Since posting “The Violators,” I received requests for more discussion and links to information. I’ve been wondering how to paint the picture of struggle, anxiety, triggers, balance, resilience and joy that can exist for survivors who are parenting. I shared before that in 20 years of working with survivors of violence, so many of them moms, I didn’t really grasp it until I walked a mile in their shoes. Many miles later, and many, many to go, I am still learning.
Knowledge IS powerful, however. And, because I knew a couple of decades of stories from survivor moms, I knew a few things when “hard” began to hit me. These are among the biggest I’d want all survivor parents to know:
- I’m not alone. Many parents have walked this path before me, and many will after me. Knowing I am in courageous and resilient company is a great source of comfort
- Don’t go it alone. As stubborn as I am (and believe me, I am), I couldn’t pretend that I wasn’t shocked, disappointed in myself, and hurting. I needed support. I needed to clue in my spouse. I needed mentorship/guidance. I needed to trust my friends
- I can model making mistakes. I never imagined I’d be a screamer. I was committed to patient, non-violent parenting. When I heard the first scream, and then the 2nd, come from a mouth I wished wasn’t my own, I needed to learn how to be humble with my children. Saying sorry to a two-year old is tough. At five and six, I’ve had much more practice and I can confess that it does get easier
- I can forgive myself. I spent years talking to parents about forgiving themselves for making their share of mistakes: screams, broken promises and even the “spanking” they swore they would never dish out. It is pretty hard to forgive myself for my own imperfections, and I’m noticing that I’m not alone there either. We expect so very much from ourselves, and our own expectations can hurt us
The first time I remember being intensely triggered was when my then 2-year old son grabbed my neck from behind. It was an instant transport to feeling terror and dread, and it took me a minute to scope out that I was safe, and that this was my dear two-year old. Yesterday, my now 6 year-old jumped on me from behind and once again grabbed my neck. That familiar jolt of anxiety hasn’t left me, but after a few years of practice I am able to breathe first, check my fear, and gently ask him to respect my body and not do that again. Sure, his feelings are still hurt, and the truth is that I am still a bit disappointed that I cannot engage in certain activities with him, like wrestling. Yet, as I give myself permission to be imperfect and have limits, I strive for balance in other ways. I might wrestle, but cuddling will always be welcome, as will “tickle” Itsy-Bitsy Spider, swinging in circles, and even rolling down the hill, side by side.
Perhaps what has been hardest for me is accepting that because I am both survivor and mom, that is all I will ever know. I don’t know what kind of mom I “might have been,” and I’ve had to give up wishing I could. I will forever be a different mom because of what once was. As it turns out, a great proportion of us will. Yet, different doesn’t mean worse or less able. There may be some gifts you can bring because your life shaped you to become who you are. I think one of my finest gifts is the capacity for extreme playfulness with great joy. My spouse would likely call it being one of the kids; but when my kids call me “silly Mommy” I beam with joy and pride.
I may pass on a little more of a glimpse into my old trauma than I would wish, but if I can also pass on playfulness, silliness and joy, I have given them both a human mom, and some great skills to help them embrace their lives.