I teach high school English and I have always felt connected to those students who have difficult family situations. A 17 year old girl handed in an autobiographical writing project today and it was filled with her hatred for her father. Although her dad isn’t an alcoholic like mine was, he has damaged her and her family. She is a very quiet, shy person and I know from her mother that she struggles with depression. It is so hard to “leave work at school” in these situations…my heart breaks for her. But, I have learned throughout my career that I have to have boundaries with my students. I wish more than anything, I could hold this girl in my arms and tell her the following things:
1. It gets better…and easier, but the hurt always lingers. Bruises heal, life goes on. You find ways (hopefully healthy ones) to cope with the things that happen- sometimes you simply have to push things to the back of your mind so you can just get through the day. Eventually, you do forget a lot, but the memories of the pain are always there and can be recalled easily. This is okay. The things that happen to you make you who you are. Someday, you will be in the position where you might want to harshly judge someone else…remember how you feel in this moment and be kind. You understand firsthand that you never know the problems that someone else is privately struggling with in their life.
2. Don’t be ashamed. Ever. You do not own the choices your parents make. They affect you, yes, but they don’t define you. I know that a lot of what you are going through right now feels like it has to be a dirty secret. It won’t always be like that. You will meet many people in your life who will care enough to encourage you to open up and share what you have been through…do it.
3. Forgive. This one takes time. A lot of time. You hate your dad now…you hate what he has done to you and how he has hurt your family. Someday you might have an opportunity to learn more about why. Someday, he might apologize (probably not). If you are able to separate yourself from the situation and look at it objectively, you will see that your father has had his own failures and hurts that led him on the path he took. This does not excuse his actions, but understanding him better might help you heal.
4. Be so very grateful for your mother and sister. They are your constant reminder that your family is not all bad and not completely broken. You will develop a bond that is unlike those of other families. They are the only ones who will share these memories with you. They were there, too. They KNOW.
When I was in high school, there were teachers who knew about my living situation. They never really outright said anything to me, but showed me they cared in other ways…little kindnesses here and there. I wish I could do more- say more- to my students sometimes. All I can do is be there for them and try to protect them the best I can.