My husband Brett and I never planned to have children. For me, the reasons were threefold and depending on the day they could be in any order of importance.
#1 Parenting is an enormous responsibility and isn’t a commitment to be taken lightly. And it isn’t something to be done just because “it’s the next logical step after marriage” or because our parents “deserve grandchildren”.
#2 We both enjoy our freedom to come and go as we please, to do what we like without regard for anyone other than ourselves. We like to travel at the drop of a dime, or to shut ourselves off from the world without notice.
#3 I’ve battled severe depression and anxiety since I was 15. It runs in my family and I’m very afraid of both passing it along to my children, as well as having to deal with it in another person. In my worst nightmares I can only imagine what my parents went through with me and my sister. From the age of 9-13 I was also the victim of molestation by an uncle. So I’ve also battled anger and PTSD all these years. So I knew I would live in fear of something awful happening to my child, and I didn’t want to put myself or a child through that.
Many people will read the above reasons and call me selfish or self-centered. That’s okay, I can live with that. After many years of “suffering” from depression, anxiety, anger and PTSD, one of the ways I now “battle” those is by being honest with myself and others, as well as not dwelling on what others think of me and my life.
Let me go back a bit… Years ago, my younger sister Lesley asked me if I would take care of her daughter Brelin in case anything ever happened to her. Even then I knew I wasn’t cut out for being a mom (my own mother would agree with this statement), so I had to think about it for many months. When I finally agreed, it was under the condition that my sister both make a will and explain her wishes to our parents. She never did either of those.
Fast forward to many years later… My sister is battling depression, anxiety and OCD. Her anti-depressantsare no longer working, and honestly haven’t been for some time. Our relationship is not on a great terms because she, though she denies it, has also begun to self-medicate with cocaine, prescription pain pills and men.
My sister has become unstable. She disappears for days and we can’t find her. She sends horrible text messages to our parents, Brelin and our niece Shea threatening to kill herself. Not knowing if she is serious or seeking attention, we ALWAYS take it serious and go through years of worry and sleepless nights. We try everything to get her to get help on her own, to force her to get help, anything and everything. For a short period of time my parents are granted temporary custody of Brelin and that snaps my sister back to reality for a short period of time. We see some improvement in her behavior and we are hopeful she is on a path to getting well. But within a few months she disappears again.
Fast forward to March 14, 2009… This time my sister doesn’t show up at our parent’s home, two detectives and the county coroner do. They’ve come to ask my parents to identify a photo of Lesley Kay Mason. Her body was found in the rain in a church parking lot outside her car. After months of investigating, my sister’s death is ruled a suicide by overdose.
Very soon after her death, Brelin and I became active in suicide and mental health education and awareness projects. I speak and write on depression and suicide, and I’m often asked if I’m angry at my sister. Honestly, I’m not angry at my sister for losing her battle with depression. I’ve been there. I’ve been that depressed; to that point where it feels like the only option to stop the pain. The pain that no one can see. The pain that only another severely depressed person can even imagine. If I’m angry at anything, it’s how her death has changed the lives of my entire family….
Brelin and I have been super close since she was a tiny girl. We are similar in so many ways; we are often mistaken for mother and daughter. As Brelin grew older, I was “the fun aunt”. The aunt to whom she could talk about anything without worry of judgment or even very much correction.
Now I co-parent Brelin with my parents. Even after many very tough years of trying to take care of her mom and then losing her, she is a really great young lady. A kind, compassionate, loving person – which I now have to set rules and boundaries for. A smart, articulate teenager – which I now have to enforce the punishment for bad grades or typical teenage slipups. And it hurts to hear that I’m not “the fun aunt” anymore that she can’t really talk to me about some things anymore.
People say she’ll appreciate all the rules and guidance some day, and I know that it is true. But some days I’m still angry that our relationship, the relationship we are supposed to have, has been taken away from Brelin and me. The relationship we now have is special, but it’s not the role I was cast with and I struggle.
I struggle because being a mom is hard and I don’t know how it works. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I struggle with wondering what my sister thinks of the job I’m doing, and then not caring what she thinks because she’s not here to do her job. I struggle because I want to do the right things by Brelin, and because I want our old relationship back.
Mom and Dad don’t get to be grandparents. They don’t get the job of spoiling their granddaughter, and frankly they never did. They’ve always had to help raise Brelin and while it wasn’t always appreciated by my sister, it was always expected by her. They should be getting ready to retire, not be raising a teenager.
The relationship between me and my parents has also changed. I now have to “parent the parents”. They don’t have a clue about computers or FaceBook or things teenagers get into these days. So rather than letting them spoil their granddaughter like they should, I have to rein them in. I have to make sure they enforce the rules and boundaries for our teenager too.
Fortunately I have an amazing, supportive husband who loves me very much. But even our relationship has changed. Financially we help raise a teenager now, so we can’t go out or travel like we use too. We now have to calculate in the fact that we may have to help my parents financially in the future because rather than saving for retirement they now have band and prom expenses.
Some evenings Brett comes home to a crying, stressed out wife because our teenager is being a teenager and I’ve spent 4 hours on the phone parenting from 3,000 thousand miles away or because Mom and I had to have a come to Jesus conversation about being too hard on or going to light on our teenager.
Brett comes home from a 12 hour day to find his wife is not only to stressed to make love, but to stressed and tired to even go to dinner. If I’m angry at anything, it’s that none of gets to choose the life we have now. We’ve all had our roles reassigned.
She was a caring nurse, a bright educated woman whose laugh made other people laugh. I’m saddened that she thought drugs or men would feel some hole inside her and that she shut her family out and at times even turned vicious toward us. But I’m not angry with her or even life. Anger kept me sick for too long, and I never want to go back there.
Most days I’m able to not dwell on the painful memories. My goal is always to set a good example for Brelin, to take care of my family and to be true to myself, my peace and my purpose.
Health, Healing & Happiness to all.