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Overcoming Generational Trauma: Bravely Building Relationships with Our Teens

By Jessica Peck

God's Brave Women - Jessica's Story


I was in the driver’s seat of my car having a recurrent and heated argument with my then thirteen-year-old daughter who was in the back seat . . . when it happened.


Something heavy whooshed past my shoulder, centimeters from my face. To my utter amazement, in anger, she had thrown the book she was reading right at my face while I was driving! My mind raced a million miles an hour in shock as I frantically pulled over. What in the world?! Surely my adored and angelic daughter did not just hurl a book at my head! How could more than a decade of painstaking parenting effort arrive at this rude awakening?


Days before, she had left a handwritten manifesto on my pillow, outlining my many shortcomings in painstaking detail. I didn’t give her enough freedom to choose her clothes or friends. I was strict, mean, and uncaring. I didn’t trust her. I embarrassed her. But most of all, I didn’t understand the challenges she was facing in “modern times” as I was raised in “literally the previous century” she said.


My thoughts returned to the present as I tearfully put the car in Park and fear gripped my heart.


Am I a fraud?

A failure?

Am I crossing over into the much-discussed miserable abyss of parenting a teen?

Will I pass on generational trauma and lose my carefully cultivated relationship with my daughter, my single greatest fear?


 

"Will I pass on generational trauma and lose my carefully cultivated relationship with my daughter, my single greatest fear?"

 

I pulled over. I took deep breaths, and I did the most important thing by far I had learned to do as a mom. I prayed . . . tearfully . . . loudly. And I made a life-altering decision. In that moment I committed to bravely reverse my family trend and beat the odds.


 

"I made a life-altering decision. In that moment I committed to bravely reverse my family trend and beat the odds."

 

My relationship with my mother became strained in my teen years before completely crumbling in early adult years with no recovery. Although I had advanced professional knowledge of pediatrics, I certainly had no personal role model for parenting a teen and no wisdom to gain from my relationship with my parents.


But God . . . My favorite phrase in the history of ever.


I was raised in a world that revolved around family and church, and I’m grateful for my heritage of faith. I grew up in the era of modesty culture, purity rings and abstinence pledges, youth camp, trust falls, WWJD bracelets, sword drills, kissing dating goodbye, and edgy modern songs like “Our God Is an Awesome God.” (Some of you are having flashbacks.) Although conversation about faith was frequent, conversation about personal matters was unthinkable.


Everything in my life at that time seemed categorized into good and bad. I felt an inescapable pressure in the absence of authentic parental relationships to hold an unattainable standard of a perfect public image. I experienced a crippling yet inexplicable guilt complex. This crushing sense of inadequacy fed a perpetual shame of hypocrisy. It was quietly debilitating, with no path to relationship restoration outside of immediate and unquestioning compliance. I increasingly chased a brutal and unrelenting standard of perfection. My legalistic approach to remain above reproach left me perceived as unrelatable, unapproachable, and just plain unlikable.


 

"I increasingly chased a brutal and unrelenting standard of perfection. My legalistic approach to remain above reproach left me perceived as unrelatable, unapproachable, and just plain unlikable."

 

I lost myself trying to be what my parents wanted me to be, namely, submissive and subservient. I was paralyzed by fear and saw bravery as an unfeminine and undesirable attribute. I longed for freedom to pursue an education. I was bright but had no accessible university path, and in my wildest dreams could only imagine myself, as a woman, being a nurse or a teacher. I gathered a miniscule audacity to put myself through community college with only my grandparents’ courageous support.


As I grew in my professional role as a pediatric nurse, I eagerly anticipated being a mother. But my early years as a parent were marked by deep fears and insecurities, desperate to spare my children from the pain of separation and disapproval I had endured.


 

"My early years as a parent were marked by deep fears and insecurities, desperate to spare my children from the pain of separation and disapproval I had endured."

 

One day as I sat on a recliner weeping over broken relationships, my husband took a photo of me. I felt so betrayed in that moment of vulnerability, but he lovingly told me this was what my young children saw every day: I was mournfully watching real life pass by while I wept for the life I’d never have.


Something shifted in me and I vowed to be present. That day I bravely faced the revelation that perfection is not attainable, real love is not earned, and it was no longer my job in life to protect others from the consequences of their own destructive actions.


 

"I bravely faced the revelation that perfection is not attainable, real love is not earned, and it was no longer my job in life to protect others from the consequences of their own destructive actions."

 

My relationship with my parents has been mostly absent for more than a decade. Being estranged from the people who gave me life created a lonely, deep abyss that often felt insurmountable. The grief that accompanies this type of relationship loss is soul-wrenching. There were so many times I wanted to be able to speak freely, to be held, comforted, reassured, and understood, but the gap has not been mended.


It is because of these deep hurts and the still, small voice of fear-filled loneliness that sometimes rages like the sea in my soul that I want to ensure my teenagers never feel the wretchedness of that kind of aloneness. It is also the reason I want to support and encourage other parents of teens who may also be exploring these tough teen issues alone and afraid.


That day, in the car with my daughter, I knew there were challenges ahead, but I had no clue of the enormous and unprecedented struggles waiting for us around the bend. What started as a book thrown at me became a new story of bravely building healthy relationships with my teens. It wasn’t the end of the road for us but the start of a new and beautiful adventure.


 

"What started as a book thrown at me became a new story of bravely building healthy relationships with my teens. It wasn’t the end of the road for us but the start of a new and beautiful adventure."

 

We have navigated together some of the toughest challenges facing teens today. Now God has laid it on our hearts to courageously share lessons from this journey with you: personal and professional, good and humiliatingly bad, utterly mundane and truly miraculous.



** An excerpt from this story is taken from Behind Closed Doors by Jessica L. Peck. Copyright @ 2022 by Jessica L. Peck. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson Publishing.

 

Brave Woman Manifesto


Make sure to check back next week as another courageous Sister shares her story. And by the way...


You are Brave!


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About Jessica


Dr. Jessica Peck is a seasoned pediatric nurse practitioner, a nursing professor at Baylor University, and a mom of four teens. Her oldest daughter Shelby is a journalism major at Baylor. Dr. Peck is a recognized and award-winning international nurse leader and anti-trafficking advocate who advises the U.S. Congress and influences state legislation. She served as President of the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners and is Texas Nurse Practitioner of the Year. She is a regular contributor for parenting magazines and a frequent guest on national radio, television, and other media. She is the author of Behind Closed Doors: A Guide for Parents and Teens to Navigate Through Life’s Toughest Issues.