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This post is made possible with support from the American Academy of Pediatrics through a cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All opinions and experiences are my own.
Growing up, things were always difficult for my family. I really mean it when I say nothing came easy and everything was a struggle. So much so, that my mother, jokingly, named this phenomenon the family curse.
While the jokes about the dreaded family curse brought levity to the difficulties we were facing, it was also a way to sugar-coat our experiences. My mother wasn’t thinking about the long term impact or how to ensure that my brother and I turned into normal, functional human beings. Not because she didn’t care but because she was consumed with trying to get us through the adversity.
These negative experiences my brother and I lived through are termed Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). My mother didn’t have a formal term, and she didn’t have access to the research on how to deal with the long-lasting impacts of ACEs. Thankfully, I now have those resources, and I am going to share them with you.
WHAT ARE ACES?
Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, are events and circumstances that can cause mental and emotional trauma for children during the first 18 years of their lives. Examples of ACEs include abuse (physical, emotional, or sexual), neglect, witnessing domestic intimate partner violence, and divorce or separation.
THE BAD AND GOOD NEWS ABOUT ACES
Sadly, ACEs are very common, about two-thirds of adults have experienced at least one ACE. While ACEs may not be happening in your home, they are very likely happening in your neighborhood.
ACEs can have a long-lasting impact on a child’s mental, emotional, and physical health. They can lead to alcohol and drug abuse, depression, and anxiety. Adults who experienced ACEs during their childhood are more likely to have health issues such as cancer and diabetes.
These adverse childhood experiences can have a lasting impact on children, but it’s important to know that THERE IS HOPE.
IT REALLY DOES TAKE A VILLAGE
One of the most important ways to prevent or mitigate ACEs is for children and adults to have access to safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and environments (SSNREs). That means we can all help prevent and mitigate the effects of ACEs.
Growing up as an outsider in a small town, trusted adults were hard to come by. In fact, I can’t think of a single adult from my community that served that purpose in my life. Please don’t let your child or a child in your community have this same experience. If your household isn’t currently facing an ACE, you can be there for someone who is. You can be a trusted adult for a child in your community.
While you might hope your child will feel comfortable coming to you for everything, the reality is that your children won’t want to tell you everything. That is why it is important to help your children find trusted adults. Teachers, mentors, religious leaders, and your own friends can potentially be a trusted adult for your child.
When I was growing up, my mother didn’t have a support system made of other adults. She didn’t have anyone but me and my brother. Looking back, it isn’t really surprising that she was struggling because she didn’t have anyone to lift her up during the hard times.
As a mother of two mischievous boys, I now know first hand the stresses of parenting. Between the normal stresses of adult life, the craziness that comes with two toddlers, and the time commitment of running a business, I know I am already stretched thin. I need all of the help and support that I can get.
Thankfully, I have a loving and supportive husband by my side. He knows the most about my personal struggles, he knows my shortcomings, and he has been there to help me when I needed it. While I wasn’t always able to turn to my mother when I was younger, she is now a vital part of my support system. Lastly, I have my mother-in-law. We may not be that close, but when I truly need her, she is there.
FIND YOUR THREE AND TAKE ACTION
Safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and environments play a vital role in preventing ACEs. I truly hope that you and your children have your three. If for some reason you don’t, please reach out to someone and start to build your village. Or be the person that reaches out to help and become part of someone’s three.
Because I want EVERYONE to find their three, I need your help inspiring others. Today I am asking you to name your three either in the comments below or on social media (use the hashtag #findyour3).