Parenting as a Survivor
Parenting is a difficult journey to embark on. The exhaustion those first few months paired with the awe of this beautiful new person is life changing. There is frustration of a defiant toddler and the amazement of them stringing together sentences. Parents experience pride with their child’s independence in adolescence; they are growing up! But there is also the deep ache that as a parent you are no longer the first person your child seeks out for attention or guidance. Any and all of this can be a trigger to us parents. But what about survivors of child abuse?
Trauma in childhood can impact parents in ways that may be tough to understand. Avoidance, dissociation, stopping physical touch, having tough conversations, and outbursts can all impact a survivor’s parenting…especially if they have never confronted what happened to them.
Let’s say a female survivor of sexual abuse experienced molestation focused on her breasts. Physical touch to her upper body may be a trigger and excruciating to endure. For that mom, breastfeeding may not be an option. Now, plenty of moms do not breastfeed and their children grow and develop just fine. But for a mother who wanted to take that path and comes to find out it is not possible for her…it’s devastating.
Move past babyhood. Let’s get into terrible-twos. Children are developing their own personalities, asking questions, and testing limits. For a parent who was not with modeled healthy parenting behavior, a child screaming, spilling milk, or showing defiance may be a trigger. If that parent has never learned how to cope with triggers or manage their emotions they will often repeat the same chaos they were shown as children.
Deanna, a survivor of incest, shared a trigger she had no idea existed until it happened and how she manages parenthood as a survivor. “I was dancing in the kitchen with my son. A song came on that froze me. It was a song I associate with my abuser called, “Butterfly Kisses”. My son noticed I had stopped and told me, “Mommy dance, dance!” In the past, before therapy and before I became a mom, I would run out of rooms and slam doors at the onset of a trigger. I would yell at those around me to leave me alone. Going to therapy and learning coping skills and how to identify triggers, before I ever became a parent, was one of the best choices I could have ever made. I don’t want fun moments to turn into terror with my son. I don’t want a moment of discipline to turn into an overreaction on my part. I want to be a present parent, a healthy mom, and a partner my husband can rely on. So in the kitchen I grounded, picked up my son, and we danced on.”
So, what do we do? How do we support not only victims of childhood abuse but their journey into parenthood? Let’s start by normalizing asking for help and speaking with authenticity. Prepare yourself for conversations around coping, healing, and the tough aspects of raising children. Every person looks at the world through the lens of their own experience, learning to balance their past experiences with their journey as a parent. Changing a cycle from abusive to healthy is no easy task, but a task that will always be worth the effort.
FULL TRANSCRIPT (The following is the full transcript of this episode of The Be Seen and Heard Journey. Please note that this episode, like all BSH Journey episodes, features Victor speaking extemporaneously–he is unscripted and unedited.)
Hey, it’s Victor, welcome to another Be Seen and Heard© Journey. Thank you so much for being here today. Today is about how survivors of abuse that become parents still have to deal with and try to balance their parenting with any triggers that are associated with their abuse. And this week I am talking specifically about Deanna, who is an incredible presenter on the topic of sexual abuse awareness and prevention. She’s also an amazing mom and wife and she talks specifically about how when she was abused, the song that she associated with her abuse is the song, Butterfly Kisses that became her trigger. So every time after her abuse and throughout her whole childhood, when she would hear that song come on the radio or being played somewhere, she would immediately go back to that really terrible time, which happened to be more than one time.
It was an ongoing abuse. And through therapy, through talking about it, she’s been able to get to a place of, for lack of a better word, more comfort and more acceptance of it. But talking from my experience, you’re always triggered. It’s about dealing with it in the moment I feel. And so one day she was dancing with her son in the kitchen and that song came on and she stopped and her son was like, “Mommy, dance, come on mommy dance.” And in the past she said that she would have gotten really angry and probably would’ve left the room and now that she’s able to control it, she was able to stop, pause and then say to her, son, “Okay, let’s dance”, without her son having any clue. And so I think that’s the real key idea today. This week, the word balance is to know that triggers are going to come up and it’s what do you do about it?
And hopefully survivors of abuse have been able to talk about it. For me. Every time Christmas comes around, I pause sometimes and think about my abuse, because I was being abused the very day I remember on TV was the black and white movie of Scrooge. So I associate it with Christmas, but now I am living my life again through the eyes of my children. I’m enjoying Christmas again. Now do I pause and think about it? Sometimes I do, but then I just keep moving forward because I know I don’t have to live in that anymore. And I am living now present moment with my children and I think that’s the real power behind all of this. So I want to thank you for watching video or listening to the podcast, reading the blog. Please share this with your family and friends and let’s keep this going. Let’s keep it moving. Let’s keep it circulating, the ability to help kids Be Seen and Heard©. Thank you so much. Have a great day.