I do a lot of reading. Articles, books, quotes, social posts from others, memes, online magazines – you name it I read it. I also share the majority of information that I read in some way or another. Whether directly or through a story that is prompted, sharing is what I do.
When I am reading about the manifestations of trauma, I normally have a conflicting conversation of resonance going on in my head. I relate as the wounded child … I also relate as the wounding parent.
It is a hard line for me to balance when self-doubt echoes in my head a lot and I’ve grown up believing very little in my own worth as a person, let alone a parent.
So I saw meme the other day that split me right down the center and I thought it would be a great place to begin an honest conversation about parenting after trauma and the effects on our children.
Before I get started I want to make it unequivocally clear that we parents are not at fault for the effects of our trauma, but we are responsible for managing them. Realizations aren’t meant to bring guilt – they are meant to provide guidance.
Real Talk about the Wounded Child vs. The Wounding Parent
I know I am not the only parent feeling this stuff, thinking this stuff, or trying to reconciled this stuff.
Nowadays, trauma is constantly captured in soundbites on memes and in hashtags. If only it were that simple. As I struggle through what feels like a hostile and angry estrangement from my adult son and I reflect on his communications with me before the big blow out – I am conflicted.
A part of me is screaming to be understood for the things outside of my control and the pain that I carry from my childhood.
A part of me realizes the things I have done (unintentionally) to hurt my own child because of my childhood. That is my responsibility.
I feel like the first step in fixing this is to own up to it. So let’s talk about that.
I read a meme the other day that listed 10 ways trauma manifests. As the wounded child, I related to all 10. As the wounding parent, I related to five (though my son may disagree).
It is those five that I want to talk about today.
#1 Having a Parent That Molds or Shapes You From a Place of Their Own Trauma
The Wounded Child: my mother died when I was born and my father came from a family that had many dark secrets. It is quite clear as I mature and gain more understanding of trauma that my father had a traumatic childhood and I was raised through that. Emotionless, silent, obedient. His father was an abuser and a predator, but it was an accepted part of his life – so he allowed his father to abuse me too.
The Wounding Parent: my oldest child grew up quiet and in a controlled environment. He had strict routines, activities, and chores. He had the stability and structure that I never had, in a near militant style, but without the authority. He had a mother that loved him with every ounce of her being, but who never showed emotion, who never talked about emotion, and who never taught him how to process emotions. Because I grew up isolated with family secrets, I raised my son in an isolated bubble to protect him from harm.
#2 Lack of Boundaries
The Wounded Child: with my father it was all or nothing. Either he was happy and engaged with me, angry and ignoring me, or involved in his own stuff and oblivious to me. I was a latch-key kid by age 10, staying home alone overnight without supervision while he worked 3rd shift. I didn’t receive the structure or stability that was necessary for proper development.
The Wounding Parent: sadly I did similar things with my own child. By age 10 he came home from school to an empty house until I got home from work. I was not structured with his school work, I often gave in so he wouldn’t be angry with me, and in general my developmental trauma hindered my ability to interact with him in the parent/child roles appropriately. This is one of our biggest challenges right now as I learn boundaries and disrupt everything he has ever known regarding our interactions.
#3 Having a Parent Who Overcompensates for Things Lacking in Their Own Childhood
The Wounded Child: this one I experienced later in my childhood, not from my father. The 3rd person to hold guardianship of me did this. She is my sister’s mom and I moved in with her at age 16. Dripping with her own childhood traumas, she was ill prepared for the baggage I arrived with. She knew I was doing drugs and skipping school but did nothing. Instead she shared stories, and joined in on some of my parties with friends. I enjoyed it at the time, now I feel resentful knowing what I really needed.
The Wounding Parent: I wanted to make sure my son knew he was loved, I was smothering. I refused to let family hurt him like they hurt me so I isolated him. I was intentional about not changing anything so that he didn’t experience the broken timeline like I had and in doing so I did not properly prepare him for adversity, and for the changes that naturally happen in life. I signed him up for activities he didn’t want to do and pushed my idea of what a “normal” life was like on him within the parameters of my own upbringing.
#4 Being an Emotional Support for Your Parents
The Wounded Child: my father didn’t express emotions, but I do remember a few times being involved in the feud between him and his sister when I shouldn’t have known about it at all. I remember begging him not to be so angry with her in case he got in trouble and went to jail. My grandmother probably shared more with me than she should have when I lived with her but my sister’s mom however treated me like a friend. I grew up around adults, thinking and acting like them.
The Wounding Parent: I am very proud of how I handled the 16 years between when my son’s dad and I divorced and when he turned 18. I never spoke badly of my ex husband, not once. Though I was often the target of his angry need to compete. I did, however, rely heavily on my child as the one person in the world to love me unconditionally and I know he grew up feeling that pressure. I was never very emotional during his childhood, but in the early stages of my healing, I am quite certain I have shared too much (trying to show I understood his pain) making him feel like my pain/healing is more important than his. (see lack of boundaries)
#5 Having a Parent Who Cannot Regulate Their Own Emotions
The Wounded Child: my father was all or nothing when it came to interacting with me; overall he was unemotional and not very affectionate. When I got in trouble he always went all out: once he locked me out, once he destroyed my room, I remember eating dinner on the toilet, but mainly he completely ignored me. When I was young I used to throw myself down the stairs in our townhouse trying to get his attention.
The Wounding Parent: I too raised my son from an early age with little exposure or understanding of emotions. I spent over 20 years emotionally dissociated from myself and the childhood I survived. Discipline was hard for me (see boundaries) so in order to follow through I needed to be angry. My oldest spent the first part of his life seeing me practically emotionless, unless angry – and now as I heal and release, he and my youngest now experience my episodes of stupid rage.
Our personal responsibility to regulating our emotions is a lesson that take a life-time to learn, my own shortcomings affected my son during some of his most formative years of learning.
Guidance vs. Guilt
It’s hard not to feel guilty as I write all of that out. My number one goal in life was to protect my son from the harm done to me. Instead, I realize 20 years later, I didn’t catch the cycle fast enough. Being raised by a parent suffering from an untreated mental injury from the trauma of childhood sexual abuse is traumatic in and of itself.
My child has his own challenges with mental health, and a soul full of anger and hurt. I didn’t do a good job building his confidence, his worth , or his interpersonal skills. It’s a hard pill to swallow.
I want nothing more than to help him, but I question how capable I am in the midst of my own struggles. He is not someone to practice on, though sadly this is how healing plays out.
This is where that pivotal moment happens when we as parents can turn our guilt into guidance. We cannot change the past. I can’t change how I was raised, how I was abused, or how that affected my parenting as I raised my own child – but I can learn from it.
I was the best parent I knew how to be as I raised my son, but I can see that I didn’t get it all right. I take responsibility for that, but I refuse to punish myself for it because I can be the parent he needs now.
It is never too late to show up for our children. That is what I strive for. A better understanding of myself, a more trauma informed approach to mental health, and thus a better connection with my kids.
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