I am a scared new mom, standing in the bookstore aisle. I am looking for help, looking for answers. There are books on attachment parenting, parenting your anxious child, parenting your difficult child, and parenting without power struggles. We live in the information age. We are the most over-educated parent population in history. But the book I really needed–the book on how to be a parent when you are an abuse survivor–wasn’t there. And believe me, I looked. I looked because I desperately needed to know that I wasn’t alone in my struggles. And what I found was radio silence. Nothing.
As a survivor of childhood abuse, I know I am one of many. Current estimates are that one-third of our population experienced some kind of childhood trauma, from sexual abuse to domestic violence. And most of these traumatized children grow up without ever receiving any kind of treatment. Some, like me, end up in a counselors office once the effects start to interfere with any kind of normal life. But many do not. The long term effects of childhood trauma are just beginning to be understood now, but include a higher rate of mental illness, alcoholism and many physical diseases. What researchers know now is that childhood trauma literally changes the way our brains form, and that has implications for the rest of our lives.
So what happens when all of these children grow up and have kids of their own? I know from my own experience that parenting, which is already the hardest job in the world, becomes at times a landmine of what I call “trigger points.” Trigger points are those moments when you are suddenly transported back in time, and become once again that scared little child.
When my son was two, he entered a hitting phase. I was hanging out with the neighbours on a sunny day at one of our regular block parties with my son in my arms when he suddenly slapped me in the face. Horrified, I passed my son to a neighbour, and ran off to cry in private. I was terrified that I had given birth to a monster. Just another violent man like my dad. That’s a trigger point. And these moments, you never know when they are going to happen. It’s a form of post traumatic stress that you just learn to live with.
There is so little information for abuse survivors who become parents. We slog through these struggles feeling alone and isolated. That needs to change. We need to come together as a community of parent survivors and tell our stories. We need to ask each other for wisdom. Because we are the experts on this. We know what it is to try so hard to make sure our kids have a better childhood than we did. To make sure that they feel safe, even when we do not.
The first step to creating change is being willing to talk about what is not working. I am co-editing an anthology of abuse survivors experiences of parenting with fellow survivor Dawn Daum. I know there is a great deal of shame and fear that prevents people from talking about these issues. But I also know that the shame and fear stops us from healing. When we can talk about it openly, we can begin to move through it. When we start the conversation, suddenly we know that we are not alone.
If you are a parent who is a survivor of childhood abuse, please join our Facebook Community. And if you would like to contribute a piece of writing to our upcoming anthology, that would be even better. Together, we can break the silence. Together, we can break the cycle of abuse.
Joyelle Brandt is the author/illustrator of Princess Monsters from A to Z, and a mom of two rambunctious boys. Joyelle Brandt and Dawn Daum are Mama Survivors who are co-editing the upcoming anthology Trigger Points: Abuse Survivors Experiences of Parenting. Visit their Facebook page for more information, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.