I recently met a friend for lunch whom I hadn’t seen in many years. The last time we were in regular contact, her children and my youngest child were preschoolers; now they are mostly grown. Although we originally met when our children were younger due to an interest in taking a more natural approach to parenting, we also found a common bond with our traumatic childhoods and difficult relationships with our mothers.
As we enjoyed our lunch and updated each other on our children, we delved into a conversation about the shared significance of breaking the cycle of abuse. Both of us were committed to providing our children with the best chances for a happy life. This conversation reminded me of when my middle child was about 8 years old. He was severely dyslexic and after grade 1 I decided it would be better to homeschool him. A few months later my oldest child, my son with autism, decided to stay at home where he could continue learning everything he wanted to learn about whatever the unit study was at school. He had tried a few days after the unit study switched, but was in such distress I suggested that he might want to stay home instead and he liked that idea. Fast forward a few years which included a move to a new subdivision about an hour away. Since most residents in our new neighborhood were newcomers, friendships quickly formed. While many of us were of similar age with children of similar ages, we stood out as the only homeschooling family. At some point, whether due to external pressure or my middle child’s curiosity, we revisited the option of public school for him. I use the pronoun ‘we’ because education was always a collaborative process and decision with each child. I don’t recall the specifics of the testing done with my middle child; it was a different process being in the US than it is in Canada. However, the results prompted the school to suggest placing him in a special education classroom with only a handful of other students. My immediate thought was whether that option would support my child and lead him to be ready for young adulthood with his emotional health intact. It became an easy decision after that. My son has always been a very intelligent individual, a trait evident since before he was 8 years old. Placing him in a small special education classroom in a rural, less open-minded area of the US would likely have hindered his ability to maintain strong self-confidence and readiness for adulthood.
I remember graduating from high school and how difficult it was. I had yet to recognize that I was a survivor of complex trauma, but I was clearly not making my own decisions. I had wanted to go to medical school, but a survey given in high school had indicated it was not a good option for me, so I didn’t even consider pursuing it. I really liked physics, but the small, Christian, liberal arts college I attended prompted me to switch to education. I was lost and floundering and ended up moving back home and back to the physical abuse that continued. By then I saw my only option to get away from the abuse of my mother was to get married, but unaddressed complex trauma makes relationships incredibly difficult and makes us an easy target for abusive partners. It wasn’t until having my first son and not knowing how to parent a difficult toddler, who had not yet been diagnosed with autism, did I seek help. And I am grateful everyday for my son and being prompted to seek counseling.
Therapy wasn’t easy. I already knew that I was going to stop the cycle of physical abuse, but it was counseling that shed light on the damage done through emotional abuse. It was the emotional abuse that led to not having the self-confidence and self-knowledge to start adulthood. I have always viewed my initial 10, fifteen, even twenty years of adulthood as a period of healing and self-discovery. Although I had a late start, that’s okay. As a mom, I aspired to witness my children embark on young adulthood from a more stable foundation. For my children, who are all neurodivergent, that prompted childhood to look a lot different than what other families around us were doing, and that’s ok.