On Generational Trauma and Breaking Cycles
From the book "What Happened to You?" by Bruce D. Perry:
“Your own experiences and the echoes of your ancestors’ experiences influence the way you think, feel, and behave. They are major determinants of your health. And being aware of this can help us remember that everything we do right now is going to echo into the future. Our actions matter; we are impacting the next generations. So are we being as mindful as we could?”
In Black culture and especially church culture, the phrase "breaking generational curses" is often over emphasized and under implemented. I've been thinking about this a lot lately as I explore my own parenting practices, beliefs, and values.
Breaking generational curses has less to do with somebody in a family stepping out and doing something new (i.e. being a first generation college student) and more about ending patterns of trauma that exist across generations. As foster, soon-to-be adoptive, parents my husband and I have committed ourselves to trauma-informed positive parenting. This doesn't mean that we are happy-go-lucky all the time or that we do everything right, but it does mean that we are intentional about the lifestyle we choose to live out with our children.
Once you do the hard work of mentally and emotionally preparing to be a trauma-informed parent, the practice should be simple. However, ending generational trauma isn't easy because it means that you find yourself going against the grain, against what has been true for your family and/or your community despite the opinions of others. So many of us have experienced situations in our childhoods that were ineffective or unhealthy, and unintentionally we subject our children to the same. Being a generational trauma combatant challenges us to be more intentional in order to cultivate healthy and emotional stable humans - hence, changing the trajectory for generations to come.
- If you feel angst when you think about verbal or physical abuse that you experienced as a child, resist the need to hit or verbally demean your children when you are upset.
- If you did not see many healthy romantic relationships as a child and found that you too have been entangled in toxic relationships, show your children what healthy relationships and boundaries look like. (Also, you owe it to yourself!)
- If you weren't able to talk to your parents about your feelings due to broken trust or resentment from childhood trauma, create lines of openness without criticism so that your children will feel free to talk to you.
Don't believe the lie that unhealthy practices are okay "because you went through it and you turned out just fine." That rationale has no grounds and 10/10 if you experienced trauma and you're not processing through it, you're probably not fine. We have to shift from what was to what is with a constant pulse on what will be. I've learned to find assurance that making a decision to parent my child in a way that spares them more trauma is better than trying to please others who give unsolicited commentary on my parenting style.
Trauma changes the brain. It changes our worldview and the way that we operate. Unfortunately in my case, my children have already experienced trauma even as toddlers. Therefore, it is my mission to teach myself and my children how to cope while protecting them from other potential traumas that may come about. Here are some of my personal trauma-informed practices:
- I protect the hardest most-intimate parts of my children's personal stories and respect them as their stories to tell.
- My children don't owe me anything. I chose them. I want them to be grateful for their things and opportunities, but they are not in debt to me for taking care of them and being their mom. It's truly my greatest joy.
- I don't hold my youngest son down to get his hair cut just because "it's time." He screams, and it's traumatic, so I'll wait until he's ready. It's just hair.
- I give my children a reason for my directives/rules. I don't ever say "because I said so." They deserve to know why their doing something, especially if they're being disciplined.
- My children don't have to hug/touch anyone unless they want to. I teach my children to value and protect their bodies. I don't believe children should learn that they have to let someone touch them because they are family/friends - that is a slippery slope to crossing boundaries.
- My children don't get in trouble for crying, being angry or frustrated. Instead they learn healthy coping strategies when they feel these emotions.
- I apologize to them, to others in front of them, and I loudly admit when I am wrong.
- I go to therapy regularly.