3 min read

Generational Emotional Wealth

My life is as different as it's ever been. There's no meetings I have to attend. No grades I'm trying to achieve. No income to entice my compliance. No application committees to impress. Just me. I wake up every day, and my whole day is wide open. How should I spend my time? Who am I serving with my skills? What am I building towards?

One concept (of many) that orients me is the idea of generational emotional wealth. I became curious about this idea after reading about generational wealth and intergenerational trauma. The question is this: If it is possible to pass on financial abundance and emotional dysfunction to future generations, is it possible to pass on emotional abundance?

I think so. One piece of evidence is families I've met who seem to do this well. They are far and few in between, but they exist. I spend ten minutes around them and they infect me with their boldness and earnestness. They take one look at me may not love me, but unconsciously accept me as I am, head to toe. My heart begins swelling with joy. I have more of a swagger to my step. My personality comes to the fore. I express myself with no burdens. I've met this type of family multiple times at different stages of my life, and without exception, I transform from a feeling of separatedness to one of belonging around them.

Spending extended time with them reveals that they're not much different behind closed doors. They love each openly. They handle their conflicts patiently. They seem to accept the very quirks and features (insert Doug Demuro emoji) of each person that would be judged and demeaned by the average outsider. They seem to egg each other on, explicitly and implicitly, encouraging each member of the family to develop into the most quirked up expressive version of themselves.

How does one build this? It must start with one person, or maybe two people, who are able to embrace the parts of their history and culture worth keeping, shrug off the rest, and create their own to fill the gap. The way they are inoculates others from their own baggage, and the love spreads. Their children are raised in a mostly healthy environment, and when they grow up they seem to go off and build families of their own that do the same.

There's so much more to it that I don't fully understand. Maybe these are truly outlier cases. I intend to find out and do the best I can to build it myself.

Why? Because when I'm all alone and I ask myself what keeps me going, why I work so hard, why I take these huge risks professionally and socially and spiritually, the answer is always the same: It's for love. For connection. And in our overconnected, isolating, rapidly changing world, a vehicle for love, connection, and belonging is damn well worth building.

Questions I'm pondering:

  • To give shade, one must first be a strong tree. How does one break the cycle of intergenerational trauma? What qualities do I need to develop that would attract the right partner, that would allow me to grow into the strong and loving father for my children that I want to be? Where are my gaps in emotional development, communication skills, or knowledge of human nature?
  • What qualities am I looking for in a life partner that would make a good mother?
  • How does a family inculcate traditions or values that both protect their children yet give them enough latitude to adapt to a rapidly changing world?
  • What simple yet difficult commitments or decisions am I putting off that would lead me closer to this goal?

P.S. Like many of us, I'm thankful for some aspects of my family life and was left wanting in others. But part of accepting the torch of leadership from the older generation is thinking about how I'd want my kids to be raised differently. Of course, part of the answer is "I'll figure it out once I get there," and that's what most parents do. But the other part of the answer, the part I have control over now, lies in preparation. Exploring what I can do to prepare and establishing a North Star is the goal of this post.