Absence of Good: Parenting with ACEs

How Does One Parent Well When Raised in Hell?

What it mean to be a break-the-cycle parent in practical terms? How do adverse childhood experiences impact adults who become parents?


We hope our children never share our landscape of loss or know the second skin that is shame. We don’t want them to know how home, body and family can also be the scene of the crime.

We want our children to feel at home in a safe and loving world even though it is not the one where we are from.

How do we teach and guide them? How do we create something new and different? All parents want to protect children from abuse, neglect and household dysfunction. But that doesn’t always happen.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are common.

Sometimes our hopes don’t match our abilities. Sometimes our children are hurt by others or from our own addiction, illnesses, choices and circumstances. Sometimes we were less capable than we hoped, planned or wanted.

  • How can we teach them the rules of the road if we’re too afraid to drive?
  • How can we teach what we didn’t learn?
  • We can’t tell them to feel safe if we’re afraid all of the time.

We need to communicate with others straddling two worlds. We need to keep each other aware and awake and motivated where we can talk honestly about the process. We need to be able to talk about and ask:

  • What is healthy attachment and affection?
  • How can I teach my kid to assert her needs if I still have trouble doing so?
  • Does discipline always feel mean?
  • Do others worry that all anger is abusive?
  • If, when and how can we tell our children about our own past and what’s the impact if and when we do… or do not.

It shouldn’t be easier to find gluten-free recipes than to have conversation and get support about break-the-cycle parenting.

Adverse Childhood Experiences are common. Many of us are facing this issues as parents.

We want our children to be and feel safe in their skin, home, families and the world. Let’s share about how that happens. Let’s talk about lessons learned, what is wonderful as well as what is hard.

I write on this topic generally, and often, but more specifically here.





  1. Good morning,

    I have goosebumps as I write this email. I was searching though multiple sites to try and find help. My name is Nicole and I am a 30 year old mother of (almost 2). I am 2 months pregnant and perhaps my hormones triggered this email. I am a sexual and physical abuse survivor of almost 12 years of my childhood. I have been in and out of therapy for 15 years. I have been struggling mentally lately and feel there is no where to turn. I feel responsible for my family’s financial struggles because of the medical and student loan bills I ran up after my abuse disclosure. I am afraid my abuse history is so taboo. Since I am not a child anymore, it’s not a sad situation and I feel as if I need to suck it up. I have $180,000 in loans since my mother could not keep up with the medical bills and we had to send me away to school to escape my past. Yes, my mother could have made a better and cheaper choice for me but escaping was my savior. Now, 12 years later I am at a constant reminder that my monthly $1400 payment is because of my abuser. I get nauseously sick each month and I mentally cannot take it anymore and struggle with life in general. I am a NYC school teacher and do not make much. I have two part time jobs as well to try and help this burden. I am not even sure at this point if my email makes any sense. If there is somewhere I can turn for help before it’s too late, please reach out to me and direct me where to go. Thank you for listening.

    • Cissy White says:

      I’m sorry for your pain, your struggle, your history and your present circumstance. Because I’m not a therapist, I’m giving you a website where there’s a chat line and 24/7 support for survivors of rape and incest and sexual assault. https://www.rainn.org/
      Hang in there and I’m glad you reached out for support. You deserve healing!

    • I’m inspired hearing all of your efforts. I’m wishing you the best. And sending you caring thoughts**

  2. Hi Cissy
    Came over to have a look at your wonderful website and have to say this page in particular struck a chord with me. – Your writing has done this quite a few times!
    But this parenting stuff… heavy! I think you’re right. It was the absence of good/occasionally happy experiences that make it so very tricky to be the parent you want to be and keep all that expertise out of their sight, and somehow manage your own needs due to high ACEs etc. What an understatement. And yet so very very crucial to understand and achieve. I think this topic deserves it’s own blog!! There must be so many trying to do what you are and often struggling and need to find the appropriate support and hope: we CAN do this!
    The things I have done to try and protect my children from what I’ve endured are kinda out there, but I know you would understand!:)
    I think it’s hard to not leave some sort of impact on our children, but honesty and sheer gutsiness must surely overcome most of this legacy.
    Keep up the great work. As ACEs becomes more well known and established by more of the population, this website and this topic, I’m sure, will become one in which parents will turn to. Congratulations again on such a crucial topic, Cissy!

    • Cissy White says:

      I’m so glad you stopped by! I always like your comments at ACES. I totally agree that this could be the topic for an entire blog. Have you heard of Trigger Points Anthology? They have a Facebook page and also a book coming out as parenting as a survivor. It started as being for sexual abuse survivors but has become for those with all types of abuse.
      I think we NEED to hear from one another, the struggles and the challenges and the joys and just to be able to share openly and honestly. That goes a LONG LONG LONG way. And finding out if, how, when and how much to share with our own children to limit the legacy – that too. They aren’t easy topics but are so important. I’m so glad you stopped by!!!!

  3. When my boys were toddlers, they were bouncing on the bed. I forget what I said, or why, but my Nada (Not A Mother) came out off my mouth.

    I sunk to my knees and cried.

    My sons stopped and asked what was wrong. I said I had just talked to them the way my Nada would talk to me and I loved them and never wanted to do that again.

    They hugged me and I prayed silently.

    I found the books of Farber and Mazlich, and their Guide, Dr. Haim Ginott. “How to talk so your children will listen, how to listen so your children will talk” for one.

    I read tons of books, but these books were my life line, my toolbox.

    A friend, a child therapist, watched them when they were toddlers one day.

    When I picked them up, she got choked up. She said, “They were so well behaved. Not because they were afraid, but because they realize the world works better that way.”

    And, now, I have a new definition of the word “family”. I have two sons in their 20s that are such good people, Mensche. They are my wise friends and we hold each others hearts in our hands.

    • Cissy White says:

      This is one of the most beautiful and hopeful and honest comments I’ve received. THANK YOU! Thank you for sharing. I had a particularly challenging parenting week, a week in which I did cry once for the way I acted. It’s not my norm but I was stressed to the 9’s. Thank you for this. It would move me at any time. But it moves me especially now. And thank you you for the book reference as well! Thank you so much for this BEAUTIFUL COMMENT.

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