Friday, January 31, 2020

Battling Mom Guilt When Parenting Children With Early Childhood Trauma

Mom guilt, we are all familiar with the pressure's we take on from what society says makes a, "good mom." I have several children who, due to early childhood trauma and other life shaping experiences, seem to have a knack for making me look and feel like a bad mom. All the usual, "good mom" things cause my children to rise up like a wild animal caught in a trap. Make them their favorite pancakes and they, accidently on purpose, pour the whole bottle of syrup onto their pancakes. I won't go into the why's and wherefore's of these actions, those of you walking the journey are already familiar with them and don't need to waste your time reading another explanation. Buy your son a new coat, and suddenly it is no longer cool to be seen wearing a coat in public. He would rather stand in the cold and shiver, and you were trying to be a good mom by buying him that coat! You thought for once you could do something to make him happy. This behaviour plays havoc with our minds because society is saying in order to be a good mom, you need to spend time with your child, you need to buy them nice, acceptable clothing, you need to show them how much you love them so they will love you back, if you let them fight their own battles they will feel abandoned. The list is long and can flip flop at a moments notice.

Those of us who have children with early childhood trauma and/or prenatal exposure can find ourselves in a bind. Doing all the good mom stuff, drives your child away. They fight it tooth and nail and the kind social worker comes and says, "Here is the latest psychology book, I am sure it will give you some tips." You read it, follow the suggestions, and your child becomes even worse. Social Worker says, "Maybe you aren't trying hard enough. If you would consistently follow the guidelines in the book, I am sure they would work." And guess what comes creeping in? Mom guilt. "I must be a bad mom if I can't make my child behave using this book. After all, the author is a well known child pyschologist. 

Your friend drops by on her way home from her latest shopping trip and shows you the new shoes she bought for her son. "I find if I buy expensive, brand name shoes my son takes better care of them," she says. You remember the shoes you bought for your son, brand name at that, and in your minds eye you can see the bits of rubber hanging from the soles. He always shreds his shoes, due to his sensory processing disorder, now you buy him $15 tennis shoes...and you feel guilty. Because maybe, somehow it is your fault that he ruins every pair of shoes you buy.

Your sister tells how you she stopped by the school and ate lunch with her daughter. "She was so pleased and excited to see me. It was a great way to build our relationship!" Your sister goes on to tell how neat it was to chat with her daughter's friends and the play date they have planned. Your sister turns to you and whispers, "You should try it sometime, I am sure your daughter would be thrilled, it would make her feels so special!" Your heart drops because your daughter cannot handle having mom drop by her school for lunch. She is still battling the loss of her birth mom and views you as the fake who is trying to take that spot in her heart.

These are just a few of the myriad ways in which we tend to take on guilt. We look at where our children are socially and emotionally, we see their peers pulling ahead and feel that somehow it must be our fault. Deep inside, we know better - after all, we understand brain damage, attachment disorders, how prenantal exposure wreaks havoc with the developing brain - but somehow, we still feel that we are to blame. As I was pondering this today, the words of a counselor came to mind, "Love your child in the way they need to be loved." For me, this quote brought great freedom. 

If my child needs to go to bed earlier than the rest of the family in order to be at his best the next day. Is it loving for me to keep him up until his siblings go to bed, just because they are younger than him?

If my son needs an alarm on his door to deter him from roaming the house, is it loving to say, "None of the other children have an alarm, it isn't fair that he should." Or is it more loving to put the alarm on his door and keep him safe?

One child shuts down if I confront her. Society says, "Teach her who is boss!" Is it more loving to be brash and demanding, or to hold her and coach her through the drama of wearing socks for school?

Parenting "our children" requires laying aside what society, or friends and family, may deem appropriate and doing what is best for our children. Sometimes, "doing what is best," looks an awful lot like being a passive mom, sometimes it means standing up to your child and not allowing him to triangulate the adults in the room, sometimes it means holding her during a church service even though she is almost to big to fit on your lap.

So if you sent your child to school in holey sweat pants and a top that has seen better days, because that is the only outfit he will wear, remind your self that he is warm, he is clean and best of all, he is comfortable, because the clothing doesn't scratch. Plus he feels safe because you didn't get upset with him about wearing less than acceptable clothing.

If you sent your daughter to school with foods that you feel are less than nutritious, but they are the only foods she will eat, remember, at least she is fed. You can fight the battle another day. Today you sent her off with a hug and a kiss. Her emotional health is as important as her physical health.

If your teen went out the door with uncombed hair and no breakfast because he wouldn't get up on time, congratulations, at least he made it to school.

Sometimes being a good mom, means doing the things that society tells you is bad parenting. Rather than give in to the monster of self condemnation remind yourself, "I am the mom, I know my child better than anyone out there. I will do what I can to help my child lead a successful life, but at the end of the day, it is his choice whether he will accept the help I offer." As my husband reminded me recently when I was frustrated with a child who refused my help and as a result was failing badly, "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink!" 

Go forth and be the mom you know your child needs, not the mom society says your child needs!

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