Each and every one of these statements is an honest-to-goodness comment I’ve had an acquaintance from my life say to me over the last five years.
And each and every one of these statements is an example of the parental privilege so many people who don’t come from relational trauma backgrounds hold and yet don’t often recognize.
Each and every one of these statements can be the sort of comment that can create pain, jealousy, and resentment for those of us who do come from relational trauma backgrounds and who are, very specifically, upwardly mobile and attempting to be a kind of first in our family (first to go to college, first to break the poverty cycle, first to hold a professional job and navigate middle-class structures and systems, first to consciously and ardently attempt to raise our children in a non-traumatizing way, etc).
I wanted to shine a light on this specific experience when we – as upwardly mobile individuals from relational trauma backgrounds – hear comments like these.
I wanted to shine a light on it because it’s one of those “stings” that so many of us encounter on our relational trauma recovery journeys.
A reminder and a rekindling of grief and frustration that we ourselves don’t necessarily have the privilege of functional, healthy, devoted, and resourced parents and guardians to turn to when life gets hard, confusing, or complex.
Instead, many of us could never even dream of letting our children have a sleepover at their grandparents’ house because of legitimate concerns about their physical and emotional safety.
In contrast, many of us have to work twice as hard for twice as long to save up pennies for a downpayment (and that’s after we pay back the student loans we took out because goodness knows that wasn’t paid for).
Instead of being able to turn to a parent and get exactly the emotional salve we need, we often get the opposite (if not the total absence) of what we needed.
Rather than being able to rely on grandparents for babysitting or a savvy parent to help guide us through making good financial decisions, we pay for our community and our supports: a vetted babysitter, a financial planner, and a trusted, safe therapist.
I want to acknowledge that if you, like me, are upwardly mobile and on a relational trauma recovery journey, these kinds of contrast experiences can sometimes (okay, often) feel painful.
It’s normal and natural to imagine how much easier life would be if you did have healthy, functional parents to rely on for emotional, logistical, and financial support.
It’s normal and natural to feel jealous, angry, and resentful of your peers for having what you do not and never will have (and them not even being aware of what an incredible privilege it is that they have this).
It’s normal and natural to also feel your jealousy and frustration re-kindled when you’re then able to provide this for your own child, working unbelievably hard so that they will have a sounder platform than you have and yet sometimes even feeling frustrated about how they, too, will probably one day take their privilege for granted.
It’s normal and natural to feel the pain of peer parental privilege on your upwardly mobile relational trauma recovery journey and you encounter others who had and have such incredibly different experiences, resources, and assets than you yourself do.
I know this pain of parental peer privilege well myself.
And, inevitably, so do the bulk of the clients who choose to work with me as their therapist on their relational trauma recovery journeys.
And the question almost always comes up – for me and for them – what do I do with this pain?
Am I just supposed to feel it?
Yes, honey. You are supposed to feel it. It’s a legitimate and important emotion that’s being evoked (again).
One of the best ways we can support ourselves on our relational trauma recovery journeys is to allow ourselves permission to grieve the abstract losses of our life for as long as it takes.
The abstract loss of a never-had childhood.
The abstract loss of never knowing what devoted, kind love from a father feels like.
The abstract loss of choices not made because you didn’t have the emotional capacity or the adult guidance to help you make them at age-appropriate times.
The abstract loss of experiencing, again and again, how much easier adulting would feel if you had loving, loyal, functional, and resourced parents to turn to.
The pain of parental peer privilege evokes those abstract losses and so, importantly, you must allow yourself to feel the anger, grief, and all other attendant feelings that come up when you’re triggered.
Doing so – letting yourself actually feel your feelings – sends a message to the child inside of you that his/her/their feelings matter.
That they get to feel sad and angry. And that it’s okay.
You give yourself a reparative re-parenting experience when you allow yourself to actually acknowledge how upset it makes you that your peers who you now move in social circles with have so much more than you have.
“That’s great, Annie, but it also doesn’t feel good to feel angry and sad all the time.”
This is another literal comment I get. And I get it.
And so I do think there is a balance between feeling our feelings and also employing cognitive tools to frame our thoughts, create more flexibility in our thinking, and shift us into different feeling states.
Two of the tools I like to use when the pain of parental peer privilege is evoked for me include:
- Reframing what it says about me and my capacities given how far I’ve come and that I did it without parental privilege. Very few people get to truly wear the label of self-made or cycle breaker.
- Getting in touch with and/or exposing myself to others who can relate to the experience of not having parental privilege so that my experience feels normalized and validated. (Hint: if you don’t have this in your therapist or your friend group, look for digital companions in the comments of my blog, the fellow students inside of Hard Families, Good Boundaries, or in the pages of extraordinary memoirs.)
Generally, employing both of these tools can help shift my thinking and my experience to a more grounded, empowered and validated state (but, again, I do always validate the painful feelings I feel first).
I’d like to remind you that when the pain of parental peer privilege is evoked for you – by the comments of people in your life, by thoughts of abstract others, or even those you see from afar or on TV – your grief about your own family (or lack thereof) may be evoked.
And that’s okay.
And if you find yourself feeling triggered or again feeling grief about your circumstances and your relational trauma journey again, you may want to consider joining me and my friend Simona Vivi Hadjigeorgalis at her 2023 reMothering Masterclass which begins on May 6th.
For the second year in a row, I’m honored to be invited back and this year I’ll be presenting on “The Onion Layers of Grief on our Remothering Journeys.”
Simona and I had an incredibly rich and evocative conversation and I truly hope you’ll be able to join the masterclass to hear us (it’s completely free!).
And if you live in California or Florida and would like personalized, 1:1 support on your relational trauma recovery journey, please get in touch with me directly so we could explore working together as therapist and client.
And you live outside of California or Florida, please know I would be so honored to work with you inside my signature course – Hard Families, Good Boundaries.
The pain of peer parental privilege is real and it can feel very hard, but it can feel easier when we keep company with others who can relate to this unique pain and who can offer empathy, solidarity, and companionship on our relational trauma recovery journeys.
I look forward to keeping you company on your journey.
And until next time, please take such good care of yourself. You’re so worth it.
Thank you so much for this insight. I had never considered how when one moves upward in socio economic bands that one will encounter those who were born on second base resulting in this sort of pain. That awareness alone will be helpful to anticipate these feelings going forward.