All My Fragile Strength Is Gone Lotus Carroll via Compfight

The issues of our childhoods—Bob’s and mine—inevitably resonated throughout our parenting years. Bob’s family was caught at times in situations that had the potential to be life-threatening. He felt the anxiety of his mother again and again. Would she be able to bring her children to safety in the midst of the chaos of war? Could she survive if her husband was arrested as a spy? Even when she was no longer in danger, the fears remained with her to the end of her life. Bob learned to cope by suppressing all fear within himself and minimizing its expression in his children. It took many years of intensive psychotherapy for him to be able to acknowledge the fright he had suffered and other feelings too “dangerous” to express in those circumstances.

As I look back on my own childhood it felt as if I had been wrapped in cotton batting. I couldn’t get dirty, make messes, be angry, or do anything remotely unladylike. More important, it seemed as though I were being treated more like a fragile doll than a human girl with all the flaws and weaknesses and the need to love and be loved in a real way. It’s not hard to see that an upbringing of that kind is going to present problems when one is trying to be a parent—especially of four rambunctious boys. I also entered psychotherapy and spent many years learning what it means to be human.

However we choose to address our own issues, it can be and often is a painful process. Yet it is an essential part of becoming the kind of parent that we would like to be. As we learn to recognize our difficulties and manage them differently, they become a source of empathy and understanding. It is how we free ourselves from ineffective and potentially damaging entanglement. It allows us to see our children most clearly for who they are and then provide a clear path for them to become who they want to become. Addressing our own issues makes it possible to make intimate and unselfish commitments to those we love the most.

Resolving the commitment issue is not only good for the children but for us as parents. Commitment is a hard-nosed determination that, no matter how tough it gets, those children belong to us, and we belong to them. It’s like any other difficult decision that compels us to see a project through for as long as it takes—in this case, a lifetime. When things get rough, we know that going AWOL is not an option. So we start scrambling for answers.

At least that’s what Bob and I did. We did not have issues with essential commitment.  Though we started late, Bob and I never questioned that we wanted to be parents. We began having children when I was twenty-eight years old and when Bob was thirty-six. It was a joint decision, but an individual one as well. I could not agree to it until I had concluded for myself that I would be capable of caring for the children whether Bob was there or not. I wanted him there, and I desperately hoped that I would never have to do it alone, but I had to be certain that if I had to raise these children alone, I could. I knew in my heart that I would never leave them. Fortunately for all of us, Bob was indeed there and his commitment to parenting was the same as mine.

We were lucky in that we had not lost parents to divorce or death. Though both our fathers were gone from the family a lot, they provided reliable financial support. We knew that we could call on them as fathers if we needed their help. Our mothers were present physically, if not emotionally, most of the time. Our families understood the basic obligation to their children, a commitment that had been present for several generations on both sides. We thought the rest would be easy. We had no idea…