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Dealing With Family Trauma: A Guide For Parents and Children



"In your pursuit for revenge, be prepared to lose everything because hatred will always bring more harm to the hater than the hated."



8th January 2019

Labadi Beach Resort Hotel, Accra, Ghana


It was 4:30 pm local time, we had just completed an all-day training for some top government officials from Nigeria. My rubber sole, black lace-up shoes had become very tight due to standing all day. I stepped out of the training hall and headed to the beach. As I got to the beach, I dropped my bags and all my documents by a tent and took off my shoes to enjoy the feeling of the sand beneath my feet as I walked towards the water.


I kept walking until the water reached my knees then I stood still, staying in the calm feeling of the waves splashing against my legs, my feet sinking deeper into the sand with every passing wave. I stayed in the waves for about 10 minutes, taking in the beauty of the slowly forming sunset and allowing the salty cold water to wash away all the stress on my feet.


Longing for a nice, cold shower and my pillow, I left the beach and began walking back to the hotel lobby along the beautiful concrete slab path at the beachfront. A young lady was walking along the path and I greeted her with a smile. She smiled back at me and waved, then stopped to tell me that she enjoyed my session and it was very inspirational. I was a bit taken aback because I could recognize all the participants and she was not in the hall. She then told me that she was seated in the next hall and it had a collapsible wall pattern so she could see and hear me and the team.


I appreciated her and we parted ways but before I got far, she called out to me and asked if I had a minute to talk. I was really tired and wanted to get to my hotel room as soon as possible so I would be well rested for my flight back to Nigeria the next day but I agreed to talk with her.


Then she said, "You spoke about emotional smartness and I was really fascinated by those thoughts. It made me think deeply about my family situation. I have kept mute at home and don’t speak with my father, because I know what he did to my mum 9 years ago. I am 18 years old now, and we are both aware that I know what he did but I have been completely mute."


Then she asked me “So what do you think? Am I emotionally smart?"


In that moment I thought to myself, "Wow…This is about to turn into a long evening session and I am so tired. This young lady seems like she needs someone to vent to and I already agreed to speak to her so how do I escape?"


As though confirming my thoughts, she said “I left my hotel room because I was upset with my father and that was how I came to accidentally listen to your session. I know that I will most likely not see you again and I need to talk to a stranger so I can let out all my deepest family secrets”. At this time, we sat on an old bench overlooking the beach and the sea breeze was slowly but surely drifting me away.

 

Note to Parents

Many times as parents, we imagine that our children cannot comprehend some of the family occurrences and wave away their presence and emotions.


It's time to know that children can read situations, internalise and even make judgments but might not say anything for a long time.

 

Let's get back to the story...


The young lady introduced herself to me as Yaaba. I put all my documents into my bag and relaxed to take a listening position.


Then Yaaba dropped the unthinkable statement,

“I know my father had something to do with my mother’s death but I can't prove it.”


At this point I sat up straight and knew for certain that I was in for a very long conversation.


She continued,

“As a child, I helped him to hide many things from my mum. This only stopped after my mum died. Initially, I did not realise the relevance of documents and pictures I was hiding because I was just a little girl obeying her father but one day something strange happened.


I have never told anyone my story, but I am telling you because you'll leave Accra tomorrow and we will never see each other again.


My father traded unusual things and my mother was always against it. It made them fight all the time. Honestly, my father has been such a loving, caring, gentle and ever-present father. He gives me the best life, thinks ahead and does everything for me, but sometimes I believe he’s trying to cover up and compensate me for the mistakes he made.


A year after my mum passed, I began to become mute at home as I constantly went into my father’s room and hid to listen to his conversations, plans, and saw where he kept his documents and money.”

As I sat there listening to Yaaba, the dark clouds of the night began to creep in slowly. We had talked for about 3 hours and she kept pouring out the labyrinth of lies she has had to grow up in. I had confirmed to myself early in the conversation that Yaaba had chosen me as a chopping board, a vent tool, and a listening ear. My job was to listen and nod and say 'hmmm', 'wow', ask pacifying questions, and then continue to listen.


I checked my time and it was already 9pm, my bones began to feel the sensation of hypothermia because of the slow, gentle and cold wind from the sea. I was nearly numb, unsure if it was from the cold wind or cold story about Yaaba's family.

 

Note To Parents

How many Yaabas do we have out there, muted by their parent’s deep issues and past mistakes, looking for a stranger to listen totally and patiently without fear of judgement?


My role, to Yaaba was purely coincidental. It was occasioned by the training event that was held at the hotel at the same time she was there with her father and also her rare opportunity to have sat and listened from the adjoining meeting hall.


Parents and guardians must come to realise that children have experiences and conclusions residing deep within them.


We need to protect children from seeing and experiencing situations that can leave them scarred for life. We need to consider the children in our space before we take any greasily actions.


Children are not too young to understand a situation or experience a broad range of emotions.


If your children have gone through some extreme family situations, you need to seek professional help to unearth the locked up thoughts and conclusions in the child's mind and to help the child see new possibilities.


 

Alright, let's finish the story...

Just before I stood up to wrap up the listening session with Yaaba. She said 2 things to me:


“Firstly, it's obvious you don't know who I am. My name is not Yaaba, that is just my name to you for today because my father is a very prominent figure in this town. You will discover who we are by the time you get back to Nigeria, then you will understand and appreciate the complexities around my life.


Secondly, my father’s biggest challenge is not his local and international business nor his public office, it's not about his failing health, but it's about me, Yaaba. I'm the second child of 5 children and the only girl. I'm totally calm and yet I have done the most unthinkable things to my father.


My siblings cannot understand why my father is unable to deeply deal with my uncanny extremities towards him. Today, during your training session, I made a decision to stop, to become a better person, let go of the past and stop seeking revenge, to start loving my beautiful and caring stepmother and to start my life with a fresh direction.”


I was happy to hear that but I was also curious about what led her to make that decision. “Why?” I asked.


She looked away from me, towards the beach and took a deep sigh. After a few moments, she turned back to me and I noticed her eyes were teary.


“One of the participants in your session said three things that stuck with me and made me cry until I found my Eureka. He said "You cannot undo your past, so leave it behind...If you are driven by revenge, you cannot dig only one grave, dig two...Your hurt will destroy you and anyone that tries to love you or help you."


That was it for me. I had been sitting there thinking of ways I could hurt my dad but hearing those words broke me. It was like a sharp stab to my chest. I was totally broken and pained - I had just lost the ability to execute my plot - and so I left the hall to cry at the beachfront.”


Hmmmm, this made me reflect on how sometimes we might make random statements, not realising that it was exactly what someone needed to hear in the moment.


I was curious to know what other steps she had taken or planned to take going forward, so I asked her. She said, “While I was crying on the beach, I took out my phone and deleted my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages because I knew I needed to become something and someone else. I also sent a love and appreciation message to my brothers - guess what - two of my brothers asked me - "Who is this please? This cannot be my sister, what are you doing with her phone?" I hadn't realise things were that bad, and in that moment, it occurred to me that I couldn't really remember the last time I said any kind words or showed any softness to my brothers.”


At this point, it was already 10:00pm and we began to walk towards the lobby. I was very cold and my teeth were grinding and we began to walk towards the lobby. Then I asked her, “What next?”


She said, “Well, my dad and I are staying in the best suite in the hotel but we have never really enjoyed the ambience and beauty of this place. I am going to order his favourite meal and drinks tomorrow morning and for the first time in years, I'm going to talk to my dad. We have a lot of things to work out but I think we can do it.”


I was glad to hear this but I was more concerned with uncovering if she truly understood what she was doing and what importance it held to her. “Are you sure this is what you want to do? Why?” I asked her.


She slowed her steps down a bit and looked down, “Sir, the stakes are too high and the odds of the future will be stacked against me. If I continue to fight, hate and hurt, I will destroy myself and the whole family. Everyone already thinks I am psychotic and I have been made to see specialists several times. I'm 18 years old already and I cannot allow my life to keep going in this direction. I need a fresh start before it is too late.”

I gave her some last minute advice and wished her the best. She thanked me then said something strange, “If we ever meet again or you find out my true identity– this never happened. Goodbye.”


She picked up her pace and walked ahead of me into the hotel and through the lobby. I watched as she contemplated whether to take the elevator but eventually opted to take the flight of stairs, probably to have some time to think before she reached her hotel room.


When I got back to my room I checked my phone to see I had about 40 missed calls, everyone was looking for me. e you okay? You are standing by the swing door.” It was the hotel concierge trying to get my attention. I just nodded my head and entered the hotel. I was still trying to wrap my head around everything that happened, this was so much to handle in a day.


As I got into my room, I finally brought my phone out from my bag and saw I had about 40 missed calls, everyone was looking for me.


Yaaba set off a new vision and decision inside me. I gave birth to a new vision and created platforms to achieve it. I began to read and talk about parenting for the next two years.

 

It is time to think about what you are exposing your children to and what you are saying to them.



We are all on a journey called life.


We have dreams,

We have successes and disappointments,

We are full of hope and sometimes we get hurt,

We fall, we get back up,

We press on or give up,

We wake up happy or sad,

We love the company of friends and other times they are a pain in the wrong place...


Yet, we must continue our upward and forward journey of life. Regardless of your state of mind and challenges.



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