Raising Myself As I Raise My Daughter
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Raising Myself As I Raise My Daughter

How our childhood memories can shape the way we parent

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Raising Myself As I Raise My Daughter
Jasmine Krapf

When looking back on your life, what stands out most? What are the experiences that are seared into your consciousness? Which moments were emblazoned with emotion or streamlined their way into the caverns of your being? I see my past in snippets of time, snapshots on a moving reel of memory mimicking that of a 1950s home movie projection. When I think of the life I’ve lived thus far, I remember the moments that hurt the most and moments spent alone lost in thought. I remember the moments that caused cataplexy, the moments with friends filled with boisterous laughter or explosive sobs of grief. I remember moments as a child that made me feel shameful or curious or even cosmic. I remember momentous personal revelations. Or where I was and what I was doing during subtle eruptions of deja vu. There are stamps of memory that are glimpses into the deepest parts of me, glimpses I’ve grown to acknowledge and cherish silently because perhaps no one else ever can.

I remember the veracity of the stinging heartache after being scolded or violated by those who were meant to protect and guide me. I remember playing alone in a field outside my mother’s apartment, gathering bits of dry grass and dirt and dandelions and grinding it between rocks to make “medicine” for my dolls. I remember walking alone watching the other kids play at the park as I carried garbage bags down to the river to pull trash from the muddy banks. Rewind to when I was squatting in the dark in the basement watching silently as my cat nursed her kittens in the broken drawer of an old dresser. I listened to the kittens talk to their mama wondering why humans didn’t feed their babies the way cats did (breastfeeding wasn't the norm in my family), feeling a primordial ache in my belly, like I had missed out on something I didn't even know existed.

From such a young age, this society teaches us to separate ourselves from our babies. Give your baby a bottle of synthetic formula and place the baby in a crib in a separate room. I felt the absence of something major in those moments, simply by watching mammals do what they do. Of course, I’d go on to nurse my own daughter in future years. She was nourished like a baby mammal is meant to be nourished, cultural and societal norms aside. I have always been one to break free of conventional bullshit, always one to rebel and protest and follow my instinct instead. Always one to revolt, giving conformity a repulsed huff while kicking dust into the wind. My grandma calls me “the ornery one” - she said she could tell from infancy I’d be a difficult person. Thanks, Grandma (please don't vote for Trump).

Speaking of rebellion, fast forward to my years as a teen. I remember being deeply introspective, having crippling social anxiety, and diving deep into music (my escapist tendency). I would write and write and often fantasize about living other lives. Toward the end of my teen years, I established a close group of friends. We drank 40s in a garage that was plastered with posters of 80s punk bands. I look back on this and laugh…a lot. I remember a night when I was sitting in the passenger seat of a friend’s parked car. We were 17 and dancing at 2am when a cop knocked on the window. I refused to get out of the car. He asked for ID and I refused to obey. My purse, filled with unopened cans of beer, was on my shoulder and he reached out to take it from me. I remember saying, “No. I know my rights.” …I look back on this and think, what an entitled kid I was, but it was the life I knew and the life I lived and as a defiant and budding human who had a profound contempt of authority, I was lucky to not have poorer outcomes. A reality we’re all more aware of now, as not everyone is nearly as lucky.

Fast forward a year or two...I remember being newly pregnant and feeling pressure to abort. I remember making an appointment with the clinic and calling to cancel. I did this countless times. During those weeks I had a recurring dream every night about an otherworldly, ethereal space. In the dream, a gentle grandfatherly man sat on a stool in a dark place with a spotlight shining down on him, casting a warm glow. He exuded a cosmic, ancestral wisdom. His voice was melodic and soft and comforted me beyond measure. In the dream, he beckoned a young girl, around the age of 8 with long dark hair, to come sit on his lap. He introduced her and said she was coming to be with me now. Then, together they said, "It comes from the moon, not the sun" and I would wake up and the moon would be above me shining hypnotically through the window. This is how and when I knew I would be having a daughter. My mother was an unwavering support during this time and I am so thankful.

I remember being a pregnant newly 19-year-old laboring in a cold hospital room with only strangers surrounding me. Swaying and moaning through the intensity of it. I refused the drugs and interventions. I remember being faced with an existential death anxiety. I was sure I was saying goodbye to my short life of rebellion and conflict... then with immense power, a human was born on the night of a ripe and glorious harvest moon (it comes from the moon, not the sun). We came out on the other side, together. High from the aftermath of a natural birth, I was raw and overflowing with gratitude and joyous love for the human I had just created. What a profound and blissfully transcendent time that was for me. I was determined to raise her the best way I knew how.

I remember the days and weeks to follow were filled with weepiness. I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of motherhood. The human dramas blurred and faded around me. I was overtaken by the sheer ecstasy of her existence while still managing the anxieties and trepidation of what it meant to bring new life into what feels like a dying civilization.

Memories of my childhood then became background noise and her experience was in the foreground. What experiences will she have? Who will be the first human to break her heart? What tenderness will she share with the world? At what age will she first say "I love you" and mean it? At what age will she first say “I hate you” and mean it? What are the words she’ll use to define herself? How will she transmute sadness into lessons and mundanity into beauty? How will she pull herself from grief and what will those first laughs with her first lover feel like? How will I teach her to transform fear into curiosity? With every loss of a milk (baby) tooth, a part of me goes with it. With every eruption of an adult tooth, I rejoice in her becoming... her ever-evolving and continuous blooming.

I am grateful for how loving my mother is with my daughter. I remember how hard she worked to raise me. I remember the times when my own mother's fears are noticed by my daughter, her granddaughter. In those moments, I have to attempt to build new and positive perspectives over it, layering it in a plea to undo what has been done. I try to be so careful about what she weaves into her psyche. I remember the time my daughter witnessed my mother's reaction to a spider. My daughter then mimicked her grandmother's reaction, panic and sheer terror. I had to stop the meltdown in motion. I had to walk her over to the spider to show her how I could reach out to usher it into a cup. I showed her how to walk the spider outside to let it continue its existence, unharmed and free to be. I had to tell her, all living things have value and all living things have purpose - whether we choose to fear them, or love them, is our decision, but fear is a choice, always. I had to tell her, "Grandma's reaction doesn't have to be our reaction." Just like I tell her my reactions don't have to be her reactions either. Autonomy is something I try my best to promote. A year or so later, she exclaimed, "I want to be an entomologist!" And that's the moment I knew I was a good mother after all.

Deconstructing the conditioning of deep family trauma is a work in progress for me, but I do my best to be aware and to stay mindful of my daughter's experience. My job as a mother is to lay the groundwork for a healthy human to grow and thrive. Much of my parenting is the opposite of how I was raised. (Not to discredit my mother, she is a colorful and generous woman and I am forever thankful for her love. And my father, the man who first taught me to think critically.)

And now I am a mother, and have been for nearly 9 years, a decade if you count pregnancy. What did I do to deserve such a precious and wild beauty of a human? She is my heart. She is my muse.

All the memories of my childhood, the memories of being criticized or reprimanded for petty learning curves or the memories of being called a “savage” on the school bus for having "olive" skin, or being teased for blushing around my crush in middle school, or secretly wanting to befriend the girl on the playground who thought she was a horse - all things that shaped who I am, but fade to nothing. The yearning for real, tangible validation and acceptance from family (things that may never ever come, but things I've given myself).... recollections and yearnings only mean I can and must be these things for my daughter. It only means that what I long to receive is what I actually have to give, because I'm aware of the weight they carry

So, I am sure to tell her how unconditionally she is loved, how proud I am of who she is, was, and will become, how beyond thankful I am that she exists. I know how it feels to want to hear these words more than anything, so that is my gift to her. When I say that I love her, it not only feeds her soul, it feeds mine. In a sense, I am raising myself while I raise my child. I feel a very real karmic unfolding happening as I correct the missteps of my parents and grandparents, and I pray my daughter corrects my missteps too if and when she raises her own babies. Healing generational wounds is the work of the dedicated. Abuse and shame ends with my upbringing. I do my best every day, given the time and energy I have, to make this work - to erase the things that have been done to me, so that my daughter will, in turn, have less to undo for herself.

Healing the familial wounds are a major step in raising healthy families. I am always and forever grateful for my family, even though I am cursed (and sometimes blessed) with a hypersensitive and analytical mind and may see things from a different perspective than they do, I know I am deeply loved, and from that I love deeply in return.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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