“My son’s father beat me up. Now, he’s two, and whenever he says no to me I figure he’s going to be just like his father, one more man pushing me around,” adds Lula.
Jennifer describes her nights: “My baby Kaysha just keeps crying and crying. I get crazier and crazier. I have no one to call- you can’t trust people. Sometimes I just have to have a drink to calm down.”
I was meeting with a group of parents talking about the ways that experiencing trauma effects being a parent. I distilled my message into a few points:
- When bad things happen to you as a child, you may be tense and irritable. That can make it hard to deal with a child.
- When people have hurt you in the past, it’s hard to trust people now. So it’s hard to get help, and all parents need a lot of help.
- When you don’t have anyone to take care of you it’s very difficult to take care of someone else.
Sometimes even when we have started using a trauma lens to look at the children’s behaviors, we forget to apply the same lens to their parents. Most of the parents in the mental health system are themselves trauma survivors. Therefore they have difficulties with attachment. Their biology has been altered and they see danger everywhere. And they haven’t learned emotion management skills that are essential for parenting. If you don’t know how to recognize and calm your emotions, what do you do with a child screaming from an ear infection? What if you feel that you are unworthy, unlovable, deeply flawed? Then you assume that child’s problems are your fault and that any other mother would know what to do. If you also do not have in your head the kind voices of people who have loved you, it is hard to find that kind voice for your child.
There is a wonderful free handbook about Trauma Survivors as Parents available here:
It was written by Dr. Karen Saavitne.
So is your program offering survivor parents the help they need?
Here are a few ways to help:
- Our staff is trained in the biological changes from trauma, how they affect parenting, and how they can heal.
- We offer psycho-education to our parents about trauma.
- We teach parents skills to manage their biological response.
- We develop our parent’s capacity for inner connection.
- Our program understands the role of shame in the lives and parenting experiences of our clients.
- We help our parents experience success and develop self-esteem.
- We teach feelings management.
For a rating sheet of Service Effectiveness for Survivor Parents, click here. It will start an interesting discussion in your team.
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