Dear those with adult children and grandparents,
It did do harm. Some of the things you did, did harm. We aren’t fine. Many, many of us struggle. This isn’t to blame or shame you. You did the best you knew and we all get it ‘wrong’. I have two kids, one who is now a teen and one who is still in primary. And, whilst there is no ‘right’ or perfect way to parent there are ways that are harmful and ways that are healthy and many of you parented in unhealthy ways. This I believe is through no fault of your own. I believe you did your best. Okay, there may be some exceptions, but on the whole, I believe 99% of you did your best with the tools you were given. Taking into account the circumstances you were in and the upbringing you had. I acknowledge it was not easy and whether you see it or not, I believe you all have your own trauma that society never had awareness around for you. This doesn’t excuse poor form, yet, if we don’t get to the root of things and offer each other compassion when we don’t know any different then nothing will ever change. Thankfully, these days we have much more awareness that trauma is not just the things you read about in the media. I DO NOT believe a single one of you managed to get through life without any trauma and so I acknowledge this, even if you or society still don’t.
I wanna say, I too, get it ‘wrong’, often. By ‘get it wrong’, I mean (coz right and wrong are subjective), I catch myself doing things that I now realise are deeply unhealthy (and I didn’t know for so long they were coz it was my norm) and because they are so normalised in society. Coz it is normal and human to do these things, but it’s not healthy. It’s actually coping mechanisms that we learnt to survive and be safe, that long-term isn’t healthy for us and keeps us stuck in cycles that hurt.
It’s’ why I’m writing this so we can break patterns that whilst normal in society is unhealthy and damaging. I’m working hard to break the generational cycle that hurt me and many, many others and it’s no easy thing. It’s so ingrained in us. It’s hard to change decades of programming we didn’t even realise we had. It’s not for the faint-hearted. Nah, it’s way more convenient to pretend I don’t have my shit, insecurities or trauma and to blame my kids when they act in ways I find hard.
Anyway, I digress, let’s get back to it.
Some of the things you did had a lasting impact on us. Now, before I go on, I wanna make this very clear, coz I can’t say this enough. Nobody wants to tear you down. As I’ve said already, I don’t think the majority of harm done was your fault or that you didn’t do amazing things too. We see these good things too and I can completely see how some of the things you did that were harmful were well-meaning or the result of your upbringing and conditioning. You were raised by people who also didn’t know any better. Many of your parents/caregivers grew up in the war so they for sure had trauma. I think we all do the best with the tools we have. Me writing this isn’t to bring you down, it’s in the hope we can collaborate and make things better for our kids, grandkids, and future generations.
When you demanded respect but you were disrespectful, you taught us to disrespect ourselves. This narrative of “respect your elders no matter what” is ugly, damaging, and destroys people. There was a high price for it and many of us had to pay it. WE PAID FOR IT.
If I was paid for every person who struggles with their mental health and emotions coz they were taught and it was drilled into them that their big uncomfortable feelings were bad (rather than human and we can process them), I’d be a millionaire. I’m being serious. It did do harm.
So many of us were told as children “stop crying or you’ll be given something to cry about.” That taught us that not only was it bad to be sad and have big feelings, but it also taught us we’d be punished for them. That it was wrong to feel this way. We were taught if we were being human, and humans get sad, frustrated, have tantrums, feel irritated and children no less so, not only was it ‘bad’ to have these feelings but again, that we would be punished and many MANY times we were indeed punished. We had to stuff our feelings away. We had to basically not be human. To never learn to process them, coz you found them so uncomfortable and activating coz your parents probably did too. This is the generational trauma and cycle in action and many of society are still oblivious of it. Being upset, angry etc we quickly learnt was bad and inconvenient for others rather than it made us simply human and feelings are normal and healthy – not something that is good, bad or that EVER requires punishment – feelings don’t hurt anyone, actions do and your actions hurt us. It did do harm.
Many of us were told we were bad and social services would be called and come to get us if we “didn’t pack it in and behave” and behave meant “do as your dam well told”. And, we didn’t know how to “pack it in” coz we were distressed and hadn’t learnt to regulate our big feelings yet, we didn’t possess those skills yet so we had to learn to suppress or run away from them and never process them. (FYI you didn’t know how to “pack it in” either. You were hella angry. A LOT. Irony.). It did do harm.
Not only did we then fear social services, we believed we were genuinely bad (aka shame aka I am bad, not enough, unworthy, unlovable, a failure etc). Many of us still struggle to feel enough. Many of us, then feared social services and yes, understandable, but I was afraid of them when they were trying to help me coz I was being sexually abused. I was told they were coming to get me (like many of my friends were too) as we were repeatedly threatened that social services would be called to come and ‘get us’. Do you know how scary that is for a kid and the message it sends them? It did do harm.
Many of us got the message of I’m not good unless you are happy and therefore I’m bad. Many of us were told this “you MADE mammy sad, you MADE dad angry, YOU’LL upset grandad, uncle” *insert whoever we were told we were responsible for here*. Never were we told we weren’t responsible for the adults, we WERE TOLD repeatedly we were. Many of us were trained to be people pleasers AKA hypervigilant to the needs and feelings of others and became anxious wrecks who learnt to survive by worrying and over-analysing everything we do and say, being perfectionistic, overly critical of ourselves so we could stay safe by ensuring it pleased. Coz, we are responsible for other people’s feelings, right? Wrong. (others just rebelled and were branded the ‘bad child/trouble maker’ coz they realised it was impossible to please others and they couldn’t hide their feelings as well so why bother trying, you’ve already decided and labelled me as bad anyway).
We didn’t stop loving you, we stopped loving ourselves. We learnt disrespectful relationships were the norm and we should respect others even if we are being disrespected. As children, we were disrespected A LOT. We became your inconvenient minions that got blamed for everything. Told that we will be spanked/given a clip around the ear if we dare piss you off. Sometimes it was simply a threat, others time a reality. Many of you were angry a lot. Many of you could not handle your emotions but when we couldn’t handle ours, if we had big human feelings like you did, we were told we ‘MADE’ you mad. That we were responsible for your feelings. That, we, the children, were responsible for the grownup’s feelings and whether or not they were regulated or happy AKA NOT LOSING THEIR SHIT. WTF. It did do harm. We aren’t fine.
I can not tell you how many adults I now know who either have really unhealthy relationships with themselves – they do not like themselves and give themselves an incredibly hard time or they have really unhealthy relationships in general. They believe if their partner is unhappy, it’s their fault. They screwed up. They aren’t enough. Many of us got taught this message so strongly – I am responsible for others’ feelings and other’s happiness. As we were constantly fed the message “if you displease me, you’ll get a clip around the ear” (or something else). IT DID DO HARM.
I know because people share their stories with me, about how they felt. Decades and decades later. Many cry and break down into floods of tears (healthy as they finally feel and process). They tell me how they are always worrying they are saying or doing the wrong thing constantly. They fear somehow they’ll be punished or cast aside if they are anything less than perfect. They constantly fear something awful will happen to them and wait for the shoe to drop. Sometimes the unhealthy ways and habits they learnt to cope and survive, ensure it does. They fear disapproval, they live with constant anxiety and the fear of what others think. Fearing what if my family disprove, society or some god will punish me for being ‘bad’ or ‘sinning’. It did do harm.
Many of you were rampantly entitled, you demanded respect from your kids, but never modelled it nor gave it to us. You were often abusive. Let’s put this into context, shall we? Say I displease my husband and he smacks me, what would you call that? I’d call that abuse. Or say, he doesn’t smack me, no he’s more covert than that, he instead tells me “I’m ungrateful and that I don’t realise how lucky I am”. He gets passive-aggressive. He might say something like this“someone else who was ‘being a good wife’ or grateful would do it”. Imagine he guilts me until I give in and comply, shames me and convinces me I’m somehow a terrible wife if I don’t do as he says. Many of us kids were parented like that.
“There are starving kids in the world” you yelled. So my parents feeding me means I’m ungrateful now for not enjoying my dinner, an awful person who doesn’t appreciate anything – that’s the message you taught us. Your aim was to teach us gratitude or perspective I think. What you actually taught us was shame (we are bad to desire) and to live in fear (anxiety). Santa wouldn’t come if I’m ‘bad’, he may punish me with coal. Some of you were actually given coal and the trauma of that I can’t imagine, believing you were genuinely bad and that your goodness was based on complying, achieving and making others happy. For years we were taught we must please people. Even kiss the sleazy family member or neighbour when we don’t want to. Sit on Santa’s lap when our whole body screamed a hell fucking no. Coz, we wouldn’t want to upset a fucking grown-up, coz apparently we were responsible for their feelings. WTF. Rather than teach us that they are a grown adult and they’ll be okay. Rather than teach us “you do not have to kiss or do anything you don’t wish to with your body” (I’m not judging you, I did most of these things when my kids were younger too coz I didn’t know any better and was abused so it was the norm for me too). Coz I was taught we must please others and abandon ourselves and ignore our intuition and our bodies’ signals. We must not have boundaries to get love – this makes us ‘good’ was the narrative we were fed. It did do harm. And, it feeds and allows for rape culture.
And, many, many people constantly live in their head of feeling never good enough, worried they will/have upset someone. So we become anxious. Will I displease you? Will you be disappointed in me? Am I enough? Will I ever be? We were praised only when we did ‘good’ achieved or complied. Never for our being, our being was not enough was the message we got. We were good when we got the grade. When you had something to brag about us achieving. When we made you look good. Our job became making you look good which meant the more we comply and disowned ourselves the better a human we were. It did do harm.
I don’t think you meant to do this though. I think it was learnt behaviour and you were a victim of the same too, maybe much worse treatment – I think as parents we aim to do better than those that raised us. Not to demonise those that raised us, but coz we know some of it hurt and left a scar. I think you genuinely believed you were teaching respect, but you weren’t, you were teaching compliance out of fear. You were teaching disrespect. You were teaching blind obedience. You were teaching me “I do not deserve respect”, but you deserve blind respect even if your actions are harmful. It did do harm.
And, many of you may be thinking but I didn’t hit my child. Or “I didn’t tell them to stop crying or they’ll be given something to cry about”. I didn’t tell them to stop being a baby or threaten to call social servies….no, maybe you didn’t BUT I BET you often stood by and watched others do it. I don’t blame you, It’s fucking scary to go against society (it can cause an automatic freeze trauma response), especially in a society where we have been taught to go against the grain makes you bad or wrong and so going against the grain is hard and creates fear. Some are even brainwashed to believe some god will punish us for not being “good” or for not living our life the way society deems as ‘good’ and ‘right’. Religious and spiritual trauma is a huge problem and many don’t talk about it coz they’ve been taught they’ll be punished by some god. It did do harm.
So where do we go from here?
Forgive yourself for what you didn’t know. Then, do better. Stop telling us how to raise our kids, when your way was harmful. We too will make mistakes. Be there. Stop thinking you know what’s best and telling us what to do. Listen instead. Honour our boundaries. Stop expecting blind respect. In fact, teach kids if something feels off to trust that inner knowing rather than teaching them they are probably just being too sensitive and trivialising it. Teach them to be kind, by you being it, by you actually modelling it. Teach them to trust their intuition and to have discernment even with elders, especially elders.
Teach them not to blindly respect the older generation or anyone for that matter (teach them that you don’t require it coz you’re not so emotionally fragile that kids are responsible for your emotional wellbeing), and show them, how if they don’t please you, they need not fear physical or emotional harm. Teach them natural consequences instead. And, shaming and spanking are not natural consequences. A natural consequence is if I’m unkind to people they may not want to hang around me and then set an appropriate boundary that won’t harm but help them to thrive (if you don’t know how to do that, learn). An unnatural consequence is a punishment by being physically hit or emotionally shamed, again being told: “I’m a bad girl” and therefore I can never correct my behaviour, make a mistake, be accountable or learn cause I simply believe I am bad, not enough and can’t change this.
Everyone fucks up at times and kids/teens literally haven’t learnt yet how to go about things in healthy ways. In fact, the brain does not finish developing till our mid-tweenies. Those disrespectful teens you complain about? Well, their brain is going through a massive upgrade and it’s really hard on them (and yes, I know it was hard on you too – I’ve got a teen and raising a teen is hella hard). And your example of how to work through big feelings and role modelling IS everything. You can’t teach them kindness if you become unkind, shaming or abusive. So when you hear people say “in my day people respected their elders”. Question that narrative coz it’s bollocks. See, this idea of respect was seriously fucked up. It did do harm.
See, I treat others with respect and dignity, coz I want to. I think it matters if we wanna create change. Thankfully, I now don’t blindly respect people who ring alarm bells for me like I was taught to. I respect myself enough to have boundaries. As a child, I was told to respect my elders and in return, I was abused. I will not respect you if your behaviour is harmful or rampantly entitled. I will not blindly respect people coz they are elder than me. I quickly learnt many were unsafe and abusive but if I were to say it, I was rude. WTF. I woke up and realised it was convenient for you to keep his narrative running, but I will not. I will not keep it going. If people only comply out of fear THEN it’s not respect. It’s simply a way to screw us all up. And, many of us were taught that was respect. You only have to read a few stories about cover-ups to see how dangerous this narrative was and still is. It’s still a heavy narrative in society “respect your elders”. How about modelling it first? How about you respect children so they grow up to be respectful adults? Now, there is a radical idea.
So, if you ever wonder, why people no longer have respect? Well, maybe coz, you never ever had respect (rightly so). Maybe just maybe you had compliance out of fear and your version of respect was not actual respect. Maybe just maybe, you may have a thing or two to learn about what actual respect is yourself.
If you want genuine respect, be it, role model it. Respect kids. If you genuinely think they are disrespectful, question it. Are they actually being? Or have they simply not learnt a better way yet? What if they literally do not have the skills yet to process and communicate their frustration, big feelings and insecurities and fears in a healthy way? Coz, they don’t. Because their brain is still developing and let’s be honest they have very little role-modelling of safe adults who are able to regulate themselves and who behave and communicate their frustrations in healthy ways. Nope, many of us never learnt said skills. We look like adults, yet the majority of society is walking around with a wounded inner child and a shit ton of unprocessed crap that leaks out regularly coz having to learn to sit with hard emotions, regulate ourselves and be mindful is not the education we were given and so the pattern continues.
The problem isn’t being human and losing your shit, all humans do at times. The issue is if it’s your pattern and you never address it and instead take it out on someone else in the process (whether overtly or passive-aggressively). Then the unhealthy relationships with ourselves and others continue.
What if when each generation saw a behaviour they don’t like in the younger generation that they realised and had the self-awareness to pause and say “they are the generation I brought up.” They are my kids, my grandkids, my great-grandkids….or perhaps it’s my own generation and peers. Maybe just maybe, I have a LOT or at least something to do with it. Maybe just maybe, I am part of the problem if I don’t look at myself. And, to look at myself, I’ll need to give myself self-compassion, grieve and probably get support. We are all just doing our best. I don’t need to make myself bad or wrong. Instead, I can do us all a favour and break that pattern. I will however need to do the inner work for things to change and this actually benefits me. This is not about taking responsibility for what isn’t yours to take responsibility for anymore. It’s about recognising what we did had/has an impact and doing repair work when it’s needed so everyone can be well. You benefit from that. Unless you are one of the ones who benefit from others’ struggles then why wouldn’t you wanna do the work to create positive change for all?
See if look around and so many people are struggling with anxiety, low self-esteem, mental health struggles, can’t sleep, can’t emotionally regulate, have unhealthy relationships or unhealthy ways of communicating, maybe just maybe the generation that demands respect got it wrong. Maybe just maybe, we realise we screwed some things up and maybe it’s not fatal, maybe just maybe, we can repair. Do better. Have grace with ourselves coz we didn’t know any different and instead we can put our ego to the side and spend more time listening over judging and criticising – ourselves and others.
I know this letter won’t land with you all. Some will roll their eyes and refuse to look at themselves and will say what a look of crap (I know coz I’ve had some delightful comments on some of my reels shall we say #fun). They will blindly convince themselves “this is all a load of crap”. Convenient.
And, some, will read this and change the ways they show up. Some, will read this and think, fuck, no wonder I struggle and they’ll go to therapy and start to address the root of their personal or relationship struggles. Some will read this and parent differently and become a different grandparent. Some will read this and realise this isn’t just a bunch of woo-woo nonsense. They’ll realise that actually so many of our insecurities, patterns, family dynamics and struggles usually start in childhood – we know this, there is so much research into this now and so they’ll look into it. This is NOT new information but it’s inconvenient information for people who’d rather lie to themselves and pretend it didn’t do any harm and say, that they turned out just fine. Really? Your gonna still use that one? (some people even say that about themselves whilst they literally cannot regulate themselves and have really unhealthy relationships).
Many people will choose the convenience of believing it’s a load of nonsense coz then they don’t have to look at themselves. And, many won’t. They can’t. They tried it many times and it came to bite them in the fucking arse.
What we never address – past traumas, insecurities, our wounds etc leaks out in all areas of our lives and especially in our relationships until we finally face it.
And, if you decide to look at your stuff, you’ll still make mistakes too and I won’t pretend it’s easy (neither is the alternative though and one leads to positive change and one doesn’t, so you decide). The difference is that when we own our mistakes we can repair them. We stop being so rampantly entitled towards our kids and the younger generation. See, I often hear that the younger generation is entitled. It’s a lie. See, people can become entitled for sure, but people become that when they learnt unhealthy ways to deal with things. Maladaptive coping mechanisms. When they never learnt a better way to deal with challenges coz they only saw modelled to them unhealthy ways of managing their feels. Parents who demanded respect from kids when their behaviour was frankly shocking taught entitlement – this is entitlement in action. Parents who made others responsible for their feelings became entitled adults who blamed the world and often their partners when they didn’t or couldn’t meet their needs or satisfy them – when they couldn’t live up to their expectations. Rather than be willing to look at themselves and sit with themselves. Others learnt I’m a burden to have needs and not worthy of asking and found themselves in relationships with people who didn’t care about what’s in their best interest and would not think twice about using guilt trips or covert behaviour to get what they wanted. Rampant entitled people often attract people who have a lack of entitlement aka very low self-worth and so unhealthy relationships become the pattern and norm in society.
Entitlement is learnt and there is no greater rampant entitlement than a generation that has kids and disrespects them whilst making out they did them some huge favour “after all I’ve done for you” or the classic convert guilt trips, shaming and passive-aggressive behaviour.
Your children owe you nothing. NOTHING> They were not up in the cosmos begging to be born. You having kids was about YOU and you were not doing them a favour. Parenting them, and providing for them, does not mean they owe you a debt, it means you are being a parent. This is the bare minimum and yes, it’s fucking hard coz we don’t become parents and stop having needs or become magically regulated, calm and collected – if only (trust me, I know – parenting has kicked my arse many, MANY times). No, we have kids and realise how we don’t know how to regulate ourselves, meet our needs in healthy ways or know how to navigate our big feelings and challenges in healthy ways and so parenting is a huge awakening of everything we never dealt with and now can’t run away from coz parenting is a demanding role. It highlights all our biggest insecurities, fears and shortcomings. Coz, there is no hiding.
I believe the rage cycles many of us witnessed from our caregivers were their trauma (rage is a symptom of something WAY bigger going on – unprocessed undiagnosed trauma for example). We know now trauma gets passed down until someone breaks the cycle and it may be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. Most adults never learnt the emotional skills it takes to be well. So we become adults with unprocessed trauma and a lack of skills to show up and navigate the hard things and challenges in healthy ways. Many of us are so fucking harsh on ourselves and hyper-critical of ourselves or others.
If you wanna change things, then see your own rampant entitlement before you accuse the younger generation or others of being entitled and ungrateful. Entitlement is learnt. Let’s unlearn it. Let’s learn what healthy entitlement is and then live it. See, entitlement is not unhealthy nor destructive. We need a healthy level of entitlement (rampant entitlement/lack of entitlement are what’s unhealthy and destructive). See, when you teach kids, that they owe you for you providing them with their basic needs (aka parenting) then you teach them a lack of entitlement and so they can’t ask for what they want in direct healthy ways so they often become passive-aggressive people who sometimes aren’t even aware they are being.
Hyper independence whilst glorified in society is the result of trauma aka I’ll do everything myself, ignore my needs and burn out and become resentful in the process. We are designed to be interdependent aka we are wired for connection – not to do everything on our own. In short we need each other. You need healthy safe relationships if you ever wanna thrive.
When we treat kids like they owe us, we teach them that “they are NOT worthy of healthy relationships, love, joy and respect.” We have a generation of people who either learnt to survive via learning a lack of entitlement (aka I am not enough or worthy) or rampant entitlement. You own me, you should please, life ‘should’ please me and I don’t have to put in the effort, I am OWED something (rampant entitlement) and I’ll bulldoze your boundaries or hurt others to get what I want, just like those who brought me up did. I’ll have no empathy for those that are impacted coz I’m rampantly entitled but I don’t see it (many people in high-up positions).
And, just so you know coz I hear this a lot, if you provided more than basic needs this doesn’t mean you provided an emotionally safe base for them to thrive. In fact, it’s not uncommon for those that apparently had/were given ‘everything’ to be the most emotionally depleted coz emotionally needs are something society is very neglectful of. We make out people who have needs that go beyond water, food and shelter (aka are human) are needy, too sensitive, a burden, too much, entitled (coz we don’t know what true healthy entitlement is so we project), too emotional, attention seeking, drama queen, a pussy etc and we wonder why so many people struggle. We wonder why we have such mental health struggles. Coz, it did do harm. And, no, it wasn’t your fault. You were a product of your upbringing too and your parents were the product of theirs. So let’s end this harmful generational cycle.
THIS is your opportunity to be the change. To look at yourself. It’s not easy. And, no you are not a bad human either. I can’t speak for everyone, but I don’t think that. Just an imperfect one (thankfully, nobody wants a perfect human) and you have the power to create a change for the next generation. We will do it with or without you and again, I can’t speak for all, but I do know most of us wanna collab with you rather than US against YOU. I think we all want the same thing, to feel loved, respected (actual respect, not blind compliance out of fear), valued, and appreciated. To have healthy relationships and families. Be it. Be the change.
Do share this. May we heal together and create a much more loving world where less trauma is created which means less suicide, abuse, depression, corruption etc etc
Today and always I will take responsibility for moving beyond my trauma. I may not have been responsible for my trauma but I am responsible for healing it. So as I end this letter, know I am not asking you to help me with my trauma, this is mine to do, my responsibility. Only I can do so. I am asking that you help prevent as much as possible more trauma from being caused for the next generation by not being so dismissive of the ripple impacts of your generation’s actions, that we are paying for. And until people take accountability and go “hey, I screwed up and I wanna do better” nothing will ever fucking change. If everyone goes “that was decades ago, get over it” (you don’t ‘just get over trauma) THEN it will continue and continue AND continue. I am not here to blame you, I am asking you to take a slice of accountability for your part, like the hard pill we all have to if we wanna create change. I am asking that you listen and acknowledge any way you might have done harm AND to help me and many others who are now working hard to end this cycle. Not to shame, beat or guilt yourself for this (please don’t – it is not helpful to anybody, it’s just more self-indulgent crap and labour that I’ve retired from cleaning up for others). Instead, be the change.
Thank you to all the people breaking generational trauma and learning to create a healthy relationship with themselves and those they love. Thank you to those of you who are now learning to regulate yourself so that you don’t take your shit out on those you love and own it when you do or act in ways that aren’t healthy (human) – so they don’t internalise it and blame themselves.
For those facing their own fears, anxieties, demons and trauma so it doesn’t bleed onto others and become the responsibility of your kids and relationships to manage – thank you! I see you, I appreciate you. It’s no easy thing. Yet, the alternative is fucking tragic and this, this, creates better lives. Not, just for you, but for all who come after you. Gah, we need you!
With all my love and gratitude,
PS for those who wanna go on this journey with me, check out my free self-love and love challenge #OneLoveTober here to create a healthy relationship with yourself and those you love – it’s literally everything I do and live and it’s free coz I want it to be accessible for all.