Trauma Parenting

So – I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, because I recognize that the journey that my wife and I took to become parents was convoluted and emotionally trying at times.  But man…momming is HARD!  Who’s with me?  We are filled with joy that we’ve been able to create a family with our person – but at the same time, there are these tiny people running around that don’t really know how to take care of themselves – but they don’t have time for that kind of negativity.


I have an 11-year-old who believes that she’s already an adult.  I know that some of that is preteen/teenager/trying to figure out who you are/what’s going on/what your place is in the world.  But sometimes, I just want to tell her to go clean her room and not have it be the start of World War 72.

I am not the person that believes that I know everything.  I certainly have plenty of flaws.  In my brain, I strive for perfection – but rationally, I know that’s completely unattainable.

So – I have this issue.  I’ve never been a really big therapy person.  I have supported it for other people and will continue to do so, but for me, it has been very much a process of getting to a place where I can talk openly with someone who is not one of my best friends.  They have known me for more than half of my life.  They are the people that I can talk to who will call me out on my crap but will also lift me up when I’m feeling really down.

That said, I know that therapists are trained to look beyond the emotional parts of things and will help us dig into the whys of why we do the things that we do.  Perhaps there is a little part of me that hasn’t wanted to deal with the whys, but I will do anything for my family.  As such, I have participated in various family-based therapy models.  In that, I have, on some level, started to acknowledge the trauma that I have from my own childhood – and what that means for me as an adult, a partner, and a parent.

And then I get to this space where I have these four kids whose care I have, along with my wife, been entrusted with.

Wait – let me back up.  Maybe we haven’t met and chatted about our families, connected on social media or you haven’t read any pieces I have submitted previously.  Here’s the short version of our story (if there is one):  My wife and I adopted a sibling set of four in 2020.  We had done foster care for the older three for three and a half years.  We knew, based on the history that they had with their biological family and the things that we found out during the course of foster care before adoption, there would be a lot of hurdles our kids would have to face.

What I’m finding out is that sometimes, at the crossroad between my trauma and theirs, lie explosive events.  In theory, one would think, “Well Audra – you’re the adult, so you need to rise above and figure out a different way to manage yourself and the situation at hand”.  The reality is that for me, certain triggers that I have get in the way of me making a decision that someone else might make.  I’m trying to be gracious with myself as I move forward in this life as a parent, and try not to compare myself to others.

Certainly, people from the outside could look in and very easily say that there are things that I could have done better, or differently.  However, unless you have walked my journey, you cannot say with any accuracy what the best choice would have been for me.

That said, I think that there are many of us out here doing the parenting thing who have experiences and think “Ooh, that was the wrong  move” or “Hm – maybe next time, because this wasn’t our greatest work”.

The thing that I continue to think about is – does it come across that my trauma is more important or more impactful than theirs?  Furthermore, should I be able to or work toward a time or space where I can put my trauma to the side in deference to their trauma?  Or can I find a way to address/honor both experiences at the same time?

I don’t know that I fully, as a human being with imperfections, am capable of disregarding the pieces of me that are informed by my trauma.  Specifically – I saw a lot of disrespect in my growing up life.  My father was an alcoholic, and I remember thinking when I was a younger that he wasn’t a great guy.  He didn’t take care of his kids the way he was supposed to, and he should have been a better husband.  However, as an adult, I can look back and see that his trauma – he lost his parents by the age of 5, so he and his sister moved to live with an aunt; she died roughly a year after they moved in.  Her husband refused to continue to care for them because they weren’t blood relations, so he sent them to live with their oldest sister.  19 and newly married, adding her siblings to the household created a poverty situation.  His lack of positive coping strategies led him to try drowning his trauma with alcohol.  He also didn’t have any positive examples of how to behave in a marriage.

I think he tried his best.  Unfortunately, the best that he tried to give wasn’t good enough for being married faithful and being a responsible parent.  It’s been over 20 years since he left this earth, and I wish to this day that I’d had a different experience with him.

His decisions had a really negative impact on both my brother and I.  I won’t speak for my brother, but I’m pretty certain that his connection with our dad wasn’t flowers and sunshine for him either.

I witnessed a lot of disrespect – and so for me, that’s a trigger.  When my children are disrespectful – which I know is a normal part of development – it’s a problem for me.  I react negatively to it.  I’m trying to get better at it, but you know – human.  It will take time.

The other piece is that because I react so negatively to it, that triggers them.  They’re kids, they make mistakes, they make choices, there are consequences – I acknowledge all of that.  I need to figure out how to consistently put space between the incident and the reaction.

My dad was a yeller.  I don’t know that his intention was to come off aggressively, but it’s hard to not be viewed that way when you are a 6’2” broad shouldered man, living through a time where being an “angry black man” was not the best thing.  He leaned into it though, because his end game was to protect himself and get people to leave him alone.  And it worked.

I feel like I picked up on that, and I really wish I hadn’t.  On the flip side, my mother, when angry, would shut down.  She just wouldn’t talk.  Living with these two extremes was its own kind of chaos.  As a result, I tend to live in the extremes.  Some of that might be organic and just my personality.  Some of it might be because of what was modeled to me in my younger years.  Either way, it has been difficult to try to navigate myself into a more neutral middle ground.  I don’t know that I’ll ever be fully successful, but as long as I acknowledge it, I can work on it.

The issue is that it’s usually one or the other with me – and you never really know which one you’re going to get.  The challenge then is how to address who I am in a way that is less negatively impactful on my children.  And is it 100% on me – or is some of it shifted off because in growing up, and in the lessons that my wife and I try to teach our children, a small percentage is on them, as we try to help them learn and grow and be better humans?

There is an extra piece.  In their time with some of their biological family, there was a lot of neglect and they did have significant exposure to illegal substances that impacted their development.  Two of my children have been diagnosed with both ADHD and autism, and while that could happen without the exposure piece – it is certainly relevant in our story.  There is also anxiety, oppositional defiance disorder (ODD) and other hurdles that make meeting milestones a bit more difficult for them.

When we find ourselves in a place where we need to investigate the reasons why they did something – I’m also confronted with the knowledge that sometimes the chronological, emotional, and developmental ages of my children don’t always line up.  Do I teach them at their chronological age and just expect that as we keep reinforcing things, they will eventually be able to retain it?  Or should the pause that I take when thinking about their development issues shift my thinking about what is realistically attainable?

Yeah.  Trauma parenting at its finest.


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