When I was a little girl, my mother died tragically in a motorcycle accident that none of us could have predicted.
As a 12-year-old (or even as a 20-year-old), I did not have the capacity to understand how much that event would change the course of the rest of my life. However, flash forward 20 years, and it’s evident that this event affected me in ways I could not have even imagined.
All of a sudden, there was a toddler in my arms who constantly needed me. I was drowning under the weight of trying to be the perfect mother, wife, and professional, plus realizing I had loads of unexplored wounds of my own to clean up.
When someone experiences a traumatic event as a child, there are certain side effects that are often expected to accompany them into their later years. While things like depression and increased anxiety are common side effects we see in adults who experienced a traumatic event as a child, these things are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to finding out just how intricately the traumatic event affected us.
When I began to seek counseling and strengthen my faith, it became evident to me that the introspective work of healing from this traumatic event was far from over.
You see, I entered into the journey of motherhood without ever fully grasping what it meant to be a mother. I had no idea the impact that not growing up with a mother in my own life would have on my daughter one day.
I learned early on that what I lacked in my childhood would likely impact the way I chose to parent my own children, but I also began to understand that this realization could potentially shape my parenting style in both positive and negative ways.
Because I had an extremely traumatic event shape the rest of my childhood, I assumed it would be a similar situation for my own children.
As a parent, I became a catastrophic thinker, and no matter what, I was prepared for the worst and expected it to come. For example, when my kids were learning how to ride their bikes, I was certain that they were not only going to fall off but that they would likely break their arms and fracture their skulls in the process. Why? Because in my experience, when it rained it poured. It’s one thing to have a backup plan for if things go wrong, but it’s another to disasterize situations that have little to no reason to do so.
Because I grew up in a single-parent household with a father who worked nights, I quickly became a helicopter parent who wanted to be present for everything my children possibly participated in.
My mom couldn’t help me get ready for prom or chaperone my elementary school field trips and my dad couldn’t host sleepovers or even dinners because he wasn’t home. My dad tried his very best to be present at my activities, academic recognitions, and sporting events, but the reality was…he was busy making ends meet.
In turn, this led to me attempting to make up for all of the things my parents couldn’t be there for. Now, I hyper-participate in my children’s lives and have a difficult time letting them be on their own.
Finally, because I could not develop a long-term relationship with my mother, my parenting style morphed into a quick and intense attachment style that is extremely difficult to break.
When I love, I love hard, and as a mother, this feeling is even more escalated. I attach intensely and quickly to the people I care about and I choose to pour into them at all costs. While this can lead to close bonds with the people I love, it can also lead to unhealthy attachment styles that cause problems much later on. I have had to learn to not act on emotions and feelings right away, but rather to think rationally and thoughtfully about the way I choose to handle situations with the people I’m closest to.
After years of putting in the difficult work to fully understand the trauma I experienced as a child, I have begun to more fully understand what it means to be a motherless mother and how the way I was raised might affect the way I raise my own children.
While some of the side effects of the trauma I experienced as a child were expected, many came as a surprise to me much later down the line and have drastically shaped how I parent today.
The more self-aware I become, the more thoughtfully I can respond instead of emotionally react. I am able to recognize when my brain is reverting to old patterns from the trauma I experienced and I’m able to feel supported and cared for as a child without a mother, while simultaneously being a mother to the children I brought into the world.
I no longer feel alone in my grief and I know that the things I experienced as a child only make me a better mother to my own children. By recognizing these unexpected side effects of childhood trauma and transitioning from a place of doubt to optimism, I know you’ll be able to do the same.
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