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To the Mommas of Children Who've Experienced Trauma

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You know who you are. You’re the fierce mama warrior of a child who is traumatized. You may have adopted from here or there. You may be knee-deep in fostering. You may have brought a baby home from the hospital or they may have crossed your threshold as a 4- or 14-year-old. You may have flown for what felt like a million miles to get them, or they may have been delivered to your doorstep with a garbage bag and a broken heart. You may have a child who has fallen victim to violence. Or neglect. Drug exposure, abuse. Abandonment, heartache, feeling like it’s all their fault. We are mamas to little wounded souls.

I see you. I know you. I am you.

I know how it feels to love one of these children. I understand knowing a story you cannot un-hear — and how you have to live with the fact that it happened to your child. Your child. Your family now looks like a book with some unpleasant chapters written in invisible ink — and when you look in the eyes of your little one, you hope to God that there are countless empty pages ahead and that they might be filled with hope and joy and testimony, rather than fear. I understand unearned feelings of regret, knowing you were never there to comfort them before they were yours and how you can never regain missed milestones and opportunities and chances to protect.

I also know how you have to hold tight to a raging child, unsure when they will come down from their hysteria. I have been that mom who has looked into the eyes of her son and realized he was not quite there — and how frightening it feels to see an unfamiliar gaze that looks an awful lot like hatred. I am that mom who regularly gets the worst of it — the rages, the spitting, the hitting, the kicking, the ugly words, the pure disgust, the fear — while the world gets the best of him. “Parenting as usual” has been thrown out the window, and sometimes I wonder if we may as well nail that window shut and cover it with shades. It feels like being alone in a very busy room. Are you in that room, too?

I’ve been that mom on the playground who is surrounded by other mothers saying “My kid has meltdowns, too” or “My kid does that” or “He’ll grow out of it.” I’ve felt that sinking, sick feeling when you realize at that moment that some things can’t be shared because your kid does stuff and has seen stuff and has experienced stuff that would make other moms gasp. I’ve been that mom who says no to play dates because they’re just too much or because he can’t handle the freedom or because there’s only a handful of adults he considers an authority figure and they do not happen to be any of them.

I know how it feels to be that person in the IEP meeting who sounds so harsh when describing the strict boundaries needed for her child. How I constantly have to check myself and my words because I don’t want others to think I don’t care or that I don’t love my son. I know how it feels to want sometimes — just sometimes — to reveal the “ugly” side of parenting a child who’s experienced trauma because everyone else just sees the “cute” side. And how tiring it is when people think your life looks easy. Once, amid an epic meltdown, someone kind said to me, “Bless his heart.” I shot back, in deep frustration, “You know what? Bless my heart,” and I walked away in angry tears. I later apologized because it wasn’t her fault and who wants to be the kind of mother who sounds like she dislikes her own child?

But I know you love your child because I love mine. Deeply. I’ve devoted my life to him and to helping him heal. I love him as if I had birthed him myself and in a lot of ways I have, given the amount of pain, struggle, pushing and pulling that has been involved in bringing him home to us. It’s a messy birth story like any other, I suppose. No birth arrives without blood, sweat and tears.

I also know how euphoric it feels when we hit a plateau. You know the one? When you want to pinch yourself in order to see if it’s real? When things seem to be whirling and moving and flowing and life feels so good you might burst from happiness. I know what it feels like to almost forget all the pain and struggle and how easy it is to slip into that blessed place of contentment. I love that place as if it were an exclusive vacation destination and I am the only one on a hot beach with an umbrella drink in my hand.

But I know how trauma sneaks in like a lion, often silently and without warning, and knocks you off that perfect plateau, rocks crumbling under your feet, and you both fall down a chasm a little — or a lot. It hurts more during those times because things were so good and then quite suddenly they are not. And just like that, we believe things will never improve and this is how it will always be. Sometimes it just feels like we’re slugging our way through quicksand with a child on our shoulders, nose just above dry-drowning.

But you know what I also know, mama? I know redemption comes from brokenness. You cannot have one without the other. I’ve seen slivers and slices of miracle after miracle that can only be described as beauty from ashes. I’ve seen a million small tears in a tiny human heart be sown up by a masterful surgeon. I’ve seen pennies deposited in a bank — rarely nickels or dimes, but pennies — and over time, add up to mean something called trust. And love, growing, growing, ever so slowly like a garden, much of its work being done beneath ground. If only we had eyes to see the big picture, mama. Or maybe, just maybe, that would reveal too much glory for our tender hearts to take in all at once.

How about for today we trust that this healing parenting is our sacred work? Let’s take off our shoes where we are and declare it holy — in the midst of the rages and the crying and the plateaus and what sometimes seems like the endless days of “Will this ever get easier?” I don’t know our future, but I do know we are held in the hands that love us in the midst of our own brokenness. And where there is brokenness, there can be redemption. I’m going to rest in that. I pray you can rest in it, too.

In the meantime, I know we are weary. But I know we are fierce. I know we are vulnerable. But I know we are warriors. For we are lovers of little, wounded souls. And we, fellow Trauma Mama, are the ones they need.

Carry on.

black and white photo of parents walking with kids holding hands
Katie and her family

Follow this journey on Operation: Leap of Faith.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us about a moment you had a breakthrough with your child who has a mental illness. What happened that helped you better understand what he or she is going through? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.


Originally published: January 20, 2016
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