Like most kids from broken homes, there are a lot of things about my childhood that I wish had been different. The way I grew up was messy, and the message I received from too early an age was that I was in the way… too much effort, too big a burden. I really didn’t belong anywhere, and was told by certain adults in my life, both directly and indirectly, that they would be happier if I wasn’t around.
Because of that, I learned early on to shape and mold myself into something others might accept. I was always kind of desperately searching for a sense of family. For somebody to really make me feel loved and wanted.
I didn’t always enter into the healthiest of relationships. The truth is, I didn’t really even have any examples of what a healthy relationship might look like. I just had a history of letting myself get taken advantage of, and sadly, of pushing away some of the best people who did come into my life.
You see, I had this thing where I was constantly trying to rewrite the past. My mom more or less disappeared from my life when I was 13 years old, and my stepmom made it clear from day one that I was not part of what she had signed up for in marrying my dad. The message I received, again and again, was that I was unwanted. And that I certainly wasn’t worth fighting for.
So in relationships, I was always striving to change minds. The people who treated me the worst were the ones I was most hell bent on convincing of my worth. As you can imagine, that never turned out well for me. But in the end, I really only ever had myself to blame. I was the one who was seeking out toxic. I was the one constantly trying to convince crappy people that I was worth their time, when in reality, they were never worth mine.
I bent over backwards for people who treated me terribly. I fell in love with men who were never going to love me back. And I cried so many tears over history repeating itself over and over and over again.
Because you can’t change people. And no matter how hard you try, you definitely can’t make them love you.
It took me a long time to see the mistakes I was making, and even longer to begin changing how I behaved in relationships and to start setting higher standards in regards to the type of people I spent my time with. We’re talking years of therapy here. And even still, I have a lot of work left to do. I’m terrible at confrontation, for instance, and am only slowly learning how to have adult conversations with people when I feel like they’ve done something to hurt me.
It has been a process. And at 34 years old, I’ve still never had a romantic relationship truly stand the test of time. But I have managed to build some pretty spectacular friendships. I’ve got a village around me now that serves as a testament to my growth in this area.
I’m capable of healthy relationships. And of walking away from unhealthy ones. It just took a lot of work to get here.
Today I look around at my circle of friends, most of whom grew up in healthy homes, and I can see the drastic differences in how they manage their relationships. There’s an ease to how they communicate and love that I’ve never really had. They are secure in their marriages and even capable of butting heads with a friend without that meaning the friendship is over.
These friends didn’t have to fight to learn some of the same lessons I did. Communication was big in the homes they grew up in, so they’ve always known how to handle difficult conversations. They witnessed parents and family members treating each other with care and respect, even in times of turmoil. They saw examples of loving marriages every day. And they never had to question, not once, how loved or wanted they may have been.
Now that I’m a mother, I want the same for my little girl. I want her to grow up with the comfortable confidence I see in my friends who grew up in healthy homes. I want her to be surrounded by healthy relationships she can learn from. And I want her to avoid so many of the mistakes I made in my teen and young adult years.
That’s why I love the platform AMAZE has put together. AMAZE is a collaboration between 3 expert organizations in the field of sex education: Advocates for Youth, Answer, and Youth Tech Health. They are using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and even Snaptchat to provide tools for families to have those hard conversations. Their videos cover the “mechanics” of sex ed (like puberty) but they also explore more complex topics, like relationships, gender identity, and consent. Their whole goal is to give kids and families the foundation for building healthy relationships, and to make those conversations less weird.
In my family, we didn’t really talk about the hard stuff, certainly not the problems sitting just beneath the surface. Every once in a while one of us would blow up and yell about those problems, but the healing conversations never actually happened. And much of what I was dealing with as a teen (sex, an eating disorder, cutting, and even suicidal thoughts and feelings), I was dealing with alone. I don’t blame my parents for that. It is what it is. But I want better for my daughter.
I want her to grow up knowing I’m here. That I’m listening.
I want her to understand she can come to me, even when she’s angry, and I will swallow my defensiveness and try my best to hear her.
I want her to learn how to navigate the hard conversations, and to grow up knowing her value doesn’t have to be proven to anyone.
I want to provide her with the examples of healthy relationships I didn’t really have growing up, and to make better choices in my own relationships so she doesn’t grow up thinking that unhealthy relationships are normal.
I know all of that starts with me. And I know that today and every day, the example I set matters.
I just hope I can live up to the challenge.
This post has been sponsored by Amaze. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
To read advice from other parents who have written about talking to kids about sex, consent, and healthy relationships, visit these posts:
- Sex Education from a Mom’s Perspective by Lisa from Mom on the Side
- Awkward Isn’t an Excuse for Giving Up by Amanda McGee
- Making the Hard Conversations Easier by Tandra Wilkerson from Thriller Mom
- Single moms, you are your child’s most important sex educator (deep breaths) by Jessica Ashley from Single Mom Nation
- Healthy Relationships Have Never Been My Thing, But I Want Them to Be Hers by Leah Campbell
- How to Talk About Healthy Relationships with Tweens and Teens by Leticia Barr from Tech Savvy Mama