Break-the-Cycle Parenting: In the Trenches

“I trust you to curl my hair,” I said to my twelve-year old as she came at my sizable forehead with a hot electrical appliance.

“And that’s sayinGiraffesg something,” I added, “Because those things can hurt and I can count the people I trust on one hand.”

Dang it, I overshared. It wasn’t the first time – but it’s something I rarely do with my daughter.

Tween parenting is so different. By the time I figure it out my daughter will be in another stage. She’s nowhere close to being an adult. But she’s not the same bundle of need she was as a baby, toddler or kid either. For years, she needed me to be secure base, taxi driver, entertainment and all all-around anchor and attachment figure. Sometimes it felt we were sharing the same bone marrow. She still needs me but not with the same ferocious intensity.

Sometimes it’s me asking if she wants to play a game or go shopping.

“You trust Heidi to curl your hair,” she said.

“I do,” I said, “Heidi is so fashionable. There are different types of trust for different people. Some you trust to ask money advice, some you can share your feelings with and some even get a key to your house or car.”

She looked puzzled.

“Do you know what I mean?” I asked. “Do you

have people you trust with some things and not with others?”

More blank confusion.

I waited a minute.

“Mom,” she said, “Why would I have anyone in my life I don’t trust?”

Now it was me who was quiet.

And puzzled.

Not sure what to say.

I excused myself and went to the bathroom, or as I call it, my office.

I was happy and I wanted to cry.comments

“Why would I have anyone in my life I don’t trust?” were the words. They ran through my head like a mantra.


I didn’t know how to answer or respond.

Sitting on the closed toilet I celebrated the moment. As a mother – proud of my daughter’s agency and trust in herself and other people.

But I grieved too. For myself.

There were countless people in my life, my entire life, I didn’t trust. Some of them I was related to by birth or marriage and who were invited in while I was a child.

And some I had let right in to my heart, purse or home and even sent an invitation and got them coffee or a snack when they arrived.

I hadn’t insisted on trust. Not really. And when I was betrayed I was hurt but I wasn’t surprised.

How could I explain why to my kid? I can’t say I didn’t know better. I knew better.

But I didn’t feel better. I didn’t have the felt knowing of that truth.

Or that there was another option.

Why would I have someone in my life I don’t trust?

Was there ever a time I trusted everyone in my life? Did I grow up believing people were good, loving and reliable? I didn’t.

I thought they were weak, back-stabbing, screwed up and incapable of taking care of themselves.

Underneath the try-hard, good girl and always-do-what’s-right exterior – I thought people are total shits.

Myself included.IMAG00677 (2)

I was suspicious of humans.

The sun for the way it rose and set so consistently got my trust. Cats, dogs and plants were fun, loving and cheery. Teachers were acceptable as long as they stayed in teacher mode and didn’t try to talk outside of school.

Books were sanctuary.

But people – not so much.

People = bad bet.

Don’t need anyone and you won’t get hurt.

That’s what I believed in my belly, bones and skin.

I didn’t go around saying that or even admitting to myself that’s how I felt.

It was subconscious, unconscious and implicitly known.

I remembered this yesterday when making a PowerPoint slide on the ACE Test & Study for an upcoming event at Mobius in Boston (free and on March 15th at 2p.m. if you’re interested).

One of the slides showed how high ACE scorers are more likely to be raped as adults and in abusive relationships.

“Why? Do people have a magnet or a mark?,” my low-ACE-scoring friend and collaborator asked. “I don’t understand why that is. It makes no sense.”

“It makes perfect sense,” I said, “To those with high ACE scores, love and good treatment don’t need to go together. We have a high tolerance for shits,” I added. “Because starting as kids we’ve loved and been loved by people who treat us and themselves terribly. Mistreatment isn’t a red flag that says run. It’s familiar.”

Being dismissed, ignored or ridiculed are the apples in the made-from-scratch-pie of home. Mixed with sugar and cinnamon the bruises get covered and the tart is transformed. It tastes, feels, smells so warm, intimate and enveloping. IMAG00006

Deep. True. Real.

Like chemistry and soul mates and meant-to-be can feel.

Chaotic. Dangerous. Crazy.

Connected. Enmeshed. Pre-verbal.

 Like… like…. like  family.

She looked at me.

I looked at her.

For a moment we shared the knowledge that though we lived on the same street we had lived in different worlds – at least as children. web clouds

And even though we are in our 40’s and 70’s now those childhood experiences still shaped our views of the world at least some of the time.

But something else was evident too.

We were just having a conversation. I mean, when I was younger a conversation like this one, if it even happened, would have made me feel ashamed, embarrassed or angry.

I might have felt like she was luckier, privileged or being nice to tolerate or put up with me. Or I would have judged her for living on Easy Street and acting like we could relate to me at all. She don’t know squat about being a fixer-upper human that needed sweat equity just to function and hold it together.

I would have worried that she’d pity me – or worse – not pity me.

I would have felt robbed, ripped off, vulnerable, victimized and damaged, impossible to understand too – invincible and strong like Wonder Woman all at the same time.

Not yesterday. I didn’t feel explained by my past, pardoned or exceptional. I didn’t require explanations or excuses or praise.

I was just talking with an activist, friend, parent and woman. I was with a person I liked and admired and shared ice melt and creative work and yoga classes with. We spoke of childhoods the way you compare domestic or foreign cars. They are different but both get you around the same towns. They go to different repair shops and aren’t identical but they both drive.

My experiences haven’t brought only pain but insights and scrappy resourcefulness I wouldn’t trade. I caught myself inhabiting the now.

I wasn’t wishing my past was any different (which doesn’t mean I love all the side effects). But gone was the belief that I am flawed and only a different past can make a different me.

I like who and how I am even with post-traumatic stress. I’m o.k. here and now as I am. I may even have gifts, talents and be lucky and blessed. Everyone has something and we’re all just humans and that’s not a tragedy.

Holy shit – when did this level of healing happen?

“Why would I have someone in my life I don’t trust?” my daughter asked, stumping me.

One day, I may say, “Because he’s your father,” or, “You don’t always have a choice”, or “Most people don’t change but some do and there are times you risk it.”

Or not.

But for now, I soak in her candor and bathe in that eye-rolling incredulous voice. She does not carry mistrust of herself, others and the world like a gun aimed and ready.

She feels safe – not defended. And most of the time now – so do I.


  1. I don’t even know where to begin. So many light bulbs went off for me while reading this. It’s like you crept into my soul and shined a bright light to lead me out of darkness. I get now why I attract certain people into my life. I’m still meditating on why exactly I have people in my life that I don’t trust. Thanks for sharing this. It has truly been a gift.


  2. I remember as a child riding in the back seat of my parents’ car, seeing homes and houses pass by the window. I somehow knew that I had no clue what it was like living in those other houses, or what went on there. I remember craning my neck to catch a glimpse through the windows as we drove down the streets. I was curious and intrigued. What do they think? What do they do? Are they happy? I was blessed to have had a very safe childhood experience. I naively assumed everyone did. Not until I entered the world of work as a young adult did I begin to really witness ‘what it was like living in’ other homes, unsafe, chaotic homes. I finally got to see through some of those windows and see life from other perspectives. I’ve been working for decades now, with children who have experienced significant harm . Each of them expected nothing more or less from life than what they’d experienced. We now believe ACE’s as a routine part of what we consider important for us to understand, if we are to successfully support healing and resiliency. We’re a bit smarter, and thanks to many, many brilliant people who are passionately studying the impact of ACE’s, we’re better equipped to be helpful helpers.
    So many faces I’ve worked with over these years came to my mind when I read your piece and your emotional reaction to what your precious daughter said. Your words in this piece conveyed so much, so well. Thank you.


    • Anne,
      You are a wonderful writer and in your comment I can see the child you were, curious and compassionate and the adult you became. I will never forget this line you wrote:
      I’ve been working for decades now, with children who have experienced significant harm . Each of them expected nothing more or less from life than what they’d experienced.
      May I make it a pinterest pin? Or will you? It’s powerful!
      Thank you for taking the time to comment and for “hearing” the words and experience too.


  3. First of all, you write like an angel! Thanks for telling it so perfectly how it “is’ …”was”…..whatever.
    I, too, am healing in my late 60’s and I can hear all your voices in this story.
    There is an interesting study (don’t know the reference, sorry)….that explains why kids who were
    raped as children are sometimes victim to therapist sexual abuse.
    Apparently, when we high ACE’s were little…we blacked out the worst things that happened, including the foreboding parts that LED UP TO IT….so we are not noticing the danger cues that
    “normies” would feel. Its all part of the DENIAL….and so we get ourselves into messes again and again as adults because we keep ignoring those same danger signals. It happened to me just
    a few days ago. I let a stranger (young crazy male), into my car who was shivering in the cold and tried to drive him home.
    By the time it was over, I was stuck in a ditch, the police and tow truck were called and my poor husband was frantic with fear. And yet I did it without a second’s thought.
    Even the police asked me, “why did you pick him up?” The only thing I could say is:
    “I am an angel”.
    In OTHER WORDS…I left my body and went “unconscious” when a decision of importance was being made. Again.
    I’ve done stupid things like this multiple times, even though part of me knows better.
    I drove alone from California to Mazatlán, Mexico twice.
    I’ve hitchhiked multiple times, and more than once had to deal with uncomfortable things.
    I disarmed a drunk crazy brother holding a loaded gun at me, with nothing but my insistence
    he put it down and walked down the hallway, facing him to get it.
    I could go on….
    My ACE score is about 9.5….
    You get the drift!
    And oh Brave you for having a daughter. I couldn’t bring myself to have a child. I didn’t trust myself to do it remotely “good enough”.


    • I’ve never heard the term “normies” before. Good point about checking out on the foreboding feelings as well. They either permeated or were ignored and sometimes both…

      Thank you for sharing your own experiences (and I’m so glad you are o.k. and safe now) making those decisions without that self-preservation or self-protective instinct. It’s not always a concept people can understand and can be slow to learn (though anything is possible!).

      So many survivors I know refused, didn’t choose to or limited the number of children had (through birth or adoption) because of fear of not being good, good enough or of breaking the cycle. Here’s to hoping that greater openness, awareness and education lets more survivors get support to have a fuller range of healthy choices when it comes to families.
      Thanks again for commenting!


      • I work in metaphysics as a clairvoyant (another side effect of being a High Ace…..good hyper-vigilance to the point of profound perception….
        and so some of us in the metaphysical community call folks who aren’t
        similarly “wired/gifted”…”normies”…..but its a good term for many situations in my view….
        My sister didn’t have any kids either. My brother had only one child who ultimately killed himself, as did the boy’s mother. (More ACES!). My brother died of cancer at 49.
        I am an avid practitioner of holistic health….Reiki Master, Edgar Cayce
        student/speaker, etc…..and have had years of therapy to try to prevent serious physical illness…so far, so good on that count.


  4. So honest and thoughtful in it’s retrospection. I would simply add that in some of the kinder and gentler cultures your daughter would be encouraged to listen to her gut feelings in order to help her with her intuition and instincts. They are hard to stay in touch with today, in this lifetime, but still serve the purpose of both survival and development in us humans.
    Thanks for this work.


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