Breaking the Cycle Of Adverse Childhood Experiences

This post is made possible with support from the American Academy of Pediatrics through a cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All opinions are my own.

I often think about the things that shaped me. Having a daughter makes it almost mandatory that I do this. There were soooo many things that gave way to the person that I am today. Some days, I’m very aware of the fact that those things stalled the person I was always meant to be.

We talked a little about ACE’s a while back. Adverse Childhood Experiences happen. Some examples include everything from child abuse and neglect, parent getting divorced, substance abuse occurring in the house and more.

For me, I was uprooted pretty early in life from what I considered my family. Following that, I experienced more unwanted sexual contact than any child needs to know about or have. That experience has shaped portions of my parenting.

As a child, I remember hearing people speak about a particular “uncle.” I also recall people stating that he would never dare to touch any of us kids because my father would kill him. Of course, that meant that the arrogance of others allowed this person to get close to me, to groom me, to make me complicit in things that I thought at the time I should know about but that I had no business trying to understand.

I’ve lost my own sense of timeline during that period. I cannot tell you how old I was but, based on some of my recollection, I was close to my daughter’s age. I’d say between 10 and 11? That period gets dark in my mind’s eye when I think of it. Like, I literally see it as nighttime in New York City, specifically the courtyard of my apartment building which I was walking into when my uncle made me a proposition that no child should ever have to hear or respond to.

I am forever grateful that, though there was a sense of loss regarding what I knew about at that age, that I had the wherewithal to respond with a resounding no to his question.

When I had a daughter, I made myself a promise that I would do all I could to ensure that she wouldn’t experience what I did (and let me say that my uncle wasn’t an isolated incident as there were other people in my midst that brought inappropriateness to a new level).

In that sense, I feel that I’ve started the process of breaking that cycle. I found out about some things after my mother passed that has led me to believe and understand exactly how rampant this behavior was in parts of her step-family.

My goal was to create safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments for the Frog Princess and by extension, for myself.

I try to be aware of her spaces (without being paranoid). I have taught her about her body from early on and tried to ensure that she is confident in her body’s autonomy. If she doesn’t want to hug someone, she doesn’t have to (and this was hard for me to back away from at times), she can name her body parts and knows that no one is to touch them. We’ve had the birds and the bees conversation. I’ve established a sense of trust and reinforced how important she is to me and how much her wellbeing matters. I remember thinking that I could not tell my parents about my uncle because if I did, my dad would kill him and subsequently go to jail. Kids sometimes think in black and white and this was definitely the case for me. I wonder what would have happened if someone was talking to me then the way that I talk to my kid now.

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Because yes, I do talk to her. Constantly. About big things and little things. She calls some of our conversations “mami’s speech” but I hear she likes them (I’ll check back with her when she hits her teen years). I make sure she understands that I respect and honor how she feels about things, I nurture her instinct (we often break down how certain things make her feel in order for me to build up her confidence in her own feelings when she can’t necessarily name them), and I make sure that I’ve put people in her midst that I trust and that she trusts.

I’ve managed to build my own village that support me and that hold space when I need it. At 44, I still get triggered by certain things in the news or everyday events that remind me of that particular period in my life. I have my 3 that I can talk to when that arises. My cousin Yery, my sister and my BFF. It helps to have a safety net when I can’t run away from a headline or a life event.

Slowly but surely, I’m also building baby girl’s village. Placing people in her life that will make up her 3 when the time comes for me to take a backseat and let her navigate waters that I won’t be able to wade through with her.

Oh and, we have a therapist. Because I can’t even begin to speak of healthy behaviors without throwing a little therapy in the mix. It has helped me process a lot of what’s happened in my past. I am excited that my child will see therapy as normal and won’t have the stigma that so many people carry. She will think of therapy as normal a teeth cleaning. It’s part of staying healthy.

Healthy.

A long time ago I learned that the word did not just apply to my body but to my mind as well. Learning about ACE’s has allowed me to put a lot of my childhood into perspective. Not so I can wallow in it or see myself as a victim but rather, so that I could learn from my past and provide a different blueprint for my kid.

Children have adverse childhood experiences but, if we adults could manage to change the blueprint a bit, I think we will save our children from a good amount of them.

Thinking back to your childhood, you might identify some ACEs that you’ve experienced. Can you name your 3 go-to people that have your back no matter what? Sound off, friends!