by Nahje Royster
An open-letter to broken-hearted children and the folks who broke them:
I am just going to say it — children don’t owe parents anything. I don’t care if that sounds entitled, nor do I care if you disagree. Why? Because children and adults alike are suffering irreversible emotional, mental, spiritual, and even physical trauma at the hands of people who are supposed to love, care, and protect us.
An indisputable fact is that parents brought us here against our will — meaning none of us had any say in being created. I know that might sound like an unnecessary point to make, but it is a simple fact. When our lives begin, we have no choice to depend on our parents and caregivers. We do not have the ability, or the understanding needed to care for ourselves. We are the responsibility of our parents/caregivers and when we lack those, the government should be sure that our needs are adequately met so our lives don’t have to turn into survival of the fittest.
My problem though is that parents and caregivers sometimes expect repayment and I think that is absurd. I don’t owe my mom for clothing and feeding me — that was her job. I don’t owe my mom for housing me — that was her job. And I should not be gaslighted when I critique my childhood experiences just because I was clothed, fed, and housed. That is the bare minimum. A parent doing the bare minimum so that a child isn’t starving or homeless does not override trauma and the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical illnesses that come along with a toxic upbringing.
I understand the expectation of your child being a decent human being and contributing positively to the world, but living our lives indebted to or to please you is not and should not be an expectation.
Growing up in a Black family, it is disrespectful to “talk back” which meant I couldn’t explain myself or speak my mind when adults were wrong about me. It means that I only have one mother and no matter what I am supposed to respect her and treat her with kindness. However, contrary to Black (toxic) tradition, I am a grown woman, and I will respect the people that respect me. Adults do not owe our elders to belittle ourselves and stifle our feelings to appease folks. I know this may sound ungrateful but here’s what everyone needs to understand: people have been abused for decades by caregivers and it has been ignored and minimized because bare minimum needs were met. There is this dangerous wielding of power that parents/caregivers hold that gaslights us (their children) into thinking we should be grateful and that nothing is wrong with how we are being treated because they have endured worse. But that’s the problem, too. Punishing your children and depriving them of a safe and healthy life because of one’s own unchecked trauma is bad parenting.
I know, not everyone understands their wrongdoings. However, as a person who grew up without a father and a difficult mother, it is not my job to make excuses for the ways my parents hurt me. I refuse to apologize for mistakes made as a child when I did not know better. I will not ignore the pain and trauma that I have experienced because it is hard for my family, my mother to understand. I will not allow myself to be indebted to someone who has hurt and failed me one way or another. It’s a both/and — I can be both grateful for the care that I did receive and critique wrongdoings. I can be both appreciative that my childhood was greater than many and hold people accountable for actions that negatively impacted me.
We are going to work through our trauma as best as possible so that we don’t recreate our childhood for our children or let it negatively affect our relationships with others. Lastly, we do not owe our parents/caregivers and families anything and to make us feel like we do is gaslighting and manipulation. We are no longer giving time to people we deem unworthy of us out of tradition or at a cost to us. We should operate under the belief that if people want to be in our lives, they are going to respect us and our autonomy.
From one broken heart to another, you deserve love and healing.