Tag Archives: Abandonment

Monday Morning Moment – Family of Origin – What’s Your Story?

[My mom, two of my brothers, and me]

Memories of childhood can be sparse…difficult to pull forward into the present. It’s hard to accept that some of those memories, as we re-engage with them, are still colored by the fears of a 7y/o or the anger of a 15y/o. Even though we now, as adults, can reframe them. Those memories don’t have to keep us as victims. We are grown now. We can look at them again from a different viewpoint…and heal.

I’ve been immersed for a few years now in examining family of origin stuff, generational trauma, and how those experiences (both the bad and beautiful) are passed onto our children. Some close friends and family have said to me that exploring the past is not helpful. Being present in the present is the way to live. I agree for the most part, except the past is still with us in the present. I don’t want the past to mess with my present…or the future of my children and grandchildren.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending an Allender Center conference on our family of origin story. What a treat to sit under the teaching of these wise therapists and hear how to engage the memories of our childhood. This is not at all about blaming parents for mistakes they made raising us. However, it is about confronting what we continue to carry with us from those days. We often say, “They did the best they could…or knew to do.” That may be true. As I look at my own parenting, I sometimes didn’t do the best I could or knew to do. Sometimes I did wrong to my children. It is part of life along with the beautiful, so we reckon with it and wrestle with it, for the sake of the good that is possible.

L to R – Adam Young, Cathy Loerzel, Dan AllenderAllender Center Conference

We can learn from our mistakes and our parents’ mistakes on a path to healing. In the conference I attended, Allender, Loerzel, and Young all called for three components necessary in engaging our family of origin stories:

Curiosity, Kindness, and Community – We don’t just leave the past “in the past”. It is always with us. However, to heal from the hard of our past, we must gaze into our memories with curiosity and kindness and within a trusted community. Sometimes memories seem few and spotty, but as we engage them, recalling them, they will come more to our consciousness. The adage, “If we don’t learn from the past, we’re bound to repeat it.”, is truer than we think.

I have appreciated taking a deeper look into my own family of origin (thanks to the helps and guidance of these therapists, Dr. Curt Thompson, and others).

Here’s part of my story. Consider examining your own. You might be surprised at the freedom that comes.

My parents grew up in the American South at the end of the Great Depression. They knew poverty. I know next to nothing about my paternal grandparents, but my mom’s parents were very much in our lives. That’s grandma in the picture below surrounded by some of her grandchildren. Grandpa rarely made it into a picture. He was a loner and alcoholic who clearly experienced terrible disappointment during those years of under-employment. 5 children, all boys except mom who was the middle child. Her role in the family was a buffer for her dad’s anger, and the boys all left home as soon as they could get into the military.

[My 3 brothers and me in the front of pic]
[Grandpa and Grandma Byrd, my mom’s parents]

My biological father didn’t work. He grew up on a farm, but when he and mom married, he just couldn’t quite hold down a job. Mom worked long days, but instead of my father caring for us, she had to hire babysitters. He didn’t want the responsibility. I don’t know much more. They divorced when I was 5 or 6. I saw him only once after that.

[My biological father]

Abandonment and neglect were part of my mom’s childhood and part of mine. She loved us and did what she could to feed us and house us. While we were growing up, we didn’t feel particularly poor. I did somehow experience food insecurity and fear which led to a life-long struggle with food and fear that I hoped not to pass on to my children.

Generational trauma has become a fascination for me in recent years because of the therapists above and others and because of its frightfully common occurrence. It is a concept that winds its way through human history (“sins of the fathers revisited on their children to the third and fourth generation”). We know from personal experience that we learn habits and responses from our parents (and they learned from their parents). We have the capability, as parents ourselves, of continuing healthy expressions of care for our children. We also have it in us to stop the succession of wrongs we have endured in family relationships…if we are attuned to them in our own parenting and grand-parenting.

How God Visits Sins on the Third and Fourth Generation – John Piper

Therapist Adam Young podcasts on these processes regularly. I’ve learned much from him as well as Dr. Curt Thompson’s podcasts. Young talks about something he calls “The Big Six – What Every Child Needs From Their Parents”.

  1. Attunement – our parents’ ability to read how we were doing/feeling
  2. Responsiveness – our parents’ willingness to respond to our upset (whatever it might be)
  3. Engagement – our parents’ desire to genuinely know us (at a heart level, whatever age)
  4. Affect regulation – our parents’ ability and willingness to soothe us, whatever our emotional state was at the time – scared, angry, shut down, etc.
  5. “Strong enough to handle your big emotions” – our parents’ ability to stay with us when our emotions were potentially uncomfortable for them; not taking these big emotions personally but welcoming them rather than shaming them.
  6. Willingness to repair – our parents’ willingness to own and right any harm they may have done to us as children (whatever the age).

Attachment: What It Is and Why It Matters – Adam Young

Why Your Family of Origin Impacts Your Life More Than Anything Else – Adam Young Counseling [Podcast]

My siblings and I grew up much loved by our Mom. She did what she could to give us a safe and secure childhood. One of her struggles was having had a childhood that leveled its own share of hard. She brought that forward without knowing. She knew abandonment and didn’t want us to experience it. I believe this is one of the reasons, ironically, that she divorced my biological father. We wouldn’t have to experience up-close his own lack of care for us. Never knowing him or his family, I have wondered in recent years what affected his own neglect of us.

You can tell it’s all very curious for me. I hope you are curious as well. Not to blame a parent but to understand your experience growing up and the impact of attachment in your relationship to your parents and their relationship with theirs. With the hope of setting a foundation of deep love and care for your children and theirs. It doesn’t have to be the situation of where “hurt people hurt people”.

Would you consider journaling your family of origin story and processing it with trusted individuals? Curiosity, kindness, and community – Be curious about your family as far back as you can take it. Treat those memories…those family members…with kindness. It’s very possible those memories will have greater meaning as you explore them as an adult. Where they were painful, repair and healing are possible…if we don’t just try to stuff them somewhere out of sight, out of mind. In community, our stories help us to understand each other and ourselves…and find the beauty and freedom there in the discovery.

Even Hollywood gets it right sometimes. In the TV show FBI (S6, E2, “Remorse”), the last line of the episode is so pertinent. A father (who struggled with alcoholism) talking to his teenaged son (who had begun drinking and was repentant):

“Mistakes are just part of the game. What’s important is what we do next.” Owning your part. Asking forgiveness. Treating each other with kindness, not contempt. Repentance and repair.

I’ll come back to this another day…hoping to learn from your journey as well. Thanks for stopping by.

[Mom, our step-dad, and our 3 kiddos – much loved all the way around]
[Dave’s parents]
[4 generations with Dave’s grandmother, mom, and our first-born]
[Another 4 generations pic with Dave’s dad, Dave, our son, and wee grandson]
…they grew up so fast.

Monday Morning Moment – Generational Sin and Trauma – Don’t Trip Over What’s Behind You – Deb Mills

Monday Morning Moment – Sins of the Fathers – Neglect and Abandonment – It Stops Here. – Deb Mills

Monday Morning Moment – Abuse – Where Does It Begin and How Do We Respond? – Deb Mills

Monday Morning Moment – Generational Trauma and an Early Morning Exercise Toward Flourishing – Deb Mills

Monday Morning Moment – As Adults We Still Need to Feel Safe, Seen, Soothed, and Secure – Deb Mills

Monday Morning Moment – Generational Trauma and an Early Morning Exercise Toward Flourishing

Photo Credit: Medical News Today

Early riser here. In fact, I rarely need an alarm.

In other seasons of life, the morning came with joy. For some time now, I have struggled with negative thoughts…not so much anxiety or depression as much as a certain sense of feeling undone.

Since reading Tyler Staton’s Praying Like Monks, Living Like Fools, my morning routine has changed some. No more mindless scrolling through various social media on my phone. It is no longer within reach. Once up, I make my bed. That lifelong routine continues. However, while still in bed, just barely awake, I now do two things to clear my head and set my heart for the day.

1) I recite the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). This is actually the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples when they asked him to teach them how to pray. Whether you have a relationship with Jesus or not, if you believe in God, this prayer is one you can embrace. A friend, younger than me, said to a small group of women recently in a study on prayer, “We should memorize the Lord’s Prayer”. It struck me as odd because, in my generation, we learned the Lord’s Prayer in school. Led by our teacher, we recited it as a whole class every day along with the Pledge of Allegiance. Whatever our religion or lack thereof. Until 1962, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled school prayer (led by teachers) unconstitutional.

This prayer helps me to turn my thoughts to God and the creeping uneasiness changes more to hopefulness.

Photo Credit: Lutheran Homeschool

2) I recite Psalm 23. This psalm, often referred to by its first line “The Lord is my Shepherd”, was written by David, a shepherd himself before he became king. In meditating on this psalm, I’m reminded of God’s care of his sheep. No matter what happens, he keeps his eye on us. He provides for us, anticipating our every need, and welcomes us Home to be with Him at the end of our lives.

Photo Credit: ChristArt

These two passages are easy to memorize and even easier to make part of a morning routine They have done wonders for my waking to a new day.

So what does this have to do with generational trauma? I’ve written often about this previously (and strongly recommend reading these pieces if you haven’t already).

Monday Morning Moment – Generational Sin and Trauma – Don’t Trip Over What’s Behind You – Deb Mills

Monday Morning Moment – Sins of the Fathers – Neglect and Abandonment – It Stops Here. – Deb Mills

Monday Morning Moment – Abuse – Where Does It Begin and How Do We Respond? – Deb Mills

Photo Credit: Jennifer Nurick

We have all experienced some sort of trauma through our families, across generations. Some (including in my own family) would rather not “go there”, and I understand. However, it is in recognizing our trauma and taking steps toward healing that helps us to avoid continuing the trauma in our children and grandchildren.

As adults, we want the same things our children need – to be safe (no “bracing for impact” in relationships), to be seen (truly known by those most significant in our lives), to be soothed (our emotions understood and acknowledged, without judgment, even when they are big and out of proportion), and secure (that no matter what, we are loved. Our persons are NOT leaving the room).

Whatever we may have experienced as children, we can alter our present. Whatever we did as young and overwhelmed parents, we can move, with love and insight, to a better situation with our kids. The past is just that…the past. We can be truly with each other, in the here and now…if we are brave and willing to be humble.” – Deb Mills

The major component of trauma in my own life was abandonment. I don’t know about my grandparents’ childhood, but from my grandparents’ adulthood through the present, my family has felt the sting of abandonment. It is generational and can not only affect us but our children as well. Abandonment is a very real source of trauma and can actually find its way back up the family tree, if we don’t do the work of rooting it out. [The longer stories are in my blogs above.]

What better way to start each day praying to and meditating on a Father who will NEVER abandon his children!

[Below you will find further resources on generational trauma and a helpful graphic on the power of showing up.]

Photo Credit: Dr. Dan Siegel & Dr. Tina Payne Bryson

Breaking the Chains of Generational Trauma: We Don’t Have to Pass Down Everything We Inherit – Elizabeth Dixon

Monday Morning Moment – Righting Ourselves After Betrayal – Deb Mills

How does trauma spill from one generation to the next? – Rachel Zimmerman

Generational Trauma: Breaking the Cycle of Adverse Childhood Experiences

Jakob’s Family: The Psychology of Generational Trauma

Monday Morning Moment – Sins of the Fathers – Neglect and Abandonment – It Stops Here.

Photo Credit: William James, Heartlight

My older brother was 10 when he handed off our infant brother into my small arms in the backseat of the car, as Mom drove us away. 4 kids driving away from my biological father. I was five years old.

That father didn’t disappear from our lives just after the divorce. He already had, while still living in the house. Mom was the sole provider, and she hired babysitters for us because, although our father didn’t work, he also didn’t take responsibility for caring for us.

The three smaller of us kids have no memories really of those years. My older brother has since died, but I wish I had asked him about growing up with our dad. He never shared any positive memories in those years following that day of leaving. He actually shared no memories and he, at 10,  was old enough to have some.

The Father I Never Knew – On Father’s Day – Deb Mills

I have written about the topic of generational sin previously, but I wanted to return to this subject, maybe one last time (maybe not). The reality of sin passing through generations is sobering. When we have experienced harm, or at the very least, a lack of care from a parent or parents, we are at risk of repeating that exact same harm in our own children’s lives. As a parent myself, I want any generational sin to stop right here!

Engaging with Someone Who Has Harmed You – Part 1 of a 4-part Series – Adam Young Counseling

We don’t want to linger in the past, nor do we want to disparage a parent, especially one who has since died. “They did the best they could” is often what we say and hear. I’m not at all about blaming parents for ill treatment of their children, but I do think when we refuse to acknowledge the wrong or harm done to us, then we may find ourselves repeating those same patterns with our own children – patterns we learned too well ourselves growing up.

We can change the course of our lives…and that of our children…and it’s not just through distancing ourselves from parents who harmed us. Otherwise all we teach our children is how to disengage. We don’t give them the skillset to recognize harm and disarm the situation. When we feel the victim, we too often teach our children more what that looks like, rather than how to turn it around for our sake and theirs…and maybe even for our parent(s).

Monday Morning Moment – As Adults We Still Need to Feel Safe, Seen, Soothed, and Secure – Deb Mills

Monday Morning Moment – Generational Sin and Trauma – Don’t Trip Over What’s Behind You – Deb Mills

The Sins of the Fathers Visited Upon The Children – S. Conway

When a Father Abandons a Child

In my family’s childhood home, neglect and abandonment happened even with both parents in the home. Mom was working; she had to work. Given that, she had no choice but to place us in the care of others. Somehow I felt a strong attachment to my Mom following those years (maybe even during those years living with our dad). I’m not sure if my brothers had the same experience, since their dad just wasn’t there for them. Was it harder for them because their same-sex parent wasn’t bonded to them?Photo Credit: Gabor Mate, dr_anniephd, Instagram

We are not left without help these days. Even on social media, we can find solid counsel (even when we can’t afford or feel awkward going to a counselor in person). Check out the full thread of Dr. Nicole LePera’s below (she posts helps every day).

Photo Credit: Dr. Nicole Lepera, Twitter (Thread)

Dr. Nicole Lepera Twitter Thread of November 15, 2022

Whether we experienced abuse, neglect, abandonment from our fathers, or our mothers…the impact of their lives continues with us through ours…either steering us along the same course or moving us to take a very different one. We can keep our distance from those sinful patterns as adults without necessarily sacrificing those relationships. That’s a whole other pattern we can guide our children in – that of understanding, humility, and forgiveness.

Photo Credit: James 4:17, Heartlight

Fathering – Celebrating Men Who Did It Well; Forgiving Men Who Didn’t – Deb Mills

My father disappeared from our lives. The neglect and abandonment present in our preschool years became permanent. We would never know him…what his own growing up years were like…why he couldn’t seem to love us. We would never know. What spurs me on is the profound love of a great mom and a steadfast God. I know my siblings and I have experienced some sort of imprint from previous generations, but recognizing it is a huge step forward. We then can steer clear of its negative impact on us and our children.

If you experienced harm from a parent, you may not be able to do anything to change that situation, but you can be an instrument of change in your own life…and for the sake of your children.

Also, even with the gift of a deeply loving and bonded parent, like our Mom, don’t be surprised if she/he hasn’t endured trauma from their own childhood home. Be aware of that generational connection.

Understanding the possibility of intergenerational transfer of trauma is not to make victims of a future generation. Understanding allows us to recognize if we have vulnerability and to set in place healthy barriers against the impact of our parents’ trauma.

I actually don’t know what my father’s childhood was like. My mom grew up with an alcoholic father who vented his frustrations about life on his wife and children. Mom stood against his abuse of her own mother and brothers. Her fighter responses were tempered as an adult when she became a believer (follower of Christ). Still that quickness to take offense and wariness of mean-spiritedness were reactions she had to fight all her life. I see that also in myself. – Deb Mills

In The Lord of the Rings, there is a powerful scene of Gandalf standing between those in his care and a monstrous enemy. He called out to this evil creature: “You shall not pass!” When it looked as if he had victory over the beast, he turned his back away from him. This turned out to be disastrous (minute 1:50 into this scene below). There’s a lesson here that just ignoring trauma, even when it feels like we’ve put it behind us, won’t keep it from rearing up again. We are wise to be alert, aware, and prepared for its circling back around.

The Season of Small Ones – Mothering, God, & Gandalf – Deb Mills

Boundaries are talked about a lot these days. Forgiveness also… True forgiveness is actually its own boundary. It keeps our hearts tender and our minds free to take a better path in parenting and in relationships, in general. Like in Gandalf’s situation, we would be unwise to prematurely think we have conquered the evil of generational sin. That sin that may have been transferred to us, if not genetically then familially.

Not to despair. Being vigilant is wise in two areas: 1) guarding our hearts against bitterness and hatred toward our parents and 2) caring for and leading our children in the same ways. We have vast resources available to us these days, and we have a God who does not turn away from us as we seek to love as we are loved. No matter what kind of love we received (or receive) from our earthly parents.

“He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’ Therefore, we may boldly say: The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” Hebrews 13:5b-6

Photo Credit: Dr. James Lamb, Heartlight

Finally, I want to leave you with this encouragement of steps you can take towards bringing an end to the “sins of the fathers” – at least detoxifying it for the rest of your life and future generations.  What would you add to this list? [Share in Comments.]

  • If you are willing, pray for the person who has harmed you. Not necessarily for them to change but for God to bless them. Weird, right? The winsomeness of this sort of prayer is the impact it has on our own your own care for that person. Our hearts are tendered when we pray.
  • Tell your story. All of it. To someone you can trust. Someone who will not just sympathize or take up an offense against that person but who truly cares for you and your own healing.
  • If abuse is part of your story, sort out boundaries without building walls. The walls not only keep that person out; they imprison us within. They also teach our children that walls are the way to go when harm happens…more prisons.
  • Recognize the sin in “the sins of the fathers”. You may already see a leaning toward it in your own life as an adult. Put safeguards (accountability) in your life to help you choose another path.
  • Seek understanding (you may need a counselor or that trusted friend above). For health and healing, don’t try to figure this out by yourself.
  • Remember the one who harmed you may have also been similarly harmed. The sins of his/her own fathers and grandfathers could be imprinted on his life and actions. Not justifying the behavior here but recognizing it might not have started with his relationship with you.
  • Resist blaming. We want to avoid living as a victim. This is definitely contagious for our children. The person who harmed you did wrong. Calling it sin is a start, then, rather than blaming, forgive. No small thing. When we blame, we carry the brunt of the sin with us into our adult life…with the pain we experienced as a 5 y/o, or 15 y/o. As an adult we can look at that pain with mature eyes. It was wrong, but blaming empowers the sin to continue hurting. We are grown now and don’t have to come under that hurt anymore.
  • Pursue peace, as much as you yourself can (Romans 12:18; Psalm 34:14; Hebrews 12:14-15. Reconciliation is extremely hard work. We resist it. That work of resisting, trying to ignore that person, carving out our lives away from that person, pretending it doesn’t matter – so much more exhausting and debilitating. Reconciliation requires at least two people, but it can start with one and hopefully the door stays open for future possibilities.
  • Don’t be deceived thinking you will not fall into the same hurtful pattern you experienced. We can pass that onto our children without even trying…hard warning here. It may look different but it is not gone without our determination to end it with us.
  • Acknowledge that more people are affected by this sin (for me, neglect and abandonment) than just you and your dad. What is your hope, your goal? If it is just to lessen your own pain (which matters), those who love you will join into the work of that…and its burden. What can you do to lessen that burden on yourself and those around you? [This is a big step forward.]
  • Increase your capacity for tolerating negative emotions. [See link below.] They do not have to disrupt your joy or destroy your peace. They are indicators for what’s going on under the surface. You don’t have to live in them. They are actually helpful in pointing to next steps.

Growing in Negative Emotion Tolerance – Brad Hambrick

  • Do what you can to nurture the relationship. Don’t expect your father (or mother) will have the same skillset nor understanding that you have developed over time. Give grace.
  • When we give grace, we experience the bountiful good of it ourselves, and our children learn a huge life lesson that benefits them as well.
  • In the end, we seek to forgive. We can say we forgive but if we keep putting bricks in the walls between us and the one who harmed us, there is no fruit in that “forgiveness”. The fruit is not just for your father/mother, it’s for you and your children. Forgiving doesn’t let that one off the hook; really, it keeps that hurt from dominating our lives (or that of our children’s). Check out resource below on this.

If I Forgive, Doesn’t That Let Them Off the Hook? – Clare Bruce and David Reay

Photo Credit: Mark Groves, Facebook

Okay, I’ll close out now. Not a counselor but one who’s lived this and done a lot of work towards my own health and healing and hopefully it shows. Much love. Thanks for staying to the end.

Monday Morning Moment – In or Out – Your Choice, but You DO Choose – Deb Mills

Sins of the Father – Bible Verses

Worship Wednesday – Remembering Dad at His Passing – Grateful to God – This celebrates the dad who became my father later in life.

Fathers Who Give Hope – John Piper

Just Like Mother: How We Inherit Our Parents’ Traits and TragediesApril Dembosky