I did not learn about G‑d from my parents. As an adult, I had to reparent myself and readjust my perception of G‑d.

Young children see their parents as G‑dly. Parents can do no wrong, and have the power and wherewithal to protect the child and create justice for all. If they do not, children believe that it is not because they could not, but because they decided that the children did not deserve better.

I did not learn about G‑d from my parents

When children reach adulthood, their perception of G‑d will be based on their childhood memories of their parents.

If parents were harsh or uncaring, children will find it very difficult to see G‑d in any other way. Since G‑d is perfectly ideal, they will be left with no other option than to believe that they are not worthy of being loved and protected. Their lack of faith in their own ability to cope and function optimally will be rooted in the belief that they are not entitled to successfully negotiate the environment and enjoy the fruits of success.

As a child, my basic needs for human contact were not met. My father suffered from an anxiety disorder called OCD, and was also diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder. He believed that “cleanliness was next to G‑dliness,” and informed us, his children, that we were germ-ridden and thus impure. He would wash his hands if we bumped into him or brushed against him. My response to this treatment was to feel deeply ashamed of my body and its needs. My mother, who suffered from depression, would retreat to her bed, where she spent virtually the first generation of my life.

Food was scarce, and what there was, was seldom prepared or served to us. Thank G‑d the school provided breakfast and lunch, so that this bit of sustenance calmed the familiar hunger pangs. A few blocks from where we lived was a pizza shop, and I would frequently go in and look longingly at the trays of tempting edibles. The store owner and proprietor had pity on me, and would often “treat” me to a pizza and soft drink. His gentle smile and kind words are the only positive memories of those difficult times.

Food was scarce, and what there was, was seldom prepared or served to us

Clothes were obtained from big black trash bags. These were dropped off at our door by neighbors who had cleaned out their closets in anticipation of the regular spring and fall shopping sprees which would fill their homes with spanking-new wardrobes for the entire family. The few times when I actually found an outfit pretty enough to feel pleased about were ruined by the glances of the girls downstairs who stared knowingly at their cast-off dresses. The humiliation caused a flush to spread on my cheeks, and I would flee to my house to hide away from what should have been a time of fun and friendships.

I was an easy target for the neighborhood child molesters. I didn’t tell anyone of these shameful experiences, and over the years developed a severe anxiety disorder. I became paranoid and suspicious, and unable to sustain any type of meaningful relationship. Although in some ways I grew up very quickly, understanding early on that I had to fend for myself, a part of me remained childlike and frightened even after I reached adulthood.

I entered marriage with the dream of having a place I could call home. Tragically, the man I married was a replica of my father, emotionally unavailable, controlling and abusive. If I dared talk on the phone without asking him for permission, he would grab it out of my hand and throw it across the room. I needed to report to him exactly how much I spent and on what. If I bought an extra tomato, he would take away the credit card until I “repented.”

When I gave birth to my son and held him in my arms for the first time, I was overcome with a fierce desire to protect him and give him the love, nurturance and stability I never received. A week after I returned home from the hospital, my husband pushed me off the chair while I was nursing my baby. Thankfully, my baby, though startled and frightened, did not sustain any injuries. I suppose it is not relevant to mention that the “reason” for his outburst was due to dinner not being ready. It finally dawned on me that my life and the life of my baby were in danger.

It finally dawned on me that my life and the life of my baby were in danger

I remembered seeing an ad called “Shalom Taskforce Domestic Violence Hotline,” and tentatively dialed the number. The compassionate voice on the other end broke the dam of my emotions, and I sobbed out my story into the phone. The next few hours were a blur, as I wrote down telephone numbers and addresses, and followed their instructions on safety planning. The next morning, after my husband left to work, I packed up myself and my baby and moved to a domestic violence shelter, where I attempted to put the pieces of my life together.

After assessing my personal situation and applying for all available benefits, my social worker recommended that I attend a support group. Although I was neither an alcoholic nor an overeater, I decided to attend an O.A. meeting which was located in the neighborhood. I joined two other shelter residents who had been going for a few weeks and had recommended that I avail myself of this resource.

Sharing my innermost thoughts and feelings in a group setting was something I did not believe I would ever be able to do. However, after listening to the members tell their stories, I realized that my deepest secrets had been experienced by countless others. Though some of the details were different, the underlying issues were amazingly similar. The looks of understanding that passed between us gave us all strength to move forward as we restructured our lives.

It was somewhat overwhelming to be simultaneously responsible for caring for my baby and negotiating the paperwork involved in meeting the requirements needed to maintain our government benefits. My coping skills were weak, but my determination was strong. I devoured the Twelve-Step literature and completed my writing assignments with zeal, to the delight of my O.A. sponsor.

My baby boy and the little girl inside of myself both needed tender loving care

I decided that the only way to handle the daily stress of my new life was to realize that I was now a mother of two. My baby boy and the little girl inside of myself both needed tender loving care. And who would protect and care for these children? My adult self, of course!

I visualized the parents I would have wanted for myself, and made up my mind that I would be that father and mother. I stopped being a doormat. I stopped being a people-pleaser. I stopped worrying about the future. I took it one day at a time. Slowly, I began to make decisions which reflected strength and fearlessness.

Eventually I remarried. My husband treats me with love and respect, and we are learning the meaning of “yours, mine and ours.” He is the only daddy my son knows, and his two children, ages 6 and 8, who visit every other weekend, are my son’s older siblings. I spent quite a bit of time reading up on blended families, and continue to figure out one day at a time how to be a good stepmother. When my son was three years old, he became the proud big brother of twin sisters.

Although my life cannot be considered easy, I know that at night, when the children have finally been put to bed, I will be able to have a quiet talk with my life partner, who is also my best friend. Together, we can figure out solutions to almost anything.

I now realize that the difficulties which I endured have enabled me to see past the mundane chores of daily life, and to appreciate the monumental need to make my children feel secure in the knowledge of our love for them and our ability to provide for them physically and emotionally.

As my children step down from the school bus and run towards me, I gather them into my arms for a huge family hug. As I straighten up and shoo them into the house, I know that G‑d is holding me in His arms and guiding me as I attempt to fulfill my role as a nurturing mother.