This article originally appeared on Graeme Seabrook’s website.
Trigger warning: suicidal ideation, sexual abuse, PTSD, traumatic birth
In the darkest times of my life, my depression told me that my children would be better off without me. Pain and trauma were all I could bring to them. Those voices came back every time my past or my mental illnesses affected my parenting.
My history of childhood sexual abuse combined with PTSD from a traumatic birth made breastfeeding my son an act of terror instead of bonding. What kind of mother sobs every time she feeds her baby? How could I possibly not be damaging him?
It’s years later and still, the nagging guilt persists.
Adverse Childhood Experiences
Anxiety stops me from going to PTA meetings. Depression traps me in bed. PTSD triggers drag me to the floor shaking and crying.
Every time it happens, I’m convinced all over again that I’m breaking something in my children that can never be repaired and that leaving is the greatest act of motherhood I could perform. Even though I’m healing more and more every day, even though there are sometimes years between episodes, the guilt and fear don’t fade.
When I saw this list of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), I’m sure you can tell which one brought me to my knees:
- Child abuse (emotional, physical, sexual)
- Child neglect (emotional, physical)
- Mental illness in the household
- Substance use/alcoholism in the household
- Witnessing intimate partner violence
- Having a parent or family member in jail
- Parent separation or divorce
- Death of a parent or sibling
There it was, in black and white. ACEs are serious—they raise the risk for mental, emotional, and physical challenges later on. Everything from teen pregnancy, drug use, to even heart or liver disease can be affected by the number and severity of ACEs in your past.
But that’s not the whole story.
Preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences From Happening to Our Children
Not only can we prevent Adverse Childhood Experiences from happening to our children and the children close to us, but we can also help prevent ACEs that have already happened from negatively affecting our kids long term. So even though I can’t wave a magic wand and rid myself of my own past traumas or mental illness, I can help ensure that my children don’t suffer for them. And so can you.
If you know me at all, you know that I believe community is EVERYTHING. It was a community of mothers who saved my life when I struggled with postpartum depression and anxiety. It has been my community that has saved me, lifted me, and shown me the light over and over again.
My work in the world is literally to help mothers build community with each other. So when I read that having a strong community can help mitigate the risk factors associated with ACEs, I quite literally danced in my living room.
It has been my community that has saved me, lifted me, and shown me the light over and over again.
And here’s the thing: You don’t even need a huge network of support. What you need, what your kids need, is to #findyour3.
This hashtag refers to three people or community programs that you know you can reach out to. Who can you go to when you’re lost, afraid, or struggling? Where can you feel safe and supported? And most importantly—how can you help your kiddos find their three?
For me, it’s a group chat with my closest friends, my husband, and my best friend. Those are the three people that I know I can reach out to, day or night. They will listen, they will be honest with me, and they’ll help me get any support that I need.
But last night I sat down with my 6 year old and talked to him about finding his three. We talked about how sometimes things are scary or make us angry. We also talked about how sometimes there are things that are hard to talk about, and if you can’t come to Mommy or Daddy, there are other trusted people who you may be able to talk to. And honestly, that part sucked. I want him to always come to me first. He’s my baby. But I know that’s not realistic. And I need to ensure that as he grows and his world gets more complicated that he has the tools to get all the support he needs. Even if it isn’t from me.
His three are his grandparents on each side (he made me count them as one person) and his teacher from Kindergarten. Even though he’s a big boy in first grade now, he still visits her before school sometimes. The rule is that we will always let him call any of his grandparents and that if he wants to talk to Ms. Harsh, we will always help him do that.
Being open about adverse childhood experiences and the lifelong consequences of trauma is important. We are very open and honest about my PTSD, depression, and anxiety. The kids know what all those words mean. They know that mommy is okay, that I see a doctor, and that I take medicine. And now they also know that they have even more people that they can talk to—about me, or about anything else in their lives.
These conversations aren’t going to stop. As they get older, I truly hope that they will each have many more than three trusted adults, groups, or places where they can go for shelter from whatever storms come our way. And I know that as their mom I need those, too. So does Adam, but he can write his own post 😉
Who are your three? Who are the three for your kids? Think about the people you wouldn’t be here without. That’s what we can be for each other. That’s the power of community.