My daughter had my son by the hair, jerking his head back and forth and screaming in his face, her own face contorted with rage. When I ordered her to her room, she threw herself down on her bed, sobbing.
My son was crying. “She hit me!” he wailed. “She hit my head,”
I’d heard it too, down the hallway as I rushed out into the living room. She had been slapping his head with her open palms, screaming herself hoarse.
After I checked to make sure my son was okay, I walked down the hall to my daughter’s room. I could hear her sobs through the door. When I went into her room, I saw her curled in a fetal position. When she turned her tear-streaked eyes to me, all I saw was pain.
I didn’t know what to say, so I climbed into the bed next to her and curled my body around hers. She shook with sobs, shivering even in the warmth of the house. I felt tears prickling the backs of my eyes, because my daughter has dealt with trauma. She has dealt with emotional neglect.
She has dealt with a parent who also has explosive rage. Me.
Although I don’t get physical with my children, I have done very harmful things in my anger. Because I have a mental illness. Because I used to drink. And because I have trauma too.
“I can’t control myself,” she finally sniffed. She took a shaky breath, her voice much too heavy for her mere six years. “I get so mad, and I can’t stop.”
I exhaled, rubbed her back. “I know, baby,” I said. “You know I do…because Mommy gets that way too.”
How many times have I screamed at my children in my own rage? Because they fight. Because they get too loud. Because they disrespect me. It’s not all the time, it’s usually when I’m at my most vulnerable.
I’ve asked the therapists—my own and hers—and no one has the answer I’ve been seeking: What do we do with all this anger, this pain? How do we keep from hurting the ones we love the most?
The tears were thick in my eyes now. “I love you so much,” I said, my voice cracking. “And I’m going to keep on working with you, just like I work on myself. We’re practicing right now. We’re learning. We don’t have to be perfect.”
“I’m a bad kid,” she said.
Years of self-hatred surged in me. I remembered all the reasons I despised myself growing up.
“No. No, baby, that’s not true.”
“I don’t wanna be alive anymore.” Her eyes closed, as if willing it to happen right in that moment.
“No,” I said again. “That’s your brain telling you lies.”
I told her she was amazing, that her pain hurt, but it was beautiful. She was beautiful. We talked about all the things she does right. When we were done, she went into the living room and told her brother she was sorry. They wrapped their arms around each other and sat down on the couch to watch Netflix, their sides touching.
We have never been a “nice, normal family.” We’re full of darkness and anger and pain. But as we gathered around the table that night, munching our gingerbread cookies, I realized “nice” and “normal” aren’t nearly as important as the Joneses make them out to be. Through that darkness and anger and pain comes understanding, acceptance, and love.
I can’t change the past. The trauma will always exist there, for all of us. But together, we can affect positive change. Together, we can break the chain of trauma in our family—one beautiful moment at a time.