I don’t talk very openly about the hardest days. I’m open enough to acknowledge that there have certainly been hard days (& months … & even years). But the hardest of the hard days? Very few people know those stories. I don’t share them in detail, partly because of my own pride or shame or feelings of inadequacy, but also because I don’t want others judging my sons because of behaviors they conducted as children. You see, trauma does untold harm to the brain, to the chemicals that are supposed to keep our minds functioning in a healthy way. Trauma as a very young child stays with that person psychologically, even if they don’t remember the events themselves.
Parenting a child who has experienced trauma is a very difficult endeavor, because you are constantly trying to figure out the line between behaviors that are simply related to a bad attitude in the moment versus behaviors that stem from something much, much deeper that the child can’t even articulate himself: the multiple holes in drywall, so very many things broken in anger, the stealing, the lying, the manipulation, the countless “I hate you!” tantrums, the running away, and I could go on, but that’s a long enough list. I’ve dealt with suspension, expulsion, court, fines, and probation, not to mention numerous sideways glances over the years from apparently perfect parents of angelic offspring.
Why do I share all of this now? The behaviors I mentioned above happened in the midst of YEARS of earnest attempts to seek counseling, therapy, intervention, you name it. Despite my best efforts to provide positive outlets, trauma isn’t healed overnight.
The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” Sure, he’s also frequently quoted about peaceful protest, and rightly so. But when attempts at peaceful protest (say kneeling at a football game, standing with arms raised or holding signs, for example) are met with indifference, scorn, forceful retaliation, tear gas, being run over or shot at, what recourse is left but to act out? If my own sons who have been unconditionally loved & supported and have had access to positive intervention tools for years STILL act out because of early-childhood trauma, how much MORE would they act out if I had turned a blind eye to their pain, belittled them for their hurt feelings, or cruelly punished them and made them feel unloved and unwanted? Worse yet, what if I’d made them feel like their trauma was their own fault?
Even though I’ve been a parent for many years now, I still lack understanding of exactly what each of them has gone through psychologically & emotionally because I didn’t experience it first-hand from inside their heads. (Secondary trauma is another topic for another day.) Likewise, we, as white people, can talk till we’re blue in the face about why riots are a poor choice, but the root of the matter is that peaceful dissent hasn’t worked. We need to earnestly look beyond our own privileged & insulated worldviews and put ourselves into the shoes of our neighbors who have experienced very real trauma for many years, and that trauma has gone unrecognized, unheeded, and untreated. “A riot is the language of the unheard,” and we needed to be listening long before now.