Navigating Educational Trauma as a Parent

Like anything in life there are sides to every story…..often multiple sides.

My post about Parenting Trauma within the Educational System seemed to hit a chord with many and I believe its a huge opportunity for conversation.

Within the Education System we have:
– kids who are traumatized
– parents who are traumatized
– educators, administrators and support staff who are traumatized

There’s a lot of trauma.

And……no ones trauma outweighs another. Every trauma is valid and some how we have to figure out a way to navigate a system filled with traumatized people, who are doing their best; and have the end result be a safe, inclusive space for all to grow and thrive.

It’s an unfortunate reality that, at any given time, our best may be super messy and awkward. Just like our little ones……some days, their best may be flailing around on a floor screaming. And that “best” is better than lashing out at another person. As humans, we have the opportunity to come along side and support those who are struggling.

Navigating trauma that has been inflicted on your child, is brutal. While there are times that people intentionally inflict trauma on others; I would say that the majority of trauma within the education system, is not done purposefully. People don’t go into education with the intent to harm kids.

Regardless of whether its intentional or not, trauma happens and when we know better, we must do better; which is why awareness, and communication are so important.

When trauma is triggered, the brain shuts down and communication and learning are impaired. This is true for kids and for adults.

I’m aware that I hold trauma in my body and mind regarding my children and the Education system. When triggered, I try really hard to pause before I react and to filter what I say and feel; or to find someone who can help me regulate But, there are times when past trauma is triggered and all I do is react.

When trauma is triggered, my brain goes into overdrive. My thoughts immediately start racing. At the same time, everything is a bit of a fog. My only goal is to protect my kids, at any and all cost. Unfortunately, there can be fall out. In moments of fight/flight, I may say things that rational me wouldn’t say. I can feel my heart racing and my body tenses. It’s not a pleasant feeling. I can literally feel the surge of adrenaline washing over me as I prepare to fight or flee.

It feels awful!

And I know that many of you have been there; and many of you are there.

My hope, in posting about this, is to bring awareness. Awareness to parents, awareness to educators, awareness to people who have no clue that this happens. I believe that with awareness, there is opportunity to talk, to communicate more openly; and ultimately, to grow and heal. In order for relationship to build and grow, there has to be communication.

I believe that the “end goal” is that we all want children to grow and learn and be successful.

In the midst of trauma, its easy to loose sight of that. The Fight/Flight instinct kicks in and we go into Battle Mode.

As parents, its beneficial to know if we carry trauma regarding the Education System. We need to know that the trauma taints everything we see, hear, say, experience…….

I’m not saying that there haven’t been “wrongs” committed.

Because there have been “wrongs”. That’s a fact.

But how do we, as humans, work together towards growth and relationship. Especially, when we have a child (or children) in the middle of it all.

How can we communicate respectfully with each other?
How can we hear each other?
How can we come to an agreement with each other?
How can we be partners rather than adversaries?

I know this is a lofty ideal.

I don’t know exactly how to make it happen. I don’t believe that what’s currently happening is working; and I want to be a part of a change.

Here are some of the ways that I hope to affect change.

Awareness I think speaking about trauma and other issues; and sharing openly and vulnerably is important. I can’t tell you how many people message me saying they “get it” or are going through the same thing. They say that it feels so good to know they’re not alone on this journey. That means the world to me because I know that I’m not alone.

RelationshipI have purposed to build relationship on a peer level with the people in my kids lives. This doesn’t mean that we are “besties”. But, I want them to know me as Patti, the person; and I want to know them as the person they are. Making relationship critical, means that when I’m feeling hurt by something or someone, I have a bigger chance of “pausing” before I say something hurtful to another human. It’s easy to rail against a system……and less easy when you really see the person in front of you.

RespectIf I had to choose one building block to build my life on, it would be respect. I want to act and speak respectfully regardless of how I’m treated. I’m human and fallible but this is one virtue I make every effort to embody. I believe that if you are a respectful person, as a general rule, you will be treated with respect. If you can continue to be respectful, even in the midst of difficulty, you will gain more respect. It’s just the way it works. That doesn’t mean you need to be a doormat and let people walk all over you. Part of living a respectful life is also having self respect and knowing what to accept and what to let go of; but speaking the truth with respect is powerful.

I’m not a policy maker. I’m not a name or organization within the system. I’m just a mom trying to affect change within my realm of influence; and these are just 3 of the ways that I hope to affect change.

I do, wholeheartedly, believe in the ripple effect. We have an opportunity every year to bring awareness, and respect to our relationships with the educators/administrators, parents and support staff that we come in contact with. It’s my hope that awareness, respect and relationship are the legacy that I leave behind, with every grade that my children pass through.

Don’t ever think that you don’t have any influence. We do have influence. Be a force for change. Be a positive influence and see what happens. It may take time, but I believe that it’s worth it.


Parenting PTSD, the Educational Version

I recently received an email that sent me into an absolute tailspin.

I’ve just realized that with all the info blacked out, this email could be for any one of them, because all 3 of my boys have the same initials. All 3 have IEP’s and “school teams”.

Do you see anything wrong or even remotely threatening or negative about this email?

Nope! Neither do I and I asked for a meeting. Regardless, as I lay in bed, my heart started to race and the thoughts in my head sped out of control.?

What if they are upset with my child?
What if they are upset with me?
What if they are going to tell me that it’s too much effort to support my child?
What if they chalk his issues up to bad parenting instead of trauma?
What if they judge me?
What if they are tired of trying?
What if they put it all back on me to solve and fix?

And the thoughts spiral out of control until I’m choking back the tears and barely holding myself together.?

{I know that these are “what if’s….” and I really don’t want to live in the world of “what if’s….” because….what if it all goes amazingly well? And really what does it matter if someone thinks poorly of my child. I know the truth. But truth doesn’t always vanquish the trauma…..at least not right away.}

This is Parenting PTSD, the Educational version.In the past, I’ve had administrators and teachers say those things about my child. I’ve heard those things said to me, said about my child, and said when it was presumed that I wasn’t listening. To hear those things, destroys a piece of your heart, mind and soul. It breaks your ability to trust, to really even hear at all, let alone with an open heart and soul.

It is devastating to hear that people feel your child is too difficult, too much effort, or just not worth the effort.

While I know that currently, we have people on our teams who actually care for my boys, that past wounding, that TRAUMA is still there. It’s runs deep and it excruciatingly painful.

As a parent of a child with extra needs, you are already soul crushingly weary but usually with no real option or opportunity to rest. You are almost always in fight or flight mode. If for some blessed reason you aren’t there, it only takes one second to be activated …..sometimes when it’s not even necessary.

I’m extra exhausted right now and pretty close to the edge of tears, most of the time.

I’m not alone in this, either. There are thousands of parents, with kids who have challenges, who feel traumatized from dealing with the people within the education system.

We are desperate for people to truly see our children for the wonders that they are. We are desperate for someone to share all the good and amazing things that they see about our children. We are desperate for people to look beyond the challenging behaviour, to see what our children are saying, to listen and really hear their hearts. To champion them into becoming all they they can be and even more.

We are desperate for people to see our children as human beings; and as valuable, worthy and important as the typical kids.

On our end, it takes the courage of showing up and being there even when you don’t know if it will make a difference or if you’ll get hurt again. It takes vulnerability to share your hurts, your ideas, your successes and your failures.

If you work within the education system, know that you have parents and children who are incredibly triggered right now.

show love,
show compassion,
show mercy,
show grace,
show acceptance.

Invest in relationship.
Foster communication.
Build trust.
Be Respectful.
Be a life line.

And the benefits will be innumerable.

But recognize that there is Trauma and it’s not going anywhere soon.

Be a part of the solution, not the problem.

Parenting Musings

I spend a lot of time thinking about Parenting.

More often than not, I’m musing about how I parent and why I parent the way I do. I think about how I can connect with my kids on a deeper level. I often wonder how I can communicate in ways that are meaningful to them and that really make positive ideals and beliefs come alive in their lives.

On good days, I feel like Parenting is my “calling” and on bad days, I just want to give up, crawl into bed and play 1000 levels of Candy Crush. I’ve known since I was a teenager that I wanted to be a parent; in my naivety, I didn’t realize that life was a crapshoot and that there are no guarantees. The dreams I had for my future never included autism, ADHD, anxiety, cancer, loss, trauma, etc; but as I say to my children,

“Life is not fair; but you do get to choose how you act and react to the challenges (and gifts) that come into your life.”

In saying that life is a crapshoot, I’m not hating on my life, at all! My life is filled with beauty and wonder. Yes, I am often exhausted, but I choose to see the beauty and the wonder, and to accept the joy in the sorrow and the struggle. I believe we have seen our share of sorrow and struggle; but I also feel that to the immense depth of grief and sorrow that we allow ourselves to feel, we also get to experience the equivocal amount of joy.

“The walls we build around us to keep out sadness also keep out the joy.” Jim Rohn

This little one has had such huge struggles with anxiety. To see glimpses of him unencumbered by fear brings me SO JOY.

One thing that I think has really helped me, and it’s not limited to parenting, is to identify my goals.

My supreme goal as a parent, is to raise these children into respectful, hard working , compassionate, members of society. I want them to be confident in who they are, to know that they have a voice. It’s important to me that they know the importance of boundaries; and that they know how to set, enforce and protect their boundaries. I want them to think critically. I want them to be able to make choices, weigh the consequences; and, be willing to accept the consequences, regardless of whether they are positive or negative.

Having a clear goal, makes it easier to weigh in on what’s important, what’s unimportant and what’s detrimental. It also challenges me to ask how any particular issue applies to the goals that I’m working towards.

My parenting goals are generalized goals that give me a framework to help both me and my children. Each of my children are so unique and I’m not trying to raise carbon copy robots; but I am hoping to raise decent human beings that are courageous, respectful, compassionate, industrious, rational, creative dreamers. I don’t believe that this is too much to ask.

The practical application of this, looks different for each child, but the overall goal is the same.

So, how does this help me?

If I had to narrow it all down and choose one key word or goal, it would be respect.

If my children grow up to be respectful adults, all the supporting goals should fall in line. In my mind, being respectful of yourself, to others, to the world around you, and to those in authority over or under you, will set you up for success. I come back to the virtue of respect, daily.

I believe that one of the biggest ways that children learn is by watching and modelling.

Any parent of a 2 year old knows that you’ve got to watch what you say in front of your kids, because they will parrot back what they hear. We are our kids biggest role models and influencers. They are learning from us.

They are listening to what we say.

They are listening to HOW we say it, even more so.

They are watching how we act and react…..and not only with the world but with them.

From our interactions with them, they are learning how to interact with people who have authority and with people who are under authority.

The way I see it, if my goal is to raise respectful human beings, then I must also model respect. Not just in front of them, but to them.

The lessons they will learn from how I act and communicate with them, have a life long impact.

I don’t believe that my role in my children’s life is to force them to follow rules, or to bend or break their spirit.

I do believe that you can be respectful and communicate needs, desires, and differing opinions.

I do believe you can train and guide while showing respect.

I do believe that children are as deserving of respect as adults are.

I do believe that children need MANY opportunities to practice being respectful, with the onus on us as adults, to understand that it’s going to take years to master the skill.

I do believe that children, like adults, want to do their best in most situations. In tough situations, what we often deem as “not enough”, may be, in fact “their best” at that moment. Respecting where they are at, allows them safe space and an opportunity to be self aware and vulnerable without shame…..all these things are important for self-respect to grow.

I do believe that relationship is more important than “being right.” Being human, I mess up often and I have no fear admitting that to my children, because, once again, I’m modelling to them the value of relationship, vulnerability and most importantly respect.

The link above is to another post I wrote on authority and respect.

I haven’t always parented based on respect, or been clear on what my goals were. It’s taken me 20+ years of parenting to get here and I, by no means, am perfect at this “practise.” I will say that having a goal and a clear focus makes it easier to parent, especially in the “heat of the moment”.

Daily, purposeful practise of the virtue of respect allows it to become second nature for both us and our children. There is no “losing” in being respectful…….only gaining.

Respect for ourselves guides our morals, Respect for others guides our manners.

Laurence Sterne