Break-the-Cycle Parenting: In the Trenches

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“I trust you to curl my hair,” I said to my twelve-year old as she came at my sizable forehead with a hot electrical appliance.

“And that’s sayinGiraffesg something,” I added, “Because those things can hurt and I can count the people I trust on one hand.”

Dang it, I overshared. It wasn’t the first time – but it’s something I rarely do with my daughter.

Tween parenting is so different. By the time I figure it out my daughter will be in another stage. She’s nowhere close to being an adult. But she’s not the same bundle of need she was as a baby, toddler or kid either. For years, she needed me to be secure base, taxi driver, entertainment and all all-around anchor and attachment figure. Sometimes it felt we were sharing the same bone marrow. She still needs me but not with the same ferocious intensity.

Sometimes it’s me asking if she wants to play a game or go shopping.

“You trust Heidi to curl your hair,” she said.

“I do,” I said, “Heidi is so fashionable. There are different types of trust for different people. Some you trust to ask money advice, some you can share your feelings with and some even get a key to your house or car.”

She looked puzzled.

“Do you know what I mean?” I asked. “Do you


have people you trust with some things and not with others?”

More blank confusion.

I waited a minute.

“Mom,” she said, “Why would I have anyone in my life I don’t trust?”

Now it was me who was quiet.

And puzzled.

Not sure what to say.

I excused myself and went to the bathroom, or as I call it, my office.

I was happy and I wanted to cry.comments

“Why would I have anyone in my life I don’t trust?” were the words. They ran through my head like a mantra.


I didn’t know how to answer or respond.

Sitting on the closed toilet I celebrated the moment. As a mother – proud of my daughter’s agency and trust in herself and other people.

But I grieved too. For myself.

There were countless people in my life, my entire life, I didn’t trust. Some of them I was related to by birth or marriage and who were invited in while I was a child.

And some I had let right in to my heart, purse or home and even sent an invitation and got them coffee or a snack when they arrived.

I hadn’t insisted on trust. Not really. And when I was betrayed I was hurt but I wasn’t surprised.

How could I explain why to my kid? I can’t say I didn’t know better. I knew better.

But I didn’t feel better. I didn’t have the felt knowing of that truth.

Or that there was another option.

Why would I have someone in my life I don’t trust?

Was there ever a time I trusted everyone in my life? Did I grow up believing people were good, loving and reliable? I didn’t.

I thought they were weak, back-stabbing, screwed up and incapable of taking care of themselves.

Underneath the try-hard, good girl and always-do-what’s-right exterior – I thought people are total shits.

Myself included.IMAG00677 (2)

I was suspicious of humans.

The sun for the way it rose and set so consistently got my trust. Cats, dogs and plants were fun, loving and cheery. Teachers were acceptable as long as they stayed in teacher mode and didn’t try to talk outside of school.

Books were sanctuary.

But people – not so much.

People = bad bet.

Don’t need anyone and you won’t get hurt.

That’s what I believed in my belly, bones and skin.

I didn’t go around saying that or even admitting to myself that’s how I felt.

It was subconscious, unconscious and implicitly known.

I remembered this yesterday when making a PowerPoint slide on the ACE Test & Study for an upcoming event at Mobius in Boston (free and on March 15th at 2p.m. if you’re interested).

One of the slides showed how high ACE scorers are more likely to be raped as adults and in abusive relationships.

“Why? Do people have a magnet or a mark?,” my low-ACE-scoring friend and collaborator asked. “I don’t understand why that is. It makes no sense.”

“It makes perfect sense,” I said, “To those with high ACE scores, love and good treatment don’t need to go together. We have a high tolerance for shits,” I added. “Because starting as kids we’ve loved and been loved by people who treat us and themselves terribly. Mistreatment isn’t a red flag that says run. It’s familiar.”

Being dismissed, ignored or ridiculed are the apples in the made-from-scratch-pie of home. Mixed with sugar and cinnamon the bruises get covered and the tart is transformed. It tastes, feels, smells so warm, intimate and enveloping. IMAG00006

Deep. True. Real.

Like chemistry and soul mates and meant-to-be can feel.

Chaotic. Dangerous. Crazy.

Connected. Enmeshed. Pre-verbal.

 Like… like…. like  family.

She looked at me.

I looked at her.

For a moment we shared the knowledge that though we lived on the same street we had lived in different worlds – at least as children. web clouds

And even though we are in our 40’s and 70’s now those childhood experiences still shaped our views of the world at least some of the time.

But something else was evident too.

We were just having a conversation. I mean, when I was younger a conversation like this one, if it even happened, would have made me feel ashamed, embarrassed or angry.

I might have felt like she was luckier, privileged or being nice to tolerate or put up with me. Or I would have judged her for living on Easy Street and acting like we could relate to me at all. She don’t know squat about being a fixer-upper human that needed sweat equity just to function and hold it together.

I would have worried that she’d pity me – or worse – not pity me.

I would have felt robbed, ripped off, vulnerable, victimized and damaged, impossible to understand too – invincible and strong like Wonder Woman all at the same time.

Not yesterday. I didn’t feel explained by my past, pardoned or exceptional. I didn’t require explanations or excuses or praise.

I was just talking with an activist, friend, parent and woman. I was with a person I liked and admired and shared ice melt and creative work and yoga classes with. We spoke of childhoods the way you compare domestic or foreign cars. They are different but both get you around the same towns. They go to different repair shops and aren’t identical but they both drive.

My experiences haven’t brought only pain but insights and scrappy resourcefulness I wouldn’t trade. I caught myself inhabiting the now.

I wasn’t wishing my past was any different (which doesn’t mean I love all the side effects). But gone was the belief that I am flawed and only a different past can make a different me.

I like who and how I am even with post-traumatic stress. I’m o.k. here and now as I am. I may even have gifts, talents and be lucky and blessed. Everyone has something and we’re all just humans and that’s not a tragedy.

Holy shit – when did this level of healing happen?

“Why would I have someone in my life I don’t trust?” my daughter asked, stumping me.

One day, I may say, “Because he’s your father,” or, “You don’t always have a choice”, or “Most people don’t change but some do and there are times you risk it.”

Or not.

But for now, I soak in her candor and bathe in that eye-rolling incredulous voice. She does not carry mistrust of herself, others and the world like a gun aimed and ready.

She feels safe – not defended. And most of the time now – so do I.

Written By Sylvia Paull

Break-the-Cycle Parenting: In the Trenches was originally published @ ACEs Too High and has been syndicated with permission.


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