To My Daughter, From Your Post-Traumatically Stressed Momma

Dear my sweet, “two-hands old” girl;

As your 10th birthday approaches, I’m thinking about how I want you to have a “normal” childhood; one where opportunities to express love and potential are plentiful, except I’m not sure what that looks like. I’m just wingin’ 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, “What would my mother/father do or say?” because my mom and dad weren’t there for me. 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 sometimes my presence and behaviors only show you how I am. Not who I am. 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.

I worry that at times you’re feeling the brunt of my childhood trauma, because your love and existence while cherished, is also a trigger.

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, uneasiness, and indifference that cycle through me. I know you sometimes wonder if you cause those unpredictable moods. 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, neglect, untreated mental illness, abandonment, loss – that is the foundation for which I experienced childhood. I’m doing the best I can to stop the ripple effects my own experiences sometimes have in parenting your beautiful, innocent, old soul. Some days I do 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. Sometimes I have to fight against ingrained reactions, more often than I would like to admit.

Sometimes when I am fed up with my job description I come at you in an aggressive manner. 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 make demands. But the light in your eyes dimming when I resort to control in the absence of love; that’s what stops me. And helps me prevent it from happening again. That light reconnects me to the change I want to be 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 may 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 strengths more than my faults. I’m watching you fine tune your demand to be heard and seen, and I can literally hear the cycle coming to a halt.

You don’t have to survive; you were born a survivor, baby.

Dawn Daum is co-editor of the book Parenting with PTSD: the impact of childhood abuse on parenting. She is a survivor of childhood abuse with an ACE score of 9, and has spent nearly 20 years working in the trenches of the mental health system. Dawn uses both her personal and professional experience to write, speak, and facilitate conversation; helping to repair the systemic cracks witnessed nearly all her life.

She is currently experiencing moderate to severe growing pains as she works to shift our culture’s understanding of what it means to experience and heal from trauma.

Connect with Dawn on her website, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

One thought on “To My Daughter, From Your Post-Traumatically Stressed Momma

  1. Where’s the love button? Dawn, you capture so well what it means to parent as a survivor. My daughter, who is almost 9, challenges me in ways I never expected. I learned when she was really little that so much of our clashing came from me wanting to control her the way I was controlled when I was a child. When we seek help, we gain the tools to make different choices. That’s how we break the cycle. ❤


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