RAISING LOUISIANA


Megan CW is a writer, social worker, artist, and mother. She is deeply interested in the many ways in which people heal themselves, especially in a time of widespread resistance to oppressive systems. Megan believes in the transformative power of storytelling and approaches her writing as a healing modality.


Lullabies for Ghosts

My six-year-old looked at me from the step stool where she sits when I’m doing things in the kitchen. I was preparing the next morning’s coffee before bedtime and she was stalling for bed, she said, because she was afraid of the ghosts in the house.

I listened to her patiently, careful to not diminish her when she tells me about what’s going on in her head, even if it might be a stall tactic. We’ve had night terrors in the family for generations, and I hated it when my parents responded to mine by saying the monsters that I feared weren’t real. They felt as real as any other thing I lived through when I was my daughter’s age, and telling me they were imagined didn’t soothe the despair they produced.

As I filled the coffee carafe with water, my kid said something that stopped me in my tracks. “The reason there are ghosts here, Mom, is because you have pain and they can feel it.”

I turned from my task and stared at her, stunned. It was a creepy thing to hear a young child say at nighttime. What really shook me, though, is that my daughter must also feel what I’d long aspired to hide from her, or at least, she must recognize that I am hurting.

Since before she was even born I’d hoped that I might insulate her from the legacy of mental illness passed down from my father, his mother, her siblings, and countless others before. Apparently, parenting doesn’t come with the option to defer our mortal flaws until our children are grown, stable, independent of us, and far enough away to be spared the worst effects of our humanity. So, we do our best to work with our good, our bad, and our ugly, and repurpose our emotional injuries into the kind of generational knowledge that equips our kids with skills for dealing with their own life challenges.

Planning for parenting, a person comes up with all sorts of ideas about how they might implement controls to ensure a flawless transition for their children on the pathway to adulthood. It turns out that being a parent and thinking about being one are two very different things. Despite our earnest intentions to buffer our children from anything unpleasant we’ve thus far survived, inevitably, we cannot fully spare them from the ugliness of our own humanity, nor from the inevitable brutality of life. Parenting with integrity sometimes involves modeling failure, fumbling with our challenges and shortcomings, repeatedly mending the enduring wounds of our own childhoods, and in doing so, teaching the kiddos to live well in their own perennially-flawed skin.

My child continued. “When you are unhappy, it feels the same way ghosts do, and sometimes, I’m afraid of the house.”

Her words were painful to hear, and I paused intently as a flood of anger, sadness, and desperation washed over me. I didn’t want her to feel that way and I hated to be responsible for it. My dad screamed at me when I was a kid, he threw things and broke chairs, and when I was awake and petrified of ghosts during many, many sleepless nights, I simultaneously craved parental comfort and feared the consequences of asking for it. I chose my response carefully because the painful truth of my child’s words were preferable to her withholding her thoughts out of fear of upsetting me.

I walked to her, kissed her on the head, and looked her in the eye when I assured her that what she’d said made sense and I’d do everything in my power to keep her safe and comfortable.

We all have “ghosts”—real or imagined—things that haunt us that have been created and fed by the traumas of our lives. How we react to them impacts their burden on the next generation. Despite the seemingly-incessant challenges of life today, the various ways that we all struggle just to get by, and the excruciating realities of global and local conditions, today’s parents are handling theirs like never before.

Heal Thyself

In preparing to write this piece, I spoke with trauma therapists, school professionals, teachers, parents, people who don’t have kids but are around them often, healers, and social workers. I’d hoped to find some sort of trend in the anecdotes about how parents and children are acknowledging the way trauma rolls through family generations, considering alternatives to the relational patterns that have been hurtful to them, and finding ways to disrupt the cycle for more optimal outcomes.

I asked for stories about modern families and the ways they heal, suggesting that never before has humanity collectively possessed such a degree of emotional intelligence, nor has there ever been such widespread access to tools, information, and social networks for facilitating traumatic healing. With this deepened access comes the heavy responsibility of breaking generational patterns of trauma and healing ancestral wounds to create healthier realities for ourselves and the generations to follow.

The responses I received were varied. While some people cautioned me about making generalizations, especially in a community in which resource disparities between families are stark, others enthusiastically endorsed that more and more parents are working with their kids and communities to disrupt patterns and social systems that perpetuate ill health. This work is done most effectively in situations in which parents and children have access to some degree of communal support, ideally from caring individuals who have been brought up outside of the family system in which the trauma pattern developed. The ability to share resources is essential to family and community health, and in the wake of pandemic-induced isolation, people seem to have a renewed value for this.

If nothing else, there is greater collective acknowledgement of trauma, mental illness, and the critical impact of focusing on joy and well-being as a means of fortifying our ability to parent well. Privilege and resources absolutely play into a parent’s capacity to execute their own self-care. We are also in the midst of an apparent social revolution in which many parents are positioned to bargain for the pro-family professional accommodations that facilitate the type of flexibility that is necessary to provide care for themselves, their families, and their extended communities—the care that is necessary to disrupt trauma cycles.

Given our increased collective aptitude for healing ourselves, looking out for our friends and neighbors, as we can, is crucial to facilitating communal healing that will lessen the effects of historical and personal trauma in subsequent generations. As the social pendulum swings away from the “children should be seen and not heard” generation, and the latchkey kiddos of the past are striving to re-centralize compassionate presence within their own families, it’s important to consider that personal health is a function of community health. Humans are social creatures, so we hurt and heal together.

Presence

Gregarious New Orleans creates opportunities for families to integrate within themselves and across community settings. Perhaps it is a necessary response to the staggering complexity of life today, the expense of childcare and the hassles of coordinating it, or maybe it’s that modern parents prefer to keep their kids close, but everywhere I look I see parents and children involving one another in life activities they might have done separately in times past.

My favorite portrait is of a friend and fellow mother, teleworking during a daytime event at our kids’ school. She is squatting in the hallway, with her computer on her lap in front of a double stroller for her baby twins. One twin is sitting in the stroller, the other is busy playing with something near her mom. The next daughter is on the floor nearby, yelling something to the oldest sister who is on the stairs, out of view of the camera. One mom; five jobs at once. She’s so beautiful and fierce, and her daughters can see it. Anyone could see it.

We recognize the power in this portrait because everyone these days seems to be fighting like hell just to hold the pieces together. This mom, four kids and job in tow, still manages to show up for the softer things—a Mardi Gras parade at the school, in this case. She exemplifies the way parents prioritize presence, despite being pulled in a multitude of directions at once. Parents are wrangling children and jobs, and trying to make ends meet, and fighting off this ghost or that one, and we’re doing a good job. Despite the chaos of this modern hustle, despite all the ways in which we fall short of being perfect parents—perfect people—we’re collectively fostering an immensity of hope for a future where we can all more easily be healthy, and human, together.


New Orleans metro area parents! Want to share your experience with ANTIGRAVITY readers? We’re always looking for a wide variety of parenting voices and circumstances to explore each month. If you’re interested, please get in touch with Erin Hall or head to our About page to fill out a contributor form. 


illustrations by Victoria Allen

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