Tuesday, October 6, 2015

When Love Hurts


She stomped out of the room, turning around just long enough to shout "I wish daddy was here and not you!!"

My heart exploded.

For a kid that is rarely in trouble and raises her voice towards me about as often as I change out my yearly calender, I was shocked.

Shocked, hurt, and shaking with anger.

I walked out of the kitchen, right past her, went upstairs, and climbed into bed. I don't know why I got into my bed, I just knew that I needed to distance myself from her before I started screaming everything that I was thinking; telling her everything about her father that I have tried so hard to protect her from over the last three years.

After laying there for a good 20 minutes and letting my knee-jerk anger subside, I came to the conclusion that what she did was normal.

Not appropriate, not acceptable, but not totally abnormal.

She gave me the equivalent of the "I love daddy/mommy more than you" phrase that at one point or another most young kids have thrown at a parent during an argument.

The Girl Child no longer loves her dad in the way that a child should, because she no longer knows him. But in that moment she was upset with me and having no other adult to turn to for support, she wished away the one the parent that was upsetting her and spoke aloud what she often keeps in silence.

She wants a daddy.


And while it hurt me to the core that she would wish away me and yearn for him, I have to remember that the reason she isn't angry with him, is because she is grieving him. She misses him (or rather the idea of him) and at 7 years old she doesn't understand all the things that I myself, as an adult, don't even understand.

Her dad abandon her and this is going to be a long road where I'm caught trying to navigate the path of allowing her to know enough about him to understand why it's better that he is not here and yet not letting her know more than she should be expected to handle at her age. Up until now I haven't told her the truth about her father because I need to remember that he is half of her DNA. I don't ever want her to feel like she harbors evil inside her because of him and furthermore, every scientific study out there proves that bad mouthing a parent to a child is detrimental to their mental health.

But at some point she obviously needs to know the truth.

In my anger I wanted to scream and yell about all the reasons why she should feel lucky and blessed to have me, but when my rational thinking returned I had a conversation with her instead.

"Daddy left because he couldn't take care of us anymore" I explained. "He left because he was not able to love you and me like we deserved. Daddy had a lot of problems, problems that he had long before you were born and had nothing to do with you, but problems that made it unsafe for him to be around us anymore. But I love you, I love you so much that I'm working extra hard to be a mommy and a daddy, and it hurts me when you say you wish I wasn't here, because I spend all my time trying to be here for you. And if you miss daddy and you are angry at me, that's OK. We can talk about that, but in this family we do not scream hurtful things to each other. It's OK to feel hurt and want mommy to know that you are hurting, but it is not OK to try and hurt me because you are angry."

She sat there for a minute, clearly absorbing what I had just said to her, and then she asked me the #1 question that I have been dreading since the moment I realized that my husband was never coming home.

"Mommy, did daddy want to leave us?"

Deep breath Eden, you've been preparing for this.

But preparing for it was nothing like actually facing it.


Eventually, with no way out, I found myself saying in a voice that felt like it was going to crack, "yea, honey, he did. He had a lot of problems that made it really hard for him to see how great you are. It wasn't right and you deserved better than that, but daddy... he just had a lot of problems that made it too hard for him to be a daddy to you."

She looked up at me, her brown eyes welling with tears, and in a wavering voice she whispered "Mommy, does daddy even love me?" 

Gathering the pieces of my shattered heart and trying to form them into words that might somehow protect her heart from breaking, I was at a loss. A million questions raced through my mind, the same questions that I've been failing to find answers to for years. What on earth do you say to a child that just wants to know if she is loved by the one who created her? I want to lie and say he loves her, to protect her from knowing that she is unloved by him — to save her from the inevitable pain that will cause, but I also want to save her from becoming the girl that seeks the love she never had from her father, in the arms of another man. I want to save that girl too.


How do I tell her that her dad doesn't love her without driving her to find that love elsewhere, and at the same time not lie to her about what love really is?

Can I fix this?

I don't know.

I have no idea.

The only thing that I know right now, is what I know, and in that she deserves the truth.

"Honey, that's a tough question and I can't speak for your dad. Maybe he loves you, but maybe he doesn't. Either way that doesn't matter. Even if he thinks he loves you and he says loves you, it's not the right kind of love. Love can be confusing because anyone can say they love you, but do you know how you really know if someone loves you in the right way? You know they love you when they treat you like mommy does."

She looked at me, clearly wanting to understand what I was telling her, but her 7 year old expression telling me that she was having trouble grasping such an abstract thought.

"Let's play a little game" I said. "How about if you can tell me ten ways that you know mommy loves you, we can bake some cookies."

Her eyes lit up... but then she hesitated. "What if I can't think of ten ways?"

"Well," I said. "Then maybe we can still make cookies, but we'll have to come up with a few more ways while we bake them.

She giggled, wiped away her tears, and started talking.

"I knew that you loved me when I forgot my lunch box in the car and you missed part of your meeting to bring it to my school so I wouldn't be hungry. I know you love me because when I'm sick you check on me all night long to make sure I don't die. I know you love me because sometimes you work very late at night so that we can do fun things together the next day.......... I know you love me because even though I hurt your feelings you still want to be with me."

Relief

Trying not to start crying myself, I held her hands and started talking. "And when mommy loves you, how does that make you feel?"

While playing with her socks she pondered that for a minute before rattling off "it makes me feel special. I know that you take good care of me so that makes me feel happy. I know you keep me safe. You tell me I'm smart and pretty and that makes me happy too."

"So" I said really hoping that this was sinking in, "if someone says they love you but then they hurt you, or make you feel bad, or they don't take care of you, do you think they really love you?"

Slightly alarmed looking, her expression suddenly reminded me that she is only 7 years old. "So if they don't do those things but they say that they love you, does that mean that they are a liar?" she asked.

Yikes.

Trying to pull it back together and really hoping that she understood, I again told her the one truth that I know "love is one of those tricky words that doesn't mean a whole lot because someone can say that they love you and maybe they really do think that they love you, but unless they are doing all the things that make you feel happy and safe, then they aren't able to love you in the ways that you need. And just because you really want them to love you, it doesn't mean that it's healthy for you. If you don't feel safe, special, and happy, then that's not the right kind of love."

Still trying to remember that she is only 7, I decided that this was a good stopping point and tried to bring it all together. "So I don't know if daddy loves you, but that doesn't matter because he is not able to love you in the way that you need. You know that mommy loves you because of all the ways that I show you I love you and I think it's safe to assume that even if daddy does love you, that it's not the right kind of love. So we can be sad that daddy isn't here, and we can talk about it as much as you want, but we need to spend our time loving each other the right way and that means not hurting each other."

We snuggled for a few minutes in silence until her little voice started to speak. "Because if I try to hurt you, then I'm not loving you the right way, and that's not the way I want to love you" she sighed.

I gave her a hug, we made some cookies, and I thought about how I'm probably going to spend the rest of my life trying to get her to understand what healthy love is when all she wants is to be loved by someone who most likely doesn't love her.

That is not going to be an easy road and I'm expecting that it's going to be painful for both of us, but because I love her, really love her, I know that the most loving thing I can do for her is to be honest with her, even if it hurts.

I need to have enough respect for her to give her all the pieces in the game she is playing, and then cheer her on from the sidelines to make the right move.

Too often in life we fool ourselves into thinking that by protecting someone from a painful truth, that we are loving them better. We push financial problems behind closed doors, sweep problems at work under the rug, refuse to talk about major issues, and lock away feelings that we don't think the other person can handle.

We disrespect the people we love in the name of protection and in turn, we damage not only their ability to cope with the very real problems they are dealing with, but we damage their ability to trust us. If we really love someone, we need to respect them enough to be honest with them even when we know it will hurt.

Loving someone is proving to them that they can trust us, even when the vulnerability of letting them trust us is hard.


This road that her and I are going to walk, it's not going to be easy, but if I want to help her navigate it, then she needs to know that she can trust me to be truthful about what she is dealing with. I love her too much to make her figure it out all on her own, so I'm choosing to lay my cards out on the table, even though it hurts.

Love isn't protecting someone from the truth, it's being there for them when they have to face it.


***********************

If You Liked This, Read These Relevant Posts!

"She Said I Was A Failure Of A Mother"

"It Only Hurts Because I'm Too Good For You"

"My Child Does Not Have Autism"

"Now That I've Had Some Time To Think"



43 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. I didn't have a dad when I was growing up, so I missed out on that lesson. It took me quite a few years before I learned it.

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    2. Better late than never I guess :)

      *hugs*

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  2. Revathi M. Excuse me, but what the f@$#k does that have to do with a mother talking about the importance of loving by being truthful?

    Eden.
    That was very moving. I cried for hie those words wounded you. I cheer at how you handled it it eith love and grace recognizing where she was at and what she needed. Good job momma.

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    1. That was a heartless spammer. Some people!

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    2. Thank you Nichole, that was not a fun conversation to have!

      *hugs*

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  3. You. Are. Amazing. Great job, mama!

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  4. I don't think that you could have handled this any better. Great job!! Every parent/guardian of a child "left behind" should read this!!

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  5. "If you don't feel safe, special and happy, then that's not the right kind of love"

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  6. This is something we all need to put in our mirror to look at everyday

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  7. Good job mom!!! heart emoticon hugs for both of you guys!

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  8. I think that you handled this situation with your daughter in an amazing way that was appropriate for you and your family, as only YOU know what feels like the right thing to do. I recall asking my mother the same questions as a child and being absolutely devastated when my mother responded that my father was not able to love me enough or in the correct way. I clung to that feeling of not being enough despite a great presence of love during my childhood. Constantly feeling as though daddy had left bc he wasn't able to love us enough destroyed my happiness and it wasn't until I was an adult long estranged from my father that I was finally able to meet him and ask him the questions that had plagued me for so long. He spoke without hesitation and explained that he had indeed loved me and bc he would've been detrimental to my well being had left. He explained that his choice haunted him on a daily basis and that it wasn't an easy decision. I was reluctant to believe him and he handed me a stack of journals wherein he had written to me every week for over twenty years to tell me he loved me. I looked back at all the years I'd clung to my mothers words and came to the realization that she had told me something to protect me from getting hurt by a man that had hurt her, and whose absence hurt me in the long run. She had truly believed that he left bc he was incapable of loving my siblings and I but it wasn't entirely true. I wish that all those years I hadn't assumed he didn't love me and that one I hadve been left clinging to the hope that perhaps he did love me even in the smallest of ways bc it was overwhelming to struggle with the concept that my mother--the one truthful honest trustworthy constant in my life--told me something that she didn't know with compete certainty and I, her devoted daughter, believed her. I KNOW that she told me this so I would by be disappointed and distrustful hit it only hurt me in the long run.
    But again that is only **my** story and may indeed be far from the reality of yours. I understand why you'd tell her the truth but just a thought that we must always be cautious and take Into consideration all possible versions of the truth. You sound like an amazing mother and know your daughter more than anyone else could possibly ever know her. Kudos on getting through one of the toughest conversations you'll have in her youth with grace and love and the ability to make it a loving teaching moment!! You rock :)

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    1. I totally see where you're coming from but sadly I do not think that Eden's ex husband loves her children. Remember the post where he couldn't even remember his kids middle names and birthdays in court? Plus he shook her son. I think you did a great job explaining how that was your story and I'm so sorry to know that it is your story, but I can't imagine Eden's ex husband loving her children.

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    2. Thank you for sharing your story and your sweet words :)

      You rock too!!

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    3. I agree with the original poster. I think it can be harmful to say that Daddy doesn't love his children or the way they deserve to be loved because that child will always carry with them a sense of rejection. That same rejection can later be recycled in the way a woman chooses her partner and then makes a huge mistake; choosing partners who then later reject them. Or always demanding 'proof' from a partner of their love, thus, creating a self sabotaging legacy. So while I think it's important to have talks with your children, I think it needs to be age appropriate. Telling a child that they are not loved by another parent is imo a recipe for disaster but one that may not show itself immediately. I think rather than being too forthcoming with a young child, would be to say... that a person who is emotionally UNWELL and unstable doesn't have the capacity to take care of children, when they cannot even love and take care of themselves. This puts the problem back onto the problem, him, and not onto the child. No matter how much a child feels loved by one parent, they will always feel a deep scar and mark against them when they've been told they are not loved by the other. That's all they hear and at 7, even though you may have a good verbal dialogue with a child, trust me, 'not being good enough' is all that they will take away from the conversation. Sure, they may be OK in many areas, but the issue is not just for today...it's for many years to come.

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  9. I think you handled it the best you possibly could, Eden. I applaud you for SHOWING your daughter how to be honest, instead of just telling her how important it is, while showing her that often times, we lie all the time to the people we love. Your daughter has got a great shot at being a wonderful human being. You're doing an incredible job of helping her become a resilient, intelligent, insightful, empathetic human being.

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    1. Thanks girly. You're always so flattering lol!

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  10. I think you handled this situation really, really well. Seriously good job.

    Unfortunately, unless some miracle happens and your ex gets clean and decides he wants to be a decent father, this is something she is likely going to struggle with for a long time. I was 16 when my parents split up and my father's drug abuse came to light. It wasn't nearly as bad as your ex's, but he but his drugs before the family, and it's the reason we frequently "volunteered to feed the homeless" at church - so we could eat as well.

    Now, 15 years later, I'm still questioning his love for his 3 kids. He says he loves us every time he talks to us (which, in my case, is about four times a year). But he won't initiate any conversations. We have to contact him. And he can't afford to fly us to visit him or to fly himself to visit us, but he can afford to go on lavish vacations with my stepmother to see her children. Because she does the drugs with him, she's more important to him than his children, and therefore her children are more important to him than his own.

    He and my stepmother each smoked a pack of cigarettes every single day in their house. It was FILTHY. My brother has a serious heart condition and I have significant health issues as well. They both claimed the smoking shouldn't bother us when we visit because they "don't smoke while you're visiting". Bullshit. And then when he retired, they both stopped smoking inside the house because they wanted to sell it.

    I call him on his birthday, Christmas, and father's day. But that's it. He'll call me on my birthday, but that's it. And the last 3 years, he's called me on the wrong day.

    It's tough. It's hard to know that your own father loves material things or drugs or your stepmother more than he loves you. I don't know that it's really something you ever truly get over, but it is something you can move on from.

    You're teaching your daughter that someone who says "I love you" is not always telling the truth. Or they do love you, but it's not the kind of love she deserves. This is such an important thing for a person to learn, and it's great that she's getting to learn it at such a young age.

    Okay, novel over. ;)

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    1. That definitely sounds like a tough thing to navigate with your father and I'm sorry you have to go through all of that! :(

      There really should be some kind of manual shouldn't there?!

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    2. Oh man, a manual would be so helpful! I'll let you know if I ever find one. ;)

      My father actually called me last night completely out of the blue. It was an awkward conversation since we hadn't spoken to each other in months. He just wanted to brag about his nice new house, his new boat, and his new flat screen TV and asked if I was planning on visiting him any time soon. When I said I'd love to come visit if he wanted to buy my plane ticket, he said he couldn't afford one.

      Ah, fathers...

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    3. Oh geez, I want to wring his neck for you!! I'm sorry you're still having to deal with that. You are a great girl to even listen to him chat, I'm sorry he doesn't seem to be able to see how amazing you are.

      *hugs*

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  11. If there's one thing I've learned from my own parents, it's that not all love is healthy. Sometimes I think it would have been better to not have been loved at all.

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  12. xmas is coming if it is possible i would like to make sure your children have an exceptional Christmas this year
    weather it be a great xmas meal with gifts or some new unworn cloths
    choice is yours
    Is there someplace I may contribute to help
    God bless

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    1. She will never point it out but a few of us readers got her to put a donate button on here so we could try to help her. I'm not sure if anyone ever sees it because she won't make it more visible, but it's on the side.

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    2. Wow anonymous, that is so generous of you I don't even know what to say. As much as I'd love to take you up on that offer (oh and trust me I would!), I don't have a mailing address for the blog :( I tend to keep my location off the Internet because of my ex, for the protection of my kids. Thank you for caring though!!

      *hugs*

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  13. my heart grew 3 sizes reading this. i am having a good year. last year we were making withdraws from our local foodbank. roderunner55@yahoo i want to help

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    1. Thank you :) I'm happy that you are doing better this year!! Gives me hope!

      *hugs*

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  14. I just read your essay on Yahoo Parenting and was so blown away, I had to post it on my status for the day. As I was reading it, I so wanted to know who you were and tell you eating food from a food bank is enterprising and bootstrapping and as a self employed person for the past 25 years, those are traits you must have if you are ever going to get anywhere economically. Keep writing, don't stop with your passion of helping others, and continue with having your priorities straight because you do. I don't know you but I am terribly proud of you and the only people I feel sorry for are your parents and your ex because they are the ones missing out.

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    1. Thank you so much. Some of those Yahoo comments were SCATHING, so it's nice to read a few good ones! Thank you so much for boosting my confidence that I can do this :)

      *hugs*

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    2. I have been noticing for a while the pure viciousness of many Yahoo comments. I always enjoy throwing in a a comment about God or Jesus, then just sit back and watch them lose their minds...lol. I think many of them are just angry people who have no clue. Stay the course Eden :)

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    3. Oh my goodness yes, they are a pleasent group lol. Keep shaking it up over there!

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  15. How can we get in touch with Eden Strong

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    1. You can email me at notmyshametobear@gmail.com

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  16. "So if they don't do those things but they say that they love you, does that mean that they are a liar?"

    From the mouth of a child comes truth. Love is indeed a verb. Being the single father of two girls, reading this broke my heart. For your children, for you indeed, but mostly for the man that is missing out on the wonderful and precious love that is offered by a child.

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  17. I just read your article on Yahoo, it was very touching and transparent. Just stay the course of how you're raising your children, it will make all of the difference in the world for when they're older, and to keep you grounded while raising them. I'm a middle age man that raised my children part time with a former spouse who was extremely bitter, but I stayed consistent with my parenting regardless. I must say, I did have the support of God and his wisdom right after my divorce, as I became a christian and realized life with him is far better than not, plus the ending is far, far better. Disregard all of the internet trolls out there and their negative comments. Many people are bitter and angry about their own life, and are willing to take it out on someone they don't even know. May God bless you during these trials in your life, and keep you and your children safe. Kids don't remember the stuff in life they obtain, but they will remember how you treated them, how loving you are, and how humble you were by apologizing when you make a mistake with your parenting, which you will, we all do and have. I'll be praying for you...........God bless, Doug

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    1. So very true Doug,

      God bless you as well.

      *hugs*

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  18. Dear Ms. Strong,

    I read the comments above, and they make good points, but I still think that you handled the situation in the best manner possible… for now. These are tough concepts for a seven year old to grasp and fully understand. This will be a process for you more than an issue that pops up periodically, but that’s okay. You appear to have the skills to handle it, even if you have to retreat to your bed to regroup. That’s okay too. In fact, that’s far better than responding defensively while you feel freshly wounded.

    I may be wrong here, but I think that it’s okay to let your daughter understand that some people are just screwed-up. (Age appropriate terminology is left to you, of course.) She will learn this soon enough anyway. Your job is to make sure that your children are not one day going to join the ranks of other screwed-up adults, right? They avoid that fate by growing up as happy, healthy kids with good values.

    I never had a daughter, but I raised three boys as a single parent, and all of them seem to be doing just fine as happy, healthy adults with good values. And I can only take part of the credit for that. I made lots of mistakes along the way, even though I tried my best to avoid that, but I learned that kids are a lot tougher than you sometimes give them credit for being.

    You keep moving forward, using your head and your knowledge, and keeping your heart in the right place. Your kids are going to be fine because they have you, and you’re enough for them. Take it one day at a time, and cherish every minute of your time with them because they grow up too fast.

    I wish you the best as you move confidently in the direction of your dreams, cara mia,

    Lee

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    1. Thank you for all your advice Lee, you made a lot of great points and have definitely given me a few things to think about!! And wow, high-five to you raising three boys on your own. My one boy is a handful, I'm not sure I could manage three. Go you!!

      And I'm thrilled to hear everyone turned out alright. I'm willing to bet that had more to do with you than you give yourself credit for :)

      *hugs*

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