Finding Light in the Darkness

–by Lorraine Fuller

Raising kids who have experienced early trauma is hard. It’s scary, defeating, isolating, messy, stressful, overwhelming… It’s dark and depressing, sometimes so dark you feel like you can’t breathe or take another step. Your friends, family, and neighbors don’t understand. You feel like a failure. You hear criticism from everyone from your own mother-in-law to total strangers in the grocery store. You dread phone calls from the school. Did I mention it’s dark?

We have to learn to search for light. Luckily, light is most visible when you are in complete darkness. I went on a cave tour once and during the tour they turned off the lights for a few minutes. It was a complete darkness, no hint of light, then a man in the group pushed a button on his watch. There was a blue glow, and in that complete darkness, that dim blue glow was bright. We all focused on it until the lights came back on. From my
spot several feet away, I could no longer see the blue glow because the brighter light overwhelmed it.

We trauma parents are better at seeing the light, even dim light. This means, among other things, that we have the best sense of humor. Dish soap in the coffee? Poop? Pee? Sexting? A used tampon lying on the floor? We’ll make a joke of it, find a way to laugh. It’s our survival skill. That used tampon? A trauma parent will text one of her trauma-mama tribe; the other mom will say, “well, at least you know she’s not pregnant.” I think they call it gallows humor. 

We are good at looking for the positive, even in the negative. We can look at a porn story a son writes about a teacher and note his good penmanship, his excellent spelling, his improved grammar. We see artistic skill in his drawings of dead people. We marvel at the way our kids get around parental controls, how downing an ancient, long-forgotten box of forbidden candy doesn’t make them sick. We may be secretly impressed with the complexity of the story of how they got that iPod. We are glad for the three-hour shower – at this time last year, the kid wasn’t bathing at all. We look for the good, and sometimes, we even find more, see the scared child behind the manipulations and the angry words.

We don’t sweat the small stuff. Forget the perfect house, the matched outfits. The house is still standing and everyone is wearing pants. It’s enough. We can celebrate the small steps, the little bits of progress that only we can see. Let yourself be brought to tears by an honest answer because you know how hard it was. Celebrate when the change you left on the kitchen counter is still there the next day. Get excited about a D – that means your child probably didn’t cheat. Celebrate a birthday with no meltdowns. Celebrate a 15-minute meltdown (the last one took 45!). It might have to be a silent celebration, like that time your kid actually listened and wore a coat during a snowstorm, but celebrate all the same.

Last but not least, celebrate that trauma parents get the most awesome friends. On the surface, you might not know what unites us. We are of different races, religions, political parties. We live in different parts of the country and we have different lifestyles. But this is the one group of friends I can call any hour of the day or night and they will talk me down, whether they’re at the opera or feeding a flock of sheep, caring for their grandkids or getting a tattoo. It’s an amazing bond, and we are so grateful for the technology that helps make it happen, whether we need it every hour or just a few times a year.

Yes, this might be a dark life, but it’s filled with little bits of light, and they make all the difference in the world. I just need to remember to focus on them. One day my world might be bright again, but even if it is, I hope I never stop looking for those small glows and appreciating the hope they give.

Mother of four, though I claim others. Some biological and some adopted. As a mom, I have dealt with and learned a lot about early childhood trauma, wheelchairs, prosthetics, autism, attachment issues, anxiety, personality disorders, learning disabilities and more. I have successfully launched each child into the adult world and now begin a new phase of parenting. I was recently promoted to grandma and love it.