Don’t Forget that I Love You

As a mother, saying I love you to my children is something that I am very compulsive about. I am always so acutely aware of how often and in how many ways I say I love you to my children.

Sometimes, when one has compulsion, it’s important to lay the compulsion flat, on a page, smooth it’s edges and wrinkles to read the words of memory that are scrawled in pencil, smudged by thumbs and yellowed with time. Couple this with deep reflection and a generally introspective nature, and you’re in for some serious psychoanalysis (of the amateur kind, because I ain’t no doctor).

I wasn’t an angel growing up, but I was by no means wayward. Wayward? What do I mean here? I wasn’t in trouble with the law, didn’t do drugs, or drink alcohol. More importantly, I never, ever spoke back to my mother. Ever. And yes, that’s more important.

I love you.

My mother was a very volatile parent. If she walked into our room at any given moment, and deemed it messy or the beds not made correctly, she would yell. Not a “get in here and clean this up” yell either. Anything she had bottled up that had nothing whatsoever to do with us came out and was directed towards us and the mess. She would walk out, and begin her cleaning process; she cleaned when she was angry. This meant, that even after putting our toys away, if she was still cleaning, we needed to be polishing, dusting and clearing surfaces or it would only get worse for us. We opted to clean and get the all-day cold shoulder than our *&@%& beat.

We were always looking for the raised eyebrow, we wanted to impress her with the shine of the glass table, the razor sharp hospital corners of our bed hoping to break the tension so we could get back to being kids. Eventually, she would say something, give us some indication that we were allowed in her presence again, that we could be tolerated. Just when we got too comfortable, she would bring up something about our transgressions from earlier in the day as her way of letting us know that she had all the power and control over our emotions and our little lives.

I love you.

My mother, was also very adept at combining psychological damage with the physical. Whenever she hit us, it was usually with a belt, that was standard. But when she really wanted to unleash, she would tell us to remove our clothing. She would hit us in front of one another, we would never look, we were always too worried about our upcoming turn. It wasn’t just her either. It was rare, but other relatives would be “invited” in to help her. I remember, a relative asked me and my cousins once if we wanted to dance in the shower after some minor transgression. Always, the precocious one, I squealed, “Me! Me! Oooh pick me!” The cousins knew, I think, and they just let me walk into it. He pulled the shower curtain back, grabbed my hands over my head, and held them, while I was spanked. My little legs moved so fast, almost like running in the air at my inability to get away, and he laughed. “See, you’re dancing in the shower”. Whenever it was brought up in conversation, because it was all open to conversation, it was a source of entertainment, something funny.

But that’s not the worst. I’ve had my period and had to “catch a beatdown” in front of my brother, shorts and underwear around my ankles. I don’t remember the pain of the hit, just the embarrassment of my nakedness in front of my brother, who shouldn’t see me like that, and the radio playing lowly in the background.

And always, always, my mother would end with…”And don’t forget that I love you”. You had to say it back. You had to. She would keep saying “And don’t forget that I love you” through gritted teeth until you said it back. You had to say it in a way that showed you meant it. There could be no anger, or sadness in your tone, or she would start over.

Afterwards, she would act completely normal. As if nothing had happened. Kill them with kindness was one of her favorite sayings. As if you weren’t just worn down to a nub of a person, as if your self-esteem weren’t just left in a heap next to you on the floor in so many pieces that there could never be enough glue in the world to ever, ever put you back together again. But that was her point.

When I finally confronted her as an adult, she was defensive, claimed I made it all up, or that she didn’t remember. In her way, it was another psychological ploy to control what my life is, control what got me here to where I am today. She can’t take away what I felt. She can’t take away my progress and she can’t take away the pain she inflicted. It happened whether she wants to claim she remembers it or not, whether my brothers claim to remember it or not.

She said she didn’t have a book on parenting, and she wasn’t perfect. I didn’t have one either, but I made damned sure that I wouldn’t re-read the pages she wrote for me, to my children. When I look into their big eyes, I don’t know how she did it. I don’t know how she was able to snap like that, over and over again, child after child, there are 7 of us. That’s what I really can’t wrap my head around, especially as a mother. I couldn’t do it. I can’t. I haven’t. I won’t.

I love you, meant something different for me for so many years. It meant I could be hurt, abandoned, embarrassed and have one’s will inflicted upon me because the flimsy bandage of “I love you” covered the scar. It wasn’t until I had Alex that my outlook changed. No longer willing to repeat the cycle I and my siblings endured for so many years from my mother or anyone else, I repeat I love you to my sons more times daily than I can count; more than my own husband. I didn’t understand why, and still didn’t until very, very recently.

I have been trying to erase the association of pain and torment from my childhood with what it should have been. When my sons are just sitting and playing, talking, drawing, mess-making, anything, I say, “I love you”. As you can imagine, they do these simple things all the time – because it’s normal. They’re supposed to play, and argue with one another, leave Lego’s and Silly Bands everywhere, trash their toy closet and have dust bunnies. They’re supposed to lounge around on a Sunday morning while I clean, and I am supposed to say “I love you”, not just with words, but with actions. There’s not even the slightest bit of room for anger and resentment on my part, toward their innocent, care-free little lives.

I make sure they know I love them because they’re honest, compassionate, empathetic, sensitive and kind. Because they share with one another and are thoughtful about their feelings, and make me laugh so hard I get a stitch in my side. I want them to know that I love them because of what they are becoming, not just because we share the same DNA, or because I made them therefore I own them, and they owe me some allegiance for the rest of their life.

I struggled with publishing this for very obvious reasons. It tore me up to put the words down and drove me within the darkness of myself even after I clicked the x and closed the window. I knew it was there, the shame, the embarrassment, and the pain, glowing on it’s own and saved for me to return the next day with a decision to delete all that I had written, or share it. She’s cropped up twice in the past two weeks, coinciding with this post.

This morning, I received my daily “learn the catechism in a year” email. The topic, “How do parents respect their children?” This is what it read:

God entrusted children to parents so that they might be steady, righteous examples for those children, that they might love and respect them and do everything possible so that their children can develop physically and spiritually. Children are a gift from God and not the property of the parents. Before they are their parents’ children, they are God’s children. The primary duty of parents is to present to their children the Good News and to communicate the Christian faith to them.

So there’s my decision made.

I love my children because they were given to me, especially and specifically, I feel, by God to undo the years I spent as a little girl, and young adult, afraid and full of compensation at the expense of herself. God knew that I would need Alex’s compassion, sensitivity and understanding, Gabriel’s constant need for “sugar lumps” (hugs and kisses) and his fierce protection of me even in the silliest of instances. God also knew that I would need Mike to sever the dysfunctional attachment I had to her. Mike literally held my face and said “I got you now”, and that took a long time to believe.

I say I love you to my children all the time, for their sake, and also for mine. Say I love you to your children, in every way you can, as many times as you can, they need it, without question. Maybe you do too? For further reference from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Flocknote suggested CCC 2221-2231 If you’re interested you can also sign up for daily emails and read the Catechism in a year

Join the rest of the Good Enough Moms at The Wounded Dove.

#goodenoughmom link up via @charitylcraig

This post was also featured on BlogHer

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52 thoughts on “Don’t Forget that I Love You

  1. It was so painful to read this. I can’t reconcile the Cristina I know with that upbringing. I hope you know you have transcended it, that you are a great mom, and a loving, sharing person. It did not break you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It wasn’t so much as it was to put it out there. I generally try to inspire, and I was concerned this wouldn’t give that and wouldn’t fit in this space. But ultimately, this is a personal blog and if you’re reading, you gotta read all of it, no? Good and scary. Thanks for reading.

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  2. Wow, Christine I almost had moist eyes while reading this. I am in awe with you. I second Craig here, beautiful, your writing and you-inside out! You had me here.
    God Bless. Lots of Love,
    Best, Soumyaa

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  3. Your post moved me to tears, Cristina. I’m so terribly sorry that you had to endure such awful torment as a child, I am, however, equally awed and so very proud of you – the beautiful woman that you became in spite of such circumstances! You rose above it all – like a flower that majestically grows out of sheer rock. Children are indeed a gift from God … and yours are truly blessed now because of the woman you became. Thank you for your bravery in writing this powerful post. I hope it reaches many and helps inspire all those who read it.

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    • Thanks Marcia, as always, for your kind words and sunshine on the page. I hope and pray that what I write always helps others to get past what holds them back.

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  4. I so appreciate you sharing this. This is a much shallower anecdote but my daughter just turned 18. For some reason I had not been a rider in her car much lately but on a recent weekend I was several times. After she had parked the car somewhere, I said “good job.” Apparently I have said that every. single. time. she has parked the car since she started driving at 15. She pointed out that it made sense then but not so much now. I guess I can’t help myself. // But your topic is much deeper and I get it, I truly do. {hugs}

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  5. Oh my goodness Cristina, that’s heart breaking you had to endure that…as horrible as that was for you, I am sure it has made you a better, more effective, and loving Mom than your own was ever to you…

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    • Don’t cry! I don’t. Not anymore, not for a long time. All it does is make my mascara run, and that’s not a good look (did that make you laugh?)
      xo

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  6. I can tell this was really difficult for you to share, and it’s so beautiful at the same time. I’m so glad you’re able to understand your emotions in relation to your childhood and raise your boys with the understanding of love you should have been given as a child!

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  7. You are an AMAZING mother and a wonderful friend! Your life growing up was unimaginable. I am so proud of how you have not continued the patterns from your past with your boys. Love you so much, my friend! xoxoxoxo

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  8. Cristina – Just as your children are God’s children first, you too have always been God’s child first. Despite the denial of others, God knows, and He has reclaimed you as His. I’m sure He is delighting in the Light you provide to all who have been told, “Abusers abuse.” Thank you for sharing your story and for showing other abused children they CAN break the cycle.

    In case you haven’t heard it a million times today, I LOVE YOU.

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  9. Wow. I couldn’t keep back the tears. I felt the hurt Cristina.

    How much God has blessed you with such a loving husband and two beautiful little boys. I have no doubt that *I love you* is frequently spoken…and meant in your loving home.

    I read this today:

    “Avoid worrying, then, about anything else for your children except whatever may contribute to bringing them up virtuously. For the rest, having entrusted them to God, try to see what His will for them is, to help them along the path in life He has chosen for them. Never be afraid of relying too much on Him, but rather seek always to increase your trust more and more, for this is the most pleasing homage you can pay Him and it will be the measure of the graces you will receive. Little or much will be given you according as you have expected little or much.”

    — St. Claude De La Columbiere & Fr. Jean Baptiste Saint-Jure, p.46

    Hugs xo

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  10. My mom used to do the same thing and would make my brother and I say it to each other. If we sounded mean or didn’t mean it, we would have to repeat it until it sounded sincere.

    I feel your pain. I really do.

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  11. By the grace of God, there you go. So sorry for your loss Christina. So sorry for your mother’s too. This post left a deep and lasting impression on me. My own attempts and failures at mothering a different way. Breaking generational patterns of addiction and poverty (more than one kind). Understanding mental illness. And then the long, hard road of acceptance.forgiveness. Once, when I was re-entering the Church, I went to see Fr. Tovar at a little PR/American church that stole my heart. I confessed that although I loved my mother, I was also filled with hatred for her. In his broken English, he replied, “Do you believe that you have been forgiven?” I knew for sure that I didn’t hear wrongly, but it took me a long time to truly understand what he meant.

    It’s tempting to say that some people should not have children at all. But God knows more and you are here! God bless and keep writing.

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    • Thanks Michelle. Often when I go into the confessional, I don’t go in angry. I go in sad. I go in mourning for what should have been, but struggling always to accept what He’s given me instead.

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  12. «HUG». Thank you for sharing this. My maternal grandmother was abusive, not only with my mother, but with her grandchildren. I remember my Mom telling me that grandmere would make her strip before receiving a severe whipping on they grounds that «I’m not ruining those clothes!» I firmly believe she was mentally ill. Your story filled me with sadness and yet thankfulness that you turned out to be a beautiful soul and a compassionate wife and mother. May Our Lord continue to heal your heart and memories. Much Love, Terry.

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    • Thank you, Terry for your kind words. I’m sorry that your mother endured what she did, and that it was similar to my childhood. You don’t expect this to be something that’s duplicated in homes other than yours. It’s never been confirmed whether my mother is mentally ill. I can’t say that I don’t think there is something there though. God bless you and keep you Terry.

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  13. This was painful to read but I am so glad you published it. It’s a good reminder that we moms have a choice to change our kids lives and that our childhood doesn’t need to affect theirs. Unless it’s for good that is.
    Your children are so blessed to have you as a mother. I will be praying for you and thinking of you. Thank you again for writing this.

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    • It’s almost like we get to fix what was broken for them – even if they don’t needed. Our children can be fortified for the better from our wounds. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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  14. So beautiful! I cried while reading your post, not just because of your experiences, but because of your strength and your motivation to undo what has been done to you and break the cycle. You are the epitome of strength and growth.

    I say I love you to my son for the simple fact that God blessed me with him. He has inspired my life to be filled with happiness and purpose, and I love him so much every day because he was given to me. I can’t imagine doing to my child what your mother did to you.

    Thank you for writing this. I can sense the release for you by sharing, and that is a beautiful thing. Wishing you the best!

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    • Thanks, Natasha. I didn’t realize how motivated I was until I took a step back and asked myself why I was always saying “I love you” to my boys. Usually I just chalked it up to “because I do love them and I want them to know”. Amazing what a little introspection and examination can do. Not easy, to be sure, but settles the heart a bit.

      God bless you and your sweet son.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Stina, I can’t imagine what it took for you to put this out there.

    The feels in my heart for you right now: endless. Tripled. Doubled. I love you because of who you are, and I haven’t even met you.

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  16. Thank you for sharing your story, as painful as it is to read. My birth mother has a mental illness. Given the episodes of abuse I endured, if it were not for my grandparents stepping in and adopting me, I cannot imagine where I would be or if I would even be alive today. As a new blogger, I’m treading lightly so far when it comes to sharing about the abuse, but may find the courage to share more someday. Thanks again for being so brave.

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    • I’m so sorry. It took me over a year to be comfortable enough to write this, and it’s only one memory of many that I could have chosen to illustrate why I parent the way that I do. When I couch the abuse from that vantage point, for me, I keep myself on the side of empowerment. I left for school in Texas when I was 17, and that was another host of problems. Ay! We have each other and if there is anything I can ever do to help, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

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