How to become a parent ally after a traumatic childhood

Becoming a Parent Ally after a traumatic childhood

We are so grateful to Rebecca C for sharing her story here with us. It comes with a trigger warning, descriptions of childhood trauma. Love and courage to you as you read her story. 

The first time I remember disassociating from abuse I was eight years old.  I vividly remember where my brain took me, to a play kitchen I had had many years earlier. I played there in my mind until my mother stopped beating me.

We had recently moved into a low-income housing development and my mother and her friends were partying at a neighbour’s apartment.  All of the children of the party goers were watching a movie at another neighbour’s apartment, unsupervised. I was a sleepwalker. That night, in my sleep, I walked out of that apartment and roamed around the neighbourhood.  I ended up on the porch of a neighbour that my mother did not get along with. When this neighbour found my mother and told her I was at her house, my mother was livid. She dragged me home and beat me very badly.  For many years I blamed myself. She told me that I had gone to the “nosiest” neighbour’s house that night to be a trouble maker, to make her life difficult.  She still to this day defends her actions and blames me.

I was the middle child of three, to very young parents.   My father was an alcoholic and spent most of his evenings at the bar.  Unhappy with her marriage, my mother met a man and cheated on my father with him.  Although my father had quit drinking and starting attending AA, their marriage had become violent and volatile and she left him abruptly when I was four.  I remember that day, my mother stuffing as much of our belongings as she could into garbage bags.

We spent my elementary school years moving from place to place, sometimes living with my maternal grandmother.  I attended 8 different elementary schools. I was always the new kid but I was positive and friendly and very outgoing.  I remember being happy and silly and made friends easily. My mother had begun drinking heavily and experimenting with whatever drugs she came into contact with.  My parents had an ugly divorce and she felt that we were a burden to her. She wanted to party, to have a life beyond the one she created with my father. I remember her saying “why would any man want me with three kids?”  

She particularly had a problem with me.  I was “hyperactive” and “mouthy” and I was often angry to not be with my father anymore. I rejected her new boyfriend.  She hit me a lot. A few years ago she told a friend of mine “I hit Becky more than any of my kids”, because I was the most difficult.

On Mother’s Day weekend in my tenth year my mother went out on a Friday night and didn’t return home for days.  I had cleaned our apartment as a gift to surprise her and waited and waited. My younger brother and I rattled around the apartment, unsupervised. I found out as an adult that my mother had gone on a crack binge. A playmate of mine told her mother that we were home alone and she called my step-mother,  who called the police. My father tells me that when the police came to our home, my brother and I hid in a closet so they wouldn’t take us from our mother. Shortly after, my father gained custody of my brother and I.  My older sister had already gone to live with him to escape my mother’s abuse. When my father came to take me to his house I pleaded with my mother not to send me. I cried so hard I had trouble breathing. I loved her no matter what she did to me and I didn’t want to lose her.  She took no mercy on me. She yelled at me for crying and being dramatic and stuffed all of my things into garbage bags.

At the custody hearing, she told the judge, “He can have them, I don’t want them.” Shortly after moving in with my father, step-mother and 3 new siblings, my mother moved 600 miles away to be with the man she cheated on my father with. I was heartbroken. I wrote her letters nearly every day and begged her to come back.  I ended up living with a very mentally and sometimes physically abusive step-mother until my senior year of high school. In spite of this, our home was financially stable and my father worked hard to provide for his six children. They were overwhelmed and my step-mother was angry and resentful that she had to care for three more children on top of the three she already have, while my mother partied and enjoyed life.  I had become a burden, once again.

By some stroke of luck, I had two very wonderful grandparents, my paternal grandfather and my maternal grandmother.  I spend most weekends with my grandma, Lucille. She ADORED me. She was nurturing and understanding and she loved and cared for me like it was a pleasure to do so.  I spent most weekends at her home, until I was in high school. She always welcomed me into her home, her heart and her life. Whenever I was sick, my mother would take me to my grandma’s house and she would gladly nurse me back to health.  My paternal grandfather was my emotional rock. He egged me on to live my best life, to finish school and go to college, to join sports and make good decisions. When it came time for me to think about whether I wanted children or not, I knew that their influence in my life would help me be a good mother.  I didn’t know until I met my current husband that I desired children. I had thought about it but hadn’t met anyone that I felt I could start a family with.

Before my husband and I decided to try and have children I met a wonderful woman who had raised two boys in the “attachment parenting” way.  She co-slept with them, homeschooled them and was just very respectful and wonderful with children. I felt confident that I could learn to be a good mother with her on my side.  

My evolution into a Parent Ally began slowly, from learning about attachment parenting while pregnant to researching a montessori style/child friendly home to now learning about conscious discipline and enrolling my children in a self-directed learning center that has opened up close to our home. During my pregnancy I read the book “Happiest Baby on the Block” and that helped me understand more about attachment parenting.  

Harvey Karp Quote Parent Allies

And books by Peter Gray and John Holt have inspired our unschooling journey. Recently I have been learning about conscious discipline from Becky Bailey and her book “Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline”. Some mantras I consistently use when we are having a challenging time are: “They are HAVING a hard time, not GIVING ME a hard time” “Be a thermostat, not a thermometer”  and “Whatever we focus on, we get more of”.

This evolving journey has been wonderful and difficult at the same time.  Wonderful because as I learn about respectful parenting, conscious discipline and self-directed learning I feel my relationships with my children and my husband get so much stronger.  At the same time it is has caused resentment and anger towards my parents, especially my mother, as I am saddened about my childhood and frustrated at my parents for being so “unconscious” about their children as individuals. 

The road to becoming the mother I am today hasn’t been easy. It’s involved years of counselling and therapy.  I have also recognized that I need medication for depression, PTSD and generalized anxiety disorder to be the person I strive to be.  It took me a long time to be ok with having to take medicine to feel mentally healthy. I had this idea that I could overcome my trauma from my childhood by sheer will and education and I was very wrong. Trauma changes our brains and “wires” us to respond in ways that sometimes we cannot control consciously. No matter how conscious I was of my behavior and my anxiety I could not control it without the help of antidepressants.

And I’m no perfect parent, there’s been bumps along the way. I used reward charts for a while, not knowing any better. And I find it challenging when I have to defend myself to others because they believe children should be controlled, schooled in the conventional way and punished as a way to discipline.

But watching my children blossom because their individuality is respected, because their passions are supported and because our love for them is so up front and apparent that they never have to question it makes it so worth it.

I know there are lots of parents out there who wonder if they will ever be able to parent authentically from a place of empathy. Adults who have had traumatic childhoods, who feel they’ll never get over their rewiring. To you I want to say get counseling if you need it, don’t feel shame about needing medication or therapy or support from others. You can work through your baggage from your childhood and learn to love and respect yourself so you can love and respect others.

1 Comment

  • Kate Lili blog December 5, 2018 at 1:25 pm

    Congratulations, the buck stops with you. Your children will not have to carry over your trauma to their children. Such an achievement and something I aspire to myself as a mum. Thanks for writing this post.


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