Sometimes, a day is so hard that I just can’t turn my brain off at the end of the night. I sit in bed amongst my three sleeping children and my husband and always end up writing. Tonight is one of those nights.
It started with Inara waking up at 5am. My 10 month old unicorn baby wakes up happy with snuggles and a smile and laughter every single morning. It’s just most mornings she wakes before the sun rises.
Both of my older children, River and Serenity, woke early and with an intense “I didn’t get enough sleep” attitude. My husband woke up feeling not so great either.
It was a trashed day before my coffee was brewed.
I fell asleep after that. Woke an hour later with drool sexily dripping out of the corner of my mouth. My phone on my chest. A crick in my neck. A baby asking to nurse.
I put my phone down, took down my propped pillow, snuggled her up, and latched her on. We were both back to sleep before I could even register to remember I had been writing.
There are a lot of things about parenting that are exhausting. Breastfeeding on demand 24/7 is definitely way up there in the list. But there’s one thing in particular that I find the most mentally exhausting of all…and it’s not what most would think.
The way we are raised matters. The things we experience in childhood has a huge impact on what kind of person we become, what tools we have in our toolbox to interact with others, the relationships we choose, the reactions we have.
So, it’s not a huge leap to understand that adults who had abusive, neglected, or damaged childhoods enter the adult world with far fewer tools and abilities to navigate life than those with well rounded healthy upbringings.
My childhood was not the latter of those descriptions. Physical and verbal abuse…emotional neglect…unstable parents and the constant use of love as a threat and tool for compliance has left me with a very deserted tool box.
So, since I escaped their abuse in 2009, I have worked tirelessly to add to my tool box. I did pretty damn well! After some trial and error with abusive relationships, I found an incredible and wonderful man I now call my husband. I have built an awesome network of supportive and loving mom’s with epic kids to surround my kids with. But it was in having those kids that showed me just how far I still had to go and how empty my toolbox still was.
It is finding the daily courage to be gentle that requires the most intricate and intensive tools. And it is having that thrown in my face daily that shows me just how much courage that takes.
Having courage to be gentle means overriding your triggers. I don’t mean the over used obnoxious definition of “triggers” that mom Facebook groups use for just about freaking EVERYTHING. A trigger is a neurological response of the amygdala in the brain. It’s when someone has PTSD from being raped, beaten, war, or similar experiences. The brain takes in something that reminds it of the experience like a sound, smell, etc and believes the experience is happening again.
You know the fight or flight experience when you get scared or something dangerous happens? It’s like that on steroids.
Triggers can cause flashbacks, disassociation, panic attacks, body sensations, hyperventilating, uncontrollable crying, shaking, extreme fear, aggression, and more. It’s definitely not a matter of “it offends me and I don’t want to hear about it.” 🙄
So, let’s get really real for a minute.
When you’ve battled through a broken childhood, your children trigger you. It isn’t their fault. It isn’t your fault. But it happens. Also, when you’re faced with a parenting situation, often you have no tools to draw from. The brain back draws to situations in your childhood and how your parents responded to you. This is your knee jerk response.
So, courage is being able to interrupt and stop that knee jerk response and often respond in a way that usually makes you feel at best uncomfortable let and at worst triggered.
It’s not freaking easy.
In fact, it’s so hard, there are entire books about it. There’s entire branches of therapy specifically for it. Building tools as a kid is easy. But building them as an adult is so very difficult.
It’s hard. But I work hard to do it. Why? Because my kids deserve a childhood they don’t need to recover from. That is my only goal as a parent.
Have the courage to be gentle.
Shower those people with broken child selves in your life with deep and honest love because their everyday lives raising their children are riddled with scenarios that call upon incredible and selfless strength and grit.
This has taken me so long to write. Another night sitting in bed amongst three sleeping children. Another night I feel totally and utterly exhausted at the end of it.
But today, I watched my three girls play with one another. They giggled and cooperated and hugged and snuggled each other. They endlessly asked for hugs and snuggles. They said “I love you” SO many times. They helped cook, helped clean, and the bigs went stomping in the puddles all by themselves.
And I am far from the perfect mother. And I may or may not have dozed off mid story reading because I was up until 3am with Inara (😂). And I may have needed extra coffee and had some really intense “holy cannoli please give my body space for a minute” moments.
But every moment of today, and everyday, I draw from the depths of myself my courage to be gentle.
Because they truly deserve every ounce of energy it takes.