My mother and I have never really had a great relationship; although she was a helicopter parent, my mother was not particularly close to me. There was a distance between us and there seemed to be little that I could do to bridge it.
The corporal punishment didn’t help either.
To my mother, the spanking wasn’t abusive: she had been raised by abused woman and an alcoholic man who was an angry drunk. My mother often said that if cancer had been caused by bruises, she would have been a walking tumor. She spoke of how when she was young, she ran next door to a neighbor–a deputy sheriff–and pounded on his door, screaming, “Come quick! He’s killing my mama!”
My grandmother’s response? Everything was fine, officer. Nothing to worry about here. Mother admitted that she hated my grandmother for a very long time afterward; she couldn’t understand why her own mother had done this, chosen to keep quiet, had chosen to stay with a man who would beat her.
Mom said it took her years to understand. And to forgive, for that matter.
When I was younger, I didn’t understand that. I couldn’t quite get my head around that way of thinking. It made no sense to me. How could anyone forgive something like that, a betrayal that deep? It was unthinkable to me.
Fast forward a few decades. Suddenly, it made sense to me.
To my mother, the spanking was a lesser evil than what she had endured; while she had been beaten with closed fists and objects, she used an open hand on me. To her, it was discipline and not abuse. It couldn’t be, as her open hand left only a few red marks, not the deep purpled bruising of her youth. To her, this was the best and only tool she had against a “willful” or stubborn child, as child rearing in the South consisted of breaking a youngster’s will. You didn’t talk back, you didn’t sass off, you didn’t say anything your parents didn’t like. If you did, you paid the price. No one asked whether or not that was the right thing to do; it was just understood. This was how things were.
But that didn’t make it right.
I have come to realize that what my mother did was part of her upbringing, part of her own childhood. She didn’t know anything different. Her harshness was part of the culture.
But, that also doesn’t make it right.
Although I understand why my mother acted the way that she did, it cannot excuse her actions. When she became an adult, she was the one in control of her life. It was entirely her choice to spank or not spank. It was entirely her choice to threaten my pets. It was entirely her choice to stop the vicious cycle, to end the abuse. She had full control over herself, her own autonomy, and could have stopped to think, “Is this right? Would I want to be treated like this? Is this really fair or am I letting my anger get the better of me here?” She was an adult, fully capable of stepping back and looking at things with a clearer head. No, it would not have been easy–I know that for a damned fact–but it was possible.
With varying degrees, I am learning to unravel my past and learn from it. With varying degrees, I am learning to let things go. With so many varying degrees, I am learning to understand: how my past affects me, how my mother’s past managed to affect me. It’s a long process and there are bumps in the road, times when I skid off the path. But I still keep going. It’s a journey that seemingly, has no real end point.
It never really ends, does it?