The thing I fear most is messing up in raising my two girls. My son seems so simple compared to the complexities of my girls. Today I was struck by a few things. First, a Facebook post made by woman concerned with what to tell her daughter who was upset over being told she was fat at school. The second, an image of a young girl in a bathroom mirror reflection.
With two daughters, I am always worried about raising them to be confident and aware. It has been an urgent concern to me for a long time now, and I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t become a sort of obsession for me. Perhaps it reflects on my own girlhood and upbringing, or maybe it’s just a paranoid delusion I carry from my own tumultuous young adulthood. Regardless, I think about them and their growing into women everyday. I worry about what they feel and think about themselves. I worry about what I’ll tell my own kids when they come home after being called names. I worry that they will be hurt in ways I cannot fix. I worry, plain and simple.
I looked at the picture of this young girl in the reflection of her bathroom mirror and I thought to myself…Does she see how amazing she is?? I’m not a hater of selfies, because I feel that they are attempts by individuals to define themselves in their world. I don’t often see it as vanity at all. I’m aware that for the most part, the majority of people are very insecure. We’re all seeking approval. I get it. So, I looked at this picture of a beautiful human, snapping a selfie on an iPhone, as a young person seeking approval, while at the same time trying to define herself in a world with so many expectations on her physical appearance. Her young age just adds to the complexities of the situation. I remember being her age. I didn’t have Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. We had disposable cameras. I did the exact same thing with those. My paper trails have long been burned. I’m thankful for that.
I wasn’t necessarily sad for her, but I wondered when exactly the moment will come when she looks in the mirror and says, “I’m perfect. I like me.” The moment when she puts her camera down, because she knows that she doesn’t need to seek approval on social media. That the only approval she needs is her own. I long for her to have that day. I want every young person to have that moment. It took me a long long time to get there. To be OK…really OK with my reflection. I remember many moments, well into my 20’s when I really hated what I saw in the mirror. I remember saying out loud to myself, “I hate you.” Those were horrible days. The reason perhaps, that I worry so much about my own kids. I don’t want them to go through the hard “young person” years, even though it is inevitable.
What really drove me to sit down and write this out are the issues I’ve been going through with my own family. One of my sisters is very sick. She struggles with mental health issues as well as addiction issues. If she were to take a selfie, it would be her reflection in shattered glass. Sad. Lost. Sick. It brings me to my knees with sadness. I am heartbroken at the thought that she would look in the mirror and think she was worthless or unloved or better off dead. These are sentiments she has shared with me about herself, and hearing them made me weak. I have spent countless hours crying over what to do for her. Because she is so ill, she cannot see how much I care. She feels that I am not there, never was. That I could never understand. Maybe she is partially right. Maybe I do not know what it is like to be a survivor of sexual abuse as a child. Maybe I don’t know the demons that drive her addiction. I am not her. I never will be. But regardless, she is my sister, and I am devastated by her situation and the complete chaos of her world. I have been filled with rage at her and for her. I have hated her and loved her at the same time. I have done countless things to help her and destroy her further. I have thought and re-thought plans for her recovery. I have spent hours, days and months thinking about her and her child. She does not see this. She doesn’t hear my voice and think of love. She sees me, and everyone in our family as her enemy. The frustration I feel from this is overwhelming, heartbreaking and numbing all at the same time. I’ve received both praise and criticism on how I’ve been dealing with this situation. I’ve been told I help too little or too much. It’s very difficult to explain to someone who is not in this situation. It’s hard to explain what it’s like to have to deal with a person like her. I want to help both my sister and her young daughter. I don’t know how. It’s easy to say that the answer is to turn your back, but hard to actually follow through. What’s even harder is trying to help. Trying to make decisions that help her child and her. I do not want her daughter to live through the chaos of her mother’s illness. I do not want my baby sister to suffer. I want none of this. Yet, here I am. No solution. No way to help.
It makes me think of the young girl’s selfie. What happens if someone smashes that sweet and innocent reflection? What happens when the mirror is shattered into fragmented pieces? How do you live through that? How do you help someone who has already lived through that? I think of my niece and I worry about her little self. What is she thinking? What is she learning about the world and how she fits into it? What will her reflection look like in a 2, 5, 10 years? What will she live through while her mom struggles? How do I safeguard my own kids? Is that possible? It keeps me up at night.
I think of how all of this happened for my sister – for our whole family. I think of people who make remarks about dirty crackheads/methheads/scumbags and I just want to say… They are people, just like you. Something terrible might have happened in their life and somehow they slipped through the cracks. It happens much easier than you think. It could have happened to you. It could happen to your child. It can and does happen every single day.