Monday, March 17, 2014

Damn Straight I'm Gonna Wear It

A couple weeks ago both of my kids got the stomach flu. I’m telling you, there aren’t many things that I rank higher in the “hellish experience” department than being a single working mother of two young children with the stomach flu. Missing work (i.e. a paycheck) so that I can spend my day covered in barf, Lysol, and wading through laundry, just kills me. I am convinced that if I die and come to consciousness wearing no shoes while the road to the gates is paved with jumbled up Lego’s, and vomit is somehow involved, I will instantly know that I am in hell.

With that being said, do you know what I rank as an even higher hellish experience than two kids with the stomach flu? When I get the stomach flu and still have to mother two small children.  After being up round the clock for several days straight, I suddenly found myself near passed out lying on the cold, slate tiled, bathroom floor. Fun times. At one point I remember stumbling to the couch, looking at the clock, and realizing it was only 4pm. I still had to make dinner, give baths, get the kids to bed, and I could barely hold my head up. The next thing I know I’m looking at the clock and its 3am, all the lights in the house are off, I’m still on the couch, and it is very, very quiet. OH MY GOSH ARE MY CHILDREN EVEN STILL HOME??


I run upstairs and there is my boy child, snuggled into his crib with his snuggie and pacifier. There is a chair next to his bed, he is wearing mismatched pajamas, and a swim diaper. I look into my girl child’s room and she is in her bed, night light on, books on the nightstand, and is sleeping peacefully. As I’m trying to wrap my head around what is going on, I start to wander around the house to see if I can jog my memory and remember taking care of them for the evening. Ok, toothbrushes are on the bathroom counter, so teeth were brushed. Did I feed them? I go into the kitchen and dishes are on the table. Ok, it looks like they had waffles, bananas, and applesauce. Why do I not remember doing any of this?? Great, now not only am I dehydrated, vomiting, and feverish, I am also apparently losing my mind. I go back into the girl child’s room and wake her up.

“Baby, did I make dinner?”

She rubs her eyes, looks at me and says “Oh. You’re not dead. We thought you were dead so I made dinner and put him to sleep. I put waffles in the microwave just like you showed me. I pushed a three and an eight and made sure they weren’t too hot for him. I couldn’t lift him into bed so I got him my desk chair and he climbed in. I read him a story and made sure he had all his things for sleeping and we said our prayers. I even turned all the lights off too because I thought you were dead so you didn’t need any lights on.”

Ok, first off, I think I need to talk with her a little bit more about calling for help if mommy dies. Secondly, I am so proud of her. Third, I am so proud of myself.

Several months ago my friend called me and told me that she was coming to my house, she was bringing someone with, and that they had something for me. I had no idea what was going on and when they showed up, I was shocked as hell. Apparently the woman that came with my friend works for a jewelry company and for the holidays they were running a contest to present a deserving woman with a customized necklace. The day the nominations opened my friend nominated me using my story as my nomination reason. After the woman read my story she immediately stopped taking any more nominations, even though she was supposed to be accepting submissions for a few days. Together the two of them designed a necklace for me that represented my story. Well if that wasn’t surprise enough, I about fell over when I saw the necklace. There was a charm that said “warrior,” symbolizing how I’ve never given up and there was a charm that said “hope” to represent how I always move forward, but the one that got me, the one that took my breath away, was the ribbon charm. My friend looked at me and said “this ribbon is special, it’s the ribbon that’s given to people that have survived child abuse.”

My heart nearly stopped.



Child abuse. I survived child abuse. I know that I did, I mean I’m not an idiot, but I’ve always just sort of skirted the edges and said “my parents were abusive.” I put the focus on my parents by saying “they were abusive” and take it off of myself by avoiding the term “child abuse.”

You see, one of the first questions that I get asked by people when they find out that my parents were abusive, is if I ever fear that I will be abusive towards my kids. I think some just ask out of curiosity, some ask out of poor taste, and I think some ask for fears that they harbor from their own past. They usually mention something about the abuse cycle and ask if that scares me. For a long time, I didn’t know how to answer. It’s embarrassing to be asked that. It instantly makes you feel as if you are being judged in the worst of ways. You are asking me if I would ever abuse a child. Are you asking me if I am a monster?  Of course I always say “no, I would never hit a child,” but deep down, where all the ugly lives, with everyone always asking me, I started to wonder if one day I might. I couldn’t imagine doing it and I am by nature a calm person, but still, what if? What if I have been so damaged by my past that I will turn into my mother?

Here I was, holding a beautiful necklace so lovingly gifted to me that boldly stated that I was born of a monster and could very well be damaged because of it.

My friend left and I sank down on the couch, thinking about my parents, my past, and my kids. I wondered if I wore the necklace what people would think of me. I look at my own mother and I know where she came from. Her father was horrifically abusive, so much so, that her own mother hung herself while my mother, at three years old, napped in the next room. By a horrific twist of fate, my mother’s father married a woman who was equally as abusive as he was. Together they abused my mother until her stepmother murdered her father (or so the story is told) and my mother disowned her own family. When I was born the cycle was continued with me. She took everything she had learned growing up, and she unleashed on me.

Now here I am, with two small children, no role models, no husband, and for the most part, no idea what I’m doing. I wonder, all the time, if I’m doing ok. The odds of feeling like my kids are going to turn out ok are stacked against me. They are daycare babies, which makes me feel guilty. I feel like I’m running from sun up to sun down and constantly feel like they don’t see enough of me. I worry that they have no male role model. I worry because I can’t always financially provide them with what they need. My biggest fear though has always been that I will turn out like my mother.

Then things happen. Reality runs over you like a semi truck in the way of the stomach flu and you realize that it’s ok, that the kids are ok. That you are doing ok. I realized that I, am doing ok.

I am not my mother and I never will be. If I was going to turn out like her, it already would have happened. I challenge a good majority of people to compare stress with me over the last few years, because my experiences will kick the ass of most in the general population. I don’t know many people who have gone through as much stress as I have in the last couple of years, and yet even in my worst of times, none of it was ever taken out on my children. I would spend my day scrubbing houses, watching bills go unpaid, being stalked by ex, feeling worn down with everything that was in me, and yet little mouths would be fed. Books would be read, snuggles would be had, heads would be kissed, and children would be loved.

My daughter has always been empathetic towards every living creature, but when I found out that she had spent the night taking care of her little brother, it hit home. “Mom’s dead, I guess it’s just us now, at least I know what I‘m doing!” Not only did she make sure that his physical needs were met, but she had read him a book and tucked him into bed with all the things that make him feel safe. When I saw that, I knew that we would be ok. She is learning from me. She has been watching me and learning what things are important. She knows that it’s not just the feeding and the diapering, but it’s the loving. It’s the books and the pacifiers, it’s the nightlights and the prayers. At five years old she took charge feeling fully confident that she knew what was important and she pulled it off flawlessly.


The cycle has been broken. It ended with me and it will not continue.  When my daughter was born I thought long and hard about how I was going to discipline her. I had no baseline on what was and was not appropriate, the only thing I had was the knowledge of how I felt as a child. The only thing I knew about discipline, was that I never wanted my children to feel the way that I did as a child.

I run a tight ship about here. I am strict to the core and my kids know it, and yet all is calm, there is no yelling. I vividly remember what it felt like to have the force of my parent’s words coming down over me from their grown up height, several feet above my head. I don’t remember anything that they were saying, but I remember the feelings associated with the forcefulness of their words. I don’t think my message will come across clearer to my children just because it is coming across louder. If anything, I think it will be drown out, so there is no yelling.

Discipline is handled with phrases such as “I am not happy with the choice that you are making” and “I know how smart you are and I know that you know better than this.” My daughter knows well the phrase “I love you very much, but I do not like how you are acting.” There is also a lot of “I’m sorry that you are upset, I’m upset too. I really wanted you to be able to do that, but you chose to make a bad choice and now we can’t.” There is never any “bad boy,” or “that was stupid,” or “you don’t deserve to do that now.” I refuse to tear down the people that they are, but rather point out the flaw in their actions.  So far, it seems to be working.  My kids don’t throw tantrums and they rarely act out. We have reward charts for good behavior and “reflection times” when someone needs a time out. Privileges are earned and lost as necessary and I am far from a pushover. I’ll be the first to admit that my kids are far from perfect, they have an energy level that can be difficult to manage, but discipline is handled with a firm gentleness.

I am often told by other child abuse survivors that they are too scared to have children of their own out of fear that they will become abusers themselves. I am proof that the cycle can be broken. Don’t look on your past as a curse, but as a lesson. Not many people have the advantage of remembering what it felt like to be nothing.

Parents these days are busy. There are more two parent working households and single parent families now, than there ever have ever been before and with it comes more stress. It’s easy for parents to get home from a long day at work feeling emotionally drained, overwhelmed, stressed to the max, and feeling daunted by the fact that they still have little lives to watch over for the evening. I get it, I’m right there with them. But what I have, the advantage that I have over people with typical upbringings, is that the feelings that I had as a child are burned into the core of my soul. I have the unique perspective of understanding from a child’s point of view what it felt like to be a burden. What it felt like to be unwanted and in the way. I remember and as much as I want to forget, I can’t, and so I’m using it. I’m taking the unwanted lessons and I’m using them to parent. I may not have the parenting answers that typical upbringing people have, but I have something better.

I have an insight that has been uniquely gifted to me and that’s special. All the other stuff that I need to learn I can read in a book, but the insight that I have gained is priceless. As much as I want to forget how I felt as a child, it gives me a connection to my children that is unique to abuse survivors. I know what I wanted to hear as a child and I make sure to tell my children those things on a near constant basis. I know how I felt as I was being torn down, and even when the day has felt twenty eight hours long and I can’t imagine answering the three hundred and sixty fourth question from the five year old, I refuse to make her feel like she is in my way because I know how much it hurts to feel like a burden.

If you remember from my original story, I have whispered in my daughter’s ear every night of her life since the day she was born “You are amazing. You are precious. You are smart. You are beautiful. Don’t let anyone tell you differently and don’t ever forget it because you are loved." I want nothing more than to burn into her brain the knowledge that she is important, worthy, and loved.

Both of my children know above and beyond that they are loved, and as I watch my daughter grow I’m starting to feel better about the job that I’m doing. I see her cheer her friends on, I see her compliment them and tell them they are doing a great job, and as any mother would be, I’m proud. But I’m not just proud in a bragging mom kind of way “oh good my child listens and has manners,” I’m proud because I’m seeing my fears slip away. At five years old she knows that it feels good to be proud of yourself and she wants others to feel the same way. I’m not failing her, I am teaching her the lessons that no one ever cared to teach me and that many people doubted I would be able to teach my children when they rolled me into a statistic and lumped me into a “cycle.”

I’m going to wear my necklace and I’m going to be proud. I survived child abuse and I’ve broken the cycle. I won’t abuse my children and I am proud of the way that I am raising them. I hope people look at my necklace and understand my path. I want them to look at my past and learn my lessons, look at my children and see my victories.



As abuse survivors we have all been uniquely gifted with insights that a typical person simply cannot possess. We are survivors, we are strong. I am better, not in spite of my past, but because of it. My parenting skills are not “less than,” they are “better because.” I may not have all the answers, but I have the most important ones. I survived child abuse and my children are thriving because of it.

I was born of a monster, but I will not become one. As I’ve referenced before, beauty blooms in the cracks of life and new life grows from the ashes. I look at my children, born of destruction, and I see it. They are growing and thriving and blooming from the cracks of my broken life.

So no, I don’t think that I will abuse my children because of my past. As I watch them grow I am affirmed in the knowledge that my children are thriving, not in spite of my past, but because of it.

I will wear my necklace and I will hold my head high. I survived child abuse and while not a path I would have wanted, I am damn proud of where it has led me.




Photo Credit Stunned Guy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/somegeekintn/
Photo Credit Heart Strip: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

36 comments:

  1. This was beautifully written. You are very eloquent.

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  2. I'm glad you were only "mostly dead." :) Thanks for sharing, as always. I see two kinds of parents who were abused as children: Those who continue the cycle, and those who break it. You HAVE broken it-for forever! You have changed the lives of hundreds of people for many generations because of your courage, insight, and resolve. Is there a charm on your necklace for that? There should be. Something like...I dunno. Wonder Woman's bracelets or something. ;)

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    1. Hehe, I'm glad I was only mostly dead too lol. Although I felt almost all the way dead.

      You rock, thank you. I will keep my eyes peeled for a wonder woman bracelet lol

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  3. I went through something similar when I had my third child. All my kids were born by c-section, which left me unable to do much. A few days after my youngest and I came home, my husband went to work in another city. He was gone from Monday to Friday every week, and I had a newborn, a 2 1/2 year old, and a 5 year old. My eldest learned how to get lunch for himself and his sister, and do a lot of things that 5 year olds don't normally do in our culture. He's now 28, and a very competent young man.

    As for not spanking or hitting your youngsters--GO YOU! I get such flack when I tell other parents that I never ever hit my kids (okay, for the record, I hit my eldest ONCE, and then realized that the sole reason I did so was to let off my frustration, not to discipline him). They seem to feel that since they were hit as kids and turned out okay, that it's all right to do it to their kids. Kind of like saying that since you've never been in an accident while drinking and driving, it's okay to do that, too...

    As for my kids, they've all turned into amazing adults, so lack of physical discipline obviously didn't do any harm! I just wish that I'd been able to do as you do and not yell, either. I hurt my kids with words (and other folks too) more times than I can say, and I'm not proud of it.

    Keep up the fantastic parenting work! (And as for the flu, that too shall pass. And come again, and go, and... Just went through a bout of it at our house, too.)

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    1. It sounds like you are a great mother and your kids are lucky to have you!

      Thank you as always for your insights hun!

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  4. That's one awesome little girl you are raising! You sound like an incredible mother, ESPECIALLY considering what you endured in your formative years! I was one of the lucky ones in that respect; I had a lovely mum, how you described your parenting style reminded me of her; she was strict- she wanted to teach us to be good human beings, after all- but so massively loving. She would have been my role model as a parent for sure.... except due to circumstances WAY beyond her control, I got sick, very very sick (crazy-sick, just to clarify, not physically, though there were physical repercussions, as there often are!), and now I won't ever be a mum myself. Which is ok, really; it just wasn't meant to be. But I love it that there are good parents in the world- it sounds weird but it brings me a kind of vicarious joy in hearing about it!
    Anyways, I've turned my comment into a bit of a burble it seems; all I meant to say was, big aww to your little girl being such a soldier, congrats on the necklace/ recognition (both the recognition of others and your own at having broken that cycle) and feel better!
    xs

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    1. Aw, thank you :)

      It sounds like you have a great outlook!

      Thank you hun!!

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  5. I'm not sure if it makes me a bad person, but I laughed at how your daughter said she thought you were dead. That's too cute. Okay, yeah. I'm a bad person. Moving on. ;)

    "You see, one of the first questions that I get asked by people when they find out that my parents were abusive, is if I ever fear that I will be abusive towards my kids."
    I hate that question. Hate hate hate hate hate. I don't want to have children. It's more because of health issues I have that would be greatly worsened should I ever get pregnant, but also I just...don't really want kids. I've worked in child care for nearly 10 years now and absolutely adore kids, but I just don't particularly want any of my own. Whenever people hear that, they ask "Is it because you were abused as a kid and you're afraid you'll do it to your offspring?"
    Uh, no not really. I just have no desire to procreate. Simple as that.

    You seem to be doing an absolutely fantastic job raising your children. Your daughter sounds like a wicked awesome big sister. Way to go! You have definitely broken the cycle of abuse. Your kids are extremely lucky to have you.

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    1. Ha, well if you ever want to rent a kid to appeas other's, I'll mail you one of mine. I wonder why people care so much if someone is going to have kids or not?

      I laughed at the "dead" part too haha.

      Thank you for your sweet words :)

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  6. My 20 month old has been testing her boundaries lately, so I've been having to make up a lot of discipline on the fly. We've been doing time-outs and removal of privileges. I've been talking about it with my mom, an elementary school teacher, who has been very supportive and informative about child development theory. In one of our conversations about the subject, she said how happy she was that I wasn't practicing spanking. When my daughter was 10 months old she pulled a boiling hot bowl of chili onto her lap and got second degree burns around her diaper area. I get tearful about it just thinking about it now, and I can't imagine hearing her make those cries from something I did to her. How could she trust me if I spanked her? What would that teach her? It would teach her to hit people smaller than her and that comes naturally to toddlers.

    The crappy thing about removing privileges is that it's a punishment for me too. I like story time, I like the shows we watch, and I like doing the things that she likes me to do with her. Not allowing her to do those things for reasons that she doesn't fully understand punishes me too. Especially because then I become Big Mean Mommy as my husband doesn't get much of a chance to do the parenting heavy lifting. Which leaves me with time-outs and I'm not sure the message is received no matter what I do vis a vis discipline.

    BTW, you're doing an awesome job. I was expecting that you'd find them curled up in her bed together. Is there someone you could call next time you get sick? Also have you drawn up a will? Who do you want to have custody should, god forbid, something happen to you?

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    1. 20 months is a fun age isn't it lol! Just wait until they get older and you have to start taking away things that they have been waiting days for. Its breaks your heart! My daughter lost a movie/ice cream night with mommy a few weeks ago, I think I was more upset than she was.

      Yes, I have a will and guardian's lined up in case I suffer an unfortunate demise lol. I have beat it into my attorne'y brain and given several people his number to call him ASAP if I die. Scary to think about though

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  7. OMG, that is such a good point that Sara A. makes! Who DO you have designated? And did you ever think that if you didn't/don't (at least TRY and set something else up for them), that most likely your "charming" EX would get them? (IF he wanted them. But if he did, then he'd definitely get them, just because they're "his", even if he has less affection or interest than your average rock does.) If not, then probably YOUR PARENTS will get them?!! (Or one of your "delightful" brothers, perhaps?) Seriously, lately the big fad is to keep children "in the family" AT ALL COSTS! (And sadly, sometimes the costs are grim.) You have got to go talk to your "Awesome Lawyer" and figure out how to make your will -and especially your children's guardianship- as airtight and foolproof as possible, and ASAP. (Nobody ever plans to check out any earlier than their expected lifespan limit, of course, especially when they're still young and healthy and can't imagine their own mortality, but sometimes things do happen. So like they tell you, "Prepare for the maybe, and then you don't have to worry about it!") Good luck!

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    1. One step ahead of you :) I have a Will and all my legalities taken care of in terms of what would happen if I die. Did it right after my ex left. He wouldn't get them bc there is an order of protection against him over my children, but my parents could have and that scares the sh** out of me! I've been blessed with some amazing friends whom I know would raise them in a manner that I would approve of :)

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  8. This is awesome, that is all. :)

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  9. Possibly your best post yet!! You have proven to yourself AND your kids that life goes on - you have set an amazing example for your family and THAT will carry on!!! Kudos kiddo ♥♥♥

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  10. incredibly touching (and I am not even a parent). thank you so much for living and writing the way you do. you seriously give me hope for humanity.

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  11. This is so moving, and even though I've never suffered from child abuse, I looked up to some pretty abusive people when I was a teenager, and am still trying to claw my way out of the deep, dark rabbit hole they led me into.

    Nobody has to be "like" their abusers. If anything, I think the most powerful thing anyone can do is refuse to be like them.

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    1. Very well said my friend, very well said :)

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  12. Please do give your daughter a little training on what to do in an emergency (if you find mommy on the floor, etc....) If you really had been dangerously incapacitated (stroke, anaphylactic shock, heart attack, etc.,) you WOULD have died if she had just let you be and "carried on" in your place, as she did this time (vs calling 911.) Every child can be taught about 911, and it is clearly time she learned that if mommy isn't responding at all (and she should check this first... and had she done that she probably would have awakened you?) she needs to call for help. ASAP. Dial 911 and they will do the rest (even if she doesn't know your address, which she should, then they can trace your call, if it is a land line. If it is a cell phone, you will need to have GPS feature on and not blocked or it could still be a tragedy because they still may not be able to find you.) She could save your life, or that of a friend or family member (one never knows...) !!! I know you are a great mom and you probably hesitate to freak your kids out, but 911 is actually a good thing to know, it is in fact a positive thing that will make them feel they can do something in case of a problem. So, actually less worry, if you think about it. (I.e., "if something happens all I need to do is this, and it will all get taken care of for me," etc.) :)

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    1. Oddly enough we have talked NUMEROUS times about what to do if mommy doesn't wake up or if mommy is hurt, and apparently none of it sunk in. "Go out the front door and go to the nieghbors. Whats the most important thing to remember? Yes, you are right, close the door behind you and do not let your brother out because he will go into the very busy street." 911 can't find my house even with GPS location so its better for her to go to several of the neighbors and get help. After talking with her some more, I realized that she thinks "dead" is like sleeping beauty or snow white, eventually you wake up and are just fine. We needed to have a few more talks.

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    2. Instead of more of what "didn't work", the talks, you could do more of what did work: being her "hands-on teacher". You could "role play"; "brain storm" ideas, make puppets, use a big box to make a puppet stage, let the kids write scripts for a puppet play where the puppets learn to do what you want your daughter to do in emergencies, etc.

      Maybe your son could participate by making siren sounds and driving a toy ambulance to give the puppets (or dolls) help, etc.

      That way, you are getting the information "into their bodies" thru several different "channels", and they might be more likely to re-enact it, just like your daughter re-enacted your loving evening rituals.

      This doesn't have to be scary, which would actual impede their ability to retain the information. It can be all positive, "action" things to do, etc.

      And, the best part...

      It can all be done in your spare time!

      Oh, wait...

      Back to the drawing board... so, you could also have them draw pictures and make a story book about what to do, while you "supervise" in the kitchen, making dinner? Then their (happy ending) stories could read at bedtime.

      ...less spare time required...:)

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    3. Role playing is a great idea! I hadn't thought of that, thanks for sharing :) I just might have to do that!!

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  13. You are awesome. You also give me hope that one day I can be a good mother too (as in, one day if I manage to have kids!). I hope you can talk to your daughter about calling the emergency services though, in case you were to pass out again in future. It's awesome that she coped so well, but had you been out cold much longer she may not have done - not to mention the potential consequences for you of being left. I'm sure you will do this though, now that it's been brought up like this!

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    1. Thanks hun :) I bed you would be a fabulous mom!

      Look to the previous commentor for my answer on the 911 thing :)

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  14. Thank you for this beautifully written article. I am going to share this with my mom. She also came from an abusive home and had a terrible childhood. She broke the cycle and is the most loving and supportive mother any girl could ask for. I feel that my sister and I were shown more love than most other families because my mom came from hell and wanted to make sure we knew, with out a doubt, what love is. I am eternally grateful to her for that.

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    1. Thank you hun. Your mom sounds amazing and obviously she did right by you, you have a good heart. Do me a favor and tell your mom that I am proud of her. :) I know I would want to hear that when my children are grown and everyone can see that I did Ok by them. I'm proud of your mom, let her know :)

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  15. Wow. Your daughter is so precious- she may need a few more talks about all that stuff, but how sweet and funny of her to just go about everything that needed to be done. I couldn't help laughing as I read that- how cute :)

    And girl, you ROCK for breaking that cycle. Not everyone can manage it, but you have, and you have also thrived alongside your two wonderful children. Beautiful writing, beautiful story, and you, dear, are a beautiful person :)

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    1. Aw, that is so very sweet of you :)

      I'm trying. one day at a time!

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  16. I recently found your blog and many of the things you talk about I can relate with so much. My parents were emotionally abusive and I didn't even realize it until the last couple of years. More horrifying was realizing that I had started to fall into the same behaviors and I knew I had to stop it. But as adults our behavior is our choice and I've made the choice to change for the sake of my kids. I will not let them feel the same pain I felt growing up.

    It gives me hope when I see people who are successfully overcoming their past and breaking the cycle. Keep up the good work!

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    1. Welcome Bridget!!! I'm really sorry that you are going through your own struggles, but I am glad that you found your way here :) It takes a strong person to realize that they are falling into some bad habits, so way to go you for realizing that and making a change!! (enter me high-fiving you here).

      Your kids are lucky to have you as their mom :)

      Thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing more from you! **hugs!!**

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  17. OMGosh, I'm so happy to hear that I'm not the only one to wake wondering, 1 - Where the hell are my kids?; 2- How the hell did they get into bed? MY Goodness, I'm not the awful Mom I thought I was - Thought I was the only one to have ever done that!

    The stomach flu can really wipe you out - unbelievably.

    Thanks for sharing Eden!

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    1. Haha, well then I'm glad I'm not the only one too!

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