Noah, here. Morgan informed me that a few teachers were sharing my story and posts with their jr. high classes when chatting about different mental health topics. One of which these teachers shared a photo, in which there are no words to describe how cool that is. Through one of these classes the students started asking different questions in which Morgan has shared with me and I’ll be answering. Apart of one of these classrooms syllabus is educating the students on coping skills. Not pre-say for incarceration but in life in general. But through these posts I’ve been learning about all of these students that have parents or family incarcerated.
So first of all, I have never dealt with an incarcerated parent, but I have dealt with my fair share of shame and guilt related to my incarceration and the damage it has caused to my daughter, so I can at least give you the perspective from the other side.
I will discuss how I am currently coping now and how I will overcome adversity in the future. You have two options when coping, you deal with the problem at hand, or you avoid it.
There are benefits and consequences of both, but the choice is yours. I also heard a story yesterday relating to the exact topic that my sister requested today. The story came from Mike, who has done a lengthy prison sentence, and when he started his kids were babies, and now they have babies. He has eleven kids, and when he started was only on speaking terms with one, now he has a relationship with six, and a seventh recently opened the door and said he could write a letter. With his approval, I will also share how they coped with their fathers incarceration and how they overcame their shame and allowed him back into their lives. He still has four more kids to go but he is much more optimistic about his future, because of the existing relationships and how far they have come. You want to talk about evidence, it immediately gave me chills today when I read my sisters email about these schools and kids, and I knew what I had to do.
First of all I want to talk about when I was growing up. My parents and myself were never close, as in there wasn’t much I felt comfortable talking to them about personally. This included urges to use drugs, curiosity about sex, and my insecurities.
My brother was off to college and I definitely wasn’t going to talk to my sister about any of the above topics. So, I turned to the internet, kids at school, and less than qualified role models.
It’s safe to say I didn’t get the proper answers to any of my questions, looking at where I am writing this email from.
One thing I do wish is that every kid had an open line of communication with their parents and their questions would be met with non-judgmental answers. I know this is impossible as some kids don’t have parents or qualified parents to ask those questions to, but in those cases I hope they have someone else in their life to fill that void.
My daughter and I don’t have that those conversations yet, but since she was 4 or 5 I have at least opened the door and let her know she can ask me anything. I reinforce that statement every time when she comes to see me and asks her if she has anything she wants to ask me, and so far the best I have gotten is, “Nope, hey grandma, do you have anything you want to ask dad?” 🙂
So, although Melrose isn’t asking me yet, I’ve found out she does ask her grandma certain things, and I am grateful that she is at least asking someone to get her questions answered.
One of those questions my daughter asked my mom was, “What do I tell people when they ask why I live with my grandma?”
My mom came up with, “Right now my parents aren’t capable of taking care of me, so I stay with my grandma.” I think that is more than fair and a good response to such a tough question, that I am sure most kids asking don’t even know the pain that lies behind the question. I hope she will one day come to me or her mom for answers to those questions, but what is important is she is talking to someone and she is dealing with her issues in a healthy manner.
Next, kids are going to feel emotions like shame, guilt, and embarrassment, and that is only natural and there is nothing wrong with it, especially in circumstances like dealing with an incarcerated parent. For Mike that was the initial problem he was having, his kids mom was trying to cover up those emotions by telling his daughter that she shouldn’t feel that way, and it wasn’t until she started going to therapy that her emotions and feelings were validated.
When Mike was incarcerated he only had one daughter in his life, and over time she bridged the gap that allowed his other daughters to come back into his life as well. But this happened only once his daughter’s emotions were validated by the therapist that she was able to heal and move forward with her relationship with her father.
At the beginning of Mike’s sentence he was only able to focus on the negative and look at the ten kids who are absent in his life and failed to focus on the one in front of him. Over time that changed and because his relationship with this daughter flourished that his other children took notice and came around one by one.
As Mike grew spiritually, so did his relationship with his kids, and now they open up to him about topics he doesn’t even want to hear, but needs to hear for all to heal and move forward in a positive light. For example, the other day his daughter told her dad that, “You’re the reason I am insecure, that have problems with relationships with other men in my life, and have trust issues.” He said it hurt, and I couldn’t help but relate to the inevitable damage that I have caused in my own daughters life. But Mike said it only shows the progress from where they started and where they have come that she can admit something so true and painful to him today.
What I take from this topic and from my own experience is there is no problem with feeling shame, guilt, or embarrassment towards your parents who are incarcerated, because believe me those are the exact feelings i feel when I realize the full consequences to my actions, and we deserve much worse as we sit where we are at.
What is important is how we both deal with those feelings, do we deal with them in a healthy manner, and grow from the experience, or do we bury them deep, so they can haunt us at a later date.
I used drugs to cope with my issues for over fifteen years, and look where that got me.
I am sure my daughter has felt plenty of embarrassment from my incarceration and there will be more to come as I come back into her daily life and more questions are raised about my previous absence and abrupt arrival into her life.
I will encourage my daughter to continue to ask me any question and I will do my best to help guide her through those tough times. In the end I hope one day she will be proud of me for my accomplishments rather them embarrassed by my failures.
Till next time,