The generational ghosts of abandonment 

Personal Essay

The generational ghosts of abandonment 

I tread the same path as many other women before me, hoping that one day, the men in our lives step up and stop breaking our hearts. Stop asking us to fulfill both their roles and ours. 

Growing up, it was normal for me, and most of my family and friends, for the father figures, the husbands, to always be absent. And this rings true for so many women I know. It’s so normalized, in fact, that the men are not burdened with neither scorn nor consequence. 

I got married and had children young, and divorced several years later. What I experienced often makes me wonder how many mothers have to pretend that it doesn’t break their hearts to watch their husbands treat their children with dismissiveness? 

How many disappointments and heartbreaks will it take before we start to condemn the behavior of men who father children without fully taking on fatherhood? 

I don’t think anyone sets out to intentionally make their wife feel unheard and their children unseen, but humans often have misguided beliefs about what will make their families happy. And many men are raised to believe that money can replace genuine presence. 

I see so many fathers resorting to using unhealthy avoidant mechanisms to cope with the stress in their lives, avoiding their homes and loved ones in the process. In our region, it particularly feels like men have been brought up to suppress their emotions, a symptom of the toxic masculinity they were socialized with as young boys. 

They walk through life numb and distracted; ghosts that float around in their white thoubs usually on their way out the door. 

I don’t think anyone sets out to intentionally make their wife feel unheard and their children unseen...many men are raised to believe that money can replace genuine presence. 

Even if we can say that they are flawed human beings just doing their best, the trauma they inflict on their families is very real. It is passed down from generation to generation along with the family heirlooms. 

I see so many fathers resorting to using unhealthy avoidant mechanisms to cope with the stress in their lives, avoiding their homes and loved ones in the process

I can empathize with that. However, it doesn’t excuse their behavior and its effects. We must demand more for the beautiful souls they helped bring into the world. They need to do better for their children, and so we need to hold them accountable.

We need to break this generational cycle. 

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I can write essays about all the factors that led to my divorce, but the added pressure of being a new mom with its rush of responsibilities and the struggle to navigate it as new parents showed the cracks in our relationship. 

The day she was born, she was glorious. She was perfect.  Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t stand the sight of her. It was years later that I learned what postpartum depression really meant, and my personal circumstances only compounded the problems. 

The birth process was painful. My once perfect young body was damaged. I couldn’t sleep more than two hours at a time. My life as I knew it was over. I didn’t want to be a mother. I was ill-advised and underprepared. My mental and physical state was in rebellion because of it. I immediately started feeling the effects of postpartum depression.

For anyone who hasn’t experienced it, postpartum depression is very real and very scary. The hormonal changes combined with the sleep deprivation, the stresses and demands of a newborn – the sense of isolation – can make moms want to harm themselves, or their babies. It is an endless cycle of excessive crying, intense irritability and guilt over the inability to bond with your child. 

I don’t recall much of those days – I blocked them out. Who wants to remember crying in a fetal position under the coffee table? Screaming at an innocent baby girl to shut up. Hoping that by some miracle the baby would sense your anger and give you some peace and quiet? 

You will hear people expound on the beauty of being a mother, but not many will tell you about the ugliness it can carry. 

I see so many fathers resorting to using unhealthy avoidant mechanisms to cope with the stress in their lives, avoiding their homes and loved ones in the process

If you ask my ex-husband what my postpartum depression looked like, he wouldn’t be able to tell you. He didn’t see it, or me. Instead, his life had carried on exactly as it had before. How could he possibly remember events he did not bear witness to? 

He did pay for a nanny so I wouldn’t be “alone,” but in my pain and in my struggles, I was very alone. We were both alone. I didn’t want a nanny  – I needed a present father. More than anything else, I wanted my daughter to smell her father, hear his voice, and feel safe in his constant presence. I wanted that to be her first reality, her first memory, before all her other senses took over. 

I often wondered, where do my rights as a woman begin, and where do my husband’s end? Because as a young mom I just didn’t know.

Eventually, I stopped waiting. After months of darkness, my resentment of her and of motherhood finally wavered and I started to see her as the innocent she was. My love for her demanded that I take charge of the situation, so I became “the man of the house.”

I sought out more support from the family. I put her on a schedule and started to exercise, eat better and sleep. It took a few months, but I was finally myself again. My baby and I were both happy.

In more than one way, he taught me that I didn’t need him. It was probably then that I made the unconscious decision to look the other way because begging him to be present wasn’t working. 

Up until that point, I had forgiven him for all his trespasses against me, but I couldn’t forgive him for not stepping up in the way I felt our children needed. The emotional unavailability was palpable and how I felt about our personal relationship as husband and wife was nothing compared to this feeling of abandonment. 

I often wondered, where do my rights as a woman begin, and where do my husband’s end? Because as a young mom I just didn’t know.

Of the many, many men who I have unfortunately seen behave this way, I want to ask: Why doesn’t it become, the very minute your children are born, your life’s greatest mission to be there for them? 

What is it about some men in our region that makes it so hard for them to connect? There are definitely learned behaviors that need to be unlearned. There is generational trauma that needs to be healed. There is so much work to be done, and for the sake of our children, we must start doing it today. 

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