Generational trauma means babies are often born with trauma their mothers or even their grandmothers lived through. In Mark Wolynn’s book It Didn’t Start With You, he discusses how some of the trauma we experience can start from situations we didn’t even experience firsthand. Later in life, when these babies become adults, that inherited trauma manifests in unhealthy decisions and habits like choosing toxic relationships, addiction, or harmful coping strategies. Your reflexes, triggers and coping mechanisms may develop not because of what you went through, but because of what your ancestors went through. The pain you may be dealing with may not even be yours, but your grandmother’s.
I didn’t realize how true this was until I found myself going crazy every time I heard a particular cry from my daughter. When she was about 11 months old, my daughter was going through the worst sleep regression where she could not sleep through the night. Before that, she was sleeping 11-12 hours consecutively at night. But in her 11 months, for three weeks straight, she woke up crying. It was a horrific cry. It was a cry that represented fear, sadness, abandonment — but I didn’t know why I interpreted her cry this way because since the day she was born, I’ve always been confident in meeting all of my daughter’s needs. And while all mothers have a biological response mechanism that is activated when their baby cries, this was different.When she cried like this, I was alarmed, triggered, afraid and felt myself panicking. I felt like something was happening to me. I was despondent, and I often felt like crying and hiding and I wanted shelter. For me, this wasn’t a natural response. By 11 months, I had learned my daughter’s needs, cues, and triggers. I had learned how to cope with some of the difficulties that came with new motherhood. So when her cries began to ignite a flight or fight response in me, I looked deeper into it.
I did the work and spoke to my therapist and did did spirit cleansing and I read relevant books like Wolynn’s. But it wasn’t until I started to think about my mother that I realized my daughter’s cries were actually also triggering my inner child. I realized I was interpreting her cries as a sign of fear, pain, and abandonment because that’s how my inner child was feeling. It’s wild.
They don’t tell you this but so much about becoming a mother has to do with healing your inner child that you are bound to be triggered and then forced to do the work. When your baby cries, your inner child will also remember it has a voice, and when it’s time, it will roar.
While growing up, my mother was angry, irritable, unstable, unreliable, and manipulative. I have no good memories of her, and she was often verbally abusive, sometimes physically abusive, and always unapproachable. In adulthood, I expressed and maintained my boundaries with her and she was not a fan of this blow to her ego. But when I had my daughter, my mother became softer and more gentle with me.
After learning more about inherited trauma and how my trauma and even my mother’s trauma can manifest in my daughter, I made the conscious decision to begin healing my relationship with my mother. So, I allowed her to spend time with my daughter with me present and I’m happy that I did because as I witnessed their relationship form, I felt it also cleansing my soul. I noticed my mother as a good grandmother, and therefore, my inner child started to feel safe again. This was the affection my inner child needed.
As hard as motherhood can be, it has always felt like a blessing. I’ve never felt like this was the wrong timing or like I was drowning in my own personal circumstances. Have I looked at other aspects of my life — school, work, relationships — and felt overwhelmed? Yes. But I’ve never looked at my daughter and wanted to pause my time with her or my responsibilities. I’ve needed a million breaks, but I’ve never, not even for a second, treated my daughter like her presence doesn’t fill my life with pure happiness. I don’t think my mother had that privilege. I don’t think my mother’s traumas allowed her the safe space to show and receive love — even to her children.
My mother was born poor. She later became a doctor and married my father, also a doctor. He was both physically and verbally abusive to my mother. Later in life, in her 30s, my mother, with her three kids, fled the terrorism in Peru and immigrated to the United States, where she remained undocumented for decades. Here, she cleaned houses and worked at McDonald’s while going to night school and simultaneously doing radiation therapy. She didn’t have an online community to reach out to or seek advice from. She didn’t have social media for parenting hacks or gentle parenting discussions. She didn’t have the option of subscription boxes full of toys that keep kids stimulated. She didn’t have work from home, or mental health days, or conversations about traumas, and pain, and fears and shame. She didn’t have a partner, she didn’t have a good relationship with her own mother, she didn’t have financial guidance, she didn’t have a single moment to herself to just cry. Or just be. Or just feel. She didn’t even have herself.
The only thing my mother had was survival instincts. And overtime, she consistently chose survival over love and when that is your state of mind, you cannot allow yourself to be loved either. My mother’s trauma prevented her from loving.
Eventually, my mother became a nurse, received her citizenship, and provided a healthy life for herself and her children. She is now a homeowner, retired, and a grandmother, and despite seemingly having peace, her soul always seems lost unless she’s with her grandchildren.
Watching her with my daughter has also made me more empathetic and gentle toward how my mother grew up and who she became. It has also made it easier for me to forgive her. Because if she’s a good grandmother to my daughter, then she’s a good mother to me, and in her relationship with my daughter, maybe, just maybe, my mother is also healing her inner child.