Last Friday night, I was driving in my car around my little suburb, exhausted, emotional, and so so drained. It was after 10 pm, and it was just myself, my foster son and the quiet streets. In the car, I was playing our children’s sleep music (our album is Lauren Daigle: First, it’s a winner!) I would occasionally glance in my rear-view to see if the little person there had yet surrendered to the land of nod. You see, I had an extremely tired, angry and anxious little soul in the backseat. He had found the day’s build-up to be more than he could handle, erupting into an epic Friday night to be remembered (but sadly not a rare occurrence). A day’s worth of anxiety and busyness had overwhelmed the little body that cannot yet regulate emotions, hold onto logic or verbalise fear. The final straw had come crashing down when he felt the nighttime routine approaching. You see, sleep has always been a fear-based experience for him. Not restful and relaxing as it should be for children; rather, it was a tangible enemy, one that held promises of nightmares, fears of abandonment and hypervigilance.
So after wall kicking, breaking things, screaming, physically attacking siblings/parents. Here I was driving and feeling empty when I realised that something remarkable had happened.
My last, very last inner vow that I had made before having kids was broken. You know what I mean, we all have those, “I’ll never….. (insert judgmental thought about someone else’s child)”. Well, the last parenting vow of mine got left behind last Friday evening. My vow? It was ‘I’ll never be a parent who drives their child to sleep’. It’s a vow based on authoritative roots, need to be in control, moralising a child’s ability or inability to lay down and rest.
It’s a useless vow that is particularly unhelpful when your child is exhibiting behaviours beyond the description ‘meltdown’ and even makes your neighbours hide their knives.
The old parent in me, the one my poor bio kids got, would have seen the inability for a child to comply as a challenge for power, a naughty act. Now many years into our trauma parenting journey, we understand that all behaviour is communication. A great book that we have been reading (suggested by an attachment therapist) is Radical Compassion by Tara Brach. This book offers amazing insight and tools to not only help dysregulated people in your life but yourself.
One of my favourite quotes is as follows,
How wonderful to know that your child’s issues are perhaps your own looking back at you. This uncomfortable truth gives you the power to change yourself and your relationship with your child.
This is the real secret of trauma parenting.
The work trauma parents need to do to survive, makes us better humans. It makes us confront our own trauma and heal to finally stop that generational gene that trauma flaunts to the world.
Don’t get me wrong, children with trauma come with such challenging behaviours. Living with trauma is confronting and overwhelming; unless you’ve lived it, you can’t imagine it. However, the only way to reverse trauma behaviour in our children is to face our own brokenness.
When we face down the demons that trigger us into fight, flight and freeze, we model the power of healing to our children. Please don’t hear me wrong; it’s not romantic, it’s hard, messy, and it means calling into account the ugliness that we all hide.