Having A Bad Parent Has Left Me Doubly Afraid Of Becoming A Bad Parent

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should I become a parentSince my unexpected pregnancy and subsequent miscarriage last summer, motherhood and the myriad issues surrounding parenting have been more front and center in my mind than ever before. I’ve always known that I probably wanted to be a parent, but I’ve never felt especially maternal or spent much time worrying about when and how I’d be a parent. Getting pregnant, and spending eight weeks thinking I was about to become a mother, changed that.

Like many women who’ve learned that they’re pregnant for the first time, I was seized with all kinds of fears. Within a day or two of taking the positive pregnancy test, I was worrying about giving birth to a healthy baby. Society puts all kinds of pressure on pregnant women to worry in this way — we are encouraged by well-meaning family, friends and even (especially) medical professionals to think primarily of the health of our fetus from Day 1.

That’s well and good until concern for the fetus interrupts concern for our own— physical and mental — health and concern for our relationships to those around us. Becoming pregnant doesn’t turn a woman into a baby factory. A pregnant woman is still a complicated human being just like she was before sperm met egg and a fetus was conceived.

I’m not embarrassed to tell you that I was (and am) a particularly complicated woman. And much of this complexity stems from my very dysfunctional childhood, growing up in a house with a father who was the definition of a bad parent.

It’s not really even debatable: My dad was an abusive coke addict for the entirety of the time he was in my life that I can recall. I’ll never know for certain, but he might have molested me. Whether or not physical sexual abuse occurred, covert incest certainly did.

I officially kicked my father out of my life when I was 15. I spent most of high school living in a house with him and doing my best to pretend he didn’t exist when I wasn’t active battling with him. I haven’t had any contact with him for a decade now, and my mother officially divorced him and severed ties years ago. Unfortunately, none of that changes the reality of my life and the ways in which that reality shaped and affected me.

But it never occurred to me that getting pregnant would trigger all kinds of feelings about my own childhood. I always told myself that having such a thoroughly defective model of parenthood would only help me be a better parent.  And I have a contrastingly awesome mom who is a genuinely wonderful parent. Furthermore, I’ve always kept my father in mind when considering what kind of man to spend my life with. I have a partner who I am 100% sure will be a great dad.

I tried to hold onto all of this as the fears set in, but I found myself drowning in unexpected memories of my childhood. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking this one awful thought: You know how bad it can be. Why would you bring a life into that kind of world? How can you be sure you can protect a child from that kind of pain? After all, no matter how sure I was that I wanted to be a good parent, I know that not all pain parents cause their children is intentional or as direct as the pain my father has caused me. Not all pain is caused by bad parents, either — a child will come in contact with so many adults who might or might not hurt them. You can’t always be there standing guard.

My pregnancy ended abruptly and left me with all of this worry to sort through. Talking about it — sharing my fears out loud in therapy and with other women — has helped immensely.

There is nothing I can do to make sure I won’t be a “bad parent” except not have a child. Since I don’t like that option, I’m going to have to wade into parenthood fully aware that it doesn’t always go well. It’s rarely easy and often terribly difficult. But my own experiences as a child will make me a better mom and will help me protect my child from similar situations because I’m more aware.

The risk of overprotective parenting aside, I’m no less (and maybe more) equipped, to be a really, really good parent. Just don’t expect me to go thanking my father for it.

(photo: michaeljung / Shutterstock)