Guest Post by Frances Rae – Parenting With Trauma

19 Aug

by Frances Rae

In the five and a half years that she’s been alive, I’ve been saying that the older my daughter gets, the easier it is to parent her. She’s constantly developing more cognitive abilities to rationalize and socialize and become more independent. Aside from things like the fact that now she can fix herself a snack or a simple meal, dress herself, and play alone for short periods of time, we can also have much more calm and respectful conversations when we disagree on things like bedtime, how much candy to eat, how long we can stay at the park, etc.

Naturally, with her being five, we still encounter our share of unresolvable disagreements and strong emotions. Hell, I think those are fair things to expect from people of any age. But since she is five, she doesn’t have all the skills yet to deal with those things constructively, and my job as her parent is to help her learn those skills, both by modelling them and responding to her in healthy ways. As any parent does, I often struggle to remain calm during those moments and try my best to be compassionate and understanding.

The most difficult thing for me in those situations is how much my daughter’s response to anger and frustration and disappointment mirrors the behaviour of adults* with whom I have been in abusive relationships in the past. We were having a pleasant conversation and then suddenly they’re angry. Suddenly they’re screaming at me. Suddenly they’re throwing things at me and hitting me. Suddenly everything is my fault and I’m a bad person for allowing this to happen… to THEM.

(*adults she has never met, to be clear)

What I’m concerned with is how it can be not just difficult but actually retraumatizing for a parent who has experienced trauma and abuse to be in a position of having to care for and be responsible for a person who is not respecting your boundaries.

We have a rule in our house (which I personally think should be universal for people of all ages and relationships because it’s literally just basic consent) that you’re not allowed to touch someone without asking first, they’re always allowed to say no, and you have to stop when they say stop. When a child is having a tantrum, obviously any sense of rules and acceptable behaviour can fly out the window pretty quickly, and this is absolutely par for the course and entirely not their fault. Unfortunately, this often triggers flashbacks for me of times when the person acting that way was not a child who has yet to learn how to reign in their anger, but another adult whom I loved and wanted to please, who controlled my access to affection and stability, and also of whom I was afraid and from whom I wanted to escape. When an adult is abusive toward a romantic partner, often they are expressing the uncontrolled anger similar to a child having a tantrum, but are in the position of power similar to a parent.

It is so frightening to be the parent, where all of those vulnerabilities in another person are my responsibility, and feeling the memories of trauma telling me that I’m the one who is vulnerable in this moment. My mind is telling me I need to hide or leave, but I also need to ensure that my daughter is safe. This is another thing that eerily mirrors abusive partnerships: feeling like I am responsible for another person’s feelings and having to be the one to take care of them, cater to them and tiptoe around them until I’m sure they’re calm again.

I’m definitely not saying my daughter is abusive. She’s five, and acts like every five year old I’ve ever encountered, including the five year old I remember being. Tantrums are never easy, but as she’s gotten older they’ve gotten more difficult for me because I feel like I should have found a way by now to have taught her better or reason them out of her, much like I always felt I should have learned better how to not trigger my partners’ anger in ways that made them lash out at me.

I don’t have any answers yet, and I don’t know if I ever will. I just try to keep reminding myself that it’s not my fault. I’m not a bad parent, just like I wasn’t a bad partner. My daughter will grow up and learn at her own pace how to deal with big emotions. I also try to remind myself that she feels comfortable expressing her anger at me because she knows I am a safe and stable part of her life. I’m glad she’s not afraid of me and she knows I will love her no matter how she treats me at any given moment.

I also just wanted to acknowledge out loud that this is a real thing, a difficult thing, and a thing it seems to be pretty hard to find anyone talking about. I tried to find resources for parents dealing with trauma, but everything I came across was for parenting a child who has experienced trauma. I want to remind myself that I am important, too. Saying something like “parenting is kind of like being in an abusive relationship” is probably not a super popular sentiment, but it’s undeniable that parenting is a relationship, and relationships are about more than one person. I’m here, too.

Anatomical - heart - 1700's

Anatomical – heart – 1700’s

19 Responses to “Guest Post by Frances Rae – Parenting With Trauma”

  1. Everyday Voices August 19, 2015 at 1:46 am #

    This is a fantastic post. And I totally agree – regardless of trauma experience on the part of the parent – there needs to be physical boundaries between kids, adults and everyone that comes through the home early on.

  2. Everyday Voices August 19, 2015 at 1:54 am #

    Reblogged this on Everyday Voices and commented:
    I love this post. Though my blog is not a parenting blog, I sometimes touch on subjects that coincide with parenting.

    I am a great proponent of physical boundaries between children, adults, family members, friends, acquaintances and it has to be taught by parents. I have been chided for not encouraging excessive physical or rough play with my children just because children don’t have the tools to know appropriate physical boundaries and it can easily get out of hand and someone could get hurt.

  3. Shawna August 19, 2015 at 2:18 am #

    What a well thought out and written post, on a subject I have never heard or seen raised before. No one talks about the struggle of the parent whom has been a victim, and it definately needs to be talked about! Bravo! And thank you for an eye opening experience! I wish you strength in your struggle ❤

  4. Eric Odegard August 19, 2015 at 2:22 am #

    Incredible insight to the ways of human conflict. I really like the no-touching rule.

  5. perspectiveontrauma1 August 19, 2015 at 4:25 am #

    You have named a very real struggle. In terms of resources there is a wonderful resource known as Circle of Security. You will find the information at http://circleofsecurityinternational. I really appreciate that you name the struggle (that often goes unnamed). Circle of Security is relationship based support for parent and child. I hope you will take and look and will like what you find.

  6. words4weaving August 19, 2015 at 6:50 am #

    This has been a compelling read for me. Thank you.

  7. Megan Crichton August 19, 2015 at 10:57 am #

    Thank you so much for articulating what has been freaking me out this summer. I’ve been teaching my toddler consent about touching, but even though I’ve thought “you’re acting just like your daddy, damn it,” never followed through to “and that’s why the anxieties are hyperactive…oh. Ohhh.”
    Also for telling me it gets better.

  8. smfleegal August 19, 2015 at 1:17 pm #

    Thank you so much for this post. I’ve been kicking around an idea for a post about how disciplining my toddler is triggering me–such a delicate topic and one that, no, you don’t see discussed much. I’m going to write my post, now that I’ve read yours. And for what it’s worth, here is one I did on toddler vs. adult temper tantrums: Thanks again.

  9. Karen Lanser August 19, 2015 at 2:02 pm #

    Excellent post! Such an important conversation!! Just wanted to suggest EMDR as a phenomenal way for people to process the prior abuse experiences so that our children’s emotions do not trigger old traumas and memories. One of the best gifts we can give our children is a parent who can recall old patterns of abuse instead of re-living them as we raise our children. Thank you for bringing this to our collective consciousness!

  10. gigoid August 19, 2015 at 3:31 pm #

    Nicely done… As a parent of kids now in their 30’s, I can tell you we can never be sure we’ve found the right answers, and must trust what we’ve done will be for the best… All we can do is all we can do; from there it is up to them. I figure I did something right, as they both still speak to me, and, moreover, still listen to me…

    You are right about the key; if they know you love them, it will all work out for the best…


  11. originaltitle August 19, 2015 at 5:07 pm #

    Great post. I have read that this can happen and am trying to prepare myself for it. My daughter is only six months do but I’m already reading up on how to deal with tantrums. I know well that you can’t totally prepare, but I figure knowledge is power. This post helps explain the reality. Thank you so much for sharing your journey and struggles. It sounds like you’re doing a fantastic job managing and that your daughter is growing and learning each day. Way to go! Setting boundaries is so key, what great lessons you’re teaching her. Thanks for sharing.

  12. jamuherbalginjal August 20, 2015 at 12:20 am #

    nice post

  13. SeriousRachel August 20, 2015 at 4:25 pm #

    Blown away…thank you for bringing up this often unexplored aspect of parenting. Saving this post to revisit again and again. Thank you.

  14. A Silent Woods August 20, 2015 at 10:31 pm #

    Thank you so much for this. As a mother of two teenage girls who is recovering from an emotionally abusive partner you don’t know how much I needed this.

    I didn’t know how much I needed this.

  15. A Silent Woods August 20, 2015 at 10:36 pm #

    Reblogged this on A Silent Woods.

  16. Corrie Gardner August 21, 2015 at 10:04 pm #

    Oh my gosh, wow. This is outstanding. Thank you for sharing!

  17. Lane August 26, 2015 at 1:22 pm #

    This is an incredible post. You’re so insightful and honest about this issue. Thanks for bringing it up. I also think it’s great that you recognize what she is and isn’t capable of controlling at this stage. Too many parents I’ve known don’t get that.

    If you don’t mind me jumping into advice mode, I also have a suggestion for future triggering tantrums. I work in special ed, and a few students do have severe aggressive tantrums that they can’t control, and are capable of injuring themselves and others. I’ve received training to deal with them. Step one; designate a cool-down area. It’s an area with no objects or furniture with hard edges. It does have to be an area they can’t easily elope from, but it doesn’t have to be a room. Often we prefer a corner of the room because that is less stigmatizing than removing them completely. Step two; if a tantrum starts escalating, the child is told to go that space. If they comply, all is well. Step three; if the tantrum continues to escalate AND they refuse to go to the cool down area, it is permitted to physically take them there. I go through extensive training to learn how to do this in the least restrictive and most safe way possible. Since your daughter is so small and neurotypical, it will probably be pretty easy to carry her once or twice if necessary, without risk of hurting her, after which she will learn to go there herself. Step four; wait until they are calm enough to come out.

    This way you protect both her and yourself. I also think it’s important for her to learn that, while the no touching without permission rule is important, it is also permissible to defend yourself, physically, if somebody else is touching you without your consent. You want her to feel like it’s okay to take safe and responsible action if somebody is violating her boundaries, whatever the reason.

    Best of luck to you! You sound like a great Mom.

  18. aasthanarula August 30, 2015 at 4:06 pm #

    I loved the way you have honestly put down your feelings into the words and i can very well conclude that you are an incredible mom and your daughter will be proud of you.

  19. mamanightsong September 6, 2015 at 11:06 pm #

    Reblogged this on Nightsong's Nebulous Narrative and commented:

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