Aprel Phelps Downey
What was your ACEs Aha moment? When did you first hear about ACEs and what impact did/does it have on you?
My ACEs aha moment came when I joined an abuse survivor group on Facebook. As I began reading several of the conversations I noticed that there was something called an ‘ACE score’, which was a foreign term to me. That prompted me to do some research as a way to learn more about it. Within a few minutes it was as if someone lifted the blinders off of my eyes and let the sunlight in for the first time. I soon realized that the experiences I had endured as a child were not solely limited to me. Each one appeared to be a commonality among abuse survivors and suddenly, I didn’t feel so alone anymore.
How do ACEs impact you as a parent? How is your parenting impacted by past trauma?
The trauma I experienced as a child impacts my parenting every minute of every day since my daughter was born 12 years ago. I am cautious of the words that come out of my mouth when talking to her because I know the lasting impact those words can have on her well being. When I get angry, I always make sure it’s followed by an apology so she understands that losing my temper is about me and has nothing to do with her. I don’t want her feeling bad about herself or second guessing whether or not I love her. Much of my adult life has been spent trying to recover from my childhood and I never want my daughter to be in that position when she’s an adult.
What’s been most helpful to you as a parent parenting with ACEs?
The most helpful part of parenting with ACEs is knowing that I’m capable of breaking the cycle of abuse with my child. As I continue educating myself on ACEs and how those impact my life, I can create different approaches to situations, such as the ‘teenager’ attitude, without losing my temper or reacting in an abusive manner. When things get rough, I know there are other parents out there who are working to break the cycle with their own children as well. Knowing that I’m not alone in this parenting after abuse journey helps makes it easier to endure at times.
What’s been most challenging for you as a parent parenting with ACEs?
The most difficult part of parenting with ACES is managing my anger. As I work to break the cycle of abuse with my daughter, I find myself growing angry at the people who failed me when I was growing up. It would be impossible for me to know that someone was hurting my daughter and I just look the other way as if nothing was taking place. I would fight to protect her with everything that I have to keep her from enduring any further harm. Not having that protection as a child and knowing now that the lack of protection led to my having an ACE score as a result makes me angry.
What has parenting taught you? What have you learned?
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from being a parent is that I have the capacity to love someone and put her needs before mine. Prior to having my daughter, the thought of being a parent scared me to death because I didn’t think I was capable of loving someone, that somehow I was damaged goods and loving someone else would elude me. I’ve learned that I can set boundaries that protect my daughter and still have moments of laughter and smiles at the same time.
How do you manage complex family relationships?
I manage complex family relationships by putting distance between myself and other members of my family. For years I’ve tried to be the version of myself that they wanted me to be and live my life according to their terms and what makes them happy. Somehow I thought that by doing that I would gain acceptance in their eyes. About four years ago I started to realize that my thought process was incorrect. The acceptance I was working so hard to obtain would never come and it was time for me to start living life on my own terms. So now I keep a certain amount of space between myself and other members of my family, in part to ensure that my daughter is never exposed to the pressures that I faced growing up. It’s difficult at times and others often don’t understand my reasons for doing so and that’s okay. I’m happy with my decision and that’s all that matters in the end.
What inspires/encourages and helps you?
One of my biggest inspirations in life is my daughter. She has an incredible amount of self-confidence and isn’t afraid to do her own thing, even when others may disagree with her choices. I also draw inspiration from watching people turn a dream into reality. I’m the sappy person who tears up at the contestants on shows like ‘America’s Got Talent’ that have the courage to stand on stage and pursue their dream. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to turn a dream into a reality and I find that admirable in others. It also gives me the confidence boost to chase my dreams, even when I often lack the self-confidence to do so.
I know you are a writer. Please tell us about your recent book? What was the inspiration?
When I was born, my right leg became twisted during birth and that led to my walking with a limp. As a young child who walks differently that other kids, I was often teased and made fun of at school. Unfortunately school wasn’t the only place I endured bullying by others. At home I was often made to feel different and not good enough because of the way I walked. I would sit on my bed at night and wish to be a ‘normal kid’ who walks like everyone else instead of sticking out like a sore thumb. I believed that by walking normal I would fit in and maybe others, including those in my house, would love me better.
That feeling stayed with me for most of my life. One morning while homeschooling my daughter, I started doodling on a piece of card stock while my daughter was working on her spelling assignment. I created a character that was part Frankenstein, part princess and part pumpkin and I named her ‘Frankenpumpess’. When I showed the doodle to my husband he suggested that I make her the main character for a new children’s book. At the time I laughed at the idea of becoming a children’s book author but a few days later found myself writing a story using the Evernote app on my phone.
That’s when Frankenpumpess was born! She became a girl who endured one bullying experience after another as she tried to fit in with the other kids at school. Each experience results in her feeling bad about herself and wishing she was someone else. After spending the afternoon with her mom at the park, she learns that she’s perfectly ok just the way she is and that she doesn’t need to change who she is for anyone else. She takes this new found self-confidence to the school playground where she finds herself having to choose between being a bully or showing kindness to someone who was a bully to her. My reason for writing this book is to show children that they never have to change who they are just to make others happy.
How do you connect with other parents?
As a parent, I like to connect with other parents who are abuse survivors as well. Knowing that we are consciously choosing to break the cycle with our own children even as we are fighting to overcome our own childhood experiences bonds us together. It’s reassuring to know that there are other individuals who approach parenting issues in the same manner as I do because of our adverse childhood experiences.
Anything else I didn’t ask that you’d like to share?
The only other thing I’d like to mention is that I’ve had a passion for writing since I was in elementary school. I quickly learned that writing words on paper helped to express the confusion, anger and sadness of what I was experiencing at home and couldn't say out loud. Since then I’ve used writing as my go-to tool to help in my recovery process and truly believe that the words I write can help others who are dealing with difficult situations of their own.
More about Frankenpumpess. Aprel's writing has also appeared in Parenting with PTSD : The impact of child abuse on parenting.
Are you parenting with ACEs and interested in being part of this series? If so, email me (Cis) at firstname.lastname@example.org for more about this new monthly series. As always, please join the Parenting with ACEs Community where you can post freely, share videos, resources and essays.