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Essays, recovery, trauma

Mothering as a survivor of abuse, sexism and racism

 survivor mother

I am a survivor of racism, among other things. It makes me a hypervigilant mother. You can find me on the lookout for teachable moments: cultural appropriation in music video costumes, generalized assumptions based on race, and every children’s show or movie from Disney.

I am a survivor of sexism, among other things. When I bring my car in for repair, I bring my son with me. He is 9. He watches the repairman talk over me repeatedly before stepping in. “I saw it happen,” he says, and the mechanic suddenly believes me and sees the problem too. We talk about gender privilege on the way home. My son says, “I will never be like that man,” and I know he won’t.

Some days I do not function. I sit on the couch and hold my head together with my hands. Repeat mantras to stay present because I have children I love and want to care for. I am told to shake it off. Just push through it. Take some medicine. Get some therapy. I am the survivor of ableism. I tell my kids Mommy is having a hard time today and I need extra help. We work together to make it to bedtime.

Those days I do not function are because I am the survivor of abuse and assault. Individuals in positions of privilege have controlled my body to get what they want. Their actions stay with me even with medication and therapy and shaking it off and pushing through it. And when my children throw tantrums, I am sick to my stomach. I scream at sudden motions or sounds. I cry when we’ve made it through to the end because a piece of me is still a terrified child, a terrified young woman, a terrified adult.

But the flip side of this is awareness; the ability to draw attention to social inequality and discuss the ways we make it better. First, we notice. Second, we speak up. Third, we do not repeat the transgression. Safe touch, safe speech, safe action. Solidarity.

Together, my children and I learn how to extend radical compassion without excusing violent behavior. We are allies to Others who, like me, have survived/are surviving. We acknowledge their realities and offer support because these actions are healing. This world needs healing.


My favorite moments are the quiet ones. When the toys are put away and we cuddle together, book in hand. We read of underdogs turned heroes. They defeat their evil, protracted metaphors for Othering and abuse. When we read, we all get to be the hero. Our voices are never silenced. There is no limit to what we can accomplish.

The couch transverses time, space and reality. We forget our world for awhile. Even the stunningly beautiful parts. Ice cream, birthday cake, a fire in the fireplace, parks, friends and animal companions. There is other beauty in other worlds to discover without the responsibility of now.

There is nothing quite so beautiful to me as my children in my arms. Those moments when we all rest and breathe together and do not think about learning or teachable moments or injustices. We simply are. We slip into another story even as we are writing our own.


Shawna Ayoub Ainslie is a writing coach and essayist who writes on issues of race, place and survivorship at The Honeyed Quill. Her work has recently appeared in The Huffington Post, The Manifest-Station, Medium, Art Saves Lives International and Role Reboot. She is the content editor for On the Verge, an online magazine for everyone, and is currently coordinating a series of writing competitions to raise money for her son’s service dog