Dear my sweet little girl,
I worry that at times you are feeling the brunt of my childhood trauma, because you have now become my teacher; your love and existence my lessons. Is that normal for every parent? I don’t know, and that in itself is part of what is most terrifying to me about being your mom. I know nothing about normalcy. I just want to give you a “normal” childhood; one where opportunities to express your potential are plentiful, except I’m not sure what that looks like. I’m winging it, baby.
Just as you are learning norms, so am I. When I see the wheels in your head spinning, racing to make sense of a moment; that is often how I feel when it comes to being a “good” mom. I can’t ask myself “What would my mother/father do or say” because my mom and dad weren’t around. The people that raised me in their absence offered only lessons on what I shouldn’t do; I have the scars to prove it.
I worry that my presence and behaviors blindly feed you confusion. How can your mother be so tender at times and yet so distant and cold other times? Why is she ok with snuggling one minute and then the next time you wrap your arms around her, she refuses you and walks away? Your requests for me to just sit with you can be the most challenging moments for me. To sit still and simply embrace unconditional love requires me to be vulnerable. I’m just now learning how to do that.
There’s a reason for all that, baby. I know you sense the jagged pieces that still exist in me. You pick up on the vibes of pain and uneasiness that radiate through me from time to time. I know you sometimes wonder if you cause those waves. You don’t; neither does your brother, or father or anyone else in our present lives. Mommy carries cracks and bruises on her heart as birth marks. These are the result of other people’s decisions, before I was even born.
Domestic violence, physical abuse, sexual abuse, alcoholism, untreated mental illness, abandonment, grief…that is the foundation for which I experienced childhood. I’m doing the best I can to reverse the ripple effects my own experiences sometimes have in parenting your beautiful, innocent soul. Some days are better than others.
In any given moment, I have to make a decision that you will learn from. I have to pull from a very dry well of parental guidance. I have to fight the urge to react to my initial responses to you, more often than I would like to admit.
I know sometimes I scare you. I see it in your eyes. I come at you in an aggressive manner when I am fed up with my job description. You talk back or don’t do as you’re told and my first reaction is to make you. Impulsively, I want to yell and scream and spank. But the dimming of the light in your eyes when I resort to control in the absence of love; that’s what stops me. It teaches me and reconnects me to a determination to be the change I want to see for you; to end the dysfunction that has leaked into generations before you.
For every lie I unlearn, I learn something new. ~Ani DiFranco
Our relationship will always be challenging. I’ve known that since you were a year old. Our fierce yet delicate personalities clash. But there is a beautiful rhythm between us. We get each other on an unspoken level that lends itself to trust and love. That in itself is a parenting win for me.
Our relationship may be complicated by the natural balance that is the mother/daughter relationship, but even more so because while I am raising you, I’m re-raising myself. But I won’t ask you to go easy on me. It wouldn’t matter if I did anyway. Your nature is gentle, but not docile. For that, your Momma is very proud. You are inheriting my good parts more than my faults. I see it in your unrefined demand to be heard and seen. I understand that to be grace. You didn’t have to survive, you were born a survivor, baby.
Learn more about Dawn’s journey to help create trauma informed families and systems of care.
Dawn is co-editor of the book Parenting with PTSD: the impact of childhood abuse on parenting. She is a mother of two, has an ACE score of 9, and has spent nearly 20 years working in the trenches of the mental health system to promote individual and systemic change and growth.