I left home when I was 17. I crashed with a friend for a few months, hitchhiked halfway across Canada and partied in a quest for connection and oblivion. Looking back, it hits hard just how much danger I was in.
Many people I know had parents who were cruel to them, who said nasty things, raged and belittled them. I never experienced that. I grew up in a home safe from violence, with music lessons, and food security. I took that for granted. I know now how out of reach that was for many people. The Developmental Trauma from physical and emotional violence cuts deep.
In my family the dynamic was cold and disconnected. The message children get when they are not allowed to have or express feelings is that they don’t matter. I had no one to turn to. I wasn’t being parented in a deeper, more authentic sense. I was bullied through my teen years, felt too ashamed to ask for help, didn’t get it when I did ask, and acted out quite dramatically. The answer from my parents was to send me away to boarding school. I was alone.
We know now that children need adults who are empathetically attuned to them. Parents who are shut down for any reason are not capable of attuning to us. Mental illness. Grief. Abuse. A smart woman in the 1950’s who resented being stuck in her role as housewife.
Intergenerational and historical trauma. Racism. Death. The Holocaust. Lynching. War. Miscarriages. Loss of loved ones. Jail. Sexual abuse and assault. These all play a role in the lack of attached parenting.
We are primitive enough to need the pack for physical survival. We are evolved enough to need emotional connection and belonging. We have a primitive brain that is skewed to notice danger and an instinct for fight/ flight/ freeze. What works well in the physical world is a big fail emotionally. We see the impact of that everywhere in modern culture.
We love our children and we don’t know what to do. We can only parent to the extent of our own emotional healing and growth. We react, push away, disconnect and we rage. We love, bring in close, despair, and we try to connect. We do our best to the extent of our capacity. And our limited capacity causes harm. Our children act out and hurt us. And we love them.
Children love their parents, even as they fail us. We desperately try strategies to make them be the kind of parents we need. We hide and escape. We fight back. We try out the “good child” role. We pretend we’re tough and don’t need them. We glorify their strengths and deny weakness, abuse and neglect. We turn against ourselves to preserve hope that they might turn around. They are our best chance for survival and we can’t afford to risk that.
As adults, we can develop understanding and a wider perspective. We may find a way to connect within and with others. We build a life and don’t need our parents for everyday survival. This allows us to see our parents with a more realistic eye. We may be able to finally feel our disappointment and anger. The grief and loss. Our love becomes more mature.
Did your family go for Sunday drives? My parents and the four us of kids would pile into the car and we’d drive around somewhere (obviously before the high price of gas!). We’d usually end up at the DQ for ice cream on the way home. One Sunday afternoon a few months after I moved out, I was hanging around in the park downtown with my friends. My parents parked at the edge and sent my sister over to ask if I would join them for an ice cream. I remember getting into the back seat as I’d done hundreds of times and feeling so awkward. Now I can see they were trying to reach out and connect with their estranged daughter. The daughter who was embarrassing them by doing drugs in the park on a Sunday afternoon. For an hour I was brought back in to the circle. Even though I haven’t thought about that day for years, I know it made a difference.
We need to know we belong. Reach out to someone. It is worth the risk.
Join my classes beginning Sunday November 4th.
Every day 8AM Eastern we meet for a practice to connect within and with each other.