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Embrace the Shame
Posted on 21st March 2015
The older I get the more complex my reactions are to certain situations. In my 20’s everything was black and white. Of course if I said the wrong thing whilst I was drunk, I agonised about not being liked or upsetting people. I worried about being over-weight, although not to the extent where I cut down on the drink – are you crazy? I over-thought the response to a text (is that an "I like you ‘thanks’ or just a straightforward ‘thanks’?”) and I assumed I was the only person in the world that did all these things. However, I was lot less understanding of people’s motives for their behaviour.
When I was younger, other people would do things just because they were mean wouldn’t they? I am a lot more likely to check my response to someone else’s actions now, rather than it’s impact on me. It sounds like a subtle shift but it is, in fact a huge one. It takes away judgement and that gut response which brings with it anger, sadness or shame.
Shame is an emotion that has started to creep in to my life. My mother changed my surname as a child as she was ashamed she had been married before and by giving me a new surname too, no-one would know. I was upset at the time. I was upset for two reasons: 1) As I felt my father didn’t really care what my name was and 2) I was angry my mother was looking after herself and not me.
Now I am older with three children of my own. My first marriage didn’t work out. My ex-husband didn’t want to be married anymore. I found myself divorced with two young children. Then – after swearing I’d never get married again – I met my husband. We married and had a baby. Bearing in mind how important surnames are to me, all my children have their father’s surnames. I have three children with different surnames to me. It doesn’t matter. They are all my babies and I love them. However, whenever we travel, I have to bring their birth certificates with me.
Two of my children have one surname and one of them has another. How is that for feeling like a tramp? Yes. I have slept with at least two different men – there is the proof! When we walk through airport security I have to explain that they are indeed all my children, even though they don’t have my name. Or – if we are splitting hairs here, that of my step-father. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t feel shame. I feel a little embarrassed that I feel the need to explain.
On arrival at LAX one year, I was stammering and explaining to a guy at passport control when as part of my defence, I came out with: "we are a modern family”. The guy – Bless him – came back with: "I come from one of those myself ma’am”.
Once, my eldest two and I were travelling to South Africa. As we went through passport control, we were met by a particularly stern woman. She questioned me and then looked at the kids: "Is this your MOTHER?” she barked. The kids looked terrified.
"It’s ok” I said. "You can answer the lady”
"Madam. Step back from the children I am dealing with this.”
Surely it’s a mother’s natural urge to soothe her children? The kids stammered and answered her that "Yes” I was indeed their mother. I felt awful for them. I felt guilty. Their father wouldn’t have had this. He could have just walked on through with their matching names and passports. But oh no. Not me. I am the primary carer and yet treated as though I’m snatching them. When we go to the USA I travel with their birth-certificates and a lawyers letter stating that I am their mother. I know it is for their safety but I can’t help feeling the burning shame of judgement.
I do try to rationalise this shame. I wonder if it has been sent to me to help me understand what my mother went through and why she made her choices. She would have had to go through this 30 years ago and as a strict Catholic had other pressures on her too. Last week was my daughter’s birthday. We weren’t in when some of her presents were delivered. I went to the post office to collect them but they wouldn’t let me. We don’t have the same name. Despite the fact we have the same address, I had to bring her back with me to prove that I’m not trying to pinch her mail. This shame isn’t going anywhere. I just have to learn to embrace it.