It’s my job to remain regulated when they are dis-regulated. And sometimes? I want to quit. OK, maybe I don’t really want to quit my job as “mom.” It’s more like I just need a personal day. Parenting kids with trauma means lots of tantrums. Lots of yelling and crying. Lots of aggression. And LOTS of work.
Our kids have some very very large emotions. I want to be as responsive as possible. I acknowledge their emotions, reflect back their statements, help them to label their feelings. I encourage them to let it all out.It’s my job to act as if I am their frontal lobe. It’s my job to bringing these children back to the here and now.
Mary yelled at her homework because it was the same math sheet she always gets. She threw her pencil to teach it a lesson. Apparently the 81st math sheet was one worksheet too many? Carl yelled at the fridge and kicked it because it contained an apple that he would have to eat after his shower. I tried to watch an HGTV show about buying homes in Montana. Mary yelled at me for loving Montana more than I love her. I spent a better part of the day processing everyone’s feelings about homework, the fridge, and Montana. Then I iced Carl’s foot for awhile. Sometimes when you fight with the refrigerator, the refrigerator wins!
On Friday night I knew I needed a break. I could feel the frustration building. I love my kids so much, but sometimes I just crave a bit of piece and quiet. My children interpret this to mean, “Mom doesn’t love us anymore and will soon leave us.”
I should have been more in tune with my own needs on Friday when I began to feel this way. I wasn’t. I was guilty of something that many moms are guilty of. I forgot about myself. I tried to push through like a super hero. I am not a superhero. I am a sleep-deprived, overworked, exhausted mama. And by Saturday, it showed.
In trying so hard to be present with my children, I forgot to be present with them. Instead of really connecting with them, I was going through the motions and feeling cranky and resentful. The kids picked up on this right away. They began to feel unsettled and afraid. They began to vie for attention by picking each other apart. They tattled, they fought, they stole food from each other. Because I was dis-regulated, they became dis-regulated. I had basically backed myself into a lose-lose situation. I triggered their anxiety.
The solution? A mommy time-out. I put myself upstairs for a time out. Luke told the Littles that I was taking space. He brought me a picnic style dinner to eat in our room. I skipped family dinner. I watched trashy grown up TV. I took time to myself and I did not emerge until it was time to cuddle the little chickens and tuck them into bed. They missed me, sure. They were worried that I didn’t love them and that’s why I was taking a “time-out.” But guess what? We all got through it and I believe we were better for it. As I tucked them into bed, they both complimented me on using my “coping skills!”
Sometimes, getting sucked into the quagmire of their trauma means that I am so busy responding to their feelings that I forget to respond to my own. I’m not suggesting that every mom needs to watch Bravo TV in order to feel good. I’m suggesting that we, as parents acknowledge ourselves and our emotions as part of the intricate framework that makes up our families. We, too, are important.
The road of parenting children with trauma is not an easy one. Therapeutic parenting has it’s own set of challenges unique to us as Trauma Mamas (and Papas!) As I sit here sipping tea and listening to Chopin I know that I am taking care of myself. I am alone. I am not ashamed to take this time for myself. And I know that I am worth it.
**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.
*If you have ever considered foster care or adoption, I encourage you to get started on your own adventure!