Trauma & Parenting Part I: Codependency

toddler's walking on the seashore with adult

I wasn’t the sort of little girl who grew up dreaming about marriage and motherhood. In fact, most of my imaginative play as a child was pretending to be old enough to live on my own. I didn’t have big dreams for the future, I only wanted to get out. So, when I found myself pregnant at twenty, and married shortly thereafter to a man I had only known mostly long distance for three months, I had some shit to figure out.

I didn’t know much about motherhood, nothing actually. All I knew was that I desperately wanted something for my son that I hadn’t had. I wanted what I imagine most mothers want for their kids, whether they can conceptualize it or not. I wanted to always be with his dad. I wanted to be available to him in every way, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. I wanted him to feel heard, supported. I wanted him to have all the room to become. Turns out you can’t always get what you want, but you can kill yourself trying and do actual damage by overcompensating for your own trauma, even long after you have done the hard work of healing.

You must first understand, my son cooked in cortisol. My whole pregnancy was fraught with the trauma that comes along with being totally mentally unstable and marrying a stranger who is equally mentally unstable. I was a wreck the whole way through, and he came out one screaming, anxious little bean. I remember being in undergrad for psychology and taking a child development class where they explained how instrumental the pregnant woman’s well being is in the well being of the child, not just in the obvious ways, but in the “you may be cooking your baby in cortisol,” ways too. My son was in his late teens at this time, and suddenly it was like the pieces came together and I began to really understand how much of a deficit he started from just by way of my own trauma.

Nothing about my stability, or that of my marriage, got better quickly. Part of my overwhelming desire to make my marriage work for the sake of my son meant enduring more trauma. It took a solid four years and six-month long separation for my husband and I to get to a place that even began to look healthy. My already anxious son required a lot of attention, and I lost my own self giving him all of what he needed and then more, in attempt to soothe the damage I knew was being done by way of his dad and I being a nightmare. In attempt to make myself feel better.

woman holding her prenant tummy during daytime

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

man and woman wearing parka jacket standing on beach during daytime

Photo by Nadia Sitova on Unsplash

Photo by Nadia Sitova on Unsplash

From his earliest days on the planet, I bent over backwards, sideways and upside down to make him comfortable. This is admirable, particularly in the early years of attachment when tots are learning whether they can trust and rely on you, but I didn’t stop. I fought all his battles, armed him with excessive advice, was overattentive, hyper-attuned, and ultimately overbearing in many ways. He had his own mental health hill to climb beginning very young, which made it even easier for me to justify how protective and entangled I was. If not me then who?

It is worth noting not all parts of this dynamic with my son comes from my own childhood trauma. Having a baby at barely twenty-one means my son and I grew up together. Not only was I unstable, I was also just young and had no example of healthy parenting to observe or follow. I have been figuring this whole parenting thing out as I go from day one without guidance or mentorship.

My son is nineteen now, and only starting to get the hang of not worrying about what I think, or not feeling the need to tell me the entire goings-on of his life. We cultivated this beautiful and toxic relationship where his trust in me is whole-hearted, and a detriment to him. My love for him is boundless, and a detriment to him, and me. It is codependency. It is codependency born from my own trauma. My own need to make things right grown out of proportion. My own fear for him of the unavoidable suffering that comes along with being human. My own ridiculous belief that I have the power to make anything right or well or okay. My grasping at straws for control. My trauma via invitro cortisol and trauma response relational qualities.

About the Author

Brooks Decker is a survivor, writer, artist, and mental health professional in Jacksonville, Florida.

Published by SurvivorSpace, an initiative of Zero Abuse Project.