4.6 Editor's Pick
May 27, 2021

How our Generational Trauma carries on despite our Greatest Efforts to Stop It.

Maybe I wanted to be a therapist because I wanted to have a sense of control over the outcomes of the tragedies I heard about and experienced growing up.

Maybe I wanted to heal my mother of those tragedies so she could finally see me—standing right in front of her all those years she was there, but gone.

Fast forward to motherhood, today my 15-year-old daughter said to me after I told her I cannot keep her safe if she won’t “let me in” (so to speak), holding back her tears, “Mom, you’ve been so focused on the relationship you don’t have with Grammy, that you haven’t made space for a relationship with me. You spend so much time trying not to be like her, but she’s all you see, and that is what makes me want to be like her, and I am like her.”

Shot. To. The. Heart.

“Wow,” I said with a shivering voice and shaking hands. “I literally just wrote a book about how when we rebel against our upbringing, we’re linked to it, and I can absolutely see that the very thing that I wanted to protect you from, you experienced. I’m so sorry that that’s been your experience.”

This is how ancestral trauma, history, and familial programming grab hold of our DNA sequencing and have their way with us without our consent. This is how despite our best advances, some of us end up giving birth to the very archetype of a person we’ve spent our lives attempting to reconcile within ourselves. The unresolved stories that live on have a life within us that’s beyond our conscious control that somehow seeps into the marrow of our daughters despite our greatest efforts to stop it.

Those of us still so far gone in the trauma of it, aren’t privileged with perspective, which she is, which says something about the ancestral healing work I’ve done to get us here, but still, I heeded her sentiment because the picture she drew for me of me still looking to my mother for validation of my existence, rather than looking to my daughter to validate hers, felt radically familiar to my own experience of being a daughter.

For me to defend this position would be idiotic because I know what is still unresolved in me, she will be asked to carry, and I want nothing more than to lighten her load so she can be more of herself in the world, than like the trauma of the family line we came in with.

It’s been hard to face her at 15 because all I know is the model of my own mother’s unwillingness to face me through those stages, every time I look at her. I’ve got some serious work to do, still. I’ve stopped kidding myself to think that that part will ever go away.

It’s hard to be a matriarch without stable roots. Elephants base all the moves of their lifetime, on the memory of the matriarch who knows her way through life because her own matriarch, mapped out in her from day one, the way.

Those of us without a strong matriarch, who were expected to cower to the patriarch despite his perversions, advances, and insanity because…”that’s what women are for…” while our matriarch offered us up like sacrificial lambs to a man’s world because that’s what she was taught to do to stay safe in hers (even though it never “actually” kept her safe) are a different breed than girls of the world who were honored in their femininity and guided in the power of it.

As my daughter matures into a woman, I’m forced to reckon my own intimacy issues with what it means to be a woman in the world, while I’m called upon to give her a model of matriarchal womanhood I’ve only seen in other families I’d wished I’d belonged to, but never had access to.

My daughter’s angst not only drew a picture for me about how my focus needs to shift, but it also forced me to swallow my own words by not waiting for a matriarch to show me the way, but to know by heart, the way of the matriarch within me.

I don’t have to cook, clean, sew, people please while shaming the people I’m pleasing, work myself to the bone, seek validation for my existence through my own pain, stay with sh*tty men because “it’s the right thing to do” to be a real matriarch. Despite that, I still pressure myself to be this version, which gets in the way of me being that which I actually am.

I’m a matriarch who offers up the scent of essential oils diffusing rather than food, who cleans up my writing projects only when people are coming over, who’s slowly earning the right to relax, who dances, curses, who is always kind, but over always being…nice. I’m a new matriarch in town, but my programming has led me still down streets that lead to my old normal…to seek validation that “I am that I am” from a lineage that tells me that which I am is not real or diminished somehow by being that which I am, outside of their box.

It’s hard not to have examples rooted in ritual, culture, and the intimacy of what a true sense of family and belonging feels like. It’s harder still to attempt to create that which we’ve never experienced, and the mind as insane as it is will still look to those who’ve never taught us…to teach us…all the while, our kids sit in wait, praying that if we’re not equipped to teach them, that at least—at the very least—we’ll see them.

Like me, my daughter must’ve grown up with a mother who thought her trauma was bigger than herself. So big, in fact, that she used it to avoid the very real capacity for intimacy with innocence itself, just to avoid more of it.

It’s not my intention to be a matriarch like any who (I know who) have come before me, but in my attempts to not have their stories in my bones, their stories catch up to me in the face of my sweet daughter with a shot to the heart. The ultimate definition of what you resist persists.

In my rebellion to my mother’s definitions of womanhood, I’ve spent my life looking at her problem, rather than in the face of my solution. My daughter who’s been right there, all these years, looking at me when my mother wouldn’t, waiting for someone to show her a way.

My daughter became like my mother’s problem so I could see her too, which also feels radically familiar to being raised as a scapegoat (which I’m quite familiar with). This awareness is wisdom beyond the ages.

What are you looking at so intently to heal that you miss the salve that’s right in front of you in the looking at it?

Today, I’ll be looking at my daughter to show her a way of the matriarch that has for its own reasons, lost itself along the way to me, rather than look to the lostness of my matriarchs for answers about where to find my place in the world.

From my grandmother’s favorite song, “I once was lost, but now I’m found…” was a line she never got to live into in real life. She thought being found was reserved for death.

I want my lineage to know, through my own example, that it might’ve been lost on itself, but it’ll be found…by me.

For my daughter’s sake, despite the effort it takes to generate a model for life I’ve never seen, I will be a matriarch who hears redirection to look forward, rather than back, to find Itself.

~

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