I Can’t Protect My Kids From Their Past

I assumed incorrectly that if one read the right books, attended the right classes, behaved the right way, asked the right questions, and did everything a certain way . . . the kids would make good choices. Given that society, sometimes unfairly, blames parents directly when children make bad choices, I assumed the parents had a greater amount of control over these things than they do. 

I cannot make my children do anything. I can take away privileges. I can restrict activities, and remove distractions. But, if my kid doesn’t want to do his homework? I cannot make him. I can’t make my daughters want to share their feelings when they are feeling angry for what seems like no reason. I can’t make any of the people in my house do anything they don’t want to do. Sure, they may do things begrudgingly, but unless some part of them decides that they actually want to so something, I can’t make it happen. 

I have core memories of being told to do things and being given exactly zero choice to comply or not if I valued my life. I think a lot of us were raised to think it is normal to do the thing our parents asked orelse. It’s what their parents did to them, after all.

So, given the fact that our kids came from hard places before we met them and they lost essentially everything that mattered to them all at once, there is no amount of bribery, cajoling, threatening of taking away privileges, or anything else that can reliably make my kids do anything they don’t want to do. There is nothing I can take that is worse than what has already been taken. 

It follows to reason that if I can’t make them do things that they don’t want to do that aren’t fun for them, I can’t make them do things that are good for them, despite knowing it could help. 

I’m talking about things like therapy. Therapy only works if you put in the work. There has to be acceptance of the help offered, and acceptance that there is a problem to solve. A few of my kids don’t even acknowledge there is anything wrong. Despite mental health issues that make life harder for them, they would rather pretend nothing is wrong than try to help themselves. 

It’s absurd the number of problems that could be resolved with some discussion that no one is willing to have. I get it. It hurts to dig up the things that cause us grief, pain, fear, or anxiety, examine them, and lay them to rest properly (or at least learn the best ways to cope with them). It hurts to sit and talk to a stranger about a past that is hazy but still painful. It is annoying to burst into tears for a stranger who is paid to listen to you talk. But it helps, is the thing? 

While I love that my kids get to be kids, get to be themselves, and are safe now, I hate that their past was so full of hurt. I wish I could change it, but that’s never been a possibility. I can’t blame myself for things I wasn’t there for. I just wish there was a way to impart healing upon an unenthusiastic participant in the process. But, of course, it doesn’t work that way. Their past makes them lack trust. It makes them hurt with no understanding of why. And me talking about it with them doesn’t help. It makes them angry and uncomfortable.

I Can’t Protect My Kids From Their Past

While I can’t protect my kids from what hurt them, we are learning what helps them with little interference from us. We have cool-down spots, scripts we follow, and therapy for the active participants every other week. We try to be the best parents we can, even if we aren’t making the amount of change we wish we saw. We try to learn the best words and actions to help our kids be the best possible versions of themselves without trying to remake them into a somehow more acceptable-to-society image. I aren’t perfect kids. And I don’t want to wrap them in bubble wrap to protect them and never let them experience life because of that. 

I hate the feeling of helplessness when my kid finally feels comfortable or safe enough to share something scary with me. I hate that my brain tries to make it about me in that moment. How I feel, how sad I am, how helpless I feel, how much I want to plug my ears and beg them to stop telling me. I wish I didn’t need to know the procedure for what to do if a child disclosed abuse to me. Or rather, I wish I didn’t know so intimately. I should not know what it looks like for a very small child to be subjected to an assault investigation. 

I suppose part of what I’m learning is that I have very little control over anyone but myself. I can suggest, incentivize, cajole, implore, and prepare, but I don’t get a final say in how things will work out. I can’t change or protect them from their past, but I can influence their future and that will have to be good enough. 

I Can’t Protect My Kids From Their Past