parenting after childhood traumaDid you experience childhood trauma? It’s worth thinking about if you are pregnant or postpartum and struggling with symptoms of depression, anxiety or PTSD. Or even, actually, if you’re just a mom out there reading this and wondering how early traumatic events could possibly affect your parenting.

Childhood trauma can include any event during which you felt (even if you don’t remember) helpless, scared, horrified, out of control and/or overwhelmed. These events or situations can include:

  • extreme poverty
  • homelessness
  • a natural disaster or war happening where you lived
  • physical, emotional or sexual abuse
  • neglect
  • domestic violence in the home, such as seeing your mother choked or hit
  • a parent with alcoholism or addiction
  • a parent with a mental illness
  • a parent in prison
  • the death of a parent
  • a parent who left your family (abandonment)

These are events that obviously can deeply affect anyone. And yet as adults we often think what “happened in the past shouldn’t affect me” because it’s “old news.” We think as adults we should no longer be impacted by experiences that happened decades ago.

The truth is childhood trauma can actually change how your body works, including your brain. This is why it has the power to affect you later in life, even when you are all grown up.

When I think about the traumas I went through as a child, it makes things that have happened to me and continue to happen to me as a mother make a lot more sense.

When I was born I was placed for adoption. I lived with my adoptive parents for a few months — I don’t even know how many, to be honest — and then was returned back to my biological parents, two young college students who hadn’t planned on getting married or having a baby. I lived with parental alcoholism at a young age and also parental mental illness. It’s no surprise to me, when I think about it, that I later suffered postpartum anxiety and OCD after the birth of my first child.

I was essentially hysterically vigilant over Jackson from the moment he was born. I worried I wouldn’t be able to take care of him enough. I couldn’t sleep. Couldn’t relax. It felt very important to protect him, so much so that all of my intrusive thoughts were about me being the one to cause him hurt. I think now about the fact that my own experience in the first few unstable months of my life MUST have impacted how I was thinking and behaving when Jack was a newborn.

In my tween years, I was fondled by a strange man in a Sears department store. My dad was in a different part of the store with my brother, and I was alone in the girls’ section when he approached me. He tried to get me to leave the store with him but I managed to run away. I can’t remember a lot of the details but I do remember standing in the store while people looked for him, and having all of these salespeople worrying over me and talking about what happened while I was standing right there.

It’s no surprise then, that I have a thing about my 10-year-old daughter walking through the neighborhood by herself. I feel I have to watch her as she goes. HAVE TO.  The other girls her age are walking around alone, yet I feel a compulsion in my very cells to stand on the porch and watch her to make sure she arrives safely.

Parenting can be a trigger for those of us who have experienced childhood trauma. You might find yourself in a situation with your child that reminds you, even if you don’t recognize it, of something that happened to you. You might find yourself acting in ways as a parent that you don’t quite understand. Can you think of ways you might be reacting right now that could be tied back to your experiences as a kid?

What You Should Know About Childhood Trauma

If you went through childhood trauma, you might find yourself feeling some of the following ways:

  • always on guard
  • always vigilant
  • like you can only let a few people, if any, get really close to you
  • unsafe, or very focused on maintaining your safety and protecting yourself
  • anxious
  • unable to relax

You also might experience:

  • higher stress levels
  • shame or guilt
  • low self-esteem
  • feelings of emptiness
  • depression, anxiety, PTSD
  • physical ailments like headaches, panic attacks, stomach upset

Here’s what you should know: You can heal. If you managed to get through childhood trauma then you have a source of strength. You already have tools you might not even know you have.  You’ve already figured out how to keep going in life, and you are already doing things, great things, to take care of your child DESPITE what you experienced. If you feel that you are being impacted by traumatic events in your life in ways you don’t like, you can reach out for help.

You have many choices and options when it comes to getting support in healing from trauma. They include attending a support group, trying art therapy, learning how to use mindfulness tools and other coping techniques, trying EMDR therapy or ACT therapy, seeing a counselor, or even working through a workbook that offers exercises in healing from trauma like this one and this one.

You might also like:

When Postpartum Depression Rises Up Out of the Buried Traumas of Childhood

How Your Own Mother & Childhood Trauma Can Impact Postpartum Depression