A SOFT PLACE TO LAND
on healing generational wounds & parenting parents
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I’ve been finding my parent’s new housing for the last year. My parents have been on Section 8 housing and have had unstable housing for most of my life, meaning I grew up in unstable housing. Before I was born, my father lived in halfway houses, where he ultimately met my mother. I spent certain parts of my childhood houseless and in various homeless shelters. I can close my eyes and picture the bridge my mother and I slept under near the Minute Maid stadium in Houston, Texas. When my husband and I bought a house, I felt so much shame about accessing stable housing – I still feel ashamed about it. My nervous system has difficulty accepting that I have found a soft place to land for the first time.
I have been in intensive trauma therapy for the last few months, specifically for the childhood abuse and neglect I experienced. Through this work, I am always holding the complexities that I feel deep anger towards my parents for the way I was treated at points in my life, and hold the nuance that so much of what I experienced was the result of systemic ableism, poverty, and the mental health industrial complex.
After months of combing through Section 8 housing only to be met with waitlists, trying to find a bottom-floor apartment to accommodate my dad’s access needs, and frustrating online application processes, I found my parents a house. It’s hard to explain the emotional landscape of helping provide for parents that couldn’t provide for you. It isn’t easy navigating the internal terrain of stepping into positions of care for people who didn’t give me the care I needed.
My entire healing journey has been centered around learning how to give myself the care I need and being able to ask for care from others. Admittedly, I still struggle with the ladder. I’ve been writing poems for the last decade about learning to care for myself and imagining what is possible for the future.
I’ve been called resilient one too many times and have been told by other family members that I “turned out great, all things considered.” I think a lot about the word resilience and its defining factor: the ability to withstand and quickly recover from tribulations. I am so sick of the people around me having to be resilient.
A past version of me would not have been able to step into these positions of care for my parents. Six years ago, I was in the thick of removing them completely from my life in unhealthy and toxic ways to myself and others. My bio-legal family has been one of my life's most painful sources.
My therapist asked me recently in an EMDR session if I ever think I can forgive my mother for the trauma she inflicted on me. I don’t think I can forgive her, but I can accept what happened. To forgive feels like an invalidation of my current feelings about her treatment of me, but coming to a place of acceptance of the reality of it feels like it resources me enough to step into positions of care.
The part about this process that will likely take a while to work through is what comes next—the moving. The apartment my parents currently live in is my biggest trauma point. I can’t go there without being thrown back into the hallways of memory. My mother sent me a birthday present this year, and I made my husband open it because the stench of cigarette smoke that lingers on anything they own sends me into PTSD flashbacks. They say smell is the scent closest to memory, and they are correct.
When I say I think a lot about resilience, I mean I return to a line I wrote in a poem once – I don’t want to be resilient, I want to be taken care of. I want this for everyone I love, even those who have hurt me. Once I started sharing more about this process, I got a lot of comments saying that I didn’t have to do this – that I am allowed to go no-contact. But I am grappling with how I can have the values of community care and healing generational wounds if I abandon my family.
Indeed, we do not owe our parents anything. The idea that because they brought us into the world, we are responsible for caring for them when they get older is not accessible or trauma-informed. I refused to do it for years. I often daydream of sending an invoice for my therapy appointments directly to my mother, which would be my only contact with her, and I went years without answering a single phone call from my father. But now, to abandon them feels like an abandonment of myself. To abandon them feels like an abandonment of the yes/and that now exists in my body. Yes, they hurt me, and I want them to be cared for.
Despite how hard this process has been, I focus on the mental picture of when they are all moved in and can feel confident my dad will never fall down three flights of stairs again. I hold onto hope that this allows my mother to adopt new habits of smoking outdoors and can use moving as an opportunity to shed what she has hoarded over the years. I know what stable housing did for my mental health, and I feel grateful I could help them find a soft place to land.
It’s hard for me to write so publicly about my parents and my emotional navigation of our relationship because I spent a long time hiding it away or lying completely about the reality of the situation because of how much shame and heaviness came along with it. Even now, my hands sweat. But something I know about showing what you’d rather keep in the dark is people, too, can be soft places to land.
It’s important to note that so much of this process has to do with my privileges as a white, married person with no kids and assistance from a fund my grandmother put into place to pay for my father’s needs as a disabled person before she died. I am holding my frustration with capitalism and how it is true this was only possible due to generational wealth. I am dreaming of ways we as a collective continue to prioritize wealth distribution and reparations to break more generations of trauma, unstable housing, and poverty.
My relationship with home has changed, first because I was able to access a stable one and second because I have been able to redefine home outside of a physical house I live in or where I come from. Home are the people who show up for us and hold us tenderly through the thick of it. When DJ opened up the gift my mom sent me, I was reminded that I don’t have to walk through the hallways of memory alone, which equips me more for the tasks at hand.
A couple of weeks have passed since I went to Kansas City to get the house inspected. The house is painted blue on a quiet street with trees in the backyard to shade the warm summer months and a window in the bathroom to let the light in. This is the kind of house I could have only dreamed of living in as a kid.
I am in the depths of an EMDR target that brings up so much for me when it comes to stability. My childhood was one of unpredictability, and my body is still rewiring the pathways that tell me I am safe now. I didn’t think being the only child to my parents would look like this. I thought very early on that I’d be completely no-contact with them at this point. I dreamt of it through the entirety of my early twenties. But I’m learning self-protection can look many different ways.
Right now, that looks like letting my phone go to voicemail when my parents call with a thousand questions I can’t yet answer. It looks like buying meals that are easy to make because feeding myself is the first thing to go in moments of stress. It looks like taking a week off Instagram because I can’t take another hot take.
I grapple with the realities of doing the best we can in the systems we live in. I grapple with my ability only to do so much when I have the drive to want to change it all. I grapple with my ability only to do so much when I’m crashing against rock bottom. When I texted Nic about my grief and frustration about all of this, they granted me permission of grace. I think we owe ourselves more grace than we give, and I am always willing to give more to others than myself.
Here’s to building soft places to land for each other, even in the most unlikely places.
Here are some local (to Missouri) resources around housing I would love to amplify. If you can share, donate, and support. If you have any housing resources, feel free to share them in the comments below.
THISTL is a trans-led organization aimed at tackling the systemic injustices that Trans humans face in the housing sector. Advocating for proper treatment of Trans humans in shelters and advocating for Trans home ownership, THISTL aims to ameliorate the conditions that Trans humans in St. Louis face in housing.
THISL is also hiring a program manager and executive director, if you’re interested!
KC Tenants organizes to ensure that everyone in KC has a safe, accessible, and truly affordable home.
Been thinking a lot about surveillance, protecting youth, and possibility models for life outside of our current systems. I am reading this right now. Here’s a sample:
Want to learn more about police abolition? This 101 guide is a great place to start.
EXTRA EXTRA READ ALL ABOUT IT! I’m working on a writing workshop offering for next month! Keep your eyes PEELED.
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