Digging into the Past: Recovering from Emotional Abuse (Part Four)

I remember the first time I saw this quote. It was years before the split between my mother and I. “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.”Yall, it broke me. I recalled hearing myself be critical of one of kids FOR NO REASON on a video and being devastated I was doing what had been done to me.

Don’t misunderstand my timeline here. My relationship with my mother ended five years ago but since I was 7 I knew she didn’t love me. Since I was 11 I knew she wanted to control me. Since I was 15 I knew she and I would never be like my friends with their moms. It’s not like I woke up one day and was like oh this sucks and I’mma call it Emotional abuse and make a big fuss. If you knew me as a young person you would have heard it said that we had a “difficult relationship”…by teachers, family members, even peers. Of course since not every one had this same dynamic in our house, it was heavily insinuated (and sometimes flat out stated) that this was BECAUSE OF ME. I wasn’t smart. I was hard to love. I was too emotional. I was dramatic. I was selfish. I knew for years and years and years my inner voice was loud and mean and didn’t like me very much.

And I wanted most of all to not repeat that voice in the minds of my kids. Even as they were newborn babies I would cry in fear that they would believe her version of me instead of who I really am. That they would be triangulated and lied to and controlled and emotionally punished.

And this is why for us no contact is all we can do. Boundaries didn’t work. Speaking against the cruelty didn’t work. Trying to change the voice myself didn’t work. I could not be my best self while being who my mother says I am. And my kids deserve so much more. They deserve to be heard, to be guided as they grow, to be treated as individuals with special personalities and struggles and strengths. They deserve real love that says “you are loved by me” and sacrifices made for their betterment, not for a scorecard or status. They deserve my attention and my best thoughts and words. They deserve healthy parents who seek growth and God and good things. They deserve to be told truths and kept from lies and negativity about people they love. They should be able to be safe emotionally with anyone we allow to influence them. This is my purpose and my intention in life. Some days I wish I could go back and have a different growing up experience. Most days I’m just glad to be free.

Every early into my recovery, I adopted this one: be the mom you want them to remember. And that remains one of my top priorities every day. BE THE MOM YOU WANT THEM TO REMEMBER!

We don’t get to act however we want and expect people to only remember our glittered up version of it.

Who we are to our kids is WHO WE REALLY ARE.

As I leave you with those thoughts, I’m also going to leave you with a book list.

1. Boundaries- Henry Cloud

2. Safe People

3. Children of the Self Absorbed

4. Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists-Eleanor Payson

5. Will I Ever Be Good Enough

6. Mean Mothers- Peg Streep

7. Daughter Detox- Peg Streep

8. The Mom Factor- Henry Cloud

There are certainly more and this is not an exhaustive list. Some of these folks also have blogs or websites with further information. Pinterest also has quite a few links to pertinent information. Good luck learning and growing on your journey! 💜

Digging into the Past, Emotional Abuse: Part Three

If I wasn’t naming this in a series, I would call this one something clever about dirty laundry.

When my mother first cut me off, she uninvited me to Christmas events and did the regular silent treatment as emotional punishment thing. We even invited her to our home despite the avoidance of any kind of amends or talks. She refused. In fact she said things were better the way they were (aka, without us). Then a few months later she wanted to pass gifts off to my kids from her

through a family member (without communicating or speaking to us in any way) and we said no. That’s when the people turned on me. That’s when it all became my fault. I was attacked on multiple sides and cut off by more family members than I can count. Don’t worry, I now know that’s not only a common occurrence in these situations, it almost ALWAYS happens this way. People who have for years heard the slander and half truths and been triangulated and basically trained to disbelieve you and think badly of you will jump head first into the smear campaign as soon as it starts. (Most days I don’t blame them. They’re her victims too, for the most part.)

Interesting just before the switch, I sat down with several members of what would become the supposed army against me and every. single. one. would not/could not deny the behaviors I have described to you in part two or that I share about my mother. These acts she’s done, not just to me but to many, many before me and I imagine after me as well. They’d seen them, they could acknowledge and name them. But their thought process was that this is “just the way it is” to be in relationship with her. It’s part of the deal. One (gosh I could write a whole other series on that person) would explain that it’s just that my mother and me and a few other people don’t mix well- she could see the abuse but justified it because it had not ever been directed at her. Lovely.

The consensus was: don’t air the dirty laundry. Sure this is all happening, no one denies that but don’t you dare call it abuse and don’t you dare tell people about it.

Imma call “BS” on that one, y’all. Airing dirty laundry is part of my charm (do a little Meyers Briggs search on INFJs if you don’t believe me). And it’s part of the culture of the day….the same people who want you to hide a truth about them will read every tabloid magazine cover to cover. The further you try to stuff your truth down, the faster someone else is trying to dig it up. I would go so far to say that the further you try to stuff your truth down, the faster the Holy Spirit is working to dig it up and expose it. God doesn’t leave things in the dark- He brings them to light to change you, to work on you, to create love where there was decay.

It’s not anything good to lie, hide truths, change terms, or be someone you aren’t in order to make other people comfortable.

The truth is, the dirty laundry goes way back…and the more I learned about narcissistic parents and patterns, the more I could see it. If you have a narcissistic parent, do you also find traits in those who’ve gone before them? Many of the people I know with these experiences can see it in their family line. What we also read from these studiers of people is the belief that the behaviors of a narcissist are mostly taught and not instinctive. That is a relief as a parent, (right?), and as a non-narcissistic person. One therapist said you know you’re not a narcissist if you worry you might be one- a true narcissist will never even consider the fault may be their’s. (If you know one, you’re nodding right now because you know exactly what I mean 😉.) But the relief is truly is deep as it tells us that if we teach our children empathy, kindness, self-awareness, the ability to focus on others, to really listen to hear…we immunize them from becoming narcissistic.

It’s been five years since the split, twenty-eight since my first vivid memory of knowing my mother didn’t love me. And I still find out old lies, half truths and brand new shiny lies about me and my people. I still run into mutual folks that are considered “hers” and see in their eyes they believe horrible, ugly things about me that aren’t real.

It’s taken all the days in these five years to tell you this: the only weapon against a narcissist is to continue to be who you truly are. The first couple years of recovery I shared the lies word for word and all the proof I could muster. Now I know I’m free because I don’t feel any need to try to convince you I am me. I simple am me. I’m not perfect or immune from anger or anxiety when I hear their stories. But I’m also not what she has told me I am my entire life….who she claims I am isn’t true. I am who God says I am. And everyday that I walk that out, I prove her wrong with my life. And that’s my advice to others like me.

Breathe deep. Know yourself. Live in who you are and truth of that person. Keep loving. That’s the win. ❤️

Digging Into the Past, Emotional Abuse: Part Two

There are many forms of abuse. Most forms widely accepted in our culture are those we can see. For longer than we care to think about, abuse of any kind was denied and we as a people turned a blind eye to it. It was a mans choice how he treated his family or how he allowed his family to operate. This is no longer true, thank goodness. We have entire departments of our state governments designed to protect members of every family, resources to rebuild unhealthy families into healthy ones, etc. And I can tell you a lot about that as a foster parent off and on for the last 10 years or so.

But it remains true that abuses we accept readily as abuse are largely physical ones. We cannot deny abuse when people have broken bodies. We cannot look away when someone is neglected or starved or withheld medical care.

But verbal and emotional abuse are much harder to advocate against and to prove. Emotional abuse is commonly dismissed by general society and even its own victims.

What we know scientifically now is that emotional abuse (in this I’m including verbal abuse because you can’t have verbal abuse and it not lead to emotional abuse) is as detrimental to our souls as physical abuse. In studies the same mental and physical reactions happen internally even at EXPOSURE to all abuses. This means a child watching someone else being emotionally or physically abused has the same responses internally as the person being abused. How much more then can we place Emotional Abuse in its position of honor on the list of childhood abuses. And I’m including late child into teenage years as childhood, for those looking to pick me apart.

Now let me clear, I grew up in a nice house in a beautiful neighborhood. As a little girl, we went on vacations and had fancy pictures and I owned books and coats and always got fed. We had close relationships with lots of family members. We had sitters and friends and church connections when I was young. As I grew up, I watched many of those relationships erode away. Some flat out exploded. These behaviors I’m sharing with you are not exclusive to me; there were many on the path before me, some who I have even been blessed to talk with in the past few years to share their versions and give me peace (this is where our mantra comes in, y’all; it’s not me, it’s her). What I’m telling you is to ignore our societal expectations of what abuse looks like and who participates in it. We know this to be true but we somehow forget: it’s not just poor “rednecks” who are abusive to people in their life. Abuse happens in all classes and in all places.

There are more examples than I could possibly give in my own arsenal of experiences but there are many patterns and signs of emotional abuse. I’m going to cover a few of my favorites but please continue exploring books, blogs and other resources if you have wondered if you have a narcissistic or toxic person in your life. These are very short explanations of these things so if this is helpful or interests you, keep digging!

Gaslighting- Gaslighting is a favorite I have a lot of experience dealing with…. it’s that special ability narcissists have where they do or say a thing and then as soon as you confront it or react to it, they claim they didn’t do it or you’re overreacting: basically You Are Crazy. ‘How dare you have feelings or be upset about this thing they did.’ They make the crazy and try to convince you that you did. It’s one of my least favorite things ever. Gaslighting is powerful and dangerous. Don’t mess around with a gas-lighter. (The best part of being 5 years post recovery from narcissist abuse is that I can spot gaslighting a mile away. Like a super power!)

Manipulation/Control/Isolation/Triangulation- Narcissist use these tactics so much more covertly than overt abusers. They spend so much time and energy talking about people to other people (who they then talk about), no one is sure what is true about each other. There can be no trust in the other members of the family or group because so much ugly and twisted information has been spread. Sometimes narcissists are obvious with their isolation/attempts at control, like the time on a Christmas trip my mother sat my husband down and told him that he loved me too much and needed to do what she said in how to deal with me. Anyone who could not be controlled was out of the inner circle and not devoted to, liked, included, or loved. Control is paramount to a narcissist. Which is why “no contact” is often necessary for unloved daughters.

Triangulation- I included that with a few others that go hand in hand but broken down when someone gossips/lies/puts down someone to person A about person B and then does the same in reverse, this is known as triangulation. My mother would bash someone to me and then I’d walk in on (or get the “accidental” text about me sent to me- yes that’s happened multiple times from multiple narcissists) her doing the same to me. Sometimes to or in front of my children. Triangulation is a nasty beast and at its core is regular old gossip and slander. Run away from a gossip. Period.

Silent Treament/Emotional Punishment- I never realized how much I hated this one until my kids got older but essentially, you’re ignored and excluded for some amount of time for anything that isn’t approved of. This could be standing up for yourself or it could be something unrelated to the punisher like getting pregnant or going on a trip they don’t approve of. (Yes these things have happened and yes Im open to talking privately 😉🤣.)

Preferential treatment/golden child vs scapegoat- This is a huge one and honestly I’m not ready to hash this one publicly yet. Suffice it to say there are favorites or a favorite who is treated vastly differently than others inside the family.

Entitlement- All narcissist have entitlement, often in that they feel they have a right to say and do anything they want without consequence but do not extend that to anyone else.

Projection- Really simply, projection is when someone blames you for behaviors or fears they themselves are doing or feeling. A great example is when someone who has hurt you claims to then be your victim instead. Or perhaps they accuse you of something you’ve never done or expressed but have seen them do or say.

For me, a lot changed as far as tolerance level as my kids got older. I’ve seen a narcissist turn to my child and call me names to her face. One’s lies were repeated by my then four year old in tears and confusion. When it comes to our kids we are so much quicker to protect them than ourselves. I am thankful daily that my kids won’t grow up with the exposure to narcissism that I did. They are my purpose in life and I will do everything I can to protect them.

In the last conversation I had with my abuser, it was never argued that these things don’t happen, only that I don’t accept these things because I’m not “one of her people.” (Again let me remind you with regular moms not to try to understand- you won’t be able to. Bless you for caring and trying.) This human who gave birth to me, who watched me give birth myself, who claimed once upon a time to love me absolutely cannot admit or profess sorrow for any of her wrongs toward me. There is reason and justification for everything.

And that, my friends, is what it’s like to break down the experiences of an unloved daughter. But don’t be sad. I am free.

To Ella on her 11th birthday

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Ella Boo,

I remember the day I finally was able to call and make my first appointment with the infertility clinic. I was so excited. I had known from the beginning that having kids was going to be some work and I had been waiting for what seemed like forever to make that call. Many, many months later your daddy was laid up sick on the couch when I was on the other end of the house taking the test that would change our lives. When that second line finally came up, after seeing only one for SO LONG, I screamed my face off and went running into the other room to show him. Within about five minutes everyone I could possibly call knew I was finally pregnant and you were on your way.

Being pregnant with you was amazing and hard. I was grumpy and hot all the time. I passed a ton of kidney stones and developed gallstones. But every kick and nudge made it worth every bit of it. I would lay down and just marvel that there was another human in my belly, punching my bladder and playing kickball with my kidneys. You had long legs even then and you would push and stretch those legs as often as you could. I remember one of the ultrasounds we had, we all laughed because you were all legs….just like your daddy.

The day you were born was the best day of my life. I had imagined and daydreamed for months about what you would look like. I had a c-section and wasn’t able to get a good look at you for hours later. Everyone came to the hospital to be there for your birth. You were so loved, even before you took your first breath. All your people were there to welcome you Earth side. When they placed you in my arms everything in the world was right and I thought my heart couldn’t take how much I loved you. You looked just like your daddy. You still do and I love it. You had a head full of blonde hair that stuck out all over like a baby duck. You were the sweetest, most laid back baby. And I thought I loved your daddy as much as I could, but when I saw him hold you and love on you for the first time I thought my heart would burst.

Watching you grow up is the greatest joy of my life. Being the one to teach you is such a blessing that I will never take for granted. You were so wanted. You were longed and prayed for before I even knew you existed. I know how fortunate I am to be able to stay home with you and see all your successes and be here to comfort you when things are hard. I am so lucky.

Sweet girl, you are more than I could have ever thought to pray for. You are smart. You are immeasurably kind and tenderhearted. You love people with your whole heart. You don’t know any other way. You are goofy in the most amazing way and one of my most favorite things about you is your ability to laugh at yourself. You never take yourself too seriously and that will be such a gift to you as you grow up. You have empathy for hurting people that belies your years. You are such a good friend and you will fight for the people you love.

It’s hard to believe that you are eleven. My sweet little squishy, long legged baby has grown into a beautiful, sweet, long legged preteen. And it has gone by in the blink of an eye.

My prayer for you, my love, is that you will remain tenderhearted. That all the yucky stuff going on in the world will not harden that precious heart you have. That you will continue to be a fierce friend and someone who people can count on. Success in this world is measured by so many things that, in the end, don’t mean very much. But if I can teach you one thing in these years that I have you home with me, I hope I can teach you to love well. To serve others. To always look for the best in people, even when it can be hard to find. To know how much you are worth and that your worth is not measured by the standards that the world will set before you. And that to love
others well, we must sometimes sacrifice what we want to give others what they need. That love is patient and kind. And that it NEVER fails.

I love you more than you could ever know. You were worth every tear shed, hormone injection, medical procedure, check written. You were worth all of that and more. I would do it over and over and over again to have you. I am far from a perfect mom. I yell too much, play too little, and my patience runs out more than it should. And for that I’m sorry. But I want you to know that my love for you is unconditional. You don’t have to worry about messing up and me not being there. There is nothing you could ever do that will take one ounce of that love away. I will be here when things are hard and scary. I will fuss at you when you act a fool. I will celebrate every victory and I will be your soft place to fall when things don’t go your way.

I hope eleven is your best year yet.

Love you the most,
Mama

Breastfeeding Success with low supply

suc·cess/səkˈses/
Noun: The accomplishment of an aim or purpose.

Throughout my second pregnancy, I read up, studied, and learned all I could about breastfeeding. Especially breastfeeding with PCOS, breastfeeding with my specific issues, and how to increase low supply. I had a list of supplements ready to be bought. I looked up latching techniques and researched pumps. I did all I could to prepare. I was determined to be SUCCESSFUL. I was determined to exclusively breastfeed my daughter. I was determined to not have to give any formula. I was determined to sustain her life by my milk alone.

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Lydia was born on September 10th, 2012. A beautiful baby girl, weighing 8 lbs, 10 oz at birth. We had an easy, 6 hour labor and delivery. She was a little groggy after delivery, but latched on and nursed while we were still in the delivery room. We nursed and it was beautiful. During my pregnancy I had gestational diabetes, so the nurses had to check her blood sugar. The first sugar was borderline normal. So they checked again and now it was too low. Thus began our frequent sugar checks before and after each feeding. To which we learned that what I could give her, was not enough to keep her sugars up. In fact, the lowest number was AFTER I fed her. The nurse suggested formula and eventually had to take her away to the nursery for observation because her sugars were dangerously low.

I was devastated.

I had a panic attack. A full blown, hyperventilating, could not breath, panic attack.

And I watched. I watched as the nurse sat there and fed my baby formula. I felt like such a failure (again!), I felt like my baby was tainted and it was all my fault. If only… if only I could have controlled my sugars more… if only I didn’t have gestational diabetes or PCOS or .. if only I had done something… different.

But, I continued to nurse. I nursed and I cried knowing she wasn’t getting enough. I nursed and nursed and then I passed her over to my husband who gave her formula to keep her sugars level and elevated. It killed me when her sugars did come back normal after the formula because it confirmed that I was the cause.

We left the hospital the next day. Her birth weight fell very little and we were instructed to continue to nurse and then supplement with formula to ensure that her sugars stayed level. I talked to an LC before leaving. She checked Lydia for tongue tie and confirmed what I already knew, PCOS and my other problems can cause supply issues and that the problems that I had were most likely caused by PCOS and Insufficient Glandular Tissue. I left with a hospital grade pump, instructions to nurse as frequently as possible, no longer than 2 hours between feedings, and to pump as frequently as possible to build my supply. I had supply issues with my first and never made it past day 5. See, I was determined to do better this time.

So we got home and I nursed. And I nursed… and nursed… and nursed… we spent HOURS nursing; latching and re-latching, waking her up, doing breast compression pumping, and then nursing some more. I took supplements, ate oatmeal, drank Mother’s Milk Tea and I nursed and nursed and nursed. After each feed we gave her a minimal amount of formula and it was not even an ounce. Lydia would nurse for an hour at a time and would fall asleep frequently. She never did seem satisfied. My milk came in on Thursday, September 13th. Hope restored!

But the above continued; the endless hours of nursing. Then the dirty diapers stopped. She was sleepy. She didn’t nurse efficiently I kept trying though, don’t think I gave up! We went to our first pediatrician appointment on Thursday as well. Lydia was down to 8 lbs even. Not bad… still within normal range. Hope restored again! So we continued to do what we were doing, praying that my milk was doing enough.I never had a great feeling though.I counted every single wet diaper, noted the time and analysed the amount. She had the bare minimum.

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So we made it to the 2 week appointment with the pediatrician. I had so much anxiety going in. I feared, FEARED, more weight loss or not enough weight gain. At this point, babies SHOULD be close to their birth weight. I held my breath as Jon undressed her and put her on the scale. I watched anxiously as the nurse moved the weights around on the scale.

Seven Pounds, 14 ounces. A 2 oz LOSS.

I was devastated. A 2 oz loss! It had been 2 weeks, she shouldn’t have been loosing, she should have been gaining! We spoke with the pediatrician, who was obviously concerned. He asked me about her diapers, if my milk was in, how much I was able to pump (maybe 20 ml a session on a GOOD day) and he instructed us to give formula after every feed and to give as much as she wanted. He assumed that Lydia was maybe getting an ounce of breast milk from me, but needed more to sustain her life….

Oh I cried. I cried right there in front of him. I cried and I cried. I felt so inadequate. After dealing with infertility, I just wanted something to WORK. Something to go right, for once.
It just seemed that everything that identified me as a woman, was broken.

BUT…

The pediatrician reminded me that ANY amount of breast milk is beneficial. He encouraged me to keep putting her to the breast and then to bottle feed after.

The Lactation consultant reminded me that ANY amount of breast milk is beneficial. She encouraged me to keep putting her to the breast and then to bottle feed after. She also told me to pump after each feeding and to give that to her after.

My husband constantly reminds me that ANY amount of breast milk is beneficial. He encourages me to put her to the breast at any sign of hunger and to let her comfort nurse.

My online “village” reminded me that ANY amount of breast milk is beneficial. They encouraged me to continue to put her to the breast and that supplementation when needed, is NOT a bad thing.

My best friend constantly reminds me that ANY amount of breast milk is beneficial. That I’m a good mother, that I’m doing all that I can, that formula is NOT bad, and that I am doing what I need to do to make sure that my baby is happy and healthy.
Notice a trend?
Any amount of breast milk is beneficial! It finally clicked.

Any amount I was able to give her was worth it, my efforts were not in vain. Do I feel like a failure, absolutely sometimes. It has taken me a while to come to this point of acceptance and I’ve had to redefine my idea of what breastfeeding success is. Is it exclusively breastfeeding my child and maintaining a virgin gut? Ideally, yes. But, we don’t live in an ideal world and with multiple misfortunes stacked up against me, this is not possible. I do not make enough milk. I make SOME and despite everything (supplements, pumping, continue to breastfeed, and even prayer) my supply will not increase enough to sustain my child’s life. I am the reason that formula was created. Without formula, my child would starve.

Three days after our 2 week pediatrician appointment, we went back for a weight recheck and she gained 6 oz. She was more alert, content, and happy. She was no longer starving and burning all the calories she took in to nurse. All thanks to formula.

Breastfeeding Success FOR ME, was maintaining a breastfeeding RELATIONSHIP and giving her all that I had, trying my very best to give her what I could, and not “giving up” because I’m tired, exhausted, or I want the “easy” way out (and formula feeding isn’t really easy, It’s so much preparation and it’s expensive! Plus I was doing it anyways!). What I could give her was a couple ounces of breastmilk and the closeness, the comfort that breastfeeding provides and enough formula to keep her belly full. That is MY breastfeeding success.

At four months, Lydia self weaned herself from the breast. We spent 4 months breastfeeding, giving a bottle, and pumping. Four months stressing about supply and taking supplements. But, I exceeded my goal. I aimed for November 13th, the day I went back to work. But, we made it until January 11 – two months longer than I set out. I consider that, success!

It was hard, it was stressful, but I was successful and to me, it was worth it. It’s hard to go into a situation expecting one outcome and to work so hard, only to “fail” but if you can redefine that idea of success, you’ll be happier with the outcomes. Success is not the same for everybody and I know I can look back and say that I did all that I could and even though I wasn’t able to exclusively breastfeed my child, I know that I tried. With Addison there was always that “what if” factor – the what if I tried longer, what if I waited longer for my milk supply to come in fully, what if I tried supplements, tried pumping, and the list goes on – but I know, now, that my supply issues are real and it wasn’t because I didn’t try hard enough. That feeling of failure triggered my spiral down into postpartum depression the first time around, so for me, I had to do this. I had to know for sure that my “lack” of trying the first time was not the cause. But it’s a necessity and if it keeps my child alive, growing, and happy, then it is absolutely the right thing to do.

Since then, I’ve breastfed and formula supplemented 3 more children (that’s right, 5 babies! Screw you infertility). I’ll admit, I still struggle with seeing the success and pushing away the feelings of failure when I’m in the trenches, but I know that I don’t look back at those early days and SEE the failure. I see a mama that tried hard to do what’s best for her babies and I see how much they have grown and thrived through my care and endless love. In the end, it doesn’t matter HOW you fed your babies, just that they WERE fed and that they grew and are happy. That’s the ultimate success.

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Photo Credit: Paulina Splechta Photographer

Digging into the Past, Emotional Abuse: Part One

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Five years ago in October, I confronted someone in a lie about me and instead of remorse, they attacked back. I was called names, belittled, told I was a bad mother and a “bad Christian,” which was a typical situation with this person. Then, in a final text I was told “I am done with you.”

Picture with me the many, many times this scenario has played out in the past. Years of mind games, gaslighting, triangulation amongst siblings and friends, flat out lies coming out years later, manipulation, confusion, emotional abuse, extreme conclusions without evidence, being used for status, for money, for lies…I could (and will eventually) go on.

Oy vey, it’s a frustrating story. But that’s more than an ending OR a beginning. Because that person is my “mother.”

When Rae approached me about contributing on her blog, she told me I could write about anything: parenting, foster care, adoption, marriage, life. But she asked me to consider writing about my story of being an unloved daughter, a daughter with a narcissistic mother. Years ago I tried, but more to process than to guide anyone else. Now, almost five years down the road of recovery with a group of supporters, therapists, friends, I think (I hope) I am ready to unpack this in public and face the potential storm that may follow.

I spent the first few years of recovery from emotional abuse defending myself. Defending my terminology, my feelings, my history, my experiences, my thoughts. Defending with any and every scenario I can remember.

And there are many.

And perhaps there is a season for that for anyone coming out of narcissist abuse. And I’m always available for anyone who wants to hash those experiences personally.

But, five years out, I know I don’t have to prove what happened to me. Even though there is actual proof for lots of it, I don’t feel I have to carry it like a shield anymore. The truth is THE truth.

There is a slew blogs, books, articles and actual humans who have had the same experiences as me. And I don’t even mean generally; I mean exact abusive conversations and experiences. Because narcissistic abuse does follow a pattern. I now know hundreds of people who are like me, I have close personal friends (and even family) who can say “that happened to me too”…and I can now just say “I have a toxic mother” or “I’m a child of a narcissist” and people know what I mean. No defense, no battle, no explanation required. And I thank God for that daily.

If you are someone who thinks they have a narcissistic parent, I implore you to read Children of the Self-Absorbed. If you’re like me and a child of the magazine quiz generation you’ll love this book for that reason alone 🤣😉….there are checklists and questions to help you figure things out based on your experiences.

If you are someone who thinks you’re a child of a narcissist or know one, by all means also read Safe People and Boundaries (both are wonderful books for every person). There are many more books to share but those three are where we will start. And for the love of sanity, start following Peg Streep on Facebook (she’s got some books too for those readers past this beginning list.)

What I want to tell you is that ANY type of abuse is still abuse and you are not to be faulted for what has happened to you. If you are someone blessed with a wonderful, loving, giving, honest set of parents, and you know of a child of a narcissist, don’t judge them or place them in your shoes. You cannot understand them in the realm of your own parental experiences. Open your heart as you hear and learn from the emotionally abused.

I find myself holding my breathe as I finish this and set myself to send it to Rae. I hope to write a Part Two soon so bear with me through the storm.

Holy Ground and Sacred Things

Navigating the waters of loss & practical things to help your grieving loved one.

By: Rae Sells

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I met Amy when I was 20 and living with my best friend, Leslie, in a little apartment in Elizabethton, TN.  Amy was a newlywed and her husband was my soon-to-be-boyfriend’s best friend.  She and I were opposites in every possible way.  She was beautiful and well put together and I probably had on a tie dye that hadn’t been washed in longer than I care to admit.  If you would have told us on the day that we met how close we would become, we would have laughed you out of the state.  Flash forward to almost exactly one year later and that beautiful blonde would be fastening my pearls before I walked down the staircase to marry my husband.  Our friendship is one of the most treasured things I have in my life.

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Amy would have three kids by the time I finally got pregnant with my second daughter. I had joked with her that she needed to have a fourth so that we could be pregnant together.  She called me one day and she said, “Well….it looks like you got your wish.”  She had just found out that she was pregnant with her fourth and our youngest kiddos would only be five months apart.

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This next part is written completely from my perspective.  I would never presume to know Amy or Charlie’s point of view.  This is the perspective of her best friend, Auntie, and someone who loves her and her sweet family deeply.

What would happen in the next few months were a blur.  At Amy’s 20 week gender scan they found there were several issues with their sweet baby boy, Seth.  The day after Christmas it was confirmed that Seth had Trisomy 18, which is considered incompatible with life.  Amy chose to carry Seth as long as God would allow and even five years later, when I think back to that time, I remain in awe of her strength and grace.  Amy was induced and I was just about to leave the house to go be with her when Charlie called to tell us that Seth had already passed away.  I went to the hospital and Amy honored me greatly by asking me to stay in the room while she gave birth.

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Being present in the room for Seth’s birth was one of the hardest experiences of my life.  The room was quiet and the lights weren’t super bright like they usually are when you’re about to give birth.  The doctor and the nurses were so amazing and gentle and respectful.  There was a peace in that room that I cannot explain.  I have never felt the presence of the Lord so clearly as I did that day.  It felt like holy ground. I know that Charlie and Amy’s faith carried them through and continues to today.

Some days in your life are so significant that the memories of the day appear almost as snapshots in your mind.  Or at least they do in mine.  There are four moments in particular that are ingrained in my memory.  The first is of Charlie rocking and patting Seth’s booty while they were cleaning Amy up after the birth.  That’s just what you do with babies. It’s as natural as breathing. The second is the sound that Amy made when her mom came to embrace her after the birth.  If I never hear that sound again that will be just fine with me. The third was seeing the tears roll down the doctor’s face after Amy had given birth. The fourth was the fierceness in which Charlie’s mom held my hand while we watched Amy deliver Seth. He was so small and beautiful.  I stayed for just a little while and then left so that they could have time together with him, alone.

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This was the first time I had been this close to loss and grief.  I have had family members and friends pass away, but this was, by far, the most personal experience I have had with grief and a deeply hurting friend. Amy is much more like a sister to me than merely a best friend and I was absolutely desperate to be able to do something to help.  I was terrified I would say or do the wrong thing.  I reached out to friends that have lost children and begged for their wisdom on how to help Amy and Charlie.  Mainly, I just didn’t want to say something or do something that would cause Amy anymore pain.  As a general rule, people are super well-meaning when dealing with grief or other hard circumstances, but they can often say stupid things.  Hurtful things.  And they don’t mean to.  They just don’t know what to say or do.  So they offer platitudes and clichés and inspirational quotes.  They try to fill the silence.  Because the silence and the pain and the grief make them extremely uncomfortable.  Grief is not pretty.  Loss and deep pain make people nervous because they simply don’t know what to say.  And most of the time you don’t really need to DO anything.  You just need to show up.  You need to make yourself uncomfortable to offer comfort to your friend.  You need to hold that space with them.  Grieve WITH them.  Cry with them.  Don’t shy away.  They don’t have the luxury to escape their grief and the very least we can do for hurting people is to show up and hurt with them so they don’t feel alone.

So, what I’m writing next are some things that Amy told me helped her and that other friends who have lost loved ones offered me as guidance.  I hope that they can be of help to you.

The Circle of Grief or the “Ring Theory”

This is probably the most important and invaluable thing I have EVER read about grief and loss.  It is important.  It is essential information.  This is my explanation of the theory and I hope it’s clear enough that you can understand it.  If I don’t do a well enough job of explaining it, then google “grief circle” or “grief ring theory”.  The general idea is that when someone is grieving there is a circle of the people who are grieving. There are many rings to the grief circle.  Envision a target. The center of the circle are the people most affected by the loss.  In the loss of a child, then the center of the circle would be the parents and siblings.  If the loss is of a parent, then the center of the circle would be the spouse and children.  For this example, I will use the loss of a child.  So, the center of the circle would be the parents and siblings.  The next ring would be the grandparents and aunts/uncles.  Next would be other family members.  Then close friends and so on.  When you are grieving you ALWAYS give comfort IN, and dump OUT.  Meaning that if you are in the third ring, you offer comfort to the people on the inner two rings, and when you need to talk about your grief you dump OUT to a circle outside of you.  I have talked to so many people that have lost loved ones and they almost universally agree with the ring theory of grief.

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Social Media Etiquette

We live in a world where people can share their thoughts in a nanosecond from their phone…anytime, anywhere.  This can be a wonderful thing.  It can also be a very painful and inconsiderate thing.  Under no circumstances do you EVER post condolences on any social media platform until the family has posted of the loss.  EVER.  Until they make an announcement you DO.NOT.POST.  I have seen this happen numerous times where people start posting condolences on someone’s page and there are still family members that haven’t been notified that the person has passed away.  The same goes with birth announcements.  Until the parents have posted that the baby has been born you DO.NOT.POST.  It’s not your place in either circumstance.

Running Interference

There are lots of things that have to be arranged when a loved one passes away.  Most of those arrangements have to made by the family.  There are things that someone else can handle.  If you are close to the family and have the ability, volunteer to run interference for them.  If you can give people your phone number for them to call and ask questions about arrangements, do it.  It’s going to be hard for the grieving family to answer all the phone calls to ask how they’re doing, when the funeral arrangements are, where they can bring food.  These are questions that you, as a close friend, can answer so that the family doesn’t have to.  Since we knew the date that Amy would be induced with Seth, I set up a private Facebook group and added friends and family to it.  I posted updates on her labor and other info that people wanted so that Amy and Charlie could concentrate on their family without getting a million texts and phone calls.

Another super helpful thing is something called a Meal Train.  This is an amazing service that you can use for all sorts of circumstances.  Death, birth, serious illness.  There is something so comforting about having someone bring you a hot meal.  You can use this website to set up meal deliveries for the family.  You can personalize the page with any food allergies or dietary restrictions the family has and set up a schedule for the deliveries.  People can put the meals they are bringing so everyone can see and they won’t get 42 pot roasts. There is also an option for people to donate money to the family to help with gift cards for meals or other expenses. The website is http://www.mealtrain.com.

This is a very personal decision that the family must make. If you know if advance that the family will be dealing with the loss of a child at birth, shortly after, or from an illness there is a wonderful organization that will come and take professional pictures for the family, free of charge. The organization is called “Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep”. The photographers are very kind and respectful and these images can be a treasured memory for grieving parents. If the family decides that they do want the photographers to come and it is ok with them, it might be helpful for you to be the one to call when it’s time. The parents might not have the presence of mind to make the call in the hours following the loss and it would take the burden off them for you to make the call and handle the paperwork.

Say Their Name

When our children are born one of the first things that people ask is, “What’s their name?” We spend hours researching and making lists of the perfect name for our babies. It’s not a decision we take lightly. We want our children to be known and this doesn’t stop when a child dies. I know that when you have a friend that has lost a loved one, your first instinct might be not to say their name because you don’t want to cause them pain. Please, say their name. They existed. They are their child. Just because you don’t say their name doesn’t mean they aren’t thinking of them, every minute of every day. Don’t let them feel like their child has been forgotten.

Sit with your friend and talk about their child. Cry with them. Let them know you are grieving with them. Let them tell you about them. I know it can be hard and uncomfortable, but HOLD THAT SPACE. Do not run away. Do not shy away because you are afraid of saying the wrong thing. You don’t have to say anything other than I love you and I am here. And then BE there. I remember one night in particular, a few days after Amy had gotten home from the hospital after Seth’s birth. Amy’s parents were there and Jon and I brought a meal over. After we had talked to everyone for a few minutes, Amy took me by the hand and we walked back to her bedroom. She locked the door and we sat down on the bed. She got out the special box that held all of Seth’s things. His footprints, the gown he wore, the blanket she wrapped him in, and the urn that contained his ashes. We sniffed the gown and marveled over how teeny his little feet were. And then she asked me if I wanted to hold him. She placed that tiny urn in my hands and we both just sat in silence and cried. I can’t even type that sentence without crying. This was a precious moment shared with the woman I love more than anything. That she would trust me with this most sacred moment took my breath. It still does. Say their name. Realize it is sacred and precious. Treasure and protect it. And always let them know you will never forget them.

Just BE

This is a HARD one for me. I’m a fixer. I want to fix ALL the things. If you’re sad, I want to make you laugh. If you’re hungry, I will fix you 39 casseroles. If you’re burned out, I will take your kids and buy you a pedicure. Just BEING is hard for me. I want to DO something. Every year around Seth’s birthday I try to do something special for Amy. I either send her out for a day and keep the kids, get her a massage, buy her a little “happy”. This past May around his birthday I was fretting over what I was going to do for Amy. I was on the phone with my sister and I was talking 90 to nothing about what I could do for her. Should I send her to a spa? Should I get her a gift card for a pedicure? How about keeping the kids to send her on a date with her husband? While I was rattling away, my very wise and very blunt big sister interrupted me and said, “Rae….STOP!” I stopped, because I always do what my sister says. She said to me, “I know you love Amy and I know that you want to do something for her, but you CAN.NOT.FIX.THIS. There is absolutely nothing you can do to make this better. You can’t make her forget that she lost a child. You need to stop.” To be honest, it hurt my feelings. I got off the phone and cried. But she was right, as she always is. In my fury to make it better, I lost sight of the fact that nothing I can do can make this better. I can’t bring Seth back. A pedicure or a massage isn’t going to make her forget the fact that her son is not here. But what I can do is listen to her. I can talk to her about him. I can tell her that I love him and all her babies. And that I love her. You don’t have to fix it. Not only can you NOT fix it, you may end up making it worse. Your time, love, and acknowledgment are what your friend needs.

If you made it through this gigantic novel, thank you. I know it was long, but I hope that there is some little nugget in here that will help you help someone you love when they are grieving. I know that I didn’t do everything right when Amy lost Seth. Nothing anyone did could have made the loss of that precious boy any easier. But what I do hope, is that Amy and Charlie felt my love and that they know how much I love Seth. I hope they know that his Auntie will not forget him.

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Who do you say you are?

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By: Rachel Ritter 

My name is Rachel Ritter. I am a homeschooling mama to my crew going on six years, the Director of SMILE foster care closet, a wife of double digit years (that makes me feel legit, ya’ll) and a reader/quilter/friend. I have six children; three adopted from foster care, one adopted privately and two unlikely biological children. My first four kids came all on top of each other and I had 3 under 2/4 under 4. They’re very close, not just in age, and watching them become people has been the greatest honor of my life thus far. Last year, we decided to join the ranks of foster parents again and ended up adopting twins. My kids ages now (I know you’re wondering) are 12, 9, 9, 8, and two 1 year olds. I tell you all that really just so you know, without a doubt, that I drink a lot of coffee and spend a lot of time folding laundry, about which I might just be an expert. I read and journal like it’s required for breath, I like organization and order in my home, but crave adventure as frequently as possible. I tend to be a whistleblower, a truth-teller (and some people don’t like that). In my thirties I am learning to think longer before I speak. I use the hashtag ‘I have the best life’ because I believe it to be true, in the midst of diapers and lost pencils and spilled drinks and preteen drama and trauma healing and all the things that go along with raising my family, who are my purpose. 

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In the last few months, amidst the confusion and frustrations of what’s happening in our country, and our world, I’ve contemplated quite a bit about identity….about who we see ourselves as. I believe for many people I know, having identified themselves as “American” has become tainted and/or exasperated by the recent actions we’ve seen take place. For some, we are ashamed and some are emboldened, whatever side you land on, I doubt you’ll disagree we have, as a people, perhaps idolized our country over God and we are now seeing what happens when an idol falls- or changes. It’s agonizing to have our identity changed or questioned. Jesus once asked his closest friends, “And who do you say I am?”

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Questioning our own identity can be difficult and enlightening. Who do you say you are? Do you tend to see yourself in a better light than others do? Do you worry more for what others say about you than what you feel to be true about yourself? Do you possess self-awareness, the concept of recognizing and realizing that what you say and do reflects who you are in your heart and mind? This is a lesson I am constantly trying to teach my children: what you say and what you do tells people who you are. The most freeing thing about identity is that we are free to choose so many aspects of it. We are free to choose to follow what we love, what we hate, what we like. We are free to choose what we share about ourselves that tells others about us. We are free to choose to stop a behavior or pattern that reflects on us negatively. Some areas of identity we cannot choose: our race, our childhood experiences, our birth order or story, situations we’ve been victim to, etc.

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As a parent of children with different genetic makeups and various starts-to-life, I am quick to tell people how exciting and challenging it is to parent children who are not cookie-cutters of one another, or of me. There are times emotions or patterns surface and we sit looking at one another thinking “where in the world did that come from?” Children who are abandoned, removed, fostered, adopted, they all carry with them a trauma of sorts, an issue I’ll likely come back to another day, and there are times they act out of those experiences without realizing it. Beyond that, we can attest that children with the same biological parents, without any infancy trauma or experience with removal, can absolutely be different. I am sure many of you see this in your children: they are not the same just because they came from you. Their identity is their own. Sometimes for better or worse. It is part of our job as parents to teach them to be aware of themselves and what they’re putting out into the world. It’s part of the privilege of parenting to help them become who they want to be, to help them foster the parts of their identity that matter to them and improve the parts that they’d like to change. What an honor!

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I put to you this challenge this week: identify your identity. Make a list in your journal, on your phone notes, on the back of an envelope, whatever works for you as you chase all those kids around, that which you believe represents who you are. Star the things you love about your identity and ‘x’ the ones you wish to improve. Then challenge yourself to work on one area of change. Perhaps consider doing the same with your child: have them identify themselves. Celebrate the parts of them that cannot be changed and the parts that can. Ask them: “who do you think you are?” (As a lover of words and relationships, I would love to be at your table for these conversations!! Feel free to share in the comments your experiences discussing this with your kids if you’re comfortable doing so!)

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Working 9 to 5 and 5 to 9

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Self-care thoughts from a full-time working Mama

By: Amber Wright

My name is Amber Wright and I am a full-time working Mama of twin toddlers, who has a love affair with coffee, my husband, all things dairy, and red shoes, in that order. I can be found driving to work 9am to 5pm with wet hair Monday through Friday, raising twin toddlers from 5pm to 9am Monday through Friday, wandering the aisles of Publix and doing laundry on Saturday, and cooking while listening to disco on Sundays. Rinse and repeat, every week.

As a parent, you feel me, we all have our routines and we stick to them because at the end of each day, everyone is fed and bathed and cared for, so we rinse and repeat, but at the end of the week we have forgotten to fill our own cups and are left feeling drained. I wanted to share some ways I have found for taking better care of myself, in the midst of motherhood and working full-time. Here goes, how to take care of you in the midst of working 9 to 5 and 5 to 9.

Drinking in the shower

For Mamas, if you are breastfeeding, sweating a lot from your fluctuating hormones, not getting enough rest, or juggling two infants, as I was, you have to hydrate. According to Health magazine, the average person needs 2.2 liters a day, but factors like being overweight, living at a high altitude, working outside, or breastfeeding may increase your required water intake which is recommended at 100 ounces a day or 2.9 liters. So say you just need the 2.2 liters which is still nearly 75 ounces of water! I need to pee just thinking about drinking that much water. An easy way to get started in your day is to take a bottle of water into the shower with you every morning and drink it before you get out. You will then be 16.9 ounces in on your goal or 22.5% complete.

Caffeine-powered

Another parenting essential is caffeine, because sleep is fleeting when you are a new parent. Whether yours is strong and black, weak and creamy, sweet and iced, or bubbly and sugary, you are going to need to find multiple versions of caffeine to get you through the days. You will also need to find a good travel cup to transport said caffeine, and it must be a cup that can hold hot or cold. Bonus points if you can down your bottle of water and sip some caffeine while in the shower. I mean, that’s why they put so many shelves in shower inserts isn’t it? Plus, said travel mug can be used, once breastfeeding is shut down for you Mamas, for sipping your favorite wine or gin and tonic out of after bed, and no one is the wiser.

Happiness is a hot shower

Take your baby in the bathroom while you take a shower. At first, take them in a rock and play or bassinet when they are small, then an excersaucer when they are strong enough to hold their heads up and play, and then a pack n play with their toys and books in it. Do this every day, it does not matter what time. Start day one so they know it is part of your routine and it helps you feel like you and your greasy-haired self are a priority.

If you get busy or exhausted and miss a day, fine, but your baby learns that time during the day is for them to nap or play alone, enjoy the sound of the shower, and for you to sip your water/coffee, scrub up with something that smells good, and exhale. Your baby will also get the benefit of a little steam in their little nose, which in the first year is bound to be stuffy, especially if they are daycare kids like my two. And if your baby fusses, peep your head out, make sure all is okay, and get back to your exhale.

In our house it is known as “taking a steamy” and now my 14 month old twins know that phrase and they come running when I say it. I have to swap their toys out about once a week to keep them entertained, and pop my head out to make sure my son isn’t sitting on my daughter, his favorite game, but all in all, 14 months later and I haven’t gone a single day without a shower. I live in the South, had crazy hormones after the birth of my boy/girl twins, so no one wants me smelly for long. 

Your uniform

In my twenties, I had a proclivity for v-neck t-shirts. I owned them in all colors, would even cut t-shirts to be v-neck from time to time. Said collection of v-neck shirts have since been donated because that V is a blinking target for a nuzzle and a spit-up from your angel-faced child. I can’t count how many times I had spit-up run down into my belly button. Plus the V quickly morphs into a U as those little monkeys will latch right onto the neckline of your shirt and tug to their heart’s content.

Another shirt trend I have started is a “pre-work” shirt. I shower, get ready, and throw back on the pajama shirt I was wearing the night before until I am about to walk out the door. Otherwise, someone is bound to drool, sneeze, wipe, spit, poop, pee, or wallow on my clean work shirt, and then it’s back to the drawing board to pick another.

Come snuggle my baby

While you are pregnant, friends and family will say “oh, I’d love to help you once the baby comes.” Sounds nice and all, but often it is like the days ahead that you will tell your kids “we’ll see” about taking them to the monster truck jam/trampoline park/another place you know they would appreciate but know very well that you may or may not follow through visiting. When Aunt Millie says this, you ask her how she could help and you put her name, number, and category of help on a list. Categories could be meals, baby rocking/friendly visitor, errand buddy (to go with you or babysit for you to go), laundry/dishes, date night babysitter, and friendly phone call (talk to your friends, don’t just text).

Now, when you lure, I mean invite, said volunteer back to your house to do said task, make sure to throw in that they will also get to snuggle your sweet baby. And if Aunt Millie shows up with a meal, offers to do the laundry while you take a nap, let her. I didn’t do this, would sit up and talk to whoever came to visit, and offended my loving, sweet friends who wanted to help me out because I felt like they wanted to chat. They do not want to chat, they wanted my haggard self to go take a nap so they could quietly snuggle my children and watch garbage television.

I have bunches of other thoughts on self-care in the midst of parenthood so I will draft something else soon on this same theme, but for now I will leave you with something I tell myself every day. Take care of you.

Meet Rae

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Hi friends!  My names is Rae and I’m so happy to meet you!  I’m 39 years old and I’ve been married to my handsome, bearded love for almost 18 years.  We have two amazing, crazy girls and I’m currently homeschooling them.  Ella is almost eleven and Charleigh is five.

Most days you can find me in gym shorts, messy bun, and coffee cup in hand as I try to keep my kids from killing each other.  I love listening to books on Audible, talking to my sister, and consuming as much caffeine as possible.  I am passionate about homeschooling, natural birth and breastfeeding (even though those days are LONG behind me), and women supporting women.  I am lucky enough to have the most amazing support system of strong, loving, and intelligent women. They are my tribe and I adore each and every one of them.

I’m in a deeply committed relationship with my Instant Pot and Pinterest.  I remain convinced that my big sister, Kelley, knows everything.  She told me that when I was about six and at 39, I know that she was right.

My favorite things in the world are new books, school and office supplies, new packs of pens, and a fresh notebook.

Grab a cup of coffee and hang out.  We’re all friends here.