The oldest living member of my family is my mother and I am her youngest child. My mother herself was the youngest of three children, born to a 40-year-old alcoholic, single mother in 1953. No one knows who the father was. My mother’s childhood spanned the 1950’s and 60’s, and my interview with her revealed common themes we both share: abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction from birth to adulthood. Trauma was generational in our family, as it was passed on through child maltreatment and polyvictimization. It was understood that as a child, my mother was to be “seen and not heard,” a pernicious attitude from adults in that time period. As a result, she lived a largely unsupervised life as her single, substance abuse addicted guardian coped as best she could with her own struggles. Society’s negative views of children were deposited into my mother, to the extend she almost became a “poison container.” It was in this environment the “Rights of The Child” were never acknowledged but instead annihilated through a destructive and pervasive maternal/child narrative (deMause, 1995; Fenerci & Allen, 2018; Moody, 2015).
My maternal grandmother worked as a live-in caretaker for various men where she prepared the meals and provided general housekeeping. My mother’s meals were prepared for her and she had the choice to attend school regularly when it was accessible. She recalls that she did not attend school for third grade, although she cannot remember why. Organized play, household reading, entertainment, and family fun were absent from my mother’s childhood.
Considered an adult by the age of twelve, my grandmother encouraged my mother to “date” older men. When asked why, my mother recalled that her mother “didn’t want to feed her anymore,” she stated. “In those days you needed a husband.” My mother subsequently became pregnant with her first child at thirteen, giving birth to my oldest sister just before her 14th birthday. She said she doesn’t know how she became pregnant, nor did she accurately understand how the baby was to be born. When asked if child protective services were contacted or involved during my mother’s childhood, she indicated that, “they simply didn’t bother with that, back then.” Though her basic needs were marginally met, my mother was in an unstable and inadequate environment where thriving did not exist. She did manage, however, to survive.
My mother subsequently had three more live births, the last of which was me, born in 1976. I was fathered by an alcoholic, violent, paedophile who my mother fled from with her oldest child when I was barely two years old. The remaining two children and I were left in his care. She and I did not meet again until I was 15 years old when I was fleeing my father as well.
Losing my mother made my father my sole caregiver. From the age of two till I was five, my father placed my older siblings and I in “boarding homes” during his attempts to find employment. In these boarding homes all three of us children endured maltreatment. When I was five, my father remarried to a harsh and abusive woman, creating an even more criminally dysfunctional household.
My father’s household resembled Kipling’s House of Desolation, where physical, sexual, and emotional abuse were as rampant as the neglect. Like my own mother’s childhood, children were not to be seen, heard, or even exist. Basic needs went unmet—such as the ability to use the indoor toileting or access to adequate food and drinking water. As is common with abusive families, children are not permitted to have regular access to personal hygiene rituals, or to medical, and dental care (Legano, McHugh, & Palusci, 2009). This was certainly the case during my upbringing.
Children in my father’s house were expected to not only attend school but to do well academically. We were allowed to play, but had to do so away from adults, whose needs and preferences were the driving force behind all behaviour and ensuing brutality. We were expected to have no requests, objections, preferences, hopes, interests, or dreams. When noticed, children in my home were present to serve as a vehicle to fulfill adult needs, whatsoever they may have been at any given point in time. Incest and physical abuse made my siblings and me living embodiments of “children as poison containers (deMause, 1995).”
Every child from my family had to eventually flee for safety when they were still under the age of eighteen. None of us had any understanding of having achieved “adulthood.” Contact with our abusive parents was made as the adult child could tolerate it, whereas the parents continued to treat their adult children as if they were still minors, well into adulthood.
The threads of generational trauma have been intricately woven into my family. My mother has sustained the long-lasting impact of her own abuse and neglect, a life that illustrates the research of many trauma studies (Wienclaw, 2013). As our family narrative demonstrates, my mother’s offspring had a higher risk of child maltreatment due to her own betrayal and trauma (Fenerci & Allen, 2018). She was unable to provide a childhood for her offspring that honoured “The Declaration of Rights of a Child (Moody, 2015).” In my family of origin, as well as in my mother’s, children did not have rights, and we all suffered for want of them.
DeMause, L. (1995). The History of Childhood. The Master Work Series. First Softcover Edition.
Fenerci, R. L. B., & Allen, B. (2018). From mother to child: Maternal betrayal trauma and risk for maltreatment and psychopathology in the next generation. Child Abuse & Neglect, 82, 1-11. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2018.05.014
Legano, L., McHugh, M. T., & Palusci, V. J. (2009). Child Abuse and Neglect. Current Problems in Pediatric and Adolescent Health Care, 39, 31.e31-31.e26 doi:10.1016/j.cppeds.2008.11.001
Moody, Z. (2015). The United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child (1959): Genesis, Transformation and Dissemination of a Treaty (Re)Constituting a Transnational Cause. Prospects: Quarterly Review of Comparative Education, 45(1), 15-29.
Wienclaw, R. A. (2013). Child Abuse and Neglect. In: Salem Press.