Post-Traumatic Stresses of Growing up in a “Messy” Home

photo 2It’s hard to move on with life when your home is in shambles. I say this because of the never ending construction going on in my house right now—but I also mean it in the emotional sense.

Did you grow up in a home with lots of fighting? Uncertainty about the future? Fear that Mom and Dad might split? Then you might know what I’m talking about. It’s hard to move on, it’s hard to grow up, when your home life is in shambles.

Today I had trouble focusing on my to-dos, primarily because my house is a wreck and has been for almost two months. When I finally got Sam down for a nap, I had to pray extra hard and reread my index cards of Bible promises just so I could move on with the day. My brain felt so cluttered I knew I could not be productive unless God cleared things up. The verse that most calmed me: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee” (Isa. 26:3). As I concentrated on God, my scattered thoughts, well, scattered. And then, Sam woke up…an hour and a half before he was supposed to (grr). Glad God calmed me beforehand!

I wish I had learned to rely on God earlier in life. When I was a teenager, my home was in shambles, in the emotional sense, and I suffered in many ways, for many years to come.

I didn’t rely on God. I relied on keeping busy to numb my pain. I relied on building up myself and my skills, determined to acquire things that no one could ever take from me. In the early years, those things included a straight-A record, a good reputation, and lots of experiences to pad my college applications. In my adult life, they translated into two college degrees, a full plate at church, and a teaching career: AKA, resume builders.

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These things aren’t bad in and of themselves. But they’re bad when you do them to avoid confronting your pain. Life gets lopsided really quickly when you do those pain-stuffing behaviors to the detriment of everything else.

I’ve come a long way from the life I’m describing. I finally gave up the career chase to have a kid, for one. And I’m making a concentrated effort to relax in my thirties (wait, did I just contradict myself?). But I still feel myself lagging behind in plenty of areas.

Because I married when I was twenty, I’ve been able to shunt many adult responsibilities onto my husband’s plate: paying bills; navigating home, life, and car insurance; and setting up internet service, to name a few. I don’t know the cost of our monthly bills, and I wouldn’t know who to call if our electricity went out. Perhaps, most shamefully, I still don’t understand how to read and/or fill out a W2 (or is a W4?) when I start a new job. I am always embarrassed at needing help to fill it out. (But amazingly, I don’t take the time to correct this lack of knowledge).

For that matter, many, many things around me go unnoticed, things I should know just by virtue of living on planet earth or living in Texas.

Exhibit A: When I was twenty, I voted in my first presidential election without knowing the difference between Republicans and Democrats.

Exhibit B: When my parents visited from Minnesota and we walked around my neighborhood and they asked, “What kind of tree is that?” “What kind of plant is that?” “What kind of bird is that?” I had to repeatedly answer, “I don’t know,” “I don’t know,” “I don’t know.” I did not know, and I did not care.

Exhibit C: Sam was born with a large birthmark on his shoulder (I mean LARGE), which turned out to be an “infantile hemangioma,” or a benign tumor, according to his skin care specialist—and when my friend asked me about the long-term effects and other basic questions, I had to answer, “I don’t really know, but the doctor said not to worry, so I’m choosing not to.” Shouldn’t a mom be curious about these things? Shouldn’t she bother to know? Nonetheless, I still haven’t done any research.

Why don’t I bother to know more about my surroundings, or my son’s skin condition?

Probably the biggest reason is I feel my brain only has so much room, and to overload it is to risk meltdown. (That must be a lie, a bad root, I gained in adolescence—I’ll have to pray about that one some more.) Similarly, I have trouble adding new things to my routine: for instance, everyone tells me I need a Pinterest account—”It would make life so much easier”—but the thought of having to regularly check one more website confounds me (keeping up with my blog is hard enough!).

photo 1I simply don’t have room in my brain to accommodate one more thing. Which is why I used to be oblivious to the news. My husband would ask me what I thought about some really big news item, and I’d respond with a blank stare. Happily, caring for Sam has helped me to turn on the news almost daily (I get bored with bottles and diapers all day), so my news knowledge has increased about 100%.

My point is that I’m still decompressing from growing up in an emotionally messy home. For many years it took all my energy to put one foot in front of the other and take care of myself (I didn’t realize that God already had my back)—how could I care about the world around me? It’s only by God’s grace that I’m here today, somehow swimming in the current of adult life.

God has been gentle with my transition back into the world, giving me a loving husband and plenty of guardian angels to guide and protect my uninformed, oblivious steps. It’s hard to move on, it’s hard to grow up, when your home life is in shambles. But by his grace, people can do it. And because of his goodness, I am.

 

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