Thursday, December 22, 2011

Both Hope and Regret:How is that possible?

I feel both hope and regret today.  It is the weirdest thing.  I don't feel them both at the same time, but I do feel them both within the same ten minutes.  I think EMDR is working, as before I would likely just be crushed with guilt and shame, and only be able to cultivate hope through a lot of tears, bible reading and journaling.  Now I just feel hope.  It's totally cool to be hopeful without extensive work to get there.

So here's the deal: I was a sorry ass mother in many ways to my little girl.  The irony is that my number one desire was to be a good mother!  It was both my deliverance and my curse.  My deep, deep desire to be a good mother is what led me to buy all those Christian books, go to all the seminars and Bible studies, put my kids in all the children's programs and include such a huge dose of "wholesome morality" in my home school.  That is the curse part.  The true sincerity of my longing to love my children in the way that was best is the deliverance part.  Isn't it ironic that what I meant for good turned out to detour me in the wrong direction, and actually put up a barrier between my daughter and myself?

You know the saying "better late than never"?  I really hope it turns out to be an absolute truth. My daughter  needs it to be,  and I need it to be true for her.  Yesterday in tears, as I was making these confessions to her, I apologized for not being the mother she needed me to be.  She, also in tears, replied to me that I was the mom she needed me to be NOW and that she loved for me that.  (Okay I'm getting all misty-eyed again now. Deep breath.  Exhale.  Carry on.)

I feel like I should reiterate here that I love Jesus still and always will.  I don't find fault with the Bible as much as with the way it is used.  Lewis Wells calls it "bibliolatry" and he is so right.  I was hoodwinked by the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy.  It is a heresy, in my opinion.  The Bible is a record of people whose lives were affected by the Divine, and while it may be a true record of what they experienced, believed and taught (my opinion) none of those people are/were Divine themselves, except for Jesus.  Proverbs are just that, proverbs: generalizations that are true much of the time.  The history books are just that: a historical record of what people thought, did, said, felt and heard.  They are not encyclopedias of fact.  Whoever wrote Genesis was recording the stories of early Judaism.  It is not eyewitness testimony, and if it were, we would still have to consider the character and motivations of the witness.  The poetry is poetry; the gospels are four written records of what was remembered of the life and words of Jesus in the decades after his death (and resurrection!  Yes, I believe in the resurrection.); the epistles are letters written to congregations of the early church and the book of Revelations is apocalyptic writing meant to encourage the persecuted church.

But when my daughter was growing up, I thought I believed in the inerrancy of scripture, and I went to churches that taught the Bible from that perspective.  I listened to nice, wholesome, middle-class Christian teaching- nobody who dressed funny (like Mennonites, the Pearls, etc.) or acted too strange (IBLP, for example).  Nope, the people I associated with and to whom I listened dressed like everyone else and was appropriately integrated into the culture at large.  You could wear makeup and dress nice, as long as you didn't show too much skin.  You could watch television and movies, as long as you were selective about what you saw.  You couldn't cuss or drink, though, and of course you should go to church every Sunday and, generally speaking, seek moral perfection in all you do.

Ah, and therein lies the curse.  Do you know what moral perfection is, boys and girls?  It is when you look, act, talk and feel, in a word, Christian.  In order to become that kind of person, everything has to be a moral lesson.  One should be appropriately emotional- cry at the right times, smile at the right times, all that sort of outward proof of your inward transformation.  You should feel the right feelings and if you are a good Christian you will feel these right feelings at the right times.

For example, really holy people will cry at the showing of mission films.  How can you not feel despair and sorrow at the nice people on the screen who are all going to hell?  Also, you should choke up with regret and remorse at sermons calling for repentance.  If you are unfeeling, you must be some kind of amoral monster, though no one will come right out and tell you that.  And if you are reading all those family devotions, you know that these moments calling for appropriate emotional responses happen all the time.  Good Christian children will respond in the good Christian way to the sermonettes popping up in all those "teachable moments" that good Christian parents are forever alert to recognizing. Not to mention the extras the church throws in unintentionally, like athletic prowess is godly (Awana) and being beautiful is also godly (check out the casting on those plays and musicals, we all know it's true).

So here I am, earnestly wanting to be the best mom ever to my children, relying on the Christian parenting industry because I could not rely on experience, so grateful to have married into a truly godly Christian family, because in my naivete, I thought Christian was synonymous with love and nurture.  For the record, I do believe that Christ is synonymous with love and nurture, and that it is possible to be a good and loving parent by putting into practice the commands of Christ.  My mistake was in thinking that the evangelical, fundamentalist Christianity being marketed was at all about obeying the commands of Christ.  Not even close.

See, I bought into the line of reasoning (insane that it is, in my now much more humble opinion) that since the Apostle John called Jesus the Word of God made flesh, and since Christians called the Bible the Word of God, that following Jesus meant trying to obey everything in the Bible.  That is insane, because Jesus actually gave precious few commands in his life on earth, and all of them centered around empathetic love for others.  The Bible, on the other hand, has commands out the wazoo about everything from what you can eat, to how to greet people, and everything in between, much of which are contradictory to one another and very few of which actually involve empathetic love for others.

So, my daughter was pretty much screwed from the get-go.  If she had been a neurologically typical child, she might have been better able to comply.  But, unbeknownst to me for many years, my daughter is Aspie.  She doesn't feel things like other people. She doesn't experience life like other people.  I might have known that if I had been asking her questions about her experience of life, without a mental template of what was good and acceptable with which I measured everything she said and did.    If I had been parenting with the idea that there is a wide range of human experience, and all of it is acceptable, I might  have learned much earlier what kind of mom she needed me to be.  As a Christian mom, I was never encouraged to ask that question. The Bible had the answer to that question, and there were plenty of Christian authors to explain it to me, should I need more than the weekly sermon and a good look around to get it through my thick skull.

I didn't need to try to empathize with or understand my daughter: I needed to demand that she empathize with and understand others.  If she couldn't (when she couldn't) do that, it was plain enough what was going on.  She had a sinful, selfish heart, and was in rebellion to the Word of God.  There is only one right way for a Christian child to be: cheerfully obedient, appropriately compliant to whatever was expected in the moment.  Everything else is rebellion, and can be trained out of them with the right effort.

I am ashamed to admit that I punished my daughter for being who she intrinsically was.  I shamed her for being who she was, as who she was did not fit according to the template of acceptable evangelical Christian thoughts/feelings/actions.  If I could go back in time and change it, I would.  If I thought there was any depth of remorse I could feel that would undue the damage, I would dig deep into depression and regret and stay there as long as it took.  Since that won't help at all, I won't go that route, though that also is an unhealthy ideal I picked up along the way in Christianity.  Sackcloth and ashes- if you are really, really sorry enough, long enough- moves the heart of God like nothing else, at least according to some Old Testament stories.

Thankfully, I didn't have the stomach to keep it up forever.  When I saw my daughter hurting so badly in middle school/high school, I backed the hell off.  I was willing to suffer the shame (yes, I wrote shame- sad but true, it's how I internalized it, and that's how the Christian community dished it out, too) of allowing her to be herself, because it was plain that she needed that freedom in order to know she was loved.  In my evangelical delusion, I thought that such sacrifice on my part would result in healing for whatever hurts she was suffering, and THEN she would transform into the perfect Christian girl!

Little by little, over the last eight years, I have come to understand who she really is inside.  She is beautiful, inside and out, just as she is.  She does not need to change.

She doesn't need to feel anything she doesn't authentically feel.  Not feeling on cue does not make her an amoral monster.  She is as loving and sweet as anyone else, just not on cue.

She doesn't need to clean up her artistic bent.  She is an amazingly talented artist, and while her style isn't as dark as it used to be, there was nothing wrong with her earlier darker images.  She was expressing dark truths, which do also exist you know, as surely as sunshine and rainbows.

She does not have to become an athlete.  She will never be very athletic, and who really cares?  Adults aren't put into high pressure athletic events against their will. Awana is over, finally and forever.  I just wish I hadn't made her try to fit in there as a child.

There are ways in which her neurologically atypical brain will always be at a loss.  She will always have trouble navigating through space in an absent-minded professor sort of way.  She will dress in a manner that is aesthetically pleasing to her, and if it burns someone else's moral or fashion sensibilities, they had better not tell me about it.  I think she is freaking amazing, and I will back her up to anyone, anytime.

I hate that she smokes, because I love her fresh pink lung parynchema and want it to be nurtured forever.  But since she likes it, I accept it.  I refused to feel shame for anything about my daughter ever again.  I am proud of her in every way.

Thank God (literally) that I quit trying to make her into something she is not when I did.  I just wish I could have back all those early years to enjoy her for who she is, and be better equipped to help her find her place in this world without all the shaming and yelling and frustration on my part.  I don't have a time-machine, but I will pay for her therapy, and pray that somehow the love of God can heal the damage I did back then.

She'll never be evangelically fashionable, which was what I was striving to produce in her all those years.  Nope, she is much better than that.  She is authentically who she is, and I love her for it.  Shine on, beautiful. Someone cue up Katy Perry's song "Firework".


  1. Thank you for these heart-felt words. They are very sweet and refreshing.

  2. Cool post. "Not feeling on cue does not make her an amoral monster." is so true! Also, I LOVE Firework - and the Firebolt spoof!


  3. this post speaks life to me, your perspective has me saying, "yes! yes! yes!" thank you for sharing your mind and heart.

  4. I can understand the hope and regret, and it sounds completely appropriate from what you've shared here. My mom was not and is not the kind of mother I would like her to be. Like you, it's not for lack of trying. You seem to have more capacity for it then my mom though. Just hearing the words you said to your daughter would do wonders for me. I think, at least in your case, better late than never is absolutely true. Keep it up!