Gender & Identity, Life

Trauma runs through my family’s DNA – and yours, too

I’ve forgiven my mother for her mistakes, whether she has forgiven herself or not.

Every parent messes up.

You learn that they’re human as you get older, and you grow with them. Most parents either parent in spite of their own, or to replicate their childhoods.

My mother chose spite. It worked. But it also didn’t.

Here’s the story how she tells it: she got kicked out when she was seventeen.

Here’s the story how my grandmother tells it: mom ran away when she was seventeen.

The truth is somewhere in the middle, and these different stories make me wonder if my mom and grandma are really just telling it how they remember it. That’s all. Maybe it’s not a malicious lie.

Either way, my mom found a way to pay her bills, she met my dad, and they had me. Life moved on, and they tried to move on as well.

I see a lot of the unresolved past between them in their interactions. The multiple attempts to mend their relationship. It’s weird, feeling like an outsider between them. My grandmother has always been the best towards me. I remember summers in Florida where I toyed with her evil chihuahua, watching her dip bread into coffee, peering in excitement as I watched lizards run around her inground pool. She was sweet, no-nonsense, but still indulgent.

My mom always pondered out loud how nice grandma was with me and her other grandchildren. The story wasn’t the same in her case. Mom was never treasured like she wanted to be. Puerto Rican mothers always baby the boys and make the girls responsible for their mess. My uncles could be out all night doing whatever they pleased, but god forbid my mother came home after 10 PM. My mom got all of the responsibilities, but not of the benefits.

So when it came to me, it became the opposite.

Her mother went through her diaries, so she didn’t go through mine.

Her mother didn’t trust her with boys. When it came to sleepovers, she let my high school boyfriend stay in my room.

And of course: she let me make my own decisions. Even when they weren’t the best.

When I look at the ways she failed me, though, I know it’s in direct reflection to how her mother raised her. And the way my grandmother raised my mother is a direct reflection of how my great-grandmother raised her.

My mother smothered me because she didn’t get the attention she needed. She made me her best friend and crossed multiple boundaries. My grandmother had to marry and have children young, and thus, was always fighting for autonomy after she was left to raise them on her own.

This trauma is generational. When you have children because you’re supposed to, or simply because you want to, intentional parenting is left out.

If you have kids, you’re going to mess up. We all do.

The question is how to escape the most damaging cycle. We all want to learn from the mistakes our parents made. How can we constructively analyze our childhood trauma? Therapy. Obviously.

But you can start with yourself. You can reflect inward.

I’ve forgiven my mother for her mistakes, whether she has forgiven herself or not. I’ve put those demons to rest, and because of that, I no longer live with them.

This decision is what has allowed me to heal, so my children may not have to worry about the same set of baggage.