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An Open Letter to the Mom I Used to Be

I see you mama, sitting on those steps while your kids obliviously hang on the rails or sit there not even caring at all that they're sitting on the steps of Sesame Street--SESAME STREET!! This picture always makes you laugh. You were SO excited to get a pic on the steps of Sesame Street--and your kids couldn't have cared less (this will be a bit of a pattern, but don't worry, it's pretty normal).

I know part of what makes you sad is that you don't think your kids remember these times, and you're probably right. I know that by the time this picture was taken, you already knew that things weren't going to be the way you'd always hoped and dreamed (in regard to your marriage and how your husband participated in parenting--or didn't more accurately).

In just a couple years from that picture, you're going to move to a small town out in the country, two hours away from any of your friends. But don't worry--you'll make new friends, and you'll actually start to get involved in things and feel more like yourself than you had in years. Your husband will travel even more for work, but you'll find that you're happier when he is gone--it's easier. You'll even start to recognize how unhappy you are in your marriage, but you'll decide that you were the one that chose to marry him and have kids, so you will stay and give your kids the family that you didn't have.

But you'll also start to see how the unhappiness, the stress when he is home, and the tension is escalating, and your kids aren't immune to the fallout. You'll find a journal in just-learning-to-write-handwriting that calls out their dad as a jerk and an asshole. You'll watch your kids try to sneak past their dad in his chair to ask you for something--some kind of comfort that they're too afraid to ask him for. You'll take notice and record a two-week period where the only interaction he has with one of them is to kick them in the rear as they walk by or tickle or otherwise tease them. Then he'll scold them for crying or getting upset and tell them to "cut the cord".

You will get to a point where you know enough is enough and that staying "for the kids" is doing them harm. You will find the courage to leave. You will be responsible for one of the most traumatic experiences in your kids' lives. And the truth is, you didn't go a great job managing it. To be fair, you didn't really understand what you were dealing with when you left. You see, all those things that were problems before you left stayed problems, only now he was really angry at you for destroying his perfect family image.

It will take you some time to recognize that he was/is an abusive person and that he has many of the hallmark behaviors of a covert passive aggressive narcissist. You will let years go by without even knowing you should be doing things to counteract the narrative he is creating about you to your kids. God I wish you understood trauma the way you do now. You're going to miss so much because you just don't understand--your own trauma, the trauma your kids are experiencing, what that looks like in their behaviors, and most importantly, how you can help mitigate that trauma with healthy coping skills and mechanisms. But you don't know yet.

Here's the hard truth, mama. You did the best you could at the time, but there are a lot of ways that you failed your kids. You didn't have the tools yourself to arm them against the coercive control and manipulation and verbal abuse that they would continue to be subject to. You won't be able to recognize their behaviors as trauma responses and you'll get frustrated that they won't talk to you. And just when you think that you've got things just a little bit under control...2016.

2016 through 2019 will be some of your most difficult years. You will be triggered in ways you can't see coming and your teenaged kids will use that (because they've been taught their whole lives that to harm or torment you gains favor with their father) to poke you and cause a kind of pain that feels insurmountable. But I'm here to tell you that it is surmountable. You will get through it. It will actually be the beginning of some real healing. Everything before that was pretty much just you, pushing through and figuring it out (or not) as you went.

You will start to understand things--yourself--in ways that you couldn't before. You will learn about trauma, about childhood development and experiences, about narcissism, coercive control--all the things that would have made your life from that photo on so much different.

And one day, many years from those Sesame Street steps, you'll be sitting at your desk, writing a blog for your coaching business (where you help women leaving abusive men). You'll see that picture and you'll be sad for a moment, because you'll think about the fact that they don't remember those times--the times when it was just you and them against the world.

What I want you to know mama is that they do remember. They may not remember in their heads, but they remember in their souls. They were and are a part of you. No man, no matter how much shit he piles on top of their memories can remove the bond and the unconditional love that you gave them--that you still have for them.

So stand up off those steps, mama. Grab that backpack full of diapers and snacks and head off to the face-painting station. Keep making those memories. The kids may not remember the details, but you will.

And twenty-something years from now, when you see that picture again, give yourself some grace. You didn't get it all right, but you didn't get it all wrong, either.

**I am very excited to announce that I will be adding a coercive control certification to my high conflict divorce coaching business. This means I will be equipped to help protective parents navigate co-parenting with an abusive person in a trauma-informed way that builds connection and empowers children with vocabulary and knowledge to identify unhealthy behavior or patterns.

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