Our parenting style is an accumulation of our history, our community and our environment. We don’t just parent, we do things because other parents in the play group do it that way and our own parents did it this way. Often we don’t even like aspects of how we were raised and we find ourselves parenting in some ways like our parents. What I would like to bring attention to right now is how your not so pleasant past may be affecting how you parent today.
If you had trauma in your own childhood, that trauma could be affecting you as an adult. It can affect you physically as well as emotionally and how you interact with others- for our focus here, how you interact with your children. An overwhelmed parent can shift into a victim mindset, and if that parent was victimized in the past, the body sees a child as a threat and the parent can react to a child’s behaviors out of his own fears.
First, be aware of your own trauma history. Knowledge alone, can change how you interact with others by bringing awareness to why you might act the way you do. I strongly encourage you to take the ACEs survey to find out what your ACE score is. ACE stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences. The questions for the ACE are as follows reprinted from the website acestoohigh.com (https://acestoohigh.com/got-your-ace-score/):
Prior to your 18th birthday:
- Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… Swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you? or Act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt?
- Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… Push, grab, slap, or throw something at you? or Ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured?
- Did an adult or person at least 5 years older than you ever… Touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way? or Attempt or actually have oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse with you?
- Did you often or very often feel that … No one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special? or Your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other, or support each other?
- Did you often or very often feel that … You didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes, and had no one to protect you? or Your parents were too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it?
- Were your parents ever separated or divorced?
- Was your mother or stepmother:
Often or very often pushed, grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at her? or Sometimes, often, or very often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist, or hit with something hard? or Ever repeatedly hit over at least a few minutes or threatened with a gun or knife?
- Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic, or who used street drugs?
- Was a household member depressed or mentally ill, or did a household member attempt suicide?
- Did a household member go to prison?
Now add up your “Yes” answers: This is your ACE Score
If you have any score at all, you have some sort of trauma in your past. The higher the score, the more likely that it is affecting your life in some fashion. I encourage you to look at the research website, acestoohigh.com to see the correlation of ACE scores and different problems in adulthood. So many of the correlations are between a high ACE score and physical problems!
I am not a counselor, I cannot work through these problems with you. The best things I can recommend to you if you have an ACE score is to find a competent counselor who can help you work through your own childhood traumas and work on self-regulation such as mindfulness or breathing exercises to help you stay in a calm body. A calm body cannot be anxious. What I do want to do is bring awareness to you as a parent. So much of our parenting is from our history, and if something our child does subconsciously triggers a fear response from our childhood, we are parenting out of reaction and fear more than focusing on the needs of the child and connected parenting. If you can pause during an intense moment with your child and just say to yourself, “Right now, I am scared,” that self-awareness will go a long way on what you do next, and it isn’t so much about what your child is doing right now as much as it might be you reacting to something in the past that this reminds you of.
References: ACES Too High News, https://acestoohigh.com/got-your-ace-score/
Nakazawa, D.J. Childhood Disrupted. Atria Books, New York, NY.