Being a Trauma Mama... Oh the Judgments!
photo by Luam Rmah on Unsplash
I recently spent some time driving around town looking for a friend’s missing daughter who had run away. It wasn’t the first time, but it was the longest she had been missing. Normally when this girl ran away, she returned late that same evening, but now the time had stretched beyond 48 hours and that’s when a mom starts to imagine all the bad things that could have happened to her.
This friend is a fellow trauma mama. Her daughter is a victim of child abuse at the hands of her father. While he has not lost parenting rights, he hasn’t completed the court-ordered requirements to begin reunification. As such, he hasn’t been allowed to see or talk to his baby girl in almost three years. He doesn’t sound like a very nice guy. My friend has been struggling with her budding teen more and more in recent years as the hormones kick in and the trauma rises closer to the surface.
Oddly enough, my friend didn’t really realize that she was a trauma mama until she read my book. She was the first person to write a review for me and she thanked me for sharing our story and helping her realize that the behaviors she is seeing are a result of trauma. I’m so glad our story helped her.
Trauma has different manifestations for different kids, but most of the trauma mamas I know agree that the behaviors get more frightening and more dangerous as kids enter the teen years. Now, any parent of a teenager will tell you that this is a difficult phase, but most don’t realize the leveling up that comes along when a kid has suffered trauma. These kids make bad choices. They choose friends who are terrible influences (usually other trauma kids, as they are attracted to each other). They dabble in drugs and alcohol. They often exhibit dangerous sexual behaviors. And they run away.
In her Facebook post asking for help finding her daughter, my friend was very careful to describe her only as “missing” and not that she ran away. Why? Because of the judgments. And even so, there were judgments. As friends of friends started sharing the missing child post, most offered prayers. Some enlisted their kids from the neighborhood to contact all of their friends and see if anyone had seen her. But a snarky few had to judge.
One woman insisted “something was fishy” because my friend’s post didn’t sound frightened enough. Really??? She’s posting on Facebook, begging others to share and help find her daughter. She reported the incident to the police. I KNOW she worried, she cried, and she questioned what she could have done differently. But now we’re going to judge the semantics of her post?
Most of you know I had a kid who suffered from reactive attachment disorder, a rare and serious condition associated with childhood trauma. He was neglected by his foster mom before we got him, and the trauma behaviors were bad. He was angry. He was violent. He often tried to hurt us. And he frequently ran away. He was much younger than my friend’s daughter, and fortunately, he didn’t have many places to go – so he always ended up at the neighbors’ house down the street. They would call us and allow him to stay there until he calmed down and was ready for us to pick him up. He probably stopped doing this about age 9, thank goodness.
Each time, I was so worried about telling other people. I was thankful that my “host” neighbors were good friends and never judged us for his behavior, but SO many others did. I received more than my share of dirty looks when my kid misbehaved in a public place. I heard whispers about me and my kid behind my back at school functions. I knew certain parents avoided us and wouldn’t let their kid be friends with mine. And on a couple of occasions, people actually said something to my face. One woman had the nerve to tell me I was failing as a parent. As if I didn’t already tell myself that same thing every single day.
When word gets around that a child has a physical illness, the support is incredible. Moms form a meal train, offer babysitting services, collect money to help with medical expenses, start GoFundMe accounts. But when word gets around that a child has a mental illness, people run in the opposite direction, leaving a struggling mother alone and unsupported.
So here’s my wish… Can’t we all be nicer to each other? When we see a child is missing, let’s support the mom rather than try to decipher whether she’s “upset enough”. Maybe she’s putting on a brave face for the word, but inside she is crumbling. When we see a child is misbehaving and we don’t know all the details of that child’s background, can’t we assume this mom is doing the best she can? Can’t we offer support instead of judgment? Maybe ask if you can help or just offer a kind word.
This whole incident brought up those feelings of helplessness I felt for so many years of being a trauma mama. I am thrilled to report my friend’s daughter was found safe, but I know she still has many struggles ahead until they can heal that past trauma. I pray every day that she will find resolution before its too late.
She will have my unending support throughout her journey. I just hope more people will join me in supporting the parents of trauma kids. Their lives are hard. Let’s make it just a tiny bit easier by not being too judgy.
Gina Heumann is the author of Love Never Quits: Surviving and Thriving After Infertility, Adoption, and Reactive Attachment Disorder. Purchase her best-selling book, GOLD recipient of the prestigious Mom's Choice Award here: Love Never Quits