Thoughts on Ukraine: trauma, our kids and how to cope.

IMPORTANT: This blog is not a substitute for therapy, but provides evidenced-based education for the purposes of self-help, or to compliment the therapeutic process. ​ ​This blog is non-monetized.

As the daughter and granddaughter of Polish and Ukrainian survivors of war in Europe, it’s been a particularly heavy week. In comparison to my ancestors, I have had a charmed life (intergenerational trauma and all).

And as a mother, who is also a therapist, I felt compelled to write and share a few thoughts that might be shared among our community. 

Economic crashes and a pandemic pale in comparison to the stories of war, hunger and suffering I grew up hearing about from grandparents and family storytellers.

But beyond having heard these stories, in many ways, I’ve also felt them. The effects of them anyway. The intergenerational trauma that is the visceral feeling, invisibly weaving its way through the bonds of family that have surrounded me growing up. Ukrainian writer Zoya Sheftalovich aptly tweeted, 

Zoya, this I know is true.
Our sons are teenagers, and unlike me, have grown up with the world at their fingertips, through their phones. I realized this week, when it comes to world events, no longer am I, as a parent, the interpreter of world events for them.

As the ordinary people of Ukraine came under brutal attack, I worried immediately about how to help our kids make sense of how one deranged leader could do this (could I?). I majored in Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Toronto in my undergrad, so I know a thing or two about sovereignty, international law and the “rules” of war.  As my mom-brain  ruminated about how to explain things, I soon learned, I need not worry. 

Our youngest son’s tiktok feed has been taken over with video straight from Ukraine, which we snuggled up to watch together. From NATO soldiers live streaming, deployed at the borders, reporters on the ground, well known Ukrainian-Americans in Ukraine, to ordinary citizens leveraging the direct audience at their fingertips. We even watched young fact checker’s, teaching their peers to critically examine the news they have seen. 

As a mom-therapist, I worry (probably too much) about the impact of doom-scrolling, the overwhelm from negative images, vicarious trauma and moral injury from the onslaught of the days news.

I worry about how it’s shaping their brains and their experience of “safety” in the world. As a realist (and trauma therapist) I also know we have to face it, when safe to do so. Sadness and fear are a healthy response to all of the unjust and sad events of the world. I reminded myself of what I tell my clients: we can’t sit in the sadness alone. When the uncontrollable’s threaten to derail our lives, we must reach out to trusted loved ones for comfort. 

Yes, take a break from the news, but have the tough and important conversations with your kids. 

Be honest with them when they ask you scary questions. This didn’t just happen. Many unfortunate decisions have paved this path, that no country can cleanly absolve themselves of.

How do we continue to learn from mistakes, to challenge ourselves to do better and hold ourselves accountable? 

Talk to your kids about the here and now, and how we can reassure ourselves of our own safety and that we – the adults in the house – can bring our calm to them. We WILL protect them to the best of our abilities.   We all cope in different ways, but doing something often helps. 

Mom, should I post something about Ukraine? came the question this morning. (Our youngest has a platform of over 200K on tiktok). 

Only if you really want too honey, you don’t have too. What do you feel is important to stay? What if kids in Ukraine can see it? 

Something to give them hope.

That’s my boy. 

There are many large scale components of this international tragedy that play out in smaller, individual ways, every day in our lives. How we show up when our kids are scared teaches them about how to seek comfort within their relationships when they are older. 

​Those of us who have been in unhealthy or abusive relationships will know this to be true: 

“…..Peace and prosperity cannot exist without cooperation and commitments. The alternative is Putin’s world – a corrupt dystopia benefitting the few, built on coercive control, on constant fear, and injustice.”

Sir Richard Branson, My thoughts on war in Ukraine.

In the end, whether its personal relationships or politics, trust is built and broken down, in small moments every day. The relationships that survive to grow stronger are the ones where its people can bear those daily all-too-human woundings and re-commit daily to doing better, and to trying again. But all parties must be in agreement to the rules of engagement.

There is no true relationship otherwise, only fear-based survival.

It is with each other, and with the creation of psychological safety in mind, that we step out of fear together.

Kinda like that President Zelenskyy. 

If you want to do something, here are a few places you can check out:

The Canadian federal government says it will match Canadians’ donations to the Red Cross in aid of Ukraine, up to a maximum of $10 million: donate here: Ukraine Humanitarian Crisis Appeal or by calling 1-800-418-1111.

Canada-Ukraine Foundation – This national charitable foundation co-ordinates, develops, organizes and delivers assistance projects generated by Canadians and directed to Ukraine, is aiming to raise $5 million to provide humanitarian assistance to those in need in Ukraine to address any further aggression by Russia.

UNICEF – Ukraine Emergency Funddonations support the organization’s ongoing programs and response to the escalating need in Ukraine by providing communities with safe water, urgent medical aid and health-care services, child protection and education. You can also donate by calling 1-877-955-3111.

#HelpUkraineNow
#StandWithUkraine

If you need to talk to someone about how you are feeling or coping, we are here

You can also check out our pandemic Resource page for lots of other helpful online resources. 

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Picture of ​Christina Crowe, H.BSc. MACP, RP, (S-Cert) OAMHP (she, her)

​Christina Crowe, H.BSc. MACP, RP, (S-Cert) OAMHP (she, her)

Registered Psychotherapist, Validated Clinical Supervisor, ADHD Therapist & Coach Podcast Host The Christina Crowe Podcast Christina is a Canadian Registered Psychotherapist, a member of CADDRA's Advocacy Committee and relentless mental health advocate. Christina believes great mental health information should be available to everyone, loves creating content that makes invisible things VISIBLE and finding new ways to bring healing experiences to as many people as possible.

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