Passing on the Trauma
There’s a question I get asked fairly often, but for which I have no answer. I’m writing about it today not because I’m hoping to change the status quo, but because I think it’s a fascinating look at life, and at what forms and drives us as humans, and it’s a topic worthy of discussion.
This question doesn’t always come as a question. Sometimes it comes as an unquestionable fact. The words are always different and the reason behind them changes from person to person, but basically it amounts to this: Your kids are so lucky to have you as a motivating example. And/or: How do you impart your drive and motivation into your children?
The response, respectively, is: They have no clue and I have no clue.
I love my kids. Even more than love, I’m fiercely obligated to them in that maternal/paternal way that defies logic and self-preservation. Like so many other parents, I’ve made decisions that were not in my own best interest and actually went against what I wanted because it was in their best interest, ensuring they’d get as good of an education, as stable a life, and as many opportunities as our socioeconomic constraints would allow.
Sometimes it's seemed as if these choices weren’t even choices, but rather a set course that had been predetermined by whatever was coded into my DNA. I’m sure a lot of parents can relate to this. I’ve never yet met a (non-pathological) mom or dad who truly loved their kids that wanted their children to have a worse life than they did. It’s always the opposite: parents striving to give their kids more than what they had. And so it has been for me.
While this has gone on year after year, there’s been a part of me standing helplessly by, conflicted, watching, and wondering in despair if I, by having done my best to give my children as much of a solid start to life as possible, haven’t simultaneously relegated them to lives of mediocrity.
I fully believe that struggle is what allows the greatness inside us to surface, and that a life without struggle can be--not always, but can be-- stunting because if we’re never tested, then we never truly discover what we’re capable of overcoming. I believe that hardship and difficulty force us to find creative ways to survive and break through, and that when we do break through, we become mother-f’ing conquerors. I believe that the human mind, spirit, body don’t know how to fully exist without challenges, and that the pain--as god awful as it is in the moment--pushes us toward clarity and sanity.
I’m also fully aware that not everyone who goes through trauma survives the trauma. And of those who come through, many will reach the other side only a shell of who they once were. I fully admit that, having been born with intellect and a natural drive, as well as--possibly--an allele sequence better adapted to survival, I won the genetic lottery. It’s easy--trite--for me to hold these beliefs about struggle and overcoming because I come from a position of having conquered. Not everyone is so lucky. Which means struggle and pain and difficulty aren’t things to be willfully inflicted upon people under the guise of doing them a favor.
Having experienced the struggle and having found a way to turn difficulty into a driving force to succeed, I'm left baffled as to how to impart that same drive and motivation into my children who have no concept of the struggle because I’ve done everything possible to prevent them from experiencing it. I know I’m not alone in this because nearly every self-made parent has faced the same dilemma, and it’s for this same dynamic that very few fortunes survive beyond the second or third generation.
I look at these little beings that I love and, no matter what I wish they could understand about life, and about chasing their dreams, and about valuing every moment, and about self-motivation, and about challenging themselves, I know that the best I can do for them, the only thing I can do, is try to instill in them a sense of gratefulness for what they do have and then allow them to freely grow into their own unique selves without any demand to walk in my footsteps, or to push themselves the way I’ve pushed me; to let them succeed or fail on their own terms, find their own way, and to accept them fully for who they are, as they are.
Ultimately, I think that’s the greatest gift I can give them, and the greatest thing I can teach them about what it means to conquer life.
Taylor Stevens is an award-winning and New York Times bestselling novelist who—by odds and expectations—should never have become either successful or published. Like many aspiring authors Stevens had no credentials or platform, and no direct route into the publishing world. But, unlike most, she was also limited by a life of cultural isolation and a sixth-grade education.
Born into an apocalyptic cult and raised in communes across the globe, Stevens grew up as a child laborer, cooking and cleaning for up to a hundred at a time, caring for younger commune children, or out on the streets begging on behalf of commune leaders. Books, movies, music, and pop-culture from the outside world were strictly forbidden, and she finally gained unlimited access to fiction after returning to the United States in her early thirties. Her books have since been published in over twenty languages, with The Informationist optioned for film by James Cameron’s production company, Lightstorm Entertainment.