3 Important Lessons Trauma Helps me Teach my Children

Loss is a huge part of the grief that I carry with my trauma. It has always been a part of my life, from the minute I was born. 

I became orphaned at a pretty young age. 

My mom died 18 days after my birth and I lost a grandma before I was really old enough to understand, but I knew full well what was going on when my uncle died of cancer when I was 13. 

When I was 15 my paternal grandfather committed suicide. At that point – I lost most of that side of my family as they threw blame around instead of accepting he was a monster. 

My dad and I became estranged when I was 14 for nearly eight years. When I was 21 we began communicating again, though tensely via email and phone. At this point we lived thousands of miles apart. 

When I was 25 he died suddenly of a hypertensive brain aneurism. 18 months prior, I buried my grandma Flo, the only adult in my life who did anything to protect me as a child. 

In addition to people, in the wake of all the abuse I endured, I lost my innocence and my sense of self. I lost any feelings of personal value or worth, I lost any sense of trust and safety. 

My life has been dripping with loss. 

It has been the cause of my biggest anxiety; leaving my children before they are ready to take on this world without me.

Learning who I am decades after the damage of my abuse has scarred over has been a hard road to travel. Understanding boundaries, processing emotions, finding confidence, and building a sense of worth – all things that were never developed in me as child, and ignored through dissociation as a young adult isn’t easy work.

All of this makes me so aware of my responsibility to my children. I understand more acutely how I can affect them as they move through their lives. I set the guidelines for the little voice in their head that either helps them or hinders them when life throws curve balls or they are feeling lost. 

I want that little voice to tell them they are amazing and to never doubt that. I never want my children to question my love or acceptance of them, as they are.

My hope, of all the lessons and experiences that I leave with them once I am gone is that my children learn these three things: 

Never compromise yourself, but please be compassionate. 

“We are all different. Don’t judge, understand instead.” -Roy T. Bennett

It took me 37 years to realize I had no idea how to be me, authentically and without apology. I have lived my life as a people pleaser, always putting my own needs and emotions to the side for others. For me it was about avoiding conflict and ensuring I was always demonstrating my worth. I have spent my life measuring myself against the opinions of others. 

Learning to put myself first, establish and express boundaries, and not feel guilt or shame about it has been difficult. I have been working on this for years, but I am figuring it out. The benefits are well worth the effort.

As the years pass, I hope my children learn from my struggles as well as my examples to be who they are and to live their true life. I want them to understand that their opinions matter, their voice matters, their feelings matter. I want them to know that no one can take any of that away from them. 

I also want them to understand that with this must come compassion; that not compromising themselves is reciprocal and that they should never take advantage of someone else, putting another person in a position of compromising who they are either. 

Feelings are okay, and they are important, but they are your responsibility to manage 

“Your emotions are the slaves to your thoughts, and you are the slave to your emotions.” -Elizabeth Gilbert

I spent most of my childhood not feeling anything. I was never taught to identify and express emotions, I was never taught to process them and accept how they feel. I never learned how to reflect on what I was feeling for greater self-awareness. 

Instead I was taught that emotions did not have a place in our household. I learned that my feelings, whatever they were, didn’t matter and it was up to me to handle them. At such a young age I didn’t know what to do with all of that so I mirrored the adults in my life and turned it all off. 

What ended up happening is that traumatized child became frozen in time and her inability to recognize and process emotions followed me into adulthood causing trauma outbursts and responses over and over again when circumstance became too much for me. 

I want my children to grown up understanding their emotions. I want to help them learn how to identify them, how to feel them, and how to recharge afterwards. I also want them to learn their own responsibility to their emotional responses. Not only will this better equip them to deal with life’s stressors, but it will also help them handle other people who haven’t learned their own emotional responsibility yet. 

Live Now, Be Intentional 

“It was about more fully inhabiting the life I have, not creating a new one.” – Patti Digh

My story is complex, my trauma is complex, so I know that give me a much different perspective of life, of connection, and of presence. I learned very early how to dissociate from my body and from my emotions. In doing that, I spent decades living with life happening around me, not to me. I have been going through the motions my whole life – it wasn’t until I began healing that connection to life started happening. It’s like electricity to the senses after years of numbness. 

If ever there is a lesson I want to resonate with my kids – it is the age old adage that life is short, don’t waste time! 

I hope I am able to really impress upon them how precious each moment with the people you love is. How each rainbow, every thunderstorm, and all the flowers that bloom in spring aren’t guaranteed or forever – life is ever-flowing and ever-changing. Moments truly are fleeting. Be intentional.

My dissociation cost me over 20 years of memories and experiences with family that I cut myself off from but who have always loved me dearly. I lost over 20 years of discovering myself and my passions in life as I went through the actions of what I believed was expected of me with no real connection. 

I hope my children never come close to feeling this disappointment and longing to turn back the clock like I do. I hope they understand that they have one life, nothing is guaranteed, it’s up to them to stay present, and make it count. 

It is hard to parent after a childhood of trauma. Parents say all the time that they learn so much from their children, for me that is an understatement. My kids teach me about childhood innocence and unconditional love every day. As a trauma survivor, trying to raise children while healing has been challenging. I am trying to teach them things I am barely figuring out myself. 

In many ways however, I am grateful for my perspectives and the challenges – I don’t take for granted my role as a parent. 

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