Editor’s note: In this guest post Cassandra Phoenix writes about breaking the cycle of abuse, parental self-doubt, and unconditional love.
One of my friends brought up a disturbing notion on Facebook recently:
“Something that’s been worrying me the past few years is possibly becoming the parent of a child who does horrible, hurtful things. Bullying, shootings, murder, rape…Is it okay for a parent to realize their love is conditional after something like that happens? Well, maybe after thinking about this just proves I shouldn’t be one.”
I’ve been pondering this ever since.
I’m a single mother blessed with an 11-year-old daughter that is the delight of my life and the bane of my existence, depending on the time of day.
I am also a survivor of horrendous child sexual abuse. My mother was a narcissistic martyr and my stepfather was a pedophile who took his anger at my mother’s emasculation of him out on me from the time I was 8 until I was 15.
Because this culture beat on the drum of the “cycle of abuse” I spent a lot of time worried that I would inadvertently abuse my child, no matter what I did. I had this idea that I was a “sleeper cell” abuser and some day a switch would flip and there would be no going back. I would obsessively self-monitor whenever my child was naked — diaper changes and bath time were terrifying to me — to see if I was even remotely sexually attracted to her, and was relieved when the answer always came back as “No.” When she was 8, I had no idea how any sane person could be attracted to a little girl of that age, or see any of her behavior as seductive, as I was told when I was the same age. Now that she is 11, I am having to figure out how to handle my responses to her own exploration of gender and sexual identity. I have no experience in developing a healthy sexual identity, and feel severely unprepared for parenting my daughter through this stage of her life. I can only tell her that if people make her feel bad about herself, they are not good for her, and are not worthy of her friendship. I hope I am helping her develop a healthy respect for her own boundaries and the strength of her own “No.”
These worries stopped me from having a child for a long time, because I questioned my parental fitness long before I was in any sort of position to have a baby. I wanted to make sure I was fixed, or at least fixed enough, to not be a danger to my child. I found a great therapist that I’ve been seeing for about 9 years who has helped me get past this fear.
My point is this: questioning what kind of parent you would be in a given situation does not make you a potentially bad parent. Questioning your parenting, even before you start the process of trying to have a child, is a good sign. If you keep checking in with yourself, your gut, your experiences, your uncertainties, it keeps you more honest as a parent than the blind certainty that you are the adult, and therefore always right. Wondering if you can uphold the idea of unconditional parental love in the face of extraordinary events is not a sign you’ll be a bad parent. It’s a sign that you are a good person who wants to be a good parent.
I never understood unconditional love until I had my daughter. I never knew it was possible to love somebody for just existing. But I, too, ask myself what I would do if she were to become a murderer or a rapist. If she were to become a bully. And I hope that I will never have to find out. But I think about it. Because I would blame myself the most if that were to happen.
But the very act of questioning is not the sign of someone who is unfit to parent.
Cassandra Phoenix is a badass librarian who writes impressive fanfic. She started out in New England, got lost, and is currently in Wisconsin, where she lives with her daughter and her cat. She’s dyed her hair more times than you’ve had hot dinners.