She and her siblings were very young when their parents were divorced. It was in the mid 1960’s. Their parents had married very young—barely out of their teens. She was the middle child. The oldest sister had dark hair and eyes, a beautiful smile and looked like her mother, and although there were three, the two younger siblings looked more like sisters with their fair skin and blond hair. Like it or not, she had become the caretaker of the two younger ones. It really wasn’t her choice. The two younger siblings didn’t really know how much their older sister took care of them and wouldn’t find out until much later. Unfortunately, that was held against them, although it wasn’t their fault.
Their divorce was not a friendly one; there was a lot of hurt, anger and betrayal, the betrayal being one sided and not her side. She was a petite woman and he a shorter than average man. In her younger years, she led a very active life although she was not worldly. He was a bit worldlier, an only child and charming. He had charmed the children’s mother enough that she would leave home at such an early age to marry and have a family. Or was it her childhood that drove her from home? Her father was demanding with lots of expectations and was hard on the children. Traits get passed down through each generation and perhaps their father being an only child allowed him to learn how to acquire that charm among other attributes. He was very close to his mother and his father had died when he was very young making most of his influence maternal. The two younger siblings looked more like their father, with their blond hair, small brown eyes and fair skin.
The marriage didn’t last long and the messy divorce dragged the children into the middle several times. Was it because the parents didn’t know any better or because they were more interested in how they could hurt one another? No one knows but that tug of war had lasting repercussions on the children and shaped who they became as adults. After the divorce, the mother was left to take care of three small children on her own. She had to find a job that would feed them and provide for their basic needs and a place to live. She had few marketable skills that would enable her to land a good paying job, so she was forced to work more than one in order to make ends meet. She wasn’t sure how she would make it work but she did; she found a way.
The divorce left its mark on her: she became very angry, confused and bitter and those emotions lived in her a long time. She couldn’t seek help with how to deal with her situation. In those days, divorce was uncommon and never made public. She was forced to deal with the consequences of actions over which she had no control. She found herself in a place that she never dreamed she would be in. After all, when one gets married, isn’t it for life? Unfortunately, this was one lesson of many that would change her way of thinking for the rest of her life.
The children visited their father on a regular basis at least for awhile. Their visits with their father seemed pleasant from what they could remember. When their father remarried, and they went to visit, it was like having another family. Did they fit in? Did he want them to be there? Did his new family accept them? It seemed so, at least on the surface. The additional family life gave some stability to their lives until the day it suddenly stopped, Years later the children would learn that their parents were fighting about them and who they would live with permanently. As their fighting grew more heated, the visits with father diminished. Their mother’s anger grew even deeper. As the girls grew older it only seemed to get worse.
Their mother relied on them for to help around the house such as laundry, housework and cooking but they weren’t always as helpful as she needed. They were more interested in hanging with their friends and doing kid things. They didn’t really understand how much help she needed from them. There were expectations. They also got into trouble for eating more food than what was allowed; it was important that they stay within a budget and watch every penny. That makes sense even to a child, but at times it was extreme. Their mother took to hiding food or keeping it up in her room closing the doors and not allowing entrance. The closed door effectively signaled that they were not welcome. If they wanted something that she had, they would go find it. What child wouldn’t want to find candy or soda? When they did find the candy, they would take a couple of pieces and she would get angry. When she became angry one would rather not be in the house. Anger at one child would bring her wrath down on all three.
Those words and the pictures in their minds would forever remain ingrained in memory. There is something about hearing the words “I wish you never had been born” and “You will never amount to anything” that sticks forever in one’s head. Frequently those horrific words were accompanied by bruises, belt marks and hand prints. But it was mostly the words that hurt. The physical pain eventually would go away, but the mental bruises stayed.
As the years passed, the anger didn’t subside and the words became even more hurtful until the children reached an age where they could fight back. How could they fight back? How could they fight against those words that come from someone who was supposed to love, guide and protect them? Rebel!
Mother could be nice to be around, was liked by all their friends, so maybe this all was normal? The anger continued and so did the rebellion. By their late teens, all had moved out of the house in one way or another. Two moved to another state and went through their own crises. Finding their own way without much guidance wasn’t easy; they were on their own and had to be self-sufficient in order to survive. This led to some bad decisions, situations and lessons. They tried to reconnect with their father and rebuild a relationship with him and he seemed interested at first, but soon disappeared out of their lives once again.
As the years passed; each one of the siblings had begun to feel the effects of their childhood. Each one handled their pain differently, but eventually all would seek counseling. They therapeutically confronted their mother about how they were impacted by their childhood. At first she rejected what they were saying because she had assumed that they were okay because all three had grown up to be loving, caring, law-abiding adults. She missed the effects because they are not visible to the naked eye. They gave their mother examples and talked about how their childhood impacted decisions made later as adults. At last, she finally understood. She was finally able to hear how she and their father had hurt them. Hearing those words and her apology made them all cry.
The pain is still there but the daughters seem to handle it better. Each one of them in their own way has worked to find peace within and find a way to move forward. The loss still brings grief however, for the thinking patterns are established. They will never know early family life, they can’t ever be daddy’s little girl. They missed having parents help with homework or having someone to talk to about boys and the things that girls talk about; they lacked any encouragement and direction. The one thing they know well, is how not to treat people.
When children are brought into this world, they should be welcomed for they are the future of our world. They are innocent, but all too often are mistreated, neglected or abused for reasons not their own. Personalities, behaviors, attitudes and feelings are formed early. When the words directed at children are cruel and hateful the impact slams into that child with lasting repercussions. Adults must think carefully and critically about the words they use when communicating with anyone, but especially with acutely impressionable children.
If you could speak with this mother and explain why these words—“I wish you had never been born” and “you will never amount to anything”—are so violent, what would you say? What would you want her to understand?
If words can be violent and cause inner wounds, can words also be healing? What could the mother in this situation say to help her children heal from the wounds her words created? If a friend told you that a parent had said these words to them, what would you say to try and heal some of their pain?
What would you say to the father in this situation?
How might the mother’s past have played a role in the way she treated to her children?
How can we work to end this cycle of violence? When we are the victim of violent words, how can we work to avoid making other people victims of our own violent words?
Case Study written by Kimberly Michaels (pseudonym):
Kimberly resides in the Chicago area. She holds a degree in Information Technology. She has a strong belief in service to others and is an active volunteer in the American Red Cross. She enjoys the outdoors, theater, music, reading and writing and has recently started to write poetry.