As, I sit at my desk contemplating where to start, I realize my life has not turned out how I thought it would. As a young girl growing up on a small farm in rural Illinois, I never would have seen myself where I am now, my goals were so much simpler then, my plans were smaller, my goals so much more achievable, and me, well I was smaller too, not physically, but mentally. The youngest of three girls, I was the tomboy, the boy my father wanted but never got so it was overalls and baseball caps instead of dresses and tiaras, mud pies instead of tea parties, toy trucks and tractors instead of Barbies and dream cars, spending time in the barn with my dad taking care of the cows , pigs and the dog instead of in the house with my mom and two older sisters playing dress up, decorating doll houses, learning to cook and sew and all the other things little girls do. Being “daddy’s little girl” meant something very different to me, I was his sidekick, his buddy, there were no father daughter dances but there was learning to roller skate in the kitchen while he held my hand. I didn’t go to dance class, or join girl scouts, instead I played baseball on the boy’s team, learned to drive the tractor and worked on our farm. A typical little girl, a princess, that was not to be my life, not my journey, not who I was… or was it?
We learn from our experiences so my world view was never one of dependence and femininity, but rather independence, inhibition, tenacity, with a strong sense of who I was ( or so I thought at the time) Those traits have served me well over the past 47 years, but they have also gotten in the way and caused me more pain than I could visualize or identify at the time. Being strong-willed isn’t always the best trait when you find yourself in trouble. Because of how I saw myself and how I thought others saw me, I often found myself in situations where I felt I couldn’t share my pain and I couldn’t ask for help. I felt shame and self-doubt at times when I found myself in situations where I believed I should have known better, for allowing myself to get trapped in situations that I couldn’t get out of or that put me in danger and made me a victim. When you believe to your core that you have to behave in such a way as to not allow people to see you fail, or to need help, or to question your ability to make good decisions, you make decisions that can be detrimental to your health, your well-being , your life.
My childhood, and how I was raised, put me on a path that later I would realize was not the one I would have chosen for myself if I knew then what I know now. Looking back with the benefit of time, education, experience and perspective I can see how and why when I was younger I made some very big, life changing decisions based on what I believed to be my truth and how that set into motion the life I lived as a young adult.
Perception of ones’ life is vital to understanding why we behave the way we do, because if you ask my parents I doubt they would believe that they instilled in me both good and bad versions of myself. However, with every milestone of development shaped by my environment and /or determined by my biology I began to unconsciously interpret the meaning and importance of relationships, successes and failures, socially acceptable behaviors and norms, encouragement and disappointment which in turn determined my role in society in rural America, creating what I thought was to be my future. A future where I was encouraged, if not expected to follow in the footsteps of those who came before me, to be like all the women I knew, to marry my high school sweetheart, live on a farm and be a good wife and mother, which was in direct conflict with what I knew and how I was treated as a young girl, when I was glued to my dad’s side, his helper, his self-sufficient child, that could be trusted to drive the tractor, bring grain in from the field, bail hay and help with the livestock. It wasn’t until I was a preteen (age 11-13) that my mom spent more time with me and my role became more like that of my older sisters. Although my parents did tell us we could do/ be what ever we wanted we had no other examples to go by, this was all we knew. No one in my family or life at that time ever went to college, except for my teachers, and those who did leave home, joined the military and that was not uncommon, in fact my father had been in the military reserves for a time, but he was still expected to be a responsible member of his community and work on the farm with his father, eventually getting married, having children and taking over the family farm.
I was never told I couldn’t be more, but it wasn’t encourage, expected or presented as achievable. It was a respectable future, I wasn’t expected to be more, to dream bigger, to be successful on my own. How I saw myself and what I believed to be acceptable was shaped very early on through the development of concrete beliefs and ideals that were the foundation of my young adult life. Rural values and christian morals were my guidelines, and if you are from my neck of the woods, you know what I mean. It was OK to be poor, but you were still expected to help your neighbor, you had children raised with manners because good parenting included a strong belief in corporal punishment, you had boys to carry on the family name and to run the farm when they were old enough. It was never acceptable to “air your dirty laundry in public” because issues in a marriage or family were the wife’s responsibility to fix and to keep quiet because your reputation as a “good person” was important. These ideals may seem old-fashioned , but I am almost 50 ( I can’t believe that is my age) and although things were starting to change when I got married at age 19 it was still the norm, and it was how I was raised…
Married at 19, first child at age 20 and the second less than 3 years later, I was all set to achieve the future I believed was mine. However during my marriage I realized I wanted more than to be a wife and mother who struggled working 2 jobs and still never getting out of the financial hole I was in, but that meant I had to take a risk and create the future that I wanted for myself. I could have stayed married for the kids or I could set a better example and choose to be strong on my own, to build my own future, to be happy by living by my own rules, so that is what I did. Most people in my life couldn’t understand why I wanted out of my marriage, I had done such a good job of hiding the problems, but I couldn’t do it anymore. Deciding to be a divorced mother of two was frightening, but I knew that if I wanted to be more than what I was the first step was leaving, and so I did!
When you realize that although parents do the best they can, their best of intentions can be to the detriment to the personal development of their child , you hope to do it better and I think I have, I know that I have tried, but life does seem to get in the way and of course it will be for my children to determine if I did a good job as a parent and I provided them with all the tools they needed to be successful and happy adults.
I choose to be a survivor not a victim, to live the life I want regardless of the expectations!