When I was a child I had a beloved cat. One afternoon I was in my yard, holding my cat, when a large neighborhood dog barreled around the corner and attacked the cat. My cat climbed my face and leapt away with the dog in hot pursuit. Both my cat and I have scars from that experience. Mine are visible on my face, my cat’s were hidden in her psyche. From that day onward, if I picked up my cat while we were in the yard, she would stiffen and begin to look wildly around for the dog.
I meet with parents of 2e children every day who are like my cat. They are living with trauma around their parenting experiences. But unlike my cat, they find a dog at every corner. There may be trauma related to their child’s physical or mental health. Trauma around school or friendships. Even trauma around lack of sleep or food refusal. Sometimes it is the trauma of unpredictability. Just when you think you have something worked out for your child, all hell breaks loose. Parents of 2e children struggle every day to try to make the world work for their kids.
The frightening memory of every dog they have encountered, whether it be an inflexible school administrator or a condescending doctor, lays scars on the psyche of these parents. And that is a problem. They can’t move on, they can’t trust, and they are often trapped in a relentless cycle of anxiety. This impacts all of their interactions and experiences. It makes it hard for them to believe things will ever get better. They become reactive. They sometimes hiss and scratch at those who are trying to help.
They run from phantom memories. They might even build a fence to keep the dogs out. Who could blame them? Once bitten, twice shy.
So how did I help my cat? I made efforts to avoid re-traumatizing her. I gave her a safe space and calm support. I certainly didn’t judge her or punish her for feeling anxious. I knew she had real reasons to be frightened and I understood her efforts to avoid the experience. Sometimes you need to train the dog, other times you need to build a fence.
Parents of 2e children need the same kind of support. They need someone to listen without judgement. A friend who can understand their pain. Professionals who actually know what they are talking about. A posse to help them fight the system. Imagine what the dog would have done if he had rounded the corner and faced hundreds of cats standing their ground. The more we stand solidly in support of each other, the more progress we can make in changing the narrative. We actually can create a space where dogs don’t traumatize each other.