This week’s Reframe of Reference comes from Shauna A., and it’s quite a story of boundaries, change, language, and self-stigma. The language that parents use towards their children leaves a significant imprint on how they eventually think of themselves. So we thank Shauna A. for bringing this issue to light by contributing this heartbreaking Reframe of Reference.
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I was a bad kid. I had very little discipline, and we lived at a Woman’s Shelter in my early life. I didn’t notice that we had it bad, of course. The other kids at our Shelter had very little supervision too, and their single parents weren’t very active in shaping us as little humans.
My mom met my step dad when I was 10 and moved us to a middle income neighbourhood, and a home with MULTIPLE floors with a Bernese mountain dog included. I felt like I won the lottery. But that’s when the discipline began. Firm no’s, “stop doing that’s”, “not in MY house” and long groundings that isolated me from friends- even phone calls- for 3 months at a time.
I was grounded most of the year. And I switched to a better school, so I became the worst kid there instead of just “average.” It turned out that I was, indeed, a “bad kid.” My mom described me as “hard to love” to friends and family. At 16, my step dad had enough and threw me out of the house. My choices were boarding school or a woman’s shelter. At least one was familiar.
Suddenly my Birth Father came to get me with his new wife. Weeks later – my step mom grounded me, then physically fought me when my Dad wasn’t home as a form of discipline. This was a whole new level for me. But as always, the message was that I was a bad kid, and I was hard to love.
My Dad still doesn’t believe me that she hit me, BECAUSE I was a “bad kid” and- according to them- that made myself “hard to love”/it was justified. I was kicked out again and forced to locate a bed nightly by asking around at my new school for available couches until I graduated (after many suspensions for not making it to school or completing major assignments). No one ever asked me what was going on at home, though. Not once.
I am very lucky to have lived in a Woman’s Shelter in my early life. The single-parent Mothers were often busy with providing for us, so I had tons of freedom growing up, and it gave me a strong sense of independent decision making.
It also gave me the opportunity to experience an amazing community, a close-knit tribe if you will. We watched out for each other, shared everything we had and spoke very plainly about our lives with no shame. The lack of discipline made us very honest. We were never in trouble, so we never had to lie to anyone. We were always rewarded with kindness for being honest and keeping each other safe within our tribe.
My Step Dad introduced me to a fabulous middle class life. He registered me into a better education system, helped me with homework and signed me up for extra curricular activities- which eventually got me into College. The change of school helped me meet friends, that I still have to this day, and I consider them family.
At home, I could bond with my furry best friend Max, who taught me unconditional love, responsibility and a deep love for animals that I carry with me to this day. My Step Dad introduced me to social etiquette, boundaries, how to prioritize logic over emotions and consideration for others who grew up differently than me. He prioritized my education at all costs and encouraged me to learn to spend time alone. This skill improved my reading, writing and art skills, and removed my fear of being bored. By my 16th year of life I learned to be independent, developed resourcefulness and refined my impeccable survival skills. I could identify my strengths and became an expert at making decisions independently, with logic, and stopped depending on a social construct of dependence with my parents.
I have developed acute empathy skills and I seek to understand others rather than judge them. This experience also gave me the opportunity to pick my key players in life – family and friends- and I learned that I can construct my own tribe outside of genetics and marriage. I have a huge family based on this new algorithm.
I’m forever grateful for these life events and for helping me clarify my sense of self and community, redefining my support system, and establishing a healthy sense of independence within my current adult life. I have relearned to love and be loved with no boundaries, and I have forgiven them by using the logic that they have instilled in me with each life event. I’d like to thank each of my “teachers” for carving me into the empathetic and independent human that I am today.
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