August is Parenting with PTSD Awareness Month
Patience was not my strong suit. At my very first 12-step retreat the guest speaker asked us to write down what we hoped to gain from our very intimate weekend together. I made the fatal mistake of saying I wanted patience. Don’t get me wrong: Patience is absolutely important and a good thing to desire. The flip side is God made arrangements for me to learn patience through life circumstances. One of the first things I learned is with age comes maturity and with that maturity comes the fruit of patience.
Ironically, the Bible also refers to patience as longsuffering. That is so not very encouraging. Why is it “long?” Why is there “suffering?” Really? As it turned out, it is probably the most accurate description of patience. What’s more, it was not something that was modeled for me growing up. In my house, there was plenty of impatience and consequently, shame, to go around.
Old school discipline
My father was the king of rage, which gave my mother permission to finally vent what she had been repressing all of her life before marriage. My parents were first generation Puerto Rican Americans. That meant my grandparents were raised in the old country, on the island of Puerto Rico. Slave trade in Puerto Rico introduced numerous dysfunctional ways to discipline; and thus, were passed down to native islander families like mine.
Hallmarks included yelling over the slightest thing; beatings with switches, leather belts, 3x5s, whatever was handy; an unwillingness to allow healthy learning to take the time it needed to take; and a tyrannical attitude. Those doling out the discipline were to be regarded as kings, gods, absolute czars and potentates. Their power was not allowed to be questioned or challenged.
This type of discipline is not exclusive to Puerto Rico. It also was passed down to American slaves and slaves all over the world. Look no further than Boko Haram and ISIS. These are classic examples of tyrannical cultures of total and complete control. The challenge is how to break the cycle and overcome so our children can thrive in a healthy environment be productive citizens.
My father regularly reminded us he was king, god, Hitler. He demanded absolute obedience from his wife and kids. Hispanic women were expected to “give in to the man.” We were to submit as slaves to our spouses and all the other men in the family. Any challenge was a threat and had to be put down immediately. Repeated challenges ensured escalated levels of discipline up to and including beating wives into submission.
What I also remember and hated most were the rage episodes. My father was a rageaholic not alcoholic. That was my mother. Yelling and beatings were normal. Living in fear was normal. However, once I made it out of captivity I found out my brand of normal wasn’t normal. I had to learn a whole new way of discipline and parenting.
Self will run riot
Dysfunctional thinking already had taken it’s toll on me. It was manifesting in lots of ways. I regularly broke the speed limit so much so that I had to hire a lawyer to get me into traffic school level three. It was an anger management class. I didn’t understand what I was doing in an anger management class.
Today, I can tell the true state of my mind by how I drive. Half of the time I’m yelling at other drivers, calling them ugly names and flipping them off so they couldn’t see my little bird. I’ve gotten much better thanks to therapy and 12-step recovery program.
Nevertheless, the real test of recovery is how I deal with my children. My parents didn’t merely cry over spilled milk, they screamed and yelled at the top of their lungs. There was plenty of shame to go around. Once Dad set it off, mom was sure to either join in or work feverishly to quell and clean up. When one sibling was attacked, it affected all of us. The slightest mistake was turned into a traumatic event; hence, why I have PTSD.
When my daughter spilled milk and I raged and shamed her in front of my husband, he said I was overreacting and needed to calm down. Wait. What? Sure he was right but in the heat of the moment, I was full of rage and could barely control myself. I had to stop and think: How important is it? Will world peace crumble over spilled milk? No, of course not.
I had to work with other mothers in recovery. It was extremely helpful. They helped me see my dysfunction so I could find the opposite behavior and model that. Furthermore, I had to learn how to apologize to my children. My first thought is, “Who does that? Certainly not my parents so why should I?” Isn’t that the whole point? When you have to apologize to your kids you quickly learn you don’t want to do it again.
My ways weren’t working. They were unhealthy. I needed a new perspective. Isn’t that why I stayed in 12-step groups? I had to lay down my weapons of mass destruction against my family, my kids in particular, and recognize what my parents taught me was wrong and in many cases illegal.
There was an unwritten rule within communities of color that we didn’t rat out parents who disciplined their children with beatings. However, now I was facing truth: I absolutely was teetering on the edge of child abuse. Any number of these women could have called CPS but didn’t because they understood as perhaps few others could. They gave me time to apply what I was learning, which was a foreign concept.
Patience has benefits
I needed a different tool box. I needed to understand that patience was absolutely critical if I were to be a successful parent. What my parents did was wrong. It didn’t mean they were evil. It simply meant what was passed down to them was passed onto me. I had the choice of breaking the cycle of violence. I had to cultivate the mission-critical skill of patience.
I had heard that for every year I was in a 12-step recovery program I had gained one second of pause before responding to whatever happened. In my case, I have cultivated a 22-second pause before responding instead of the instant abusive reaction.
The difference between reacting versus responding was in reacting I didn’t think before doing. A response had forethought. I gave myself time to stop and think after something happened. It gave me time I needed to put my best foot and face forward.
When I demonstrated patience, I demonstrated another dimension of my love for them. It allowed me to teach my children that patience is having its perfect work in me.
Cultivating patience is like cultivating a garden. First you have to bury the seed. Next you have to water and fertilize it. Eventually the seed sprouts and you have a delicate living thing that will eventually yield fruit. Fruits like holding my tongue, walking away, going for a walk, putting myself in timeout, calling a friend and getting some perspective. All of these are essential fruits of patience that our children need to grow.
Remember, we are raising the parents of our grandchildren. I want future generations to never have to experience the curse of dysfunctional parenting so they can live a full, peaceful life.
Posts in 2016 series
Parenting by any means necessary
Foundations: Why truth matters
Let Patience have her perfect work
School: Expectations versus reality
Worldwide Parenting with PTSD Awareness Day
It’s okay to miss the target and hit the tree
Game changer: Prayer and Meditation
Cogtoolz brings much-needed resources to college students
Impact: Bless, release, declare over our kids
Posts in 2015 series
Parenting with posttraumatic stress disorder
Discipline requires training, love spelled t-i-m-e
Beatings/Spankings are abuse: plain and simple
Parenting, like marriage, requires work
Parenting is a lifelong-learning proposition
Stop, look, listen and ask yourself questions
The high art of juggling
Downtime: the golden goose of PTSD
Worldwide parenting with PTSD Awareness Day
Parenting is a high call no matter your lot
The drought before the drought
Being misunderstood is a symptom
You are being forged in fire
Awakenings podcast: Parenting with PTSD