Children have opinions. This is not a surprising statement for anyone who has raised a child past the age of 18 months. Children know what they want and they expect to get it. If they don’t get it, they will let you know their disappointment. Of course, this can be the hard part for parents. Words like “unfair”, “worst mother ever” and “I hate you” may be used at will. As parents, it is our job to remain calm, which is very difficult with or without a trauma background.
During my eight years as a parent, I have learned that children live in a black and white world. All dragons are bad. All candy is good. Every day is the best day ever, unless one little (very little) thing goes wrong. Then, it is the worst day ever. Every person wearing white is a good guy. Every person wearing black is a bad guy. You get my point. There is no grey area. Some ideas don’t register. The concept that people are both bad and good is particularly challenging. As is the concept that loving another person might mean walking away from them.
I do know that as they grow older, they will learn the art of discernment. To their dismay, they will learn that things aren’t so simple. They will understand that not only is there grey, but that it comes in many shades. I look forward to teaching them about some of the complex concepts related to self discovery, but I am not a fool. I know those concepts must be experienced in their own time, and sometimes, are invoked by a life crisis. But at least they will have a basic understanding.
The problem with discernment is not everyone learns it. When trauma sets in, the child’s brain may become stuck in an early stage of development. As the body grows, some of the basic cognitive development milestones get missed or delayed. I meet adults who live in their black and white worlds all the time. Their judgment leaves no room for further study of opinions and thoughts on a matter. It is as they say it is.
As I have explored my own response to childhood trauma, my children’s simple world has helped me to identify some of my own black and white thoughts. Currently, I am uncovering a judgment of others that is black and white. People are either my friend or my enemy. People are either on my side or not. People are either perfect or they are abusers. There is no middle ground.
Believe it or not, this manifests in subtle ways. Maybe somebody has a good heart but they tell me something that isn’t entirely true. This happens often. Lying is a fear-based reaction and we all have fear. A person without a trauma background may take note of the lie and consider it in future interactions with that individual. They might check behind their statements or run their questions by an additional person. They might decide not to take it personally.
Not me. In some cases, I might choose to write that person off. Their deceptive behavior has landed them in the “enemy” category. While in reality, they are a good person with a good heart who was intimidated or concerned about sharing the whole truth. They made one bad choice. But in my black and white mind, they are out.
And I may intellectually understand that there is a continuum. I do know that every person has both good and bad. I have seen that in myself. I have seen that in others. But there is the child part that never grew up. There is the child part that has other ideas. If someone has treated me well for a year, but does something wrong, my child part wants to put them in a new category. My child part wants to protect us from evil and she isn’t interested in how that may impact another person. She wants safety.
And as an adult, I have to make another choice. Of course, that doesn’t mean letting abusers continue to take advantage of me. But good people deserve second chances. Good people deserve forgiveness for the occasional bad decision, the occasional hurtful action. If I kick them to the curb as soon as an imperfection is realized, I will lead a very lonely life. I must learn that art of discernment in relationships. I must understand that everyone is both good and bad, while still recognizing those individuals who prefer that bad side.
And that takes practice … practice that I haven’t had.
So I will take a little extra time to make these decisions. I will practice a little more forgiveness. I will be conscious about my thoughts and what experiences have generated them. I will access and trust my intuition a little more often. And I will face these relationships using the discernment that children and so many adults cannot access.
And when someone is not safe, I will remove them from my life.
And it will be the right decision.