Thing 1 and I were in the car Wednesday morning. I’m not exactly sure how it started, but we were talking about how to manage anxiety and it turned into how Mommas always prioritize your best interests even if (or especially when) it’s hard to understand.
Thing 1 said something to the effect of: Even years fourteen through eighteen when I thought I hated you, I always knew you’d do whatever it took to help me, to take care of me and keep me safe.
Then she said, “That’s why I came to you when I was cutting myself and wanted to die.”
I had an immediate rush of relief. I always worried that when she came to me for help and ended up in the hospital for two weeks she felt like I betrayed her instead of helped her.
She told me while being in the psyc hospital was in itself traumatizing, she never equated the two. Her asking for my help was one thing. Being in the hospital was another thing entirely. They’re separate in her thinking.
I didn’t know this at the time, but three or four months prior to her coming to me, she talked with her dad. When she shared with him how she was feeling and that she was hurting herself, he “looked away from me, stood up, walked out of my room and shut the door behind him.”
He left her sitting there after she told him she wanted to die. (Everything I think and feel about this is a different topic for a different day, but let me assure you, ain’t none of it good.)
In the car that morning, she talked about how it only made it worse for her. She felt like if her own dad didn’t love her enough to help her it only reinforced all her negative feelings about herself. She began cutting herself more and actively planning how to end her own life.
Then she said something that literally took my breath away.
She wondered aloud if her father would have let her die in order to hold it over my head for the rest of our lives. She imagined him saying to me, “She killed herself because she hated you and it’s all your fault.”
I opened my mouth to deny her wondering.
I opened and closed my mouth five times before I finally said, “I want to believe he loves you more than that, that he’d rather you be alive than hold it over me forever.”
But I knew in my heart of hearts that she was right. And sadly, she knew it too.
Then she said, “Would he really want me dead to punish you? Don’t you think he loves me more than that?”
To which I replied that I do think your father loves you in the way he can love. However, his grief would fade. The pain of losing you would ease. But he could get pleasure from blaming me that you were so unhappy and hated me so much that you took your own life. All the pleasure, absolutely none of the effort.
Here’s the worst truth.
I didn’t know she talked to him before she came to me.
He never told me she came to him. Not when I told him I was taking her to the ER. Not the two weeks she was in hospital. Not when we had family sessions with the therapist when they released her from the hospital.
I only found that out because she told me in the last couple of years.
Had she taken her life I would never know that he could have done something to prevent that. I would have lived the rest of my life thinking that when we struggled the most I couldn’t keep my baby safe.
In Conscious Discipline there is a ‘safe keeper’ ritual in which the adult in the home or classroom (or wherever) tells the kids, “My job is to keep you safe.” to which the kids reply, “Our job is to help you keep us safe.”
My daughters knew I was their safe keeper.
They still know this.
But this ritual is different now.
They are their own safe keepers and I am the one helping them.
I want so desperately to reassure her that her life is worth more than her father’s desire to “win” against me. I all honestly can’t do that. As soon as she spoke I knew she was right.
She called this ‘a startling revelation’ then told me, “As soon as I said the words I wanted to suck them back in because I knew they were true.”
I’m not really sure why I’m writing this for y’all to read.
Partly because it was simply too big for me to keep inside. Partly because I thought writing it would help me understand it better.
I feel confident in saying I don’t understand it any better.
I hate that my girl experienced this time in her life.
I hate that I experienced it.
But I am awed and humbled by the healing we’ve experienced in the years since.
I am awed and humbled by the words we share.
By the love we share.