The “Violators”


Welcome to my new SuperHero family, “The Violators.”  This weekend, my wife I were trying desperately to have an uninterrupted 4-sentence conversation “Mommy, Momma, you did what, you said what, what are you talking about?”  In that moment, we decided, kids are big, bodacious boundary violators.

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You know what I mean.  When’s the last time you were able to pee freely, by yourself? When was the last time you took an uninterrupted shower?  This morning a green balloon found its way into mine.  No, not kidding.

“Please don’t tug at my clothes.”  “Please don’t draw on my arm with your popsicle.”

Then there’s conversation with other adults.  Perhaps the adult siblings are in town for the first time in a year.  As we sit down to talk, “Sage, my clothes are NOT a napkin.  No, really, you’re five, go grab a napkin.” “Noah, what makes you think any part of me wants your fingers in my nose.”

From the playful (plastic bugs put in our sheets gloriously discovered at bedtime) to the frustrating and triggering (Noah, you need to get your hands OFF MY NECK), “the Violators” are everywhere, all the time.

I surrender.  Mercy. Seriously, it is a bona fide super-power.

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It is playful and funny and awkward and normal.  Yet, let’s face it, it’s crazy-making:  something has to give or I’ll lose my mind.  Crazy-making.  Usually, that’s my cue to go for a run.

In my other hat, I work with survivors of interpersonal violence. Having kids has brought me in touch with just how difficult it is to parent when you have your own history of abuse or trauma to juggle.  As much as I knew, I still felt lonely and ashamed as I discovered my trigger spots.

Parenting brings out the best of us, and those of us who are honest also know it can bring out the very worst.  If you have an unresolved issue at all (and we all do), the children will find it.  If your issues surround trauma, the normal bumps of parenting might be joined by feeling inadequate, ashamed, and/or anxious about how your own history impacts your ability to be the parent you want to be.

When’s the last time you heard your own mother come screaming out of your own mouth?  Sometimes, it’s playful and ironic.  Sometimes, it can horrify and terrify us.  Both are normal.  But it doesn’t feel good.

There are some great experts out there who are giving a compassionate and educated voice to how difficult it is to be both survivor and parent:  Kay Saakvitne and Patricia Wilcox.  There are a couple of messages they send pretty strongly to the professional social service world that are worth reiterating for those of us who struggle at times but may not share that forum.

Getting triggered by your kids is normal.  They will test and violate your boundaries 100 times a day.  It’s their job, but that doesn’t mean it feels good.  You have reasons to be triggered, frustrated, anxious, and it’s normal.  If you need help, compassionate and skilled support exists.  Your history doesn’t have to decide your ability to be the parent you want to be.  Be compassionate with yourself and forgive your mistakes.  Kids are amazingly resilient.  With honesty, parents who take responsiblity, and safety, they’ll be okay.

6 comments on “The “Violators””

  1. Thank you for this helpful post! Can you please provide links to specific works by Kay Saakvitne and Patricia Wilcox, whom you said provide a compassionate and educated voice to how difficult it is to be both survivor and parent. Thank you.

    1. Click to access parentmanual1.pdf

      This is a link to a parent handbook that Kay created with significant survivor input. She has gloriously announced her desire to have it reproduced and shared at will. Enjoy! I have also received a few requests to continue periodically talking about this theme, so please let me know if there are any topics you would like to see discussed or explored! Thanks so much!

  2. I love the combination of confession and compassion you bring to this issue. It was very upsetting to realize my kids were pushing buttons and opening old wounds, and also to discover I lacked certain tools they needed because my parents didn’t provide them to me! Therapy helped, but your ability to show people it’s ok to feel that way is an important first step. Thank you, Sharlene!

  3. Amen! This is great! I can totally relate to the behaviors that are triggers. Everyone has them I’m sure, even if they aren’t survivors of trauma. I didn’t realize I was going to have them and then one day I snapped. Glad I was able to recognize it and take breaths and walk away…far away. Thanks for the message of normalcy.

  4. I really identified with this post. Although I’m not a survivor of trauma, I am what they call “highly sensitive.” I get overwhelmed when my personal space gets repeatedly intruded upon by my two year old. Hugs and leg clinging don’t bother me. But when she starts climbing all over me and doing things to my head and face, I freak out a little bit. Fortunately, she doesn’t seem to take it personally. She just stares at me like, “hmm, that was interesting.” Perhaps she’ll be a psychologist when she grows up.

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