Dear Annie: I was living a parallel childhood with the pain of an extremely abusive mother and a father who buried his head in the sand. I talked to him years ago about why he didn’t protect me, and it was thoughtful and then emotional when he replied, “I feel like he treated me the same way, and I appreciate his attention.” It was scary to focus back on me. I never imagined how hard it must have been for you.
It was an unexpected answer, but an honest one and the key to moving forward with my dad and letting go of anger and resentment.
After decades of therapy, becoming a mother and then a grandmother, and through a lifetime of self-reflection, I was able to forgive my mother and mourn the childhood I had longed for. That part of my life never ends; I will never miss my childhood with a mother who said and acted like she loved me.
However, I decided that bitterness, regret and anger was not going to take away any more of my life. At one point, I came to a Y in my life path regarding my mother. I could cut all contact and wash my hands of him. Or I could try meeting her as adult strangers. I allowed myself to choose between the two.
I had to put the past in the rearview mirror. All the hurt, the accusations, the gaslighting, the toxicity, the guilt, the shame, the regret—all of it—because I realized it was still hurting me and only me. Once I was able to forgive him in my heart, I was able to make that decision wisely. I never imagined I could forgive him, especially not after I had kids and realized that it was the cause of his dysfunction, his insecurities, and his untreated mental health this whole time.
Seeing her as flawed, like the rest of us, was the best she was capable of even after the pain and trauma of her childhood, I finally realized: I’m not a bad person. She was wrong. These realizations changed my life and had the added benefit of breaking down and dispelling generational trauma, along with making sobriety a reality for me.
I slowly approached my mother as if I was meeting a potential friend or acquaintance for the first time. Through years of positive talking and healthy boundary setting, I am surprised to say that she is now one of my dearest friends and confidants.
I took a trip to Orlando, Florida recently for Thanksgiving. I rented a house on a lake with a huge outdoor swimming pool, barbecue pit, and hot tub. I saved and worked extra and paid for airfare for my parents, my kids, their partners, my grandchildren, my fiancé and myself.
My parents live in Florida; I have a daughter and her family stationed in Nevada; My youngest adult daughter and I live in Seattle. My folks had never met my grandchildren. First, there was a comfortable distance when they moved away seven years ago. Then, after COVID and a three-year travel gap, I recognized that we hadn’t all been in one place together in over a decade.
It ended up being my dream trip. I got to live a week with all the people I love most, watching them love me and each other. On the other side is hope, love and life. I can prove it. Signed with love. – Second Chance Daughter
Dear Second Chance Daughter: Thank you for your powerful letter. Your hard work of healing, forgiveness and sobriety has made your dream possible. you did that. I hope your story inspires others who are struggling to be brave and begin the path of recovery from a traumatic childhood. When you’re a kid, you don’t understand why your mom is behaving this way, and you somehow think you’ve done something wrong. But now that you have forgiven him, you can see that he was not you at all. What a moving story!
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