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 triggerpointsanthology@gmail.com.

Joyelle Brandt
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  1. Alison Tedford

    Thanks so much for writing about this, it’s so helpful to feel like other people have similar experiences because abuse in itself can be so isolating. I am in the same boat as you and it’s really hard. Also, I started my career working with residential school survivors and the effects of inter generational trauma so I’ve seen it from a professional perspective too. I can’t wait to read your anthology.

    • Alison, you are doing amazing work and I am sure that your personal understanding of surviving abuse helps you to have empathy for those survivors you work with.

  2. Thank you for sharing your story. As a social worker, I see countless cycles of repetitive abuse(physical, mental and emotional). Almost half of the parents who have abused their children, have survived some form of childhood abuse. I commend you for consciously making an effort to break the cycle!

    • Hi Raquelle,
      I know that the cycle of abuse continues on throughout the generations unless someone educates themselves about this. I hope that the more we have this conversation, the more people will see that they can stop the cycle.

  3. It’s so true that no one is talking about this. When your child is born you are simply thrown into parenthood in a sink-or-swim mode and you have to deal. You have to push away the memories and resist the triggers with double strength because now you have a baby to take care of, you can’t just lock yourself in your bedroom for a weekend and recover. And to the shame and guilt and fragility you fee inside a new feeling is added: the fear that you may lose your child, if you are honest about the damage that has been done to you. What if “they” tell you you are unfit to mother? What if people start telling you you may be dangerous?
    The work you are doing is really important.
    Thank you Joyelle.

    • Hi Marta,

      I think the fear of losing our kids is one of the big reasons more people don’t talk about this. In a world where you can have social services called for letting your kid play out in the street, people are justifiably afraid to show any weakness. We have created an option for people to write for the anthology anonymously, in the hopes that it will encourage more people to feel free to talk about this.

  4. Thank you for writing this and for the Trigger Points anthology. Honestly, just that feeling of scanning the bookstore looking for SOMETHING and assuming there must be something and finding NOTHING. Thank you.

    This will and is changing but we ain’t there yet but I’m so glad to be in a time to see this change and feel and experience it so it will become easier and easier to break the cycle and to feel less isolating WHILE doing so.

    Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!! I’m such a big fan.

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