“When we live with our trauma rather than dealing with it, we have a near 100% chance of passing it on to our kids.”
We’ve said it before (and it’s part of who we are!): family life is messy! It’s hard and wonderful at the same time.
But with the hard times can come suffering, something that our culture today shuns as a topic to avoid altogether. The thing is, suffering is going to happen whether we want it to or not. How we respond to it is largely built up around our story.
Our story, and the stories about the world that we were told as we grew up, have shaped who we are. They’ve affected us, in both good and bad ways. Oftentimes, those stories include some form of trauma, experiences that dramatically changed the course of our lives. And most often these things are no fault of our own, especially as the things we encountered as children.
If you’re anything like us, your mind immediately jumped to: how can I make sure my child avoids this kind of experience?!
That’s a great question to ask, but the answer isn’t quite what you’d think:
We have to deal with our trauma (so our kids won’t have to!).
Deal with your trauma – it sounds so simple but really isn’t in practice. It takes a lot of effort and time to learn how to address the things that bother or affect us.
The first step in dealing with our trauma is to own your story. Acknowledge the things that happened to or around you that affected you. Those things are reality – they happened and we can’t change them. What we can change is how they affect us moving forward.
And to be able to own your story, you have to know it! When you feel anxious or bothered by something, get curious! Ask yourself why you feel that way. We should take these moments to prayer, asking the Lord to reveal what’s happening so that we can deal with the trauma.
Once we face our story and the stories that were told to us, we need to next acknowledge our role in how they’ve affected us.
Now, of course, we aren’t saying we’re responsible for things that happened to us. But we are at least partially responsible for how we responded, positive or negative. We may or may not have been taught the skills to respond well to the things around us. But again, we have to own that.
For example, you may have been a child of divorced parents. You were not responsible for their divorce, but it affected you. It shaped who you are today in some ways and may have dramatically changed how you parent your own children. You might need to work much harder on your marriage because you don’t have a good example to follow from your own parents.
None of that is because of you, but who you are today and what you deal with now are a product of your parents’ divorce. It’s a fact that we need to state to ourselves and then figure out how to move forward, rather than wishing it away or using it as an excuse.
Once we’re in a place where we can state those things as fact and take responsibility for who we are today, we can then move forward!
Once we’re able to take a ten thousand foot view of our lives and own where we are in a statement-of-facts sort of way, we can begin to really move forward!
That begins with a conscious choice to move on from trauma. While that trauma might still affect us, that statement of where we are allows us the space to build a plan to deal with the trauma when we encounter it.
And when we’ve gotten to that point, we can say that we’re actually dealing with our trauma rather than living with it.
This is an important distinction because when we live with our trauma rather than dealing with it, we have a near 100% chance of passing it on to our kids. We don’t do that intentionally, but it happens. It comes out in the way we respond to certain stressful scenarios or handle certain times in our children’s lives.
When these things happen, we tend to freeze or withdraw into our coping devices (like our phones, silence or anger). This makes sense because our bodies want to protect us from further trauma. But instead of coping, counter! Get curious. Ask yourself what is making you anxious and where it comes from. Put words to the feelings and say them out loud, especially when they involve your children or spouse.
There is no way to entirely avoid trauma or suffering in our children’s lives. We can’t protect them from everything (arguably, we shouldn’t!) and we aren’t perfect parents. But there are ways that we can minimize that suffering.
We’ve talked about dealing with our own trauma. The next step is to approach parenting in a way that builds relationships with and resilience in our children.
The first tip is that children aren’t always listening but they’re always watching. We have to model what we want them to learn, including how to argue, repair, identify emotions and respect each other.
Use phrases like: “I’m choosing to be frustrated right now” as a way of identifying and taking responsibility for our emotions is key to their seeing how to identify them but also so that our children know they aren’t responsible for our emotions.
Their actions don’t make us feel that way. We choose them.
Finally, repair, repair, repair! When you’ve gotten angry or frustrated with your child, make sure you talk it out. Apologize. Talk about what to do next time, modeling how they should make those reparations with their siblings or peers. The only way they can learn this is through our modeling it for them in our relationships with them.
When it comes to learning how to deal with our trauma, it won’t be easy, but the payoff is huge! It means that we won’t pass on trauma to our children and in the process, we’ll be able to model for them how to handle difficult situations and the inevitable suffering that’s a part of life.
If you’d like to hear more on this topic, check out our most recent podcast episode, an interview with Dr. John Delony, right here.
There are still a few open spots for our Catholic Couples Getaway in Cozumel, Mexico next year! You can check out more details or sign up to join us here!