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PhotobucketA reader asked me to cover a delicate topic. To maintain the reader’s anonymity, I am going to summarize the issue without using anything directly from the email. Here is the topic to be addressed: How do you deal with your own feelings of jealousy (for lack of a better word) toward your child for having a safe childhood when your own childhood was filled with abuse?

First, let me assure you that these feelings are normal. You are not a “bad parent” for having them, so you shouldn’t beat yourself up for them (although it is completely normal for child abuse survivors to beat themselves up for pretty much anything they feel).

I cannot tell you how many times I have told my son “I wish the worst problem I had when I was 11 was that my parents wouldn’t buy me a cell phone” or equivalent. My son is strong-willed, and he sometimes gets angry with me for saying no. He will go on and on about what a horrible parent I am because I won’t let him [fill in the blank]. At age 11, the biggie is not getting him a cell phone. We have been through this with not letting him have Heelies (the shoes with wheels) when he was in kindergarten, not letting him have a BB gun at age 9, etc.

I will sometimes feel so angry that my son is blasting me for something as trivial as not having a toy when I never had the freedom to blast my abusers for abusing me. I will think how unfair it is that I was such a well-behaved child (misbehaving came with severe consequences), so my parents didn’t have to deal with the crap that I do from my kid who hasn’t had to deal with abuse. There is something fundamentally wrong and unfair about all of it, and on some days, I feel very angry about how this is just another way that life has shafted me.

What I have come to realize is that my feelings of jealousy and anger are not about my kid – they are about me. Watching a child grow up in a loving home, not being abused, and taking safety for granted drives home just how unloved, abused, and unsafe I was at the same age. There is nothing fair about that.

Nevertheless, I continue to keep my kid safe despite what I am feeling. While I do tell him that I wish my worst problem at age __ was not getting __, I don’t burden him with the details of what I endured as a child. I still advocate for him and protect his childhood. It is what I DO, not how I FEEL, that defines me as a parent.

When you feel this way, take some time for yourself to express your emotions. You are absolutely right – it’s NOT fair that you were abused as a child. Your feelings are not about wanting to deprive your kid of a happy childhood – they are about the grief you still need to process about your own unhappy childhood.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On my blog entry entitled Changes in Overprotectiveness Based on Your Own Child Abuse History, a reader posted the following comment:

There’s another level to my healing that I do not know if others struggle with. Because I was ‘ritually abused’, there are many things that were used to ‘program’ me (though I still find it hard to describe what programming is to anyone else!). Those things, like your Russian dolls, were usually childhood items, especially popular Disney and other musicals, some toddler games. I find it really hard – even if not ‘triggered’ – to let my child play with or watch those games and am still really wary of them. ~ A x

I, too, struggle with this. I try to achieve a healthy balance. If something is triggering to me and will cause me emotional harm, my child simply cannot play with it. Let’s face it – children today are hardly deprived in the toy department. I can say yes to 100 things to compensate for the one no.

For example, I absolutely cannot handle seeing my son wearing a black robe. He tried on a “Scream” Halloween costume at a Halloween store. That one glimpse triggered me so badly that I was out of sorts for a week. That means no black robes for him. I don’t see this limitation as something that is going to cause him long-term damage. There are hundreds of Halloween options that don’t include a black robe.

I am age-appropriately honest with my son about why – I have told him that when I was his age, people dressed in black robes hurt me. When that didn’t satisfy him, I shared the additional information that people dressed up in black robes killed my dog. My son loves his dogs, so that made an impression, and he stopped asking for a black robe costume for a while.

My son has never had a Connect Four game because that triggers me, but we have a closet filled with other fun games for children. My son has never played with a Russian nesting doll, but he has had plenty of action figures to play with. There are age-appropriate substitutes for just about any particular item that triggers me.

I try to view this as honoring my inner child while also honoring my son. I am not going to let my son do something at the expense of my inner child’s emotional health, but I am also not going to limit my son for something that is simply annoying to me. While I do have a lot of triggers from childhood, there are many more things out there that do not trigger me. My son is welcome to play with any of those.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled Changes in Overprotectiveness Based on Your Own Child Abuse History, a reader posted the following comment:

Most of all, I worry about handing on negative behaviours to my child, because of the lack of role models to show me appropriate ways of behaving (though I do try). I also worry about the impact of my PTSD, with periods when I am very preoccupied by memories, or depressed, or feel shameful and angry. I know I do my best and love my young child, and actually his presence is the main motivation for me to heal stronger, he guides me. ~ A x

I, too, have struggled with the fear of how much my history of child abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms affect my parenting. I love my child with all of my heart and don’t want to hurt him. I want to keep him safe and would do anything to keep him safe.

In fact, when I first entered into therapy and learned that I had dissociative identity disorder (DID) and “lost time,” I told my therapist that I would commit suicide to protect my child from me if I discovered that any part of me was hurting him. My therapist assured me that my passionate desire to protect my child told him that I was not capable of hurting him – I would never do something so fundamentally against my own value system.

There is no question that my history of child abuse colors my parenting. In most situations, though, I don’t think it is a bad thing. For example, I don’t let my child have a sleepover unless I trust the parent(s). To me, that is being smart, not overprotective. He does have sleepovers at his three closest friends’ houses, so he is not missing out on anything.

I never learned how to process emotions as a child: I had to learn how to do this as an adult through therapy. I model the healthy expression of emotions and explain to my son how to do it. I don’t impose my own likes and dislikes on my son – I give him the freedom to explore his own interests, which is something that was denied me as a child. I remember how it felt to be treated like X, so I make sure I give my son the room to be his own person.

There have been times when I have worried that having me as a mother might harm him in the sense that he has seen me banging my head when triggered, etc. I decided early on to pay for anything therapy he might need as a teenager or adult that is a result of any of my actions.

What I have grown to learn, though, is that parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. Parenting is not defined by one moment, such as the moment of my son walking in on me banging my head on a pillow. Our relationship is defined by the hundreds of thousands of moments we have had together, most of which have been positive.

I also talk openly with my son about how everyone has problems and that everyone can benefit from seeing a “talk doctor.” He knows that when I had a rough summer, I started seeing my “talk doctor” again. My son sees his own “talk doctor” (a child psychiatrist) to prescribe his attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medication. He knows that it is OK to talk about how he is feeling and what is going on in his life. He also knows that if he cannot talk to me, there are other adults in his life who love him that he can talk to.

I have had moments of feeling sad for my son for having “damaged” me as a mother, but I have come to realize that he is actually blessed because he has me. As a child, I had no one other than my baby sister, and it wasn’t her job to be my parent. My son has **me** — a mother who loves him unconditionally, who enjoys his company, and who supports him in being the man he is growing up to be, no matter where that journey leads him.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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CaveOn my blog entry entitled Overprotective Parenting after Child Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

I have two children and shortly after they were born, the affects of the abuse I endured and witnessed, came crashing back to the surface. I found that I could not return to work as I could not fathom the idea of someone else caring for my child, and inflicting potential harm. It would leave me literally ill at even the thought. Now that they are older, I am trying to find that balance, but it is causing me to be so conflicted. I want to give my daughter (11) the social relationships she needs, but still have not been able to allow her to sleep over at another friend’s house. I let her friends stay here, but when the question comes up for her to stay elsewhere, I freeze. The boy (9) has stayed at a friend’s house, but only because the family is a close friend of my husband and trusted. I know no girl’s her age where I know the parents well enough to let her go. She is increasingly distant from me because of my overprotective nature and I know things need to change, but I just don’t know how to take that first step. ~ SH

I have been thinking about how much I have changed in regards to my overprotectiveness. I think that part is due to therapy, but a larger part is due to my own childhood experience.

My abuse started when I was a toddler at my mother’s hand. Things got much, much worse when I reached school age (around age six) as my mother made my sister and me available to a “cult,” which I now recognize as being a child pornography and prostitution ring. My elementary school years were very, very hard.

My family moved away right before my 11th birthday, and the severe abuse ended. I did experience sporadic abuse after that, such as when S&L, family “friends” who were my most sadistic abusers, would come by for a visit and a “reminder” not to tell. However, the ongoing severe abuse ended by age 11.

My son is 10-1/2, and his 11th birthday is just around the corner. As he nears his 11th birthday, I am finding myself letting down my guard and being much better able to let him be a kid and take some “risks.” I let him spend the night on a newer friend’s husband’s watch while the friend and I went out of town for the weekend. They have three children – two who are school-aged – and the 11-year-old daughter is one of my son’s best friends. I cannot imagine doing that a year ago, but I felt comfortable with it today. My son called me regularly to check in and say hi. He had a wonderful weekend and would very much love to do it again.

I have also given my son permission (at his initiative) to try a residential (sleepover) week of summer camp next summer when he is 11-1/2. He only wants to do it if his best friend will as well, and I have confirmed that the camp will ensure the boys get to room together. He has attended the summer camp as a daily camp for three summers now, and he LOVES it! The camp also has a residential program, and the residential kids get to participate in activities exclusive to them. My son feels ready to take the leap. A year ago, I would have said, “Hell no!!” Today, it makes me a little nervous, but I trust that he will be OK.

I think part of this change in me is that I know that my son has passed my own “danger years.” Yes, I know he could be abused today, but a one-time incident of abuse at age 11 doesn’t have the power to damage him to the degree that I was damaged. I still want to keep him safe and protected from child abuse, but I can also rest in knowing that I have done my job. It is no longer possible for him to experience enough severe and ongoing abuse to shatter him into dissociative identity disorder (DID).

My son is also not me, and I am not my parents. My son knows who he is. He is not afraid to stand up for himself, and he is nobody’s victim. He is on a different path from me, and he is old enough now for me to recognize that he is not an extension of the abused me – he is his own person. I am also able to recognize that I am partly responsible for this. I did my job, and I have raised a kid to age 10-1/2 who is confident and not a victim. I have broken the family legacy of abuse. It ended with me!

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On my blog entry entitled Seeing Own Child as Representative of Inner Child, a reader posted the following comment:

how do i stop overprotecting my son???and teach him the world is not a horrible dangerous place? ~ Jolson

When you were abused as a child, you know firsthand just how dangerous the world can be. When you become a parent, you want to protect your child from experiencing the same traumas that you did. It is 100% understandable that you want to protect your child from being hurt. On the other hand, if you go too far in being overprotective, you run the risk of your child being emotionally harmed by your dangerous view of the world. How do you achieve a good balance?

Sadly, achieving a balance in pretty much anything is a challenge for most child abuse survivors. I can tell when I am making progress in an area of my life when I am not being extreme. The best approach is almost always somewhere in the middle. I try to remember that for my child.

I do err on the side of being overprotective, and I am not going to apologize for that. I have no problem looking someone straight in the eye and saying that when you have been abused as a child, you don’t have the luxury of pretending that child abuse can’t happen. When in doubt, I am always going to choose the route that keeps my kid safe.

That being said, I don’t want my kid to miss out on experiences that will enrich him by being overly paranoid. So, I try to find a way to give him more freedom in a way that I know that he is safe. For example, I have not banned all sleepovers at other children’s houses, but I must know and trust the parent(s) before I let my child spend the night at another child’s house. If I don’t feel 100% comfortable with the parent, then the answer is no – period.

As my child gets older, I try to give him more room to fly. For example, I was nervous about my 10-year-old son attending a sleepover “lock-in” at our church. However, rather than simply say no (which I almost did), I inquired more about the planned activities and the chaperones. As it turned out, there were enough chaperones that I trust to let him try it. He had a wonderful time, and I am grateful that he had that experience.

I also try to remind myself that my child will never suffer as much as I did for one simple reason – he has me. I had nobody to advocate for me or protect me, but he has me.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Smiling baby (c) Lynda Bernhardt

I have an interesting dynamic with my kid. His becoming a toddler was what kicked off the flashbacks of my abuse as a toddler. In my post Triggered by Child’s Birthday, I shared how my son’s 7th birthday set me into a tailspin because my abuse became significantly more severe at age seven.

For whatever reason, a part of myself sees my son as an extension of my inner child. I have to remind myself that he is not me. While I had nobody to protect me as a child, he has me, and I will keep him safe.

Last week, a child in my son’s school lost his mother in a car accident. The child is only five years old and was in the car crash that took his mother’s life. Obviously, anyone with any connection to this family was upset, but my reaction was much stronger than I would have expected, considering that I never met the mother and do not know the child very well. (I tutor the older children in his class but never worked with him.)

I finally realized what my problem was. I have a deep-seated belief that the world is an unsafe place and that I am the only thing standing between my son and severe abuse. Seeing a young boy lose his mother triggered my fears of leaving my son unprotected. Watching a woman around my same age lose her life so suddenly drove home how suddenly I could be taken away from my son. Even though I have no fear of dying, I have an intense fear of leaving my son unprotected.

So, now I am trying to focus on dismantling my incorrect beliefs that were shaped by the abuse I suffered. My son has a very different life than I had. Even if I died tomorrow, he is surrounded by people who love him and who would protect him. Unlike my parents, who chose to hang around with very sick people, I have developed many healthy friendships. I have no question that these friends would look out for my kid. Also, my husband is very different from my parents and would keep our son safe as well.

It never ceases to amaze me that the abuse truly permeated every aspect of my life. I am also always surprised that I continue to heal different parts of myself, even areas that I thought were already healed. There always seems to be a deeper layer that needs attention.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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