I grew up in an abusive household. I wasn’t covered in bruises and forced to lie to cover up injuries, but looking back…it was abuse nonetheless. And it ran the spectrum. There was physical, mental, emotional, as well as sexual abuse in different times from different people across my life growing up. It left me in a weird place of depending on adults, but not trusting them with my needs.
Now, I’m a grown man with kids of his own. I’ve overcome a lot of things in my life, but there was always one lingering problem that took me years to overcome. “Advocating for Myself” There were those who knew of the physical abuse, but never stepped in to stop it. There were those who knew about the emotional abuse, but never stepped in to stop it. And seeing these people, turn and look the other way, kept me from reaching out and demanding that I be better taken care of. Or demanding that I need clean clothes to wear. Or demanding that I not be spanked or hit because someone had a bad day at work.
Even when my wife and I first got together, I never advocated for myself. I just let her do what she wanted and quietly suffered as my needs were being met less and less. Until, I was finally at rock bottom, that is. I had spiraled down to the point that I was in the grip of a deep depression. I was drinking myself to blackout almost nightly. I stopped bathing. I stopped checking the mail except for once a week. The only time I left the house was to smoke a cigarette or go to work.
It took awhile but I was finally able to stand up and say, “I’m a human being, I have value, I have worth, and I demand to be treated as such!” (Paraphrasing.)
My life has gotten infinitely better since those dark times. So, when COVID hit, I became acutely aware of my sons’ mental health. I had a firm grasp on the pulse of my issues, but everyone else? Not so much. You see, I’m the messed up one in the family. I’m the one I have to watch. Not them. They have their ducks in a row.
So, when they shut down school and went online, my boys were all for it. And largely we made our way through the school year without any of the trauma drama you hear about. Then, when school started back up, we, as a family were forced to make a decision: go back to ‘in-person’ classes or stay home with the online option.
We talked with the boys and both opted for online. And, at first, things were great. But, then I noticed something. My youngest would get down on Sunday nights. Then he would get upset about having to go back to school on Monday. When I asked him about it, I got nowhere. He would close up and refuse to talk about it.
But, I kept trying. And instead of framing it as a “WHY DON’T YOU WANT TO GO TO SCHOOL??” type of questioning, I framed it from the “I’m your dad, and I care deeply about your feelings, and I know something is off. Want to talk about it?” I channeled an adult voice I needed to hear when I was his age.
It worked. He started crying and everything came out. He was lonely. He was never given time to actually talk to any of his classmates. The teacher didn’t offer up enough structure so that even though he was getting all of his work done, he was terrified he was forgetting something and he was going to fail fourth grade.
Kid was sitting at the top of his class, and thought he was failing. The system wasn’t feeding him in the way he needed to be fed. And finally, through his tears and asked if he could go back to ‘in-person’ teaching. There’s a lot of layers to get through that this space won’t allow. So I will wrap up with this.
My youngest has been going to brick and mortar classes and has yet to have a single meltdown for any reason for the last three months. He walks taller. He talks louder. He is back to his old self again. And it’s because he advocated for himself.
When you’ve grown up in abusive environments, you don’t always get a stark visual that you have broken a chain. But, I have that visual now. I am the dad to my children that I needed when I was a child. And, I’ll put that in the win column any day.