Updated: Nov 17, 2022
"Oh Naiy it looks like your shoes go on the other feet, let’s switch them" I casually offer this as we pull into the park with my mom. In perfect toddler stride, Naiy bursts out with a big cry “I don’t want to change them!”
I begin to empathize with her feelings, unimpacted by the big cry. To me, she’s simply expressing something she doesn’t want and it’s hitting her emotional field. But that’s not the case for my mom...
She opens the back seat and grabs Anaiya out of her car seat and then drops her onto the pavement outside the car telling Anaiya this is what happens when she gets upset. My daughter is in shock. No one touches her body in this manner. This is not what she’s used to. The tears continue and increase to much more intensity because now she’s scared. And my mom continues to yell at her that this is what will happen if she keeps crying.
As quickly as I can, I scoop Naiy into my arms feeling the confusion and fear in her tears. I hold her and let her know I’ve got her and speak to how unexpected this experience was for her. She’s still sobbing in my arms as we walk toward the playground. My mom then proceeding to tell her if she keeps crying we won’t get to stay and play. None of that is computing for Naiy, and I politely but with intensity in my voice tell my mom to stop. My mom walks away in her own triggered state.
Holding my girl close to me I continue to comfort and contextualize the experience.
Naiy looks up at me through her tears asking why Mima was so mean to her. As the tears lessen and her nervous system begins to regulate again, I hold her close and have a moment to tune into myself.
This moment was like a snapshot of my own childhood as I recognize the zero tolerance for any emotion. Recognizing this came from her upbringing where her own emotions were shut down immediately and therefore she lacks the receptor sites in her own system to receive big emotions. It's no one’s fault, but this is what generational trauma looks like. Repeating what our parents did with us, until we get conscious and make a different choice.
"It's no one’s fault, but this is what generational trauma looks like. Repeating what our parents did with us, until we get conscious and make a different choice."
I notice deep compassion for her and my own system. Compassion for how much of my adult life I’ve had to learn how to be in touch with and permission big emotions, especially anger. Compassion for why it’s felt hard for me to know what I need or what I’m even feeling.
All this was shut down during the phase when they were developing.
Young ones need connection as their baseline for survival. When that is taken away, it feels so scary and primal panic kicks in. A child will do anything to regain connection, so for me I learned that I needed to shut down my upset to regain my mothers love. And this is what she was trying to teach my daughter. Again, no blame here. She doesn’t know anything else.
As my daughter’s nervous system co-regulated with mine, she was ready to go on a swing and I had a moment to tune in with my own little one internally. My mom had chosen to go back to the car and stay in there for the remainder of our time at the park.
In the car ride home, unprompted by me, Anaiya told Mima she needs to be gentle with her body. My heart both melted and smiled hearing her say that. I’m so glad she knows how her body is supposed to be treated.
The conversation with my mom later that day went something like this: she stands fixed in her opinion that if I let my daughter have big emotions then she’ll basically turn into a bratty child.
"In the car ride home, unprompted by me, Anaiya told Mima she needs to be gentle with her body. My heart both melted and smiled hearing her say that. I’m so glad she knows how her body is supposed to be treated."
As I shared my value of welcoming all of my daughter, including her emotions, I watched how my mom remained fixed in her righteous stance. I continued to share how being with her emotions is not the same as bending to her emotions. That I welcome the space for her to feel and that she might still have to do the thing she doesn’t want to do, even if she’s upset. Her feelings will be heard. I’m not allowing her emotions to manipulate me. She’s learning that she can feel all the feels, not that having big emotions is a way to get her way.
"She’s learning that she can feel all the feels, not that having big emotions is a way to get her way."
My mom continues to hold the view that she will learn that emotions can be used to get what she wants, without much acknowledgement of the developmental stage of 2.5 that my child is at. My mom claims none of her four kids had big tantrums. That’s because they were shut down immediately through a removal of connection. We didn’t learn to not have the emotion, we learned that love was conditional on our behaviors. And so because connection is what we need most for survival we learned we couldn’t express any big emotion and we shut it down internally.
I then felt in my own self the layers of pain present. Not feeling heard or valued by my mom in the choices I make with my daughter. And recognizing the polarity of values in this moment and deep insight into my childhood and how at this developmental stage when emotions are big, mine were overpowered and shut down by taking away her love. There is deep, painful lessons and insights here.
If no one has ever held the space for my mom’s emotions, then how could she be comfortable with her daughter’s or my daughter’s? We can’t be present to something in someone else if we haven’t met and loved it in ourselves.
I felt sadness for her unwillingness to reflect upon her own self and what it was triggering. She scoffed at the idea that it had anything to do with her and continued to dig her heels in that I was creating a monster. I had to navigate between my mom and my daughter, and my own inner little girl who also got activated in this process. I’ve been holding my inner little girl with love and letting her know how sorry I am that she didn’t get to express these emotions. I can feel my anger and upset around how shut down these feelings were when I was younger.
Its required lots of holding of parts, as I hold my daughter, and compassion for my mom.
There’s so much more I wanted to share. Pointing out the difference between passive/permissive parenting and respectful, gentle, conscious parenting. But how do I get to share and have it land when it’s not a shared value? Realizing this was all landing on deaf ears, I walked away and comforted my inner little girl knowing I can give her what she didn’t get as a child. And that’s the best I can do in this moment.
We came to an agreement that my mom would let Naiy know that her crying hurts her body and that she needs to leave the room. Nice strategy, but it's not exactly working in the moment. Instead my mom’s system gets activated and reactive. I continue to give context to Naiy helping her understand that grandma can’t be with her emotions, but I’m right here. While I hold her close, I continue to practice what I value, which is welcoming the range of my daughter, while holding necessary boundaries and a safe container for her to feel. And perhaps my mom will see over the years the healthy fluency my daughter has with her emotions and knowing of what she needs and wants. Perhaps she will see the rested well-being in my daughter knowing that her needs matter and she will be heard, validated and empathized with in her experience. And perhaps she will see that she doesn’t need authoritative boundaries to get her to listen and that after she moves through her emotions she’s usually more than happy to do whatever she had resistance to. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.
This is my experience with my daughter and it’s full of mutuality, respect, and co-creation. I honor her autonomy over her body and respect her needs as I respect and include mine too.
I’m making different choices to end this generational trauma as I’m present with my daughter in the here and now, and I know that it ripples not only into the future but into the past as well, and that’s what I value and will keep offering into my family of origin.