn’t it true? I’ve felt that time and time again. That the attacks that are threatening to destroy me must be reckoned with. That the situation is life or death. And that it’s not only my life or death that hangs in the balance, but my children’s as well.
In my daughter’s play she writes, “It’s amazing isn’t it? The power that fathers hold and they don’t even realize it. They don’t realize that everything they do molds you, scars you.”
I have scars from my parents. Most of us do. I know that my children have scars from me too. But, there’s a difference between a flesh wound and a nearly fatal blow.
Reckoning is hard stuff. It’s easier to run and hide from life when it gets hard. Facing hard emotions is never easy. But it’s worth it. It’s worth it to pay for counseling for years and cry your eyes out to your best friend. It’s worth it to suck it up and fight when you want to pack a bag and run. It’s worth it to go to seminars, and retreats, and allow yourself to be mentored. It’s worth it to break the cycle. It’s worth it even if you 18 year old daughter never sits on your bed and says “thank you.”
It’s worth the reckoning.
It’s worth the fight.
It’s worth the tears.
Break the cycle. You can. I did.