On Becoming More Than Not My Mother

Monday, February 21st, 2011

I think that, for many of us, parenthood is just as much about our childhoods as it is about our children. It’s the great do-over, the chance to right all the wrongs of our mothers and fathers.

To be honest, I think adulthood – whether you choose to raise a child or not – can easily become a grand experiment in Not Being Our Parents.

For me, that always meant Not Being My Mother.

I was not going to get married or need a man in the way that I always perceived her to be needing one. I was not going to change my mind a dozen times about who was family or where I would live or what I would do for a living. I was not going to leave the house without makeup, take naps during the day, or have conversations with strangers in line at the store.

And I was not, no matter what, going to have Depression.

Growing up, my mother was the only person I knew who had Depression, the kind that requires doctors and medication instead of time outside and an afternoon with friends. It was, I assumed, what made our lives less than normal.

It was proof that she was broken, and therefore she was to blame for everything that was not right in my childhood.

Except she was also my mother and I loved her more than I could even imagine loving anyone else in the world. Blaming her, being angry at her, even hating her depression would be a crime against that instinctive love.

So I wasn’t angry at her.  I just resolved not to be like her. It was a compromise that I could live with because it seemed in my mind to have less to do with judgment and more to do with my goals for my own life.

And then I had my darkest day, when the desire to just not live was strongest and I came as close as I have ever to suicide.

I can still remember driving home that day and watching the guard rails along the highway. They looked like an escape to me, a chance to finally be free of the hopelessness that had consumed me. I remember gripping the steering wheel, willing myself to get home without jerking into that metal barricade. I remember thinking of my two kids and being both terrified of hurting them by dying and terrified of damaging them by leaving them with a mother as broken as me.

For twenty minutes, just long enough to make it safely past those beckoning guard rails, I chose leaving them with a broken mother over leaving them alone.

By the end of that day, it was clear that I had to choose between Depression or Death.

I had to choose between letting go of what I did not want to be and accepting what I was, and what I hoped to be in the future.

I was, despite my best efforts, depressed.

It would take almost three years for me to really wrap my arms around my version of normal – my identity as someone who lives with depression.

And then I could start to move on.

What I’ve noticed in the last year or so is that I have stopped defining myself as much by what I will not be and more but what I want to be. It feels like I’ve stopped living a reactionary life and started setting my own course.

I know that sounds trite and cliché. “Setting a course” is what you do with boats, not lives. And yet focusing on what I want to create instead of what I refuse to become has made it possible for me to do so much more with my life. It’s as if I have more hours in my day than I did before and more days in my weeks. My life moves forward now instead of just not moving backward.

I’ve been set free.

Ironically, I’ve become more like my mother than ever.

I take naps during the day sometimes. I not only leave the house without makeup, but I post pictures of myself in that state on the Internet. And while I’m not technically moving into a tepee – my mother’s greatest dream – I’m moving into a 24 x 8 foot portable house in less than four months.

But my point is not that we should all grow up to be like our mothers or our fathers.

My point is simply that we should let go of the things we are afraid of becoming.

Let us create the lives we want rather than react to the ones we do not.

Let us accept who are so that we can move towards what we want to do.

Let us let go.

This post was inspired in part by the book Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide, by Linda Gray Sexton. It’s the story of a woman whose mother struggled with depression and eventually committed suicide, and her own often failed attempts to Not Be Like Her Mom. The book is available on Amazon.

Thank you to award-winning author Linda Gray Sexton for sponsoring this series, which is inspired by her memoir Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide. I was selected for this sponsorship by Clever Girls Collective which endorses Blog With Integrity. To learn more about Linda Gray Sexton and her writing, please visit her website.

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  1. Zoeyjane says:

    I don’t know if I’ve ever identified so much with something you’ve written before, Britt. Amen. (But honestly, I like being able to take naps sometimes, and not wear makeup, and consider it a good thing, to be different.) But “focusing on what I want to create instead of what I refuse to become has made it possible for me to do so much more” is exactly what I’ve come to realize. Finally.

  2. Sheila says:

    I worry and stress so much about my desire to not fuck my kids up that I’m pretty sure it drives me crazier than I already am….seems pretty counterproductive to me.

    So instead, I now try to focus on me first.

    Obviously there are times when this isn’t possible – like last week when Annabeth was burning up with a fever and had the flu, so I didn’t sleep very well for a few days because she was so restless and up and down for drinks and tylenol. But, for the most part, I think I’m getting really good at being “selfish”….because, ya know, taking half an hour to yourself a day *totally* makes you the worst mom ever. For me though, it’s vital to my ability to cope with the stresses of life, in addition to my fun-filled bag of depression and anxiety.

    But, then again, you know what they say….”If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

  3. Fluffycat says:

    I’m not a mom (to human kids anyway, but my cats call me Mom, ha ha) but I totally get what you are saying here. Some of adulthood is that desire to be nothing like your parents, but often when you are least expecting it, you find yourself doing or saying something big or small and recognize where that comes from. I like how you put it about not being afraid of being like your mom and pushing forward with what you want to do with your own life, and set your own course.

    • Miss Britt says:

      It’s definitely not limited to parenting! It doesn’t even have to be about our parents. I think it’s easy to get caught up in any list of “want nots” instead of “wants”.

  4. Jane says:

    “Let us create the lives we want rather than react to the ones we do not”.

    I’m not sure a more perfect line has ever been written about family and healing.

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  6. geekbabe says:

    Sharp intake of breath here.. you’ve touched on so many issues. How can we not only forgive an imperfect parent but also widen our scope to see that their illness was not them in totality? Going forward how can we accept ourselves, how can we understand that our illness doesn’t define us? that it isn’t the sum and total of who we are?

    You are the wondrous Miss Britt, a woman of many talents, a warm, generous hearted person. I’m so glad that you’ve decided to not allow depression to define your life choices . you are not your diagnosis!

    • Miss Britt says:

      “How can we not only forgive an imperfect parent but also widen our scope to see that their illness was not them in totality?”

      Seeing our parents – these figures – as people is one of the most surreal and yet totally cool parts of growing up, I think.

  7. This one hits close to home. Real close. My mom suffered from depression but refused to get help. She attempted suicide 4 times and succeeded on the fifth. Its been a rough road for me and my children. I appreciate your writing and look forward to getting the book.

  8. Kristine says:

    “What I’ve noticed in the last year or so is that I have stopped defining myself as much by what I will not be and more but what I want to be.”

    Me too. It’s terrifying and invigorating.

  9. Mandi Bone says:

    I agree with Shelia. I think that I try so hard not to screw up my children that I forget about myself.

  10. Sarah Morgan says:

    Just reading the title literally knocked the wind out of me.

    I didn’t know anybody else had that mission in life besides me. Knowing that makes me feel like a better person.

    I do know that when I strike out and focus on “I love this!” rather than “This will make me the Opposite of Her”, that is where success and happiness lie; I just wish I knew how to do it more.

    • Miss Britt says:

      Sarah, I do not know a person better than you. xo

      As for how to do it more – I think it’s just practice. Being purposeful about sitting down and saying “what do I want to do/create next?”

  11. you have no idea how much the idea of you driving down that road looking at the barriers and having the thoughts you did just breaks my heart. i’m so thankful you were able to focus on your children and make it home that day. the world is a much better place with you in it.

    and yes, focusing on the positive is always a good thing. great post!

  12. p.s. incredible that when i was younger i thought my mom was bat shit crazy and i vowed to not be like her, but as i got older i started to embrace and appreciate her quirks. today i am proud when someone tells me i am like my mother.

  13. Megan says:

    I have a mother who suffers from depression as well. The irony is that I always have someone to talk to about it when I need to. ;)

    I love the positive aspect of this. Focusing on what you want to be rather than what you don’t want to be is so much more productive. I know there are things my mother did (that she thought were right at the time) that I would like to avoid, but I try to frame them in a more positive light, as in, “I will tell my son that he can be anything he wants to be” rather than saying, “I will not tell my child the truth about how hard it can be to be an actor, novelist, etc.” My mother was big on being honest, but it had a chilling effect on us kids.

  14. FireMom says:

    Thank you for sharing this… for being real and honest and … you.

  15. Tina says:

    You have no idea how badly I needed to read a post like this today. Thanks for sharing it. Truly. I am consumed lately in my own crap. Trying to deal with it and make sense of it is hard.
    All the best,
    Tina

  16. Cort says:

    How very brave of you to write on this topic. Depression is difficult to comprehend – especially as a child. Thinking you could will yourself to not have the same medical condition as your mother was definitely an uphill battle. Embracing it as just that – a medical condition – and treating it as such allows you to provide for your family in a way you couldn’t without treatment. Good for you!

  17. [...] from Miss Britt wrote On Becoming More Than Not My [...]

  18. roolalenska says:

    “And yet focusing on what I want to create instead of what I refuse to become has made it possible for me to do so much more with my life.”

    Wow, this is going to be my new anthem. It reminds me of something I heard about anger. Anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.

    Thank you for sharing!!

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