silent shame- the emotionally devastating burden no child wants to carry

I must warn you that this piece is going to be tough for more than a few people. I thought long and hard about writing it. Put fingers to keyboard and deleted. Had many conversations in my head about how to best say this and decided there was no easy way, so here we go….buckle up for the ride…

In a recent conversation with a young adult, she blurted something that I knew had to be an emotional back breaking burden because of how it all rushed out her mouth- relief co-mingled with fear by what she was about to say;

” how do I protect myself as I make a name, and brand who I am, from my mothers criminal past? I love her but she insists on following me everywhere and making public displays of my work with pride but all it takes is one person digging beneath the surface, to see her entire past pop up. It will devastate my work, the people who depend upon me and I don’t know what to do.”


Just like that, Pandora’s box opened and every fear, every emotion, every insecurity came rushing forth like she was burdened for so long and finally found a place to let it out without being judged.

This person was further hurt and confused because her mother was gone for years in federal prison and came back home as if all was well and NEVER had a serious discussion with her children about what happened. Not a solitary word.

Her children who are grown, are constantly having conversations with each other on how to best broach the topic but every day that goes by in silence and forced normalcy, has put such strain on her children, they have begun to feel and behave differently towards her with each passing day.

Befuddlement became sadness, which turned to forced acceptance which has now begun to breed silent resentment.

To be fair to this young person, a few clarifying questions were asked, which led to my asking what would be helpful for her long term. The surprising response?

She asked that I write this piece to give some parents much needed insight on just what their children were dealing with and that silence is definitely not the answer. Far too many children and parents are dealing with this issue and the consequences are life altering without doing the work that will lead to healing.

As a result, here are some helpful hints for parents who find themselves in this predicament with their children who are old enough to understand what is happening;

1). The absolute worst thing you can do, is act ” normal” and try to pick up where you left off without a word. Start the conversation gently but your children die a tiny bit with each passing day you remain silent.

2). Tell your children you are sorry you had to leave them for years. Ask and then listen, to what they had to deal with in your absence. It is often not a pretty scenario for children who may have lost the only stability they knew. They need a safe place with you to have the conversation.

3). Understand they may be mad at what you did but will always love you. No matter what. What kills their full support, is your stubborn silence.

4). Be prepared to deal with having to hear you cannot be in the limelight of their accomplishments depending on the nature of your crime. For example- if you are a registered sex offender in the system and the core of your child’s career is working with children, that can be devastating to their progress. The hope is that you will understand the need to take a less public role in their efforts, for obvious reasons.

5). Seek professional help. Your adult children should not bear the brunt of your refusal to re-engage in life and carry the burdens silently of that which you will not deal with. Above all else, try to forgive yourself. Whether you believe it or not, the strain and stress of silence takes a toll on you emotionally and physically.

6). Allow them ( children)to share their fears; the stigma that can follow adult children after a parent has committed a serious crime can be devastating on many levels. If you feel you cannot have the conversation alone with them, get a neutral facilitator in the room to get the dialogue going. That could be a therapist, Pastor or just a good trusted family friend.

Nothing was more heartbreaking to me as a mother myself, when this adult stated she felt more removed from her mother with each passing day that she remained silent and cannot have open dialogue around every day life incidences and choices. It is painful for her to sit with mom, knowing she wants to have a much needed conversation while struggling to find the opening to get it started.

She wants to discuss all the things she missed, all the things she never knew, all the things she continues to struggle with daily but cannot move beyond a crawl because of the extra emotional and physical adult she carries around in silence on her back, every day.

To the parents who have made mistakes that led to serious punishment, let me say this to you- the best thing you can do for your children is acknowledge your mistakes, ask for forgiveness ( that you already have from them) and be willing to hear what the adverse effects have been on your children. Try to love first yourself, then your offspring to a place of healing.

Love your children enough to get out of your own way and unintentionally impede their progress with your mistakes. It is the very least you can do to minimize the pain they already carry.

I do not claim to have all the answers but hope like hell, this blog touches those it needs to reach so we can begin to repair broken families.

Enough said.


About lawfultrainer

Passionate Educator on all things but especially family partnerships. Determined. Driven.

Posted on April 29, 2014, in children, Civil liberties, CNN, Culture, Education, family, history, huffinton Post, love, Mentoring, Parent, washington Post and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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