Parenting through trauma and loss, with Natalie Norton

voices of your village Nov 08, 2018


This week I was so grateful for the opportunity to chat with Natalie Norton. Natalie is a motivational speaker, coach, and writer who has experienced immense trauma in her life. She uses her emotional intelligence and awareness to cope with her trauma, continue to thrive in her life, and help others do the same. 

Natalie shared the many traumatic experiences she has had. She lost her brother and later she lost her infant son. A few years later, she and her husband became foster to adopt parents to twins and their seven-year-old sibling. After two years with these children in their family, just before the adoption was to be finalized, the children were reunited with their biological family and Natalie has not heard from or about them since. After that, Natalie experienced a mini-stroke and subsequent loss of communication ability. Her cognitive connection was there, but language wasn’t. It took her two years to fully recover. Last year, when her 10-year-old son was crossing the street, he was struck by a distracted driver. He was hospitalized for a month, they almost lost him on several occasions, and he needed facial reconstruction surgery. All of this was happening alongside the regular challenges of living: balancing finances, marriage, and the usual parenting responsibilities. 

Originally a photographer, Natalie’s trauma led her to a different path. She felt that her true gift was her emotional intelligence and ability to connect with others. She began getting requests for speaking engagements and life coaching. Her emotionally aware reaction to her trauma has shaped her life in a profound way and allowed her to positively impact the lives of others.

Natalie credits her parents for the foundation of her emotional intelligence.  Natalie’s mother had a difficult upbringing and made the conscious decision to break away from that cycle. She raised her children to be aware of their emotions, to practice things like meditation, and with the skills for true self-realization.  Natalie’s father worked with many different thought leaders from the ’80s and ’90s, giving Natalie access to an abundance of information. This combination created an environment that consistently cultivated emotional intelligence. 

Natalie believes that trauma is the great human equalizer. Everyone will experience trauma to varying degrees. She referenced a book, “Man’s Search For Meaning” that impacted her greatly. The author of the book, Viktor E. Frankl, was a concentration camp survivor. He turned his experience there into a study on the human capacity to survive.  His conclusion: in order for a person to survive, they need a sense of meaning. Having a sense of meaning in your life increases your propensity for survival significantly regardless of other variables.  She has used that information as part of her toolbox for coping with her trauma and using her experiences to serve others.

We dug into the ways that Natalie has harnessed her emotional intelligence to shape her response to her trauma. She emphasizes the importance of self-awareness. She believes there is no greater gift to ourselves, our children or the world than to be self-aware. Throughout our time together, she repeatedly used the word choice. She shares that we can’t control our trauma, but we have the empowerment of full control over our response.  

She also acknowledges the very real challenge of coping with trauma while raising small children. She shared with me that she used the reality and truth of her emotional processing as a teaching opportunity for her children. She shares that it is “100% okay for your children to see your humanity” and it can be done in an age-appropriate way.  She is also a big proponent of seeking out a support group or a therapist so that you have a scheduled time to devote to processing since the logistics of raising small children can make it challenging. Otherwise, we may end up perpetually avoiding the processing, but it will still manifest in very real ways that impact our families.

Of all of the practices that Natalie has used, and continues to use, she cites mindfulness as her number one tool for emotional intelligence. She credits mindfulness with allowing her to slow down between trigger and response significantly. This allows her to be mindful in the way she responds and she shares that it has greatly blessed her life. 

I asked Natalie how she continues to parent without getting stuck in fear after all that she has experienced. She shared that during the time that they knew they were losing their son, she and her husband sat down and made a plan for how they would move through the loss in a healthy way. They were intentional in deciding to continue to live without fear. She says that recognition of her powerlessness to prevent bad things from happening has been profoundly powerful for her and allows her to live in a way that is not overshadowed by anxiety. 

The tools and experiences she has gathered over the years, moving through all of this trauma, has equipped Natalie to face future challenges with a completely different response than she would have had in the past. When her son was injured by the distracted driver, her response was vastly different than her past traumas because she CHOSE to embrace her toolbox. 

We talked about the limited bandwidth one has while parenting small children. Sometimes implementing something like mindfulness feels like adding one more thing to an endless to-do list. Natalie emphasizes the importance of moving away from social pressures and programming and focusing more on values. For example, if having dinner as a family is important to you, but you’re too exhausted to cook a full meal every night, grab takeout or eat cereal. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you get your family together. Moving away from perfectionism and focusing on the value will allow you to move forward towards your goals. 

Finally, Natalie shares that it’s OKAY if you can’t do it all. You will have moments of parenting failure and that is okay. What’s important is that you get back up and show up for your family again and again. Natalie emphasizes that being present and giving unconditional love are the most important things you can do for your kids. 

Connect with Natalie on Instagram.


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