Jennifer Grassman

Joy With A Backdrop Of Sorrow

I’m about to be super transparent. I don’t know why I feel the need to put that disclaimer at the beginning of this post, but there it is. The following isn’t sugar coated, it isn’t pretty, and it isn’t fun. But it’s real. And if I feel this way, other people must as well, so maybe my sharing this will help them feel less alone.

Ever since I had my first child, my joy has been shadowed by sorrow; my happiness has had a backdrop of pain. You see, my eyes have been opened. I now know how incredibly, impossibly, desperately, and unconditionally a parent loves their child. My daughters are the light of my life, the breath to my heartbeat, everything I do involves them if it doesn’t entirely revolve around them … But when I was a child, I was abused, and I was neglected.


I’m not angry anymore. In fact, I have forgiven both my parents. But I’m in pain. And I don’t know how to make the pain stop. I don’t even know if it ever can stop. Some days it hurts less than others, but it’s always there. Some days it feels like I’m drowning in it, and that’s today.

I find myself wondering, “Why didn’t they love me? Why didn’t they love me enough to get help? Why didn’t they love me enough to protect me? Why didn’t they love me enough to just not hurt me?”

At first I thought these were “dramatic” questions. Maybe I was being selfish, or self-centered, or unreasonable. Maybe I should “suck it up,” “get over it,” or “grow up.” Those are things I was frequently told as a child.

Feelings don’t work like that though, do they? No. Feelings are messy. You can’t put them in a box, high up on a shelf, and close the closet door. Hurt feelings are like shadows; they always follow you, and they tend to get longer in the evenings.

But really … why didn’t they love me as much as I now love my children? I’m bursting with affection for these crazy little kids. Even when they draw all over the walls, put peanut butter on the cat, and eat my lipstick, I’m laughing and admiring their innovation and creativity. My children make me so happy it sometimes brings me to tears.

Why didn’t I have that effect on my parents?

For a very long time I blamed myself for the neglect and abuse that happened in the home where I grew up.

As a child, I thought I wasn’t smart enough, so I devoured every book I could find. One year, I made it my goal to copy down the encyclopedia, and made it half way through the letter A. I read the first chapter of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion when I was seven. I read Charles Darwin’s Origin Of The Species when I was 10. Talk about literary diversity!  But I still wasn’t good enough.

I thought I wasn’t pretty enough, so as a young teenager, I proudly wore a bikini my dad bought me to church camp. I was ridiculed there by a pastor who thought I was being intentionally provocative. Later I found out that my dad had bought me that bikini because he was addicted to pornography and found his own daughter to be sexually attractive.  I didn’t know that at the time though. I just wanted him to be proud of me. I wanted my friends to know that my dad loved me and thought I was beautiful. And I still wasn’t good enough.

I thought maybe I was too loud and obnoxious, so I made myself quiet and stifled my laughter. I even stopped singing for a while after my dad irritably asked, “You call that singing?”  I was 15. Of course, nothing could stop me singing for long though. I still wasn’t good enough, and I was beginning to feel that maybe nothing would ever be good enough.

I thought I wasn’t talented enough. My dad wanted me to be a concert pianist, so I practiced, and practiced, and practiced. Nope. Not good enough. Nothing was ever good enough. I was not worthy of his pride or love and I never would be. Or at least, that’s the impression I was routinely given.

… Fast-forward 10 years …

I’m standing here looking at my fridge covered in pictures of … I’m not even sure what … and I’m so proud – PROUD – of my children.  There’s a kitty cat that looks like a ball of wire with a stick poking out the top, but it holds a special place in my heart because it’s Tiny E’s first slightly understandable artwork. There’s a potato shaped girl with wonky limbs and “Queen Elsa hair” (Tiny E’s first self portrait) and she has these thought bubbles coming out of her head, and she’s thinking about flowers and grass and sunshine. I love that picture. It’s one of her very best.

On the wall in our coat closet there are pen marks tracing the shapes of the girls hands. How amazing is that? Their hands are so tiny. The images remind me of how tiny they are … and a little bit of primitive cave drawings! …

As a parent, “good enough” never comes into consideration. I honestly don’t think there’s anything bad enough that these girls could ever do that could separate them from my adoration.

I never got that as a kid from my parents.  I’ve seen photos of myself as a little girl. I was cute. I was smart. I had talent. Looking with a parent’s eyes at myself when I was 2, or 5, or 10 … I was a good kid. There was nothing particular or unusual about me.

But then I realize, the problem wasn’t me.

It was them.

It was them all along, and all my struggles to be good enough were futile because … I was good enough.

But it still hurts. How can that not hurt?  Your parents are supposed to be the two people in the whole world who will love you no matter what. For whatever reason, a happy childhood wasn’t my story.

I know there is a reason though. God is sovereign. God has a plan. Perhaps he is equipping me to help someone else. Perhaps my pain is really a power that can counter evil, and promote good. Perhaps even my simple stream-of-thought words in this blog can open someone’s eyes so they can stop abuse … or maybe heal a little bit from it.

I don’t know the answers to my questions yet.

But I’m here.

I have great joy.

And I LOVE my children.

Comments 1

  1. It is our nature to look at a child (our own or not) & reflect back to our own childhood and the way we were treated / loved. When we do, it is astounding to realize that any adult “in charge” would do anything less than love and protect with everything they’ve got to give. Any pain you felt/feel has obviously turned outward for the better. Thanks for the honest writing, Jennifer.

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