How many people in your life have said, “Well, my grandfather was an alcoholic and beat the hell out of my dad, and my dad was an alcoholic and beat the hell out of me, and that’s why I have such a bad temper. I just can’t help it. I try to do better, but I don’t really know how.”
Now, imagine if that grandfather had been kidnapped from his parents at 5, 6, 7 years old and forced to spend his formative years – in particular, the years where he learned to parent, to make healthy attachments to others, and to resolve conflicts in healthy ways – in a religious institution that beat him, raped him, prevented him from making friends or speaking to siblings, and told him that at his core, he is a heathen, his parents are evil, the language he speaks is from the devil, and the things that matter to him are all vile. He is denied medical care and nutritious food. He has watched classmates die and be buried, unceremoniously, in shallow, unmarked graves. His government has sanctioned this “educational” institution. He then ages out of the school and is expected to go back to his “heathen” home and “act white”, but he returns confused about who his family is (after all, he no longer knows them) and about who he is, struggling to connect with the people there, struggling to overcome the abuse he suffered, struggling to understand who he is supposed to be. He has no support system. It’s a time when people don’t talk about these things. And so he holds it all in while people sling racist slurs, deny him work, starve him of community, all the while expecting him to suck it up. And then, in an effort to have a normal, healthy life, he gets married and has children. But he’s still damaged. Somewhere inside, he’s still that scared, confused, hurt little boy who was stolen from his bed. And he has to raise his children in a world that still treats his people – him, his kids, his culture – like they are thieves, drunks, stupid, morally corrupt, and untrustworthy without ever having gotten to know them as individuals. And this, everything you have just read, only just scratches the surface of his complex and traumatizing experiences.
To deny that these things have an effect intergenerationally is to deny every psychological principle of child development we understand today. No, these things weren’t understood then. No, we cannot change what happened. Yes, there are other peoples who have suffered and they matter, too.
EVERY child matters.
To every family of an indigenous child of a residential school; to every family of a former slave; to every family of an abusive addict; to every family forced to endure racist discrimination; to every family mired by the horrors of sexual abuse; to every family of a person forced to witness or even commit violent acts against others; to every person who has been told to “just get over it”: I believe you. Intergenerational trauma is a real thing. And you matter.